Latest Features

The Berninger Brothers Discuss Favorite Films, How ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ Influenced The National’s Latest Album & More

By Jordan Raup; March 27, 2014 at 5:14 PM 

Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood. Ahead of a VOD and theatrical release this Friday, we talked with the duo about their film influences, deleted scenes, how the documentary came to be, how the experience informed their latest album, and much more.

Video Interview: Kurt Vile

By Joshua Pickard; November 20, 2013 at 7:49 AM 

Kurt Vile_1 During Kurt Vile’s recent tour through the southeastern part of the US, he stopped by JJ’s Bohemia in Chattanooga, TN.  Bringing along Brooklyn rockers VBA and Beach Fossils, Vile packed the small venue to capacity – and then some.  From VBA’s kinetic rock chug to Beach Fossils jingle-jangling rock, the stage was primed for Vile and the Violators to shake the walls, which they handily did.  At one point, Vile stood alone on the stage with just a guitar in his hands and played through a few of his songs – the simplicity of his performance was remarkable.  This came after the Violators had left the stage temporarily.  They soon returned and stormed through the rest of their set, drawing on songs from across their discography.  It was a night for ringing ears, jangling guitars, and collateral percussive damage.

Before the concert however, I sat down with Vile to talk about his first musical purchase, his transition to Matador Records, and why he prefers The Dead Milkmen to The Dead Kennedys (and we do talk about his own music, so don’t worry).  He was staying the night onboard The Delta Queen, a riverboat/hotel docked on The Tennessee River bordering downtown Chattanooga, and we sat down there to talk.  Check out my full interview with Kurt Vile below.


Introducing: Royal Bangs

By Lucien Flores; November 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM 

Royal Bangs have carved a niche with their brand of genre-defying kinetic rock but they’ve yet to conquer the radio. The band released their fourth album, Brass, in September and are highly touted by Black Keys drummer/producer Patrick Carney. Even though mainstream success eludes the group, they still put out captivating songs — the band hits the road this fall in support of Crocodiles after playing gigs with Phoenix, Ra Ra Riot, and Portugal. The Man.

I talked to lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Schaefer about their latest record, their relationship with drummer/producer Patrick Carney, Knoxville, and the band’s dynamic.


Photo Credit: Ramon Hess

Photo Credit: Ramon Hess

Lucien Flores: Flux Outside and Let If Beep have a cool chaotic sound that I enjoy a lot but with Brass, there’s a more simplified and controlled sound. It’s a nice refreshing change to the band. What inspired the change? What was the process of recording the new album and what were you trying to bring into the studio?

Ryan Schaefer: I think that’s right. That was deliberate. Especially after the last album, I think we set out to make a certain kind of album. It was noisy, it was big and there were a lot of things going on and I feel like after we made that album, we all felt that we had gone as far as we could go in a direction and maybe it would be interesting to try to do something else. So, all of our other records, we basically had skeletal demos and then fleshed them out in the studio as we were recording them. …and then see if we could play them live later. This record was really all just about the songs. Everything was written out beforehand and we rehearsed it as a band and then tracked it almost live. There are overdubs of keyboards and vibraphone and all kinds of stuff like that, but mostly the core of all the songs the songs is a live performance, which is sort of different for us. It was fun to make. It was pretty relaxed. It was pretty laid back because we had all of our bases covered before we got into the studio. I’m sure the next record we make will probably go in a different direction but with this one we wanted to try and experiment and do things differently than we’ve done on any of our other records.

LF: You had Patrick Carney (of the Black Keys) producing you guys for this one, right?

RS: Yeah and that was a big part of it. That made it really fun too because we’ve been friends with Patrick for a long time but we’ve never actually got to work together. His label put out our first two records but we didn’t actually get to work in the studio together. He was always on tour or we were on tour. It was something we’ve wanted to do for a long time and it just so happened that our schedules lined up. He lives in Nashville now so we went and made the record in Nashville, which was cool because Nashville is only a couple of hours away from us but we never really spend any time there. So we were in Nashville for about a month making the record and it’s a cool town. There’s a lot going on there now. All around it was a good time. It was very laid back working with him. We’ve known each other for a while so it wasn’t hard to figure out how to talk to each other. It was pretty relaxed.

LF: I want to talk about being in Knoxville and coming out of that music scene. Do you prefer coming out of a music scene like Knoxville, which makes you one of the more popular bands of the area and gives that communal support? How do you prefer that to being just another band out of New York or LA?

RS: Well we’ve never lived in either of those places so it’s hard to say what it would be like to be from there but I know what it feels like to go there. We’ve always had really good luck in both places. Chicago, New York, LA, Austin…we’ve always had good shows there. We’ve stayed here as long as we have because, honestly, it’s just economics. It’s so cheap to live here and to have a studio. We make a music video this past weekend where we built sets and stuff for nothing. It’s like you can do whatever you want here. The cost of living is low enough that you can go on tour for a while and not worry about it and take time to set up a studio and record stuff on our own. There are definite tradeoffs to living in a place like this. If we were to live in New York, there’s the cultural aspect of it that you can’t get anywhere else for sure. There’s a certain freedom that comes with living in a place like this where money isn’t as big as a concern. For instance, there’s a couple of arts spaces and venues here where it’s just not a big deal if you want to go try out some new songs. I built a lighting system for the band recently and we just wanted to have a night where we just go try it out. I just called up our friend who runs [a venue] here and just scheduled a show the day of. We spend so much time traveling anyway. We’re in New York all the time. We like traveling and I think it’s nice to come home to some place where it’s not super stressful when we can go visit those places as often as we want. I think it’s a good thing. It seems like people are always surprised when we say we’re from Knoxville but there’s more going on here than you would think at least in terms of music. There are a lot of cool bands here, a lot of people making interesting music. I think that’s why we stay here as long as we have. We’ve played around with moving at different points in the past but it’s a nice place when you spend all your time traveling, it’s a nice place to have as a home base.

LF: You, Sam, and Chris started playing music together in high school. I’m wondering how the creative process has changed because back in high school, it’s a little different playing music together compared to now. What has stayed the same and what has changed?

RS: I think when you play together for that long and spend that much time together, it’s not even just playing music together, it’s just spending that much time together, we’ve listened to so many records together or seen movies or read the same books, or whatever, we all have so many cultural reference points in common and shared experiences. I think after that long of a time, you just develop shorthand for expressing ideas so it’s really easy to communicate things. I think the difference is that when you’re in high school you’re still trying to figure out what kind of music you want to make or what kind of sound. When it comes to high school, you’re figuring a lot of things out and very early on, I feel like…we’d discover some new thing and then we’d be like, ‘oh, we want to do this’ and we bounced around a lot for a really long time. Then by the time we made our first record as Royal Bangs, we kind of had some idea of what we wanted to do. There’s a lot of jumping around still but I think the longer we’ve been together, it’s less like ‘let’s make something in the style of this.’ We never really have those types of conversations anymore. It’s easier to talk about ideas and to understand where the other person is coming from and so I think it gets easier to make stuff that is actually creative.

LF: You’re not a trio anymore after Dylan recently joined the band. How did he come to join you guys?

RS: He’s from South Carolina and he always played music on his own… He was looking for a change of scenery and wanted to move somewhere and knew some mutual friends of ours that played music here and ended up moving to Knoxville. We had been doing the three-piece thing for a while and we were really trying to add somebody to the band that could cover bass and keyboards but we just couldn’t find anybody that could do all of the things that we wanted to do or that we felt would be a good fit so we continued the three-piece thing for a long time. Dylan just kind of showed up one day. He had moved here and we met him through these mutual friends and it was immediate when he started playing with us. That’s the amazing thing, we talked about that musical shorthand that we developed, and he’s a couple years younger than us but seems to know all the same records and quickly fell right into that stuff and there was very little catch-up, which was pretty unusual. I think anybody else, there would have to be a period of catching them up. First they would have to learn all the songs and then they would have to learn the way you get in and out of songs and the transitions and there was none of that. He basically listened to the record, showed up, and got what we were going for. He plays very similarly to the way that we do, so it was really easy to relate on a bunch of different levels. It’s been great. The shows are so much more fun to play now. The three-piece thing was an interesting experiment for a little while but it’s definitely a lot more fun for us now. It’s a little looser and we’re not as tied down to the computer and technology quite so much.

LF: The album cover is quite interesting. Was that taken the same day as the “Better Run” shoot? What’s the story behind the cover.

Well the album cover was actually our friend Eric that was shot from a couple different angles so it’s him twice on the front. That was a couple of months before the music video then when it came time to make a music video, we had a different friend of ours, Josh. It was kind of a last minute thing, he was going to be in the rest of the video and the director [Brandon Langley] had an idea at the last minute to go back to the same place as we shot the album cover and then basically recreate it with Josh. So it’s not actually the same person but it was shot in the same place.

LF: I imagine you’re going to go on the road somewhat soon. How do you guys stay entertained and relax when you’re playing so many shows in so many cities?

RS: I don’t get super stressed out about going on tour. I like going on tour but I think that there’s usually one or two shows that we all kind of try to watch together. So when we’re on tour, it’s usually Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or whatever seems to be going on at that time that we all try to watch together and catch up on. There’s definitely been times when we have a drive day and we have chosen where to stay based on whether we could get there one time to watch Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. I feel it’s nice to have that kind of interaction…that super heavy involved with shows when you’re on tour for a really long time. It seems like that’s a good time. It’s a pretty deep distraction.

LF: How is your relationship with Modern Art Records? How have they helped you with this record? Have you had a lot of freedom to do essentially what you’ve wanted?

RS: It’s great. It’s been really nice so far. They do exactly what we had hoped a record label would be able to do for us. They give us the resources, budgets, and stuff to make music videos. We like to do it where we don’t ask for a ton of money but we also have complete creative control over it. That last music video, we made it here in Knoxville with our friends [“Better Run”]. We made an album and gave it to them. We made [a music video for “Octagon”] that’s going to be really awesome…and they just trust us. We don’t ask for a crazy amount of money. We just ask for enough to cover our own expenses and then we’ll do a good job, we’ll work hard and then everybody is going to be happy. So far it’s been working really well. I think it’s the best way that it can work at this point. You work with somebody that you trust and nobody goes crazy on spending half a million dollars on a music video and expect something insane to happen. I think with this kind of relationship, it’s much easier to be creative and do the things you actually want to do. So far it’s been great, it’s been really fun.

Interview: Mesita

By Ray Finlayson; July 3, 2013 at 2:43 PM 


Interview: Divine Fits

By Brendan Frank; June 19, 2013 at 10:00 AM 

divine fits 2

Beats Per Minute’s Brendan Frank sat down with Divine Fits at this year’s Sasquatch Festival to discuss band dynamics, band names and that infamous story behind Wolf Parade’s debut album title Apologies To The Queen Mary.

Brendan: So you were all quite accomplished before you formed Divine Fits. What are you hoping to achieve with this band?

Dan: I don’t know if I’m trying to achieve anything different, really. This band is just different by its nature because of the people we have. It’s very collaborative. Everybody is pulling equal weight in songwriting and onstage duties. But we wanted to do what everybody wants to do, form a band, write good songs, play shows, have people come to said shows.

Are you all in the same room together when you’re writing?

Dan: It’s changed. When we started the band we were writing songs at Britt [Daniel]’s house. I would come up with a bassline and he’d come up with a guitar part and they’d sort of mesh together, and we wrote a couple things in rehearsals with Sam. Until we got in the studio, it felt more conceptual than it feels now because we hadn’t played any live shows. Once we were playing live shows it felt more like the real thing. And lately, since we’ve been touring for close to a year, we’ve written songs together on the road.

So you guys are constantly writing?

Dan: Yeah we have a single coming out pretty soon. So we’ve just been writing new stuff.

You’re planning another record as well?

Dan: Yeah, definitely.

Another Thing Called Divine Fits?

Dan: Maybe The Second Thing Called Divine Fits. And then there’ll be a box set: All Things Divine Fits.

Where did you get your name? I don’t really know what to make of it.

Dan: We had a list of names… Wait, what do you mean you don’t know what to make of it? Like you don’t like it?

I like it, I just don’t know what it means.

Dan: We just thought it was cool.

Alex: We had a list of cool words and we just mixed and matched them until two of them sounded good together.

Dan: Britt had asked Bradford [Cox] from Deerhunter for a band name and he threw one out. We didn’t end up using it, but it was close. We were down to about three names.

What didn’t make the cut?

Dan: Laced Jerks, which was Bradford’s, and Hot Skull. But Divine Fits makes the most sense.

Are comfortable with the term “supergroup”?

Sam: Are you?

I don’t really like it, just because you have bands like Chickenfoot kicking around.

Dan: I get it, I guess. Music journalism is hard enough as it is with so many bands out there.

You’re probably responsible for about half of them.

Dan: [laughs] Maybe. I think some people need to be able to quantify a band in the first paragraph of their article. Like ‘this band sounds like this or is this genre.’ So I get it, it doesn’t really bother me.

You dissolved Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade recently. Is this a full-time gig for you then?

Dan: Yeah it is. I got a new band in the works too, so I’ve been writing songs for that as well. Actually in 2010 Wolf Parade played its second last show on the same stage we’re playing on tonight. Then we drove up to Vancouver and did a friends and family show at the Commodore Ballroom. And that was our last show ever, it was two days after Sasquatch 2010. And then Handsome Furs broke up around this time last year.

What did think of your AMA on Reddit?

Dan: It was awesome, really fun to follow.

You guys didn’t answer my question.

Dan: [laughs] Britt didn’t answer your question! But it’s cool, it’s a really awesome way to communicate with fans. I remember writing letters to bands as a kid in high school in Canada. I wrote letters to Fugazi, Sonic Youth… The only band that ever replied was Fugazi. I think they had a policy to reply to all letters.

Sam: What did you ask them?

Dan: I asked them some totally nerdy bullshit about guitars and asking what pedals they use [laughs]. I don’t think I have that letter anymore. I mean it’s pretty amazing to have direct communication with fans. I like it because it’s completely outside that whole web of marketing and sponsorship and business that pays the bills. That’s completely separate, it’s a little more pure.

So I’ve never seen you live before, who plays what?

Sam: I drum, Dan plays guitar, bass and sings. Alex is a triple threat. He plays everything but drums, but mainly keyboards.

Classically trained?

Alex: Yeah, piano lessons as a kid. We were going to do the band as a five-piece and it wasn’t working out.

Dan: We kept firing people.

Alex: Three days before our first show we decided to go as a four-piece. So we have three days to relearn all of the material.

Dan: This dude [points to Alex] claimed he couldn’t play guitar, then we get together as a four-piece for the first time and he’s just rocking out in practice.

Sam: We had to tell James Murphy he couldn’t be in the band. We thought if we didn’t have him it wouldn’t be a supergroup as much, so we kicked him out. Now we don’t have James Murphy and everyone is still calling us a supergroup.

How do you decide who’s on vocal duty?

Dan: It depends. It’s sort of whoever comes up with the riff or whatever. We’ve never really had a fight or even a discussion. It just falls into place.

You covered Nick Cave on your record. Whose decision was that?

Dan: It was Britt’s. He loves that song. That was one of the first things that Britt and Sam and I did before Alex joined the band. We were just trying to figure out how to sound like us. I had a great time recording that song.

Where did you record it?

Dan: In the valley in California. Toto’s drummer Jeff Porcaro had a house in the valley.

Sam: Didn’t he die in the house?

Dan: He died in the backyard… Anyways, he had a pool shed where they did a lot of recording and we recorded the whole album there. Our producer Nick Launay has worked with Nick Cave since the days of The Birthday Party.

Are you still in contact with Spencer [Krug]?

Dan: Yeah, I’ll be seeing him pretty soon, actually.

Any chance of a Wolf Parade reunion?

Dan: Probably not. One thing we are doing is Sub Pop is remastering Apologies to the Queen Mary for iTunes.

Is the legend of how that album got its name true?

Dan: Yes. Yes, we behaved really poorly on a boat.

Did they accept your apology?

Dan: I don’t know, I’ve never been back. But they kicked us off the boat… yeah, they were not happy. We carved a Ouija board on an oak dining table and then threw it off the side of the Queen Mary.

Sam: As a band?

Dan: Yeah.

Sam: Were you playing on the ship?

Dan: No, All Tomorrow’s Parties was happening at Long Beach and everyone was staying on the Queen Mary. Then our friends from Frog Eyes and some of the guys from The Black Heart Procession were there and we got really silly, silly drunk. We tried to summon the ghost of Winston Churchill by carving a Ouija board into this old oak dining table. Then we realized we had to destroy the evidence so we threw it overboard.

Sam: So are they more pissed about the table or the fact that the ghost of Winston Churchill now haunts the decks of that boat?

[all laugh]

I have to imagine that was a really heavy table.

Dan: Yeah it was a lot of dudes, the band and then our dirtbag friends from Victoria, British Columbia. That was my first festival that I ever played. It was a good time to get silly.

Sam: It’s pretty impressive, like that many people making that bad of a decision collectively. Usually it’s just like the one guy that grabs the TV and hurls it out the window, everyone is glad it happened and they didn’t do it.

Dan: You really cannot underestimate the psychological implications of mass amounts of alcohol and psychidelics. It’s like a hive mind.

Interview: Japandroids

By Brendan Frank; June 11, 2013 at 3:00 PM 


Our writer Brendan Frank caught up with Canadian duo Japandroids the day after their impressive performance at this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington to talk to them about the evolution of their sound so far, the origins of the band and more.

BPM: So how’s Sasquatch treating you?

David Prowse: It’s really good. We were here back in 2010, but it was pretty brief.

Brian King: We were supposed to play in 2009 but we had to cancel last minute. And then we played the next year.

I suppose it’s pretty close by for you guys.

David: It is. Yeah, we have a lot of friends coming down for the festival and stuff. It kind of almost feels like a hometown show. There were definitely a lot of Canadians in the crowd last night. As evidenced by the chants of “Canada! Canada!” over and over again.

You’ve both expressed your frustrations with breaking into the scene in Canada when you were first starting out. What were the biggest obstacles?

David: I think Vancouver’s pretty isolated, geographically, and it’s kind of a bit of a hinterland, culturally. There’s a lot of great music happening there and a lot of cool stuff, but it doesn’t really get the same attention as say, Toronto or Montreal would get. We just didn’t feel like much was happening and people weren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in Vancouver. I feel like that’s changed to some degree in the last few years, there’s a lot of Vancouver bands that seem to be getting quite a bit of attention these days. But at the time it just felt like it was a very hard place to get notice on any larger scale.

I was at a [Vancouver] Canucks game about a month ago and “The House That Heaven Built” is their entrance music. It must be kind of surreal for you guys to finally get that sort of recognition in your hometown.

Brian: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. I mean, I’m a big Canucks fan, my whole family is. It’s pretty weird, though. The whole world that professional sports exist in is so different from the world that we exist in. It’d be one thing to hear your song coming over the speakers of Sasquatch or being played at a bar. To have it when a hockey team comes on the ice, it’s pretty strange. The music they used to use were, like, really famous songs by really famous bands. Which is generally what teams would skate out to, like some kind of a sports anthem.

Post-Nothing was much more of a jam record, whereas Celebration Rock was much more rooted in songcraft. What does Post-Nothing mean to you creatively in retrospect?

Brian: I think it’s just a part of our natural progression. If you listen to No Singles, you’ll hear a band that’s never really written any songs before and doesn’t know much about songwriting, if anything. We were just trying to write some stuff that’s fun to play and we thought sounded cool. It gets a little more refined on Post-Nothing. You figure out what sounds good and what doesn’t sound good and what people like and what people don’t like, what you like and what you don’t like. You know the third time you sit down to write ten songs it’s easier. We played Post-Nothing for like…. I don’t even know, like two hundred shows? So we were really aware of what parts of those songs worked and what to focus on and how to improve. That’s why I think Celebration Rock is like you said, we took a lot more time to think about what kind of songs we wanted to play.

Even with “Art Czars” it seemed like you guys were toying with bigger hooks.

Brian: That song definitely has a more traditional pop structure. Verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. It was very Nirvana-esque in that kind of way. That song by nature I think suits that form. It would be weird if we were jamming out that song for 10 minutes, we’d get bored of it.

Would you guys ever consider expanding beyond guitar and drums?

David: I don’t think we felt that kind of pressure when we made Celebration Rock. It felt like we’d improved so much as musicians that we could make a very similar type of record. We could go into the same studio, have the same basic setup and make an album that we thought was a clear improvement. As time goes on it’s harder to say if that will be as obvious to us, I suppose. Maybe we will want to expand but I don’t think there’s any pressure to do that in the immediate future.

Brian: I think it’s more likely that we would expand what we try to do musically between the two of us rather than having more people play in the band or play onstage or something like that. Maybe just incorporate new musical elements. I mean you never know, we’ve been a band for eight years with just guitar and drums and singing over top and in that eight years we haven’t felt like it’s been a limitation. We’ve never gotten to the point where we though we can’t do this because it’s just the two of us, like keyboards or something.

How good are you at playing each other’s instruments?

David: You played drums once Brian, remember that?

Brian: Oh yeah, that’s true.

David: You’re alright, you got some rhythm.

Brian: Yeah, no I’m not a drummer. I’m not even actually that good at playing guitar, to tell you the truth.

David: [laughs]

Brian: Well, no, I mean technically speaking I’m good at playing our songs because I’ve played them like 500 fucking times. So I can play them really well, better than anyone else. But I can’t solo for shit.

Those “Stairway to Heaven” tabs are on your shelf somewhere though?

Brian: No, I never learned how to play that song. I remember as a kid buying that tab and spending a weekend with it and just being like “fuck this shit, here you go Brad Carmichael.”

David: [laughs]

Brian: True story.

David: It is a true story. Shout out to Brad Carmichael.

Brian: I gave him a lot of tablature books.

David: And he never gave ’em back.

Brian: Motherfucker.

So both of you guys went to school in British Columbia?

David: We met at the University of Victoria.

Brian, you’re a geologist by training, right?

Brian: I was, back in the day. Actually, by now I’ve been doing this as long now as I was doing that.

Was there ever a tipping point between geology and Japandroids?

Brian: There never was, really. I mean, playing music as a job, it’s kind of like a dream. It’s like someone who paints for fun never imagines that they’ll be able to make a living off of it. You just think of it as something that’s fun and cool to do because you’re just into music. You just have to work hard and get lucky and maybe you’ll have the ability to stop doing whatever you’re doing before, and then it’s not even really a discussion it’s like “of course.”

David: I think we were both ready to drop everything and do this full-time, but it’s not something you can really bank on.

Brian: There’d be a lot more bands in the world if you could just decide. Just tick a box [laughs].

I noticed during the show yesterday you had a couple of photos on your guitar.

Brian: They’re photos of my family.

A nice reminder when you’re on the road.

Brian: Yeah, I like to jazz up my guitars a little bit. I swap them around quite often.

What are your favourite songs to play live?

David: I think for me it’s probably the most obvious ones. Like “Young Hearts Spark Fire” and “The House that Heaven Built” are the most popular with crowds. When you get to play music and have them sing along and really engage with you in such a direct way, it’s quite powerful emotionally. Those two songs are probably the biggest, where the crowd is the most involved.

Everybody was singing along to those yesterday.

Brian: Yeah, you kind of know that no matter the venue or no matter what the crowd, “The House That Heaven Built” for us, that where the energy comes from. It’s the song the most people know, and so you’re usually going to peak then.

David: “For The Love of Ivy” is fun too, because that’s almost always our closer. You can really let loose with that one.

Brian: It’s a pretty different song from the other songs we have too. It has a different dynamic for us that isn’t present in a lot of our other songs.

I think yesterday you said something like “the whole success of this festival will be determined in the next four minutes.”

Brian: [laughs] Yes, I like to use colourful language to encourage the audience to get wild.

Interview: David Grubbs

By Joshua Pickard; April 5, 2013 at 1:02 PM 

David Grubbs

With the release of The Plain Where the Palace Stood (out April 16th via Drag City Records), David Grubbs further cements his standing as one of indie rock’s most influential founding fathers. Beginning in the early 80’s with his high school band (and hardcore progenitor) Squirrel Bait Youth, Grubbs started down a road that would lead to collaborations with avant-garde composers and literary artists alike. Drawing on influences from American traditionalists like John Fahey and Sandy Bull to more recent experimental artists like Loren Connors and Mats Gustafsson, Grubbs incorporates these sometimes disparate elements into a cohesive and seamless whole. He recently took some time to answer a few questions for Beats Per Minute concerning his upcoming album The Plain Where the Palace Stood, his experiences in the bands that led up to his most recent work, and how he can’t seem to stop listening to the new Bonnie Prince Billy and Dawn McCarthy album What The Brothers Sang.

Beats Per Minute (Joshua Pickard): I recently heard the songs from the With Illustrations 7” you put out with The Happy Cadavers back in 1982, and as I was listening to them, I couldn’t help but be curious if you ever think back to the earliest days of your career and wonder what might have happened had you made different choices in regards to the course of your music?

David Grubbs: I can’t tell you how strange it is to have someone in 2013 tell me that they recently heard the Happy Cadavers’ EP, which came out in 1982, when I was 14 years old. Absolutely bizarre. The next thing I know, you’ll be telling me that you’re listening to the Squirrelbait Youth demos. As far as making different choices, I’m often creeped out when someone looks back and says that they wouldn’t change a thing. (This morning I was reading about a documentary about Dick Cheney in which he says that he wouldn’t do anything differently if he were to do the Bush years all over again. Terrifying.) That said, I’m having a hard time envisioning having made different choices, and I think that this is because I don’t feel locked in because of choices that I’ve made, and I like to think that with every new record or tour or collaboration I’m free to proceed completely differently. I really don’t feel equal to the sum of my choices.

David Grubbs_2

BPM: You ran with Squirrel Bait (which I believe was originally called Squirrelbait Youth) from ’83 to ’88. And I know that the band underwent several member changes over its tenure but could you tell me a bit about how you, Clark Johnson, and Rich Schuler initially came together to form the band?

DG: Yes, Clark Johnson and I—who have known each other since we were two years old—were teenage wiseasses in Louisville and we thought for a joke we would start a goof hardcore band called Squirrelbait Youth. (This was when there were all kinds of “Youth” bands—Wasted Youth, Reagan Youth, Youth Brigade, Youth of Today, etc.) But as so often happens, what started out purely as a laugh gained unexpected traction and went charging down a path we could not have anticipated.

BPM: Squirrel Bait has been mentioned alongside Husker Du as musical antecedents to the grunge movement that began in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Was there ever a time in your formative years with Squirrel Bait, or The Happy Cadavers for that matter, when you felt that you were doing something new and innovative? Or was it more of just a natural progression for you and the band and not really given much thought?

DG: Squirrel Bait really took off when Peter Searcy joined the band as our singer. I don’t think that we really imagined what we were doing to be innovative, but that’s not to say that we also didn’t imagine it to be unique. People describing Squirrel Bait usually did so by referring to Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, which is altogether fair. But that’s not to say that Squirrel Bait wasn’t without its idiosyncracies—starting with the fact that we were high-school students who sometimes had to be driven by their parents when playing out-of-town shows. (I remember Clark’s mother driving us up to Chicago to play with Big Black.)

BPM: You had passing tenure in quite a few bands, not the least of which was Gastr del Sol, a creative partnership you had with Jim O’Rourke. Were there any differences in execution or changes in approach to the material recorded as Gastr del Sol as opposed to your previous solo/collaborative studio experiences?

DG: The final lineup of Bastro consisted of John McEntire, Bundy K. Brown, and myself, and we made a tires-squealing abrupt stylistic left turn in 1992 and became Gastr del Sol. We got rid of our regular practice space and fixed personnel and even some of our amplifiers. The idea was to be able to play in our living room—to utterly change the scale of the music that Bastro had been playing, to unilaterally disarm ourselves. The first to enter the revolving door of Gastr del Sol personnel was Jim O’Rourke, and his musical and artistic personality was sufficiently strong that Gastr del Sol promptly became the duo of Jim and me with whomever else we invited to join us. I learned an enormous amount from Jim—what an incredibly talented, focused person. For me, it really was a profoundly different way of working, and one that I’ve more or less kept to through to the present day—that sense of ad hoc working relationships and ensembles that are convened for a specific project.

BPM: In ’97 you reissued Squirrel Bait’s vinyl releases on the Drag City sub-label Dexter’s Cigar—an imprint which you had an active role in running. What were the circumstances surrounding your initial involvement with Dexter’s Cigar?

DG: I think that Jim and I were constantly pestering Drag City to reissue certain records that we loved—first the Red Krayola, but then quickly Voice Crack, Merzbow, Derek Bailey, etc.—and Dan Koretzky and Dano Osborn from Drag City had the excellent idea (and the generosity) to give us a crack at directing our own label, and one that they would manufacture and distribute. That’s still my arrangement with Drag City for Blue Chopsticks—and they’re still such extraordinarily generous, game folks.

David Grubbs_1

BPM: Something which I found very interesting was that from roughly 1999-2007, you regularly contributed music criticism to Suddeutsche Zeitung, a Munich newspaper. Did you have a prior professional relationship with someone on staff there or with the newspaper itself? Were your submissions ever written with a thought to who might possibly be reading them in Munich, being that the reader’s might not be familiar with the specific artists and bands you were writing about?

DG: That was an interesting job, no question about it. I did sometimes feel like I was sending these reviews off to be published in a parallel dimension—but then I’d go to Germany to play shows and people would treat me as a musician-critic. Or as a critic-musician. One or the other. My editor was Karl Bruckmaier, who I knew from having played on his radio show right around the time that Gastr del Sol started, and I still do various projects with Karl, including music for his radio plays. I think that I treated the criticism the same way as if I had been writing for a major newspaper in the US; I didn’t presume that anyone was familiar with the artist I was writing about, and I tried to make my arguments broadly accessible. For a long while Karl edited a dynamite page in the Feuilleton section, with regular contributions from Amiri Baraka and Kevin Coyne as well.

BPM: In Augusto Contento’s excellent 2012 documentary Parallax Sounds, you were profiled along with fellow musicians Damon Locks, Ken Vandermark, Ian Williams, and Steve Albini. Can you talk a bit about your participation in the filming of that, including how you came to write two new songs for the soundtrack?

DG: Augusto Contento and the producer Giancarlo Grande contacted me four or five years prior to shooting Parallax Sounds. I contributed music to Augusto’s earlier film Strade Trasparenti (by the way, there’s a very nice soundtrack album to this film on Staubgold with a marvelous track by the Necks), and because I admired his films I was glad to have the opportunity to really dive into Parallax Sounds. I participated in nearly a full week of shooting and was fascinated to see Chicago—where I had lived for ten years, but which I had also left more than a decade earlier—not only through tracing my own footsteps, but also through what was meaningful to an Italian documentary filmmaker.

BPM: Your upcoming record The Plain Where the Palace Stood feels grounded in the American folk and raga traditions of artists like John Fahey and Robbie Basho. Was there ever a time, whether during the recording of this album or sometime in the past, that you felt a kinship (read: obsession) with any particular artist(s)?

DG: I do tend to listen to and think about music in one obsessive phase after another. For the last week I’ve been listening to recordings of shape-note singing and to Dawn McCarthy’s and Will Oldham’s new album of Everly Brothers covers. For the past several months, I’ve immersed myself in Carlo Gesualdo’s seventeenth-century madrigals, particularly the fifth book, which I’ll be playing soon in an ensemble of five guitarists assembled by Noël Akchoté. The Plain Where the Palace Stood was made over a long period of time—two years—so it’s difficult to describe it as reflecting a particular obsession.

BPM: The Plain Where the Palace Stood feels very cinematic, almost score-like at times. Now I know that you’ve done multiple soundtracks for films, radio programs, and art installations, but was there anything different about the writing and recording of this record that set it apart from any of your previous non-collaborative solo albums?

DG: The album owes a lot to the trio with Andrea Belfi and Stefano Pilia that I’ve been playing with for the last several years, and which is just now finishing a second album—and one which feels like it continues forward from The Plain. I feel that I’ve had a really wonderful run of collaborations in the last several years (especially the work with Susan Howe, Anthony McCall, and Angela Bulloch), and these working relationships I’m certain have inspired me to make the solo records a little less “solo.”

BPM: Obviously there will be a tour in support of The Plain Where the Palace Stood. Seeing as how you and your family live in Brooklyn (as well as your having a full-time job as an Associate Professor at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College), do you ever try to limit your touring schedule after each of your releases? Maybe especially for overseas dates, in terms of duration or frequency?

DG: Ah, but I’m on sabbatical this year. What a beautiful word.

BPM: Are there any relatively new artists that you’ve been listening to lately? Maybe an album that you’re particularly anxious to hear that is set to come out this year or maybe was just released?

DG: Again, Dawn and Will’s Everly Brothers record is killing me. I’ve also been listening to the Music for Saharan Cell Phones compilations and trying to keep current with Oren Ambarchi’s great string of recent albums—as well as the ones with Keiji Haino and Jim O’Rourke and with Haino and Stephen O’Malley. Not that any of those albums have much of anything to do with one another: Kentucky, Mali, Melbourne/Tokyo.

BPM: One last thing: Seeing as how you’re absolutely no stranger to creative collaboration is there any current artist—or past artist, for that matter—that you’d really love to work with but with whom you’ve possibly never had the opportunity?

DG: Merce Cunningham—too late. But there’s always (or at least still) The Wooster Group.

David Grubbs’ upcoming record The Plain Where the Palace Stood is due out April 16th on Drag City Records.

Interview: Memory Tapes

By Joshua Pickard; February 6, 2013 at 9:00 AM 

Memory Tapes

With his latest release Grace/Confusion (Carpark Records) barely a month old, Dayve Hawk—the sole man behind Memory Tapes—is getting ready to head out on the road for some dates in support of the record. Peddling his own unique brand of electronic pop experimentation, he is ready to bring that sense of unexpected creativity to a few cities in the northeast part of the country.  But before that happens, he did take some time to answer a few questions for Beats Per Minute concerning his latest album. With insights ranging from his thoughts on arbitrary musical labels, how Memory Tapes evolved from his previous bands, and his anticipation for the new My Bloody Valentine record, Hawk talks candidly about himself as a musician and his approach to the material on Grace/Confusion.

Beats Per Minute (Joshua Pickard): I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I know that you’ve probably already played a few dates in support of Grace/Confusion.  So to start off, I’d like to ask about your recent touring. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement when an artist released a new record, so did you feel any anxiety getting back out on the road with the new material? Have there been any memorable reactions from fans to your new music in comparison to past tours?

Dayve Hawk: I actually haven’t played any shows with this material yet, but they are just around the corner: we are doing a few East Coast dates starting Feb 4th. Recent Memory Tapes shows in general have gone well… it’s strange because obviously I make the records alone and the music isn’t easily translatable to a rock club, but in a way that makes the shows interesting in their own right. The biggest hurdle is really my social anxiety, I’m not nearly as bad as when I was younger (I used to not even be able to leave the house) but it is definitely a challenge for me to get on stage. I want to do it because I appreciate the people who listen to what I’m doing and I think it’s important to engage in the real world. My concern is that sometimes I come off as indifferent when actually I’m just struggling not to have a panic attack! It’s good to be challenged though, I think it’s helped me.

I tend to obsess over details and accidentally generate extra details to continue to obsess over like an infinite loop.

BPM: After spending some time with Grace/Confusion, it seems to me that there was a deliberate effort on your part in focusing on the development of the multiple layers of instrumentation across these songs—from my perspective even more so than on previous albums. Did you specifically approach the writing and recording of your new record differently than on past albums?

DH: Well, the primary idea behind the album was to have the songs develop outside of traditional song structures. I initially described the album as “messy” which was probably a poor word choice because that implies looseness to most people. What I should have said is “directionless” because the album is actually very neurotic but without being concise. I tend to obsess over details and accidentally generate extra details to continue to obsess over like an infinite loop. I’ve described the album as being like a bloated prog record but instead of representing my chops it was about representing my indecision: The mental state I was stuck in.

BPM: On the album there seems to be a definite break from your role as an  frontman of sorts and a move toward a role as a producer. You’ve done  numerous remixes of bands like Tame Impala, DIIV, and Tanlines, so as a  producer and a musician, what particular aspects of a song draw your  attention and make you want to put your own unique stamp on the track?

DH: Honestly, the remix work I do is always at the request of the artist or their label… it’s not something I do on my own. I try to keep an open mind and say yes to most requests (time allowing) because it’s just another opportunity to work on music. A lot of artists seem to find each other… there’s support and friendship based on creativity. One of my frustrations is I haven’t really found that… I’m generally alone with my work. Remixes are the closest I come to collaboration.

BPM: I remember you doing a remix of “Excuse Me” by Gucci Mane a few years ago and it always struck me that the song actually benefited from your hand in production. What led to you taking on that song? And is there another song that you’d love to take a crack at?

DH: I was asked to do that track by the guys at Mad Decent. It was a cool opportunity because I don’t usually get to work on that kind of music. Choosing a favorite track to remix would be tough because most songs that I love… I wouldn’t want to change! I think if it were up to me I’d do more production of original material with artists I admire.

BPM: If you could choose any artist, living or dead, to collaborate with (and not just in a remix capacity), who would it be? And I’d be curious as to why.

DH: I get asked this question a lot and I always say Elizabeth Frazer. The Cocteau Twins are one of my favorite bands and outside of Liz having a beautiful voice, I think her melodies are amazing. I really think she deserves more credit as a songwriter not just a pretty voice. There was also some talk recently of me working with Boris which I hope eventually comes together… that could be amazing.

BPM: I know that you play all the instruments on your records. And from past history, your albums are littered with dozens and dozens of different sounds and instruments. On Grace/Confusion, was there anything new you were playing around with or that you had purposefully wanted to use on this album in particular?

DH: Well the only truly intentional thing I did sonically was actually to reference sounds I’d used on Seek Magic. Some people have taken this as some sort of step backwards or confirmation that I’ve got nowhere else to go, but my intention was actually to make a kind of peace with myself. As soon as people took that record upon themselves I felt compelled to deny it. I fall into that trap a lot… it’s just a symptom of self-loathing. I think coming off of Player Piano I felt I’d been trying too hard to distance myself from people’s perception of me. I wanted to make a record that felt different but had a clear acknowledgment of what I’d done before.

As soon as people took Seek Magic upon themselves I felt compelled to deny it.

BPM: Your records have been assigned fairly meaningless genre labels in the past and Grace/Confusion seems to have drawn out those same reactionary associations. For me though, I hear a definite grounding in bands like The  Cocteau Twins and New Order on your earlier records and a subtle shift to more beat oriented artists on your latest, though with no overtly particular  genre tendencies. Is this shift something that you actively sought out or was it just something that seemed to happen of its own accord?

DH: I really never think about genre, and have a hard time relating to people’s obsession with categorizing things. Anything I do is usually motivated by a desire to prove something to myself, overcome or exploit some aspect of my relationship with music. I guess that’s fairly idiosyncratic and isn’t realistically going to translate to most people: so you have a lot guesswork being done and a lot of “he’s THIS kind of guy” sort of broad strokes criticism. I’m definitely touchy about that kind of stuff even though I know I shouldn’t be. Ultimately I think it goes back to being socially inept: I don’t have friends or peers around me to provide a kind of confirmation that I am who I say I am. I’m trying to get over it… I’ve given up on thinking my identity for most people has anything to do with the truth.

Memory Tapes_3

BPM: Player Piano felt almost collaborative in its approach to music, but  Grace/Confusion definitely seems to have a somewhat insular creative drive.  And I think this makes the record feel incredibly cohesive and possibly  stronger than its predecessor. Did the recording process of Grace/Confusion feel any different than Player Piano or even Seek Magic?

DH: The process was different in that my personal life was very out of sorts, but I think that ended up providing the album with a through-line: It was something outside of the day to day that I could focus on. It was created in a very “off again/on again”, kind of disjointed process, but it was also one of the few things I could control so it’s focused in it’s own way.

BPM: Going back a bit, you originally released music under the Memory Cassette and Weird Tapes monikers. And from the convergence of those bands, Memory Tapes was born–leading to the release of Seek Magic on Something In Construction, Sincerely Yours, and Acephale in 2009. What was the process and reasoning behind the decision to combine the names and record as Memory Tapes? And were there any dramatic shifts in your creative processes from those early recordings to your more recent records?

DH: Well Weird Tapes was almost entirely composed from samples, like The Avalanches or something… and Memory Cassette was recordings I had made in the 90’s as a teenager: so both projects had pretty specific workflows that defined them. Seek Magic didn’t use either method but was informed by the aesthetic of both so I guess it felt like a consolidation and a departure. Memory Tapes was meant to reflect that.

BPM: I appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. Last question: heading into the new year, is there any record that you as a fan are looking forward to?

DH: The new My Bloody Valentine, like everyone else!

Grace/Confusion is out now on Carpark Records.

Interview + On Deck: Bleeding Rainbow

By Ryan Stanley; January 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM 


Rob Garcia and Sarah Everton started producing sparse, minimalist noise pop as Reading Rainbow in 2008 — now, five years, one syllable change, and two new members later, the four-piece band is on the cusp of putting out their third full-length record, the most ambitious and expansive of their career. In a special installment of On Deck, we asked the band to pick the five records that most influenced their new album’s sound before talking to guitarist and founding member Rob Garcia about the benefits of self-taught guitar playing, finding the sweet spot between pop and noise, and Bleeding Rainbow’s new LP, Yeah Right, out tomorrow on Kanine Records.

Guitars Guitars Guitars Guitars! While we were on a long 6 week national tour back in March of 2011, we hadn’t started writing songs yet for what would become Yeah Right, but ideas and sounds started forming in our heads around this time period. We became more and more obsessed with aggressive, dissonant, and moody guitars. Our top 5 influential albums reflect our need for speed.

Wipers – Youth of America

From the amazing instrumental sections of “No Fair” to the incredible one-two punch of “Taking Too Long” and “Can this Be?” this album sparked a little fire inside of us. We became obsessed. We began to revisit guitar-heavy albums and found new inspiration.

Sonic Youth - EVOL
Sonic Youth – Evol

Speaking of moody guitars. I can still remember listening to this album for the first time and having my mind completely blown. Everyone in our band agrees that this is one of Sonic Youth’s best records. Come from a time period where they were still very experimental, but beginning to become better song writers. This album (pretty much all Sonic Youth albums) proves you don’t have to be an Eddie Van Halen shred-master to be able to play the guitar.

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless remaster
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless

This album is basically a template for how to make a guitar not sound like a guitar. There are a lot of imitators, but only one original. Became the definition of “shoegaze.” Atmosphere goes a very long way, but if you don’t have hooks, the music is not enjoyable. More shoegaze bands need to understand this.

Glenn Branca – Lesson No. 1

Our reaction to “Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar”: HOLY SHIT!!!!!!!! Minds completely blown. Did not know music like this was possible. This album was a huge source of inspiration. Simultaneously gorgeous and disgusting. So complex, yet easy to understand. We’ve done many long drives with this album blasting at full volume.

smashing pumpkins - siamese dream (630x630)
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

Back to the Pop. We can’t help it. It had been a very long time since listening to this album. Especially for Sarah, who was a Smashing Pumpkins super fan when she was 14, revisiting this album was a very nostalgic experience. We were reminded that music is not only an outlet for angst and aggression, but also an escape to another world where anything is possible.

BeatsPerMinute (Ryan Stanley): It’s interesting that your list is so guitar-focused, because one of the things I consistently noticed about each of the singles from Yeah Right was how thick and distinctive the guitar sounds and tones were. Was that something that you guys specifically focused on during the recording of the new record? Was there any one specific change in the recording process that really affected the way your guitars ended up sounding?

Rob Garcia: Absolutely! Guitar tones and sounds were a huge focus for us when we went into the studio to record this album.  We wanted the songs to have a thick and aggressive sound, but simultaneously match whatever aesthetic we were going for on each particular song. The most major change in the recording process this time around was that we actually recorded in legit studios and worked with producers who understood what we wanted and how to achieve it. Kyle “Slick” Johnson was huge in shaping the atmosphere of the songs.

BPM: How’d you guys get set up with Johnson? Was that done through your label or were you fans of his previous work?

RG: Al Creedon in our band actually works as an assistant to Kyle. So in addition to being familiar with his previous work, we knew that his methods of recording and producing matched very well with our goals for the album.  Also, we essentially recorded the album twice. It was a long drawn out process and both studios we went to were helpful in different ways. But as I mentioned before, Kyle really understood what we were trying to go for and was able to push the aesthetic of each song further.

BPM: Having produced this record in a studio and with a full band, how do you guys feel about it in comparison with your previous work?

RG: In the context of our previous albums, Yeah Right is us as a band growing and pushing ourselves to make music that is more challenging/rewarding/fun for us to make. We all agree that it was a huge step forward and one that we were all ready to make. If people that liked us before cant wrap their head around it, then too bad for them. We’re still gonna be pushing ourselves forward.

It’s still possible to be loud and intense but not be super macho.

BPM: What’s the story behind the album title Yeah Right?

RG: There’s a lot of ways the phrase “yeah right” can be used.  It can be said in disbelief or can also be confrontational. We were pretty sure that people familiar with our band would not expect us to be able to write these types of songs. We kept getting the feeling that everyone was labeling us as something we weren’t. So this album was a reaction to that feeling. And there’s also a 90’s slacker vibe to the phrase, which we like as well.

BPM: Bleeding Rainbow’s music often brings to mind the sounds of the kind of 80s and 90s indie rock bands that you mentioned in your On Deck list. Do you consider yourselves revivalists?

RG: We don’t really consider ourselves revivalists. There was no band meeting where we unanimously decided we were going to emulate the sounds of specific bands. I feel like with most music its pretty easy to tell who’s an influence; but with that said, we also miss hearing new music that has really aggressive guitars, while still having emotional depth and maintaining certain aspects of pop. It’s still possible to be loud and intense but not be super macho. I feel like a lot of our favorite bands from the 80’s and 90’s had this great type of balance.

BPM: Who’s designed Bleeding/Reading Rainbow’s album art in the past? A lot of it has a very consistent style.

RG: Sarah has designed all of the album artwork for everything we’ve released except for one 7″ we did a while ago.  This is really important to us because it keeps our band’s aesthetic consistent.  Since Sarah is in the band, there’s also a real connection between the music we are making and the visual art that accompanies it. Even though this connection may be subconscious, we all believe it helps get the vibe across.

BPM: Bleeding Rainbow has always seemed to be inclined towards both the world of drone and noise and the world of pop songs. Which of those two sounds comes most naturally to you?

RG: Especially when writing songs for this album, the noise and drone came first. A lot of the dissonant guitar riffs on this album were made up by Sarah. I would hear her in the basement teaching herself how to play guitar and then all of the sudden hear something really amazing and run downstairs and yell “WHAT ARE YOU PLAYING?” Then we would take those ideas to the band and formulate the rest of the song. The pop element comes in because we still wanted the songs to be accessible and to have hooks.

Our goal was to create an album that could transport you to another world.

BPM: This is the first album on which Sarah has played guitar, correct?

RG: Yes, this was the first album Sarah played guitar on. Since she is self taught, her approach to playing guitar is completely different than mine. This turned out to be a really great source of inspiration for our songwriting.

BPM: Did your recent lineup change affect the songwriting on Yeah Right in any other unexpected ways?

RG: I guess another aspect of the songwriting that was different than previous albums was that we focused a lot on song structures. Previously, it would almost be stream of conscious. But now as a full band, we could jam out the different parts and feel our way through the songs. We wanted the songs to be expansive and to find different pathways through each segment. We really wanted to have segues and orchestrated instrumental sections. This was not possible at all as a 2 piece.

BPM: So would you guys define yourselves more as a noisy pop band or as a poppy noise band?

RG: We see ourselves as a poppy noise band. That’s what we are striving for anyway. We’ve already been demoing new songs and they’re getting really intense.

BPM: What’s the bigger motivation for being in a band like Bleeding Rainbow: making records or putting on shows?

RG: It’s hard to be specific, because they’re both so different. For Yeah Right, our goal was to create an album that could (as cheesy as it sounds) transport you to another world. Something that would enable you to have an out of body experience. When we perform live, we know that we are never gonna sound exactly like the album, and frankly don’t want to. Our live show is essentially our album boiled down to the essence of what that sound is: raw, aggressive, emotional….

BPM: You guys do tend to have a pretty loud and intense live show — do you ever worry about damaging your ears when you’re on the road for weeks at a time?

RG: Let them bleed.

Yeah Right is out tomorrow, January 29th, on Kanine Records. Listen to Bleeding Rainbow’s previous material over at the band’s Bandcamp and stream Yeah Right now over at Pitchfork.

Interview: Destruction Unit

By Andrew Halverson; January 17, 2013 at 10:00 AM 

Destruction Unit is a psych-rock group from Tempe, Arizona whose name serves as a succint description of what their music aims to achieve. The band was formed by Ryan Rousseau twelve years ago with Alicja Trout and Jay Reatard and has since expanded to five members, now containing JS Aurelias, Nick Nappa, Rusty Rousseau, and Justin Keefer. From samplings of repetitious slow-jams to rambunctious-yet-stark punk songs, they’re always looking to turn up the volume. I had the opportunity to trade words with guitarist JS Aurelias about their soon-to-be-released album Void, nature, and the white-noise difficulties of making music.

Beats Per Minute (Andrew Halverson): I heard your Loud Sound Tour back in October/November was pretty eventful. You guys played in the middle of Hurricane Sandy with The Men, right?

JS Aurelias: Yes, the tour went very well. We found out about Hurricane Sandy on our drive to Rochester. We had been hearing about some storm that was supposed to hit New York, but didn’t think too much about it until one of us finally looked it up. Seeing the headlines “Worst storm in 100 years” and “Storm of biblical proportions” had us worried, but we never considered skipping New York. The night of the show with The Men was weird because all of the public transit had been shut down and the streets were all empty. The whole city was devoid of people, very eerie. No one knew if the venue was going to cancel the show, as pretty much every other event in New York had been, but the venue let it happen and it was great. Being the only bar open probably helped. We left New York at 4am straight from the venue, were the only car on the road down the coast, save for a two mile line of emergency vehicles passing us driving north. The storm hit that morning while we were driving and we essentially had to outrun the thing all the way to Charlotte. Couldn’t stop to sleep or even sober up from the night before. Every time we’d stop for gas, it would catch up and start to blizzard, insane wind, pouring rain… Then we’d get back on the road and drive out of it. Very surreal.

“Seeing the headlines had us worried, but we never considered skipping New York”

BPM: Your music as of late actually seems apt for a storm, raising hell, or whatever giant thing you want to call it — it’s a noticeable turn from the more calculated krautrock from your last LP Sonoran. What spawned the heavier, punk aesthetic?

JSA: We all come from punk backgrounds and we’ve always been a punk band. Even the last record is a punk record, although it’s less aggressive. We’re not interested in making the same album twice and we’re always exploring different ways to express the emotions and ideas we want to express. Sometimes that means making aggressive music and sometimes that means calming it down a little, but it’s always confrontational. What may seem like a pretty big change is actually the result of us constantly being at work playing, writing, recording… There is never a break so things develop and change and move pretty quickly, especially if you’re watching from afar.

BPM: On the subject of recording, how has the process been making Void? Has anything influenced the way it’s recorded or produced?

JSA: To date, we’ve recorded everything ourselves. All of our bands and projects are recorded by ourselves. We don’t have the funds to go into a studio and it’s more condusive to what we do to be able to take our time when necessary. With Void, we recorded pretty much the whole thing, then the masters got fried somehow. Myself and Nick have another group called Marshstepper that toured Europe last summer. The masters got fried the week before we left. The day before our flight to Berlin we had to go back into our studio and re-record everything. At the time it was quite obnoxious but I think it came out very good. Better than the first time around. Everything happens for a reason.

BPM: In the space around your live set up the music is obviously loud, which seems to be the overarching goal, but it seems more than that at times — it’s pretty captivating. Do you think your music is attempting to fuel personal change or catharsis?

JSA: The music is a personal thing for sure, but its also an extremely efficient form of communication. We’re interested in taking things well beyond where they’ve ever been. You have to go beyond. Breaking everything down. We’re interested in loud sound and extermination and damage and transgression. We’re not trying to figure anything out, because once you start that process you’re a corpse. The music makes us feel good. The more energy it has the more real it is. The more power it has the more free you are to overcome your inhibitions. Our music is attempting to make noise.

“We’re interested in taking things well beyond where they’ve ever been”

BPM: It’s definitely clear you guys embrace your area as a major influence. What about Arizona fosters the band’s material?

JSA: What I find interesting is that I can walk out to the desert. There is a very specific spot I walk to. I couldn’t even describe how to get there because it has become so habitual. Maybe a couple years ago I could tell you, but now the location is a mystery even to me. I just simply arrive there after walking for some amount of time. But when I arrive there is always this abundance of rocks and gemstones and dirt. Sometimes there are animals, but not always. It was really a revelation. Nowhere within the city is there a place so willing to give away its own creations, its own beauty and its own excrement. If I take the trash from some random house, I could be arrested! Yet, I walk out into the desert, to a place I’ve never been, I’ve never introduced myself to, I’ve never had a conversation with. And there it is, without fail. Miles of dirt, stones, cacti, shrubbery, for me to take and do with as I please. It blows my mind every time. It is one thing to create something on your own, or to even put in effort to create something that is partially your doing. But what is really special is taking something, something you know nothing about the history of, something who’s owner and creator you’ve never met nor conversed with, just because you can. You can do anything with that! There is no feeling of obligation to make something of it, or to sell it to someone, or to even pick it back up after you’ve set it down. Its death means nothing to you because its birth you did not witness. That’s how the desert influences us. We have no obligations beyond what we take for ourselves. Stealing things to give them power.

BPM: With Void (assumably) around the corner, what’s the goal for Destruction Unit’s 2013?

JSA: Void is coming out very soon. Depending on how long it takes for this to be published, it might already be out already. We don’t have any tours planned but we will definitely be on the road next Summer. In March we are playing [35 Denton] a festival in Denton, TX with some friends, you should check it out if you haven’t (Nu Sensae, OBN IIIs, Merchandise, Gary War). Then we’ve got some shows in Austin for SXSW right after that. In May we’re playing Chaos In Tejas and will do a longer tour after that. We’re also currently writing and recording a new LP that will hopefully be out by that time.

BPM: I’m curious how a band as busy as Destruction Unit — amongst the touring — finds the time to put out two records before the second half of the year. Is it just based purely on inspiration?

JSA: I don’t know. We’re pretty dysfunctional and lazy honestly. There isn’t much else to occupy your time with here so when we do feel like being productive, it often turns into music.

BPM: Converting that energy into music is absolutely valid, although it’s sometimes physically and mentally draining. How often do you battle with that in recording or on the road?

JSA: That’s not the battle… The battle is everything else that comes with making music and touring. Dealing with hostile sound guys and venue employees, shady show promoters, giving interviews, dealing with journalists and “industry people” in general. It’s usually pretty awful. As soon as you step out of the warehouse spaces and DIY communities it becomes a free-for-all. But we’ve got an advantage that industry people and industry bands don’t have… we know how to do everything from promotion, to artwork, to booking, to distributing, to playing. However, sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone and see what else is out there.

Latest News and Media
Features More
Twitter icon_twitter Follow

Banquet Media