Archive for December, 2008

Portugal. The Man Interview

December 2, 2008

Source: AMP Magazine Online

Alaskan band digs into numbers and easy going to channel their sound

Combined, John Gourley’s bandmates possess a more formal music education than he does.

To Gourley’s class credit, Portugal. The Man is a consistent learning experience, and with each album, he’s getting closer to graduation. For the Alaskan vocalist/guitarist, and the rest of the band, Zachary Carothers (bass/vocals), Ryan Neighbors (keys/vocals), and Garrett Lunceford (drummer), building a landscape of sound is one self-taught lesson at a time.

Sitting in the green room of the House of Blues in New Orleans, Portugal. The Man are currently on their headlining “Gold Tour” in support of their third full length release, Censored Colors, which contains a track of the city’s name, as well as its atmosphere.

Self recording their album on the band’s new imprint Approaching AIRBalloons, the band have inked a deal to distribute their album through Equal Vision Records. Tracking from the far North to the deep South, the band are showing the East and West coasts what they are capable of off record– an even grander live show.

John Gourley (left) and Ryan Neighbors (right)

John Gourley (left) and Ryan Neighbors (right)

With the house lights cut out across the venue, the floodlights are as simple as the mindset of all four band members when it comes to musical construction– they flicker on simple beats and float through the band’s consistent progressive march.

“I played sax for about 11 years,” says Carothers, whom then breaks out into a laugh. “Then, I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned. It’s completely different from playing bass. Well, different from the theory I learned.”

Gourley admits the only formal training he ever had was learning trumpet in the 5th grade. He says he was too shy to play it though.

“It’s pretty funny to look back at some of these records,” he says. “I don’t even get it. It’s on the spot, and whatever works, works.”

Constructing the band’s records is all but unintentional, Gourley says. Gourley isn’t a simple idiot savant either. He does admit his wood boards and red brick and mortar are based around numbers, which his band members agree he is amazing at calculating.

“I’ve always been really good with numbers,” says Gourley. “But all the time signature stuff is really basic though.”

Gourley also admits his learning process he calls a band has the tendency to piss other bands off unconventionally. Carothers laughs at that fact and says the band have been known to simply restart songs if they horribly mess up on stage, and gets a kick out of seeing the looks on tourmates’ faces when they do it.

Restarting a song and restarting a direction in sound are two different ballparks though.

(L t R) Zach Carothers, John Gourley, Garrett Lunceford

Censored Colors is another step in a different direction for the band. After ditching the drum machines on the band’s debut, Waiter: “You Vultures!”, the band stripped itself to a blues throwback on their sophomore release Church Mouth. To add another path, weeks prior to recording their third record, Gourley entered the studio after picking up a Beatles’ songbook.

Shifting gears from riff repetitive compositions to a chord based construction, the new album contains ballads (“Created”), late 60’s jams (“Hard Times”) and psychedelic rock freak-outs (“Never Pleased”).

What’s more interesting is the idea behind the album– an idea that the band didn’t think would happen.

Cut into two halves, like the reemerging vinyl medium, the first half of the record is the “colors” followed by an “intermission,” which leads into the blending of the “colors.”

Due to the short two and half weeks of studio time, Gourley says he didn’t think there was any way to pull it off.

Carothers was also as skeptical. “I said, ‘Good idea John,’ and then I knew we never really were going to do it. Then it just ended up happening and we knew we were going to string [the last tracks of the album] together.”

For the tracks that blend into its predecessors (“Sit Back and Dream,” “Our Times” and “Our Way”), Gourley says they were just ideas that worked with the other tracks but not on their own.

“Everyone has fears and some thought as to where they take things,” he says, explaining his idiot savant writing and recording method. “It’s pretty simple to just take those ideas and that sound of music and just do it yourself.

It’s not that intense of notes. We’re not playing anything difficult as far as technical playing goes. It’s more of understanding the sound.” Laced with harmonies, cello lines and a barrage of choruses, the band still think they have a ways to go in another direction.

“The idea has always been having a straight forward composite of music,” says Gourley. “But maybe we could do a record like Abbey Road, where you move song to song, with different styles all the way through.”

“Different styles” is something the band’s discography and car rides are evident with. The past few days have seen the van’s radio have an onslaught from Weird Al Yankovic’s back catalog, according to Neighbors.

The band also has a knack for linking their “different styles” across a set list each night as well. Dressed, in what they call their normal everyday outfits, the band don’t don the normal shirt and jeans most bands are accustomed to. Instead they dress in button down shirts Neighbor’s has been wearing since high school and one of ten of the same style of pants Carothers has bought.

John Gourley

With natural style, seems to come a natural live show as well. Sometimes the beats slow down, or every bell and whistle of the album isn’t picked up. When studio replication lacks, the band naturally weave in and out of a twelve song set list consisting of parts of other songs in their catalog connecting the set together like bumps in the larger part of the Lego block set.

The band are not sure where the next step on the scale will take them, but this is nothing new. Carothers says Gourley doesn’t even come up with the lyrical lines until the tape starts to record, often harmonizing or scatting his way through ideas that blossom in practice.

Gourley is sure of one thing though, “I love records that you can’t use any of the songs for mixtapes. Where you immediately finish the song and it goes into the next track. [Censored Colors] is the just the closest we’ve come to achieving that. I’m sure at some point, we’ll make a record that’s one solid piece.”

[photos: Adam Pfleider]


Fear Before Interview

December 2, 2008


Turning about new tricks while sifting through old habits

High school can be a pain. It’s a four year experience where kids must discover who they are, try things and prepare themselves a personal and social image before embarking out into adulthood.

Fear Before have spent six years in high school, and their new self-titled disc may be the graduation ceremony filled with a new beginning and a reflection of all the positive actions, events and friendships they have been a part of over those years.

“This one has a lot to do with who we are as people and growing up and learning from the past,” says Dave Marion, Fear Before vocalist, over the phone, two weeks before the release of the band’s new record on Equal Vision. “It’s about knowing that when things get bad, things have been worse.”

“Posi” is a term Marion has been throwing around throughout the talk on the phone.

“We’re giving back to everyone who has given to us,” he says. “Whether it has been fans coming up to us at shows or Equal Vision letting us do whatever we wanted with this record. It’s giving back a little piece of what we have. It’s just crazy that people can do that. I just wanted to be more posi, and welcome the people who are down.”

Marion, guitarists Adam Fisher and Zach Hutchings, bassist Mike Madruga and drummer Clayton Holyoak are breathing, yet again, through a different set of lungs. In fact, shedding the tail end of the once drawn out Fear Before the March of Flames was both a fluke, and an irony.

Marion says he wanted to name the new record Fear Before from the start, but didn’t want new listeners to get confused as to which title was the band’s name and which was the album’s title. “Over the past six years, people have given us the abbreviation for themselves,” he says.

Though Marion says he’s beginning to feel like a new band, Fisher took the writing process in a reverse direction, to move forward.

“I’m always my biggest critic,” Fisher says. “I’ll find things wrong, but I’ll always love our albums for what they are and how they were representative of where we were.”

Though having a new name, the band were ironically pulling accomplishments from their “freshman” antics.

Fisher sat back down, before writing the new record, and took a listen to Art Damage again. To him, it was like listening to it for the first time, and trying to figure out his thought process behind what he had written.

“This record is not [The Always Open] Mouth part two,” he firmly says. ” I think we just found our strengths. I was able to go back and pull strengths from our past.”

By that thought, Fisher and company are the plant on the front of the self-titled record’s cover, blooming from the roots that were already cemented.

“Treeman” is a grand departure for the band, while Fisher’s backing vocals on “I’m Fine Today,” are reminiscent of Odd How People Shake. “Stay Weird” has cathartic elements of Art Damage and the band’s reveal track before the record’s release, aptly titled “Fear Before Doesn’t Listen to People Who Don’t Like Them,” vamps like Damage, but spirals in harmony, like a Mouth b-side.

The band entered the studio once again with Casey Bates (The Always Open Mouth). Marion says the comfort level with Bates helped to evolve even more. “My comfort level made him get the best out of me. For me, I knew what I wanted to do, and I was hoping to pull it off. It was about doing new song writing again, and we’ve tried to do that with every album.”

Marion says this was a fun album to do. “It’s never a bad idea until you try it and it doesn’t work. I was proud of myself. The excitement kept me going. It was a lot more posi, and good vibes. You do one thing for so long, and it’s just fun to try new things.”

Being able to “try new things” in a five piece can be hard. Hutchings says it’s about being open and having respect for others’ ideas. “[It’s about] feeling where they’re coming from and finding that common ground. Be giving and cut slack. Try not to step on anyone’s toes either.”

This was a big step for the band. Fisher has been the primary songwriter for most of the band’s career, but growth marches in a new writing process, especially with another guitarist starting from the ground up.

“With [Mouth], I had more of the upper hand,” he says. “The idea of this record was to have everyone come in with their ideas. This record was about giving everybody their say.”

That say included an equal guitar share between Fisher and his counterpart Hutchings.

“Adam had 60 to 65 percent of [Mouth] skeletoned out,” says Hutchings on joining the band. “I just kind of came in and did my own thing, and added my own two cents. There were a few tracks where we kind of collaborated and worked together [on that record]. He wasn’t used to working with another guitarist at that point. On this record, we would just sit in the house and jam together.”

Hutchings’ thought process was to counter Fisher’s parts, while at the same time, complimenting them. “I play with a lot of ambiance and flares and try and create a floating atmosphere of sounds. It worked out here to add that sort of element into the music. You know, go with how you’re feeling.”

By departing from normalcy yet again, leaves Fear Before as happy outcast, something Fisher is content with. “It’s really hard to me, and always has been, to picture us within a scene, because to me, our scene is us and the people who support us. We’ve always had a hard time finding a niche.”

Marion says his band might have something lacking outside his clique of band members, touring bands and fans. “The soul in music is kind of hard to find these days. It gets really hard to see where people are coming from.”

Making the grade and applying themselves at this level in the band’s personal education is all for their own self worth. “We’re pushing ourselves for ourselves,” says Fisher. “It’s just going back and finding the things that inspired me at the time, and bring that back into Fear Before. As for the new songs and pushing things forward, we’re trying to bring something new and try things ‘we’ haven’t done before.

“It’s not about forcing others to be more creative and to push themselves, but us dong it because it’s fun. If it inspires anyone else, that’s great.”

These Arms Are Snakes Interview

December 2, 2008


Band tightens sound, creates a sinister aura

The ambient versus the straight forward. It’s what separates the mainstream from the underground at times. No one ever said an artist can’t be creative while keeping their audience at bay and tightening their sound.

Two full lengths deep, These Arms Are Snakes have just released their next record Tail Swallower and Dove, and according to bassist Brian Cook, while on tour this past summer pulling bass duties with Russian Circles, said These Arms Are Snakes’ new disc would be more “to-the-point.”

“It’s something we did consciously,” says guitarist Ryan Fredericksen. “We did the extreme jigsaw puzzle where we had about five parts to a song and it was just arranged extremely complicated. This time around we want to just chew away some of the fat and take a more direct approach to it and just kind of tie it down.”

Fredericksen isn’t lying. Though the album clocks in under just a few minutes of the last two records, There’s not much space to breath. Fredericksen even solos on three tracks, something new to him.

What’s most notable about the new sound is how dense, yet dynamic, everything is. The opener, “Woolen Heirs,” seems like another long form for the band, but every instrument is heard, and Snere’s voice is as melodic as it has ever been. The closing “Briggs” is also a crescendo builder that doesn’t explode, but falls straight off the cliff, like a build up a mountain and a settled sense of accomplishment.

Besides the brick of sound that lies across Dove, vocalist Steve Snere has changed his voice into a mechanical force, sounding just like another layer of the house that Snakes built.

Snere spent more time at home, with demo versions of the new songs, singing into a laptop. He played around with vocal effects, and orchestrated and mapped out his sound before going into the studio.

“I had been stuck in what I’ve been doing for awhile,” he says. It’s Snere’s day off, and he’s relaxing a bit before the band’s CD release show and embarking across the Atlantic for a full European tour in support of the new record. “It just felt like I wanted to evolve a little bit and do some more singing, and push myself a little bit more to do something different.”

Snere says the guys in the band were a bit “stand offish” when he started recording, but they were more than happy with the final product.

He also says the band was trying to get the vibe that early post-punk bands had created. “We wanted that sinister kind of sound.”

Fredericksen says Snere records his vocals after the music is done, but has his own ideas as far as arranging. “We wanted to make [our music] as interesting and dynamic as possible, and I never think we’ll be able to shake that.” he says in regards to the tighten sound of the new record.

Fredericksen cites recording conflict as another reason for the mapping of the new record. “It was kind of a jigsaw falling into place as we record it,” he says refering to previous records. “This time we were a bit more prepared. Now are bringing back kind of the straight forward punk aspect.”

While most of the other albums possessed certain themes, Dove is no different, but hard to pigeonholed. Snere started reading a lot on theology and mythology and says things just started to click.

“It’s the basic idea of spiritual being,” he says. “There’s a ton of that going through the record. Contemplating who we are, and that was the vibe I was tending to write about more. Some songs don’t touch on that, but that was the general idea.”

Snere says the songs that do center around the theme are more personal than ever. “This is me working out where I stand in my life. It’s more religious without being religious in some ways. It’s more about the big questions like, ‘What happens when I die?’ or ‘Is there something more I should be looking for in my life?'”

Cook is also pulling many duties across the record as well. Fredericksen says Cook played guitar, bass, keyboard and did back-up vocals. “We’ve always written collectively. We each have our own pepper to add to the process. All of us together, it creates one thing creative but not four separate, and that idea will always sound like [us].”

[photo: Robin Laananen]