Lars Finberg Gives Intelligence on the New Album

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you know that new Intelligence album is now out. But did you know that it may be their best record yet? The superiour fidelity carries over from previous album Males, but instead of a full-on rock album, they dial it back a little and branch out, incorporating acoustic guitars, bossa nova, horns, and spacey synths on top of the pre-existing warped sense of pop. If you are already a fan of the Intelligence, this album may surprise you, but more importantly if you weren’t previously a fan, this album has the potential to convince you of your passed indiscretions.It’s that good and varied.

What better way to find out about the story behind the album than talk to Professor Intelligence himself, Lars Finberg. We did something similar when Males came out in 2010. For the new record, Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me we altered the format just a little this time. Instead of just a song title as a prompt (which is all Finberg really needs, the guy is a natural comic.) I offered a question, thought or impression about each song. So here it is, the track by track interview with Lars discussing the Intelligence’s latest album Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me.

1.  I Like LASo you left Seattle for sunny environs. We miss you man. Do you really like LA? I get the feeling that the first part of this song is meant to trick us into thinking that you’ve gone back to the lo-fi?
I was missing you today too, feeling kind of depressed even thought it’s sunny here and I’m wearing Daisy Duke shorts (not kidding) then I talked to someone on the phone there and they said it was “freezing and miserable” and I cheered up instantly. I really do love it here, I’ve been traveling so much the last year I haven’t had even spent a week straight in my place but the change of scenery is mood elevating for sure. Last night I went to the Magic Castle (an old Mansion that hosts magic shows) in front of us in line was the guy who drew Flipper’s first LP cover and actress Shannon Sossamon and just the drive over there was gorgeous glinting light and palm trees and billboards with bikini butts. I like having no idea where anything is and endless lights of other people failing at their miserable dreams too in every direction. Seattle is cool but i was there for half my life and if I had to do the drive from west Seattle to Ballard on the 99 or eat breakfast at Easy Street one more time I was going to kill myself.
You kind of nailed it with the ‘trick’ of the first song, with “Males” being kinda hi-fi I wanted the skittery drum machine to do a palette cleanse so you didn’t know where we were going to go. Like starting a movie in black and white or a flashback of our older selves. With the counting I have no idea where that comes from, I just made it up and started to picture someone walking into my friends gay nightclub “Pony” and walking in in the middle of it wondering what this absurd wannabe “Warm Leatherette” rip off was. Also the guitar riff is supposed to be an ode to Wire’s “3 girl rhumba” because with the Wire comparisons I thought it’d be funny to be 3rd in line (after Elastica) to rip off that song, I doubt anyone notices though.

2. Hippy ProviderSadly the kids today probably don’t remember those Freedom rock commercials.
What a shame, I wonder if a Youtube view of that commercial would be met with anything more than a limp shrug. The song’s about being in Manson’s cult and trying to talk yourself into not taking LSD and “wastin’ pigs”. For folks that never saw the commercials it was for these classic rock (I love calling it ‘Job Site Rock’) compilations and these too headbanded longhair burnouts are sitting by a boom box going
“Hey man is the Freedom Rock”?
“WELL TURN IT UP MAN!”

3. Evil Is Easy – I hate to invoke surf-rock these days, but this reminds me of the Surf Punks and the way they could just make absurd craziness into songs. Do you ever go to the Valley?
I have a Surf Punks LP I bought for my dear uncle “Lancers” who just passed, he would always tell me they were his favorite band. They were the first punk band I ever heard in the 4th or 5th grade. When I found the LP recently I was pretty excited but when I put it on it was pretty awful, I couldn’t get through a song or the chorus on the bass guitar. I did want it to have that ‘hey kids I got some knowledge from my tales around the block’ but is so dumb you can’t tell if they’re kidding kind of a vibe maybe.
It’s fun live, I like to describe it as if “Ballroom Blitz” was a good song.

4. Techno Tuesday – Love the horn at the end of this. I know the last time we conversed, you mentioned being into Funboy 3. To me, this song has a Funboy 3 feel to it. Is that accidental or intentional?
Had never thought about it at all but I can see that when you mention it. The horn was hard to get down, Heidi from the Sandwitches is playing it and the original idea was to have her play the vocal melody line in a kinda ‘Mellow Yellow” way. It just wasn’t panning out so cool and Woodhouse had her strip it down. Then when we were mixing I think Woodhouse was frustrated it was a little “pitchy” and was trying to pitch shift it up and mix it low or figure out how to make it more right. I wasn’t paying attention to any of this, the playing or the pitch shifting – I had lost interest and checked out – but when I came in and heard how weird and sad and harbor siren ‘don’t crash into the rocks at night’ it sounded I made him leave it alone, I loved it.
The song was inspired by and takes the title from the wonderful comic strip by Andy Rememter called Techno Tuesday.  Susanna sent me this one night, “all alone with a camera phone” and I was hooked. “Guide to Nowhere” and “Magic Box” are my other favorites but they are all amazing.

5. The Entertainer – This sounds nothing like Scott Joplin’s version. Maybe if Joplin was addicted to social networking we would have gotten to this point a lot quicker. How do you feel about being constantly connected and society’s lack of long-term attention spans?
I thought it would be either so pompous or clueless it would be funny to use that title. I go back and forth between worrying about it being our doom and “please god give me my ipad so I don’t have to look at the hordes of human freakshows at the airport”. It’s terrible, I spend more time scrolling through my Ipod or Netflix trying to pick THE BEST THING than I do enjoying something. Kids today should be kissing Steve Jobs feet though at the easy of looking at naked people on the internet, we had to go find an old tire in an empty lot praying to the peverted gods for a rain soaked Playboy.

6. Reading And Writing About Partying – Re-recorded from a 7″ that came out a few years ago and sounding much, much huger. This continues a recent Intelligence trend of rescuing older songs from 7″ obscurity. This new version makes the original sound like a demo. Are you an advocate for revisionalist history?
A part of me hates that and had a rule against it forever but I just think some of those songs are better than the cassette recordings and the limited 7″ pressing of 300 allowed them to be heard. I think it is totally lame to have covers on our record too but then we do them and I hear them and I like them and I just remember: THE INTELLIGENCE DOESN’T PLAY BY THE RULES.

7. Dim Limelights – You used acoustic guitar on Warm Transfers & Singles Barge back on the Fake Surfers album, but they were absent from Males. Now they have returned in full force. Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, there just wasn’t room for them on “Males” I was trying to make a punk rock band statement or something on that one. But that’s not really who I am all the time. I figured we did that on the last record, we haven’t just tried real clear recorded pop yet. I wrote this song on this little cruddy nylon acoustic and wanted to capture that, Also with Woodhouse, he can record anything great so why not. We laughed when the percussion comes in, he said “are we making a Marty Robbins record”?

8. (They Found Me On The Back Of) The Galaxy – Maniquins in the Vaitican are the least of the Catholic Churches worries these days. Is this song about being an alien hairdresser for the pope? You recorded this with Kelley Stoltz, talk about rock ‘n roll dream team. I can’t believe how insanely great this song is. How did you end up recording with Mr. Stoltz?
Thank you Toby, I am very glad to hear that. Erin A Frame came over for a dinner party and the ladies were watching a haircut reality show and he overheard and repeated “TRANSFORM YOUR MANIQUIN” we laughed and it just stuck with me. (Wow for 4 years.) It’s about EMPTINESS EVERYWHERE and finding a place where you feel you have something to give. This is the first song I wrote in LA, it strangely all came in one fell swoop walking down the street, the chords and melody and I typed all the words in my phone walking down the street and ran home to record it. That never happens. I wanted to be old fashioned and have a 7″ single of the LP come out a little earlier. I also love love love Kelley’s work and have dreamed of doing something with him, when I found the art I just pictured our names together and when I met him on a Wounded Lion/Sonny and the Sunsets tour we hit it off and I called him up and asked him out of the blue one day in SF. He was laid back, hilarious, and cool and after I had used up all of his day to record my goofy lil song (for free) I felt kinda bad and tried to run out as soon as possible, as I knew he had to get ready for a dinner party, he asked if I could stay and listen to a couple songs on his amazing Wurlitzer Jukebox. The Revels “Midnight Stroll” and “Talking to My Heart” were two of them.

9. I’m Closed – In the chorus it sounds like you got a whole room full of people to sing. The band that existed during the recording of Males has changed considerably. Who’s in and who’s out? Are there really two versions of the Intelligence, one in Seattle, and one in SoCal?
That was one of my favorite parts to record. I didn’t plan out or demo a lot of stuff to keep it fresh and fun and loose in the studio and I didn’t have any idea what to do with the end of the song so I just sang the last line over and over and over. That was the day we had all the singers there Shannon from Shannon and the Clams, Brigid from Oh Sees, Heidi from the Sandwiches, this girl Jen. Then Pete from Coconut Coolouts, Dave from the Shins and Susanna were there recording as well so I lined them up and had each person come in a line at a time going boy-girl-boy-girl-etc. Dave came up with the harmony and it was really touching to hear this amazing team of everyone singing and building up the chorus of this kinda sad loner song.
On the record there was an LA band on almost half, Seattle band on almost half and me alone or a mix up on the rest. The band now is kinda all mixed up, the bassist Jed (from Zig Zags) and drummer Leslie (from Red Aunts) and synth player Josh (from the Lamps) live here in LA. Susanna, Dave and Pete are in Seattle. The idea was to have 2 different bands so I could play in LA easily and fly up to Seattle to play but as we made the record I’m more excited to have a bigger line up. The recording was so collaborative and fun that I’m more interested in putting the best band we can together and leaving it at that.

10. Little Town Flirt – Lots of Shannons in this song – Del Shannon and Shannon and the Clams. How did you decide to include this cover on the album? (I also want to thank you for turning me onto the Del Shannon’s album Further Adventures Of Charles Westover.)
Oh man, that LP is so great! I just randomly heard that “Gemini” song (I am one) and flipped. The Little town flirt story is, I was on tour and kinda down and heard the ELO version playing in NY at the Cake Shop. The sound guy was telling us where to put our stuff and I couldn’t concentrate because the song was knocking me out so much. “Sorry man I didn’t pay attention to a word you just said, what is this?” He got excited, told me it was a B side off of “Discovery” and restarted it and cranked it up. I played it over and over on that tour and got obsessed with it. It wasn’t the lyrics at all, just the chords and the vocal melody and the overproduced slick recording just really cheered me up for some reason. It’s just such a cool pop song. I knew I wanted to cover it and knew I wanted to ask Shannon to sing on the record. I texted her asking if she’d sing on the LP and she was into it, I wrote check out “little town flirt” and she wrote back “I play that song over and over when I’m sad or cleaning my room”! A real cool moment. Though she was said she was disappointed in Jeff Lynn’s version. Ha. I was going to have her just do the back ups but the day she came at the last minute I just decided to have her sing the whole thing, then I though maybe it would be cool for me to just sing the bridge but at the last second I kept on going for the duet and (in a falsetto voice) FUCKING NAAAIILLLLEEED IT! Just kidding, I was nervous as hell to sing next to such an amazing voice. Brigid Oh Sees and Heidi Sandwiches are doing the back up and they said they sound like teacups in a Disney movie.

11. Return To Foam – The beginning of this song reminds me of Henry Mancini in the Breakfast at Tiffanys shoplifting scene. This is your hate letter to Seattle right?
Pretty much. But that song is also probably 4 years old. It’s ripping on the dark passive aggressive vibes, where everyone is so bummed they are about to SNAP, if you don’t realize they are in line at the coffee shop or how everyone fucking honks all the time. I NEVER EVER hear a car horn here in LA. Serious. I’ve seen a baby stroller get run over and dragged 15 feet but no horn. And there were these really aggressive gutter punk fake beggars in front of the Pita Pit in Portland that made it in there. For the record “Pardon me c*unt” part is literally something a hysterical frothing grandma in a raindeer sweater said to Susanna in a Target parking lot at Christmas and is a quote, I would never sing ‘c*nt’ in a song.

12. Sunny Backyard – This is the darkest, scariest song you’ve ever done. It’s like the scary part of the movie when you want to hide your eyes because you don’t want to see what happens next. Tell me what happens…I can’t watch.
This is a cover of The Vulvettes, an SF band that had already broken up when I heard their demo tape around 2001 (Dragnet records released it as a CD eventually and I think Min has quite a few hundred copies in his garage)  That song just stuck with me, I did a version of it on a split 12″ with thee oh sees but it was really blown out and ugly. It’s a frightening song but I thought that keyboard bass line has such a catchy element to it and we hip hop the drums up a little bit that I thought it was worth doing again. Very hard to sing, for the weird vibrato I was choking myself with my hand and wiggling my throat to try to do it.

13. Fidelity – Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me is a break up album in more than a couple ways I gather? So you’re now living alone in LA, fermenting in wine and listening to Elton John records?
Pretty much. But it’s weird, I was trying to take some bummer city stuff and make it fun. Recording this record was the happiest experiences I’ve ever had and was the most joyful time we’ve had as a band. But don’t get me wrong, I want Roy Orbison to burst into tears in his grave when he hears this song. It’s funny the cliche is they say you should write a sad song to make yourself feel better but I find it just made it worse. IT GETS WORSE. But it is supposed to be so sad that you laugh. Just like life.

Thanks Lars!

mp3: The Intelligence – Techno Tuesday (order Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me direct from In the Red. Vinyl fans take note, the first 200 copies come on yellow vinyl)

The Intelligence return to Seattle on July 19th (when the weather here is most SoCal-like) for a now rare show at the Crocodile . Mark your calendars and be sure to schedule your vacations accordingly.

Back from Their Distant Star: An Interview with Animals that Swim


I discovered Animals That Swim after reading the 1994 year end issue of the NME where they ranked their top 50 albums of the year. Their debut album Workshy came in at a cool number 15. I don’t remember what was written about the album but it was enough for me to put it on a list of must get records. I was going to school in Albany, NY at the time and on my next trip down to New York I found the record at Kims Underground as well as the Pink Carnations single. I snatched them both up and was swept away in their tales of smashed car windows made into chandeliers, silent films, Roy Orbison, blood spattered sheets, and the photographer Madam Yvonde. It was a dingy, dirty riot of colors that Animals that Swim created with eccentrics and weirdos as their song protagonists, and always with an eye for melody even though the lyrics were half spoken.

Their next album I was the King, I Really was the King was even better. Great stories, great songs with even better melodies. They even had a semi-hit from it with Faded Glamour. Then record label problems reared their ugly head with their label Elemental being bought by One Little Indian. They eventually resurfaced five years later on the independent Snowstorm with their third album, the more understated but no less engaging Happiness From a Distant Star. It was a quick fade out after that and everyone figured that they had heard the last of these old English eccentrics.

A little more than a month ago the fade in to the sequel to Animals that Swim began.  There had been whispers that they had been recording but now they had a web site that stated that the first single would be released via iTunes in April and that they had at least the song titles for an entire record. I was excited about the whole prospect so got in touch with the band who agreed to answer a few questions.  A huge thanks to Hugh Barker, Hank Starrs and Al Barker for answering my questions.  It really is good to hear some new songs from them after such a long while.  After reading the interview, you can head over to the Spill to sample the two new songs. Both of which should be available in iTunes any day now.

First off, welcome back. It’s been 10 years since the third and what most of us figured was the final Animals That Swim album came out. What made you guys decide to get back together and start playing again?

HB: We always had it in the backs of our minds as a possibility. About a year ago I recorded some acoustic guitar for Hank (for a film) at Boomtown, a small studio in Acton – I left feeling that we could record Animals that Swim songs in the same minimal way there. Then Hank needed a song for the end credits of another short film and we thought we might as well give a try and see if we were happy to release the results as ATS material.

Secondly, it seems like a moment in time when it is pretty easy to record songs and let people know about them without bothering with record companies and all that palaver. There is no way I would have the patience to start traipsing round music business offices trying to “get a deal”. But since we can control it and do it how we want, it seems like a fun thing to do.

Finally, it’s nice that people like you have kept on saying good things about us on the internet. That makes us think that there really are at least some people out there who will want to hear new songs, rather than it feeling like a self-indulgent thing to do.

Can you give some background on the two new songs (Silver Rays & Tiny Lucifer) that will be available on iTunes any day now. What are they about? How did you guys record them?

HB: They were recorded at Boomtown in a day using mainly acoustic instruments. Silver Rays was probably the song that made me want to go into a studio in the first place. It’s about finding my daughter’s pink and orange bike abandoned in the middle of our street, but also about one of those moments of epiphany or disintegration that can come over you anywhere. Tiny Lucifer is a true story about a real toy bear.

Is it the same line-up? I didn’t hear any horns in either of the two new songs, is Del still around?

Hank, Al and Hugh played on these recordings, with Hank’s friend Madeleine helping out with some cello. Terry is in America, so we don’t really have a bassist unless she happens to come on holiday. Del will hopefully play on future songs – the schedule just didn’t work out for him this time.

According to your web site it looks like you’ve have enough songs for an album. Are you sort of testing the waters with the first two songs are being released as download only single? What are your plans, is an album in the offing?

HB: The plan is to see how it goes, but I’d like to record more, and would ideally like to do all those songs listed as potential album tracks. It will take a while though as we all have limited time. We will probably keep it download only for simplicity.

You guys have all moved on to different careers after the band (film, writing, website stuff). How have your careers affected your ability to get together and play as a band again? And after such a long time off has the dynamic changed any now that you’re no longer ‘poor musicians’?

HB: Obviously time is an issue, and we certainly won’t be spending weeks at a time in studios or on tour. In terms of the dynamics, it probably makes it a bit more enjoyable as there is no great pressure and as soon as we stop having fun we can stop.

AB: Playing together as a band seemed hardly different at all. If anything, we laughed a lot more this time round.

Did you guys (Hugh, Al and Hank are brothers) grow up in a musical family ? What got all three of you into playing music and were the three of you ever in a band together when you were teenagers?

Yes it was quite a musical household. Our mother was a music teacher and liked to get us to sing songs from the Weavers songbook (she was American) around the piano, our dad was a decent pianist, who played old jazz standards and Scott Joplin rags very nicely, and we all grew up learning instruments from an early age. I think we maybe played together once at a school concert but we never really played as a band until we were older.

Animals that Swim have been quiet musically for roughly the past 10 years, but Hank was on Art Brut’s Direct Hit. How did that come about? Is Eddie Argos a fan?

HS: Dan Swift, who used to play drums for us live occasionally, was producing the Art Brut Album. It turned out Eddie is a big ATS fan so Dan suggested a “Duet.” I was duly invited and sang on Direct Hit. I was nervous but Eddie was a lovely man and it was good fun.

Animals that Swim frequently get called underrated and/or underachievers, but it seems like you guys succeeded in making some great records. I remember when I heard the news about the third album I was surprised because I thought that you had called it quits. What was the general attitude and expectations of the band when Happiness From a Distant Star came out?

Things kind of faded out for us in the late 1990s as our stupid record company kept making us do more demos to persuade them to let us do another album. By 2000 we’d pretty much given up on the whole thing – so when Snowstorm gave us a little bit of money to make Happiness From a Distant Star it was just a bit of a relief to be able to draw that period to a close with a record of some of the songs we had been playing. We didn’t have any great expectations of sales or reviews etc, luckily enough.

You guys always came across as very well read, and many of your songs were like short stories out of a Raymond Carver book. How autobiographical are these songs or are they fiction? What inspired them?

HB: I’d say a lot of our songs were rooted in the city and the people around us, and some were vaguely autobiographical, but we were never that hung up on autobiographical veracity or personal authenticity. It was more important for it to be a good story and/or to have the right kind of texture and feel.

The mid 90’s were grunge and Britpop infested and it was hard to get noticed if you were something else which you guys were. This from All Music: “Animals That Swim were slightly too weird for mass consumption, but their oddball, half-beatnik/half-psychedelic pop was a refreshing response to the early days of Brit-pop”. You seemed to do ok in the UK, but the US only saw the release of Workshy and that didn’t get much attention over here. Did you guys see yourselves as too odd for the mainstream?

HB: We didn’t sell that much in the UK either, even when we were getting good reviews. I see the oddness more clearly in retrospect, though I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I just thought we were just writing pop music, from our particular point of view.

There’s an episode of the UK sitcom Black Books where Bernard and Manny try to write a brilliant children’s book. Bernard wants it to be about a lens grinder from Omsk who is going through an existential crisis, but Manny persuades him it should just be about “an elephant who loses his balloon”. I suspect we’d have been more successful if someone had persuaded us to write songs about an elephant losing a balloon, rather than car crashes, embittered ghosts, proto-feminist photographers, deep-seated urban decay and so on.

AB: Don’t forget that in the end Bernard and Manny drunkenly burn the book because they decide its success would ruin their lives…

What other bands or singers did you see as your contemporaries from that period? Was there anyone that inspired or pushed you when you heard their records or saw them live?

HB: I’d say the bands that inspired me personally came from either just before us (Go-Betweens, Feelies, early REM, Throwing Muses, June Brides, My Bloody Valentine, Madness, Pixies) or from much earlier (VU, Can, Randy Newman, Gram Parsons, Kinks…)

I probably saw bands that were around at the same time as us slightly differently (through a glass darkly). Of the Britpop lot, I have a grudging respect for Blur, especially Graham, and a genuine fondness for Pulp. Even though I like those bands, I think Britpop wasn’t good for us, first because it raised expectations at record labels who started to expect indie bands to have instant chart hits, and also because it revolved around a slightly cartoonish or advertising-cliché version of Britishness, which made our version seem weirder.

I could ask way too many questions about specific songs or lyrics, but I’ll limit myselft to one. I live in the Pacific Northwest so I have to ask, have you ever been to the Oregon State Fair and what is it you have against jugglers (both in this lyric and the liner notes to Faded Glamour)?

HS: I lived in Binghamton, NY for a couple of years in the 80’s (in a touring covers band) I went to the NY state fair. Frank Zappa played and there were a lot of annoying hippies around. My friend Chris went to Oregon state fair and we were drunk in Islington one night talking about how we hate jugglers. Why juggle? It sucks. I don’t like any acrobatic/circus based nonsense. It reminds me of the middle ages and jesters, when there was no dentistry or Codeine. Performing budgies are OK though.

(HB = Hugh Barker, HS = Hank Starrs, AB = Al Barker)

Here’s some old Animals that Swim to tide you over (or introduce you):

[youtube http://youtu.be/yR32O2vXLHQ]

mp3: Animals That Swim – Oregon State Fair (from the 50 Dresses EP)

mp3: Animals That Swim – Madame Yevonde (from Workshy)

mp3: Animals That Swim – Kitkats and Vinegar (from I Was the King, I Really Was the King)

mp3: Animals That Swim – Sixteen Letters (from Happiness from a Distance Star)

Coming On Like a Cold: Spectrals Interview & Giveaway

When Spectrals which for all intents and purposes is one Louis Jones first appeared on the scene with his debut single Leave Me Be on Captured Tracks last year I took him for subscribing to the darker realms of pop à la Crystal Stilts.  Subsequent releases have shown that was never the intent.  There is still a darkness to the songs, but their bright slick pop hooks play tug of war with the dark side to create a contemporary 50’s feel.   The latest Spectrals record is a six song EP that goes one step further in shedding any hint of lo-fi and fully embraces a smooth, slightly rockabilly sound and shows Mr. Jones to be quite the crooner.  It reminds me of Richard Hawley‘s Late Night Final in the way with it’s chiming watery guitars and swoonfull singing.

How did this young dude get bit by his love of singers from the old days? What’s behind his label hopping for each release? What does he do on a sunny in Heckmondwike? What’s it like to work with a former spaceman? And, why does he choose  to be a one man band? All these questions are answered in excruciating detail below in this exhaustive interview.  Besides the interview we’ve got a copy of the latest Spectrals CD to give away.  Extended Play is six songs and one bonus jam.  If you want to win it send an email to finestkiss [at] gmail.com with “Spectrals Giveaway” in the subject line.  I’ll pick a winner at random using a highly complex algorithm on Monday.

mp3: Spectrals – Peppermint (from the Extended Play EP, CD on Moshi Moshi, vinyl on Underwater Peoples)

I live in Seattle, Leeds is (to paraphrase the Wedding Present) technically further north than Seattle.  What kind of summer did you guys have? Ours sucked, we had about 20 really nice days and the rest gray and rainy.  What do you do in Leeds on a perfect sunny day?
Hello Toby, Summer wasn’t stunning here either, I’m not into hot weather though, so I was alright for me. If it’s nice where I live  (Heckmondwike) I might go for a wander with my dogs, or sit and have a drink in this thing pubs have here called a “beer garden”

Captured Tracks, Slumberland, Tough Love, Moshi Moshi, Underwater Peoples.  What label is the next record due to land on and is it an album?
I’m not sure. It’s an album and it’s called “Bad Penny”.

Has that been by design, kind of sprinkling your records across a bunch of labels?
It’s just turned out that way, I’ve been dead lucky in that respect.

Spectrals is you doing everything except drums. Is this by choice, or is it hard to find trustworthy collaborators?
They’re my songs and I like to think I know what’s best for them. My little brother does the drums because he’s better at playing them than I am and he’s not really into the same music as i am so he never tries to force an opinion on them which I’m really grateful for.

I didn’t notice this until the extended play ep, but you’re a crooner. Who did you grow up listening to?  Walker, Hawley, Martin?
That’s what I’m going for, I’m dead into Scott Walker, Jerry Vale is my favourite singer, and I heard a lot of Sinatra when I was growing up, like I think a lot of people did.

How did you hook up with Richard Formby to record Extended Play.  Did he have any crazy Sonic Boom stories?
He isn’t the sort of guy that is prone to talking about himself or bragging or anything but Richard’s definitely got some ace stories, guy is the real deal.

Each of your records seems to be more hi-fi than the last.  Is lo-fi no longer cool?
Every kind of “fi” is cool with me, apart from “wi-fi”  which is a nuisance.

What are the best and worst things about Leeds?
I’ve only been to Leeds to play concerts, and I usally get straight out of the limousine and onto the stage so I don’t know!

Besides yourself, what is the best band in Leeds right now and why
Ray Bean & His Scalextrics

Any plans for coming to the US for some shows?
Yeah, hopefully soon!

Interview: Decompressing With the Intelligence

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)

mp3: The Intelligence – Like Like Like Like Like Like Like

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.

11.  Males
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.

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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.

Thanks Lars!

Interview: Setting the Paces With BOAT

BOAT: Working on the paces

BOAT who are poised to release their third album Setting the Paces this week are like one of those new and improved products: Now better sounding and with more pop hooks! Not that the old version was inferior by any stretch of the imagination, and not to worry long-time fans, Boat is still Boat. The animal imagery, falsetto choruses, and sincere yet over the top delivery is all still there, only now it sounds so much better. Setting the Paces is like a rush of sugar to the head. The band is now officially a four piece with the addition of J. Long on drums.  Long who also works at Two Sticks Studio in Seattle produced the new record and the results are immediate and winning.

When I contacted their fictitious manager H. Fozzleberry about interviewing the band, D. Crane responded graciously accepting my request and suggested we meet face to face.  So we sat down in a big red booth at Piecora’s on Capitol Hill, where the band are obviously regulars and the diet coke flows freely.  I wanted to find out about the new record so I stole the modus operandi of Lars Finberg and his interviews over at Terminal Boredom and started by going through the new album song by song to get a better idea of the approach the band took in recording their new record. Thanks to D. Crane and J. Long who sat in the booth, ate pizza, drank diet coke, and talked all things Boat.

The official Boat record release party for Setting the Paces is this Thursday (22 October) at Neumo’s.  It promises to be quite the production (we talk about it below).  They also have a second release gig scheduled for Portland at the Woods on 5 November and some rare east coast dates coming up.  Check their MySpace for details.

Friends Since 1989

J Long: One of the first songs done I’d say, for the record. But what do the lyrics allude to?

D. Crane: It’s kind of a secret. It’s about one of the guys in the band, but they don’t know.  Josh and I always battle back and forth.  We always get in these epic battles.

J: Because they’re brothers in law.

D: Yeah we’re brothers in law. So the song’s kinda about him and battling with him. But we’ve been friends for long time. It’s deep.

Lately…

J: My favorite Boat song, and a favorite to play at shows for the past year, but it was the last one that got finished for the recording because we had tried it early on in the process and then we ended up re-recording it with all of us, me Mark and Dave playing it together at the studio.  Actually, what was really fun during the last piece of recording Dave was doing, he still had to do the middle Lately vocal things and I had I had you do it like a million times.  It was funny because my wife was over when we were doing it and she was like, “Wow he really goes for it when he does the vocal takes.”  It was really funny going back and listening to some of the vocal tracks solo.  They were so hammy but so authentic too.

Toby: That’s kinda like Boat in a nutshell: Hammy but authentic.

D: I’ll take it.

J: that was the one that I really, really liked and people liked at shows. We’d been playing it over a year and half.  It was just finally getting to the point that it lived up to the greatness in my head or something, or the greatness of the shows maybe.

D: Yeah, because when it was demo it sounded like a UB40 song.  I was singing it like lately, lately kinda weird chorus.

J: Not Rasta.

D: Kinda slightly English white guy reggae.

J: With some bad reverb.

D: Yeah, so it was questionable.  Strange that it made it.

Tough Talking the Tulips

D: They all have a bunch of different starting points but…

J: I want to know about the lyric. The line about blocking out the sound, cover your ears maybe you can block out the sound?

D: I think some of them are kind of strung together with the other lyrics, but it’s mostly about um (laughing).  These are all about you guys and myself.  I guess. But this one again is about uncomfortable dude stuff, a lady leaving town on a guy, heavy stuff.

Waiter arrives with our slices bringing Dave an extra slice on the house. I think they come here a lot.

Interstate Five

T: Is this your Wedding Present song?

D: I was not aware that the Wedding Present had song called Interstate 5

J: I remember Chris in my old band had a big I-5 shirt.

T: Gedge was living here when he did Take Fountain.

D:  I’d never heard it, and I still haven’t.  I would like to.  I actually kind of frustrated now, because I wanted to call it something different.

J: The song?

D: Yeah, I wanted to call it Beat Me, Break Me.  It would have had a single cover drawing or painting of this guy smoking.  It was going to be like he took on this kind of tough oath, but It never really happened.

J: The beat me break me, bound and gag me kind of reminds me of Seal.  There was some song on a soundtrack, like Batman Forever?

D: That’s Kiss from a Rose, right? I know that song and If We’re ever gonna survive.  Those are the only two Seal Songs I know.  Plus he’s married to the lady on Top Model…or Project Runway.

We start off on a tangent about Seal, Project Runway and Heidi Clume and Tyra Banks, whether or not my wife watches Project Runway and the importance of having the rock and roll encyclopedia in the bathroom.

100 Calorie Man

J: My favorite one to record.  One of the times I was working (Jackson works at Two Sticks Studio recording studio) we really couldn’t dive into the vocal track, but I had enough time to try something else.  Dave always does these interludes that were used pretty heavily on Let’s Drag Our Feet and somewhat on Songs that You Might Not Like, a little bit. So 100 Calorie Man was one that he had had a demo version of. It was cool because, I think Dave turned on the organ, cranked up the beat, and then played to the beat with the guitar amp. It was just very live.  That was the song I got to actually do something.  I made the little loopy, backwards-y thing, but I think the really cool thing about it is that it’s one little nugget.  We finished it in a day, and it’s really satisfying.

D: I think you finished it in a half an hour.

J: It came together quick.

D: I’m not gonna say what it’s about.

J: No, no let’s hear

D: So much of my day is repetitive; waking up at the same time; going through the same routine. So I got on this thing of having the same routine every morning.  Instead of breakfast I started eating these 100 calorie snacks.  It’s the lamest conception of a song ever. It’s kind of like, getting ready in the bathroom, it would be dark. It’s the horrible time in the morning when you realize you’re just at the beginning of that routine and you still have 90 percent of the routine to go through.  You get to that point, you know.  I do like my job, but at 3:00 it’s the best time when you’re done.

We Want It! We Want It!

D: I was going to have a band with my wife. She plays the drums. I don’t remember why I was going to have a band with her. It was kind of a period of inactivity maybe?

J: I think maybe it was I was just being too slow.

D: No, no there were a couple months where we didn’t do much last winter and I was trying to force her into doing a band and we made this song.  I had this sucky guitar because I get all these crappy guitars.  So I played those chords and we made this song, and then I ended up liking it so much that I stole it for Boat.  Then she didn’t want to have a band anymore because she felt like the second best.

J: She’s still pissed about us stealing it.

D: Yeah, she’s still pissed.

T: So you guys had a name for the band?

D: It was going to be called Genuine Diamonds.  We almost played a show, but we had to cancel it.

The Name Tossers

J: that was one of the last demos we put together. I kind of latched onto it a lot because I thought it sounded very Motown.  I was looking for ways to have that sort of vibe on the song. so I think we just tried to throughout the whole process of recording it, we tried to make it sound like not necessarily Motown, but kind of 50’s-esque.  That was one we actually played together. Mark’s guitar part with the little whammy bar, I don’t think he had done that before.

D: It sounded like Interstate 8, Modest Mouse guitar part. It was awesome!

T: It sounds like the hit single to me.

D: It was weird, Kurt at Magic Marker, I think he didn’t like that one.

T: It’s got kind of a sound to it that isn’t typical of [what you expect to hear on] Magic Marker.

D: I think he kind of feels that way about the whole album, but he likes it. That’s pretty fun. We just started playing that.

Jeff Fell Dream (Grow Into Your Scene)

D: I can’t believe we’re getting away with the parenthesis

J: That was another interlude.

D: Yeah, It was just thrown together real quick.  It’s the first draft lyric, first draft everything. Not that it was a toss-off; we liked it kind of as it was.  It was one of those ones, like why try to make it something bigger?  Just have it be that.  We played with Jeff Fell from Tullycraft for about six months a couple years ago because we didn’t have a drummer, before Jackson joined the band.  He just helped us out.  He’s the nicest guy.  The Tullycraft people are all nice, but he was the most genuine.  If I had a big brother, I’d want it to be him.  He was just super awesome and we never did anything to thank him.  He didn’t really want to join the band necessarily, but we just kind of said goodbye and really didn’t hang out after that and we feel bad. So it’s supposed to be a tribute to him in some way.  I don’t even think he’s aware that it exists.

Prince of Tacoma

T: Lyrically this song reminds me of Clogged Castle (from the first record).

D: It’s kind of the same…my dad.

J: Who is the Prince of Tacoma?

T: That’s a good question.  I should have asked that.

J: I have a journalism background.

D: Did you take journalism? I didn’t know that.

J: Yeah, that was my major.

D: Yeah, I guess I am [the Prince of Tacoma].  I want my friends to move there.

God Save the Man, Who Isn’t All That Super

T: This is the audience participation song.

D: Yeah, it’s got the shaker part. That was all his (Jackson’s) idea.

J: It was?

D: It was kind of like Last Cans of Paint.  It was very much straight strum. Then we played it as a band and thought how we could make it more interesting. So you came up with the idea of some kind of drop out, but it was going to start with the drop out, and then you had this idea to have the second verse be the drop out and have this big shaker participation part.

J: It’s got the faux Who part.  What song was it, Genius that had the faux Live at Leeds version?

D: They played stuff, not badly, but a lot rocky-er than the recording.

J: I can’t think of the words to this one.

D: Really?  It’s a pretty memorable song.

J: No, it is, but we haven’t played it in a while.

D: It was supposed to be a big rock song with the shaker part. I’m big into whenever we can get the shakers going.  It’s really cool the way you recorded it because you did one shaker and then that shaker would stay and then there would be another shaker, and then I think there’s a third, and then a fourth would pop in. From a recording sense it was pretty phenomenal.

J: Thank you.

(do the) Magic Centipede

D: It’s a Pearl Jam reference

T: So it’s not a dance?

D: It was going to be.  It was going to be like the Locomotion.  Very seriously that was the idea.  It was gonna be like the Locomotion.  I guess that’s where the “do the” comes from. But then we both were really into Pearl Jam growing up, so it reminds me of Do the Evolution where Eddie Vedder pretends he’s a character singing it.  I thought it was their most awesome song because of that. It seemed kind of silly and over the top and so I kind of wanted that song to be over the top too.

J: It sort of compares with Name Tossers because it’s hammy and sounds kind of 50’s. At least that’s what I’d like to think.

D: Like the Rodney Dangerfield ooohs and stuff in Back to School. It really is hammy.  You’re right, there’s a ham element, but it’s natural. We shouldn’t be getting away with it. I’m not sure how much longer we will.

Calcium Commuter

J: Our orchestral piece.  Z. Duffy thought that it was a diss on Chicago, and I told him I thought it was about you going to work out.

D: I always thing that every album needs some variety of sounds.  I don’t know if we achieve that always, but still not everything’s fast or not everything’s loud.  That was supposed to be kind of a mellow song.  The other thing I think of is that I made it when I use to go to the gym a lot the last couple years.  I would just run on the tread mill for a half hour, do the chest press, do maybe 25 sit ups and leave. It’s not the most intense.  It’s like the married guy’s work out. We (referring to his wife) both do about the same and then we go somewhere and eat a bunch of food.  So I had this Shakey Hands t-shirt that I love and I would always wear it to work out.  I would check myself out in the mirror, I didn’t necessarily mean to, but it would just have this little sweat.  You could see the shadow of the sweat. Whenever I’m at the gym, I think about is that song.

Reverie

J: It took eight hours to mix. We did a lot of shaping after the fact with that one.  It started as song that Dave and this guy Ricky who plays with us, he’s from Portland.

D: I stayed at his house in Portland and we made up a song together, and that was it.  He does the high pitched harmonies.

J: it would be fun to do a mix of that where it’s just Ricky’s overdubs.  There’s toy piano, and gloc.  They’re independent. They don’t work [separately], but together they’re totally twinkling back and forth

D: He’s got a weird basement full of funky little instruments

T: Is he in a band?

D: He’s was in this band the Galactic Heroes on Magic Marker.  I think he longs to be in a band again so we always invite him to play with us.  He’s a band nerd guy where he can transpose anything, sing these harmonies.

T: He’s like a utility guy.

D: Yeah, definitely a utility guy. We can just tell him to learn these songs and he totally does.  He just shows up! 

You’re Muscular!

J: That one had been around a long time. I always thought it’s a great chorus, but where does it go? We’d get to the chorus within 10 seconds. We had to expand it and make it big in the right places

D: I think the ending is almost, I wouldn’t say bad rock, but it just kind of continues

J: Well it’s got J. Goodman’s guitar.

D: So Josh in the band can play the guitar like none of us can, so we kind of let him just pour it all on at the end of the album. In the past I’d always go let’s end with a quiet song, but this time it seemed like let’s go with a crazy ass song. I think it might be my favorite song on the album.

J: That one got the full cocktail, a whole slew of shakers and tambourines.

D: Yeah and it kind of sincerely references China! It’s kinda got corny motivational lyrics.

T: Anthem-esque.

D: Yeah, it’s corny, but it was intentionally a motivational kind of lyric, maybe not for a generation, but for 30 year olds everywhere. (Laughing) That’s totally not it.

J: A sort of a “you can do it”?

D: Plain as it can be. You can do it song.

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Surefire Broadcast

surefire broadcast
photo from Surefire Broadcast’s MySpace

In the most recent issue of Magnet there is an article on the magazine’s hometown of Philadelphia which pays tribute to the past and present Philly music scene.  As I read through the article I kept expecting to turn the page and see something about the vibrant DIY indie scene that currently inhabits the city which is touched on briefly below.  There was no mention of Surefire Broadcast, I like to think that it is probably only because they don’t actually reside in Philadelphia, because certainly the band’s pension for perfect low-fi pop songs should be getting alcolades from much less obscure places than this blog.  If  you read these pages regularly you are quite likely already familiar with Surefire Broadcast, since they were featured in my One Last Kiss recompile this past summer and also showed up in my favorite singles from last year.  The trio is based  in southern New Jersey about 30 miles from Philadelphia. The’ve just self-released a 7 inch with two songs they recorded out in Portland with Dustin Reske of Rocketship fame, and  have eight more songs ready to put out as a mini-album, which are available from their website (links below).   They have a fuzzy,  jangly sound that is easily reminiscent of many the great bygone bands of the mid 1990’s like the Blake Babies, Small Factory and Velocity Girl.  This past summer when I heard their heard their five song ep, Live From the AM, I was immediately a fan.  The boy-girl vocals and the bright, sunny, innocent pop are infectious and will brighten even your most dour mood.   There is a comprehensive interview that the Dagger zine did a few years back that you can read here.  It’ll bring you up to speed and ready for this little interview they were so gracious to do with me.

Surefire Broadcast is based in Hammonton, New Jersey which is a small town. Small towns are usually not synonymous with indie pop unless they are college towns.  Do you feel exiled from the rock world? Do you guys ever play in Hammonton, or anywhere in South Jersey?

No, we don’t feel exiled because we live 30 minutes from the sixth largest city in  the US, a short car or train ride to be exact. We have played in Hammonton twice besides our annual pool parties that we host every summer. I think our parties have actually put Hammonton on the map for the indie scene. We have had bands from New York, Philadelphia, Sweden, Belfast, and Virginia to name a few. We sometimes play Atlantic City, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an audience for indie pop in South Jersey. We are trying to slowly change that.

With your proximity to Philadelphia, and the city’s amazing indie scene with so many great bands right now (Creeping Weeds, Brown Recluse Sings, Scary Monster, Ports of Call, A Sunny Day in Glasgow to name a few),  do you feel like you’re a part of, or have an affinity with that scene?

Absolutely. We have played the majority of our shows in Philadelphia and have made great friends with many of the bands. We really consider Philly our stomping ground since we are there most of the time.

Your songs have a sound and aesthetic that evokes the early 90’s indie pop scene of SpinArt and Slumberland. Are you guys fans of (and influenced by)bands from that era?

Yes. We have a wide range of influences amongst the three of us, but we all love the early 90’s indie pop. Our favorites of that era would be Henry’s Dress, Lily’s, Black Tambourine, Swirlies, Go Sailor, Holiday, Unrest,and of course Rocketship.

In 2005 you self-released a five song ep, and now a single this year.  What has happened between then and now and why so long between releases?

Well, we are very busy people, and all have careers. After recording five more songs in summer of 2006, we received the mixes in January of 2007 from Dusty and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with the recordings. We were talking about recoding 5 more songs to put out a full length, but our careers put the project on hold. We finally decided to release 2 of the 5 songs on a 7 inch, and released it this fall 2008.

The new single is from a session you did with Dusty Reske (Rocketship) out in Portland. How did you connect up with him, and how was it recording with him?

Dusty and I (Lisa) met back back in the 90’s when Rocketship played a Slumberland showcase at the Frying Pan in New York City. We recently reconnected via MySpace and Dusty offered to record us. Being a huge fan of Rocketship, we were honored, and flew out to Portland for a short session. We recorded 5 songs and played a house party while we were there, and made time to visit with some friends. It was a lot of fun, even though it was extremely hot that week, and we had to stay cool by drinking lots of milkshakes and cold microbrews the whole time.

Up to this point you have put out everything on your own, is that what you plan to continue doing?

Yes, we will continue to put out our own recordings until a pleasing offer is made.

It seems like being in a band and while holding down jobs or going to school can be a delicate balancing act.  Does your daily life ever get in the way of being in a band?  Do you ever get frustrated because you can’t devote as much time as you would like to the band?

All of the time. Early mornings and late night shows seldom go hand in hand.  We wish we had more time to spend writing and touring, but unfortunately we all work a lot. It sort of comes with the responsibility of being homeowners. Lisa is a teacher and teaches dance at a high school full time and a college part time. “My schedule just doesn’t give me much free time, and it can be frustrating when we have to turn down shows because of my jobs”.

What do you guys have in store for 2009?  I heard you had a CD-R with new songs for sale at the New England Popfest.  Are there any album plans ahead?

Yes, we recorded 8 tracks. As soon as the mixes are complete and mastered we will have an official release. We brought some of the current mixes to Popfest to get the tracks out there. We are really hoping to record more songs in 2009 and play out as much as possible.

mp3: Surefire Broadcast – Stars Hang Bright (rough mix from the new 8 song mini-album)

mp3: Surefire Broadcast – Miles Apart (from Live from the AM)

Links: Surefire Broadcast website | Surefire Broadcast MySpace

Slumberland Records Interview

slr badge

badge photo from Unpopular’s flickr

Nineteen years ago Slumberland Records set up shop in Silver Spring, Maryland around the peak of the Washington, DC hardcore scene.  At the time the label was like this little beacon of light that soon became much brighter. Kids who read the UK music weeklies and bought a lot of imports from labels like Creation, Rough Trade, Sarah, and Flying Nun discovered this new US label that was releasing records that could have easily been on any one of those labels. Early singles by the Swirlies, Honeybunch, Small Factory, Lorelei and Whorl were soon followed by albums from the Lilys, Stereolab, Sleepyhead and Boyracer.  All of sudden Slumberland was on par with the labels that had influenced it.  During the past 19 years Slumberland has been run by one guy, Mike Schulman.   The history of the label is an interesting story, starting on the east coast and then relocating to the west coast.  It also went through a mysterious dormant phase where there were a few years that went by without any releases.  A lot of people assumed that Schulman had decided to put Slumberland to rest.  But like a phoenix from the pyre, the label has been reborn in recent years.  It started as a trickle with a couple singles in 2006 and then an album by the Lodger last year and now it’s a full-on gusher with numerous singles and albums this year including some of the year’s best like the Crystal Stilts, Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Sexy Kids.  Next year promises to be just as good with eagerly anticipated albums from Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Bricolage.  No doubt about it, Slumberland is back and better than ever!  What brought on this resurgence and what was behind the dormancy at the beginning of this decade?  I was curious about all of this and I figured a lot of other people were as well.  I emailed Mike and he graciously agreed to answer some questions.

Back in 1989 in DC, and the rest of the US for that matter, there were very few labels putting out music that was influenced by the UK. I know my record buying habits around that time consisted of a lot of UK imports. What was it like back then as far as the DC music scene for bands like Velocity Girl and Black Tambourine as far as getting gigs and putting out records?

Let’s just say we were fighting an uphill battle to get stuff accomplished. We never tried to do too much with Black Tambourine since it was kind of a side project for everyone but Pam, but Velocity Girl and Whorl were quite active, and it was something of a challenge early on to find some sort of a niche. We were all into UK and NZ imports, and there were some really good shops in the area handling that stuff so there were other people that shared our interests, but not a lot of fellow bands or labels that into that stuff. Hardcore and post-hardcore was still pretty happening, and there were a fair few bands that were kind of straight-up college rock who were looking to break big. The fact that both Whorl and VG started out being noisier bands influenced also by NYC noise/lower east side stuff probably helped us ease in with people a bit. There was really only one club, DC Space, that would consistently book our bands, but boy did they. I’m very grateful for the support Cynthia Connolly there gave us; I’m not sure the label would have happened without it.

When you started Slumberland nearly 20 years ago, was it just you or was it more of a group effort? How was Vinyl Ink owner George Gelestino involved?

It was more of a group effort when we started, but the other folks who helped out were mostly in Velocity Girl, so when they got bigger and were on the road a lot, I kind of absorbed most of the work. By the time I moved to California I was pretty much doing the label by myself and so there’s wasn’t a lot of discussion about whether I’d continue doing it.
George wasn’t directly involved with the label, but he was EXTREMELY supportive and gracious about letting me do label work on his time from the shop, and did lend me some money on occasion when things were tight. He really liked the bands and his general desire to support music he liked and educate customers (and his employees!) did a lot to help us build an audience and broaden all of our horizons about music.

What was the impetus to move out to the bay area from DC?
At the time I moved all of my bands had kind of stopped playing and I didn’t really have anything cooking so the idea of moving *somewhere* seemed appealing. I considered Providence and NYC pretty seriously, but I made a trip out to Berkeley to visit and ex-girlfriend and immediately decided on the Bay Area. No regrets whatsoever – it’s great out here!

In 1996 you started another label called Drop Beat which focused on drum n’ bass and techno music. This seemed to roughly coincide with Slumberland’s release schedule slowing down. Were there any life changing experiences that caused the shift in focus or just a need for something different?

I don’t think there was any real connection between the two. I’ve always been interested in lots of different kinds of music (and have the ridiculous record collection to show for it), but in the early-to-mid-90s i did get totally turned-on by developments in techno (especially Detroit techno) and jungle. The store that I worked at in Berkeley (Mod Lang) was really resistant to moving in that direction, so another employee there (Ryan Cone) and I decided to go out on our own and focus a shop and label on that music. Around the same time, a lot of Slumberland bands were breaking up or taking breaks (The Ropers, Henry’s Dress, Lorelei) or moving on to bigger labels (Lilys, Sleepyhead) and I found myself with not much to put out, and I wasn’t hearing a whole lot of new stuff I was really fired up about. So I guess it was sort of a perfect storm that all of this happened around the same time, but I wouldn’t say that doing Drop Beat in any way diminished Slumberland.

Slumberland has kind of gone through a resurgence in the last few years, what was it that seemingly got you interested again in indie music?

Basically it stems from hearing a lot of new bands that I really like. I went through a pretty long period of being burned out on the label and all the work involved, and also just not hearing a lot that got me super-excited. Then in 2005 and 2006 I started hearing bands like Cause Co-Motion!, The Lodger, Good Shoes, Sarandon – really great guitar bands with an exciting take on the music I liked. I had the Crabapples and How singles in the can for a while and wasn’t able to get them done for personal reasons. So mid-2006 I decided to do those singles and make a new website, and response was very positive! So I decided to maybe try and do a few other records. I loved The Lodger’s “Let Her Go” single and wrote to see if they’d want to do a single for us. They offered us the compilation album, and that just got the ball rolling again. Now we are unstoppable!

Geography aside, technology today gives everyone the same tools for finding new bands to release. Are there ever any indie label bidding wars for bands? Or do you have any juicy stories about ‘signing’ (or not signing) a band to Slumberland?

I’m sure some bigger labels do end up in bidding wars, but I don’t participate in that sort of thing at all. I only want to work with bands who share our ideals about the DIY spirit and community, and who want to be a part of the Slumberland community specifically. So the bands that are interested in joining us generally are pretty down with what we do and aren’t looking for a pile of money. There are some notable examples of having talked to some pretty well-known bands about doing records and not having it work out for various reasons, usually money, but I don’t think I can share any names. There are also some funny examples of discovering demo tapes in our stacks from bands who went on to be really big – Sigur Ros sent Drop Beat a demo, Devendra Banhart sent SLR one, and there’s more. Not that I necessarily would have released records by those bands, but it’s just sort of funny to see my “i don’t have time to listen to demos” policy backfire like that.

Slumberland is you putting out records you like. Everything on the label has a similar aesthetic, has there ever been a time where there’s been something that you wanted to release, but didn’t because it didn’t really ‘go’ with what Slumberland is about? I guess you could say that was the reason behind Drop Beat, but are there any other genres of music you’ve considered starting another label for?

When we started the label the bands were much noisier and more abstract, and I always think about broadening out more in that direction again. It’s really hard with a label as small as SLR, people (press and fans) get to expect a certain sound from a tiny label and any deviation is punished. And that’s understandable in a way – small labels usually have a pretty specific aesthetic and rely on hewing to that niche to find an audience. Nobody expects labels as big as Merge and Sub Pop to put out stuff that all sounds the same, but a label like ours releasing something like No Age would just be baffling to most observers. I’ve seen a lot of that with the reaction to the Crystal Stilts record. Now, that is not an indie-pop record – the people in the band may be conversant with that kind of music, but I just don’t think they make indie-pop themselves. But so many of the reviews come at them from the angle that Slumberland is “twee” (which is a ludicrous idea), or that we’re somehow following in Sarah’s slipstream, so therefore Crystal Stilts must be twee. Or indie-pop. Or something. Pretty funny stuff.

I’m constantly amazed at the sheer number of quality bands today. How would you compare the current indie pop scene with the one in the late 80’s and early 90’s? Is it easier or harder to find stuff you want to put out?

Oh, i think it’s about the same. The hard part is narrowing down all the possibilities and just focussing on a few bands at a time. Long ago I realized that I just can’t put out records by all the bands that I like, so I have to choose bands that really hit a special chord with me. Now with new ways to find bands like MySpace, it’s even harder to keep things manageable. It’s a good problem to have.

I know that you have a music blog, offer mp3’s for download of bands on the label, and do podcasts on the Slumberland web site. What is your opinion of the music blogosphere and what is you philosophy on people posting mp3 and sometimes the entire album? In other words, is there no so such thing as bad publicity or is there a point where it’s counterproductive?

I freely distribute MP3s to blogs and other web sites – I think it’s a great way to reach potential listeners and much more concrete that just having someone post a review. i think that letting punters hear some of the music before buying is the best way to get across what a record is about. That said, I’m a little less than thrilled about people just posting up whole albums, especially before release. I think that makes it too easy for people to indulge in their more unsavory urges. I know that people who want to download an album for free will find a way, but as an album-blogger don’t tell me that you’re helping me in some way by posting my albums to your blog, especially without any context. review or link to purchase.

This is my record geek question about the Slumberland catalog. Whatever happened to the McTells’ Smash Up/Cut Up ? Did that ever get released anywhere? I loved the stuff that they put out on Vinyl Japan.

Both of the albums came out on vinyl – “Smash Up” on Frank and “Cut Up” on Little Teddy (I think, working from memory here). That project just kind of petered out for some reason. I was waiting on some artwork, then one of the guys moved and my letters didn’t get forwarded, and we just lost track of each other. I love those albums, I wish the comp had worked out.