Archive for January, 2010

Converge interview

January 11, 2010

Source: Absolutepunk

Converge is simply a pinnacle in the hardcore, punk, D.I.Y. world. Whether it’s up and coming bands or established ones on this site, many have an influence in the two decade steam engine train that is Converge. With the release of the heavy hitting Axe to Fall this year, frontman Jacob Bannon took time to sit and talk about the band’s longevity, his work in the art world and what really makes this band keep turning out those punches in the studio.

Axe to Fall has just been getting rave reviews. You guys have certainly cemented yourselves into that hardcore band, surviving about two decades now. What do you have to say about that?

I guess you can say that. I don’t really know. It’s flattering when people say that. It doesn’t effect us as a band. It doesn’t drive us as a band. It doesn’t change the way we perceive our music, and how we write music. We just think of ourselves as four guys from Massachusetts who play music we enjoy…If it’s influential and people appreciate it, that’s cool. If it’s not, that’s okay too. We just want to play stuff that’s truly meaningful to us. That moves us. Songs about our lives and our experiences that challenge us. Anything outside of that is not that important.

What about what Pitchfork had to say about calling your band the “Black Flag” of our generation? Is that humbling, stressful?

We don’t pay attention to what reviewers or writers say about our band – not even listeners to a degree. We appreciate the attention, and we appreciate that people connect to our music in some way. We appreciate that writers and reviewers and critics have high opinions of certain things, but it’s not something we pay attention to really comment on. Sure, there’s plenty of opinions that are the exact opposite of theirs out there as well. It’s not something we claim. It’s not something that we strive for. The only thing we strive to be or to have is our independence from all of that. Do our own thing. People are always going to develop their own impressions and big analogies and metaphors to place us and sort of describe our band, but really, at the end of the day we are just Converge. That’s who we are.

It’s interesting you say you strive to do your own thing. A lot of musicians – just for example, an interview I had with Andy Williams of Every Time I Die. He was very adamant about the respect he had for your band and your D.I.Y. attitude. Having the longevity you’ve had as a band, what do you think about the D.I.Y. scene now with technology such as the Internet either ruining it, or in fact helping people do things that were much harder to do back in the day.

The world of independent music doesn’t exist of the level that it did, say, 15 years ago. 20 years ago – 15 years ago. Things are just dramatically different. Things are no longer truly underground. Underground culture, counterculture music, has been co-opted and packaged and sold as safe rebellion to a lot of kids. A lot of independent music doesn’t have the bite and power that it used to have. It doesn’t have a message – whether it be a personal message or political message, an environmental message, anything. A lot of that fight is gone. A lot of that will is gone. It’s not to say that there aren’t these bands that are embodying those key things and speaking up for something, whether it be artistic or social relevance. It’s few and far between. There’s more bands playing the fantastic level. They’re role playing. They want to be in a large band. They want to play heavy music, but there’s no message. It’s decoration. It doesn’t really go past the sound. There’s no sort of personality or character behind it. That’s a sad thing to me. Personally I wouldn’t want to go out there and play music and share ideas with people if I had nothing to say. That’s kind of how we’ve always been as a band. The day we aren’t relevant anymore to ourselves, that we no longer have something collectively to put out there that we want to share with people, that will be the day we stop making music. I find that to be an interesting thing. Now there are bands that come out there and they get management and booking and they run around and merchandise themselves to hell – there’s not really a message to what they really do. That’s sad to me. I hope that they find their voice with those bands that are missing that. That’s definitely the difference in punk rock or D.I.Y. mentality now. D.I.Y. mentality now is setting up a MySpace music player and adding friends. It’s not going out on tour and booking their own shows. It’s playing to 10 people at a VFW Hall. It’s learning to find your own voice and find what you love in music. There really isn’t much of that anymore. [People care more about] their fame and notoriety rather than their substances. That’s sad. At least to me it is.

Going into the first decade of music, how is Deathwish Inc. going, and what do you foresee in the future?

Just like our band, I take everything one day at a time. Our intention was to create a label home for ourselves and our friends needed a label to help them. A lot of us had bad label experience. We wanted to try and create a label that was ethically sound. We still face a lot of the same hardships that any of the other label does. Labels are always financially strained, but you do your best with what you have. In the last ten years, we’ve been able to employ some great people, and release some fantastic music that I find to be extremely important and extremely relevant. I’m honored to work for those bands. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t really look at growth. I don’t have some grand plan, besides that I just wanted to release some powerful music that moves me, that hopefully moves other people that are involved in the hardcore/punk rock community. It’s a bit of diverse, and there’s a lot of strength in that diversity. I’d just like to be able to share that with people. It doesn’t really go any further than that for me and the rest of the guys that help run the label. We just want to create a really great environment.

You did the artwork for No Heroes and Axe to Fall and artwork for many other bands.

The art development for releases, especially our own. I do a lot of design as well. Art directions. Things like that. Kind of Deathwish affiliated but I do other labels’ [work]. That’s essentially what my day job is, creating artwork for bands and record labels and things. That’s how I pay my bills.

If you didn’t have Converge, or the music scene, would art be the solace that you would find yourself in?

I have a BA in art and design. I taught art and design at a college level for a bit. That’s a world I’m sort of gravitated towards in some way. So yeah, I’d probably be involved with that just as much as I am now.

Does both the role as an artist musically and in design feed off of each other?

They’re all creative expressions in some way. They come from different places though. When you are creating something for yourself, it’s your own artwork and it’s meant to complement your own sonic efforts and musical efforts and stuff like that. When you’re doing something for a client, you are trying to capture their voice. Things they want to see in their project, not necessarily what you want you see in a project. Some artists are different though. Some are like, “You take over the individual aspect of this project and we’ll get what we get.” Others will simply art direct the entire time, and you’re just a cog in their wheel. That’s fine too. Everyone has their own level they are involved in.

Do you think there is a substance of album art that has been lost over the years? People trying to be ironic or cheesy or whatever?

My only criticism of the independent music world as a whole might be that nobody waits anymore. Nobody takes their time to develop something. There’s always this mad dash. Some sort of finish line to create some sort of piece of art to get a release out to do this or to do that, before a band really finds that voice, finds what they really want to be. They crack under the stress of that, and aren’t really happy with what they put out there. I just wish people would take a little more time in developing their ideas. That’s just for me, as an outsider, as a fan of music, purchasing records, experiencing them.

What do you think about vinyl making a resurgence with the catalog Converge has?

It’s not much of a resurgence for me. We’ve been doing vinyl since we started this band. I released our first 7″ in 1991. I released our first 12″ in 1994. We finally got it out in mid-’94. It’s not a resurgence to me, because we’ve been doing it this whole time. To people who are outside that vinyl world and haven’t been taken that much interest into it until now, you’d have to ask them that. We’ve always felt that it is an interesting media. It’s been a media that’s always called to punk rock, called to hardcore, just independent music in general. Number one, it’s crude, it’s physical. It’s archaic in some ways, but it’s also very beautiful. All those qualities relate to punk rock in some way.

Do you feel it’s exclusionary? Do you look at the resurgence as a backlash to the digital age?

There’s definitely an audience for vinyl now that looks at it that way and perceives it as being that. In a way, it has kind of taken on that role. Media is always changing. I don’t think we should ever be really locked into a dominant format. It’s about the music. It’s not necessarily about how it is presented to. As long as it is presented in a way that complements the music in a way of how it has meant to be presented.

I know we hit on this earlier in the interview, but if there’s one thing that all these bands are walking away with from Converge, and what you’ve been doing, what is the one thing, musically or a state of mind, or the way you’ve run this band, what is this Smithsonian thing people should look at in your history?

It wouldn’t be any sort of moral, or ethical or political statement. It would be a really simple thing – just leave your own mark in this world. That’s it. Let it be a positive one. It’s really, truly as simple as that. If you stick to that, and you stay focused on that as an individual and the positive aspects of life and positive music…just positive anything. There’s so much negativity in this world, I just don’t want us to help spread that. I want us to take negative experiences as people and help turn that into positive music and positive art. I want to be able to help people. That’s been my way of being able to leave what I would say is a positive mark in this world. I’ve been in this band since I was 13 years old. I’m 33 now. That’s a long time. I’ve spent more than half my life in this community giving everything I have to it. It’s not for some weird ass fame or ego or anything else like that. I don’t have that. I don’t care about that. I’m not rich. I’m not trying to get rich. If it was about money, I wouldn’t be in this community, because there is none. I wouldn’t run an independent record label because there’s no financial gain in that. Things pay for themselves, and you get by. It’s about doing something positive. Being able to sleep at night with a good conscience, like I’m being able to do something fulfilling to me, and hopefully meaningful to other people. That’s really it. If I can leave that mark and be a positive, than I have done something right. There are a lot of people that are either dormant or doing something negative in this world. They can either take that and use it in their band philosophies, or they can take that and use it in their lives. That’s really that. It should be that way. It should be that simple.


Cursive (Tim Kasher) interview

January 11, 2010

Source: Absolutepunk

Thanks to Anton Djamoos again for helping with questions – ed. note]

Before sound check, frontman and writer Tim Kasher sat down to discuss the past decade and the elements of Cursive that have changed and stayed the same over the past ten years, and told us he isn’t as “self-deprecating” a guy as we all think he is on record.

How has the touring for Mama, I’m Swollen been going?

It’s been nice…it’s been really positive. With every record, we’re not sure if we’re going to do another one. The interest that people have with Mama, I’m Swollen, it’s our sixth one, that’s a lot under one moniker, and you are not sure if you are really bothering people. [Laughs] Then you begin to realize that you don’t have to worry about those people, and I think when we put out a record like [that], it kind of gave us this reaffirm that there are people who are still excited about what we are doing. I think that’s the thing about this industry, there are those 30 year old’s who love Domestica…[Now we have a real younger crowd] that their album is Happy Hollow or Mama, I’m Swollen. That’s pretty positive as far as trying to stay afloat. Mama, I’m Swollen has been really reaffirming for us. It’s been a stronger reaction than Happy Hollow was, where with Happy Hollow, we went off on such a wilder tangent.

There’s something I noticed about the first listen of Mama, I’m Swollen dealing with your lyrical content. It seems like it’s repetitive and chorus-y, yet at the same time, it’s a side of Cursive that we haven’t seen. This album seemed a lot more accessible. For you, where you have written these very wordy albums, did you sit down and say, “This is what I want to say,” and then go with that?

We’re always trying to expand what Cursive is conceptually. So with each record, we continue to break these parameters that we set upon ourselves. We need to do that as writers. Such a common thing we’ll say is, “Well, this doesn’t sound like Cursive here,” and that can be kind of detrimental. Sometimes we’ll stop ourselves and say, “Well, what does that mean? What does Cursive sound like? Why are we self-imposing these boundaries, these borders, upon ourselves?” That was kind of the latest version, to try and continue to stretch what we do as a band is doing stuff that is more traditional. It was as difficult as far back as when we opened up The Ugly Organ with “Some Red Handed Slight of Hand” and it was one of the most straightforward things we’d ever done. And I was like, “Well, we’ll do it,” but I thought there wasn’t going to be enough twist or innovation to it. Then I was like, well, again, you’re setting these parameters on yourself and that’s ridiculous. I think that answers the question.

No, it does. It’s just upon my first listen, it seemed like a more straightforward album than all the things that were going on with Happy Hollow. I was just wondering if it was a new mode of writing that you took with this record, or a more natural thing?

It’s probably more of a natural thing than the previous two records anyway. The writing process is just natural for me. That’s probably what you are catching.

Also, lyrically, it seems Mama, I’m Swollen is more self-deprecating than anything Cursive has put out thus far? Did you feel that in anyway? There seems like there is no hope in that record.

Yeah. I think in the past I’ve given off a feeling…a sense of fighting more to Cursive, and Good Life, I recognize I tend to be a bit more self-deprecating, more belief. There’s another part of writing this album, the way you put it, that’s more natural…in the natural way I write, we allowed the record to be the style to blend with what I do with The Good Life, and I think it comes out in the lyrics as a result too. In the past I would have saved such deprecation for The Good Life. Back then, in my life, it has been this feeling of loss behind it, and the fight is out of it, with Cursive it’s different.

I feel that way with an album like Blackout, comparative to the self-deprecation of like Pedro the Lion’s Control.

I really like that album. I like the way [David] Bazan writes.

I know everyone talks about Album of the Year, but Blackout flows so well…

It honestly startles me when I go back and listen to those records and how bleak [Laughs] and I’m always surprised because I’m not that type of person, but with Mama, I’m Swollen, it’s the same thing. It’s like nothing really changed? But I guess your writing persona is different…

From when you step back and critique…


It’s been quite a decade for Cursive, coming out with four records. Within that decade, Happy Hollow saw one of the first big leaks three months in advance. Then you came out with the $1 deal. What are some of your thoughts as to where Cursive is headed into this decade.

Maybe, what I said earlier, being older now and recognizing that we don’t need to worry about people who are tired of us. We’re all the same. It’s the music industry as far as listeners. There are certain bands, I won’t say any names, where it’s like, “Why won’t they quit?” [Laughs] As a band, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. You shouldn’t have to worry about it at all. Certainly know you are not out there to please everybody. It’s something we’ve never wanted to do. With the success that the Ugly Organ had, it made me reevaluate what I was doing. That was the closest we ever got to stopping the band, because I got, for a long time, really making sure I wasn’t turning into some bullshit artist that was writing…basically it was like, “Why did this do so well? Why did people respond to this so well?” So I was pretty hard on myself at that time. Maybe with that time off, I found some maturity and I recognize that, you know, you’re actually writing what you want to write, people appreciate that and you’re pretty goddamn lucky that you get to do what you want to do.

As I look at every album. Each one kind of has their own musical style and flow. Each one creates their own scene and story. Is that natural or something set out for each album?

One of the things I’m failing at is I am becoming predictable by having theme records. It’s something that I’m trying not to do, but with each record we do, it’s just the way [it goes]. Sometimes I do intently. Album of the Year and Happy Hollow were intentional. [The others] all just kind of ended up that way. I like that. By the end of it, I always just concede. I guess I just like it to be held together as one piece. I guess my point is, I don’t want to be held – like David Bazan is held to doing concept records – I don’t want to hold him to that, and I hope he doesn’t hold me to that. [Laughs]

What do you say about critics coming out and saying, “Well, it’s good, but it’s not Domestica, or The Ugly Organ.” Is it frustrating? Do you ever want to scream, “Look, I’m not going to write the same record. That was a time in my life that won’t be recreated.”

I feel like I respond to it in a pretty healthy way. There’s a challenge there that I like. Sure, I’m curious about what it was about The Ugly Organ. I’m curious to see every record I do after this, how it sits with people. I’m curious how [that album] strikes a nerve with people. I’m still surviving the business and that’s great. I’ll never compromise my writing style for the business. The fact that there’s a challenge there, that there’s something you’ve done in the past that people can’t let go, and you feel you can’t reproduce. I’m not let down. I’m like any human, where there might be a rude review here and there that will be a blow, like somebody telling you to fuck off to your face. You get over it. [Laughs] You sleep on it. You wake up the next day, and realize people have the right to their own opinions.

Cursive (Ted Stevens) interview

January 11, 2010

Source: Absolutepunk

[Help with questions from Anton Djamoos – ed. note]

Cursive have certainly made a name for themselves in the past decade, and with the release of their sixth full length, and fourth in the past ten years, Mama, I’m Swollen is no exception to the creativity, evolve and passion we all know to expect from this band. Guitarist Ted Stevens sat down to talk a little about the final album for the decade and what it’s been like in the studio and on the road.

How has the touring been on Mama, I’m Swollen, seeing this as sort of the second leg out?

It’s hard to tell what leg it is. We’ve been touring since March. It’s been a pretty full year of touring. It feels really good. I like playing the new material still. I think we’re playing it pretty well. The band’s coming together and sounding good.

Do you feel you reached that pinnacle with your appearance on David Letterman?

I can’t say that from performance standards. Maybe from some other…yeah. Maybe that’s the most exposure we’ll ever see. [Laughs]

You feel you didn’t do a job well done on that performance?

Naw, I had a rough day. It’s a hard part to sing. It’s a lower octave. We were still learning the song live, and I felt like my voice wasn’t really there. I felt Tim [Kasher] sang well. The band played well. I was caught up in my own little Tyra Banks I guess. [Laughs]

It could have been worse, it could have been the Tyra Banks Show. Your writing process for this albums seemed a bit more accessible – songs, opposed to the tangents we’ve come to see. Do you think it was a bit more straightforward for the band as a whole? Was this the next step with each album sort of holding its own sound?

Yeah. We talked about it – we didn’t talk about it. [In the end,] we’re all on the same page. We wanted to make a record that was less songs, for one, and perhaps you could say, more straightforward.

There’s still tangents going on with “Mama, I’m Satan,” and a bit towards the end of the album, but for the most part, do you feel like it’s the most straightforward record you’ve made since Cursive’s first record?

I guess so. Definitely, there’s instruments that we used that you hear more in pop music, I don’t know, country music – acoustic guitar, semi-hollow-body guitars, a variety of instruments, new arrangers – I think there’s a variety of reasons why it’s different…and also, to make a record that’s more stripped down. Instrumentation-wise. Production-wise.

So that was the idea, to strip everything away as opposed to everything that was happening on Happy Hollow?

Happy Hollow was more building and building, and then we got to mixing it was adding and adding. I think Mike [Mogis] did a great job. With A.J. [Mogis] and the band this time, we just threw everything up on the mix and then subtracted and pulled things out.

So this would be the minimalist record?

Well, I think the first two, because they were just guitar, bass and drums and one vocal over dubbed or second singer, those are really the bare bones recordings, as far as the band goes…Domestica was a little bit more – we got track happy. [Laughs] I think it’s more than Domestica, but less than The Ugly Organ as far as instrumentation.

What do you think of the instrumental themes of each record? Holding their own opera or grandeur circus.

Since the records I’ve been involved in, the EP’s and things, there’s been a really conscious move towards unifying every song, developing some kind of bigger picture where each song is a part of that story. I don’t think it’s a novel idea, but it’s just something we really like. I think it was kind of our intention to downplay that this time around too. You’re right with the simplicity. I think Tim, when he went in and did his final edit of all the lyrics, I think he definitely brought it back around and wove the story into it. Something I wasn’t as aware of as in past records because I wanted to see what he would end up doing. I think it’s real interesting, the story, trying to follow it.

I just feel like every album is interesting. I felt bad for all the backlash that Happy Hollow had for not being The Ugly Organ Part Two. Is that something important to you, to not create the same album twice?


Does it matter that all these reviews and critics at this point? You guys are certainly a household name amongst the music community at this point.

Yes. No. I guess it matters in a small sense, but not a big sense to me. In the long run, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m different. I don’t really know how to answer that question for our band really.

Does it matter when you come out to a show and 300-400 people are rocking out in a crowd?

I’d say 300 to 400 is a good crowd. We had that last night…we were really happy with the reaction. I think it just matters that we are satisfied with what we are doing with our albums and don’t sigh and regret. We like playing the music. Maybe time will tell. Maybe Happy Hollow will make more sense. I don’t know, probably not. I like it.

Say Anything interview

January 11, 2010

Source: Absolutepunk

Figures, I forget my questions at my apartment to interview one of the biggest names of this “scene,” or whatever, on the height of the love/hate release of his band’s new self-titled album. Say Anything frontman Max Bemis and I took a walk around downtown Austin before their sold out show on the Hate Everyone Tour, and this was our talk:

The first time I ever heard Say Anything, …is a Real Boy showed up in my mailbox down at KLSU my freshman year of college. It’s definitely something to say about your age at the time, and now coming out with the self-titled, it seems like the self-titled is very much appropriate for your age and growth. Is that where the writing came from with this album? Are you a bit more open eyed-open eared to the world now?

To me, it’s a state of mind that comes from having gone from a lot of painful situations, and sort of embrace life for what it is. Once you kind of have that base level of understanding and acceptance about what is hard in life, you can sort of reach this new plateau of innocence which kind of brings you back to when you were younger, but it’s informed by this greater understanding of life not being – you know, you can only be this whiny teenager for so long. You know what I mean? Everyone should be a whiny teenager…I’m not saying everyone is a whiny teenager, but there certainly is this stage that you go through towards the end of your teens and your early 20’s where it’s like, “Screw the world.” There also seems to be not much you can do about it.

Is that naive thought process completely out of your mindset at this point?

To me, I think it’s less naive and more just cynical when you dismiss the world as if there is nothing you can do to help it. I think the way society is built, it fosters this immature mentality that a lot of people end of possessing for way too long. Sometimes you get out of it, and sometimes you don’t. Another part of it is the natural growth of growing older as a human being. So, part of it is society and then part of it is growing up [no matter where you are living]. I think a lot of it has to do with, you know, you have to free your mental constraints, from this mental slavery.

Do you believe that your marriage has a lot to do with lyrically what’s going on with this record?

Yeah. Definitely. I wouldn’t have been able to get married if I hadn’t figured out certain things before.

You feel like the growing up process is directly related to getting married, but has also made you grown as a person?

Exactly. It’s a step you shouldn’t take unless you are ready for it. Then once I did take it, it was another part of this adventure I’ve been on for the past couple of years where I kind of let go…where I really started to battle negative thinking and negativity in my life, and stand up for myself more. Live a better life. There’s plenty of conflict and tragedy and up’s and down’s even once you enter [that positive mindset still]. Life isn’t resolved and simplified. The cool thing about how kids are reacting to [Say Anything] is that it isn’t just a boring record written about being married. Being married isn’t boring. It’s exciting and it’s fun and sometimes it is hard. In my life right now, it’s even more exciting than when I was doing mushrooms and ending up in the mental hospital. That almost seemed more plotting. It was predictable. I knew what was going to happen if I kept smoking weed constantly with my bi-polar disorder, I was going to end up back in the hospital, and I did. If I dated someone who was emotionally immature and hurt me all the time, but I kept going back to that person – they would hurt me. Where as now, I don’t even know what’s going to happen! It’s exciting and sometimes it’s hard, but in reality, it’s life. I was kind of in a state of arrested development. The first couple of records were about what it’s like to live in that state of arrested development, to yearn for something more. Society, the government and the media don’t do much to encourage people to step out of their comfort area. I kind of had to be like, “Screw the man. I need to live life. I need genuine stuff.”

Would you say you are no longer fearful of this world? Now that you’ve gotten past those dilemmas, are you in a mindset now where you are like, “I want to live. It’s not too late. I’m not too old.” Is that truly the base meaning of the new album?

Yeah. I think it is normal for people to go through a phase where they are not though. I’m not judging or looking down on them. In that same sense, I’m not saying that there is not anything profound on our other records. I’m not going to dismiss [those other albums] because of the state of mind I was in when I wrote them. I do feel that I am older, I have matured and I have moved forward. There would be something wrong if I didn’t.

Let’s talk about the musical direction this album took. Writing a pop song like “Crush’d” and writing this grandeur opener. Then writing an accessible single like “Hate Everyone,” where did this all come from?

To be honest, if anyone goes back to what Say Anything started as, it was the most poppy, alternative rock, heart on your sleeve, punk based stuff ever. I let go of that for a while because my life got really dark, but I like to think that we just kind of embraced both sides of the band, and so it became who we really are. That’s why I consider this our definitive record. There were always – whether it was “Alive With the Glory of Love” or “I Want to Know Your Plans”…

Those were still happy mediums…

Exactly. Exactly. I think that to bring out a side of the band, where as on [In Defense of the Genre], I was kind of afraid. I felt like I had something to prove in a way. Like, being influenced by a place we were put in as a band. I always like to put it as being handed the keys to the kingdom – where someone gets handed too much power too quickly. That’s kind of what happened to us I think. I mean, thank god people really appreciate our music and were talking, really building me up as a songwriter and as a symbol of something in this scene. I felt like I had to go out of, in a certain way, to disprove people – that’s why we made a record called In Defense of the Genre. We were the band that was actually growing out of it, so my reaction to that was wanting to have kids know I was thinking about it too hard. Even though it produced something I was proud of, it’s definitely something I’m distant from now, because at the time I was like, “I need to make a record that lets people know I’m not afraid to be labeled this way.” Where I was just witnessing so many bands that were just so ashamed of themselves that they couldn’t be labeled emo. Well, you know what, I think that’s a product of society’s bullshit that these people are afraid of who they are, that I’m not going to succumb to this shit.

The whole point of what I was saying, and how it relates to the keys of the kingdom quote – I was freaking 21 years old! I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about or what I was doing. I was just sort of acting on what I thought was my best interest. When you have that amount of pressure put on you at such a young age, often it takes a lot of work to humble yourself, and realize, “What do kids even want to hear from Say Anything?” I’m lucky enough that all our fans, or most of our fans, stuck with us for In Defense and came to our shows to sing the words, but it was almost like testing them. Did everyone past the test? Can you get through 30 dark songs about society and my bi-polar and my relationships and how they all react together, by the end of the record there’s not even a real resolution to the story, except “You never know what’s going to happen.” It’s like watching a dark, dense indie movie that is informative and good. You may say you like it, but you’re not going to put it on [as much]. The new record, I can compare to like any real good Spielberg movie compared to that. This is a movie I’m going to put on to be in a good mood…there was so much cerebral thinking that went into the last record. This one – straight from the heart. I didn’t feel the need to justify anything. I just wanted to put out my feelings, my thoughts about my life and how it has evolved. Thank god, since my life has gone in a positive direction, you know, good music reflected it.

Essentially, the instrumentation just followed the way that you felt.

Exactly. If people listen enough, the music is more complex. The guitar parts – there’s weird time changes. I’ve definitely matured musically on this record. Compared to In Defense, it was a little sloppier, even though it was cool…In terms of the popiness, the songs on there – it relates to the idea of an accessible mentality, of being an accessible person and not being afraid of people, instead of putting people off. As a society, we are trained to build walls around each other. I think that within this, the one thing I can take from people looking up to me in this “scene” or whatever, is having the privilege of being an influence in some way. [That positive nature] is starting to dissipate. Kids on message boards. Kids on and stuff. [There is a] shift from being really eager and wanting to discuss music and being a music journalist in their own right to [this shift in negativity]. It’s the same thing amongst fans of my band. I want kids to know that it is not okay to be mean to each other and to build walls. [It’s not okay] to say, “Screw you!” because you live your life a certain way. I think everyone within the realm of what you are doing, has to express their opinion of what you are doing. I see that on, that people are trying to keep [that eager thought process and discovery], and I have to do the same thing with my music. Honestly, if I become this bitter, weird guy who seems unapproachable and is throwing his middle finger up to hipsters as a collective, which doesn’t even exist, or emo as a collective, which doesn’t really exist, it’s just like a cliche.

So do you think writing a song like “Admit It!” was a bad move on your part, or was it that you were just young?

I don’t think it was a bad mood. By writing it, as an artist, I have had this obligation to follow it up. I see all my work as a collective. If you were to just end that record and assume that he’s saying that a new generation of bohemian, “hipsterism” is just bullshit, screw it, it’s evil – forget about it. I’d like to think that [In Defense of the Genre] sort of explained that it isn’t about what some people might call hipsters or what people deem as being emo. Especially with this record, it’s just about being mean and jaded. That’s what I intended when I wrote [“Admit It!”], I didn’t want to end a movement – end hipsterism in Brooklyn – I just wanted it to be said that some of these people – and those were the people I was dealing with at the time – were really mean and condescending. That’s not fair, and no one should be treated like that. I think the [albums] that came after […is a Real Boy] sort of explained that in a way. We don’t get those questions anymore like, “You’re that really anti-hipster band?” There are bands like that, but that’s not really us. We’re just this really neurotic mess of opinions and people who come together because they’re weird. It’s once you commit to interacting with any public through your art, you have to constantly – especially pop, any form of pop – you are constantly making statements. If you don’t think you are – you don’t think you do to some degree – then you are just being a schmuck. I see it as the opposite of having an ego…I just see it so much amongst older bands, especially ones that used to have such younger audiences and now think they are a grown-up band, but they are still around the same age group of the kids who used to listen to them. Now they think they’re Radiohead. It’s like, dude, don’t condescend to your audience that you don’t care about them…

[At this point a fan walks up and asks Bemis to sign a CD. Without hesitation he does.]

I live my life sometimes to the extreme to try and humble myself.

You just signed that kids CD. You weren’t like, “Hey, I’m in the middle of an interview” and blew him off. Is that something that you feel…well, you keep saying “scene,” but this genre of music…

This approximate genre. I’m very proud that people stopped caring as much, and the lines kind of went down and there was this backlash against[listening to certain music] like five years ago. Now people are like, “I like what I like.” They’re open minded. Some kid will listen to Mew and then listen to All Time Low without batting an eyelash. That’s how it should be, [there are just these associations and certain lumps of bands out there].

Do you feel with the self-titled, this is the definitive spot of Say Anything, or is tomorrow a new day?

The best way to phrase it is kind of “defining a band,” and then you look at an artist – a true painter – and he may have a work that is his seminal work, and everything else…like Michael Jackson. Looking back on an album like Bad, your mind automatically compares it to that. Like Weezer’s first album or Green Day’s Dookie. Even though they made American Idiot like ten years later, and it is seen as some of their most seminal work, they’ve grown in leaps and bounds and left and right, and there were three albums between [American Idiot and Dookie]…That’s the way I see this record – I predict – but no one really knows. I can’t tell people that it has to be this record, it could be …is a Real Boy in the end. I think it is this record. I think time will tell, and so far that’s how it is looking. …is a Real Boy seems to me like that older record that will always have that amount of credibility no matter how big a band gets, this is the record, if you want to show you are a hardcore fan, five years down the line, you will know all the words to …is a Real Boy, and you will hold it up on the pedestal…But it isn’t, to me, that record that breaks through and [have] your mind go back to that record. That’s why this is the self-titled record, because when we were writing the songs, it seems to me this is what Say Anything was trying to do the whole time. Since we are pretty young, and tend to be a band for a long time, god willing, we hope that this will be that for people in the future. If we decide to do a stripped down record in ten years, we hope people will be like, “This is quieter than the self-titled,” or if we continue to grow in this direction, people may say, “Oh, this is better this way than on the self-titled.” To me, this is the record that will automatically pop into people’s heads to compare us to. In the same way, not to compare us to such a huge, amazing band, for Green Day, American Idiot, although it helped them, for me, as a huge Green Day fan, and they’re still one of my favorite bands, Dookie is the vanilla, and everything else has a bit of topping and icing…when I strip it all down, I hear Dookie. To me, that’s why this record – something about it when we were writing and recording it – we were like, “This is what we’ve been trying to do since we were fourteen!”

Have any last words for the haters?

It’s funny, I’ve always wanted to – and maybe we’ll do this in the future – I really don’t like saying negative things publicly, whether it’s people talking about my band or people in other bands, so towards the haters right now, no. Just keep doing your thing. Serve your function. Maybe one day I’ll get to you. We’ll do a special interview where I let out all my inner anger. For now, I just want to say thank you so much for everyone on, because it’s been [that site] who has been so supportive of this record. Everything I’ve wanted to happen with this record, has happened so far, because everyone has been so vocal and positive with [it], so thank you.

AFI interview

January 11, 2010

Source: Absolutepunk

AFI have certainly had quite a career. In their time, there has been a steady progression across each album in the band’s thick catalog. They’ve lost fans, gained others and still maintain a spot in punk rock history thus far. With their eighth studio album, Crash Love, the band have looked to move forward yet again. Guitarist Jade Puget took some time to talk about the three album/three year coincidence of the last decade, the band’s longevity and how all bets are off on how you think the future of AFI will sound like.

There’s been a three year gap in between albums since the beginning of the decade. Is this coincidental in the recording process, or since The Art of Drowning, has AFI really taken to more critique while in the studio?

I guess it’s sort of both, because we are very methodical, and don’t try to rush out an album because we should. I feel like after Decemberunderground took three years to make, I told myself, “We’re not going to take three years again. There’s no way we’re going to do that again,” yet it somehow seemed to happen the same way. There’s something about the three year period that seems to take that long.

Is there anything that you find yourself in the studio working on more with, that you noticed that may have happened with Decemberunderground?

This time was a little different, because we started out with a producer and did actually record some of the record, until we realized we didn’t like it. We went back and recorded the songs again, so if it weren’t for that, it wouldn’t have taken so long.

AFI has come out in interviews and said you guys have recorded a good amount of songs, but have only chosen a handful for each album. Could you see all those b-sides on a compilation one day?

We’ve released quite a few b-sides for [Crash Love], and that’s just kind of the way it is. Everyone wants an exclusive b-side, whether it’s iTunes or Japan or England. All your b-sides eventually come out, so I don’t think we have many that hasn’t seen the light of day.

I meant more along the lines of every AFI b-side across the band’s discography. Could we see a compilation like that?

That would be kind of cool. People might think it’s a new album though, and it would be all b-sides, so it may be this mediocre album.

With Crash Love, it seems like you guys took a little more pop – and I use that term loosely – influences into recording. I say this with the known influence that band has with The Cure, as opposed to the darker undertones the band is known for in the past. What are some of your thoughts on that.

It’s been so many years between records. We’ve changed as people. We’ve changed as song writers. We’ve changed some of what we are into. This record is more of a rock record, than a pop record. [Also] we’re writing a rock song that sounds more poppy than something on Black Sails in the Sunset. Particularly on this record, we [had already] done a particular sound, so we want to explore other stuff. I think that’s just a product of growth.

What about your musical influences over the past decade. How has that shaped your sound over these past few albums?

It’s strange the way we write. We’re never really influenced directly by music. It seems strange, when we’re writing music, it just never seems to work out that way, like, “Let’s write a song like this,” or “I listened to this band today, and they have this cool part.” I don’t know what it is. I’m always influenced in general by music, but there wasn’t a certain thing I was listening to in the past couple of years that shaped this new record. There were certainly a few things I was listening to back when we were recording Sing the Sorrow – bands like Refused I was listening to since the 90’s. I can still put on those records and still get a thrill from them. I can still get that energy I got from when I first listened to [those albums]. Stuff like The Beatles and certain blues records. Those things will stick with me and influence me in some way.

What do you think of the whole punk scene now, or whatever it is called today or turned itself into. Though AFI’s sound has shifted, do you feel like you guys are still part of that, or has the natural shift taken you out of that genre?

We have certainly been a punk band for a long time. Punk to me, when I was growing up, is a different thing now. I wouldn’t even know what that word really means today. When I considered myself to be punk, which is like the 80’s [laughs], I don’t even know if that’s pop-punk or if it was street punk – what I was listening to back then – that word has come to mean…when I started to listen to punk, it either was or it wasn’t. Now that word is used to describe so many things, it’s hard to really know what it means.

You guys certainly have some grand influences, ranging from The Cure to the Misfits, and I enjoyed your feature in Alternative Press on your influence of Jawbreaker. In everything you’ve done now, across your catalog, even within the future of the band, in hoping to have an impact on future generations and bands to come, what aspect of AFI do you hope holds strong from here on?

One thing I’m sort of proud of, that we’ve maintained throughout the 11 years I’ve been in the band, is the honesty of our music – the honesty of what we are doing. That’s why we change our music so much. You know, when we put out Sing the Sorrow and Decemberunderground – that sound of those records – we sold a lot of records and were very successful. We could have easily said, “Oh well, this works, let’s stick with this. This is going to be our sound.” We didn’t do that, and we keep changing our sound. You could very well fail if you move away from something that works. I would at least hope that bands maybe would look at that, if they are going to look at anything we did, and see that musical exploration and growing and trying new things is what it’s about.

What do you think of AFI’s longevity today? What does the future hold?

I don’t know. Even when I was asked that question ten years ago, I would have never guessed what happened. This kind of lifestyle, just being a musician, is a very morphing future. You kind of just enjoy it and hope you can just continue to make records and go on the road and perform them.

What do you have to say to those fans that aren’t happy with the way AFI has progressed? Is a bit disheartening?

That’s the case of any band really, but that’s been the case for this band the last fifteen years. Even before I was in AFI, I remember when message boards first started, reading people saying those kinds of things. We have long since begun not to worry about people wanting us to stay the same, because they should know by now we are not going to. This is who we are, and we’re not going to make the same record again. If those people like a certain record, or a certain sound, then they can just listen to that record. If they like punk rock music, and we’re not playing it anymore, than there are plenty of great punk rock bands out there. It’s a win-win situation.

Russian Circles interview (2)

January 11, 2010


Russian Circles are poised at this point to be the next big instrumental band. With the addition of bassist Brian Cook to the line-up, and having him take a more active role in working on the band’s third release Geneva, the band is on a headlining tour and receiving rave reviews. Drummer Dave Turncrantz took some time to talk about the making of Geneva and how they are taking the praise thus far.

What do you think about the positive response of the album thus far?

It’s been great. Station was kind of mixed, because we were trying something new. It seems like we blended the two records together on this one. A lot of people like it. It seems a lot of people that wouldn’t normally like us, really are taking to the new record well, which is huge for us.

There’s a bold, full sound on Geneva. Is that something you guys were going for?

Absolutely. Station was kind of cut and dry. It was great for the time, but we wanted something, like you said, bold. Big sounding. Super roomy. We definitely went into the studio with that in mind.

Whose idea was it to bring in the strings on the record?

We all pretty much agreed that we wanted to have a string section on this record. We wanted a string section on the other two records too, but we just didn’t have enough time. This time around, we knew who we wanted to ask, and we asked them, and it worked out great. We had a whole day of just string and violin. We all really wanted to make it happen, so we finally made it happen. [Laughs]

You guys sat down and wrote parts, went into the studio and constructed and deconstructed and reconstructed the songs on Geneva. Do you feel like this album came out as well as it did, because you guys sat down and really thought about these songs and took them apart?

It’s one thing to play a song and think you know how it sounds, and then being in a studio and hearing it back. If there’s something weird, and it kind of sucks, it’s there forever. [With] Station, the songs were done and ready to go. We recorded them. We didn’t have much time to listen back and change things. That’s something we’re going to do [again] with the next record – being able to sit in the studio and get comfortable. Try something, didn’t work, try something else, didn’t work and just keep trying. We had Brandon [Curtis] from Secret Machines producing the record, so his input was amazing. He heard stuff that we didn’t hear. It’s good to have different ears in the studio. We’re definitely doing the next record with him as well. [Laughs] That guy rules.

Do you think bands aren’t taking that proper step these days when recording?

Nowadays, it’s so reliant on ProTools, it’s almost like, if you do fuck up, then you can just fix it on the computer, which is a bummer. I’m not saying that we don’t do that occasionally, but there are bands out there that just do a basic anything, with fills, totally relying on the computer at this point. It’s definitely changed. People that do that route, it always sounds like a computer. It always sounds like a ProTools, and I know that’s veering off from the question…

Not necessarily fixing things with a computer, but just going in and sitting down and listening well at what you initially go into the studio with, is that sort of missing today?

It is, but I can relate to people who aren’t able to do that. You have a lot of time in the studio, you have a set schedule, and it usually does get pretty hectic. When one of those extra days come, you’re like, “Oh shit. We’re down to the wire now.” Bands like U2, they have months and months and months of time to do that. Granted, some of those bands still have months and months and months to write crappy music, but it’s still very huge to have [time in the studio]. Once you do have it, it helps out. I think a lot of bands would do it if they had more time, but time is expensive.

Do you think it’s a bigger statement to make music that moves someone without having lyrics to it – the idea of a good instrumental band?

None of us expect us to get paid like a massive band. There’s really a nice cult following with instrumental bands. Those people kind of get it. It seems that more people are getting what we are going for, and that’s something that we really wanted. To hear a record and make it their own, if something is happening to them, and they can listen to it, and song means something to them in a different way than it means to someone else…It’s something we love to do. Some people get it. Some people don’t. Again, we’re not doing this to get big. If it happens, great. It seems a little bit of a hurdle being in an instrumental band.

What do you think about living in separate areas of the United States? The fact that not everyone has to be in the same room, at the same time creating music? What do you think about this idea going into the next decade?

We came to the realization that when we write, it’s always good to have a couple of members there at a time. Usually when we have all three of us there, trying to start a song from scratch, it can get very distracting, because everyone is trying to learn something at the same time. We came to the realization that me and [guitarist] Mike [Sullivan] get together and just write a really basic structure and then have [bassist] Brian Cook come in. It’s a really awesome way to write music, and it works. We’re not going to stop it. For us it just worked out in the end. I don’t know how other bands handle it. I don’t know if other bands send MP3 and WAV files back and forth over the Internet, which is awesome. It’s good to have that human interaction [for us]. We’ve always talked about moving to Seattle, and how weird it would be for us to have band practice all the time.

Would that take apart the writing process for Russian Circles?

I don’t think so. Brian is such a confident bass player, it’s like he understands when not to play. A lot of musicians don’t know when to stop playing at some points, especially when they’re writing. I’m kind of guilty of it sometimes. Brian’s very good at listening and stepping back.

There’s a shift from parts that you pick out, to this full painting? Is that what you guys were going for?

Absolutely….With this one we stepped back and let the music speak for itself. The structure is definitely simplified a lot more.

I don’t think it’s simplified, I just think it sounds more like a whole. You’re not picking out parts, you’re just listening to the music.

Exactly. You nailed it on the head. That’s exactly what we were going for.

Anything else about the record? Anything you would go back and change?

This is probably the first record I’m really happy with everything. I’m happy how it came out. I’m happy with the release and the label and everything.

John Nolan interview

January 11, 2010


I was lucky enough to sit down with John Nolan at Straylight Run’s tour stop in Austin on the Mile After Mile Tour. It just so happened to be the same day as Nolan’s solo release, Height, on Doghouse Records. We talked about his recent release, upcoming Straylight Run plans and how he has grown as a musician over the course of his career.

Big day today,
how has the response been?

I look at the responses on my different [social networking] sites. I always feel like you get a positive feedback from the people looking at your Twitter page every day. [Laughs] I don’t know how it’s going outside [of those sites], but it seems good.

Is it overwhelming in any way, with all the projects you’ve done, to be out there on your own?

It’s not overwhelming at all actually. It’s kind of the opposite. I’m really psyched that the album came out today, but I’m not really thinking about anything other than it’s out. I’m just glad that it’s out. I think with the past, dealing with larger labels – being more conscious of record sales in the past – it was much more overwhelming thinking about that stuff when an album came out. It doesn’t matter at all now with this one. So it’s just nice to have something out there that got made and got put out. It really doesn’t matter that much at all with how much it sells. I think it’ll be fine. That was always the one thing I freaked out about, and it was stupid. I always try not to. Now I just don’t think about it.

Why would you not freak out now?

I never wanted it to matter. Now it really doesn’t matter for some reason. I always tried to make it matter. Now it just doesn’t. I don’t really know why.

When you first started asking fans to submit song ideas, what was the initial response? Was it a gradual growth, or a rapid response?

It was a lot at once. It was actually really quick. It was really surprising. When I posted it on MySpace initially [before it went up on any other site], two days later – I forget now – a lot of e-mails. Two hundred e-mails? Something like that, I don’t remember. It was a lot more than I thought really quickly. Then I had to say to people that I wasn’t going to be able to hear much after [the initial bulk of e-mails]. I was only going to be able to spend time listening through those first e-mails, looking for something that caught my attention. That was going to take weeks. It was a pretty quick response. It was crazy.

Were they full songs or mostly samples? Was their a range of the two types?

It ranged – the songs that I chose. “The Bering Sea” one I remember. I edited down this long piece of music that was sent to me and added a little bit of instrumentation, but not much. Then I added vocals…The one that ended up on the album [“Not to Let Go”], I actually took a loop of what he did and added my own new guitar chords over it. He did this melody and this beat that I just could repeat and just change chords underneath it to make it sound like something new was happening, even though it was just the same loop. I based everything around his loop. I added all this stuff around it, but the sound of it stayed in tact of what he sent – this very subtle feel. [The length of the submissions] was different for every song.

Why did you take on this task? Was it writer’s block, or more of attempting a new way of collaborative song writing?

The initial thought was that I was going on tour and the album was not coming out as soon as I had been planning for it to come out in September initially, early September. So the plan was to do just a little bit of touring leading into it, then being on tour when it came out and then that was not working out. The music wasn’t going to get out there longer than I had hoped. I just figured, in the meantime, it would be a cool project just to put some songs out there. It was also sort of a challenge to myself. I can take a long time sometimes working on songs, and I kind of wanted to challenge myself just to do this as quickly as possible, just to see what happens. It was kind of an experiment really. Just something to do until the album came out.

Besides the submitted music, what other things influenced you with writing Height? Why did you choose Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” as a cover song for the album?

I’m sure there was music that influenced me on the record, but the big thing was getting back to a certain attitude in making music. That was the whole idea for this project was to get back to this attitude of having fun and messing around with ideas. Just to get back with the feeling I had when I was 19-20, recording songs on my four track. When I was doing it at that point, I had no aspirations for what those songs could mean to people, or where it could get me and wanting what people would think of it. [It was about] enjoying it, and to help me get something off my chest in a way with those songs. I just enjoyed it so much. It does get hard after awhile. It’s so easy to get get caught up in how people are going to respond to what you do and what you want to do and what you want to put out there and what you want represented as your music. It’s really hard for me to get caught up in that. It takes a lot of the fun out of making music. For this, that was just it. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to do something that I liked to listen to basically. To make that something I’d like to hear.

With “Phone Booth,” I just covered that song because I’ve always loved it. It’s a song I wish I had written from the first time I heard it. It’s almost a song I could have written if I was a better songwriter. There’s something about that [song] that felt natural to do. I just enjoyed it. It was fun.

There seems to be a lot more digital instrumentation going on with this album. When I heard you were doing a solo, I thought it would be more stripped down. It surprised me that it came out the way it did.

Like I was saying before, the goal for me was to make it fun and make it interesting to me. Right now, I wasn’t very interested in making a really stripped down acoustic record. Part of the reason I felt it appropriate to make it a solo project is because all the songs are still coming from that intimate, “alone in my room” place. It’s just me, alone in my room, on my computer with the music I’m making, rather than messing around with an acoustic guitar. That’s just what I felt like doing. That seemed interesting and exciting to me right now. I think that at another point, I could do an acoustic record, if that’s the right time. If I was getting excited about that idea, you know? That’s about all it was. It was about what was intriguing to me.

What’s going on with the future of Straylight Run? What comes next after The Mile After Mile Tour?

We’re not really sure. Things are kind of up in the air. We’ve been talking about doing another full length album. We’re going to definitely record the last show of this tour. We’re not sure what we’re going to do with it, or how it will be put out in some way. We’re not sure if we’re going to put out a straight live album, or maybe bonus material for a future album. I don’t know. We’re going to record that and do something with it. We’re talking about doing a full length record at some point. Hopefully in early Spring or really late Winter, but that’s very preliminary.

With the EP’s, were you not ready to do a full length at that point?

Originally we wanted to…we were supposed to do a lot more EP’s in the year that those came out. We wanted to at least do three in a year. We just did not stay on top of it basically. We wanted to put out a full length of material, which if we would have put out one more, it would have been. The original idea was, we would put out a full length album in installments. We just took a little bit too long and just ended up doing seven songs. That was about it. We wanted to try something different. We also weren’t ready to sign with a label and commit to doing another full length right away. We didn’t really know what we wanted to do. It was, in a way, to figure out what we wanted to do musically, and style wise.

With Michelle’s departure, why did you guys opt not to replace here?

It kind of just felt like the right thing to do. It made sense. I think we may have looked at it as a challenge, to make it work with the three of us and see what we could do with it, rather than immediately trying to find someone else to fill our sound out.

Of everything you’ve ever worked on, which album, and if you can even think about it on the spot, which song are you most proud of?

That’s an interesting question.

Sorry to put you on the spot here.

No, not all. It’s an interesting thing to think about that kind of thing very often in my life, not spending time usually thinking about, you know, songs I’ve written five years ago, or longer, I usually don’t think about. The first thing that kind of pops into my head, if I have to say something is that, “For the Best,” the one that comes first to my mind that I’m most proud about. It’s mostly because it was something personal to me that up until that point, I didn’t know what to write about and didn’t even know how to talk about, and felt very happy with myself. It felt really good to get that out there – a song to begin with. Honestly, when I first got done with it, I felt it was going to be a song for just me, that people maybe would like, but not necessarily relate to, or get. Probably more than any other song, I’ve had people come up to me and not only get something out of it, but there’s a real connection over that song. The people that respond to that song that I talk to, respond through it the exact same way I felt when I wrote it. A lot of times, people respond to something, and it’s always great when people get that out of a song, but a lot of times it’s something different than you would have imagined, and that song has always been – the people who respond to it – always get the same thing out of listening to it, that I got out of writing it. That’s a really good feeling. I like that a lot.

What would you have to say about yourself as a song writer through the years?

What do you mean? Looking at it as me, but somehow objective, or someone who is just being introduced to what I’ve done?

Just your reflection as a songwriter.

It’s like the same thing as thinking about what songs I’m the most proud of…I feel like I’ve always grown as a songwriter, the same way I’ve grown as a person in my life. I don’t know what that means to other people, or what other people think I’ve done. It’s hard to say…I don’t know. I feel like I wouldn’t have done what I have done if it wasn’t something I was proud of, or something I thought was better than I did before. I guess what I am saying is that I think I have grown as a songwriter and I’m in a better place than I have been in my life. I’m always going to feel like that. That’s the only way I can do anything. I don’t know if that has any baring on how good I am as a song writer, [Laughs] or how my songs are effecting other people. I don’t think there’s anyway to be objective about it. [Laughs]

These Arms Are Snakes interview (2)

January 11, 2010


These Arms Are Snakes have been breathing a set of lungs that has been fresh with each of their four releases. Composed of members from other late 90’s post-hardcore outfits, they certainly show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. With some members even working on other projects (Russian Circles, Narrows), the band has had a relentless touring schedule with a Spring and Fall fling this year. On their Fall headliner, the band took quite a bit of time to talk to us about their career, the industry and just music in general.

[Ed. note: There was a loud hum from somewhere in the green room at the venue that came out on my Dictaphone. I transcribed to the best of my ability, and stand by the most audible of the interview.]

So, first things first, whatever happened to the Minus the Bear split?

Brian Cook: Minus the Bear.
Steve Snere: Minus the Bear. They haven’t done their song yet. Ours is recorded, ready to go. They’ve been working on their album at the moment – so – hopefully they’ll get it done. When we get home, we’re going to ask them. [We’ll] tell them people have been asking us.
Brian Cook: I mean it was their idea, like, “You guys asked us. Why aren’t you doing this?” [Laughs] “Let’s get this thing done.”
Steve Snere: We were supposed to have it for the last tour. Our song is done.

Is it going to be a 7″ or a 12″?

: It’s a a 7″ through Vinyl Collective. It’s covers, so we each do a cover.
Cook: We do a Lost Sounds cover. I think the problem with the Bear is that they haven’t been able to agree upon a song.

Is there any new material in the works besides this split?

Snere: Well, there’s a Nirvana cover album coming out that does all of In Utero, where each band does each song, and Robotic Empire is putting that out. We did the awful decision to do “Heart Shaped Box.” It took us a couple of tries to get where we were happy with it, but it’s cool, we got Ben [Verellen] and Dana [James] from Helms Alee to sing on it. I’m not sure who else is on that?
Cook: Daughters. Widows. Jay Reatard.
Snere: We pretty much used all of our [other] songs [and b-sides] for the splits. But the idea is that Russian Circles and Narrows are going to be touring [after this tour before any new music].

These Arms Are Snakes switch things up on every release. When you guys get together to write the next record, or work on a new batch of songs, will there be another clean slate, and is there any particular direction you would like to take the next album?

Snere: It’s hard to say. I don’t know. I don’t really know how it’s going to go. Me and Brian have discussed some ideas. Thinking, somewhat of a large change-up – it would still sound like These Arms Are Snakes – but just kind of done in a different way. I’d like to change it up a bit. To some degree, we’ve put out records that are somewhat similar, but to some degree sound different.
Cook: I can think, in some ways it’s always been the same mission, where it’s trying to get, in some ways, more distant in some regards, and more, not so much pop, but a more conventional rock in some ways. Stuff that is very unconventional and stuff that is very traditional. Trying to push that boundary a bit more. Have moments where rock music sounded more like classic rock albums sounded, really new and feared, well, fresh for us. But really, we don’t know yet.

For whatever genre of post or post-hardcore you guys fall into, it seems like you’ve done a lot of that at this point. Do you feel that the next record will be more like a combination of everything done thus far?

Snere: I felt like [Tail Swallower and Dove] was that. I’d like to add something new to the history [on the next album]. Something new, that is ours. A new chapter. I feel a lot of what we’ve talked about with our last record is a combination of that sound. Are we going to continue putting out records like this now? That’s the ultimate goal for the next record.

Do you feel the idea of post-hardcore is dead? There are still bands thriving on that sound, but do you feel they’re few and far between coming into the next decade?

Cook: It’s definitely something I think about. I feel like one of the nice things about the last decade, compared to the 90’s, is everyone is a bit more open minded musically. I feel like some of these people admired in the 90’s felt that everything had to be rooted in punk rock somehow, based off this framework that was rooted in the Stooges and led through Minor Threat. Things like classic rock or electronic music wasn’t really acceptable then. I feel with this decade, it’s all about people discovering everything. At least that’s how it looks to me.
Snere: I think that also is contributed to the Internet craze.

Do you think it’s also contributed to all the reunions out of late?

Snere: I don’t know. I think a lot of those bands were somewhat seminal, so to the fact that people have been on their ass for years, like, “Play!” you know? People are discovering it, and their fan base is quadrupling. It definitely seems like people are discovering [older bands] again. I know record stores that are usually carrying [bigger names, have more underground releases now].

Speaking of reunions. I would think you guys hate getting asked about your older bands, so instead of asking if there will ever be a reunion for Kill Sadie or Botch, does it ever get old getting asked that question?

Snere: [The members of Kill Sadie] almost did it once at South by Southwest because we were all here. We were almost going to do it, but it didn’t work out. There’s no plan. I mean, if those guys wanted to, I’d play. There’s no burning desire.
Cook: I don’t think anyone [in Botch] wants to do it.

Not “wanting to do it,” but does it ever get tiring having people come up and asking about it?

Cook: It’s all about the context when it happens. There’s times where, [guitarist] Ryan [Fredericksen] and I and Steve [are sitting around, and someone approaches], “I just got to tell you guys something. Botch was great.” It’s just sort of tacky. It’s like, my other bandmates are sitting here, you know? I’m glad people are still buying those records and are interested in it, and it’s obviously flattering anytime someone talks about those records. I think sometimes when it gets brought up, I don’t think people think about how it comes out when it’s asked. It can be a little weird sometimes. I’m not going to be a dick. My first show ever was seeing Fugazi, and all these people were calling out Minor Threat songs.

I think the first time I saw Minus the Bear, my buddy yelled out “C. Thomas Howell as the ‘Soul Man'” to Dave Knudson.

Cook: I see it as the fact that people are like, “Hey I understand, and I know the background,” and that’s cool, but the thing to think about is that we’ve moved on to other things, and you’ve got other people to think about and we’re trying to play a new thing.

What do you think about what is going on in music presently? What do you think about the success of bands that have been part of the scene shorter than you guys have?

: A lot of that stuff doesn’t matter to me. It’s not my world. I have no scope on it. I don’t pay attention to it. Someone might ask me, “What do you think of this?” and then shows me a YouTube video, and I’ll be like, “That sucks!” and I won’t like that. Otherwise [a lot of] what’s happening in music today, there’s good Internet sites and bad Internet sites. I don’t really have a good answer on that, I just kind of concentrate on what I am doing, and what I like. I try to not let the other bullshit bother me. Sometimes, like, Pitchfork drives me fucking crazy. [It’s crazy] to hear what other people are listening to that I think is just horrible. At the same time, Rolling Stone in the 70’s and 80’s, that was the same thing, right? Now Rolling Stone ain’t worth shit. Who am I to say? Maybe because I’m on tour all the time for the past five or six years. Am I angry? No.
Cook: I feel like going on U.S. tours back in 2000 and 1999, I went on tour for a month, and I didn’t see any good bands. Every band that opened in every town was bad. There were one or two good bands. We were playing with the same, bad hardcore bands every night. Now, going on tour, we play with a lot of local acts, and I’m not going to say that they’re all amazing, but I generally find that I enjoy more bands….Other than that, I genuinely feel the same way Steve does. I don’t read a lot of music magazines anymore, and I just click through a lot of websites. Someone asked me about the new Every Time I Die record and someone asked me how I felt about the new Coalesce record, and I haven’t heard them. I’ve never heard Every Time I Die, so I don’t know about their new record, or the fact that they’re selling five hundred thousand copies of their record.

They’re both actually really good.

Snere: We just saw that one hardcore band that does that Postal Service song…
Cook: Oh god, yeah. “Such Great Heights” But they do it live, like this screamo version.
Snere: It’s fucking awful. But you know what? Someone’s buying it, so it’s your fucking problem. Again, there’s a lot of people who don’t like broccoli. Broccoli is good. [Everyone laughs] If that’s what you want to listen to man, then go for it.
Cook: I was thinking about this the other day. There’s people who want to be in bands, and there’s people who want to play music. It sounds like the same thing, but it’s actually totally different. Generally people who want to play music are always searching and trying to find something new – craving for a new kind of experience that kind of re-ignites their [older] experience. If you play music all the time, at some point you kind of know how shit works. I love Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea until I learned how to play the whole record on guitar, and now I just don’t listen to it anymore. I want to find something that makes me feel the way that record did. Records that have gotten me excited lately have been very minimal ambient records. In two years, it might be something entirely new. I think it’s just about finding new things. Most of the people who take their music seriously are always searching, and not looking too hard at things that are very close to them. If I had to listen to stuff that sounded really close to what we do, there wouldn’t be any new ideas.

How do you guys go out with putting it all into your live show every night?

Snere: Booze? [Everyone laughs] I think of it, like when it’s time to go on tour, I think about it, like, this is going to hurt. It’s kind of awesome, because it makes you feel like a machine of some sort, like you have no choice, you have to [get on stage]. Even if you’re sick, you have to go do it. I’m not going to go do it unless it’s at the best of my ability. We’re entertaining everybody. There’s a lot of bands out there. A lot of bands.
Matt King [from MM/DD/YY]: It’s like why am I here? I could just be at home.
Snere: Right. We’re going to go out there and put on a show, it’s like, “Why am I here?” We chose to come out and play these songs for people. As far as live goes, I want to be this badass live band. Some people may not like it. Some people may think it sucks. I felt like I did what I wanted to. It does get harder [on the body] the older I get.

In a few weeks I’ll be seeing The Jesus Lizard at Fun Fun Fun Fest this year. I think about bands like them and Minutemen, who are big influences for you guys, and how they never reached heights of success, but still have a successful following. What do you think of These Arms Are Snakes following suit?

Snere: I think we’re here. I think early on in bands, I was hoping for more. Then touring more, it was really humbling to me. I was fighting inside, “This isn’t a job. I’m doing it because I want to do it.” I’m perfectly happy where were at. I think we’re successful. There’s always more, but I’m not really concerned with that.
Cook: I made this point before where it’s like, “Oh, well if it’s career, it’s kind of a failure of a career, so it has to be a passion.” You have to want to do it. In some ways, it would be nice to have more money on tour, and not have to worry about shit like that, but at the same time, anyone of us could leave at any point in time. Then it’s like, all the people who work for us, what are they going to do? The Grateful Dead basically toured as long as they did because they employed all their friends…I feel like a lot of times bands stick around because of obligation, because it’s their career. They don’t know anything else. We could stop being a band and do other things, but we just play.

[At this point, guitarist Ryan Fredericksen walks in, and I ask him the same question.]

: We probably reached our pinnacle. [Laughs] That’s a tough question. I don’t know.
Cook: I do remember on our second tour when Joe [Preston] was leaving the band, and [Ryan] just laid into him, “You’re never going to have any money. This isn’t about making money. This is about only having enough money to have a bagel a day. You need to get over it and be in a fucking band.” It’s like you had a pretty good handle on the situation back then…
Fredericksen: Yeah. I don’t really know how to answer it. There’s different levels of success. While the Jesus Lizard didn’t breakout next to Nirvana, or anything like that, they’ve still maintained a level of success.
Snere: Nowadays they’re playing and people are like, “I never saw them, but I’ve heard about them.” So they see them. It’s revered.
Cook: Then people see them, and are like, “Eh, I saw them.”

[There’s an off the cuff, inappropriate discussion at this point about whether The Jesus Lizard still expose themselves on stage like they were said to do back in the day…]

Going back to the question of success, what do you think about bands these days using quick technology to shape their sound more, and the success that may or may not lead to?

Fredericksen: Both good and bad. Any kid can program a laptop to use ProTools and Garageband. It’s both a blessing and a curse. [It’s hard to think about] every douchbag kid that can hit the record button is going to start putting music out, not understanding all the set ways of how it’s going to work, how a band is supposed to work…You have these kids that can do it all by themselves, just another MySpace sensation.
Snere: There’s bands that I listen to that use a digital 8-track to record their albums and it’s awesome….With technology, there’s responsibility. With all this shit, there’s a responsibility of using it. Like science, there’s a responsibility with science. You said something in there about success?

What do you think about these bands that are “flavor of the weeks,” compared to the work that you guys have put in over the years of every band you’ve been in and every other project – Narrows, Russian Circles…

Snere: Isn’t that way cooler?! I think about these bands that put one record out and become like these huge Internet sensations. What is that? Then I’m like, those bands are done. Nobody cares about them. They put out one record that everyone liked. Like Vampire Weekend. Nobody’s going to listen to their next record, or maybe they will. Maybe that’s not the best example. They have their one moment…So it’s, “I’ve been in [These Arms Are Snakes] for seven years, and I’ve been playing music forever.” This is where I’m at. This is the most popular we’ve ever been. There’s a bit of pride to that.
Fredericksen: The media plays a lot into it. The whole Pitchfork thing that makes or breaks bands. I don’t know where they kind of grabbed that. With the Black Kids, they loved their first EP, said they were going to be the next big thing, and then [didn’t get a good review] on the LP. That was it.
Snere: I heard that they were going to break-up somewhere. Why? Because you didn’t get what you wanted, so now you’re going to quit? Well, see you later.
Cook: The Internet has just accelerated everything. “You’re huge, oh wait, I’ve discovered somebody else, nevermind.”
Snere: I feel like we’re successful. We sell a lot of records. I feel like people who buy records, buy it to have it. They buy the vinyl. I feel like those people will keep coming back.
Fredericksen: The only way to gauge success is through longevity.
Cook: I kind of like that. I like finding out about a new band, and being like, “Oh, it’s this new thing. They put one record out, and everyone’s talking about it.” There’s tons of those. [Then] when you hear about a band and there’s sixteen albums, I’m like, “I’ve never fucking heard of this band!”…Brian Eno has this whole catalog and it’s fucking amazing. It’s more excited to me then hearing, “Oh my god! There’s this guy called Wavves!”

Yeah. I’d say the Talking Heads catalog is a good measure. But that’s something that’s been talked about, all these short lived bands breaking up, while bands like Pavement, My Bloody Valentine and Sunny Day Real Estate are getting back together…

Snere: There’s always bands like that. These bands will go away. That’s fine, we’ll still be here, maybe. Will things change? I don’t know. There are bands playing into indie shit, and they’re fucking it up for us, so now we can’t go on tour because they’re booking every club, so now we have to book seven months in advance for a fucking tour. It’s like, go away. Will you just go away so I can do my thing, you’re fucking up my M.O.

I’ve seen a report on bands booking that far in advance. That the later winter months of January/February of 2010 are going to be the most booked, and not everyone is going to afford to go to every show…anyway, any final words since this was, wow, 40 minutes!

: We were talking about this the other day. We never have anything to say, and some girl asked us for the first time.
[Band discusses, can’t remember what they were going to say.]
Cook: Free Wi-Fi. Somebody should let her out.

Kevin Devine interview (2)

January 11, 2010


It’s been quite a year for Brooklyn’s singer-songwriter Kevin Devine. After his major label departure, he released Brother’s Blood on Favorite Gentleman Records, an album that contends to not only be one of the best of the year, but the best of his career. Unfortunately the album leaked too soon, but that wouldn’t keep Devine down as he went on a nationwide solo tour and is now out as direct support for The Get Up Kids reunion tour. Devine took some time out to answer a few questions by e-mail before departing on the road.

It’s been quite a year for you. While you’re sitting in front of your computer about to answer these questions, what are your initial thoughts of this year in music for you, music in general, and the state of this country? Too much in one question?

Ha. Hmm. Wow. Well, I’ll go in sections. My year’s been full and fast-moving. I kind of can’t believe it’s already October; I remember getting back from Japan (I went with Rachael Yamagata in February, opening and playing guitar in her band) and knowing SXSW was coming up, the record’s release and the Miniature Tigers/Brian Bonz tour was after that…basically knowing that once March 1st hit the next 6, 7 months would blink past, and they did.

If I rattled it off in bullet points, the year was my most accomplished to date as a musician. Five years into touring and nine years into putting out records, a year of many firsts for me – proof that in lieu of a rocket ride, there is validation in my stubborn, deliberate, rung-by-rung trip up the ladder.

I went to Japan for the first time, put out the most broadly and best reviewed record of my career (which will also probably be my best-selling to date when those things are finally tabulated) through my friends’ independent record label and felt rejuvenated by the process, did my first full US headline tour, had one of my records properly released in the UK for the first time, went over there with Brand New and Manchester Orchestra for the first time(s) separately this summer (which I think was important as, during my prior visits there, kids seemed real aware of our connection back home and were excited to see it partially recreated), and did a really successful and fun short run where I took a setlist direction from the fans, something totally different for me that turned out to be real rewarding. Oh, and we played Lollapalooza, which is totally absurd and awesome for someone with my background and in my position.

And there’s still the Get Up Kids tour, the record’s release on vinyl, the European release in November, and a short UK/German/Austrian run in December to speak of. My year’s still got a lot to say for itself.

It seems like more people like, or are at least familiar with, my music than ever before. More people turn up at the shows, more people know the songs, more people seem to have a sense of who I am and what I do. I feel grateful for that and hope that uptick, however slight in its slope, continues. We have a lot in store for people in the next 8 or 10 months and I intend to continue to do what I do until it’s not fun or feasible, and luckily, neither of those realities seems especially close right now.

I’m not as successful in certain traditional definitions of that word as many of my peers, but I’m making a living doing what I love THE WAY I WANT TO DO IT (which is a hugely important qualifier for me) and I feel very lucky to keep seeing it grow incrementally year by year, record by record. There are always people you can look up at and envy their position; there are also a lot of kids all over the place who, I’ve realized, would really love to be where I am, and that’s been a big realization for me this year. That it’s good to have goals and it’s good to push yourself but it’s also good to acknowledge the distance that’s already been traveled, I guess.

The year in music, I’d probably give a more boring and under-informed answer about. I can tell you I went backwards and caught up on a lot of great older stuff this year – “Graceland,” “After The Gold Rush,” Leonard Cohen, “Plastic Ono Band,” Creedence Clearwater Revival. More of-the-moment, I loved David Bazan’s record more than I’ve loved a record in a while, loved touring with Bonz and the Tigers and think they both made really exciting records, and thought Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Glastonbury narrowly eeked out Sunny Day Real Estate at Terminal 5 in NYC, Cass McCombs at Union Hall in Brooklyn, and Bazan at his East Coast house shows for my favorite show I’ve seen so far this year. So I think music’s doing great and will continue to; pop culture’s another story, but I’m underqualified there, too. I watched the 2009 VMA’s and felt very old. For the first time I had to ask my date who people were. I felt like my dad.

As for this country, I think a lot of people are in very real pain. I also think we’re, hopefully, slowly coming to grips with the notion that the change we truly need will not and, perhaps, cannot come from representatives of a corporate-owned and operated two-party system of government so deeply invested in maintaining the status quo, no matter how articulate and charismatic those representatives might be. Hope is a wonderful thing to market, but if it’s got nothing legitimate backing it, it’s just another bounced check straining the public’s goodwill. People are falling apart and need real help. I’m not so sure it’s coming.

Because of that, I think people are a lot more angry and vocal about their feelings of disenfranchisement, which I think could be a really useful tool, an encouraging thing if harnessed properly. People are more mobilized about certain things that were more widely considered ‘radical’ a few years ago – especially opposing the war in Afghanistan (which was never the ‘good’ or ‘right’ war and was/is just as illegal, unwarranted, and chaotic as our actions in Iraq) and pushing for a universal, single-payer health care system. Whether those things get done or not, it’s been good to see the middle move slightly to the left to at least make room for the conversation.

It’s a weird time: the opportunity for real forward movement on the environment, things like the 10:10 group in the UK, is counterbalanced by some really dire scientific reporting about the realities of global warming and the catastrophes we can start expecting in the next 30, 40 years as a result. The political climate here seemed to take a few steps forward, a lot of rhetoric about inclusiveness and open-mindedness, but the ‘right’ seems to have further fortified itself around shit-slinging and regressive insanity while the ‘left’ continues casting about blindly for a message and a spine. So I’m not sure what I think about the state of this country, besides there’s a lot of work to do and I hope we’re all up to doing it, whether the people in power are going to help us or not. A lot of courage will be required. It’s a lot to process.

Brother’s Blood has been a great success, and with good merit, personally looking at it as your finest work in an already great catalog. When you first were recording the album, did those initial feelings and musical draw finalize the way you wanted them to — especially after touring on the record and giving it time to settle in?

I’m really happy with the record. I haven’t listened to it in a few months but the last time I did I was satisfied. I know a pretty frequent criticism of the record, insofar as there have been criticisms, is that it’s got a weird flow, but I think we did the best we could to make it move on a wave dynamically. It’s kind of three records: the stuff like “Brother’s Blood,” “Carnival,” “Another Bag Of Bones,” “I Could Be With Anyone,” which is electric and sprawling and sort of abrasive, set against the stuff like “All Of Everything, Erased,” “Murphy’s Song,” “It’s Only Your Life,” “Tomorrow’s Just Too Late” and “Fever Moon,” which are more subdued, heavy in a way but sonically calmer, less jagged, and “Hand Of God” and “Yr Husband,” which sort of bridge the gap. So in that way, I think the record moves around thematically, moves from a group of stormy, more minor-key songs towards a more optimistic, major-key resolve in its last quarter. But that’s just me, and I respect the point. I just think it’s a record that’s proudly all over the place and a bit tough to peg in one genre or whatever and for better or worse, that’s how I write. I’m genuinely humbled by how positively its been received and look forward to getting some of the other, previously unreleased music from that session out for people to hear early next year.

A lot of people, including myself, definitely saw a great influence from Elliott Smith in this record. Are you honored by that, or humbling, fearful of your own justice to a personal influence?

I wanted to try and record “All Of Everything, Erased” using an approach I’d heard Elliott Smith used, where he played the song straight through once and then doubled it, so we did that, as it seemed to suit the song. The rest of the record I don’t really think sounds like him very much at all, but maybe it’s emotionally evocative in a way that reminds people of it, and I think that’s great. I think it’s cool people hear that. I love his music and have for more than 10 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time with it, and see him as integral to my development, up there with Nirvana, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Superchunk, and Pavement. The artists that made me want to play music and made me want to play in a certain way, with a certain voice or whatever. I’m honored in the sense that I really like his stuff, and humbled in the sense that I openly consider him an influence, and hopeful that people don’t see it as hollow, or a rip-off or whatever, because that’s not the goal, and it’s definitely not conscious in that way.

The depth of this record with the band was where I saw this album blossom, but I’ve always liked the intensity and intimacy of your solo shows. Which do you prefer more, or does it just depend on the time and hour?

It depends. There’s definitely an immediacy to playing alone, an openness, that’s sacrificed when you add the rock element, the band; at the same time, a lot of my songs, especially this record, are way more dynamic and fully-realized when the band’s involved. And it’s obviously a way more rewarding experience for me socially to have my friends there. For me it depends on the room, the situation (headline v. support, 200 people v. 2000 people, etc.). I’m in a weird position in that it seems both scenarios have vocal champions and critics. Whenever I show up with the band, someone asks why I’m not solo; whenever I turn up solo, someone asks where the band is. I choose to see it as lucky that anyone gives a shit. Pretty much the same amount of people seem to come to see me either way, so I’m lucky in that sense, because switching it up is definitely fun and vital for me.

Following the last question, will we ever see a completely solo/stripped down version of Brother’s Blood demos?

I’m not sure if they’ll be ever formally released as a stand-alone record, but there’ll all out there in the ether, available for collection online somewhere. We’ve put some on places as b-sides and I think they were ripped from MySpace over 2008 as I posted them.

I’m sure another “leak” question is not needed, but in hindsight, have your feelings changed since the initial incident?

Not too much. I mean, it would have been nice for Favorite Gentlemen if we sold more copies the first week, and I imagine we would’ve if the leak hadn’t been so premature; at the same time, the reaction to the record and to, um, my reaction to the leak was overwhelmingly favorable and in some way probably helped drive some early attention our way, maybe even got some extra people out to the show. I don’t really think about it as much now. It’s flattering people care that much, and understandable they’d get it for free if they could.

The first time I ever interviewed you, you said something along the lines of, “Nirvana didn’t change anything, pop music always existed and still does.” With all the crunkcore, pop-punk revitalizing, and indie-cred bands boiling over the side of the musical pot, I’ve been thinking about what this decade had to offer, and what the next decade will offer to the mix. Your thoughts?

Well, I didn’t necessarily mean Nirvana didn’t change anything; it’s all in how you define those words. What I meant is that it’s a genius stroke of music industry cooperation to suggest that Nirvana’s popularity REVOLUTIONIZED the pop music landscape in any way that signified some victory for the underground, or art above commerce, or whatever. The legacy of Nirvana’s selling 10 million copies of “Nevermind” wasn’t The Jesus Lizard being embraced with open arms by middle America, or Beat Happening becoming pop stars; it was, for a brief moment, a lot of weird bands getting a slight raise in profile and, over a longer timeline, significantly less-weird bands taking certain stylistic cues and homogenizing them (Bush, Candlebox, etc.), cashing in and selling millions of records. Eventually, the whole “promise” of alternative rock as an above-ground mover and shaker petered out into 10th-generation frat rock bands like Smashmouth or whatever, a faint whiff of a reference to a story somebody heard third-hand about the real thing.

It’s awesome that Nirvana got as big as they did; it’s awesome Radiohead got as big as it did, or The White Stripes. It’s great bands like Arcade Fire and The Shins and Bright Eyes, people like Andrew Bird, have gotten to the level they’ve gotten to in a much more splintered landscape more recently. And it’s totally amazing Brand New keeps growing the more challenging they get, and the more they withdraw from the bullshit side of the business we’re in. But all those things didn’t eradicate Right Said Fred or “The Bodyguard” soundtrack back then, or Hannah Montana and “LOL :)” now. They exist beside them. It’s a marketplace, and its taste-driven, and it takes all kinds, and it should be addressed as such, and that was my initial point.

I think there’s a lot of good music out and plenty of people looking to enrich their lives listening to it and seeing it live. I don’t think anyone will sell 10 million copies of anything musically ever again, but I do think people have never had more access to music, more ways to find out about bands, and I think people will keep seeking out things to enhance or mirror their experience, or to provide a social context, a way to meet like-minded people, a night out. So I think, I hope, if you keep making things of a certain quality that you like and believe in, people will find you.

You’ve put a lot of hard work into your career, and if there’s ever a thought of giving up and moving to a white collar/blue collar thing, what do you hope to have left behind as an artist, not only as a musician, but in the broadest term of the word artist?

Hmm. Hopefully, I’ve on some level carried the torch for the idea that there is more than one way to do things. That you can develop as an artist in terms of quality and popularity over time by making decisions that feel true to you and by being yourself, being honest enough to call bullshit on bullshit, especially on yourself when you’ve been wrong. That success means different things to different people, but what’s most important, and what you have to live with, is what it means to you. And that you can be punk rock without being “punk rock.”

The soapbox is all yours, final thoughts?

Health care is a basic human right, not a class-based privilege, and should be free and universal. As usual, neither political party is speaking to that in any responsible way, so maybe it’s time we really start looking outside that tired framework for a better way forward. Stop lowering our expectations to meet what’s being offered. Check out

“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” is the one book I own that I think everybody should read.

“Ark Farky” is a nonsense phrase I invented that, at last Google search, might be the one truly original thing I’ve ever said.

I’m not sure the Knicks will ever return to form. I’m more hopeful for the Mets. Wait ’til next year.

Thanks for asking me these questions and thanks to you guys for listening, and for reading. I feel like it might not be my most articulate series of answers, but I did my best

Grizzly Bear interview (Chris Taylor)

January 11, 2010


Chris Taylor has his hands full. Besides being part of one of Jay-Z’s new favorite bands, Grizzly Bear, Taylor is also starting his own imprint to put out music he loves. Taylor took some time out to talk about his new project, the year it has been for Grizzly Bear and being on the New Moon soundtrack.

What are some of your initial thoughts on how this year has gone for you guys? Does it feel overwhelming at all?

There’s been a lot of shows. Feeling pretty tired. It’s all positive stuff. I feel really thankful…It’s just the strenuousness of being out and playing shows, and when I’m home, I do a lot of recording. I don’t ever really have any down time. I just may be a little more tired than the rest of the band, but I’m still very happy with everything. It’s not overwhelming.

You guys did a lot of television appearances and decided on different songs instead of shelling out the same single like most bands. Why did Grizzly Bear decide on this?

I don’t know. Just to keep it different. I feel like doing a television thing, we might as well do something different for each one of them, otherwise it’s just different recordings of the same song. Ideally, it would be cool if you never repeated [the same song on each show].

Are you happy with the way Veckatemist came out? Do you think the restructuring of what happened on Yellow House was a natural step for you guys, or a necessary one?

I suppose it was a natural step – we did it like that. I don’t know, for this album it had sort of that vibe to it. I don’t know that the next album will be the same. I know that it probably, definitely won’t be. I remember finishing Veckatemist and immediately feeling like getting into recording another album, and everyone else was really burned, so that obviously didn’t happen. I felt like there is still things that needed to be explored when we stopped. It just sort of stopped where it had to stop at. We got to where it was, and then that’s sort of where it was. It wasn’t as simple as some dude walking up to us on the street and saying, “You should play your songs in a more accessible format.” It just is what it is. There was no meeting that we had that said we needed to [be more formidable]. [Laughs]

You say you came out of this recording feeling there was more that needed exploring. Did you feel the same way out of Yellow House?

No. I didn’t feel that way. When Yellow House was done, I was pretty much done with it. I was done with Veckatemist too. I didn’t want to do anything else with those tunes. I was done with those tunes. I just wanted to immediately start working on something else.

Terrible Records, what can we expect from this? Who’s working with it? Will it be singles only?

At the moment, [we’ll only be releasing] EP’s and a 7″ series, which is like 20 split 7″ records. What they will be is just two artists on either side of people that I really find to be special at the moment musically to me. People that I really like. That’s the 7″ series. Then [we’ll be doing] EP’s with people who don’t have [record] deals yet. I just record them because I think their stuff is really good and should be out there. I’m just trying to help make that happen. I don’t want to let anyone down by doing the full length thing, and supporting a band that goes out on tour, and making sure they have proper press, and making sure things are going well for them, and publicists, and paying tour support. There’s all these responsibilities — the jump, between making EP’s and 7″‘s and full length albums as a label is, financially and time-wise, super-substantial, night and day, what is required by a label. I know I couldn’t do that. It’s just more casual.

I’ve been thinking about that lately. What do you think about bands only releasing singles like it used to be? Radiohead had mentioned something like that awhile back. (We both agreed that rumor was squashed by the band a few weeks ago.)

For me, Radiohead releasing singles and me putting out singles are completely incomparable situations. [One] is speaking about a label, and [one] is speaking about a band creatively. Those two events can’t really be compared at all. I think, and I answered this, the only reason that I’m doing singles is just because of ability, I don’t want to let anybody down. I’m a small time label. I can record all these bands because I have recording equipment, and I’m friends with people in bands I really love, so it really just made sense to make a little art book collection. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to make a statement, or seize the digital market.

Not based on anything fiscally or in industry distribution, what do you think about artists going back and only releasing singles?

I just don’t think that will ever happen. I just don’t believe in that possibility. People are still going to make albums. Maybe if pop bands are trying to blow up their career really quick? Maybe the singles route is the good route – singles, singles and singles to sell a product. The album is like a performance of being more than one song. It’s such an age old tradition that it’s not going to end right now. People have been giving concerts for so long, and the album is a recorded concert in a sense. It’s such a beautiful thing.

Tell me about Cant. When did this project start forming?

I started when we recording Veckatemist. I felt this song, and I showed it to the band, and they just weren’t into it. So I started doing this thing as a solo person.

“Ghosts” sounds like its embedded more in harmony and voice as opposed to instrumentation. What’s more important to you: a great sounding choir or a lead orchestra?

I don’t have any plans [or framework] or compositional direction. I just kind of try and finish it all. That’s my biggest struggle is to try and finish it. It’s more of a personal thing.

You just sort of build from the ground up then?

Just the melody, and then maybe some lyrics. and then try to find some chords for it, or maybe it starts in another place. I just try to keep working through it. Just finishing it is something I’ve been really bad at doing, so this is the first one I’ve finished. I have ideas in terms of feeling and stuff, and how I want it to feel.

Besides your work in Grizzly Bear, you are also helping a lot with the production of those records and others. What seat do you like being in more, and how does each position feed off the other one?

There’s different ways of describing a producer, and there’s different levels at which a producer is needed. There’s different circumstances. The circumstance I prefer most is physically making things and producing at the same time – what I do with Grizzly Bear, [where I am] playing stuff and producing at the same time. That’s just a really natural zone for me when creating music. It feels very comfortable and fun. Sitting in the back and just sort of orchestrating a general vibe or decision or something is also fun, it’s not as involved, so consequently it’s not as rewarding. There’s not as much trouble there. I enjoy playing music and producing at the same time.

What are your thoughts on Jay-Z’s remarks?

That’s a pretty big order to follow. I mean, it’s amazingly complimentary for him to say that. None of us heard that and was like, “Oh, cool.” It was more like “Holy cow! That’s crazy.” It’s also overwhelming to have someone put those expectations on you. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. It’s a really nice compliment, and I don’t really know what else to say.

Do those statements make it hard going into forthcoming projects?

No. There is a generally raised bar of expectation when people come out and say things like that. Then all of a sudden there’s, maybe fortunately, but maybe unfortunately there’s more expected of you from people who know your music or heard that comment. You try not to think about that when making a record. You just think about making good music. That’s all you can really do. You can’t set out thinking, “Oh man, we have to be as good as Jay-Z promised.” It’s not the right thing to be thinking about. It’s the kind of thing where you put it in your pocket and move on.

What bands have you played with that you’ve looked up to as an artist that made you nervous?

Playing with Radiohead was really intense. That was obviously intimidating. We all have love and respect for their music.

Who’s idea was it to be on the Twilight Soundtrack? What do think about the soundtrack containing tracks from Editors, Bon Iver, Thom Yorke, with a movie obviously marketed to a tweenage group as opposed to a crowd more inclined to listen to your music.

If you have an opportunity…we felt totally stoked about this song. We’re actually really excited about it, having [Beach House’s] Victoria [Legrand] sing. How much we love her voice, her band. It was so fun to do something like that. If you have an opportunity to put music out there that you feel happy and you feel behind, you should do it. It’s not really McDonald’s. It’s a vampire movie with Mormon undertones. I don’t really see anything wrong with it. It happens to be very popular. It’s because of the other bands that are on it, I don’t feel completely guilty, Obviously you make some money being on a soundtrack. Everyone knows that. That’s part of it, right? If we can make a song, and make money off this song, then that’s unique, because we don’t make money generally, so much, because people are downloading stuff. I don’t think people understand that impact that has on record sales. If you can make money by making a song, kind of how it used to be, then what’s wrong with that. There’s something much more wrong with people downloading. You don’t go into a doughnut shop and walk out the door without paying. I know it’s 60 cents, who cares, whatever, you know? Still. Call me an old person. I buy CD’s and records. I just can’t really get on with the whole [downloading] thing. I don’t see anything wrong with putting a song on a soundtrack. If we’re happy with the song, and we had fun making it, what’s the big deal? You know what I mean?

I think the track came out great. My downside to the album was that the music was good, but I just thought, not the association of the film, I think it’s one of the better songs out Grizzly Bear’s catalog, but I don’t think it’s the best, so for me, having someone be introduced to you guys, I’d rather show them something from your studio albums. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I don’t want to put down the music, but I’d rather introduce others to the bands on the soundtrack through a different set of songs.

Do you think it’s selling out?

No. I have no issues with the artists being on that soundtrack. What do you think about the Moldy Peaches-Juno Soundtrack?

[Kimya Dawson] recorded that album before that movie came out. She toured on it, and then got a call [to use that music]. Good for her. That’s sweet. Her music is out there.

It seems that the original Moldy Peaches album didn’t do as well as the soundtrack did…

If you’re making music that you feel behind – and yeah, maybe it’s not our best song, I don’t really care or think about that. I think about the fact that I’m into it and the rest of the band is into it and we had fun making it. That’s what it is. You have to just put it out there. If there’s an opportunity to put it out to more people, that’s a good thing. It seems totally legit to me.

Do you feel though if someone hears that song, and never discovers the other music you’ve made…

I’m not really worried about that. If that’s the only thing they hear and they don’t like it…

I’m saying, if they do like it. Like, The Shins being on The Garden State soundtrack. The listener could have liked those two songs, but they never went and discovered the rest of Oh, Inverted World and other Shins tracks.

If someone is that easily deterred from checking out other things, then that seems like a very short attention span. I can’t really say much for how that should go or not. I can’t account for that person. If anybody finds our music, then that’s a good thing. That’s sort of as simple as it is.

What’s next for Grizzly Bear?

We’re going to be touring through February. I’ll probably be taking a few weeks off to work on my solo stuff and work on label stuff. The band is probably going to take a break for a few months and then maybe we’ll start recording maybe, working on some stuff around Spring or Summer i would hope.

Do you see yourself secluding yourself at a specific location like you guys did for the last two records?

That’s really conducive to us. It will probably be something similar I would imagine.

Is that really important in the writing process?

Yeah. Totally.