"I think the real problem is that people can become so easily fooled by jumping to the wrong conclusions or just oversimplifying things, or trying to find meaning in something that doesn't exist or is meaningless." -- Dave Clifford...
It is a warm night in San Francisco -- unseasonably warm. The Great American Music Hall opens its doors for a double bill of veteran road warriors Gomez, who began their ride into the musical landscape over ten years ago, and newcomers One eskimO, who have a strong appetite for expression and experimentation. The Hall begins to fill with concertgoers in t-shirts and sandals, despite it being March in San Francisco. The air has a warmth that's almost humid, and it seems perfect for the milky, dreamy percussion and electronica-driven sounds of One eskimO. The bar tenders pour pints and mix cocktails while I meet backstage with One eskimO's lead singer, Kristian Leontiou, and percussionist, Adam Falkner. The mood in their green room is mellow, with a glint of excitement that becomes more intense as we talk.
I first ask about the popularity of their song, "Kandi." "Kandi" is now in rotation on mainstream, mass-market rock radio. But don't misread One eskimO's recent success; they are still very much an indie band with home-made, do-it-yourself aesthetics. Still, the fact remains that having a so-called "hit song" on mass-market radio can start to change things.
"'Kandi' is probably a standout song for us, but it's different from many of our other songs. I kind of see 'Kandi' as a doorway to our other songs. Many fans downloaded 'Kandi,' but they've come back for other songs," he says as he finishes his dinner, wearing what might become his trademark fingerless, grey winter gloves. He's an intense talker and keeps things going at a quick pace. He's excited about playing with Gomez this night, and remarks that, like Gomez, and so many others in the indie scene, One eskimO have been touring very extensively. "I think maybe in nearly a year... we've been back in England for only six or seven total weeks. But," he adds emphatically, "we're comfortable with each other."
Falkner quickly chimes in, saying, "We probably see each other as much as most husbands or wives."
One eskimO have recently toured with Bob Schneider and Tori Amos. They're playing Coachella and other festivals later this year. Their touring record might seem to put them in the category of alternative singer-songwriters, but the party atmosphere of Coachella could help categorize them more as electronic cross-over musicians. I ask if any of the other artists they've toured with resemble the category of music they think they fit into or whether they'd like to be affiliated with how those artists have marketed their music. "We kind of avoid genre and label. I don't know what we are," says Leontiou. "There are many different influences. But really, it's just us."
"We try to be honest and pure in our songs.... I think that's why we connect with others."
Adam Falkner, Percussionist of One eskimO
Don't look now, but Secret Cities, a trio (now quartet!) of music makers hailing from the Midwest, might have made the most enjoyable album of the year. Their debut, Pink Graffiti, is a laid-back, charismatic indie-pop album in the best sense, joyously constructed without being overly dramatic. This band is all about layers: layers of vocals harmonizing in and out, layers of acoustic, analog, digital sounds, and layers of lyrics that stick in your mind with the utmost poignancy.
We got a chance to talk to the trio just as they finished touring the US about their album, about songwriting via snail mail, about the fact/fiction behind the movie Fargo and about how Brian Wilson is kind of a jerk!
What's the story behind Secret Cities? How long have you been playing together?Charlie Gokey: MJ (Marie Parker) and I have been making music together since we were kids. We met at band camp around 2001, kept in touch through the internet, then eventually started exchanging tapes through the mail. Alex [Abnos] joined around 2005 when we toured for the first time. I met him on the internet, and fortunately, it turned out he's not a murderer or a 50-year-old pedophile. Right from the start, we've never really lived in the same place. I only see Al and MJ when we're going to tour or record.
Can you explain the concept behind the album I've been hearing about?Gokey: I kind of forced this on everyone like a jerk. It's not like the whole album is about any one thing. There are just a bunch of songs about the relationship between people and music, the relationship between people and other people, and those relationships getting kind of mixed up. That sounds like an absurd, pretentious thing, but that theme just sort of developed naturally. When we were just starting to record the album, my girlfriend and I split up. Shortly thereafter, I saw that Brian Wilson was signing his new record at a nearby Borders. I felt compelled to go see him because I had written a little about him in college, plus certain songs he wrote were pretty intimately tied up with this relationship I had just gotten out of. When I actually saw him and tried to talk to him, I was shocked by how old he looked, how little he cared that I was trying to say something to him, by the reality of his personhood. After that weirdness, Brian Wilson became the central figure in my writing -- sort of an easy place to start in sorting through the intense emotions of that breakup and the process of making music.
For two months in early 2008, Portland-based electropop duo YACHT set up camp in a small town located in the desert of West Texas, away from the city lights, but at the threshold of a completely different type of lights. Known as the Marfa Lights, the inexplicable dashes of lights that appear every night in the sky of Marfa, Texas, impacted Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans, the two members of YACHT, in a profound way. On many occasions during their two-month stay in Marfa, the pair would grab a blanket, sit on the roof of their car, and observe the lights in the open desert. Not only did the lights go on to become the biggest inspiration for YACHT's latest album, See Mystery Lights, but they also changed Bechtolt and Evans' view of the world.
"We'd seen something truly rare, truly magic, truly unexplained, and yet evidently real," the pair explain. "Coming face-to-face with something like that changes you. It humbles you. It puts our microscopic human relevance in the grand scheme of this cavernous universe into perspective. We had long conversations about the lights and their implications to us as people. Although we're very different from one another, they affected us identically."
Bechtolt was the first out of the two to see the Marfa lights. In 2004, some people in Austin recommended that he make a stop to see the lights in Marfa while on his way to California. After seeing the lights, he drove to Los Angeles to play a show and met Evans for the first time; her band was also on the bill. Later on, while traveling together, they decided to check out the Marfa lights together.
The lights made such a lasting impression on the two that in 2008, they decided to rent a house in Marfa in hopes of producing some type of tribute to their experience. At the time, they were not sure if it would be in the form of music.
"We didn't entirely know why we had come to Marfa, except that we wanted to know what it was like to live alongside the phenomenon," they say.
The first thing that they came up with was an 8-minute compilation of mantras. Bechtolt and Evans decided to create the tribute around their own belief system after becoming interested in human rituals of esotericism and mysticism. Given pop music's tendency to feature repetitive elements, it was only natural for Bechtolt and Evans to mold the mantras into the tracks that make up See Mystery Lights.
While the songs do contain Bechtolt and Evans' thoughts on topics such as heaven, hell, darkness, and light, they do not come off as commanding. YACHT do not go off on rants; instead, they hone in on catchy one-liners , such as "It's not a place you go/ It's a place that comes to you," on the song "The Afterlife."
As we find ourselves suddenly thrust into the midst of the information/overpopulation age, some unsettling realities about the nature or our species' brilliant endeavors become harder and harder to suppress from our collective psyche. We know that our government starts wars solely to funnel money into the military/prison industrial complex. We know that we've sold out our political voice to those of inanimate corporate deities. Our excess is gleaned from the blackened heart of human exploitation and spiritual vacancy. These things have become increasingly obvious, and yet, your average person is ultimately powerless to change them on a grand scale. The overwhelmingly tragicomic trajectory of our collective plotlines can possess anyone with the urge to detach themselves from what some people still call "reality".
Spring 2010 Interview
But it's not all unsettling. There's a transcendent beauty lurking in the depths of our current art explosion. With increased technological advances, more people than ever can exteriorize their internal realms of consciousness for less. It's this desire to distance oneself in an alternate universe of creative information, combined with disgust at America's obsession with "power of positive thinking" mind rape psychology, that inspired Liars' latest album, Sisterworld. Following a string of brilliant full-lengths, Sisterworld finds the band continuing to challenge themselves. Some artists find their sound and pummel a pattern ad infinitum, but it's always more exhilarating to watch artists take serious risks -– which is something Liars have never shied away from doing. Combine this with a fervent dedication to the visual side of the project (the full-length DVD companion to Drums Not Dead is a lo-fi video art masterpiece), and it's not surprising that art rock megaliths Radiohead hand-picked Liars to open for them on their last tour.
On the verge of their latest release, Aaron Hemphill and Angus Andrew were nice enough to answer a few questions via e-mail. (Editor's note: All formatting from their responses is original!).
ARTICLE CONTINUED BELOW
Liars "Scissor" from A Bruntel on Vimeo.
One of the underlying themes of Sisterworld is how people form their own worlds and social networks to deal with the continuing onslaught of our society brought forth by population expansion and new information technologies. Where'd the idea for this theme come from, and how do you guys personally build your own "sisterworlds," as it were?Angus Andrew: AARON AND I BEGAN TALKING ABOUT HOW WE OFTEN FEEL DISLOCATED FROM WHAT'S GOING ON AROUND US. SOME KIND OF LACK OF CONNECTION WITH THE MILIEU. WE SPOKE ABOUT THIS GENERALLY AS IT RELATES TO MUSIC AND CULTURE, AND THEN REFINED THE IDEA AS WE FOCUSED MORE ON LOS ANGELES. I THINK MUSIC IS OUR SISTERWORLD, BUT WE EACH HAVE LOTS OF WAYS OF CREATING THE SPACE WE NEED. FOR EXAMPLE WE'RE ALL PRETTY AVID GARDENERS.
Aaron Hemphill: IT WASN'T REALLY THE EVENT OF ARRIVING AT THIS IDEA, MORE THAT ANGUS' AND MY SUBJECT MATTER AND MUSICAL MOODS CONVERGED ON THE SUBJECT. THIS WAS THE COMMON SUBJECT... ONE THAT COULD UNITE A BROAD SPECTRUM OF SOUNDS AND STILL BE COHESIVE. THE MORE I LEARN ABOUT MYSELF, THE MORE DETAILED AND SPECIFIC THE WORLD I FEEL I FIT IN BECOMES... THIS ADDS A LOT OF FEAR AND PARANOIA AS TO WHETHER OR NOT A PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION WILL EVER BE FOUND.
I personally use information technology as a means to deluge myself with a constant stream of art, books, movies, music, blogs, graphic novels etc. in an attempt to exist in somewhat of a parallel dimension of my own design. On that note, what other bands would you recommend right now for someone looking for a good escape from the horrors of our times? What kind of other artists, regardless of medium, have you been geeking out on as of late?Andrew: I LIKE TO READ A LOT. FOR ME, A GOOD AUTHOR CAN TAKE YOU ELSEWHERE. LATELY I'VE BEEN REALLY INTERESTED IN FIRST-TIME NOVELISTS. TOM MCCARTHY, STEPHAN HALL, STEVE TOLTZ, JOSHUA FERRIS -- ALL HAVE WRITTEN INTERESTING NOVELS RECENTLY.
Hemphill: NDS: THE LEGENDARY PINK DOTS, SIGHTINGS, ONEIDA, PINK DOLLAZ, WU-TANG CLAN, KING TUBBY, CHOPIN, MORTON FELDMAN. ARTISTS: CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI. SADLY, ALEXANDER MCQUEEN'S DEATH HAS PROMPTED ME TO REACQUAINT MYSELF WITH HIS WORK.
Since your sound seems to vary so much from album to album but still retains a similar vibe, I was wondering how your songwriting process typically works. Does one person usually bring in most of the ideas or is it more collaborative? How does a typical Liars song come forth into the world? Do you conceptualize it beforehand or is it more of a spontaneous process?Andrew: WHEN WRITING FOR AN ALBUM, WE GENERALLY DISCUSS CERTAIN IDEAS OR MOODS WE'RE INTERESTED IN. THEN WE GO AWAY AND WORK INDIVIDUALLY ON CREATING SONGS THAT EXPRESS OUR OPINION OF THAT MOOD OR IDEA. ONCE A GOOD AMOUNT IS COLLECTED, OR ENOUGH TO MAKE US FEEL CONFIDENT THAT WE'RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, WE'LL LISTEN AND TALK A BIT MORE ABOUT THE MATERIAL. IN THE FINAL STAGES, WE DECONSTRUCT THE SONGS AND RECONFIGURE THEM IN THE STUDIO.
Hemphill: TYPICALLY, ANGUS AND I PRODUCE FAIRLY COMPLETE DEMOS AND SHARE THEM WITH EACH OTHER. FOR THIS ALBUM, WE ALLOWED MORE TIME FOR EXPANSION AND REVISION DURING THE "SHARING" PHASE OF THE PROCESS.
The last time I talked with you was right before you went on tour with Radiohead. How was that experience as a whole? Are those guys really telepathic androids from the 5th dimension phase shifting through our time space in order to blow our minds, or are they fairly down-to-earth guys? If you had to pick one nugget of wisdom you took away from the whole experience, what would it be?Andrew: YEAH, THAT WAS A REALLY GREAT EXPERIENCE. AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY DOWN-TO-EARTH GUYS. I THINK ONE OF THE BEST THINGS TO WITNESS WAS HOW EACH OF THE MEMBERS IN THAT BAND CONTRIBUTED SO MUCH TO THE SOUND THEY CREATED ON STAGE. IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE EACH PERSON IS ABSOLUTELY INTEGRAL TO HOW THE BAND FUNCTIONS. THERE WEREN'T ANY TRICKS, EITHER; IT WAS ALL REAL.
Hemphill: GREAT. NO. THERE'S NEVER AN ACCEPTABLE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE.
You'd also mentioned before that you intentionally induce insomniac states as a means to bring about creative inspiration. Any such practices involved with the making of Sisterworld?Andrew: YEAH, REALLY, WHENEVER I HAVE THE CHANCE TO GET FOCUSED, I LOSE THE NEED FOR TIME. MY BODY CLOCK GOES OUT THE WINDOW, AND I LET THE WORK DICTATE REST. OFTEN I FIND MY IDEAS GET LOOSER AND MORE UNINHIBITED IN THE HOURS BEFORE COLLAPSE.
Hemphill: I HAD 2 SEPARATE INCIDENTS OF NERVE DAMAGE TO MY SKULL DURING THE WRITING AND RECORDING OF THIS ALBUM. WHAT THAT HAS CONTRIBUTED IS LEFT ANSWERED BY THE LISTENER, I SUPPOSE.
As someone who thinks in a more shamanic or magickal context, I think dreams are often direct communications with what some would refer to as a "holy guardian angel." With that in mind, what's the weirdest dream you've had in the last year or so, and what do you think it was trying to tell you if anything?Andrew: THE FIRST TRACK ON THE ALBUM WAS A DREAM. I DESCRIBE IT PRETTY LITERALLY IN THE SONG, BUT BASICALLY IT FELT LIKE SOMEONE CLOSE TO ME WAS DYING, AND I WAS INCAPABLE OF DOING ANYTHING TO HELP HIM OR HER. I WOKE WITH A HORRIBLE SENSE OF GUILT AND SOMEHOW FELT LIKE I WAS BEING REMINDED THAT I NEED TO BECOME MORE ENGAGED WITH MY SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE IN IT...
Hemphill: DREAMS FOR ME REMIND ME THERE'S A LARGE PORTION OF MY MIND I CANNOT CONTROL OR SUMMON. SCHIZOPHRENICS OFTEN RELATE THE LACK OF CONTROL IN A DREAM STATE WITH THE LACK OF CONTROL CONCERNING THEIR AUDITORY OR VISUAL HALLUCINATIONS. THAT BEING SAID, THE MOST HORRIFYING DREAMS I HAVE ARE FRIGHTENING DUE TO A LOOK OR DESIGN THAT IS COMPLETELY FOREIGN TO MY FAMILIAR TENDENCIES OR PRACTICES, YET OBVIOUSLY PRODUCED BY MY MIND. FOR EXAMPLE, I HAD A DREAM THAT TOOK PLACE IN A FUTURISTIC ENVIRONMENT WITH VISUAL ELEMENTS I WOULD NEVER CHOOSE, NOR IMAGES I WOULD INTENTIONALLY RECORD FOR MEMORY. THE FRIGHTENING THING IS THAT THERE IS A PORTION OF MY MIND THAT IS VERY ACTIVE, AND UNCONTROLLABLE.
Two years, a new album, and a major label record contract. Floridians Mayday Parade have just released their sophomore album, Anywhere But Here, their first on Atlantic Records. Leaving their Fearless family behind, though, hasn't hurt them one bit. Shortly after the release of Anywhere But Here, the band co-headlined two back-to-back tours -- Fall Ball and Take Action Tour. In the midst of the indie pop band's rigorous touring schedule, Redefine Magazine caught up with Mayday Parade vocalist Derek Sanders to talk about the tour, the Atlantic Records family, and the band's new album.
March 2010 Interview
How does it feel to be on Take Action Tour, a tour that's supporting non-profits?Derek Sanders: It really feels great. Touring already is what we love to do and what we always want to do, and to add the fact that it's for a great cause and you're just doing something good every single night... [is] really kind of unbelievable.
What's the biggest difference between Anywhere But Here and your last record, A Lesson In Romantics?Sanders: Well, the biggest difference is our second CD is on Atlantic Records. That's obviously different than being on Fearless. And we're older. We've grown as people, as a band.
What was it like recording for Atlantic compared to for Fearless?Sanders: Atlantic was much more involved, I guess. Fearless kind of let us do our own thing, you know? They kind of trusted us to do our own thing and have our freedom. We recorded in a studio only about 45 minutes from where Atlantic is located. They're very involved with the whole process. Kind of a good and bad thing. In some ways, I guess you feel like you don't have as much freedom with what you want to do, but at the same time, you hope there's a reason -- that Atlantic knows what they're doing and that it's going to help out with the whole process.
Are there any things you wish you could change about the way the album came out?Sanders: Not really. There are a few songs that didn't get picked for the album that I kind of wish had been picked over some other songs. There is a handful of song we did that never ended up getting recorded.
Are we going to see these songs pop up on a future EP or live set list?Sanders: A couple of them we actually went and recorded as B-sides. There's a song called “So Far Away” and a song called “The Memory.” Both we recorded, and they're on iTunes. But there's even a few more we recorded that we haven't done anything with, so at some point, there may be an EP-type deal or maybe we'll hold onto them until it comes time to do the next record.
You wrote most of the songs on the album this time around. Are there any that are particularly close to you?Sanders: There are a lot, definitely, but probably the [closest] is the acoustic track on the CD, “This Time I Mean It.” It's about an ex-girlfriend. We dated for two years. We were actually dating up until the point we went up to New Jersey to record. Pretty much the first week we were up there to record is when we broke up. And it was really weird, because that song was written when we were still together. It was kind of interesting, going through the whole break up thing and then recording that song.
What are your plans after Take Action Tour?
After this, we're going to the UK. Then it's pretty much going to be non-stop touring up through Warped Tour. I can't say for sure where it's going to be after the tour with Madina Lake in the UK. Nothing's been confirmed yet. But it's going to be good stuff up until Warped Tour.
"Is that a good color?" asks Adam Green, regarding the phlegm he's just coughed into a cup. In the dressing room of the Newcastle Academy, Green puts his affliction down to either a cold or too much drinking. Green is here in the UK to promote his latest album, Minor Love, which, thankfully, is unaffected by the malady plaguing him tonight. The album showcases realized musicianship and emphasizes Green's vocal ability more than his previous albums do.
Yet, as Green well knows, many reviews of his music falsely label his move from lo-fi to well-produced albums as a sign of growing maturity. This is the kind of patronizing understanding of his music for which Green has an incisive response. "I think that's really silly," he laughs. "I've been touring and doing all these concerts since I was 18-years-old... I don't know what people think I was doing that was so immature, because I was the one that was showing up to play all these concerts for them... I was doing it of my own volition. I wasn't in the Mickey Mouse Club or some shit."
Despite his incredulity here, the prospect of identifying his music with a label is a notion to which Green is not entirely averse. He seems to resonate with the "anti-folk" movement, saying of the classification, "Absolutely, yeah, I would endorse it. I don’t exactly know what it is; no one really knows what it is, but I like those people that are involved." For Green, Minor Love has been shaped by his striving for a specific sound, but relaxing when trying to achieve it. He elaborates on this by recalling the influence of his trip to Nashville prior to recording his last album, Sixes And Sevens.
"I gave up on this incredibly formal aesthetic that I'd gotten into on Gemstones and Jacket Full Of Danger. There were a lot of rules I'd put on myself; there were almost no overdubs. At the time, I was really taken with what The Strokes were doing; Julian [Casablancas] was influencing my aesthetic to the point where he was telling me not to put strings on Gemstones, and I was listening to him," Green explains. "So he's really responsible for the way that record sounds in some ways, because he told me to make it a certain way."