Archive for September, 2009

Bird by Bird interview (Jonathan Devoto)

September 16, 2009


After 12 years, The Matches announced their hiatus earlier this year, and played their final show on August 23rd. At that same show, guitarist Jonathan Devoto opened with his new project Bird by Bird. Devoto took time to answer some questions via e-mail about his time in The Matches, what we can expect from him in the future, and playing a Weezer song with frontman Rivers Coumo.

Before moving on with your new project, do you believe you achieved everything you creatively wanted to with The Matches? Were some of the demos on Myspace written before The Matches’ disbandment?

Yes, as The Matches, we definitely did everything that we wanted to creatively, and then some. That was sort of our thing. We were the super-creative-quirky band that was always pushing the boundaries of the oppressive grips that genres typically create. At least that’s what people told us. As far as me personally, I’d been writing a lot of material, some of it that just didn’t make sense to become Matches music. So yes, some of the demos on the Bird by Bird Myspace were written while The Matches were still going.

Bird by Bird has a more accessible sound that you say in your biography is influenced by bands such as Kings of Leon, Third Eye Blind and Tom Petty. Is the writing style for Bird by Bird something you felt you didn’t have the ability to express in The Matches, or is it more an expansion of what you were already were doing in the band?

This sort of ties into the previous question a little bit. The Matches were a band that really strove to be different. That’s who we were, and it worked great for us. Honestly, I’m a big fan of catchy, smart, rock songs. That’s what I’m trying to create right now, and I’m having a great time doing it.

I’ve read that you’ve been playing with a few musicians, but haven’t “solidified” a line-up yet. Would you prefer a solo run for a while, or do you feel a full band would convey the sound you are going for, possibly something more full?

A few of the guys I’m playing with could turn into permanent members, but I’m still looking around. I’d love to find all the right guys as soon as possible though. It’d be a huge weight off my shoulders. I’ve been playing a lot of solo acoustic shows, which is great, and I feel is really important to help me build character as a frontman, but the sound of the project really is a full band. The sooner the band is put together, the sooner we can start taking recording and touring more seriously.

You’ve gotten a lot of praise as one of the scene’s most promising new guitarist, how are you going to take that fuel over into this project?

Oh, well, thank you. I’ve been playing guitar for a long time, it’s something I love to do. The types of guitar parts that these songs have are catchy riffs, interesting chord patterns and voicing, and some pretty cool instrumental sections as opposed to just balls-out shred solos (though there will undoubtedly be some shred moments, though hopefully tasteful, ha). I’m a big fan of recording guitar sounds in such a way that can be recreated live, rather than just recording walls of guitars that are impossible to recreate without 10 guitar players on stage. I’ve also been experimenting a lot with new pedals.

Lyrically, where are you coming from with the new material? Any general concept related to the name Bird by Bird?

I’d like the words to come out as easy to relate to, but also written with enough cleverness as to not come across as simple. Being a lyricist is something that’s relatively new to me. I’ve only been seriously writing lyrics for a couple years now. It’s not something I did as part of the Matches… I’ve always read a lot of books, but typically non-fiction. I’ve recently been digging into some marvelous literature that’s changing the way I feel about fiction (I’m 600 pages into Infinite Jest right now, and loving it), and really influencing my lyric writing in a positive way. As far as subject matter, I really enjoy writing about the human condition, politics and beliefs, interesting concepts in general – and then of course there are love songs. Everybody is affected strongly by love. It’s impossible not to write about.

How did the “Pinkerton” cover show go? Who had that idea, and did any of the guys from Weezer show up to that one?

I got an e-mail one day from Lewis Patzner of Judgment Day, a band from Oakland we’re good friends with. All it said was, “Yo man, how do you feel about that old school Weezer stuff?” I hadn’t heard from Lewis in months, and was a little confused by the e-mail. When I heard that he was rounding up local musicians to cover Pinkerton, I was all for it, even though [The Blue Album] is my favorite Weezer album. It was a blast getting together with talented friends and learning the record together. It’s a ridiculous album, and was a little difficult to learn, which made it all the more fun. (I loved playing those guitar solos!) And yes, Rivers [Coumo] made it out to the show, and played “Butterfly.”

Even more exciting, how was the Gap show?

Haha – totally weird. Apparently I won some contest that I didn’t know I was entered in, and didn’t find out about it until just a few days before the show happened, so there really wasn’t much promotion involved. I was playing acoustic for maybe 10 or 15 fans that came out, and a bunch of random folks buying jeans. About half of those fans were from out of town. The show was right before the Bird by Bird debut/Matches final show, so a lot of people flew in from all over the world for the shows. These out-of-towners got to The Gap to see me play, and had this really weird expression like they didn’t know what was going on (neither did I). I think they were expecting a huge crowd of people at the show because it’s my hometown. But the reality of the situation was that it was a last minute show booked with absolutely no promotion, at a clothing store, not a venue. But it was a good chance to try out some new material before playing it at the full band debut show, and also to meet these people that flew all the way here just to see the shows. I also had some fun messing around with the Gap’s patrons.

Are there any plans for a full length or EP sometime in the near future, or are you still looking to put together a full-cemented line-up first, and then go into the studio?

Definitely. There’s some discussion right now about booking studio time. We’ll likely record a few songs, then depending on how they come out, they could turn into songs we sell online, print for an EP, shop around to record labels, or just a round of demos. If I don’t have the band line-up completely set up at that point, I can record all the instruments myself, which is how I’ve been doing it for GarageBand demos of all the songs. But really, I’d like to not have to play everything on the recordings. I get nasty blisters on my fingers from playing the drums.

As a whole, what are you hoping to achieve with Bird by Bird’s songwriting, and for you as an artist? In it’s early stages, how close are you to that now?

I want to create powerful catchy rock songs that people can easily connect with and relate to. That’s not too much to ask is it? How close am I to that now? I don’t think that’s for me to answer.


Get Up Kids interview (Matt Pryor)

September 16, 2009


In the 10 years The Get Up Kids existed, they played with a passion and have a catalog that reflects that. After disbanding in 2005, the guys went their separate ways with new projects. Some talks of a few reunion shows have turned into a full Fall tour in support of the tenth anniversary release of the band’s second full length, and arguably their most notable album, Something to Write Home About, packed with extra content, including a DVD featuring the band’s first reunion show this past March in Lawrence, KS, and more. Matt Pryor recently took some time to talk about the tour, reissues, what to expect to hear at the shows, and new material from the band in the future.

Who started stirring the first talks of the initial reunion shows, and how did that bloom into a full-blown tour?

[Guitarist] Jim [Suptic] would bring it up every time I would see him over the past four years. It wasn’t really something that we took seriously. We talked together one time after a Spoon show, and we were hanging out, and we’re just sort of like, “You know, it would be fun,” and then I was like, “Hey, maybe we should give this a whirl and see what happens.” I think everybody was open to the idea. We just needed someone to say it.

Is this tour only for the reissue of Something To Write Home About, or were you guys possibly itching to have one last good time?

[The reissue] is really, strictly an excuse to play. [Laughs] We were just like, “We can’t just get back together. We need a reason to do it.” [Doing a reissue] had come up like, “Hey, we should do that,” with no one really doing anything about it, which we talked about doing with Four Minute Mile too, and never really got around to it. It was really more that we decided to play shows, and then hunkering down and getting the reissues figured out [afterwards].

What was the initial feeling in the back room, and as soon as you guys hit the stage, the first show back?

The show was fine. The show wasn’t a really big deal. The first practice we had was kind of tense for the first song, like in a “Are we going to be able to pull this off?” kind of way. The show itself — I wasn’t nervous or tense at all. It was a very warm feeling, like just playing for your friends primarily. Just sort of, enjoyable.

Is that the mindset in preparing for the Fall tour?

That’s very much how we’re approaching it. We’re of the mindset that we really don’t need to do this. It’s not terribly urgent that we do something like this. It’s really just enjoyable. That’s how the band was when we started, and I think it’s part of the reason people enjoy watching us play.

From the last time we had talked, we discussed the impact and recordings of the early Get Up Kids records, including STWHA. You said about the lo-fi sound, and I quote, “That wasn’t the point. That’s the point now, but it’s not what we were trying to do. We were in this high-quality studio.” What has been done, or not touched, with the reissue of STWHA? Looking back on that quote, do you still stand by it?

We didn’t touch the recording at all. We didn’t want to go for a “remastered” sort of thing, because we felt it sounded good the first time. We just wanted to have more content added to it. I think the vocals on Four Minute Mile are [still] atrocious. I can’t look at that record in the same light as everyone else. I think the things that some people find charming about it, I find hard to listen to. I guess it’s a “happy accident” in that sense. Going back and listening to Something to Write Home About, I’m pretty happy with how it sounds. I don’t think it sounds as lo-fi as the first record did. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time, and when we played the first show back, I had to go and relearn some stuff. I’m pretty happy with how it sounds. It wasn’t an intentional, stylistic sound we were going for. We were just trying to be natural.

Also, last time we talked, you had mentioned that the band retired “Valentine,” but it came out at the reunion show. Again, I’m not holding you to your word, but what was Rob’s reaction?

We play it all the time now. It was up to [bassist] Rob [Pope], and he was like “Fuck it.” [Laughs] I think enough water is under that bridge, so it’s all good.

Besides Something To Write Home About, can we expect some other discography gems? Any songs, no matter how loud we yell, will not be seeing the stage, or can we expect some unexpected?

Well, the gig we’re playing tomorrow night [Harrah’s in Kansas City, Missouri] is basically the same set we were playing in Europe, because [drummer] Ryan’s [Pope] not getting back from Spain until today. This weekend, before our first show in Denver, we have a list of songs that people have been requesting that we haven’t played before. We’re learning some little chestnuts for the rest of the tour.

[Reader’s note: At this point in the interview, Matt asked me what I wanted to hear, and I told him my favorite song was “Is There a Way Out?” off of Guilt Show. His response was, “Really? That’s such a downer!” and chuckles. FML, right? But in all good spirits, he said he’d see if he could pull something off, and that the band liked that song as well. Who knows what we’ll hear this Fall.]

Some might say that the sound that bands like The Get Up Kids, Braid and The Promise Ring have built has lost a little luster over the past few years in part to more image marketing, and less felt passion. What are your thoughts about the current state of music within this “scene” that you guys have been cited as influences in? What bands do you see are carrying on the aforementioned spirit?

I think what we we’re doing, and continue to do, has more of an indie rock tradition to it. I think that that is still very vibrant. I think the term “emo” is really just a marketing term, and always really has been. It has never been a “scene” defining thing. The bands that are big now, that are using that marketing term, I don’t really think [pause] I don’t really listen to the radio that much. I get most of my music from friends’ suggestions or NPR, so I’m not really in touch with a lot of newer bands. I do think we get cited as a reference point more as that’s where bands are supposed to reference, but I don’t think those bands listen to our records, I think they have to say that they like us, you know?

One geek question. Four Minute Mile and STWHA were recently reissued on vinyl. Any Get Up Kids fan knows there’s one hell of a collection tagged to the band. What do you think of the resurgence of wax for the new generation, or those younger fans that have discovered your band in the past few years?

I think it’s great. I’ve always been a big vinyl nerd — less so now because I have kids and it’s easier to break them. Unfortunately, all [the reissues] that have come out on vinyl have not really been approved by the band, or we don’t ever get copies of it. I didn’t know when the Four Minute Mile vinyl came out. I didn’t know when the Something to Write Home About vinyl came out. It all was done without our knowing, which is unfortunate.

Do you resent that in any way?

I don’t dislike that those pieces exist. i think it’s great. I love vinyl. I love doing limited pressings and stuff. It’s just that I wish I could get copies of them. I wish I would be informed when they are coming out.

I’m sure everyone wants to know, is there new material in the future? Maybe even just an EP?

We’ve recorded nine songs that we have written, which are getting mixed right now. Our schedules aren’t going to allow a proper tour after the album is released. So we’re thinking of doing a series of EP’s, or maybe a vinyl only thing. We’re still in the beginning stages of that. Sometime next year, we’ll have something new out. Who knows where, what, or when. We’ve been trying out a new song at shows. It’s called “Keith’s Case.” Don’t ask me why it’s called that, I didn’t name it. [Laughs]

Cathy Pellow (Sargent House) interview

September 10, 2009


Usually management, publicity, and labels are separate entities in the business. Since every other rule is changing under umbrella that is the industry these days, who says you can’t do it all. Cathy Pellow is doing just that. Pellow began Sargent House in 2006, beginning with the release of Rx Bandits’ …And the Battle Begun – whom she was managing as well. Since then, the label has seen releases from artists such as These Arms Are Snakes, Russian Circles, Good Old War, Maps and Atlases, and their youngest signing, Native. With her already snowballing success, Pellow now manages Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s imprint Rodriguez Lopez Production. She took time out to answer some questions via e-mail about the beginnings of Sargent House, its business models, and more importantly, the label’s creed and code.

When and how did Sargent House come to be? Which signer was the first to snowball the apt amount of talent that is now Sargent House?
Sargent House came to be when I needed to rescue RX Bandits from the limbo situation they found themselves a part of in 2006. They did not want to continue on the label they were on, but needed help to get off. Then they had no way to put out their record …And the Battle Begun. I was their manager and so I became an accidental “label” out of necessity. I just went for it. I got distribution and printed the album for them. Once I did it, I realized it was way better to put out the record this way, where we were able to do what we wanted, how we wanted, when we wanted. Then, to be able to actually see the band get money from their album for the FIRST time ever in their career, I thought, “Wow, I’m onto something here,” and it was settled, Sargent House the label began. The whole chronology of Sargent House is actually up on Wikipedia. It just appeared recently, and I was stoked on how much they got the order of things right!

Is Sargent House more of a label or more of management group?
Sargent House is a music company that happens to also put out the records of the bands we manage. We took the matter of releasing our artists’ albums on as a way to help them retain control of all aspects of their music careers. We are what the future of Indie labels should be in my opinion. There is no “Us against Them” mentality here that often takes place between bands and their management versus the record label, because we all start on the same side to begin with – the side of the artist. We are partners with our bands, sharing the same unified goal, which is to retain the integrity of the music and to grow and develop them so that they will be able to support themselves as musicians. Recorded music is now just a fraction of that puzzle. We don’t see records’ Soundscans as the be all and end all of success of a band. Watching our bands sell out shows is far more interesting to be honest.

SH has a roster that, arguably, is less notable by the public, but contains bands with massive loyal followings. For example, when I was at the Rx Bandits’ show in New Orleans in July, I was a bit surprised, but more than relieved, at the attendance of that show. It felt good that in an era of “crunkcore” and “myspace flavor” bands, people still listen to, what I feel, is great music. Is this a general acknowledgment of a fan base for SH artists?
Hearing that kind of observation is the ultimate compliment to us, and helping grow and nurture fan bases is what we help our bands do. We believe very much so in fostering “community,” and have such a great respect and appreciation for the fans of our bands. I will say we have been fortunate over here in that we have really started to see a sort of cult of lovers of all things “Sargent House“ emerge. People who appreciate the kind of music and the ethics of the kind of bands we are supporting and who appreciate the work we do for them. I think a lot of labels really lost touch, or never make an effort to interact with the people who are the most important of all: the fans of the bands whose music they are releasing. To us, the listener is our friend. They are one of us. They are interested in what we are doing for the same reason it interests us to do it – we all love music!

What has been the response from the listening public in the discovery of new bands through Sargent House based on a roster with a few well-cemented ones? Was the sampler on a success in that?
There is absolutely no question that our roster leads people to find the other bands on our roster. So many people have said, “Wow, I love so and so on your label which turned me onto so and so, and now I just love your whole roster.” Things like the Amazon sampler is a perfect example of what I mean by fostering community and not having an “Us vs. Them” mentality within Sargent House. We aren’t sitting here worried about giving away a song, it’s about inviting people in to check out what we think is great music, and in turn they might just find a new favorite, then they will spread the word and so on. The bands are all really communal here to. We all really get along like a big extended musical circus.

For anyone who has ever checked out Sargent House, it’s hard not to stay up on the site’s updated blog. From reading some of your entries, you are not a fond person of illegal downloading. For the sake of a winded debate, I am curious to know your stance on the argument of discovering new music through illegal downloads, but supporting the bands on the road, or downloading first, falling in love, and getting the album later/cheaper at a show?
I am super supportive of anyone who is out there blogging and writing about and recommending music and such, but no matter what, I just don’t believe that giving away an entire album for free without the permission of the artist is respectful — especially when you can still turn someone onto a band without giving them a whole album download to do so. I understand people’s desire to want to hear the whole album, which is why ALL our albums can be listened to in their entirety in our digital store, and they are less expensive and can be downloaded in any file size you want. We respect the audience, so we were so happy to discover Bandcamp, because it allows you to share the link to hear the whole album on your blog, but it also allows the person checking it out to purchase it from the artist at the same time, should they choose to want to have it in their collection. But really my biggest gripe is with LEAKS because leaking an album is stealing and publishing something that is NOT available yet for a reason. I find leaks to be the most disrespectful thing to do to any band. Let them release their album when they want it to come out, the way they choose. It is their property until they put it out into the world. Then if you want to get it for free, do so after it’s out. But also, the audience really does need to understand that you are 100% hurting the band when you take their album and contribute nothing to them financially. But I understand the downloading quandary of course. And again, it’s why we don’t get all caught up in ONLY the bands’ records, but in the touring and merch, etc. [This is] where the band can be supported as well, to sustain themselves and allow them to continue to play music for us all.

Since Sargent House does implicate a full album stream in the HelloMerch store when buying MP3’s of the label’s albums. Do you feel this should be the model for all labels, instead of 30-second clips?
It is the model we believe in. I think if everyone made the whole album available to hear in full, both leaks and Illegal downloading would be reduced. A lot of people illegally download simply because they “want to hear it first,” before they pay.

A big thing about SH that caught my eye was that when purchasing an album as a digital download, there is a “minimum” price for said album, but you can give more. How has this “tip jar” model worked? Have some fans given a few extra dollars?
You know, it’s funny, I never imagined anyone would ever pay more if they didn’t need to, but a lot of people do, and those people to me are really the people who “get it,” because that money really does go to the bands here. Every gesture like that helps us all to carry on, and reassures us that this uphill battle of putting out non–commercial, quality music is worth going to fight for everyday – so to all of you that recognize that – thank you so much. It means more than you could ever imagine.

The SH imprint has taken a liking to vinyl as of late. Two prints of the These Arms Are Snakes/Russian Circles split, a grand job on Rx Bandits’ Mandala, countless write-ups in LA Weekly, and after talking with Chase Ortega in New Orleans, and his former work with Pirate Press, why the wax pride?
What can we say, we think vinyl is beautiful sounding and embraces the ritual of loving music, [and it encompasses] big, gorgeous, thought-out artwork. It’s really just the kind of bands we have here. They are “vinyl” bands, not disposable plastic jewel cover bands, so it’s only fitting for them.

How did the management of Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s production company come about?
Sonny Kay, who was partners with Omar in [the now defunct] Gold Standard Labs (GSL) label, was doing some artwork for Red Sparowes, and I had always loved Sonny Kay and his art and his label. I called him to come talk to me about doing some artwork for us here, and in talking to him about what Sargent House was all about and our whole philosophy and style of how we work with our bands and he said, “Hey, I need to introduce you to Omar, he wants to have his own label again, but he needs you to do it with him!” So Omar and I got together, and after our first four-hour conversation, we agreed that we were mutually crazy in the best of ways and committed to things in a way other people just don’t understand. We both truly love what we do, and can’t stop – so we share that bond and our overall view on creative freedom. I have so much utter respect for uniquely creative people, and I myself am extremely creative. I just happen to apply it to the way in which I see doing business, while he applies it to recording and making films and art. I am honored to be able to help people like Omar, and all my bands for that matter, be freed up from dealing with the “business” side of things so that they can do what they do best, and that is to make beauty for all of us to enjoy! I’m happy to say that Sonny Kay is also here with us full time as head Creative Director. He now creates the majority of the beautiful packaging you see on our vinyl and CDs, including the RX Bandits’ Mandala packaging, which is some of my favorite.

Sargent House is growing with talent, without question, but what is next, or do you take every new venture as it comes?
We take it as it comes. We just want to stay true to our bands, and not grow so big that they get lost in any shuffle. We don’t ever want to give into trends. We act from our hearts and use our gut instincts. I’m not ruled by record sales statistics and focus group opinions. I make my assessments at the live show – that is where Great Bands are found. I think the music business is really interesting to be in right now because all the old rules are no longer applicable. I’ve never liked rules made up by old men, so the guerrilla, “make your own system and go for it” thing has always been my kind of music business. The Cream will rise to the top, and I believe that Cream is real, honest musicians making music that is true. So, RIP Autotune, and gimmicky bands – you would never be welcome over at Sargent House.