WKNC’s DJ DiGiorno interviewed Cancellieri during the 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival. Check out the interview below!
Check back for more interviews later this week.
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WKNC’s DJ DiGiorno interviewed Cancellieri during the 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival. Check out the interview below!
Check back for more interviews later this week.
I sat down with Sonny Smith from Sonny and the Sunsets ahead of their performance at Harvest Records Transfigurations II Festival. When I asked Sonny to do a station liner for WKNC, he said, “Hey this is Sonny Smith from Sonny and the Sunsets, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what you’re doing. You’re listening to 88.1 WKNC in Raleigh.” After recording it, he said, “I think that about sums up the interview.”
Sonny Smith is nothing short of a creative genius. Throughout the interview, we talked about his many different outlets: music, plays, films, comic books, short stories and more. He claims to have no idea what he is doing. He says he just tries to get the ideas out in whatever format they lend themselves too. A lot of times, an idea that starts out as one form of art morphs into something completely different. For example, their newest record (due out sometime early next year) started as a series of short films. Check out the full interview below to get a glimpse into the very creative mind and the many different projects of Sonny Smith.
Michael (WKNC): How are you doing? I know it’s the 3rd night of your little east coast jaunt, how’s it been going so far?
Sonny Smith (Sonny and the Sunsets): Ah, great, easy, smooth. Just some long drives with not much to do so far, just look at the landscape.
M: Awesome. So are you guys planning on trying out some new material on this tour? I know your last album, Antenna to the Afterworld, came out last year.
S: Yeah we have a bunch of new songs. We finished our next record which doesn’t come out until February. But we wanted to just freshen up, so half the set is all new songs that haven’t been heard yet.
M: Definitely looking forward to hearing the new songs. So do you have any places on the tour that you are really excited about?
S: All of the south is pretty exciting for us because I haven’t been to the south. So I’ve been trying to get every morsel that I can while I’m here. Then besides that, New York is always kind of a blast for me. It’s always exciting, you know?
M: Yeah, yeah. So you guys just had a new album come out this past summer as I mentioned earlier, and it is an incredible album that we spin all the time here at the radio station. So the album is mostly from your point of view, you take on this persona of a space being visiting earth, which kind of lends itself to some humorous insights. So what was the inspiration behind this album and this narrative point of view?
S: Well I wouldn’t say that all of them are from that point of view, but yeah, I gotcha, some of them are. I don’t know a bunch of things just happened at the same time. I was kind of having a little sci-fi phase which was nice. My mom was really into sci-fi when I was a kid, so I was kind of having this great renaissance of sci-fi movies and sci-fi ideas and comic books and stuff like that. And I was coincidentally, not really consciously, listening to some of those soundtracks like “Angelus” and synthesizer kind of stuff and post-punk beats. Which for me, somehow in my brain, I connected to that sort of synthetic world.
And then at the same time, a friend of mine died, which led to a lot of thoughts about death and life after death. In my brain, I just kind of put it all together: the afterworld, aliens, extrasensory phenomenon. All that sort of stuff we don’t know about. And anything from sort of down to earth philosophical ideas about it to pop culture pulp sci-fi, were all kind of open territory. And the songs just kind of all came out of that. And then after a while, it just started to have some cohesion. At some point, I was like this record has a very real sense of concept.
M: Yeah, yeah. And like you said, there were a lot of different inspirations and ideas behind it. But I think it ended up being a very cohesive record that delved into a lot of unknown territories.
S: Yeah, yeah, it just wasn’t consciously figured out. I didn’t say, “I want to make a sci-fi record about the afterlife.” It was just a lot of different things happening at the same time and it just turned out to be what I was paying attention to.
M: Alright. So most of your work, you’ve adopted a very narrative voice of storytelling in your songs. So what do you think drove you to this style and what were some of your biggest influences.
S: Well, the narrative part has been there since I first started writing songs. Before I started writing songs, I was trying to write screenplays and stuff. I was really into that and I was trying to write stories and stuff. So I had those initial ones that morphed into songs. So even from the get-go, my songs were very linear and story-driven with characters. And it’s just been the way it has been since. Certainly there’s been lots of different perceptions, but you can’t just approach it from a storyteller place. I wanted to tell a story that has kind of a beginning and an end.
And then, I kind of write stories in more than a few different mediums. It could be theater or short films or comic books. So it’s almost like I have this idea for a story, like a vision of a story, and then it’s kind of like finding out how it should be told. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a short story, or sometimes it’s a comic book. That seems to be how that works.
M: Yeah, because you seem to have a lot of different creative outlets. So the ideas just come to you and you figure out how you’re going to get them out later.
S: Yeah and a lot of times, you’re just downright wrong. You think it’s supposed to be a short film and it’s just not working. Then you have some instrumental track and you realize that the idea that you had for a short film really just perfectly fits the song. And you realize that the destiny of this piece was kind of not up to you to some extent. You are supposed to sort of be dictated by it rather than you consciously trying to stick this square peg in a round hole and be like “No it’s a song.” You know it’s like, “It ain’t a song, it’s a poem. Let it be a poem.”
M: Yeah. So a lot of these ideas that end up being songs, do you get the story of the song first then create the music? Or how does it come about?
S: Yeah, I think the stories come first, however they come. Sometimes it can be just like you come up with a title and it sounds like a story. And it starts you down a road of thinking about stories and characters. Then music is kind of being created simultaneously by fiddling around on the guitar and then it’s a little bit of a puzzle trying to figure out, ok this musical piece kind of fits with these things I’ve written. You know? Trial and error like that.
I am definitely of the camp that the lyrics should dictate the music not the other way around. When I hear music where I can tell that they created the music first and just slapped some words on there, that music is usually not as intriguing to me.
M: Yeah and I think that you can definitely tell when you listen to a Sonny and the Sunsets’ record. The lyrics really stand out to you even on the first time listening. Some other albums, you can listen to them dozens of times and still not have any idea what they said or what they were trying to say.
S: Yeah and I guess that’s just a songwriter’s kind of thing.
M: Yeah, so you’ve been writing songs for quite a while now. How has your writing process changed over the years and how has that changed since you’ve added the sunsets? Are they a part of that writing process at all?
S: Well they rarely are, if never, part of the lyrics, but they certainly are a part of the music. Once I have a song, sometimes I don’t want to even have the song very figured out before I bring it to the musicians. I want the musicians to just make it come alive. So I very much depend on them to be creative in that way. So they definitely are helping create the song and the music.
And usually it helps sometimes if I don’t have everything figured out yet so that there is some exploration and they are having to think about it, try some things, hit some dead-ends, take some left turns. It’s kind of like you are scratching in the dirt and you are uncovering something. That’s a process that I like and if I had everything figured out like some people where it almost doesn’t matter who the drummer is because they know exactly what beat they want and where they want the fill and stuff. I don’t have that quality.
M: Yeah, it’s definitely good to have those external influences that can bring questions to the table about the music. So what is the recording process like for these songs? How do you guys go about tackling an album?
S: Very cheaply (laughs). Just home jobs usually, or at a rehearsal place or a friend’s place. Just usually cheap mics into a fairly cheap tape machine. I like it to be scrappy and not too hi-fi. I like that kind of art where you can kind of see the finger prints and you know that it was made by humans. So you have to strike the right balance. But like for me to find that stuff, the conditions have to be a little bit amateur or scrappy, you know? I don’t want to get too pro. I don’t want everything to sound crystalline and for it to be played by incredible technicians; I want it to be like the Bad News Bears that make it to the World Series rather than the Yankees that make it to the World Series. You know what I mean?
A car pulls up and we have to move locations.
S: How about these cinder blocks?
M: Works for me.
S: This works perfect. This is the equivalent of a recording session for me (laughs).
M: (laughs) So what is it that made you kind of come about to that type of recording philosophy?
S: I don’t know. Well first, I’ve never had the money to go into a studio and make a hi-fi record like Fleetwood mac. You know? Who knows what I would do if I had a $100,000 to do that kind of shit. So to some extent, it comes from circumstance of not having had any real money. But beyond that, I think it just gives me more room to have trial and error and explore and enjoy the process of it. You know? Where as to go into a studio and try to have everything be incredibly immaculate sounds type-a, it just sounds anal to me. It doesn’t sound fun. So I guess it’s a little bit of both, money and just trying to be a little bit more down to earth or something.
M: Yeah, yeah and I definitely agree with what you said earlier about when you hear the music and it sounds like it was done by a human. A recording process like that definitely has a very human quality about it that shines through on the record and I think makes it more accessible.
S: Yeah, I also really like to watch a lot of movies of like the first movies of film directors that I like. You know like Spike Lee’s first movie or Gus Van Sant’s first movie. They’re incredible to me; the stories are so strong. The way that they are made is so strong and there’s so much passion and sort of realness to them. And they did all that stuff with 16mm cameras and no budget and stuff because they had to. And there’s some sort of spirit in that and sometimes it just seems like when things get to pro, it loses some magic. And I don’t know how exactly to articulate it, but we all have seen 10 million examples of it. So as long as I keep things from becoming too sterile, it’s probably a big trap for most artists.
M: Yeah that’s definitely true. I think any one of us could list off a million examples of artists who have lost that magic. But as we mentioned earlier, you have all sorts of different outlets such as plays, comic books, and so many other things. How does one person have enough creativity to bubble into all of these different outlets?
S: Well to some extent, I think it’s because I have outlets. I’m not afraid of being an amateur to some extent. Like I write comic books, but you know, compared to Daniel Clowes or Robert Cronin, they’re just doodles. But I don’t care, it works for me. Or I make plays, but they play in very small theaters for a few weeks. It’s nothing like Sam Shepard or something or like Neil LaBute or whoever is a famous playwright now.
So it’s just like, I don’t care if I’m technically an amateur because as long as the story is told well, then that’s all I need. For me, I’m okay with being like a beginner. You know? I don’t mind. And a lot of people are not, you know? A lot of people are like, “I’m not going to fucking do a play, what do I know about plays? I’m a singer.” You know? So if they have some song that’s not working correctly as a song. They don’t have that option. It just lies dead in the water, you know what I mean? It’s like, well that didn’t work. And for me I’m like, “It came out over there, so let it be that.” So maybe it’s just I’m not afraid of looking like an idiot (laughs).
M: (laughs) Yeah and I think that kind of ties back to what we were talking about earlier. Like with a lot of people’s earlier work and not having access to these things. They were just starting out they maybe didn’t have this fear of failure because they were starting at the bottom.
S: Yeah, I guess I don’t mind. I mean sometimes I mind when I’m broke and I’m like why am I working on a play, shouldn’t I be making car payments? I mean that kind of shit hurts sometimes you know? But in the larger scheme of things, I like being new at shit. I think there’s a lot of magic there that is pretty exciting.
M: Yeah definitely. So I know this is a project going back 4 or 5 years now, but I thought it was really amazing so I wanted to talk to you a bit about this. Do you want to explain the 100 records project and the idea behind to people who don’t know about it?
S: Well that’s another example of like something that started out as a novel. Like I was trying to write a book just because I was like, “Fuck it, I’ll write this book. I have this story.” And it wasn’t working. It just wasn’t that great. And as I was worked on it, it just naturally morphed into this art project where I was making the fake record covers of the characters in the book. You know? And I just followed the energy of where it was going and just sort of embraced that it was becoming a project about drawing the fake record covers of the characters in the book that eclipsed the book you know? It became what it really should have been the whole time.
And then it led to another facet of all this: making songs for fake bands. It was incredibly easy because the stakes were totally low. You know? None of these bands have label contracts, none of these fake bands had gigs, none of these fake bands had records that they had to give a shit if their fans or girlfriends or people they cared about would listen to. The stakes were totally low, so I was free to make whatever. So if it was a piece of shit, the song I made for the fake band, that was fine too because that just means that the fake band was not very good. It was okay; it was just one of the characters in this project. And if a made a good song then that’s good too. If I made a high quality song with good mics, then that’s what that band was. And if I made it lo-fi, then that’s what that band was. And if I just made a 30 second instrumental and I didn’t have any lyrics to it, then I just gave it to the band that did instrumentals. That was their fake history.
So it was a genius project in that way. Not that I didn’t start out thinking that, but you could do no wrong.
M: Yeah because these were your ideas in your head.
S: Yeah and you can’t sit there and be like, “No that band didn’t sound like that,” because they are made up (laughs). Whereas, once you have an identity and you make some songs and some records, it’s very hard to break out of the boxes that we create for ourselves. Sonny and the Sunsets has a box. I try to break out of it, which is why our sound changes so much, but still you can get boxed in unintentionally. Just by virtue of making stuff.
M: Mmhmm. So what were a couple of your favorite fake bands looking back on the project?
S: Little Antoine and the Sparrows was like a mute soul singer, so it was like an instrumental soul band with a lead singer that didn’t sing that just stood up there and pantomimed. So it was brilliant. And it was because I couldn’t land the vocals on this one song so I was like, “Fuck it, the lead singer is a mute.” (laughs) So it made perfect sense.
And Earth Girl Helen Brown was one of my favorite ones because she was kind of like this girl constantly searching for love, but like the female equivalent of Buck Rodgers just cruising through the universe looking for weird alien dudes and having strange romantic encounters and never finding the right guy or cyborg or alien guy.
The Fuckaroos was a cool band. There was quite a number of bands that I wrote more songs for than others because they were just fun to write for.
M: Yeah it sounds like a super fun project. And earlier today I was at Harvest Records, and I came across another one of your projects that I didn’t really know much about. It was a copy of your One Act Plays.
S: Yeah, see that’s another example of plays I wrote just to be plays. But they weren’t meant to be plays, they were meant to be songs. So they were songs with the dialogue as if it were a play. It was like reading a play; it had stage directions, lighting instructions, sometimes dialogue that was setting the scene, dialogue between characters. But everything was sung or in the form of a song. That was another perfect example. Like everything I try starts out wrong and turns into something else. I totally don’t know what I’m doing (laughs).
M: (laughs) Well I totally love whatever you doing because it comes out sounding great. Just keep doing whatever you’re doing.
S: I just have to keep not knowing what the hell I’m doing.
M: (laughs) Once you figure it out we’ll have problems.
S: (laughs) Yeah.
M: So with that being said, what are some future projects and plans you have coming down the pipeline.
S: Well the latest record again was a series of short films. I wanted to write short films. I had titles and ideas and I couldn’t put them together, so they became songs. Then I was thinking I would try to make short films again. It’s something I wanted to do, but it keeps eluding me. You know? I’ll keep trying and maybe it will end up being films and maybe it will end up being, I don’t know, a dinner party. (laughs) Yeah so I don’t really have anything concrete right now.
M: Well we definitely look forward to whatever comes next.
S: (laughs) Yeah, who knows?
M: Well thank you so much for taking the time to do this.
S: Yeah my pleasure. Thank you.
The Charming Youngsters will be back. Their show as a part of the Spazzscotch III Day Party is one of their last shows for the next little bit. After a successful crowdfunding campaign for their next album, they will be heading into the woods to record their promising new album. Their kickstarter campaign affords them the ability to try some new things on this record that they would otherwise be unable to do. It also gives them the ability to release their new album in new ways, possibly even on vinyl.
The band came by our table at Wristband City for Hopscotch to talk to us for a bit just before their show at Spazzscotch. We discussed their old album as well as their hopes for their new album along with the evolution that has brought them to where they are today. We talked about Spazz Fest and the Greenville scene that kicked off the band’s existence. Check out the interview above to here all that and more, and keep your eyes peeled for details about their new album.
A few hours before Boston rockers Krill played to a packed King’s Barcade at Hopscotch, they dropped by our live broadcast table for an interview.
They chatted about the Boston music scene, how it compares to the Triangle scene, whether or not it’s fair to compare music scenes, the new video for their song ‘Turd,’ and where their lyrics fit into the canon of the band Pile. They also divulged some details on their upcoming album, and the positive new direction Krill’s headed in.
For a taste of the future of Krill and the hottest eyewear fashions, look no further than this interview.
Hopscotch Music Festival is by far my favorite weekend in Raleigh. There are countless shows by incredible international, national, and local acts every night. There is so much going on at any given point that it is impossible to be bored. The down-side of this though is sometimes there is too much going on at once and you have to miss one of your must see acts. But have no fear, day parties are here to save the day. Day parties give artists a chance to play different sets in different venues to some people who might have missed their late night sets. It’s also a place for some bands who aren’t a part of the festival (Spider Bags and Ex Hex) or a chance to see some truly incredible and rare collaborations (Mary Lattimore / Thurston Moore and Daniel Bachman / Nathan Bowles). The best part about these day parties is that they are free and some even provide free pizza!
Hopscotch just recently posted a comprehensive list of all of the incredible day parties taking place here. I am going to highlight some of the ones that I am most excited about below, but definitely be sure to check out the full list as there are way too many heavy-hitters this year to include in this post.
Thursday, September 4th
Slim’s: noon - 5:00 p.m.
PotLuck presents The 2nd Annual Hopscotch Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party
Outside stage: Schooner (4:30), See Gulls (3:30), Lakes & Woods (2:30), North Elementary (1:30), Horizontal Hold (12:30)
Inside stage: Le Weekend (4:00), The Good Graces (3:00), Curtains (2:00), Beauty World (1:00) Rogue Band of Youth (12:00), Wichita Falls (11:30)
Sponsored by Lilly’s Pizza, Big Boss Brewing
On Thursday, we see the return of the 2nd Annual Hopscotch Rock n’ Roll Pizza Party at Slim’s. This party features free pizza provided by Lilly’s Pizza and is presented by Potluck featuring the best of the Potluck family and friends.
Friday, September 5th
Kings Barcade: noon - 5 p.m.
Three-Lobed Recordings/WXDU Day Show:
Mary Lattimore and Thurston Moore (4:20-5:00), MV&EE (3:30-4:00), Sunburned Hand of the Man (2:45-3:15), Little Black Egg Big Band (1:20-2:20), Jenks Miller and Rose Cross NC (12:30-1:00), Bachman-Bowles Duo (11:45-12:15), with between set improv work from Nathan Bowles and Mike Gangloff
On Friday, Three-Lobed Recordings and WXDU again bring some huge names to their day party at Kings. This showcase again features some spectacular collaborations and boasts the only performance of a lot of these people at the festival this year. Kicking off the day is DBB alum Daniel Bachman along with Daniel Bowles in their debut collaboration effort followed by special sets by Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC, the debut of the Little Black Egg Big Band, and Sunburned Hand of the Man. The only repeat offenders of this festival will be MV&EE who promise a special set unique from their Thursday night performance. Once again, Thurston Moore closes out the party with another first-time collaboration effort with harpist Mary Lattimore. This party is once again destined to push Kings to capacity so get there early and why wouldn’t you?
Friday, September 5th
Nice Price Books: 1:30 - 5 p.m.
88.1 WKNC + 103.1 WUAG Present:
Matt Kivel, Krill, Palehound, Black Santa, Y’all, The Dinwiddies
Sponsored by Lilly’s Pizza
And of course, don’t forget WKNC and WUAG’s inaugural, collaborative day party taking place at Nice Price Books. Not to toot our own horn, but this show features 3 national acts that I am the most excited to see at this festival (Krill, Palehound, Matt Kivel). The show also features Greensboro greats Black Santa, ex-Invisible Hand rockers Y’ALL, and lo-fi swooners The Dinwiddies. Oh, and also free pizza by Lilly’s Pizza.
Friday, September 5th
Slim’s: noon - 5:30 p.m.
Churchkey Records, The Layabout, and Bull City Burger & Brewery Present: ¡Que Viva! 2014
Inside stage: Spider Bags (4:45), Gross Ghost (3:15), Scully (1:45), Silent Lunch (12:15)
Ouside Stage: Pipe (4:00), Las Rosas (2:30), The Everymen (1:00)
The line-up speaks for itself. Learn how to be in 3 places at once.
Saturday, September 6th
Warehouse District: noon - 5 p.m.
‘Babes in Boyland’ a Day Party in support of Girls Rock NC:
EX HEX, Caitlin Rose, Loamlands, The Tender Fruit
Partners: Videri Chocolate Factory, Baldwin, Slingshot Coffee, Pie Pushers, Chirba Chirba, Parlour Ice Cream, Planned Parenthood of NC, Humdinger Juice, TOPO Distillery
Boyland is the place to be on Saturday. Durham’s The Tender Fruit kick things off followed by Loamlands’ catchy, twangy Southern rock and Nashville’s sweetheart Caitlin Rose. Mary Timony’s power-trio, Ex Hex, closes out the party with their infectious display of showmanship and musicianship. The show not only features incredible music, but also features a Bloody Mary bar by Ashley Christensen, Glowmosas by Humdinger Juice, Cold Press Coffee by Slingshot Coffee Company, Pie Pushers, Chirba Chirba Dumplings, and The Parlour. Not only does the line-up stand out in the list of day parties, but on a weekend filled by big names, things like food and alcohol definitely seem to tip the scale. Oh yeah, it also supports a great cause.
Coke Weed is coming off quite a busy last year. They released their third self-released, full-length Back to Soft back in July and toured heavily throughout the end of the year. The Maine quintet have laid pretty quiet throughout 2014 working on their next effort.
Back to Soft was born during the Mt. Desert Island Recording Sessions. The album features the signature, intricate guitar interplay with the enthralling backing of a solid rhythm section that we have come to expect along with the beautiful contrasting vocals of Nina and Milan. This album takes a more electric approach over the more acoustic sound of previous recordings.
Be sure to check out the interview I did with them shown above. It was recorded ahead of their show at The Cave last year on November 1st. We discussed the album, their experience on the road and at CMJ, as well as their influences, their writing and recording process, how they do it all on their own, and much more. They also performed stripped down versions of a few tracks, so be sure to check it out.
I have never been to Bar Harbor or anywhere in Maine for that reason, but I like to imagine that their breed of alt/psychedelic rock captures the beauty of the vast, coastal landscape. This show is an absolute must-see at Hopscotch. Be prepared to lose yourself in their warm, inviting music. The laid back sound of the music will catch you off guard as you will leave the venue wondering what happened in a completely unexpected, calm state. Consider it your own personal vacation during Hopscotch. Trust me, you’ll need it by Saturday night and you won’t want it to end.
Saturday, September 6th, 10pm @ Deep South
Paste Magazine premiere of new single mentioned in interview here.
WKNC’s DJ DiGiorno interviewed Estrangers, who were our featured Local Artist in March. You can also hear two of their songs, Cape Fear and Dayzd, during the interview.
Grandma Sparrow stopped by the studio for an interview and a video session to help give us an inside look into the land of Piddletractor, which is the land in which Grandma Sparrow and all of the characters in his debut album reside. The album is due out next week on Spacebomb Records.
Joe Westerlund, who is Grandma Sparrow, is most well known for his work with Megafaun, DeYarmond Edison, Mount Moriah, Califone, Gayngs, and more. This new project he has undertaken he says has been something that he has been working on his entire life whether he realized it or not. The land of Piddletractor contains tales and characters that are drawn from across his life while the album shows his pure genius as a wordsmith and musician. With many different descriptions being thrown around, Joe described it the most concisely as a “psychedelic children’s song-cycle for adults.”
Check out the full interview as we discuss the inspiration for this project, the land of Piddletractor, and the process behind the album. Be sure to also check out his performance of “Grandma’s Song for You” in The Lounge to get a taste of what’s to come in his upcoming shows this weekend leading up to the album’s release.
-May 16: Coalition Theater, Richmond, VA with improv comedy by Pigeon
-May 17: The Pinhook, Durham, NC with Alexandra Sauser-Monnig (of Mountain Man) and Matthew E. White (DJ Set)
-May 18: The Pinhook, Durham, NC (Sunday Brunch) with Alexandra Sauser-Monnig (of Mountain Man)
I caught up with Tim Presley, the man behind White Fence, at Phuzz Phest before his set that night at Krankie’s Coffee. We sat down by the railroad tracks and talked for a while about his writing and recording process, punk ethos, the DIY aesthetic, and some other cool stuff. He just announced his new album, To The Recently Found Innocent, which was produced by Ty Segall and is due out on Drag City July 22nd. Check out the full interview below:
Michael (WKNC): How are you doing today?
Tim Presley (White Fence): I’m doing very well. Thank you very much.
M: So what brings you out to Phuzz Phest? How did this come about?
T: I got an email about us playing it, and it seemed like a cool thing to do. I like looked back at past events. It seemed cool. We don’t really play North Carolina besides Asheville. And so it just seemed like a fun thing. They flew us and treated us good. You know it sounded like a good idea.
M: Yeah there are some really great dudes who run this festival. They are doing some cool stuff and it gets better and better every year.
T: I actually kind of know Anthony. Is that his name? From easy tiger? He runs the record store.
M: Yeah, yeah.
T: I met him a long time ago in San Francisco because that’s where he was living before here. So that was like some small world shit. So yeah then I saw that No Age, who we know from Los Angeles, and Kool Keith were playing, so it seemed like the deal just kept on getting sweeter.
M: Yeah. So is there anyone you are going to get a chance to see tonight that you are excited about?
T: Ex-cult from Memphis. They are friends of ours too and they are a great band.
M: Yeah they always put on a heavy show. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your recording process. You were in a couple different bands. You were in a punk band starting out, The Nerve Agents, then the psych band Darker My Love. So what made you want to take off and do your own thing?
T: What made me change? I don’t know, I like music and I thought at that time the whole punk rock thing got swallowed up and became too many rules. And I liked a lot of other kinds of music anyways. So in my heart, I’m like a hardcore punk dude. But I don’t know, I don’t think there is anything applying that ethic and ethos to any type of music. And as far as like DIY, I believe in that and that’s what White Fence is pretty much. I record the music at home and I don’t have to answer or compromise to anybody and to me that’s kind of like punk in a way. You know? Music is music; it’s good or it’s bad. It doesn’t need to have a label like that.
M: Yeah, yeah definitely. You can have a difference of lifestyle and music. They don’t have to be the same.
T: Yeah, yeah. And as far as changing musically, I just thought that I could apply this aesthetic to any type of music. I mean I know hardcore dudes who act like fucking rock stars. You know what I mean? It’s all weird. I’m still like a punk dude, I think.
M: Right. So you’re from San Francisco right?
T: Yeah the Bay Area.
M: Alright so how would you describe the music scene there?
T: Well I moved to LA 10 years ago before everyone started moving there (laughs). And like back when I did it, people probably considered me kind of like a sell-out for doing it and now everyone is doing it so I guess someone’s got to be a martyr (laughs). So to be honest, I don’t really know because a lot of the music that was from San Francisco moved down to LA. But there are still awesome bands in San Francisco you know? So no love lost there really. It’s still good.
But yeah there’s still a lot of awesome bands you know? Just because a couple dudes move doesn’t mean that music is dead. And in fact, I think because a lot of people are moving because of financial issues because it is becoming very expensive to live there that’s almost like a good thing. Like almost like how Reaganomics was in the 80s. And that’s a horrible thing, but it will make for good music I think. Because people are pissed and angry people tend to make good music.
M: Yeah, yeah that’s definitely been true throughout history. So you’ve released records on a couple different labels? How did that kind of come about?
T: Well, the first record was put out by a friend Eric and it was on Make A Mess, the first LP.
M: Yeah that was the self-titled right?
T: Yeah, he just pressed a 1000 of those and he just wanted to put it out which was awesome. And then Woodsist wanted to do the next one and then our relationship kind of started from there. And then I did a couple records with them, then did a record with Castle Face, then just finished a new one and that’s going to be on Drag City.
M: That’s awesome! So how did you meet the Woodsist guys, how did that relationship form?
T: Oh, well it’s not a very good story. I think it was like over the computer. (laughs) You know? Like they dug the record and contacted me over email.
M: That’s awesome that someone believes in your music that much to just reach out to you over the internet and want to put out your stuff.
T: Well I had met Kevin, who’s the bass player in Woods and he has this band The Babies and he has his own Kevin Morby solo thing now. But he was kind of like the broker between me and Jeremy, the owner of the label and he’s also the main dude it Woods. So yeah, it’s not that good of a story.
M: (Laughs) Well that works. So you mentioned earlier the album that was released on Drag City which was the collaboration with Ty Segall. How did that collaboration come about?
T: To be honest, I think he was just a fan of the first two white fence records and he came up to me and asked if I would be interested in doing a split record. So I was like, “Yeah sure whatever.” And it was kind of always in the back of my mind. Then I ran into him again and he was like, “We should do it,” and then we were just kind of like, “Yeah let’s do it!” And I just thought it was going to be like, he takes the A side and I’ll take the B side kind of thing. But then we got together and started writing songs and it turned into a total collaboration as if it were a band you know? And it’s kind of like a band basically, between me and him. Like its total equal creativity which is awesome, seeing as I thought it was going to be totally separate you know? But it turns out that we work really well together
It’s really strange like… Like we could speak different languages. Like he could speak French and I could speak Ethiopian or something and it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because when it comes right down to the music part of it. It’s totally like the same language, and it’s like really strange. It’s rare.
M: So did you know him at all before you started working on that record or was that really your first experience with him?
T: I mean kind of but not really. I mean I had seen him play a couple times and met him in bars. But we weren’t like chums you know?
M: Okay so that collaboration was kind of your first experience together. So what was it like, meeting each other in a studio like that?
T: Well like I said, we didn’t really talk that much because there wasn’t really much to talk about besides, “We’re going to do this.” And that was all that needed to be said. Then we just got together and sat down and wrote a song. And it just kind of went back and forth. You know? Like the first song that we worked on was “Scissor People” that’s on that record. I was like, “Check this riff out.” And he was like, “Cool, check this riff out.” And then we just turned it into a song you know?
M: So was the record done all in the same time frame or was it done over several different periods when you had free time?
T: Yeah but it all went down in a matter of a couple of weeks. Not consecutively, you know but like 6 days here. Or how did it go? I don’t even remember. It happened so fast, I don’t even know. But it wasn’t a long drawn out thing, it was pretty quick. And that’s another thing; we both record and create shit similar. Like write the song. Get it on tape. Done.
M: Yeah because both of you guys write and put out a lot of records in a short amount of time.
T: Yeah and like with that theory of making music, that’s how we both click that way. It’s real easy and fast.
M: So the quick song-writing, is that just something that happens naturally or do you feel this pressure to do that?
T: Well I’ve been on both sides of the coin with that. I was in a band Darker my Love, where we took a lot of time writing a song and a lot of like pre-production and a lot of basically just like dissecting everything. And there’s something to be said for that, but I think I’m the best when I can just get it down immediately. Like for example the other night, I was like going to bed and I thought of an idea. Some would just say like “I’ll remember that tomorrow.” But instead I jumped out of bed and went home and put it down on a little recorder real quick. I have a horrible memory, so I’m just afraid of losing any kind of thing or inspirational moment. You got to get it down as soon as possible or else I’ll just forget. And if you let it go too long, you lose the initial pizzazz that it had. The longer you wait; I feel like the more watered down an idea gets. I don’t know that’s just me though.
M: Yeah I mean it definitely seems to work for you. I love the albums. So how does the writing process work for you?
T: I wake up, walk down the street get coffee, go back to my apartment, smoke a cigarette, and play guitar. And if a song happens, then it happens. And if it doesn’t happen, then I’ll just go back into some old recordings and tweak it more.
M: So how does the recording process work, after you have a song fleshed out?
T: A lot of it, I would say 70% of it, is written on the cuff. Just have a little idea, like maybe a verse or maybe a verse and a chorus, and then just like put it down on tape. And just keep building throughout the day and night or for however long it takes. Yeah that’s the process. It’s different for every song really, but most of the times I try to get it all down before the moment is gone.
M: So do you ever enlist other musicians on the records?
T: No it’s just me. Like if I can’t get a certain drum part right, I will try every means to make that happen. Whether it’s banging two carrots together or something you know? I just try stuff. It’s good, experimenting with what you have or my ability. And I also chop up old drum beats too, which is a secret, but not anymore (laughs). And then tweak them to sound different so I don’t get sued.
M: (laughs) I gotcha. So do you think that has played a lot into your music; the fact that you might not have everything available to you and that it’s just you, as opposed to having everything at your disposal and being able to do whatever you want?
T: I think that part of being creative and inspired is figuring stuff out on your own. So if fit was all there for me, it would take the fun out of it. And plus, when you’re figuring stuff out on your own, you come across happy accidents that you couldn’t calculate. It’s just the moment you know?
M: Yeah. So the final mix on the record, what goes into that? Is it a lot of those spur of the moment recordings where you have an idea and you go down and record it or do you come back and revisit those and re-record them later?
T: I do both. Most of the time, it’s the spur of the moment trying to get the idea down and then add things to it later until it sounds right. But there’s other times where I’m like, “Ah man I wish I had added another chorus or another verse or something.” And then I’ll go back into it. I’ll sometimes re-record but most of the time it’s just spur of the moment. “What you hear is what you get” kind of thing. That was the thought of the day.
M: Okay. You’ve been doing White Fence for a good number of years now. So has the process changed at all during that time?
T: No, I think I’ve just gotten better on the 4 track (laughs).
M: Okay so you’re a big believer in recording that way, just straight to tape.
T: Yeah, yeah. I just think that if I wrote a bunch of songs like normal people and waited a month to go into the studio to record it, I think I would be deluding myself. I think it’d be deluded. Like oh shit there’s a flute right here, I’ll grab it and play it. Or like there’s a shaker here. No one has enough money to get really experimental and weird in the studio, you know?
M: Yeah I really like that idea of getting as close to that point of original inspiration as possible. I think that’s really cool. I think it makes the music more honest.
T: I think so too. Yeah because that’s the emotion and the feel that you have at that second and hopefully it comes across that way on the record. Instead of waiting and like watching the fucking Wire for a week, and then recording.
M: Yeah and I’ve seen it happen to a lot of bands. You hear demos and you see them live and it sounds great. Then it comes out on a studio album a year later and it’s just been so watered down.
T: Yeah see that’s the thing. A lot of people who like good sounding records will think White Fence just sounds like a bunch of demos. And that’s fine because that’s what it is and that’s when the song was hot in the mind. So fidelity wise, if they don’t like it, they can just fuck off, you know? I don’t care. But at least it’s the honest way it should have been, I think. So I don’t really care, I just know that at the end of the day, that’s what that song was supposed to sound like. Whether it sounds like trash or whatever (laughs).
Like you said, you listen to the demos and you’re like, “This is cool.” But by the time you get to the studio record, it’s watered down. That happens all the time. A lot of the times you notice, you get like old records with like bonus tracks which are demos and those sound awesome you know? Sometimes those versions are better.
M: Yeah definitely. So ideally, how would you like someone to hear White Fence for the first time? Would you rather it be at a show or in their room listening to the record?
T: I don’t know, in my mind I’m still like that 22 year old dude who smokes grass all day and listens to albums. So that’s how I would rather it be. I would rather have someone like smoke some weed or something (laughs) or whatever. But just like listen to the album at home whether they are drawing or like they’re knitting or whatever. You know? I’d rather that. Live is another thing. Live is a whole other beast. Like live is like more of a rock and roll thing. Sorry maybe we should pause this.
*train goes by
T: You ever jumped a train?
M: No I haven’t, have you?
T: It seems doable though.
M: Yeah especially this one.
T: Well I think that like the live show is more designed for like a rock and roll show. If I’m at home, I think the vibe is set a different way and those are the records. Live I feel like, if someone is drinking a couple of beers or they’re stoned or they are just there to have a good time, if you amp up the energy a little… To me, that’s what I would want to see I guess. It’s hard to say. But then again and I’ve said it before, but once you get on stage, you kind of get this jolt of like electricity, and you kind of want to rock. Rock is a weird word. I don’t know. The energy is different.
M: Right because the crowd is all into it and you feed off that.
T: Yeah, yeah. It’s just a different energy. At home it’s a more vibe-y thing than live. There’s electricity when you go out; people are talking, people are hanging out. You know? There’s loud music.
M: Yeah. Now is the live setting you think about at all when you are recording or is that something you just worry about when it’s down on the record?
T: Never, never. I used to work like that, and I don’t know if it worked or not. A long time ago, I used to do that like in punk band stuff. Like, “Oh this would be good live.” But I don’t do that anymore.
M: So you just sit down once the record is done with the band and try to translate those songs into the live setting rather than worry about it beforehand?
T: Yeah, once I’ve made the record and we’ve got to play a show. We just kind of go through what songs we think would be cool live or what songs are doable live. Because there’s like a lot of weird stuff going on in the recordings and it’s kind of hard to manipulate you know? So I mean we’re not like Radiohead and we don’t know how to do that shit (laughs). But I think there is a cool beauty to be a little stripped down and add like a rock and roll element to like the live show. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds really. That’s why the live record was cool, because it was a rerecording of those songs that were on the album and they just sound really different to me. I mean you could do that thing where you try to recreate the record, but I feel like that would be really boring and like pretentious or a little too artsy or something. I don’t know.
M: Yeah and I like the fact that the record and the live show are two different entities. Well this is a question that I like to ask all of the bands. So if you could describe the White Fence sound as a room, what would be in the room and what would it look like?
T: Okay hmm. Well I would say one of those Midwestern downstairs basement rooms, carpet, shitty orange couch, amps, a table for drawing, an easel for painting, a cat, and a coffeemaker. (pause) And a jacuzzi, an indoor jacuzzi in the room.
M: (laughs) I could listen to a White Fence album in that room.
T: (laughs) Definitely.
M: Well it’s always interesting to see where people take it. But thanks again for taking the time to talk with me and good luck with the show tonight!
T: Yeah dude. Thank you man. It’s been rad.
Moogfest began back in 2004 as a way to honor the ingenuity of Dr. Robert Moog. The festival began in New York City and has since moved to Asheville where Moog spent the last 30 years of his life. The performing artists are all people who pioneer in their respective fields and have embodied the innovative spirit of Moog. In addition to the great music, the festival also offers panels, workshops, a film festival, art installations and much more.
Keeping in the spirit of innovation, Moogfest will also host it’s 4th Annual Moog Circuit Bending Challenge. So what is circuit bending? Circuit bending is the art of creating unique instruments by tinkering with various electronic devices such as keyboards, children’s toys, drum machines, and basically any other electrical device that generates some type of noise. It is a very experimental and chance-based art form that is the perfect hybrid between music and electronics that so perfectly embodies Moogfest.
Each year the festival receives lots of different entries from people of all walks of life. They select a few finalists who receive a pair of passes to the festival and the chance to showcase their work. This year, they received so many great submissions that they had to choose five finalists. The winners will be chosen on the last day of the festival and the top 3 finalists will win a Moog synth. To see the finalists, check out the YouTube playlist here.
The circuit bending challenge entrants are tasked with making an instrument that creates new and unique sounds through circuit bending with a total cost $70 or less. By confining the cost, Moog keeps the competition close to its humble beginnings while forcing entrants to create truly innovative instruments with limited resources. Be sure to check out the circuit bending finalists as well as all of the other amazing innovations at Moogfest!