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Scrooged: An Interview with Princeton

By ; March 30, 2011 at 1:11 PM 

Inspired by the 1988 Bill Murray movie of the same name, we bring you the seventh in a series of interviews called Scrooged.


One Thirty BPM: What was the first music you ever remember falling in love with?

Princeton (Jesse Kival): I think somewhere in middle school, maybe elementary school, really bonding with some mainstream R&B. Boyz II Men, Soul For Real, that sort of stuff. That music for some reason resonated in me. I think I wanted to dance like those guys danced. All synchronized and sing at the same time. That seemed pretty cool to me then.

Also, a lot of the musicians were really young. I remember Soul for Real, the lead singer must have been like 12 or 14. It was cool to see someone your age on the All That stage. Remember All That? Yeah, that was the shit.

Who got into making music first, you or your brother?

It was pretty simultaneous. We learned piano when we were young, but then we moved on. Matt (Kival) started playing trumpet for a minute, then switched to saxophone. I was playing flute for a while, but that was kind of embarrassing after a few years, so I moved to saxophone. Matt and I wanted to start a jazz band where he played alto sax and I played barritone sax. Ben (Ulsen) wasn’t in that band, that was one of the only bands I’ve been in without Ben. I met a drummer and a trumpet played and a pianist and covered like “Moonlight Serenade” and “Swing Swing Swing,” and we only did two shows. One was at a Bar Mitzvah and one was at our drummer’s grandpa’s Super Bowl party.

So that was when we first started creating music, well, we weren’t really creating music, we were doing covers. But writing songs, I think I started writing more than Matt initially, but it was around the same time.

I know you used to listen to a bunch of R&B, but when did your musical tastes start changing to more rock and roll stuff?

High school was probably my most embarrassing time. I was listening to jam bands and nu metal, all really bad stuff. And then, by the end of high school I was listening to more, like, mainstream indie rock, like The Strokes and stuff like that. My freshman year of college, I was listening to the big NME bands. I went to school down in San Diego and worked for a radio station and I think that really opened me up to a lot of indie rock, so that was probably seven or eight years ago, freshman year of college.

So I read that the band formed, as far as Princeton goes, in London, right?

Yeah, but I mean, we have always been playing music together, me, Matt, and Ben… it wasn’t like ‘hey, let’s start a band.’ It was the first time in college that we were all together and so we got to make music and play shows. And even though we were recording over summers, it was the first time we felt like a band and decided that we wanted to pursue it after school.

Listening to Cocoon Of Love, it sounds like a European album. And, it’s not just the vocals, it is even in the way the songs are constructed. I mean, Jens Lekman is someone I thought the vocals sounded like, but did you take a lot of influences from living abroad?

Yeah, I think there are definitely influences from living abroad. I think Matt and I gravitated towards British artists for a long time and have been slowly moving away from that, but that was in a more formative time where we listened to a lot of British bands. So, I think that influenced us on some basic level. Our songwriting stems from a lot of that stuff, The Kinks and stuff.

Definitely, I can agree with you on that record. I don’t know how many songs you have heard off of the new record, but I think it is more a step in a different direction. But, I do agree with the first record.


Actually, I’ve only heard the 7″ single “To The Alps.” Tell me about that. How did it come about and is it a standalone or will it be on the new album?

No, it will be on the new album; it’s not a standalone. It’s not like it represented the record, because basically me and Matt write differently, and having our different influences on the record will always make a record that you need to hear at least a few songs to get a feel for it, for what the whole thing sounds like. There are one or two other songs on the record that are in that vein, but there are others with a lot of orchestration and stuff.

It’s funny, because I am in Portland right now, touring with my other band, Kisses. When I was here last year with Princeton is when I wrote “To The Alps.” I just wrote it on the keyboard while we were getting our oil changed. So it’s funny that I am here right now, talking about it.

But yeah, I’ve been getting more into the dance realm of things, and David is a really good drummer. I had this drum machine beat that he sort of modified and turned into the beat that is on that track… I dunno, it is a pretty simple song. It’s sort of repetitive… I dunno, it’s just based on repetition.

Yeah, well I’ve heard of you guys for a while, because I live in L.A. and you guys play a lot of shows down here, but one of our writers picked up “To The Alps” and did a post on it out of his own impulse. He really likes you guys and did a little write-up on it. But, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of information out there about the new album. Is there info on it? And, like, when is it due out?

Not really, because we don’t have a label yet. We just have the single right now with the L.A. label Hit City, but we are still working on the release. Hopefully it will come out in the fall, but we are still holding out for a bigger label right now.

What can you tell me about it? It’s all recorded and ready to go?

The only thing is that it is not at final mixes. Like, we have working mixes of all the songs. What I can tell you? I dunno, we recorded, like, 17 or 18 songs, but the album is 10 tracks. All of our super-pop tendencies were sort of left as B-sides and we tried to make this a record that was a little darker and a little less pop on the initial reaction. There are a lot of strings, Matt wrote these string parts with this kid named Patrick, who has an ensemble called the L.A. New Music Ensemble. They are a twelve-piece with marimbas… there are a lot of marimbas, alternative percussion and string arrangements on the new record. It’s still a pretty lush record, but there are definitely darker moments on the album, that sort of run through the whole thing. I dunno, I’m pretty excited about it. It’s cool.

Just hearing you describe it, it sound like it is going to be a contrast to the last record. Did you set out when you were recording to try and do something different?

I think we did, but I think it was natural because we didn’t identify with the first album much anymore and wanted to do something different. I think we were motivated to do something more different than we could have. If you listen to the B-sides, you can listen to the record that we could have made. It would have been the 2.0 version of the first album. It would have been a step-up, but still pretty similar.

I dunno, I think we wanted to make something that challenged ourselves and we were more interested in. Because, sometimes you can get bored writing just pop songs, without adding a little more to the mix.

And probably, at the same time, it can get boring playing straight-ahead pop songs.

Totally. Our live set has been a lot more challenging. I’ve always played guitar and bass, and now I’m playing keyboards and singing and it’s a whole new experience.


So, besides looking for a label, what are your plans for the near future. Are you guys going to tour or play any festivals this summer?

We have some West Coast dates in April with CSS and then in May we are opening for Sleigh Bells. They are doing a headlining tour and we are doing three weeks with them.

That’s exciting. That will definitely get you guys to a bigger audience.

Yeah, I mean, that’s the point. -laughter-

As far as your aspirations go, what are your long term goals with the Princeton project? Like, what is your idea of success?

I don’t know anymore. Like, when we finished school, we focussed really hard. We all lived in a house together, played all the time, had day jobs, and, like, we had a clear idea on what we wanted to do. Then, I feel like, as the years have gone by, like the last three or four years, working hard and trying to make it happen, it’s like… I don’t know anymore. Like, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted out of music and how I wanted to be a really masterful artist, but now I realize there are different ways to go about it and my goals have kind of changed. The goal I would like to have is just to support myself making music, which is a practical goal that is really hard to do, but that would be ideal. Even if that doesn’t happen, if I could find something I can do that gave me the time to make music and still tour and do things, then I am okay with that, too. Because, a lot of my favorite artists, I mean, everyone assumes musicians just live off of the music they make, but a lot of them don’t. A lot of your favorite artists, you don’t know that they have some other things bringing in their income. Someone told me that “making music for your career is a privilege, not a right,” and I agree with that sentiment. Like, I really want it to happen, and it’s an awesome thing if it does, but just because I make music doesn’t mean I’m entitled to make a living off of it and not have to do anything else. It’s a tough thing to do that.

So I think the project, the way it works, I want to keep doing things that I am inspired to do, and as long as me and my brother keep having ideas, we will keep pursuing them. Now, if that fades out and we are just not working well together anymore, well, the only way I would keep doing that is if I were making a lot of money. -laughter-

Yeah, it would be hard to step away if it were just extremely profitable.

I mean, look at all the bands now that have the magical reunion tours. It’s like, they don’t like each other anymore than they used to, they just can’t walk away from that kind of money. It makes me wonder how Jeff Mangum is playing these shows. After all these years away from Neutral Milk Hotel, you wonder if he was running a little light on cash and was like ‘I can do, like, five shows and never have to work for the next ten years.’ I mean, I love it. People seem so psyched to see these bands come out, but you wonder why they come back. It’s like Leonard Cohen ended up doing all this touring because his manager had taken all his money. At the end of the day, bands don’t really want to be on the road their whole lives, they want to live their lives and enjoy their life not being in a van all day. But it’s like, if you can make good money doing it, you’ll be out there.

I mean, I saw Pavement a couple times last year and Malkmus made no illusions about why they were doing it. He was fine not doing Pavement, but everyone else was struggling financially, so he gave up a year, made everyone happy, made some people some money. But, as a consumer and as an audience member, you don’t really care why. Like, I don’t care why they are playing Pavement songs, I just want to hear some Pavement.

Right, but I think there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, and I think Pavement did it the wrong way because they played too many shows. Like, they made too much money and sort of… I heard that by the end of that tour, their shows weren’t even selling that well, because it is one thing to do a reunion, it is another to play every show that someone offers you money for.

I saw the first date they played in America and the last date, and it was a trip to see the difference. The first one was so bright and energetic and everyone was so happy, but the last one was in Vegas for the Matador party and they weren’t really talking to each other on stage at that point. -laughter-


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