interviews [ page 6]
February / early March 2003
Andy Gonzales is the driving force behind Marshmallow Coast. Another Athens resident, transplanted from Denver, hes also guitarist with Of Montreal and was part of Music Tapes. His own music is perhaps more reflective and introspective than Of Montreal but its a similarly literate take on music thats inspired by the rich back catalogue of pop music in all its forms. Its melodic and emotional, with nods to everything from psychedelic to jazz. His latest album, Ride the Lightning is available on Pickled Egg in the UK and Mira in the US. We interviewed Andy just after hed returned home after the Of Montreal European tour. More info.
SXP: How do you balance the demands of Marshmallow Coast and Of Montreal?
Andy: Funny you should ask. I was just thinking the same thing. I have slightly neglected M. Coast this past year, but it is my first priority. Of Montreal is just rocking out. There is little room within the structure for my personal creativity. And I am about to make some changes......
SXP: What differences do you see between Of Montreal and Marshmallow Coast? And how is your contribution different in the two bands?
Andy: I firstly want to dispel any notion that mine is but a side project, anyone who mentions this will be plagued. I love all the musicians involved, so naturally I want them to contribute to my material, but now I am realizing it is at the cost of stupid critics viewing me as being in Of Montreal's shadow, because that band has had more visibility.
SXP: Dottie [Alexander] said that Of Montreal stole you from Music Tapes! Is that how you remember it?
Andy: Maybe, but I still would gladly play with Julian if he were around, especially now. At the time when I moved to Athens everyone was involved with everyone else, there were no hard feelings.
SXP: How did you meet Kevin Barnes? Do you think youre similar songwriters?
Andy: Firstly if you interview Kevin and make no mention of me or M. Coast I am going to hate you! Kevin contacted me cause he liked a tape I was circulating around. He thought we could be a classic songwriting team, and I still like the idea, but we have our own outlets that are chugging along quite successfully. I guess our similarity depends on your definition of similar. Neither of us plays heavy metal, rap, soul, etc... We do pop songs with a love of the classic writers and performers. I think Kevin is more sixties influenced and I am more 30s-70s influenced. We both like unusual lyrics, which I feel he has championed.
SXP: What is the membership of Marshmallow Coast is it always your Of Montreal colleagues as on the recent UK tour?
Andy: I sometimes play solo, sometimes we have a different drummer. It changes. Derek contributed a great deal on the last record. On that record we only listed the two of us as official members. Like I said before I love playing with everyone.
SXP: How, in your view, has your music developed over your 4 albums?
Andy: I have improved as a producer I think. Maybe a slightly better guitarist. But, for instance the last song on Ride the Lightning, Jebodiah's Restraints, I wrote when I was 17, ten years ago. So in some ways little has changed.
SXP: Yours is quite an intricate and melancholy pop music. A fair assessment? And do you ever just want to turn your amp to 11 and rock out?
Andy: That suits me. I wrote a Jimi Hendrix style song recently but I don't think it will fit in the context of my next record. I feel that to write rock songs you need to fool around with a bassist and a drummer in a live setting. I don't get that opportunity much. So I just write diddy's on me acoustic.
SXP: The artwork on your site and albums is naïve and striking. Whos responsible?
Andy: Me and my girlfriend with my brother managing it all. We were just goofing around. I need to revamp the whole thing. I paint also, and most of it is pretty simple.
SXP: Your website includes an offer to write a song for $1million. Have you had much response?
Andy: I had this business for a while where I was writing songs for people for $150 dollars and I did about 8 or 9 and realized it was a pain in the ass, so I just changed the price amount.
SXP: On your website, you talk about collecting comic books and playing X-Box. Does that fantasy approach influence your writing?
Andy: Yeah it does, I am a big kid at heart. Whereas others like to go out and get drunk, I don't do any of that crap. I like to read stuff or be distracted, or write, or draw.
SXP: What are your musical/literary influences?
Andy: I like Satie, Nat King Cole, Django Reinhardt, Mussorgsky, Los Panchos, Rachel's. I read a large number of classics as a young teenager, Dostoevsky, Hesse, Kafka, Tennessee Williams, Homer, but lately I am reading kids books like Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events.
SXP: On your website, you mentioned taking up golf. Is golf the new rocknroll?
Andy: Well.... officially..... yes, yes it is. You heard it here first folks!
SXP: What next for Andy Gonzales and The Coast?
Andy: A new record next fall, possible titles include A Fond F, Color Me Psyched, The Erotic Awakening of Greg, Last Trip to a Strange Place. Hello everyone! Thanks for reading and thank you for interviewing moi! In the immortal words of Leon, "Keep taking your pants off till you find yourself".
The Raveonettes are Sune Rose Wagner on guitar and vocals and Sharin Foo on bass guitar and vocals. (Outside the interview they tell me they both have non-traditional Danish names. Sharins grandfather is Chinese, which is why her surname is Foo.) They have to date released one single Attack Of The Ghost Riders which also opens their mini-album Whip It On and is out via Columbia though it was originally released on Denmarks Crunchy Frog label. They also released a two-track single to their email list, which sold out last November. I caught up with my favourite new band in a tavern off Oxford Street, prior to their sold out show at The 100 Club. For more information on the band, go to www.raveonettes.com.
SXP: The first I read about you was the Time Out preview of the Water Rats show, which compared you to Mr Bloody Valentine and Ride. My friend was at the show and said they sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain and they open with a feedback-drenched Every Day by Buddy Holly. Youll like them. Then I heard the first notes of screaming guitar on Attack of the Ghost Riders and I was in love. How did you get together and how long have you been going?
Sune: It started, I guess, back in January 1999. I was living in LA at the time and I started writing songs. Then I moved to New York and I tried to find musicians to start the band with and I just couldnt find any. I met tons of people and they were all giving me the wrong attitude so I thought of Sharin because I knew her from back home from a couple of years prior to that.
SXP: Back in Copenhagen?
Sune: From Copenhagen, yeah. I heard she was starting to play the bass and it was looking good and I knew shed been singing pretty much her whole life. And I wanted to do the twin vocal thing. I came back to Copenhagen and I called her up and I played her the songs that Id written while I was over there and she liked it. Thats really how we started.
Sharin: We did a bit of touring together, just the two of us around Denmark, to try it out and see if it clicked and it did. It just came so natural for us to sing together and the vocals just blended in an interesting way and it was instant, it sounded great.
SXP: Were you in any bands prior to writing these songs?
Sune: Yeah. Ive been in various bands since I was 16-17 or something stuff around Denmark. [I later bump into Dave Bedford of This Way Up Records (Tindersticks, Ian McNabb, Warm Jets) who tells me that Sune was in a band called Psyched Up Janus, one of This Way Ups less popular bands. They released at least one album called Swell.]
SXP: Is there a healthy music scene in Denmark, like in Sweden?
Sune: Sweden has always been really good but in Denmark people are a little lazy because no one has ever broken out of Denmark in the rock tradition. So I think people have that attitude that its not possible, so they get a little lazy and they just book tours of Denmark. We always thought right from the beginning that we werent satisfied with that. We had a feeling that people in Denmark wouldnt appreciate this kind of music.
Sharin: Which they didnt!
Sune: Which they didnt! *all laugh* You have never seen so many terrible reviews! We always felt that this music was meant for London, we always had it in mind. I dont know why. And the States. Thats what we aimed for really.
SXP: Why The Raveonettes? I assume with the Rave On and the fact you open with a cover of Every Day, theres a Buddy Holly connection?
Sune: Absolutely. Its very simple. Its The Rave On, Buddy Holly. We are huge Buddy Holly fans and the ettes is definitely a tribute to all the girl groups from the early 60s.
Sharin: Its quite simple, actually.
SXP: Musically, its The Velvet Underground and Jesus and Mary Chain but the thing that did it for me was that its very much schlock 50s sci-fi and horror films. Was that your passion and did you want to bring it into your music?
Sune: Yes, we wanted to have the music be very cinematic, we wanted it to be like small stories, small movies that people could put their own pictures to. Each track, you would just have different pictures in your head about what is going on and you could make up your own movie set. A lot of the sounds and stuff are B-movie-ish because its so simple, its almost humourous. If you see any of those movies, then *all laugh* Theyre so simple, so striking. I think we got fed up of music being so serious and so
Sharin: So pretentious.
Sune: Yeah, so pretentious, and we just wanted to make it just really simple. Well tell a story but you put your own pictures to it and you have your own funny little movie right there.
Sharin: And the atmospherics of the 40s and 50s, it looks great.
SXP: Are the Mary Chain and the Velvets an influence?
Sune. We have a lot of great bands that we use for inspiration. Those are definitely two of them, The Cramps are another, The Everly Brothers, just their singing.
Sharin: Buddy Holly.
Sune: Ritchie Valens. Theres loads of them. Theyre basically classic songwriters. We just wanted to do something that was very simple, back to basics, three chords type of deal, and then add our element to it. We did all the beats, we didnt use live drums on the records, it was all sampled drums.
SXP: The albums recorded in B Minor?
Sharin: B Flat.
SXP: Why B Flat? Do you think thats a dirty sounding chord?
Sune: Its actually just a guitar thing really, it just happened that way. It could have been in any key I guess.
SXP: And the next one is in the next key?
Sune: In Major, yeah, B Major. We did that because our intention was to do two mini albums, one in B Flat Minor, one in B Flat Major, but after we did the Minor one, things started to happen to us so quickly so we didnt have the time to do anything about it. We had already written the songs for the next album but then the ball started to roll.
SXP: And you havent had time to record it yet?
Sune: Yeah, weve now finished it, last month.
SXP: Thats the one inside the cover of Whip It On, with the white cover?
Sharin: Yeah. Its actually not going to be that now.
Sune: That was meant to be an EP but now we have turned it into a full length album with 13 tracks on it, all in B Flat Major, and its a totally different vibe in a way because its a major, its a lot more accessible I think. More melodic.
SXP: But its basically what you do now?
Sharin: Yeah, it still has that Raveonettes sound, but its different, it has more space and its an album full of hit songs and its good.
SXP: You put out an internet single with two tracks on it, for people joining the email list. Are those going to be on the next album?
Sune: No, we dont like to recycle! *both laugh*
SXP: Whats the reaction to the band so far?
Sune: Great here, almost selling out apart from Denmark. We have stopped playing in Denmark. The tour now has been almost sold out every day. Quite amazing. We havent really toured that much in the States yet. We have played New York many times and a couple of other cities like LA. The vibe over there is very strong right now, theyre really pulling us to go back to the States. The next album, the full length one, weve finished that in New York and we mixed that in London with Alan Moulder.
Sharin: The overall reaction has been really good and its quite exciting for us too.
SXP: And youve played Wembley, which must have been nerve wracking?
Sune: That was great actually. It wasnt till afterwards that we sat there and drank champagne and as we got drunk it was like: what just happened? Oh shit, we played Wembley!
SXP: Youre on Columbia, which is part of Sony. How different is it to Crunchy Frog?
Sune: Its a lot different. We put out the Whip It On mini album on Crunchy in Denmark first. Sharin and I wanted to move on so we bought back the rights for Whip It On and Columbia picked it up.
SXP: Youre touring with Interpol in the States. Should be a great double bill. Have you met them yet?
Sune: We met them at the NME show. They seemed really nice, they really liked our music. I havent heard their music yet but I hear its good and Im looking forward to it.
SXP: Anything else youd like to add?
Sune: Im hungry. Its St Valentines Day, what can you do? How are people here because we dont have it in Denmark?
SXP: Well, basically, you ask someone out that you fancy, for them to reject you and then you can write an album about it.
Sharin: So its a sad day of rejections.
Sune: yeah, but is it a big party day?
SXP: (to Sharin) I believe youve become a bit of a heartthrob?
Sharin: *look confused* Whats that?
Sune: Its like a pin up. *he explains this to Sharin in Danish and it clicks*
Sharin: Did you read that horrible interview in NME?
SXP: Yeah, that was bad.
Sharin: They didnt tell me what it was all about. Im a bit disappointed with them.
Sune: How To Shag A Rock Star! *laughs*
Sharin: Yeah, whatever.
Sune: Well, publicity is good for us.
SXP: Ive only seen you as a support act. Is your headlining set much longer?
Sune: Not much longer. We like to do a shorter set but, because were headlining, we have to do a bit more otherwise people will be disappointed. Well do 35-40 minutes.
Sharin: Also, all the songs are in the same key so it seems to be a bit of a challenge for people to listen to it if it was, like, one and a half hours.
Sune: And its not like all our songs are so short that we have to play 60 songs. We dont want to do that.
Andy Ward: Homescience
Homescience is Andy Ward (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Tina Muat (drums) and Steve Hartley (bass). Theyve released two albums: Main Sprit Weind (Damaged Goods, 2001) and Songs For Sick Days (Track and Field, 2002). In addition, theyre produced a number of EPs, the most recent of which is Small Music on Fortuna Pop! (2003). While the music is American inspired, its not constrained by the titles Americana or alt.country. Instead its music that builds from classic pop like the Beach Boys, as interpreted by people who havent seen much of the sun. Consequently theres a darker lyrical edge, reflecting their roots in Northern Britain. We spoke to Andy before their gig with Of Montreal at the Spitz on 31 January 2003.
SXP: Youre Andy Ward, right?
Andy: Yeah. I get called Andy Walker all the time for some reason. It was in a review once and I constantly get called Andy Walker now.
SXP: Is it just the three of you?
Andy: There used to be six of us when we first started and then bit-by-bit people dropped out. Edinburghs a strange place to have a band. There are some good bands there but either everyones in a band or they want to be in a hobby kind of band on Sunday afternoons.
SXP: Which Edinburgh bands do you rate?
Andy: From Edinburgh? Theres us and Ballboy. Im just trying to think of who else is around in Edinburgh. I dont know really!
SXP: Why live in Edinburgh?
Andy: We just got bored and moved there one day. Just one of those things where you go for a weekend and end up staying there.
SXP: Whats the Leeds connection?
Andy: Me and Steve grew up in Leeds, well Wakefield. Tinas from Liverpool.
SXP: Were you into music before you went to Edinburgh?
Andy: Me and Steve used to be in a band called Good Morning Canada but thats quite a few years ago now. That was quite good fun. This guy The Wandering Step was the other guy in the band. We used to play shows with Mogwai, we did a few gigs with the Pastels, Goldblade, Damon and Naomi, Jad Fair, anyone who was around at the time.
SXP: How does your music compare now? Has Homescience changed direction?
Andy: Its not a million miles away. It was a lot more teen pop in those days, its a lot more low-fi now. We split the band between myself and the guy whos in The Wandering Step now. My stuff was a bit poppier and his stuff was a bit weirder. The music we make is a lot more thoughtful these days, its not so teen-based.
SXP: Is that The Wandering Step who released I Want To Go To Reykjavik on Deltasonic?
Andy: Yeah. Its not a million miles away from what he did then.
SXP: There are lots of comparisons made in your publicity to Sparklehorse, etc. Are these valid?
Andy: I guess so. Sparklehorse certainly. I used to be a big Flaming Lips fan, anything from between Priest Driven Ambulance to Clouds Taste Metallic, especially Transmissions From A Satellite Heart. Grandaddy and people like that are OK but I dont think were really theres a fine line between us: those bands and the other, quirkier side. I think were edging towards the quirkier! The kind of stuff we listen to is The Beach Boys, The Kinks, a lot of older bands mainly. Thats where we get things from. There are a lot of interesting things going off on the records.
A lot of things I enjoy with the band are the production on the records and things like that. We did the first album in a studio which was OK at the time but it was a little bit overproduced and it didnt really sound like what we wanted it to sound. We demod the album on 8 track and it sounded like what we sound like. But when we went into the studio something happened. It all went a bit pear shaped! For us, it [producing ourselves] seems to work very well. Its weird because we always seem to get a different sound with each batch of recordings we do. So I like the way you can capture time in recordings. And even though we probably do the same things it always has a different edge. And things usually tend to work in batches.
SXP: There is a lot more space on Songs For Sick Days in the music compared to the first album.
Andy: Its not a million miles away. The demos are very us but the album just didnt turn out that way. It just became a bit of a monster!
SXP: You recorded in McNamara Studios.
Andy: Its Grant McNamara who recorded it for us and we produced it. We never did a lot of studio recording so when you get into the studio its all very exciting and things happen and all of a sudden you come away saying: oh! We should have done it like that really!
SXP: Its on Damaged Goods. How did that come about?
Andy: We sent two or three tapes off and we got the Pickled Egg single that we did first of all and then we got the Damaged Goods thing. It worked out really well: we only sent two or three tapes off and we got two replies. We werent actually gigging at all at that time. We were just recording things at home. The Damaged Goods thing is pretty cool. We were the only kind of quirky pop band on the label so we really didnt fit in too well!
SXP: Now youre released Songs For Sick Days on Track and Field. Is that a one off?
Andy: No. Weve got plans at the moment to do another album with Track & Field and a single. There are bits and pieces going on. Weve already recorded the next album. And weve got plans for the next one as well! Were a very busy band really: weve got a lot of ideas. The next albums not a million miles away from Songs For Sick Days. Its more textured. Its got a lot more things going on. Its not quite as sparse sounding. Its a bit weirder, its a bit more cut-up. Its not quite the epic 22 track special, you know! We just wanted to make a straightforward, 60s-y, 33-34 minute album, with 12 songs. It would be very easy to do another Songs For Sick Days and bang lots of the songs on there that were working on. I just like doing different things every time. Im really happy with Songs For Sick Days but obviously I dont want to do the same thing again. So thats why I did the next album in a different way.
SXP: When are the albums likely to come out?
Andy: I think were planning on a summer release for the next album, which is called Jungle. Its got a bit of a jungle theme not jungle music with lots of huge monkeys and rats.
SXP: Not a drum and bass thing then?
Andy: No, its more of a kids book kind of thing. I guess we kind of make kids music anyway. So lots of pixiephones and keyboard noises and things.
SXP: It makes it interesting but does it make it kiddy if youre using all those kinds of sounds?
Andy: No, its just the fact were using toy instruments and things like that. Its the standard to make albums with just guitars and drums and bass. I dont find any enjoyment in that really. I like different sounds and you can use these instruments in very different ways. Songs For Sick Days is quite a guitar-y album. Its got louder sections and its got contrasts; its not very cutting edge but I think the thing about Songs For Sick Days is that it works as a whole piece: the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, or whatever.
SXP: Youre credited as key songwriter?
Andy: I do write most of the songs but a lot of the songs are primarily my ideas that are messed around with by everyone. I do a lot of the stuff in recordings, but slowly everyone else is coming more into it. Things are becoming a bit more interesting and varied. Everyone writes songs in the band. Its just that so far its just been mine that are being used!
SXP: Theres not a lot of information on your records and on your second one theres practically none. Its all pink and purple someone whos colour blind wouldnt see anything at all!
Andy: Just because there are so many songs on there, we keep it simple because theres enough going on elsewhere! I hate thank you lists and things like that. I dont mind words but its not something Im particularly interested in. Tina does all the artwork and she has ideas and because shes in music it makes it a lot easier. I like everything to be kept quite central to the band.
SXP: On a few songs, the music is uptempo and poppy while the lyrics say something else. Its a bit like the Delgados and some of Aluns songs.
Andy: The music is quite upbeat and cheery mostly. I love things that are slightly sinister, the darker and the depressing. Its a nice clash against the cheerful. Were quite anarchic people as well, so
SXP: Theres a great opening line to the album: If you cut off my head/ I wont be dead/ cos little wings will sprout from my shoulders.
Andy: I actually dreamed the song. I woke up doing the classic rock thing of dreaming a song and struggling out of bed and finding a guitar.
SXP: Did you dream the image?
Andy: No, I dreamed that I had to actually sing it but it was going on at the time. It was like a narration through the dream. It was a bit weird. But the wings were very small!
SXP: Why 22 songs on Songs For Sick Days?
Andy: Just because weve got a lot of songs and I was very excited about recording. Things just kept going and going. I didnt intend it to be 22 songs but I did want to make a big record. I wanted to make I know its not really like that The White Album. Its more of a journey or a road album, an adventure that you sit through. Its quite a long process. Again, its the thing about the sum of the parts.
SXP: Is that all the stuff you recorded or was there stuff held back?
Andy: Yeah, there were other songs that will appear as b-sides or something.
SXP: Have you done any singles?
Andy: We just tend to do EPs. Weve got an EP coming out at the moment, called Small Music. Again, thats quite different. Its band-ish but its got a lot of loops and I recorded things by using sequencing, just recording verses and cutting thing up and pasting them.
SXP: You said that all the bands you listen to are from the 60s - The Kinks, The Beach Boys - and at same time youre talking about using modern technology and modern influences as well.
Andy: Yeah. You dont want to do just 60s rip offs. Theres got to be a bit more to it really to make it a bit more contemporary. And I just get bored really quickly. I like to work very quickly and I like happy accidents and spontaneity, things falling to pieces. I like the way that it doesnt sound professional. I like flaws in music and a lot of Homescience is based on flaws!
A lot of the songs are written while Im actually messing about recording and getting ideas from that. I live with my eight track so I just put lots of things down and mess around with them later. Thats how I wrote Songs For Sick Days. Theres always some kind of a problem with it well, not a problem, theres always some sort of flaw but thats part of the charm. Its not often that I like to hear records that are perfectly played. I just think it loses a lot of the feeling of whats actually being played. Obviously not if its really messy or theres something really wrong with it! But I think a lot of the charm of what we do is seeing the gaps and its just human.
SXP: Is recording a quick process or do you lay down lots of tracks are you a closet Brian Wilson?
Andy: Getting more so that way! Songs For Sick Days started where I did pretty much a song a day when I was in the mood to do it. It did end up taking quite a long time to make and mixing took quite a while, although you wouldnt guess! It took about a year to make probably. There were times when wed do two or three songs a day and then wouldnt do anything for a week or two. Pretty much everything we recorded is there. There are moments where everything crashes in and guitars are way too loud and drums are crashing through everything.
SXP: Was it recorded on 8 or 24 track?
Andy: Digital 8 track. But I work at a blind school but they had a big clearout and we found all these old microphones. They used to do audio recordings there so I got all these 60s mikes that they were throwing out. They had such a nice quality to the mikes so I started using those. I get really excited about recording!
SXP: You mixed it down as well?
Andy: Just did it at home. I do like recording at home. The point about the first album is that we recorded it in about a week. We did all the drums in one day, we did all the bass, the guitars. And I think it really does sound like that. Whereas for Songs For Sick Days, we just did a song at a time and you can tell its not all just done in one setting. If you need another guitar on something you do it at the time, you get each song finished. Instead of going through with a marker saying I did the guitar wrong on song 1 so Im going to put another guitar on, its a lot more stale.
SXP: So digital 8 track is the thing of the future?
Andy: Yeah its great! Its the best thing Ive ever had in my life! Its got so many different sides to it, you can use it as a sequencer, you can record, its got effects, you can do everything. And the mixings made easy with it so you can sit with that all day and come up with something!
SXP: Heroes and villains? I guess Brian Wilson.
Andy: Beach Boys, ELO
SXP: No way!
Andy: Yeah, I love ELO. They did a lot of good records, especially when they first started. They went off on a tangent after that! On The Third Day is probably my favourite album and Eldorado is a great album as well. But the Beach Boys, Beatles, just all the typical kind of stuff. A lot of terrible bands who have great ideas like Supertramp and things like that! But theyre a bit muso-ish. The Kinks, The Zombies, all the kind of things youd expect already.
SXP: What about the new rock revolution?
Andy: Thats the villain. I know were not exactly doing something brand new, its quite derivative but I just think its far to easy just to pick out people.
SXP: Its not derivative. Unless youre an originator, everythings influenced by someone.
Andy: Yeah, theres being influenced by and basing your career on it! But theres a lot of things to be influenced by. Why bother with just two bands! Just listen to ELOs early records, theyre fantastic! They did some awful stuff later on but the first things are great! And then all the indie bands that were around when we formed, like Guided By Voices, They Might Be Giants, a lot of American indie, the quirky side of things. All that kind of low-fi stuff, Flaming Lips, early Mercury Rev. The first couple of Mercury Rev albums are fantastic. Cant think who else. Its like going into a record shop and thinking who do I usually like again?!
SXP: Youve played with a lot of American bands. Have you had much interest from American audiences?
Andy: Weve not been over there yet. Its starting to build here so its kind of early days really. But people are interested. Its taken off in Spain and Europe, which is quite nice. But its early days.
SXP: How is the record doing?
Andy: Still early days. We got great reviews everywhere. We didnt particularly get any bad reviews. Some less good than others but no really bad ones. Its just a growing process really.
The Ladybug Transistor
The Ladybug Transistor are Jeff Baron, Jennifer Baron, Sasha Bell, San Fadyl and Gary Olson. Together they make a lush orchestral pop thats rich in texture and intensely melodic but its not just a retro sound. This band has made two albums together The Albemarle Sound and Argyle Heir - plus a live album recorded in 1999 at the Emmaboda Festival in Sweden. Before that, the band of which Gary Olson was a founder member recorded Marlborough Farms and Beverley Atonale which have a more indie-rock tone. We met up with Jeff and Sasha before their gig at the Arts Café on 31 January, at the start of their European tour.
SXP: Hows the tour going?
Sasha: Were at the beginning of the tour so were heading to Zurich on Monday and then doing some shows in Switzerland, Germany, Holland and then Glasgow, with Camera Obscura.
SXP: Are you promoting something new?
Sasha: Were playing all new songs which are going to be on the record that were recording next month. Which will come out in the fall.
Jeff: Were promoting our ability to write new songs for our new record!
SXP: Are you going to record that in New York?
Jeff: Were actually going to record in Arizona - Tuscon.
SXP: Why there?
Jeff: A couple of reasons. One, its warm! Mostly because since weve been doing it ourselves, we spend like a year recording a record in our basement. Its free so we can spend all the time we want but I think this time we wanted to put ourselves into a situation to try to get a different feel. And the studio its a really good studio. You know the band Calexico? They record there. Its a 16 track and theyve given us a good deal.
SXP: Is that where Giant Sand record?
SXP: But theyre not producing?
Jeff: No. The guy who owns the studio, called Wavelab, is engineering it. And were going to produce it ourselves.
SXP: Theres a really big change from the more indie pop of Beverley Atonale to the lush orchestral music of Albemarle Sound. Why the change?
Jeff: Well, honestly, I think it was just the huge personnel change in the band between those two records. The first two records, Gary was writing most of the songs and basing them around his four string its like a guitar. Its a bass but its strung up with guitar strings all tuned to the same note theyre all tuned to a D note, and they all have different octaves and different sounds and he was using that to build a lot of those songs. So its like a fuzz-pop kind of thing. And then when we joined and started writing for the last two records, just having songs that were written on piano and six string guitar as opposed to that instrument changed things obviously and dramatically. And we just wanted to go more in that direction. We learned a lot more about music too.
SXP: What were your backgrounds? Were you into bands like Pavement and Galaxie 500?
Jeff: Well, our actual backgrounds were very similar. We all listened as kids to 60s and 70s music that our parents got us into. We were all into New Wave and punk rock and stuff like that. So it wasnt like we had different backgrounds. We never really tried to be an indie rock band. Gary is funny because everyone says: your first record sounds like Pavement. He never even listened to Pavement! He happened to be doing something at the same time as they were all doing something. Its really because that instrument gave it that huge sound. The records are dramatically different basically because there are different songwriters. And now were coming full circle because were all influencing each other and everyones matured. So Garys now writing on piano and so his songs reflect that.
SXP: How do you write songs separately or together?
Sasha: Everybody writes separately and when we decide to work on a new record people bring their songs and we work on arranging them as a group or coming up with ways to treat them or finish them as a group. Usually individuals are bringing fairly formed pieces of music.
Jeff: There are a lot of different types of collaboration though. Sometimes someone will write an entire song, like Sasha might write an entire song and then end up singing it. Ill write a song but Ill never end up singing it so Gary has to figure out how it works. He wants to make it his own, which makes sense. Sometimes I didnt bother writing words down so maybe thered be a melody line or Id come up with chords and give it to him so then he could come up with his own melody line. So there are pretty much three types of collaboration. That last one, give it to Gary, thats the most interesting because you never know whats going to happen; the melody line that he comes up with might be something Id never have thought of. Its always special and if it works its really nice.
SXP: Were you all in bands before Ladybug Transistor?
Jeff: Well, we play in Essex Green. We had a band called Guppy Boy and that turned into Essex Green. And Sasha was in a marching band.
Sasha: Yeah, I took that route!
SXP: What were your influences when you were growing up? On one level you music sounds like very commercial pop which, with a slightly different emphasis, could almost be MOR pop and quite safe.
Jeff: I think that the reason why it doesnt entirely sound like that is that we produce it ourselves. Because if we had Todd Rundgren or Joe Boyd or someone big maybe we would be on the radio and wed be actually making money!
SXP: Loungecore was really popular a few years ago and played in clubs. You take that 60s pop sound but you make it contemporary.
Jeff: Maybe its because we dont use a lot of drum machines and bleeps and bloops. A lot of that compilation stuff was turned into that so it could be played in dance pubs, you know, like space age 60s kinda stuff. Were just your basic group, just drums and old fashioned instruments.
SXP: I can hear the Left Banke and the Zombies and echoes of the Byrds. Were they influences on you?
Jeff: Yeah. The Byrds, definitely.
SXP: Because its resonant and powerful, do you write for Garys voice?
Sasha: I dont personally - other that the key that he sings it! But I guess he writes to it!
Jeff: For me its fun because Ive never considered myself a singer. Ive worked with other guitar players whove had singers they could collaborate with. Once Gary started singing I started envisioning all the types of songs that musically could be written for him: AM country song, folk song or we could do a new wave song. So Im finally able to write in that genre knowing theres a voice that will be able to carry it.
SXP: Who was responsible for writing Catherine Elizabeth?
SXP: It sounds very English and traditional. Where did it come from?
Jeff: The Thirteen Colonies! *both laugh* She wrote this Essex Green song Saturday - its Irish sounding. We played with the Beachwood Sparks and Dave Scher, the lap steel player, said to Sasha: I know how you wrote that song and these guys are from California you have The Thirteen Colonies in you! And it is kind of true because we grew up on the East Coast! I cant speak for her: I dont know where it came from.
Sasha: I dont know. I couldnt pinpoint where it came from. It just sort of appeared, but Im sure in some deep recess it belongs somewhere, its from something.
SXP: You recorded your albums yourself. How do you manage it over such a long period?
Sasha: Usually well decide to start a new record and well start working on the songs. Then well start layering it and thats what Jeff was saying thats what has taken such a long time and made each record such a huge, laborious process. We just start from the drum track and just build up from there. Whenever someone has time theyll stop by the studio and do some tracks. And thats work. Thats totally work because it takes so much time and a lot of energy. And thats part of the reason were trying to do it differently.
SXP: Will it be different to, say, Argyle Heir in its level of detail?
Sasha: Yeah, I think so.
Jeff: Its not going to be as dense. Maybe therell be more open space, more a live sound.
SXP: You record at Marlborough Farms. That doesnt sound like the kind of New York we know from TV.
Sasha: Its very residential. Its not like Manhattan at all. This particular neighbourhood where the studio is, its this old Dutch neighbourhood from the turn of the century, with trees and houses and its near a big park. Its really quiet. People come out there, even from New York City. They cant believe it exists. So its very not New York. Its not even like the rest of Brooklyn.
Jeff: But a lot of people are discovering it now. The rents are going up!
SXP: Is the studio part of where you live?
Sasha: Gary lives there. We used to live there for a couple of years. There was one point where we pretty much all lived in the house where the studio was.
Jeff: That was great. That was where we recorded Albemarle Sound. So we were just waking up and going downstairs. That was excellent! Youd be up in your room and youd hear someone doing something that you didnt really want or like, so youd go downstairs!
SXP: Did that environment influence the record?
Sasha: Definitely. The record has a very positive, buoyant feel. I always feel happy when I listen to that record. It was a happy time, happy recording experience.
SXP: I dont know how to describe The Essex Green and The Sixth Great Lake. Side projects? How do they fit in?
Sasha: The Essex Green is the other half of our life. The Sixth Great Lake Id describe as a side project. Just an offshoot of Essex Green.
Jeff: were also in The Sixth Great Lake with two other people who used to be in Guppy Boy. Basically, we were all in Vermont playing in this band Guppy Boy and we decided to move to New York. Not everybody did so we moved to New York and formed The Essex Green but we still wanted to play music with these people. So we thought: lets do a record and that was what it was. We dont tour as that [The Sixth Great Lake]. But The Essex Green is definitely not a side project. We have a new record coming out on Track and Field.
SXP: Is it different writing for Essex Green and then Ladybug Transistor?
Jeff: Sashas a prolific songwriter. [to Sasha] I hope you dont mind if I speak for you. She just writes like a factory! For me, in The Essex Green I get to sing sometimes so Ill come up with things that are different.
Sasha: It depends on which record is coming up. It just depends on timing. I always have songs.
SXP: Do you ever think: this is a Ladybug Transistor song?
Sasha: I do sometimes. But most songs can usually adapt themselves. Once everyone gets their hands on it, it becomes a Ladybug song.
SXP: Whats the difference between a Ladybug Transistor song and an Essex Green song?
Sasha: If I write a folky kind of song, that would probably be an Essex Green song.
Jeff: Sasha sings a lot more in The Essex Green. Whereas Gary will end up singing a lot of her songs in Ladybug. I think Ladybug is more classical and has more boundaries. The Essex Green colours over the line a little bit and has elements of country and folk. Were not bluesy in any way but we would never be afraid to throw in a few blues riffs. We take more chances.
SXP: Is it easier to write songs that you sing yourself?
Sasha: No. When Im writing them Im always singing them. Thats the way I approach all the songs. I always write with the melody and in my head Im singing the melody.
SXP: Among your contemporaries, what do you listen to?
Sasha: There arent a lot of contemporary things. The Shins, but that was a year ago.
Jeff: James William Hindle. Were big fans of his. [note: JWH has just walked into the Arts Café and is standing behind them.] I was into Olivia Tremor Control and the Apples and Belle and Sebastian and all that stuff. And Of Montreal, Will Oldham and Smog. But all those bands we grew up with in the 90s .its hard when you listen to so many of those records and Im always waiting for something new.
SXP: Do you feel an affinity with the Elephant 6 bands?
Jeff: Oh yeah! That whole scene is kind of waning now. Everybodys doing their own thing. Its nice because its a group of people who werent really at the time into Sonic Youth or Big Black or anything. They were into the Rolling Stones. They just wanted to make pop music. Thats whats so great about Belle and Sebastian. They made those records and in New York, if you played that kind of music in the 90s, youd be laughed off the stage.
SXP: Ive noticed B&S references in your reviews. Do you have much in common with them?
Jeff: Oh sure. I read that Stuart Murdoch said early on you try to make it a beautiful thing while you can. I think that hits the nail on the head. Just making pretty music. They werent afraid to do that. Now theres a backlash. Well, not exactly a backlash but when I first heard that Track and Field record I thought: 5 years from now, rock and roll is going to come back because everythings going to get so soft and now you have the Strokes and all those bands. And its great to have all those bands too. It just keeps changing.
SXP: Do you still pick up on the buzz in New York on bands like The Rapture?
Jeff: Were friends of a lot of those bands. I worked in a record store with Vito, the drummer. There is a big buzz. Theres not such a big buzz about Ladybug. We play with Yo La Tengo and Luna and those people ask us to play. But theres not a big family for us. Were not part of the whole indie rock thing. Were not part of the new thing. Were just in-between. Its nice because were a little bit of both anyway.