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Interview: Princeton

By ; February 22, 2012 at 1:30 PM 

All photos by Philip Cosores

Beats Per Minute (Ace Ubas): First of all, I want to congratulate you on the release of your latest album Remembrance of Things to Come.

Matt: Thank you very much.

You’ve done a few residencies in your past. What’s your favorite part of doing residencies?

Matt: What I like about it is that we don’t have to drive anywhere. This is maybe the best one though because it’s so close to my house.

You moved from Santa Monica to Eagle Rock, right?

Matt: Yeah. But now I live in Echo Park and Jesse lives in Silver Lake. I literally live three minutes from here. It’s all about convenience.

If you could have a residency anywhere, where would it be?

Matt: Staples Center -laughs-

Ben: I think we would do Wembley Stadium.

Matt: That’s like the Oasis residency. Arctic Monkeys did a bunch of shows there.

Ben: We could do the whole Michael Jackson thing he never ended up doing, like 60 dates in the O2 arena.

What were you listening to while writing the new album that provided some creative inspiration?

Matt: I was listening to a lot of Steve Reich’s music. The minimalist composers I was intrigued by, like, Terry Riley and Julius Eastman. Arthur Russell has some minimalist compositions and he also had this brilliant fusion of modern classical music with pop music, which I really love. All those people were really important. Peter Zummo, a trombone player and composer, as well. His record, Zummo with an X, I listened to a lot.

Ben: Matt was pretty much the forefront of the music influences.

Matt: I got Ben to listen to a lot of this music. He bought the Steve Reich box set and listened to that a lot. When we were touring, this was music that was becoming the background and the foreground to everything we were doing because when you’re driving a lot, the music is kind of important. It becomes something that’s etched into your mind and I wanted these types of sounds to be things that everyone was familiar with. Also, there was an effort on Jesse’s end. Jesse listens to a lot of dance music and I saw a lot of similarities between the way minimalist classical music was composed and dance music is composed. There aren’t a lot of chord changes and both are very rhythmic. The processes are very transparent when you hear the music. That seemed like a good idea for me to write a lot of these songs that are more influenced by Steve Reich and classical form of minimalism, and for Jesse to add this more electronic, dance element to it.

Why did you decide to shift to a more European, chamber pop style?

Matt: I think the baroque chamber pop sound was more on the last record (Cocoon of Love). That was more with the arrangements, a lot of arpeggios, string parts, string quartet parts, and there were harpsichords – all these things associated with baroque classicism. I think the band started out initially making music like that. Now, even though some of those same instruments are used, the effect is used in a much different way. Whereas before, they were playing endless melodies, here they’re providing almost a rhythmic bass. Instead of a rhythm guitar strumming along, we have two cellos, a violin, and a clarinet doing that one thing over and over again.

How did the ideas for the album come about?

Matt: I was in London by myself and we had a month-and-a-half off before touring. My grandfather had a bunch of frequent flyer miles and he doesn’t really go anywhere anymore. He can’t really move or travel too well so I asked him if I could have some miles and he let me. I went to London and had a friend there, who had an extra room in her house and I stayed there. I just wanted to write all the lyrics for the new record. I had some of the basic musical ideas, but wanted to write lyrics for it. That was where things began to take shape and the ideas from my songs came together. I would video chat with Ben and start sending music over. It was the coldest winter actually in London ever in recorded history so I literally could not do anything but write this music. A big chore for me in the day was to go down the street to the mini mart and get a candy bar. I would load up, put all my clothes on, go out, come right back, and sit down. -laughs-

Ben: What candy bars were you getting?

Matt: I tried to get each Cadbury bar I could find. I tried to have a different one every day. And then I started smoking cigarettes briefly.

Ben: -laughs-

Matt: You get into all these bad habits when you can’t go anywhere. I tried to get out, I mean, I got out. I would go around the city, but I’d go for a bus ride somewhere and then I’d come back. I’d look at my watch and it’s like 1:30, and I’m like “so I have ten more hours today.” And the girl I was staying with was a doctor and she was always doing the night shift at that time so there was no one to hang out with. I was just kinda like left alone.

Just you and your thoughts.

Matt: Pretty much.

And cigarettes.

Matt: Smokin’. Although there was an image on the cigarette box where they had these terrifying images of people who were suffering from diseases on them and that totally scared me half way through. I saw it and tried to rip it all apart, then throw it out and just keep the loose cigarettes in my cupboard. I just don’t like to smoke cigarettes; I think that’s what I learned from this whole thing.

Some of the titles (“To the Alps,” “Florida,” “Oklahoma,” “Grand Rapids”) give off a sense of geography. Could you go into depth behind the themes of the album?

Ben: It was basically being on tour. And those were mainly Jesse’s songs. After Matt was in London, we finished touring our first record, Cocoon of Love, and then we started writing more songs. Jesse would come up with those songs and they were always realized in those places. He would create stories in those settings where we were. We were there and they were written in those places like Florida, but then created a story about a guy being in Florida. And then in Michigan, in Grand Rapids, Jesse was talking to this really weird girl at the bar and she just did not have her life together, it seemed like. So then he created a story around her and that’s pretty much where her songs are.

Does that relate to the songs that have titles of first names like in Cocoon of Love?

Ben: Right. And there are some names in this album. Matt do you want to go into how they would tie together with your songs?

Matt: On the first record, me and Jesse both kind of had some songs that had first names as the titles of songs. And then on this record, I was going to make every single song on the record have the character’s name, like the protagonist’s name, be the title of the song. But there were a couple of examples like “Remembrance of Things to Come” and…

Ben: “Holding Teeth.”

Matt: And “Holding Teeth” that I thought those titles were better than just using the names of characters. But there’s always, on all my songs, there’s a singular narrator to the song. The song is written entirely from that person’s perspective. When I was in London, I wrote all these outlines of this elaborate soap opera of different characters who would be protagonists in different songs. It got whittled down to those five, but there were 12 songs or so originally that I had – each with a different character, each with a different time and different place in their lives where the story was being narrated from. All of them had intertwining plot lines and that’s what I was thinking. And then it goes another level when Jesse’s songs are introduced because then those plot lines intersect with these other characters, who are kind of in this different world. You have this hybrid, really, on the record – two different writing styles.

(At this point during the interview, the rest of the band members, David and Jesse, enter the room bearing bags of Chinese food.)

You originally wrote 18 songs on the record but whittled it down to 10. Will the other songs come out in a separate release?

Matt: We probably wrote more than 18, but recorded 18 with the intention that any of these could end up being on the record. Some of the other songs we’ve already released in some capacity like “Clamoring for Your Heart” and “This Weather, a Swimmer,” those songs. “This Weather, a Swimmer” was on the album and last minute, it got knocked off because it didn’t quite fit with the feeling we were looking for. And then the other songs, some of them are on the Japanese release of the record, so if you get that you can hear those songs. Go to Japan and spend a few thousand dollars -laughs-.

Ben: Some of them just weren’t finished too. We thought they were finished and then after listening to them, we were just like we want to go back to the drawing board with a few of these songs.

Matt: Like some of them we fucked up mainly. They were good songs that we fucked up in the recording studio.

Would you ever go back to them for a future release?

Matt: Probably not.

Ben: We always think we’re going to when we’re leaving the studio. It’s like “alright, we’re done with this. We’re gonna come back to the other ones later,” and then you just start writing more songs and lose touch.

Matt: The newer songs that we’ve written are much better than those songs, so we just let those fade away.

You released the To the Alps 7” last year. One of the songs, “The Electrician” (Scott Walker cover), was with Active Child. Are there any other artists you would like to collaborate with?

Matt: Yeah obviously. There are a lot. Anyone you’re a fan of, if you can somehow collaborate with them, it’s exciting. I would love to collaborate with Scott Walker -laughs-.

Jesse: We could do another version of the song with Scott Walker -laughs-.

Matt: And Active Child. Or we could cover an Active Child song with Scott Walker.

Ben: Doing a song with Terry Riley would be pretty cool.

Matt: Yeah, we wanted to try and set that up, but we don’t know him.

Jesse: I like collaborating in any capacity, but I’m not sure who would be best to work with. There’s tons of artist I like, but they might be awful to work with. Some people you just connect with and other people don’t work that way. I don’t know off the top of my head who I’d want to work with, but I’m generally available.

All: -laughs-

Matt: Another person I would want to work with is another old British guy – well Scott Walker isn’t really British but he lives there, he’s lived there for a very long time – Robert Wyatt, he was in the Soft Machine. He made all these great solo records and he’s just one of my favorite musicians. I feel the music he makes now is as vital as anything he’s ever done, so I feel like he would be really interesting to collaborate with. Someone who has all these years of perspective and then they would be willing to listen to some of my ideas. I just think that’s an interesting juxtaposition when both people are sort of humbled by working with someone who’s entirely different from them.

I was reading in a previous interview with Jesse and he said the band would play a hypothetical game on how much torture you would endure for like, Reese Witherspoon for example.

All: -laughs-

Matt: Reese Witherspoon has fallen by the wayside.

Dave: The game evolves.

Matt: Reese Witherspoon lost favor. She’s not as hot right now.

Who did she lose favor to?

Matt: I don’t even know if we have women in the game anymore. -all laugh- It’s just a lot of money is being thrown at you and then unimaginable living circumstances.

Any examples?

Jesse: I made a couple of deals with David and Ben on our last tour.

Ben: It’s like a deal with the devil -laughs-

Matt: You always end up with no legs.

Jesse: Ben ended up with no legs and he had to live in this mud hut that was on the tour that we spotted. But he only had to live there for only a few months out of the year, for the rest of his life. He had to live in this mud hut a couple months out of the year, but the rest of the year he was a billionaire.

David: But while in the mud hut, he would be broke again. -To Ben- you had a per diem in the mud hut -laughs-.

Matt: Jesse always creates a character that will kill you in the game at some point. He’s like “alright you get to live here, but there’s also this catch where there’s this assassin that’s trying to shoot you the entire time.”

David: There’s just nothing else to talk about. Either we get into fights for fun or we play games like this. Or we sleep.

What are your plans or goals for the rest of the year?

Matt: I’m just hoping that we’re gonna survive this whole 2012 thing first off.

You guys are keeping that into consideration?

Matt: The whole thing of making music is pretty irrelevant if the apocalypse fact does come true.

(Doldrums, one of the openers for the night, casually walks by and says “we’d probably die.”)

Matt: See what I’m talking about? -laughs- We would like to release this record and for it to go well, then to be able to tour all year.

Dave: Work on new music for a third record. Yeah…keep the dream alive.

Matt: Don’t quote him on that ‘keep the dream alive’ -all laugh-. Yeah, don’t end it with that.

What do you want to end it with?

Matt: The band looks great shirtless -all laughs-.

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