How did the legendary (in my eyes!) electro group form?
Tim and Ian had been playing together since they were about 16/18 respectively. The band went through a number of permutations and lineup changes over the years. After their drummer left for Virginia with their master tapes, they started looking for yet another drummer. I (Matt) had started playing drums about 3 months previously and was, conveniently enough, dating Timmy’s sister.
Were you guys ever other bands?
None that we’d like to mention. There’s a rumor that Tim was a member of Rocketship, however this is something that has been wildly exaggerated. Tim and the guys from his other band, Trace, had been good friends with Dustin for a while, and let him record in their practice space. They helped play some instruments on a number of releases, but were never members of the band. They were just helping out a friend. Tim is still in Trace, who are doing a split 12″/CD with Rocketship, which should further confuse the issue… (Sorry to ramble, but Tim tries to set the record straight on this one every chance he gets.)
How did you develop your sound as a band?
Not really sure how to answer this one, as there was never really a conscious effort to develop a specific sound. I guess you could go back to what Tim and Ian were listening to at the time they started playing together. Lots of Joy Division, early Cure, things like that. Those bands really helped shape the sound of their first band, Graham Cracker Cyclone. And of course, MBV and Sonic Youth blew everyone away when their records came out. So, you know… Pretty cliché. But still, while those things are always influences, we never write songs with a specific ‘sound’ in mind.
Obviously there’s a certain style or sound that we’re associated with, but it is more of a result of the confluence of our individual styles than any conscious attempt to sound like “x”.
Your drummer is really influential on my drumming, with his busy, staccato rhythms and open high hat crashes…how did he or any of you guys learn to play music?
I never actually thought I would ever play drums. I played guitar for years in various bands, and it was always kind of a joke when we’d take a break at practice and I’d try to jump behind the drums. I just flat out sucked. Eventually, I ended up moving in with a friend/bandmate of mine who had a drumkit which he had purchased for his previous drummer. When his first rent check bounced, I told him I’d cover it if he gave me the drum kit. So, I started teaching myself to play by listening to a walkman in the basement and trying to play along. At the time I started playing with Tim and Ian, it was all I could do just to keep up! And that really marked the first 3 years of my involvement in the band. It was imperative to me that I didn’t bring the quality of the songs down with my mediocre drumming. I never wanted to play the same 4/4, drab beat over and over again, so I was constantly trying to come up with something unique. Now, I’m actually learning to un-busy my drum parts, as I’ve developed a tendency to overplay.
Tim had always been tapping out songs, whether on his mom’s piano or his uncle’s guitars. I can’t remember exactly, but I think he was 12 when he got his guitar for Christmas (he’s probably going to read this and lambaste me for getting this all screwed up). He really started playing in earnest when he received his first guitar (a little single pickup Mako) for Christmas. He got the guitar, his brother got the bass, and his parents signed them up for a few lessons. After he figured out that paying some longhair to teach him how to play Smoke On the Water was a waste of time, he took to teaching himself and writing his own songs. So, no formal training to speak of there, either.
Ian started out playing keyboards in the band, but soon swapped positions with the bass player. At the time, he had an unhealthy fascination with Simon Gallup, which really helped shape his early bass style, but he soon developed his own thing. Ian’s the guy that can take Tim’s songs and turn them around in a way that none of us expect when we start writing. I can’t say enough good things about those two as far as their writing goes…
Your most recent (and only) full-length cd, A New Pacifica, is wonderful. How was the recording process for this cd, and are you happy with the way it came out?
The recording process was… Interesting? Painful? Long? Probably some combination of the three. We tend to be control freaks, which is both a good thing and our achilles heel. We write, record, and mix all of our songs at our studio/practice space which means we have altogether too much time to work on it. For ANP, we were using an Otari MX5050 8 Track 1/2 inch machine. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the capabilities and equipment to record the basic tracks live, so we ended up recording drums and then bouncing down to a stereo pair of tracks, then over dubbing guitars and bass, etc. But, by the time all of the other tracks were laid down, you couldn’t hear quite a bit of the drums. The guitars and bass were both fighting for the same frequencies that the toms and snare were occupying. Add in the fact that we ran absolutely nothing through compression, and you end up with songs that are insanely difficult to mix. The entire process of mixing the album was an exercise in compromises, and it was usually the drums that ended up taking a hit for the greater good of the song. I think that in the end, the spirit of the songs does shine through, but it is really quite difficult for me to listen to the album since I know exactly what you *can’t* hear that you *should* be able to. The process was further complicated by a mastering engineer who overcompressed the entire mix when creating the production master. Guitars that should come in at a higher volume than the preceding part actually drop in volume due to the aggressive compression and limiting that went on. Live and learn I guess…
Do you find it easier working on full-length projects, or shorter ones (ex: ep’s, 7″)
That’s a good question… I don’t know… Because we have the luxury of recording our own stuff, we really don’t have as much pressure to come up with a whole batch of songs to record in one shot. I think we prefer EPs, though we’ve never actually put one out. We tend to write songs in batches of 4 to 6 at a time, so an EP is probably the ideal way to capture what we were doing at a particular point in time. Unfortunately, we’re pretty disorganized, so if somebody approaches us with an idea for a release, we kind of just throw them anything that sounds good at the time. Personally, I love 7″ records. I’d like nothing better than to do every release on 7″…
I’ve never heard you live, but I’ve heard from others that you sound even better live than on cd….what do you think of your live set-up and performances?
I’d have to agree that the live shows have quite a bit more energy than our recordings. It probably has a lot to do with the recording process I described above. When you’re playing to a click track, it really doesn’t have the energy and tension that I feel we have live. But I think there’s something to be said for having a marked difference between recorded songs and their live counterparts.
Live, we’re extremely stripped down. Its just Drums, bass and guitar. And the only effect that we use is distortion. Tim used to have a delay hooked up, but we phased that out a long time ago. We mainly rely on absurd amounts of volume and distortion to create weird sounds and harmonics that you really can’t get any other way. We’re currently trying to cannibalize Tim’s old laptop so we can trigger some loops and samples via footpedals using the Back To Basics program that ORI and Man..or Astroman? designed, and we’ve dragged the TaurusII pedals to a few shows to get some of the synth sounds.
What is the Sacramento music scene like?
The Sacramento scene is pretty much like any other. It has its good bands and bad bands, good clubs and bad clubs. There is a sort of red-headed-stepchild syndrome where a lot of folks feel like we play second fiddle to San Francisco, and it is true that quite a few bands will skip Sacramento entirely on their way between SF and Portland. But I like being in a mid-sized city. You can go to any show, and chances are you’ll know 75% of the folks there, but there’s still someone you’ve never met as well. The smaller size does make for a lot of petty infighting and a BIG us vs. them mentality that I find pretty ridiculous. I dunno…I find the politics of local music to be really amusing (probably because we don’t really line up with any of the quirky little factions in town). I *will* say that I’m constantly disappointed with the trend that I’m seeing where people care less and less about the music, and more and more about what you’re wearing/doing on stage. I’ve literally had people come up and say, “you know, you guys would be a good band if you didn’t just stand there playing your songs…”
What are some bands that you are enjoying in your player these days?
I’ll have to make some assumptions about what Tim and Ian are listening to, but I think it would be safe to say they’re constantly playing oldies/classic rock (me too, for that matter) especially the no-brainers like Beatles, Beach Boys, Syd Barrett, Neil Young. Ian loves Spectrum, we’ve all been listening to Spacemen 3’s Recurring. Early Talking Heads. I really can’t guess what else they’ve been listening to. As for me, my wife and I recently inherited a huge record collection, so I keep trying to delve into new stuff. I’ve discovered some amazing old psychedelic stuff like this band Touch that was doing the Olivia Tremor Control thing about 30 years before Olivia Tremor Control, a band called Kaleidoscope. Here at the office, I’ve been listening to a bunch of our rough mixes for the new album, Paik, Helio Sequence, Duster, Hirameka Hi-Fi, Lilys, Jessamine, the New Year, the Shins, Henry’s Dress… Tons of other stuff.
Is there any message you want to convey through your music, and what is your approach to lyrics?
I asked Timmy, and he gave me evasive answers. You know, the old Black Francis standard “I just put together words that sound good.” I think for the most part its true, although there are recurring themes that I think end up in there subconsciously. Every once in a while, he writes a song that tells a story, just for fun. There’s one that should be on the new album called Captain New Mexico, about some guy who wanders around the desert, trying to find someone to bear him a son so that the ways of Captain New Mexico will carry on. Apparently he’s written a ton of verses for the song, but there are only two that actually made it to tape.
Are there any future releases fans should be keeping an eye out on?
Well, just recently we put a track on the Tonevendor compilation that is available from Clairecords’ new mail-order: www.tonevendor.com
We also put another one on the new Grand Theft Autumn compilation that has the cumbersome title “Soak Your Shoes in Red Wine and Strike the Angels Dumb” (The comp, not our song) you can get that one at Tonevendor as well.
There’s a split 7″ that should be coming out soon on the UK label Gringo Records. It was supposed to be out a year ago for our tour over there, but for some strange reason still hasn’t seen the light of day.
We’re doing a really cool split 7″ with a great Sacramento band called St. Avalanche. Its going to be clear vinyl packaged in a silkscreened sleeve made out of real x-rays (no 2 are the same). Dan and Heather have been nice enough to put it out on their Clairecords label. That should be available in a month or so.
There’s one other compilation coming out from Rollerderby Records, but the release date has been pushed back 3 times, and as of now it is still ‘TBA’, so its anyone’s guess when that will be out.
Finally, the new album will be out this summer. Our 16 track is in the shop getting tuned up, so as soon as we get it back we’re going to start mixing the album. That’ll be an Omnibus release.
Any other comments?
Our hideously out of date website is at www.lanset.com/rsr.
More up to date info is at www.omnibusrecords.com.
And if you want to get in touch with us, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
or send explosives to:
PO Box 16-2372<BR>
Sacramento, CA 95816<BR>
Sorry if that was too wordy, but hey… It beats working.
-matt / electro group