Summer Lawns really caught our attention with their 2005 release First We Waited…Then It Started. This full-length is a work of art, blending literary lyrics with beautifully phrased music. After falling so in love with this CD, we approached the band with a few questions. Jeremy Linzee, one of the founding members of the band, was kind enough to answer our questions…
How did Summer Lawns form?
Summer Lawns started as a side project of another band that Matt Heslinga (original guitarist) and I were both in. We had started to write really stripped down, quiet material with no drums and minimal instrumentation. We were thinking very minimally at the time in terms of songs and arrangements and we thought adding a cello would give the songs and songwriting an interesting twist. This was interesting to us because we wanted to write music where each player was part of a larger arrangement, a rock band as chamber quartet, where each instruments would have a different melodic line which supports or carries the tune. We thought of the cello not as a flavor to add on top but an integral layer to the sound. I had played a bit with Laurel before and so we asked her if she would like to be in our band and she said yes. We played in this format for a summer and liked the spare songs we were making. I was also really enjoying the intimacy of the shows. We had two electric guitars and a cello, but played very quietly. At our first show the audience was so quiet that you could hear chairs creek. It was very beautiful. We recorded an early ep in this format at Kieran’s studio. He recorded us and then after the session said, “I want to play drums in Summer Lawns.” Matt and I were both hesitant at first, but Kieran, we soon found out, was a really good drummer and he got the quiet and the idea of each part being part of the larger whole. And that was that.
How do you write songs as a band? Is it a group, or individual process?
Each song is different, actually. There are some songs which I write in my apartment and then bring to the band and say, “here it is”, and then they make beautiful parts to surround the basic heart of the song. Other songs are the opposite: the four of us sitting in our studio with somebody starting a line and then the rest of us going back and forth developing it. A lot of “First We Waited… Then It Started” was written by Matt and I together, the two of us in our first studio just playing and then going back and figuring out which material we could use.
How did you develop your distinct sound as a band?
Our sound comes from many things. One of the biggest factors is our approach to write “ensemble” material as mentioned before, where each part is meticulously crafted as part of the larger whole. Another is our choice of instruments and our dedication to the sound each one makes. Many of our parts are very simple, but the way each simple part is arranged next to the others is a key dynamic that we are interested in. This is developed through trial and error, trying it out, working out different approaches to a song in the studio.
What approach do you take to writing lyrics? What are some common themes you seem to explore in your lyrics?
Lyrics are the hardest thing for me about writing songs. It takes me a long time usually to find lyrics I like and a lot of times we will play a song live before I have lyrics finished and I will make up words as we play. There is a stream of consciousness approach to some of the lyrics that mirrors this process actually. Sometimes as we write a song I will sing a line and really like it and it will be the seed from which the song will grow.
As First We Waited… Then It Started started to develop as a record, I started to see this connection to my suburban childhood. We ordered the tracks almost as if it was a day in the life of a 16-year-old in suburbia with Piano Song, the opener (and the single) a sort of Greek chorus like intro. The character kinds of floats through the day and has these moments throughout where the loneliness and hope peak out in small yet powerful ways.
I think I was very interested in exploring the small cracks in everyday experience where someone gets a glimpse of something transcendent. Like those moments in a Virginia Wolf novel (Mrs. Dalloway in particular) where the character is going about their everyday life and all of a sudden, wham, they get hit with an existential 2×4. Clarissa Dalloway has this moment where she quietly says to herself in the middle of the ordinary dinner she is giving, “Oh, there’s death at one’s party.”
Describe for us the recording process of First We Waited…Then It Started.
Since most of us have jobs that we have to go to during the week we took this one slowly, building up the songs over a four to six-month period. We had the songs mostly arranged and so the recording process was pretty straight forward, though somewhat unorthodox. We recorded at the Buddy Project, the recording studio run by Kieran where we also rehearse. Due to the technology we had at our disposal we could only track five channels at a time so we were slightly unorthodox in that we first laid down a scratch take of the songs without drums and then Kieran recorded five channels for the drums to this scratch track. After that it was pretty standard with guitars, cello, keyboards, etc. coming after. Vocals came last.
Who are some artists (music, literature, etc) that have inspired you as a musical entity?
I studied English and Art History in college as well as Architecture afterwards so literature, art and architecture have all been an inspiration in some way to making music. Recently I have been reading Robert Lowell whose work I find crushingly beautiful. The work of Olafur Eliasson who makes these brilliant installations that tweak one’s experience of, well, experience are incredibly pertinent to me right now, as are the haunting suburban images of Gregory Crewdson. Professors at my architecture school put on a show entitled The American Lawn, which subconsciously I think is part of where the name Summer Lawns came from. It was an exhibition that detailed the weird and bizarre obsession that is the American lawn. Amazing. I love that the things we take for granted, the lawns of suburbia are teeming with such incredibly weird stuff. I am also a big fan of Richard Linklater and Ingmar Bergman who both get the same idea: that the everyday, if you really look at it, is quite unbelievably crazy. Summer Lawns has been inspired by many bands, but if we have to narrow it down to bands that are particularly “summer lawns” we mention Yo La Tengo, Sigur Ros, and Low.
What is it like being a band in the NYC area? Has being in the city helped or hindered your goals as a band?
New York is a tough town. It is big, smelly, lonely, and expensive. But at the moment there is no where else on earth I would rather be living. Because it is so expensive it is not easy for bands to stay together and keep making music. Just finding time to rehearse is always a battle. We are trying to be smart about managing life in New York and I think we are doing an okay job. The great upside is that New York is always on. There is always a good band playing, a good designer designing, a good chef cooking… you get the idea. There is an amazing amount of music happening all the time and we have managed to find some like minded bands that are a total inspiration to what we do. Also all of us have a lot of outside interests which I think are part of the inspiration behind our music and New York has those things in spades. Also you get toughened up as a band in New York, so that is good.
Describe for us your decision to have your CD be co-released with Isidore Records. How did this come about?
The people from Isidore heard the record and told us they wanted to help us distribute the record. We said great, let’s do it.
You are touring the country right now. How has your music been received, and how does your music translate to the live setting?
The benefit to being an unknown band that shows up in a new town is that you really get to surprise people. It’s cool to look out into the audience and see people who had no idea what to expect and they have this excited look on their face and this sort of question on their lips: “who is this band.” Our shows are very intimate usually, and people are usually very quiet and seem to be paying attention which is the biggest compliment you can give a musician.
In your opinion, what is the most daunting challenge facing young musicians?
I think right now is a great time to be a young musician. I think the biggest challenge in making anything- music, art, architecture, or anything- is figuring out what you really believe in, what you want. I am always jealous of people who know exactly what kind of thing they want to make. I don’t think it is any harder to do that now then it was before, but perhaps there are more options now so more things to try before you can make up your mind and say, yes, this is what I want
What is in the future for Summer Lawns?
Right now we are looking for management and a booking agent to help grow the band. We also have another record in the works already which we started at the end of September and hope to finish by mid-December.
Any other comments?
And we are on myspace at www.myspace.com/summerlawns