Category: Interviews


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 25, 2016.

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It’s a little after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and the crowd at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn is silent and enraptured. Onstage, Emily Jane White’s fingers glide over the keys as she sings Hands, her voice echoing out and filling every inch of space in the venue. This is the reaction that meets White for most songs in her set, followed by applause and shouts of approval.

This article first appeared on No Ripcord on March 11, 2014. 

LadyLamb

Ripley Pine, the debut album from Lady Lamb The Beekeeper, was one of those records that has slowly but surely built up buzz since its release in February 2013. With arrangements that went from lush to chaotic to bare-bones, the album is a masterful mix of emotional lyrics, sharp guitar playing and sincere vocals. Many of the songs have been under development for years, but they still retain raw passion that will make any listener sit up and pay attention.

Aly Spaltro called No Ripcord from her early demoing for her second album to speak about her debut, working with Nadim Issa and her upcoming spring U.S. tour.

Joe: How did Ripley Pine come about?

Aly: It was a lot of years in the making. About half the songs had been written years before and performed as solo songs for a long time. All prior records I’d made and released on my own, and I recorded them by myself as well. This was the first time I was in a proper studio and I was arranging songs for a full band. It about a year-long process of recording, mixing and mastering. It was a lot different to what I was used to. Everything I recorded in the past I was quick about. I would essentially write and record a song and finish it in a day. This is like slaving over twelve songs for a year. It was an entirely different process but still really fun.

J: I had read that when you used to write in Brunswick, Maine, in Bart’s and Greg’s DVD store, that the process would start off as very raw, with whatever emotions you were feeling that day coming to the surface and with melodies pushing up against each other. Was that writing process something you continued for Ripley Pine?

A: I would say yes and no. Some of the songs were written at the DVD store and existed for two years before they were properly recorded. But the process in the studio was similar to the writing of the songs in the basement, just in that the overall strategy and point for me was to make the songs on the album, in the studio, still be raw and as full of emotion as they were when I wrote them. That’s in part why they took so long to record, because I was really focused on making sure that the songs were as energetic and sincere as they could be.

J: Some of your songs have an element of chaos, such as towards the end of You Are The Apple. What draws you to throw in those types of elements?

A: It was a plan of mine to make sure the music followed the arc of the songwriting and the arc of the story, or the emotion in the lyrics and the vocal delivery. So essentially, the arrangements were also written around and with the vocal melody in mind. When the lyrics or vocal are chaotic, I want the music to mirror that feeling.

J: My favorite song on the album is Bird Balloons. Can you talk a little about how that track came together?

A: That was one of the older ones I wrote years ago. It was written very in-the-moment. Even the lyrics were improvised in-the-moment. The night it was written, I just played it over and over until I felt it was finished. That one was quite a process in the studio because I was finding myself forcing instrumentation on it that wasn’t fitting. With that song in particular, I had to set some boundaries for myself and decide “Okay, I think I’m messing this up so I’m going to make a rule that the only things I’m allowed to add are more vocals or more guitar.”

J: How did it feel when Ripley Pine was finally released?

A: I was really thrilled and surprised, especially since in all honesty, I didn’t think about that at all in the writing process. For me, it was more personal, like finally closing the chapter on some of those songs that have been in my life so long. Once the album was finished, I could breathe again. I was so happy and proud of what I made. I really loved it and… it’s over (laughs). It’s over and now I can move on. Any positivity that came after it was really wonderful and an added bonus.

J: What was it like working with Nadim Issa?

A: It was the most amazing experience. I hadn’t collaborated in the past and I produced everything myself in the past. It was a nerve-wracking thing to open up my work to someone who was collaborating so closely with me. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. He was so thoughtful and passionate about the project. He really gave me the space to do whatever I wanted to do and really understood what I was going for. He just had such a good touch pushing me along when I needed that push. I’m really grateful to him. It would have been a different record if he hadn’t worked on it with me.

I think it’s very difficult to find somebody you vibe with so well. When you’re working on something so personal, it’s one thing to have band mates and collaborators and it’s another thing to work with someone who doesn’t get in the way of your vision but helps you get to it.

J: When I saw you play at Glasslands last year, you went with a half band/half solo set. Why did you choose that type of setup?

A: I think that’s just the way I will perform always. It’s best for a very specific reason, being that the project started as mine six years ago and I spent the first four or more years, mostly playing completely by myself. There was a short period of time in there where my best friend, who lives in Portland, Maine, joined the group and we were a duo for a year. For the most, people who have known my music in the past have known it as a solo project. I still find a lot of value in playing a lot of my songs solo. I know that people who have been following me for a while also value that. So it’s really important for me to give the audience both. I know there are people in the crowd who prefer one over the other. I also really love the idea that once you bring a band into the mix live, then it makes the solo songs seem a little more special. The dynamic is elevated there. I think they compliment one another within a live performance.

J: I saw you are going on tour with Typhoon this spring. How is your preparation going for those shows?

A: We toured together about three years ago. We just sort of developed a friendly relationship through that. About half of them came to my last show in Portland, Oregon. I think it’ll be really fun and a complementary sort of bill.

The practice is actually going really well. I am sort of gearing up for arranging and performing a couple of new songs with the band. I’m really excited to play those live in the spring.

J: Are you far along on the second record?

A: It’s starting out. I’m in the process of demoing arrangements for them. It’s definitely on its way. There are no plans for recording yet, but it’s on its way. I literally called you from demoing right now.

J: Do you have any further plans for 2014?

A: That’s pretty much the plan, arranging new songs and equating myself with a few of them live with the band in the spring. When I get from back, the idea is to do some more intensive planning for the process of recording. That’s the plan for the rest of the year.

Ripley Pine is available to buy now. For tickets to Lady Lamb’s upcoming tour, visit http://ladylambthebeekeeper.com/tour.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on July 5th, 2011.

They_Might_Be_Giants_-_John_Flansburgh

When it comes to musicians, John Flansburgh is as friendly and outgoing as they come. For anyone who knows his band, They Might Be Giants, this won’t come as a surprise. Over their 30-year career, the group has done everything from making educational children’s records to having their music appear on Tiny Toons.(We apologize in advance for “Particle Man” or “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” getting stuck in your head.) They’ve also assembled a pretty damn impressive collection of alternative-indie rock that evolves and advances with each release.

That being said, it’s easy to see why everyone’s getting excited about Join Us, They Might Be Giants’ first “adult” record since 2007′s The Else. While it won’t reach consumers until July 19th, fans won’t have to wait for new tunes. The band currently has an EP out, which features four tracks from the record. It comes free with an album pre-order and has more than enough catchy melodies to get you jazzed for next week’s release. We caught Flansburgh on a Monday morning to discuss the new album, upcoming anniversaries for the band, making music in the Internet age, drunken adult crowds, and the strange scenarios he ran into in Europe.

Join Us is They Might Be Giants’ first “adult” record since 2007. What led the band to switch back and move away from your recent kids’ albums?

Cause we’re sick of that kid stuff!

What types of themes did you focus on this time around?

With Join Us, it’s just a free-range kind of album on a whole variety of different topics and a whole different batch of unreliable narrators. There is no overarching theme. That blank piece of paper in the typewriter looks mighty blank when you aren’t writing for a big theme like science or the alphabet.

Even though Join Us doesn’t drop until July 19th, you currently have an EP out with four tracks from the record.

Yeah, we wanted to get the ball rolling and remind everyone that this is the kind of stuff that we do. We understand it’s challenging to have a band that exists in two worlds. Not many bands go to do the family thing and come back. We want to be back. The family stuff was interesting, and it was a really pleasant departure from having to think about our hairstyles and how our songs will fit into the world of commercial radio. But there’s something very satisfying about the crowd facing you. We were spoiled by the rapt attention of the drunken adult crowd, and we want to be back in that world!

I read in a recent interview that “Never Knew Love” was originally called “Never Knew Love Like This Before”. The shortened title gives the impression of a dark track, while the reality is the opposite. What was the reason for this ambiguity?

The truth of the matter is that there’s a very popular disco song from the Seventies called “Never Knew Love Like This Before”. I think we were just trying to distinguish our song from this other song. Over the years, we’ve tripped over a lot of song titles that already existed in some other form. In fact, we just figured that the title Join Us is one of the most common album names imaginable! It’s certainly not a singular album title. When you go to iTunes, there are like 50,000 albums with the same name, which is a little frustrating. It’s not like our album, though. Our album’s better than that!

What is “Can’t Keep Johnny Down” about?

It’s kind of a classic, unreliable narrator type of song. I don’t feel totally comfortable trying to sum it up. The lyric is about a guy who seems like he’s got some mixed emotions about the world. He’s sort of reading everything in a hostile way. But “Johnny” isn’t us, although we do share a name with him.

Giving away four songs with an online pre-order definitely shows an appreciation for doing things differently in the Internet age.  How do you feel artists should move forward into this online era, especially in terms of getting their music out there?

Well, that’s a really big question, and I wish I felt like more of an expert. To me, the music industry is clearly going away. The profitability of being involved in just the music-making career is pretty negligible. This is why you see people like Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who in another era would be considered in the prime of their music/money-making part of their career, moving out of concerts and recording and into television. It’s very possible that they just want to be more famous. But it seems to me that the actual career prospects of somebody in the pop music world are pretty finite. It’s not the same scale business. It’s hard to feel confident when the actual industry you’re in is shrinking exponentially.

We have a very unusual career. We’re making music that we’re pretty confident most people won’t like! We’re not doing something that’s widely beloved. We’re doing something off to the side, making a lot of people shake their heads. It’s a little grim, but we’re in this for the long haul, and we’re doing it for reasons far beyond the economics of it. People who make the music have to figure out how to make it through this world. I’m cool with that.

Switching gears a little, They Might Be Giants are heading out on tour in support of Join Us this summer. The trek will include your first international dates in years. Why has it been so long since you’ve played outside North America, and why return now?

We’ve actually been so busy recording for the past few years that it hasn’t been a necessity to do tours. There are very few things more satisfying than actually getting to see some other part of the world when you’re on tour. It’s interesting to go to a foreign country in any event, but it’s really interesting to work in a foreign country. The experience is very, very memorable. There are a lot of places in the United States that are fun to play, but we’re going back for the eighth time or in some cases even more. Every time you do somewhere overseas, it’s just a whole new deal.

Even when it’s miserable, it’s interesting. We did a show in Leeds about 10 years ago, and we were playing at the Irish Center, which is not so different from playing a VFW Hall. Our tour bus was this incredible, steaming hunk of junk that smelled like the worst men’s room you’ve ever been in. We were parked overnight in the lot of that venue. While we were asleep, someone siphoned all of the gasoline out of the bus. There’s a lot of gasoline in a tour bus! The fact that this guy had the tenacity to roll up to a bus with all these people inside… he must have been standing out there for a half hour. That’s pretty dickish. Even though it was quite miserable, looking back on it, it’s something to laugh about. It is, by definition, better or worse, much more interesting to have experiences overseas.

You have two big anniversaries coming up: This year marks the 25th anniversary of your debut, and next year marks your 30th anniversary as a band. Do you have any plans on how to celebrate these upcoming occasions?

It’s a strange thing. I have a friend who only likes first albums. I completely understand, from a fan’s point of view, that there’s a primacy to a band’s original work. I grew up with Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention, and I was definitely a fan of his original stuff. Even though he was making records at that moment, there was something fascinating about seeing his whole body of work.

Being in a band is a very different challenge. To keep it new for ourselves is just as important. We tried very hard to make all of our work come up to the same bar or exceed the bar we’ve set previously. What we do is an evolution, and we take it very seriously. We don’t want to move into what they call in art history a “mannerist period,” where we’re just doing a diminished version of our original stuff. A lot of times, people say, “You guys have been a band for 30 years. No bands make records for 30 years. How do you keep on going?” The truth of it is, it’s still a really interesting challenge on a creative level, and that’s enough. There are a lot of other things we could be doing that would probably be less stressful and maybe more lucrative. But this is an interesting project for us, and we were lucky the way it got set up in the beginning. We’re very open-ended. We didn’t get trapped by being a one-hit wonder. We didn’t get trapped by some weird legacy of success. We found a pretty pleasant place for ourselves in the world.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on March 15th, 2011.

Astronautalis

I’m sitting with Andy Bothwell, better known as Astronautalis, at the Whiskey Tavern on Baxter Street in downtown Manhattan. Both of us are marveling at the wonderful creation on the menu: a bowl of bacon. It’s the perfect cure for the hangover the rapper built up after celebrating his concert in Brooklyn. The restaurant sits just a couple blocks away from Santos Party House, where he’ll perform his second show in New York Citybefore moving on to Philadelphia. Within minutes, Bothwell proves that his gift for storytelling isn’t limited to just his lyrics. With a new band, new single, and a new album on the way, there certainly are a lot of tales to tell.

By now, you’ve probably heard Astronautalis’ latest song, the electronic, fuzzed-out “Midday Moon”. (If you haven’t, do so immediately. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.) Like many tracks from his third record, Pomegranate, the single was influenced by a historical event. Specifically, it found its basis in Robert Nelson, a scientist who founded the Cryonics Society of California. His goal was to cryogenically freeze a person until society found a cure for death. Unfortunately, since he was the first to attempt this experiment and didn’t really know what he was doing, it ended in disaster with the bodies thawing and his system crashing down around him.

“I really like the idea of him and all these people so hoping that they could be frozen until they found a cure for death. I really like that foolish hope they have. It’s something very endearing and commendable,” said Bothwell, discussing his influences for the song.A lot of the music I’ve been listening to is electronic-based. Electronic has become such an integral part in most music, especially rap music. It’s really simple music, but it’s so effective to just have a huge wall of five synths playing at once.”

Besides being a fascinating single, “Midday Moon” is also an example of how Astronautalis’ thought process for writing works. It’s not a simple process with throwaway lines quickly scrawled together. Instead, months of research are put into each verse, chorus, and bridge. Books are read, images put together, and eventually the words come out. Bothwell compared the process to writing an academic paper rather than writing based in raw emotion.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I always remember seeing that little sliver of white across the sky when the moon is out during the day. I liked the idea of the moon coming out too early, and I didn’t know how to make it into a song. I’d always include the phrase “midday moon” into the lyrics that I was writing, but it’s never made it to the actual song. I just pushed and pushed until one day the chorus came to me. ‘You came to me too soon/like the midday moon.’ From there, it just built and built, and I tied it in with the cryonic story I was so excited about. I have a big bulletin board in my mind where I pin all these ideas to. When it comes time to write a song, I pull one thing off, and I take a few more things with it and push them together.”

While fans may be preparing for a synth-based affair given the first track released, that won’t be the case. The music on his still-untitled album will be wildly divergent, making “Midday Moon” a classic fake-out. One thing that will be consistent, though, is the theme. Unlike the historical fiction of Pomegranate, the new LP will be completely based on Bothwell’s own life. Science will be a key component, with parallels being drawn between scientific history (specifically the Age of Enlightenment) and his recent experiences.

Producer John Congleton, who did his last full-length, will be back at the helm along with loads of guest appearances. While Sarah Jaffe and P.O.S showed up last time around, this time, prepare for collaborations with Sims and Lazerbeak from Doomtree, Radical Faith, Maker, and Ted Gowans from Tegan and Sara’s band. Talk about a full house!

“I’ve been really drawn to scientific history lately. The idea of experimentation in pursuit of some kind of insane theory felt like a natural parallel between that and people who decide to be a professional musician. I’m getting songs from hip-hop producers, songs from folk musicians. I’m getting it all over from people I’ve met over the last seven years of touring. When I sit down with John and try to mash it together, it’s going to be a really interesting process to make these divergent elements fit.”

If the album is as varied as Bothwell says it’ll be, his band will certainly have their work cut out for them. Yes, you read right. Astronautalis has a band now. After years on the road with just a laptop and backing track to support his vocals, 2011 counts as the first year that he has other musicians helping him reproduce his tracks live. The change is a huge addition to his already energetic concerts, especially given how much more intense the shows have gotten. The quartet sounded incredibly tight at Santos, ripping flawlessly through both old and new songs alike. Having a live band has not only been a welcome change for the audience but for Bothwell, too.

“It’s like a whole new world. I started to feel myself approaching a creative wall with my live shows a few years ago. I felt there was nothing else I could do with the formula I had set up for myself. So I’ve been dreaming about having a band forever. Now that it’s actually happened, it’s so much better than I ever thought it would be. It’s so new for me at this point that I have a hard time completely understanding why it is what it is, but it’s probably one of the best things to ever happen in my career.”

While having a band has changed the structure of a few of his live songs, the one area of the show that hasn’t changed is Astronautalis’ freestyle segments. These aren’t your typical, mainstream raps about cars, girls, weed, or money. Instead, suggestions come from the audience, with topics ranging from the surreal to the absurd. You might expect the shouts for subjects like Odd Future, Charlie Sheen, or even The Twilight Zone, but there are also calls for freestyles on dead chimpanzees, a day in the life of Gary Busey, and stalking Whitney Houston’s pets. However, as odd as these are, he still ties them all together into one incredible segment that’ll leave you stunned. Even with these oddball topics, Bothwell feels it may soon be time for a change.

“I’m kind of at a point where I’m struggling to find a new way to do the freestyling. It’s been this for years and years. It needs to be something new because part of the magic is proving to everybody that it’s freestyle and getting topics from people. It’s the thing that makes it but also the thing that limits it. Sometimes I feel that the freestyle would be better if I just did it on what I was thinking. I think that’s the next hurdle I have to personally overcome where I no longer care if people think it’s freestyle or not. I don’t need to try to make myself a credible rapper anymore. I just need to make the best art I can.”

Given the quality of the new songs he’s playing on tour, along with “Midday Moon”, it looks like Astronautalis won’t only be making the best art he can but also some of the best music to look forward to this year. With fans everywhere anticipating what he’ll do and where he’ll go from here, Bothwell feels that the fact he’s doing it the way he wants is the biggest achievement of all.

“I’m going to get to tour the way I’ve always wanted to tour. I’m going to get to release a record and promote the way I’ve always wanted to put out a record and never gotten the chance to. I’m really looking forward to doing everything the way that I want to do it this year.”

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on February 22nd, 2011.

Interpol

On Interpol’s self-titled album, Paul Banks sings lines like “I have succeeded/I won’t compete for long” on the opening track, “Success”. The song can be seen as a response to the life the band’s own achievements have created. On the other hand, though, it’s also a self-fulfilling, if unintentional, prophecy. With their best record since their debut album, Turn On the Bright Lights, the trio have returned to the top, regaining the success that they found almost a decade ago.

When Interpol first appearance on the scene with Bright Lights, it was met with almost unanimous critical praise. Propelled by dark, post-punk songs like “PDA”, “NYC”, and “Obstacle 1”, the record would find itself on many Best of the Decade lists once 2010 arrived. In 2004, they returned with Antics, similar in style but brighter in tone. Three years later, Our Love to Admire dropped, expanding the band’s trademark sounds with keyboards and other textures.

After a long tour and a number of side projects, the group reconvened with Interpol last year. Chris Coplan’s review gave it high marks, stating that the narrative is “a story that builds from an emotionally-resilient semi-joyousness in the beginning (“Success”, “Memory Serves”, and “Summer Well”) to creepy, morose, and sinister by the end (specifically the last two tracks, “All of the Ways” and “The Undoing”).” However, as great as the themes are, the music needs to fit too. As Coplan wrote, “The way in which the story is actually built musically is more brilliant than the subject matter and its subsequent shift. From track one through five, the band starts with more of their more fundamental rock essentials. Then, from track six through 10, they get to their desired output, albeit slowly and pretty incrementally: That huge sound is less about rocking and more about creating a very particular vibe.”

In a quick, rather curt interview with CoS, drummer Sam Fogarino revealed that despite the intricate tales told lyrically and musically, the band just let it happen. “It’s all pretty much natural,” Fogarino explained. “The songs dictate themselves. You just try to foster them and you don’t try to force anything. You try not to hold on to a specific ideal when you’re working on the material.”

While Interpol is definitely an album to lose yourself in, the band’s live show is another experience entirely. Much has been made of Interpol’s straightforward, no-frills stage persona, to the point that some critics write off their performances entirely, expecting the deadpan vocal deliveries to come with equally dull men. However, Philip Cosores’ live review proved otherwise. He wrote, back in October of last year, “Paul Banks showed both emotion (wha?) and personality (wha? wha?) as frontman for the group, demonstrating a true joy for playing for fans and taking time away from the spotlight to jam with founding member of the group, Daniel Kessler.” He went on to praise the show, overall.

This tour hasn’t been without challenges, though. The loss of bassist Carlos Dengler, who left the band after the album was finished, worried fans about the hole he left onstage. Then there was the additional setting of opening for U2 in football stadiums both in Europe last year and North America this summer, a setting that very few rock bands actually get to play in anymore. While the loss of Dengler hasn’t changed live performance for Fogarino, playing to U2’s audience was seen as a tougher obstacle for the band. “It’s way more of a challenge to get in there and convince them that you’re good,” Fogarino continued. “There’s a short amount of time you get to play to them. With your own audience, it’s a guaranteed thing. It can be pretty stressful, which is why we don’t do it that much.

Although those U2 dates are currently the last thing on Interpol’s itinerary, they do have plans to keep touring beyond this July, although nothing can be confirmed yet. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Interpol is once again on top of their game, striving through changes and challenges as they reach new levels of “Success”. Turn on the bright lights.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on November 25th, 2010.

Damian_Kulash_in_2010

Trying something new isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence for OK Go. In fact, the opposite is usually true for them. Ever since the Chicago-based band arrived on the scene with their viral sensation video for “Here It Goes Again”, they’ve continually taken unlikely steps to forge their own path, be it in music or business.

2010 was just the latest series of unique moves for a group that has made a career out of doing things differently. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky was a critical success. The music videos for the album’s singles all followed OK Go’s unique brand of combining the physical and the experiential. They even broke contact with EMI to create their own label, Paracadute. What’s the icing on top of this splendid cake? How about a musical parade through Los Angeles? Yeah, that’ll do it. We got on the phone with singer and guitarist Damian Kulash to discuss the parade, the videos, and what next year holds for the band.

How did the idea for OK Go’s parade through Los Angeles come about?

It came about at the end of our last album cycle. We had toured for about 31 months and were coming off of two very large opening tours where we were the main support in 15-20,000-seat arenas. We were playing essentially the same 45-minute set every night for months at a time. Playing to thousands of people, we were growing ever more disconnected from the thing we were doing because it sort of felt like a job. At the end of this cycle, I went to New Orleans to do a bunch of political work and walked into some second line parades. I was smacked in the face with how music can be an experience and not just a product.

As professional musicians, and even as music consumers, we tend to think of music as recordings. For 100 years, we’ve gotten into this mode where recordings are what we think of music as being. Shows are just a promotion for that, and videos are just an advertisement for that. Songwriting itself is just a way to have an album. When you walk 5 or 10 miles through New Orleans with 200 people who are just banging on pots and pans, dancing, and wearing crazy costumes, it’s like the glue that keeps society together. It’s so beautiful that it has nothing to do with the industry of music. We were thinking if there’s any way to do that in rock and roll. We realized that we could use GPS tracking as an art medium rather than just a reflection of where you had been in your day.

What type of performance are you planning? Will it be a standard OK Go set, or are there a few surprises on the way?

The main problem is that normally everyone knows the same song. In Los Angeles, that’s not necessarily the case. What we’ve done is we’ve picked our 15 simpler songs and sent chord sheets out to a bunch of our friends who we knew would be there. We made a songbook of about 50 songs, none of them being OK Go songs. It’s from all genres of the last 50 to 100 years. So there’ll be Elvis songs, The Beatles, Al Green, [John Mellencamp’s] “Jack and Diane”, “When the Saints Go Marching In”, and other stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have a little body of communal knowledge. We’re going to give everyone a little keychain with laminated chord changes on it, so anyone who wants to join in can follow along. We don’t care much about the songs being played accurately or well. We care about it being fun.

What are you hoping those who come to the parade will get out of it?

What we’re hoping people get out of it is actual music experience. We’ll get to enjoy music as a thing that connects people and live it as an emotion rather than a product. We’re trying to get the experiential joy of music to a public place.

You recently posted your music video for “Last Leaf”. It’s very different from the other videos you’ve released for this record. You guys don’t appear in it, and it features rapid photos of toast to create a storyboard. Why did you move in that direction?

It seemed appropriate to the song. We’ve done a lot of videos in a particular mold that follows the thread of choreography in weirder and weirder ways. It started with just dancing in the backyard, and we started thinking about what it was we loved about classic systems like that. Like, why is dancing so amusing and thrilling and so fun? We realized it has a lot to do with why music is. You get these systems of discreet action when the whole is much bigger than the sum of its parts. In music, you add a chord progression to a drumbeat, and out of the other side, hopefully you get joy or melancholy or some sixth dimensional combination of emotions you could never possibly describe.

In dance, it’s sort of the same thing. One person walking along is just one person walking along. But two people walking along in exact sync suddenly generates this crazy feeling. So we’ve been thinking about other systems that do that. That’s how we got into the Rube Goldberg machine [from “This Too Shall Pass”] and all sorts of different things where we’re trying to come up with a group of collaborative systems. We realized that animation itself can be that. What we wanted to do is bring animation back to a very physical place. We’re all so used to seeing animation that when you see Gumby move, you don’t see a series of a hundred Gumbies. You see this fluid thing. We thought that if we made the animation on something visceral where each frame is a loving, produced object, you would see that collaborative system again.

We worked with Nadeem Mazen and Ali Mohammad from Serious Business Design, and they spent a million hours burning this stuff. I can’t thank them enough for doing that. We were on tour the whole time, and there were hundreds and hundreds of hours of burning toast and laser-etching. I think it came out really beautifully and provided a way for us to get into music that we often don’t make videos for. We have a lot of contemplative or sad music that we never really made videos for, because the ideas we’ve had don’t line up with that type of music. It was nice to do something that revealed a different side of how we make music and how we feel about music.

OK Go is known for very complex and physical videos. Out of all the videos you’ve done so far in your career, which has been the most difficult,which is your favorite, and why?

The most difficult from an endurance perspective was the “End Love” video. Each take was 21 straight hours, we were sleeping in a park in the middle of it, and geese kept pecking at our faces. It was not a comfortable evening. But that video only took a few weeks of preparation. The Rube Goldberg machine took months and months of preparation. So it depends on what you’d call difficult. I think the least comfortable moment was some time during the middle of the night during the “End Love” shot. The thing that seems farthest from possible but actually wound up happening was either the dogs [“White Knuckles”] or the Rube Goldberg machine.

If I had to pick favorites, I think the dogs and the Rube Goldberg machine were the two videos that took the longest and I developed personal relationships in. I can’t tell you how fun it is to go to the set for a couple weeks straight and just play with dogs. One of the things we try to do is work as much as we can with real humans who have good ideas. On “White Knuckles”, the entire crew was 12 dog trainers, my sister, and a couple people to operate the camera. The band and my sister have made so many films together that technically we’re professional filmmakers, but the spirit in the room was definitely just “Let’s play with dogs!” That doesn’t really happen on most music video sets.

After all the craziness of 2010, capping it off with a parade through Los Angeles, what does OK Go have planned for 2011?

First, we actually have a show in L.A. on November 27th. We hope to document this parade and actually show it at that concert. We’re doing radio shows and holiday festivals around the country throughout December. In February, we’re beginning a collaboration with the Pilobolus Dance Company in New York. I don’t know when the fruits of that labor will come into existence. I think we’re going to do a performance in New York in July and August 2011. I’m speaking at two conferences, one on the music industry in January. I think we’re also doing some shows in Europe in February. We have a couple more video projects planned, and our hope is to get back in the studio by the spring. We haven’t released any truly new music in a while, so we want to make some for the next few months.

OK Go is currently working on a collaborative arts project as part of the Pulse of the City campaign to launch the new Range Rover Evoque.

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on June 19th, 2010.

TomChaplin

f there’s any band in the world that isn’t afraid of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, it’s Keane. From the worldwide success of “Somewhere Only We Know” to the assorted collection of sounds on 2008’s Perfect Symmetry, the band always followed their creative spirits to take them wherever they led. So far, they’ve led to some pretty nice places recently, including the Q Awards, an arena tour in their home country of the U.K., and now an upcoming tour of forests.

The forest tour comes on the heels of their new album, Night Train.  An EP that ballooned into a full-length project, it features some of the band’s most varied work. It’s also a record of firsts for the group, containing their first album collaboration (with K’naan), co-founder Tim Rice-Oxley’s first lead vocal appearance, and their first major sapling (the Rocky theme). Frontman Tom Chaplin covered all these bases and more as he talked about how Keane’s 2010 is going so far.

How did the Night Train album come about?

We had a couple of songs knocking around since the beginning of last year. We thought we’d like to collaborate with someone so we did two songs, “Looking Back” and “Stop For A Minute” with K’naan last April and we just felt excited by that process. So we continued to work on new songs that we had and it turned something that was a small project into something quite a lot better. It kind of snowballed out of control but in a really great way.

Where did the name Night Train come from?

With any kind of record, you want to sum up the atmosphere of what you’ve done. The way this record was made was very much on the move. We went from city to city on our tour for Perfect Symmetry. Wherever we were, we felt creative and excited by the creative process. One of our favorite ways of traveling was on the night train.  We took a night train quite regularly from London to Berlin. The sense of moving from place to place and the sense of eclecticism seemed to reflect the atmosphere of this mixture of songs.

Can you talk about how “Stop For A Minute” came about and what it was like working with K’naan?

It was a song that Tim had come up with. He had the bare bones and we felt like it would be really interesting to work with someone else on it. We had another song called “Looking Back” at the time and that has a really kind of West Coast vibe.  It’s almost like a Kayne West song.  K’naan is someone we’re massive fans of and his edict is very melodic style of hip-hop. We phoned him up the beginning of last year and said, ‘We’ve got a couple of songs, would you be interested in coming to London and working on them?’ It turns out he was a really big fan of Keane and he jumped at the chance. A few weeks later, we were in the studio and making music with him.

Speaking of “Looking Back,” why’d you guys decide to put a sample of the Rocky theme into the song?

It kind of happened by mistake. Tim was telling me that when he originally started writing that song, he had this riff for it going around in his head. He said, ‘I’ve come up with this amazing riff!’ Once he played it a few times and done a little demo of the song, he realized it was exactly the same as the Rocky riff.  It was a case of mistaken identity.  The song developed out of that. It’s like how many hip-hop artists made their records. They started with a sample or an idea and then turned it into something else.

Night Train seems to be an evolution of the Perfect Symmetry sound with a stronger emphasis on synthesizers.  Is that a direction you’d like to continue pursuing and what drew the band to that sound in the first place?

I don’t really know whether we have a particularly strong idea of how we’re going to go forward. We’re just very open to lots of different ways of working now. One of the good things this record has afforded us is that sense of freedom.  You can be very eclectic, do something very different, and not be afraid. Judging from the reaction, people are very responsive to that kind of thing.

We haven’t really made up our minds.  We have an enormous collection of synths in our studio. That being said, we have an enormous collection of pianos, guitars, and drums. We feel we can use anything in our musical palette.  There aren’t any constraints. The songs themselves will dictate how we move forward.

What’s your favorite song off the new album and why?

I think one of my favorites is “Your Love”.  It’s got Tim singing on it which is a first for Keane. We’re pretty excited about that. I think it’s a very sad and powerful song about that sense a lot of people get of clinging on to old romances.  It’s a sense of nostalgia or melancholy about the past. He captures that feeling well. It really resonates with me.

Had we gone into the studio intending to make a full album, I don’t think we would have given Tim the job of singing.  But because of the way we made this record, we just ran out of time to record my vocals for it. The longer we lived with the demo vocal Tim had done for it, the more we liked it. I really love that song and love the spirit in which it came about as well.

Is there anything you would change about the record?

No, I think it’s a really good document of where we are as a band. We feel really confident about trying new things and having an eclectic approach to how we go about making our music. I personally wouldn’t change the EP at all. It’s kind of mad curiosity. It’s got a lot of different ideas. It’s a mad mixture of songs but it seems to work really well as a cohesive thing. I think that variation works well as a great feature of it.

You’re about to embark on a tour of forests in the U.K.  How did the idea for that come about?

It was born out of not wanting to overkill here in the U.K. We did a big arena tour last year. Partly ’cause of the way we made this record and partly because of where we are at the moment, we couldn’t justify doing another big, bombastic arena tour.  We wanted to do something that was a bit more earthy and different. We heard about this circuit of forest tours in the U.K. and a couple of bands had done it before. It’s a magical setting for playing music and for people to hang out, get drunk, and have a good time. We just thought it fit in perfectly with what Keane does as a band.  I really think it’ll be a beautiful setting for listening to music.

What can fans expect from those shows and your upcoming North American tour?

We’re definitely going to be playing a lot of the new songs. We’re pretty excited about them. We feel like we’re constantly developing as a band and that’s really exciting for us. We always aim to surprise people. It’ll be exciting, visceral, and fun. The great thing about Keane shows is that people come with a real desire to let go and immerse themselves in the songs. We’re not ashamed that we’re a very emotive band. People really love to sing their hearts out and let go of their worries.