Interview: Decompressing With the IntelligenceSeptember 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Posted in Interview, Music, Seattle | 3 Comments
Tags: In the Red, Intelligence, Lars Finberg
Last week the Intelligence released their sixth album Males on In The Red. Four of the eleven songs show up with shiny new suits on, having been re-recorded and improved from their previous incarnations. So an album with only seven new songs may make Intelligence die-hards wonder has Lars Finberg hit creative quicksand. Hardly. He has a new side project, Puberty that he’s written a stash of songs for, and the new new songs on Males are all top drawer. It’s almost like he has re-written the rules for the Intelligence with the new album. Rule number one: lo-fi is out. This may come as a shock to some. It did me at first, but after having Males on repeat for the last week or so, I’m more shocked by how good it is and how it has surpassed Fake Surfers as my favorite, which I didn’t think was possible.
The old days of Lars recording his songs on blank cassettes and releasing them are gone for now. You will probably hear grumbling about this from some corners, but not this one. Don’t worry, new hi-fi Intelligence still rocks it’s just much cleaner now. Before you could understand about half the words while the instruments bled into each other. Now you can hear Lars almost croon, his dry sense of humor condenses and drips from the speakers. Futuristic computer blips and gurgles fly by, flashy sleek guitar riffs ring throughout, the beats are bigger and the bass nearly rattles your sternum in places.
What exactly was Lars Finberg thinking when the Intelligence went into the studio down in Sacramento to record Males? I wondered the same thing and through the wonders of the internet got in touch with Finberg to see if he would shed some light onto the world of the Intelligence. What follows is Lars running us through each of the songs on Males and then answering some additional questions. It’s essentially the same format he uses for interviewing bands on Terminal Boredom.
One more thing, if you are in or around Seattle this weekend, the Intelligence will be at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard on Friday (3 September) for their record release gig. Australia’s UV Race and Seattle’s Spurm open.
1. Bong Life
The intro is supposed to be the sound of a teenager and his first experience with ‘jazz clover’. the doors of perception have been opened but instead of the sounds of psychedelic sitars and tablas and backwards Hendrix solos the ominous piano chord signifies the bars on the prison of drugs clanking shut.
I’m not on a high horse, I’m under the hooves warning the youth that if your not careful you will be applying for work at 7-11’s well into your thirties.
I do want to add that this idea came after long studio hours and we had tears of laughter streaking our faces. But that doesn’t make it untrue. The mind melting down sound is made with one of Woodhouse’s magic pedals literally made from a speak and spell. I believe we did about 10 takes of this noise through a huge guitar cabinet on 10 not realizing that Beren was trying to sleep before a 5am flight on the other side of the door. Also inspired by the wake of all these “Party” bands. “Lordy Lordy look who’s 40″ A. Stonehouse
2. Tuned To Puke
I think this is my favorite song we’ve done. It is about music and criticisim and enthusiasim and disgust. Also partially inspired by a big festival we played as the final show of a tough tour last year where we watched a particularly popular band bomb hard in front of a large crowd and were shocked this band makes a living at this. I AM on my high horse on this one. That’s throwing out the negs but on the flip side the other part of the song is about all that nonsense evaporating when you put on a nice record. I’m talking to the Sic Alps, Wounded Lion, Shannon and the Clams, Pete Drake, Thee Midniters, White Fence, etc.
3. Sailor Itch
A response to our song Sailor Dive (which is a dive where you don’t put your hands over your head and just dive in literally head first) Sailor Itch is like a Fleet Week kind of thing, dressed in white all gooey in the sewer. Second try for this song, there is a failed version from the distillery for Fake Surfers. Also, I tried to cut this one but was vetoed and I”m glad because i think the rhythm section really shines.
4. The Universe
This is a song from our first record but we’ve been playing it for years and I thought it showcased what the band has evolved into.
5. Like Like Like Like Like Like Like
Hank Williams said ‘if a song can’t be written in 20 minutes it ain’t worth writing’, well this one was written in 5. It’s my rebuttal to Susanna pointing out when we first met that I say ‘like’ too much. I took stock of it and realized I sound like a Valley girl but was born and raised in California, it’s not my fault. Anyway, she is from the Louisiana and when she uses the ‘voice search’ feature on her phone whether she says ‘Toys are Us’ or ‘Movie Theaters’ it thinks she says ‘Texas’ (TeecksZass)
6. Estate Sales
My dad will often call me and give me song titles he’d like us to use, they are all good but not necessarily for our band. “Wire Monkey Mama’ is one that comes to mind. He asked me to write one called “Estate Sales’ about all your things ending up in a cheap pile on the street, that seemed like our style. The gurgle keyboard is a $11.99 casio recorded with a $12,000 Telefunken micropohone (it’s locked in a safe at the studio). Woodhouse said those mic’s were made in WWII for the Nazi voices to sound really terrifying in speeches and after the war they were such good mikes Billie Holliday and the like were all singing into them.
7. Mom Or A Parking Lot
I didn’t realize these songs were in a row but it’s for my mom. A thank you for the love and a base. In my last year of high school when we were discovering the 60’s and listening to the Doors and trying to be a 17 year old hippy in Bakersfield, CA in 1992 without the politics but more based on whether you could pull off a headband, there were these scary guys a year younger who went off the deep end with LSD. It’s a true story, one kid came to school on Monday with a giant bandage covering his face and it turned out that the group of them had been trying to overturn a car while tripping. They realized they couldn’t get it all the way over and decided to give up except one didn’t understand and when the car dropped it ripped his nose off. Another time they convinced one of them that he had shit his pants, embarrassed he tried to wander home via a dry riverbed and ended up lost and calling his mom from a Mervyn’s parking lot pay phone for help. Just like Jim Morrison ! Woodhouse plays the vibraphone.
8. White Corvette
In the demo of this song I was just freestyling stuff and rapping about my brother’s white corvette and how cool I thought he was when he worked for Pepsi as a kid. But I went back and turned the lyrics into a love story so the ‘white corvette’ line got cut. But I kept the name on the demo and after we recorded the song no one would let me change it. It is supposed to be ridiculous, we were crying when the really cheesy keyboard line got recorded. None of us could do the hi hat that fast for that long so we mic’d a different crappy casio (same casio as ‘Life Preserver” and “World is a Drag” “Dept. of Nothing”, I like him to have a recurring role) and used the drum machine, then Woodhouse doubled real drum on the top. I’ve never seen “Less Than Zero” but it’s a song for the soundtrack.
9. The Beetles
1. Booger Sugar 2. Weight Loss 3. Flat tire on a Mustache Ride 4. Party’s Over 5. Link Wray and the ‘poke a hole in the speaker technique’. 6. 40 days and nights in the desert. 7. Evaporating into Partnership 8. Screening calls 9. Relationship Rescue 10. Bath Bomb 11. Irma Thomas 12. Domestic Tranquility 13. Psalms of Love 14. Independence Day 15. Sexy Grandpa
10. Chateau Bandit
This song is a tribute to a joke I only know the title of that Calvin Lee Reeder (Icky Baby Bassist) said a lot on our first euro tour so it’s just a little tribute to him and those times. And our Bordeaux friends Buzz, Sophia, the Weakends, and Sideburns Robbie. Another true story, Sideburns lit his pubic hair on fire as a gesture of friendship. We are spelling C-H-A-U-T-O wrong in the chorus.
I mean just the title kind of makes you cringe. It just conjures up such a repulsive image.
We had some time left after we did the basic tracks and I had these 2 song ideas sitting around so at the last second we glued them together Beren made up a beat and we just did it on the first take. We’ve had 2 really crummy guys in the band before this, just really bad examples not only of musicians but just bad, boring, selfish people in general. If I had a nickel for each time I wake to find Beren crunched in a corner on the floor and this smug f*cker spread out and drooling in a double bed. And it’s just kind of raised this theme of the shitty modern man, simplified into the image of the 1,000,000 wet toilet seats you see on tour and the KKK. I wanted the song to explode into the sounds of WWIII but liked Woodhouse’s idea of playing one chord that he turns the level of a “Frost Wave” pedal up.
I love Susanna’s vocal on this and I think it’s cool that after 6 records of mostly doing it myself that to me our finest moment is this nice group effort. BUT DON’T GET ANY IDEAS GUYS.
You seem to have this love-hate relationship with Seattle. I’ve read interviews where you’ve said you’re tired of it and you’re planning on moving. What do you think of Seattle in it’s present state (old Seattle vs. New Seattle, no drinking on stage, musice scene in general, this so-called summer we’re having, politics, anything)? Is the Intelligence leaving Seattle?
The people are just the worst, no one can even look at each other on the sidewalk. It’s so weird. We had a weird red faced R.E.I. old man bike dick spit on our car and call us “motherf*ckers” with my 12 year old in the back seat because he though we honked at him. Susanna’s been called a C*nt in the target parking lot by a lady in a reindeer sweater at Christmas! There is a real pent up aggressive terror that I just find really specific to this region. Our neighbor won’t look in our direction when we’re walking parallel to each other to go in the house. I hate the weather, I hate that the ‘goal’ here is to be cozy in your hole. I hate that I spend every penny I have on all the great restaurants and movie theaters because it’s the only thing to do. The sushi here is great but the bands that get big here are terrible and everyone’s so depressed and never wants to do nothing. ME INCLUDED.
The nightclub stuff is too stupid to even pay attention to. In what way does someone drinking a beer on stage in a place that is 21 and over and is selling beer make any kind of difference. The summer, shit they get shorter each year, and it’s to the point that i hate ‘em anyways all these people wizzin’ around, i like ‘em bummed out. It’s hard to make our plans to move, they keep getting pushed with tours and working and traveling but our hope is to start scooting to New Orleans after Christmas.
The number of people who have played in the band seems to rival the Fall. How would you rate the current incarnation of the Intelligence against past ones?
Well what kinda jerk would answer ‘ I sure miss Gary, now that guy could PLAY A BASS’ ! But honestly right now is my favorite version. I love playing with Beren, she’s great and we never have to practice. Susanna is the most professional person I’ve ever met, has great taste and she isn’t easy to impress. Touring with them is perfect, though I miss Beren’s scallywag days just for the entertainment value but she’s a blast. I feel set and supported by them and lucky. The Icky Babies was a fun era. Shannon McConnell was a real joy. I do miss Kaanan Tupper but he may come back as a guitarist / auxillary weirdo at some point. I’m very thankful that so many people have helped us out.
I know you are a fan of the Fall. Would you ever consider doing what LA band Darker My Love did for Mark E Smith on the Fall’s Reformation Post TLC and offer up your services to Mark E Smith to be in the Fall for an album? Why/Why Not?
I wouldn’t want to be doomed to the pages of musical history as a footnote for the Fall but how would you not answer that call? I got to hang around him once when we played with them in New York and he is a magnetic person to say the least. I saw some youtube of him playing with Gorillaz and it’s exciting as he steps on the stage. So yes, I’d have to.
The new album Males was recorded with Chris Woodhouse who is also a new addition to the band. How do you know him (A-Frames days?)? How did he get drafted into the band? Why did you want him to produce the album?
A-Frames bonded over one of his bands “Karate Party” in a big way and though they were broken up they got back together on our first tour to play with us in Sacramento. It was number 2 in my big 4 shows:
1. Country Teasers first time over here playing for 15 people for about 3 hours until Ben Wallers was so drunk he couldn’t tune a guitar and was dragged offstage by his band.
3. Love reunion show at EMP – Arthur Lee came out (everyone was worried if he could even perform) and over dead silence and said “…….it’s hot in here” and took off his American Flag w/Fringe leather jacket for about 2 minutes and folded it up, then said ‘no, it’s COLD in here’ and put it back on, stared at the audience for 2 minutes, and said ‘well, i guess we’ll start off with, what i started off with, and started beating the tambourine to start ‘little red book’ and absolutely destroyed for 2 hours.
4. Simian from Silver Apples playing by himself (I had no idea we just went to see Viva La’ American Deathray in New Orleans one night) for about 10 people in a bar that more resembles a living room and playing all the great Silver Apples songs with a table full of oscillators and crazy electronics).
Anyway back to #2 Karate Party was just unhinged that night. Woodhouse’s brother was drunk and flopping around on the floor kicking people in a semi-obnoxious way so Woodhouse signals someone over to his pedals, motions at them to hold down the pedal he’s pointing at (which makes this crazy loud curly loop of guitar noise) , hangs his guitar around a random persons neck, and dives onto his brother emulating his flopping but also kinda kicking his head in in a ‘knock it off idiot’ kinda way. To end the show (during “Pressure”) he dives into the drums taking everything but the hi hat out and storms out. The bass keeps going in this ‘I hate you kinda way and your not getting out of here like that’ way, and the drummer keeps hitting the hi hat, slowly the audience builds the drummer’s kit back together around him piece by piece as he starts rebuilding his drumbeat as the pieces come back to him. Soon the rhythm sounds great again and finally Woodhouse has to come back in (probably because he doesn’t drive) with his shoulders a little slumped like ‘ you dicks, that was the END’ and puts his guitar back on and they KILL an added verse and chorus (Woodhouse also makes sure to destroy ALL of the drums this time). The song “the world is not a drag” is about this actually. So we bonded pretty hard, he did the A Frames records and we fell out of touch for awhile and came back together when Mayyors came up a few times, and talked about doing an Intelligence record, a bit into planning it he asked if we’d replaced our guitarist yet and asked if he could do it so we jumped at the chance. I wanted him to do the album because I am a huge fan of his work, especially what he’s done with the last Oh Sees records, they are just huge sounding. And though I love Mike McHugh so much and love what he did on the last records we need to do something different and I also have to say so much of this record was Larry Hardy from In the Red really pushing for a band record and Woodhouse producing.
Each new Intelligence record seems to sound a little more ‘produced’ (with the exception of Crepuscule) and you seem to have become more collaborative if not with the rest of the band at least with the producer. With Males you’ve even let the rest of the band into the studio. Are you weakening in your old age, or just more open to collaboration?
I’m weakening, I’m lonely. It’s more fun to make something with everybody else now, it’s new. My ears are just tired of the ‘LO-FI’ sound for us, I’m also sick to death of being called that, it’s stupid but nothing gets called mid-fi or hi-fi, such a tired and petty complaint I know. I thought the most interesting thing we could do would be to try to make a big clean record. But really it’s just the most interesting path to go down for me, we can record on dirty blank cassette tapes forever, it’s easy but the challenge of having real bright vocals up front was scary and fun. Also our bass sound is cool with Susanna I wanted the record to have a lot of low end. Beren is a great drummer and we wanted a record with US as a band playing, since the 3 of us have been together a long time now it’s just more fun to have something we make as a group. Plus if it sucks it’s THEIR FAULT TOO.
The last few Intelligence records have introduced me to bands like thee Oh Sees, Christmas Island, Wounded Lion and the Lamps. Are there any special guests or covers you have lined up to introduce to Intelligence fans on Males?
No, not this time. I didn’t want it to be a ‘thing’ having covers on our records, I actually think it’s kinda lame doing a cover on your LP (and I like trying to break our own rules) but the novelty of us doing an Oh Sees song seemed original to me at the time, though maybe it doesn’t make as much sense now that they are more popular than us! I probably would not have done it a second time except for 2 things: In the Red asked us to put our version of “Pony People” on the record and 2. When a song that great comes around you bend your rules. Since we did this one in Sacramento I didn’t have the same level of friends to come out, though Beren really pushed for one of the Ganglians to do the ‘bong’ sound on bong life.
The cover of Males is the first to feature a photo (Not counting the collage on Deuteronomy) of the band. (I noticed you stuck a piece of masking tape over the second guitarist who’s no longer in the band, funny.) What was behind decision of the band on the cover? Who did the album cover? Where was the photo taken?
I did the cover, it’s a photo from Torino, Italy. It’s called Velvet Club and it’s just this great tiny dank dungeon basement that we’ve had some of the funnest shows at. Like you said we’ve never used a band photo before so I thought that’d be cool and the type is this cool 1940’s stamp set I got from the antique store I work at (If you’re in Seattle you should visit, it’s Fruitcocktail Collectibles, it’s a great little store). The tape I just thought would be funny and kind of make fun of the ‘rotating’ lineup, though the idiotic things the guy did under the tape could fill a book. My 2 faves: stealing Crash Normals sunglasses when we stayed with them and selling Beren free water from a club.
A few songs on Males are taken from previous singles and compilations. What was impetus for plucking LikeLikeLike and Beetles and including them on the new album?
“Like…” is kind of similar to the song “Dating Cops” in that it was a song I liked but thought was maybe too stupid for and LP but when we played it live seems to strike a chord and it’s always fun to play so I want it to be recorded good on an album since we play it all the time anyway. Plus Beren plays it better than I do on the single. I don’t want it to be out of print on some B-side I want it to be available but honestly I just picture it from a fan’s perspective I want it to be available for 99cents or on our new record so you can crank it up in the car.
The Beetles is an old song, I did a version for Deuteronomy but it just didn’t sound big enough so I sat on it for a while, I knew I wanted it to have the nylon acoustic in the verses, which was funny because it’s hard for me to play, Woodhouse likes to wake up earlier than me at the studio so I just said ‘here record this and work on it all you want and just wake me up when you’re done’. I threw it on that world’s lousy compilation earlier because I thought it’d be cool to hear a rough version of it first and then a really fancy one.
You said: “I don’t want to have too much stuff out there.” referring to putting too much stuff out at once. What’s too much? Robert pollard? Fresh & Onlys? Thee Oh Sees? Do you feel pressure to always have something new coming out every few months? Has the 24 hour news cycle mentality affected music today?
I’m only talking about us personally, if your inspired and are recording yourself and there are different labels asking for things it’s hard not to be prolific. One thing I don’t think people complaining about this realize is the economics of it for little bands like ours because I think the thinking is this: We’re going on tour, X label offered to put out a 7″, we will get 20% of 500 of these records, which means we’ll make $500 which means we can stay in hotel 5 times for 2 songs, kinda hard to say no. For the record I don’t think F & O do too much or Oh Sees, and their stuff is all good anyways, I love them both. I would never say anything bad about Robert Pollard either, if anything his being prolific is part of his thing. Just for us I want it to be special when a new LP comes out and space them out a little more and have them make an impact or statement against the last one. But we put out 2 LP’s at the same time last year, what do I know?
Hi-fi or lo-fi, you seem torn between them (ie. Surfers vs Pacman). What is your preference and has it changed over the years?
It’s Hi-Fi for now, I want our records to sound good with the windows down! I want it to sound good on a P.A. in a club and DJ’s to be able to play it next to Adam Ant and the Buzzcocks without people involuntarily grinding their molars.
I know you’ve alluded to Jazz being an influence on you in other interviews. Miles Davis advocated a less is more approach while John Coltrane especially towards the end of his career like to fill up every empty space with sound. I noticed on Fake Surfers that the sound kind of opened up a little from the claustrophobic feel of earlier albums. Is that a conscious effort on your part and how much of a jazzhead are you?
I’m happy you can hear that, I wanted Fake Surfers to have a real fidelity arc to it, to start out dingy and droney and gradually let the sunlight and space in. I think what’s happened for me is just learning things about the studio, one real moment for me was recording the song “Deuteronomy” and when your mixing you listen to each track at a time, get it to sound good and add the next one. Out of boredom we were just messing around and listening to the bridge of the song but just playing the bassline and the percussion and laughing it just sounded so much like “Low-Rider” in that McHugh just recorded the bass so nicely but as you add the tracks it just gets buried so I started thinking about letting the instruments kind of take turns in the spotlight so everything’s not fighting for frequencies. Later my buddy Drew (from Puberty) told me that was an early rule in Devo, that nobody was supposed to play at the same time and thinking about that you can see another key in why their records sound so good. As far as Jazz, I like Miles a lot but like Coltrane the best but I like his late 50’s (Traneing In and Lush Life are my favorite records) but I got into jazz through Thelonious Monk so if I had an influence (which feels very pretentious to say) I think it would be him, just that really cool less is more approach, and ‘bad’ notes played in the right way.
The A-Frames recently got back together and released a triple album collecting demos, singles, and the aborted 4th album. Do you have any nostalgia for your days as the drummer for that band (any fleeting desire to play with them again)?
I miss those days as soon as I see those guys, which is pretty frequent, Min fills in for Susanna whenever she’s out of town which is great to play with him again. I owe a big debt to the A-Frames musically and am happy they found a drummer that they like and they are still doing stuff. I love them.
Your other band Puberty which you started with Susanna recently completed a residence that you curated at the Orient Express in Seattle.
– What was the initial idea or reason for starting Puberty?
– What are your future plans for Puberty? More live dates, any records?
Puberty was born from a few things: 1. Wanting to do something new, there was a point when I was in A-Frames/Intellignce/The Dipers/Unnatrual Helpers and it was really fun to be thinking musically from 4 different perspectives. I missed that and I think I just working on the Intelligence was frying my brain.
2. Starting with listening to lots of Tones on Tail I wanted to do something like that bigger and broader and poppier and cleaner than the Intelligence.Then Brad Eberhard from wounded lion played me a Fun Boy 3 record “Fame’. The cover is terrible but it’s a great record. That helped me write the first song and get on a roll. And Susanna playing me U-Roy “Flashing my Whip” made us decide it’d be cool if we just sang and rekindling my love of the Specials made us want a big back up band and to dress nice.
3. Susanna had come up with the “Trainwreck” night and we new we wanted to have a band but couldn’t think of anyone that was perfect for it, so she asked if I could get Puberty together in town which gave me a dead line and context to start working on it.
Then we liked the idea of a residency, maybe I heard Suicide did Max’s Kansas City or something?
4. I’ve been wanting to play with everybody in the band for years, they are some of my favorite people in Seattle and some of the best players in town, it’s funny I just sent them demos and they were all hunched over the boom box figuring it out easily at the first practice, I just get to show up with a microphone and they do all the music, it’s really nice.
I think we’re putting the Trainwreck night on ice for a while or maybe forever, it was great but we wanted to go out on a high note I guess. We are working on a 7″ right now and hope to record an LP sometime this year and we’ll be playing around once and a while in town when someone we love comes touring through, we just want it all to be special, we’re all busy, we’ve all been doing bands for years so our motto is ‘refuse to pay the dues’.
The Intelligence has released a lot of singles, eps’s, compilation tracks over the years, many which are out of print and difficult to find. Have you ever given any thought to putting out something that compiles all of your non-album songs? (If not you wouldn’t happen to have any extra copies of Message Of Love/Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat 7″ lying around you’d like to get rid of?)
I’d like to do one at some point, we’ve talked about it with In the Red just not sure when, I want to reissue Boredom and Terror too since it’s out of print, not sure which is more interesting to do first, maybe the singles comp. But I got a Message of Love for you man.
Do you think it’s easier or more difficult to making a living in the music industry today vs. 10 or 20 years ago?
I can’t really tell yet, I guess I can’t see where it’s more difficult, maybe a buncha turds downloading your record for free but that’s probably a bunch turds that would have probably never heard it anyway. It’s not like anyone just takes a chance at the record store anymore anyways so I’m sure it helps. It’s sure as hell easier to book a tour but there sure are a million bad bands booking easy tours too. As much as I’d like to talk bad about the computer I can’t think of anything to say other than muttering ‘thanks’ under my breath.