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Scrooged: An Interview with Times New Viking

By ; April 26, 2011 at 9:59 PM 

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

One Thirty BPM: You guys have all kinds of news on you today on the internet.

Times New Viking (Jared Phillips): We are!?

Well, NPR put up your album stream, so, a lot of sites are picking it up.

The whole thing?

Yeah, the whole album on NPR.

Wow. Now my dad can listen to it.

NPR’s legit.

Doesn’t that kind of mean we’ve gone adult contemporary or something like that?

No, I think it just means that you’ve become respectable.

Psh.

Past

Tell me about your early musical memories from when you were a kid. What did you listen to and what did your parents listen to?

My dad didn’t really listen to anything. My dad bought one record in his whole life and he bought it for my mom when she was 16. I remember listening to oldies in the car with my mom, we never listened to any hard rock. We either listened to contemporary country, which in the 80s would have been Alabama and that shit, and then oldies, like doo-wop and the lighter stuff.

Like Back To The Future music.

Yeah, yeah, that kind of stuff. The most rock and roll thing thing I remember listening to was Creedence.

That sounds similar to my parents pretty much.

I had this aunt who bought me this little toy drum when I was a kid. I hated it so much I smashed a hole in it… I didn’t want to play it. Weird, now I love drums.

When did you start developing your own musical taste and begin discovering stuff for yourself?

Probably like 6th or 7th grade, I guess? I always thought, coming from listening to country and oldies and my friends listening to like Keith Sweat and shit like that, I always thought that modern music was stupid, you know? I always hated it. Then I started listening to the radio and was like “that’s kind of catchy.”

I think the first album I ever bought was Aerosmith’s Get A Grip. The one with the udders.

“Living On The Edge”

Yeah! There’s like five fuckin’ radio classics on that record: “Cryin,'” “Living On The Edge,” “Amazing,” “Crazy.” They are all one word titles, too. -laughter-

I don’t know it happened, though, but I just started liking simpler and simpler music. I remember listening to music that was band based and thinking “how do they do the same thing over and over?” I thought it was machines. How do they play the same thing over and over so precisely? And then I figured out all the elements that go into it, and was like, “you have to do the same thing over and over. That’s monotonous.” -laughter- I don’t know, I just liked things that were simpler and simpler and I realized I didn’t like a lot of the pop music on the radio because it was ridiculous.

When did you meet the other two band members and start playing with them?

Well, I met them in college.

So wait, this is all in Ohio? Did you grow up there?

I grew up outside of Dayton, in a little village of like 4,000 people. Adam (Elliott) grew up in a town north of Dayton of about 20,000 people and Beth grew up outside of Columbus. I didn’t know Adam or anything, he knew some of my family as it turned out and we had the same teacher in high school, who went from his high school to my high school, we realized that when we met which was kind of weird.

But yeah, when Adam and I met, we played music right off the bat. We played in a band with some other people, recorded on a four-track, but, well, it’s funny, because the stuff we used to play kind of sounded like Creedence. I think we even did a Creedence cover. -laughter- So, it kind of comes full circle.

So, when we stopped doing that and didn’t play music for a minute, we were like, “we need to start playing music again.” And Beth was there, we were all hanging out a lot, all into the same visual art and the same music, we like The Fall and stuff like that, artsier kind of stuff, and we had already been into Guided By Voices and Pavement and shit. I don’t think we were necessarily trying to sound like that. We wanted to do something simple and lofty and maybe a little bit agitated.

The first album I heard from you guys was Rip It Off, probably because of Pitchfork.

Yeah, that’s most people.

And I mean, I liked it, I gravitated towards it… I listened to it a lot, but it was tough to sell people on it because, well, I like lo-fi but for a lot of people, it is hard to listen to. If you listen to it in your car, you have to turn it up way loud to be able to hear everything and get it. Was that just a necessity at the time to record to casette or is it because of those influences — Pavement, Guided By Voices.

I think it was a matter of where we were doing things that way… I mean, when we started, I wanted us to sound like Live At The Witch Trials, the fist Fall record, which had this metallic sound to it, it’s not slick but it’s very cold and, well, well done. It’s a very clear record. So, I wanted to do that, but we obviously couldn’t go into a studio, so we just did shit at home on a four-track, and like, our first record was all kinds of different shit. It was four-track, two of them were done in a studio that we randomly got into, some of them were done on these old reel-to-reel tapes that I recorded at practice and it sounded really blown-out but also really intense and cool. One song was done on a boombox. I just put the boombox in the room and it was just guitar and singing. It was like a hodgepodge.

So, from there, we did this blurred type of recording, sort of blown-out things, and it actually worked for us because our songs were so simple, I mean, we only have three things going on. It’s only guitar, drums, and keyboards. We don’t have a bass or an extra guitar or, like, a timpani player or anything. So, to fill up that space, because of the bass and simplicity of music, you make it a little blown-out and it sonically fills up that void.

That makes sense.

We were trying to be artsy and weird on purpose, but, we also wanted to be a rock band. Like, a band you could see in a bar and sing along to, that whole GbV thing of fist pumping. Really good songs that are tall and intense and full of energy, and that kind of sound worked. So, I think it just evolved into doing it that way. I don’t think that was what we intended when we started out, I think we started out wanting to do more of a dry recording. Like, here it is, and if you think we suck and we can’t play our instruments, that’s fine. If you don’t like it then you don’t like it.

I think we liked the idea, too, that it was challenging to people, that it took a little bit of patience. I always liked stuff like that. Some of my favorite records are records that the first time I heard them, I was like “I don’t know about this.” But after hearing them three or four times, you start hearing things that you didn’t hear before.

Sometimes more lyrical albums are like that, too. You won’t really like a band’s sound that much, but then you listen to it a while and are like, “wow, these lyrics are amazing,” and you latch on to that.

Right. Unfortunately, for us, you can’t really understand the lyrics. -laughter-

But yeah, I think it just sort of happened like that. I think Rip It Off was the one where we were like, “fuck, people expect us now that we’re on this label to, like, take all this money and make this big, slick pop record.” I think that’s my least favorite record of ours. I mean, it has some really great songs on it, but maybe subconsciously we were trying to be a little too “fuck you. I know you expect something but we’re going to go the opposite and make the most fucked up record that we’ve made.” But, it still has good songs on it.

It totally does!

I saw you guys for the first time at the Matador at 21 festival last year in Vegas. You guys played in the afternoon with Kurt Vile and The Clean. So, that was my first time seeing you guys live, and obviously, it’s like you said, it’s different than on record. I mean, it’s called lo-fi for a reason. Like, the actual live sound doesn’t match the recorded sound.

Yeah, the thing that people don’t think about is that everyone just uses the term ‘lo-fi’ all the time, and I understand that because we dug our own hole with that and that makes sense… It’s like the term ‘DIY’. People say “oh, they’re a DIY band.” But, it’s like, what do they sound like? That doesn’t really mean anything. That’s just about the quality. That’s about the way it’s recorded. We could have been a lo-fi band and sounded like The Decemberists or some shit. We could have sounded completely different. It doesn’t say anything about the songs or the style we play or the lyrics. That’s the only thing that bothers me about that, about the term.

That festival, you had to be playing with your heroes, right? Did you get to stay for the whole thing?

We were only there for the day that we played. We were touring with GbV and that was, like, a stop on the tour. Luckily, that was the night GbV was playing and Yo La Tengo and The Clean. The thing is, all the bands I really wanted to see there, I’d already seen or played with at one point. But, since we had passes, well, instead of seeing Ted Leo, let’s just go backstage and see what Yo La Tengo is doing, so that was kind of bizarre. It was kind of surreal, going back there, and watching Yo La Tengo play from the side of the stage and then seeing Mitch Mitchell from GbV run out on the stage and then Yo La Tengo’s guitar tech Gil, who is a really nice guy but is, like, tightly wound, run out and tackle him. And then, getting to be backstage and watching all the ruckus. Everyone all pissed off and Yo La Tengo having a band meeting, like, “what are we gonna do?” It was kind of weird being back there.

I try not to give in to those indie rock star urges, like, “let’s go hang out with these guys.” But, it’s too late. We already know them. Why not? I’m like “I’m not going to be a pedestrian and watch from the outside, I’m going to go back here.”

I would have done the exact same thing.

Yeah, and there’s free beer back there.

Present

So, how am I supposed to say this. Dancer required? Dancer Equired?

Dancer Equired, yeah, it’s a word we made up.

Yeah, I looked it up. It’s not a word.

Yeah, everyone says that. “So, I looked it up. It turns out it’s not an actual word?” Yeah, I know.

I was thinking that maybe you just hold the R. Dancer Required.

Well, that’s how it started out, yeah. Do you know the band The Electric Eels?

No, I don’t.

Well, they are like this Cleveland, well they used to live in Columbus, too, but they are a Cleveland band who were like contemporaries with Pere Ubu and Rockets From The Tomb. They had this flyer and they drew all these little baseballs and socks and little cartoon nazi signs and shit, and it said “attendance required.” So, we made a flyer and we shortened it to “dance required,” and we made another copy of that it it turned out to be “dancer equired.” Just a roundabout way of making up a word.

Do you guys feel pretty good about the way it came out? It’s obviously your cleanest sounding record, but it doesn’t lose any of the charm that you guys have always had.

Well, you know, no one wants to hear a band produce the same sounding record over and over. I mean, we aren’t AC/DC. You have to keep people on their toes, and keep yourself on your toes. I think in the back of our mind, we were like “what would be our biggest challenge? What if we put out something really normal?” That was the most experimental thing we could do, just say “fuck it” and see how people react. Let’s just see if we can do it.

We could go back and rerecord all the records we’ve done and they’d probably be pretty good. The songs, that’s the thing, we are always focused on writing good songs. So on this record, the songs were already done, they were more worked out than any record we’ve done before. So the songs were already pretty good, so we were like “let’s see if we can make a record where people don’t talk about how shitty it sounds.” I don’t think the record sounds slick or anything like that. The songs are different from song to song, it was definitely mixed with each song as its own thing in mind. But, I think it turned out to be cohesive.

The last couple tours we’ve been on have not been good. We were like, “you know, people don’t really seem to give a fuck about us anymore, let’s go all out and see what happens.” It’s not going to hurt anything. I’ve always wanted to make a record like that, anyway. We were working with people we were comfortable with in a really cool studio.

Did changing labels, I mean, is there any story as to why that happened?

Just really boring contract garbage. Matador still wanted to do it, but it was bad timing and they would have had to renegotiate some contracts. We didn’t want to wait. I think we were in Germany and talked to them and they were like, “we can’t fulfill this obligation, we have to renegotiate,” which basically means we have to give you less money and we were fine with that. But, if they did it the record wouldn’t come out for a long time and we wanted to get into a studio and get these songs done. So, we had another label, Wichita, which was kind of waiting and ready to go, so we were like, “we are going to get out of this contract, you guys sign us right now and give us the money to make the record and we’ll go do it and have it done in a month.”

I think it was just time for a change. There was no drama or anything.

Future

You guys are also going to be touring, pretty soon I think. What’s the road looking like for you now. Are you guys looking forward to getting out there and playing the new songs?

Yeah, it’s going to be kind of brutal. We are all kind of hoping that new people might be into it because it’s not an album that inaccessible and maybe more people will catch on. Everyone seems a little excited, that maybe we’ll actually make money this time. Maybe we’ll actually play some decent shows. I mean, our shows are always fun. That’s the funnest part about being in a band is the shows. But, after seven years, it’s like, “should we be doing this shit anymore?” You have all these thoughts about quitting, but then you play a show and are like “now I remember why we do this: because it is fun.”

We are going to Europe tomorrow, and we will be there for about a month, roughly, playing Europe and the UK. The album is out on the 26th, so we will be over there when it comes out. Hopefully it will go well. It will be exhausting, but it will be fun. Then we come back here for ten days and then tour America again.

All the shows here, I’ve looked at the itinerary and the venues we are playing are pretty good. I’ve been to most of them. Good, respectable places for a respectable NPR band.

Yeah, you guys are playing Spaceland out here, well, it used to be Spaceland, now it’s The Satellite. It’s a respectable venue.

Yeah, I looked at it and was like The Knitting Factory in New York, Johnny Brenda’s in Philly, all cool places. We’ve played in most of those places before so I know that it’s not gonna be like showing up at some bar with really horrible sound or anything like that. The only thing that you can hope for is that it goes a little bit better each time. We’re not diluted to think that we are going to be huge. It’s not possible in the nature of our band and the kind of music we do. But, just to do a little bit better each time, that’s a nice modest goal.

What if it did? What if you guys somehow blew up?

Oh, that would be hilarious. -laughter- I got a list of things I would buy that I’ve been thinking about.

What would you buy if you got the fat rockstar check?

Well, actually, it probably wouldn’t be so much about buying anything. It would be about getting out of debt. That would be the greatest gift I could buy myself. Just so the phone calls would end. And then maybe a Sea-Doo. I’d never use it, just like Kenny Powers. It would be the one thing I’d keep and never sell.

So, saying the one thing you’d hope for is to keep doing a little better from album to album, is that your idea of success, would you say?

I think, in my mind, we’ve already been really successful. We’ve never made a record that I’ve been ashamed of. I mean, some records I think are better than others, but I think we’ve made really good records. At the end of the day, I’ve been able to see some really cool shit, I’ve gone to Europe, I’ve been able to meet a lot of people I never thought I’d meet who, unless it’s just a farse, have a level of mutual respect. Just making good records is successful to me. The fact that we’re not completely rich, to me, might mean we are a little more successful, because it means that we haven’t done anything to completely lose whatever edge we started out with. I think it we sold millions of records, I would imagine that something got lost. Any remnants of being remotely confrontational or hard to grasp for the casual music fan would be gone.

The idea of selling out doesn’t really exist anymore. You’ve got to make money where you can, but we never tried too hard for any of those things. We’re not out selling ourselves, like “please buy our record.” Getting on Twitter, like, “hey guys, playing at the Brew Factory tonight, come on down, better make it out.” There is no pandering. I think just making a record that I am happy about, because we could always quit this monkey shit and make records at home. I don’t need Merge Records or Matador or any other label to prompt me to make music. I just want to be able to afford Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I want to go a step up and get the homestyle. The shells.


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