A Conversation with Matt Hires
Mike Ragogna: Matt, how've you been?
Matt Hires: I'm doing good Mike, how are you?
MR: I'm doing okay. What part of the world are you in right now?
MH: Right now, I'm at home in Tampa.
MR: Ah, relaxing before the world tour?
MH: Exactly, yeah.
MR: Okay, let's talk about This World Won't Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend. Were you paid by the word for that title?
MH: [laughs] Usually, I feel like I'm not necessarily bad at naming things, but it takes me a while. I've had so many different titles that I was trying to choose from and this was the one that I landed on from that original list. I was just listening to the song that's on the record called "Wishing On Dead Stars" one day, and that line is in the song and it stuck out to me. I knew it was long but it kind of felt right.
MR: Right, "Wishing On Dead Stars," a really clever song. What got you to that topic?
MH: That song is kind of about growing up in the nineties. The story that it follows is like there's all this stuff going on in the world, but it's really just about growing up and falling love and the things you do when you're young.
MR: If I were to over-interpret this, I would say by the time the light reaches us from other stars, a lot of them have already burnt out. It's almost like the events that hit us have already burnt out and we have to take care of ourselves because we have to take care of ourselves in the end.
MR: I knew it, I was totally wrong...wait, what?
MH: [laughs] You're not wrong. That's very close to the mark.
MR: I have to say your sound is a little bit similar to Mumford & Sons when they take a more pop approach. Have they influenced you? And who were your influences?
MH: Well, I don't know, I think that's interesting. I like Mumford & Sons, I like their first record a lot. I haven't really listened to their second one very much, but I wouldn't necessarily consider them an influence in a big way at least. I think my main influences are Tom Petty and Wilco and more recently, I'm more into The National and some artists like that. A lot of people mention my voice sounding like Marcus Mumford. I don't really hear it. I listen to his songs and I think I sound nothing like that, but I take it as a compliment. I like the way his voice sounds. I think a lot of the sound similarities come from him having similar influences in older folk stuff and making it more relevant to pop audiences today.
MR: So "Restless Heart" is the lead-off single. Can you give us a little birds'-eye view of what was going on and how do you feel about the response it's been getting?
MH: Any time a lot of people dig any of my stuff, I'm into that. I wrote it with a guy named Alex Dezen who's a singer and songwriter for a band called the The Damnwells. This was the first song we had written together. We ended up writing a few more that made it onto the record. "Restless Heart" was kind of a combining of different stories and experiences that we'd had. The story of "Restless Heart" is about a girl who's kind of a heartbreaker and moves from one guy to the next and standing up against that in a way. The last line in the chorus is, "You say love is all that you need, but you're not going to go get it from me."
MR: Has that happened to you one or two times?
MH: It has, yeah. The whole thing isn't necessarily one experience that one of us had, it's more of a combining of experiences and adding in a little extra distance to the big story.
MR: There's also "The Sound Of Falling In Love." Can you go a little more into that particular sound?
MH: That song was about how when you first fall in love, it's kind of an indescribable thing and we're talking about all these things going on around you and how you perceive them differently--the things you're seeing, the things you're hearing. You experience life a little differently when you fall in love.
MR: What about "Miles Past Midnight?" I'll stop with the titles drill, but can you go into the story of this one?
MH: That one I wrote with a guy called Jamie Kenney in Nashville. We actually wrote "The Sound Of Falling In Love" and "Miles Past Midnight" together. He produced "Miles Past Midnight" as well. But that one is a story about trying to overcome adversity in a relationship and get through it past the darkness. That's what the phrase "Miles Past Midnight" is talking about. Getting through the darkness.
MR: So. This is, as they call it, "The Sophomore Album," and you're going to have avoid the so-called "Sophomore Jinx." A lot of people will be looking at the album for growth from the last album to this album. What would you say is some of the biggest growth or personal and musical changes between the last one and this one?
MH: Well, as you know, my first record came out in 2009 and here we are in 2013 with my sophomore record, so there's been a good chunk of time between them, so I like to think I've grown as a songwriter in that time. In my opinion, I feel like I'm a little better at crafting songs. The way I'm writing it, doing what to the song, where does it feel like it wants to go and stuff like that, crafting it in that way. But I also feel like I've become more of an honest songwriter. There's more of myself in these songs than in any collection of songs that I've released before.
MR: Do you think maybe some of your new approach is from your Nashville collaborations?
MH: It did. I did a lot of songwriting with a lot of different people in the two years leading up to the recording of the album. In that time, I've written with a lot of people that I love, and some people just didn't quite click. But I feel like I've found those people that I really enjoy writing with and who I enjoy working with and kind of stuck with it. With Alex Dezen, we ended up writing four songs on the record together and I wrote again with Eric Rosse, the producer, who I had written with the first time I made co-writes for some of the songs on the first record. I just feel like I've found the people I really click with and have just stuck with that and I feel like it turned out well.
MR: What was your first impression after listening to whole finished, mastered album?
MH: I don't know, it's kind of a hard thing to put into words. I actually just recently re-listened to everything again closely because you get so deep into the songs when you're recording them that you can lose sight of a lot of those things when you're recording them. You just see them in a different way because they're right in front of your face. It's good to step back for a couple of months, not to listen to them, and then come back to it and listen to the record again. I'm really happy with how it turned out. Like I said, I think I've matured as a songwriter and we treated each of the songs exactly how they should have been treated and we did it in a pretty short amount of time. We did the record in a month as opposed to my first record, which was like three months plus. I attribute a lot of that to working with the same producer, Eric Rosse. At this point, Eric and I have known each other for five years and have gotten to be good friends, so it made the whole studio experience easier and we were just more on the same page. We had a clearer vision of what we wanted on this record.
MR: If there was one song on this record that you feel like exposes you the most, what do you think that would be?
MH: I definitely think it's "When I Was Young," the last song on the record.
MR: I'm so glad you said that.
MH: Yeah, I'd gone through a period of writers' block and that song was basically to get myself out of that. I sat down with the guitar and I got into why I'd started to write songs in the first place. It got kind of personal, but I think that's a good thing. It's kind of a scary song to play live in front of a ton of people because I do get more personal than I have in any song. It's very autobiographical, but at the same time, it makes it kind of exciting. I really like that one. That one is very special to me and probably is my favorite on the record.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
MH: Whenever anybody asks me that, I say try to be as good as you can at what you do and never stop trying for that. Never get comfortable, always be trying to hone your craft. Be as good as you can and hope somebody notices.
MR: And what advice would you have given Matt Hires "When You Were Young?"
MH: [laughs] Oh man, probably a little bit of the same thing and don't be too hard on yourself.
MR: Very nice. I'll let you go. It's always a joy and I'm always rooting for you. This one is growing on me, and that first album means a lot to me. I wish you all the best, you're amazing.
MH: Thanks a lot, Mike, I appreciate it. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Blackfield IV is out Aug 27 on Kscope, the latest work from Aviv Geffen with Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and special guests Brett Anderson of Suede, Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev & Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema.
About the video, Blackfield frontman Aviv reveals, "I already knew Vincent as Anathema opened for Blackfield on the last US tour and we became friends. When I wrote 'X-Ray,' I called him and said, 'Vincent, take the train from Paris to London and let's work on this song.' So he came to London and did an amazing take. Steven Wilson and myself both tried to compete but he was too good for us and I think it's one of the best tracks on the album."
For more information: http://www.kscopemusic.com/blackfield/iv/
Also, check out Aviv in this video:
A Conversation with The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne
Mike Ragogna: Hey Wayne, how are you doing?
Wayne Coyne: I'm good. I'm gonna be sitting here doing some coloring and stuff while we speak, maybe some doodling.
MR: Will this said coloring and doodling perhaps become the sequel to your current comic book, The Sun Is Sick?
WC: Well, seeing how easily I set it up for you, we can do this! It's true though, I never thought about it very much, it's not really multi-tasking, I think people overplay that, but this idea that I'm doodling is like a busybody something to do while you're talking. But it is wonderful how these sort of subconscious, whatever you want to call them, these automatic drawings that you can do sometimes really are great little unexpected creations. You just start off doing something and while you're not thinking about it, you're doing these moves and doing these moves and before you know it, you've got this great little picture. We're not doing long interviews, I can be drawing on the same thing several times in a week. It's meant to just be f**king just kind of absurd that I get to do, but then it turns into stuff and after I'd get done with an interview, I'd be like, "Oh, that's cool, I should draw a couple panels and connect those together and see where it goes." That is certainly how the other one went and this one was already going because I didn't really know I was going to stop and do the other one. I just kept going and George my computer guy suggested, "Hey, you've got to stop! It's going to be too long, you don't want it to be one of those god-awful long graphic novel things," so I was like, "Okay," so I stopped and now I'm working on the second one.
MR: Well my heart would be sickened, sickened I say, if you weren't working on another. Or some experiment with the group. So, I imagine there's yet another album up your sleeve, right?
WC: Well we started talking about that just a little while ago and we've actually been recording the beginnings of that just this week, just starting on Monday night when I got home from Los Angeles. The group was here, there's a group we've known for a little while now called Linear Downfall, kind of an apocalyptic name, but they're a really young group out of Nashville. We've done some recording stuff with them in the past. They're insanely good musicians, not that that was the priority, we just wanted to get another flavor that Steven and I felt comfortable with. We'd been around them a bunch so we just invited them out so they and maybe a few other musicians would be this new weirdo ensemble that we at the moment are calling Electric Worms. Any time you get to make music, even with a group that we've had as long as The Flaming Lips, any time you get to explore and see what happens, that is a lot of fun. So that's kind of what we're doing.
MR: Nice. And of course you're coming off your latest album, The Terror, that has a theme I'm having a hard time believing--feeling hopelessly hopeless. Sorry, I don't buy it. Not from the Archimedes of rock!
WC: [laughs] I don't think it would be like a state of mind that we persisted in. I think there is something about the way that Steven (Drozd) and I both work on music that sometimes we're just going with however we feel. A lot of times, you can feel a certain way for a certain part of the day but then your mind says, "Hey this is no big deal," and you just move on with it. But Steven and I remarked that we liked this kind of music that is in that mood, where it doesn't become optimistic. When you're working with someone that's as good of a musician as Steven, it's easy to do emotional creations. What I mean by that is I'm not a very good musician, so when I write songs, I get what I get and I make up a lot of stuff in a certain simple area. When working with Steven, there's no limit to it, so oftentimes, if it starts off optimistic, it become kind of explosively optimistic. These things, I think, almost sort of explode into optimism. There are other times where we're making music and we're not trying to be optimistic or we're just in other moods and we end up really liking that and we have to kick ourselves and say, "Now let's not make this into the grand epic happy ending." I think that's mostly what we did with The Terror. We just hunkered down and said, "Let's focus on this thing even though it's probably not..." If you were around us even on those days you wouldn't think, "Oh my God, they've gotten gloomy and sad and don't seem to be able to get out of it." It's really just a type of mood that we really like in music and thought we should focus ourselves and do that because I know that we wanted to do it. So that's my take on it.
MR: Okay, well with titles like "Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die" and the title track, mission accomplished. Hey, was there any moment during the process when you heard what you recorded and went, "Oh God, we went too deep"?
WC: I think that when we did the song that we ended up calling "The Terror," we didn't call it "The Terror" in the beginning. A lot of times, you're just doing a track and you don't know what you're going to call it. When we were doing the track I accidentally--and I say that as true as a person can be--I accidentally said the line, "We don't control the controls." Part of that, to me, seemed very, very true. You have to remember, we didn't know that we were optimistic. We never really thought about it much, we realize that now that we go back and listen to our music and the way that we are, we go, "Oh, I think we are that way." But we didn't always know that. We're really striving, we're trying to say some internal thing and I think with us, given enough time, this optimism comes out and our music shows that. It wasn't that we thought, "Oh my God, we've become these old, bleak motherf**kers," we just knew that this is part of why we're optimistic. If you really are happy all the time, this idea that you're optimistic, I don't know if it would matter to you, because you wouldn't see any reason to have any other state of mind. I think when you have experiences to show you that the world is unfair and full of pain and there's a lot of suffering and it's not always your suffering that causes you pain, it can cause you trouble. So I think it's that, there are parts of us that say, "Let's sing about that." But that line, "We don't control the controllers," I think that freed us up to talk about just this side of our nature. I talk about this a lot, I don't really know--even this desire I have to do art, when it works and it communicates and all that it looks like, "Look at Wayne, he's hard at work, doodling a thing!" But part of me is not really sure it's something I'm responsible for. It may be part of this just innate nature of mine to do this. By following that urge, all this stuff happens. But I don't know. We don't really get to know how many of the strings of our lives are pulled by us and how much are pulled by what we're made of, our own past and our own DNA. I'd say lots. How do we say, "This is my favorite food?" Is that something we're doing with our thinking mind, or this something that's not of your own control? I think that's what we're getting at, this dilemma of love and pain. We're not the only ones that feel it, but there are times where we feel like, "Let's not skim over that, let's explore that." I think that's what we tried to do as a pair. We tried to stay in that tone and explore that.
MR: What was going on when you finally had all your doodles together and you realized, "I have a completed project"?
WC: Most of the comic is just random doodling. Whatever I feel like is going to happen, as long as I feel like drawing it, is going to happen. The characters in the beginning weren't characters, but the more I drew this blind girl--and I have to tell you, it looks like a story but it wasn't a story at all when I started. I just drew stuff and said, "Well, what would happen next?" and then I would just draw whatever happened next. The idea that there's a blind princess that runs around naked and has a deformed baby and it's a giant eyeball, it didn't occur to me that that's some connection. It was just something I liked to draw, and then in the next panel it occurred to me that maybe through some metaphysical power of love, if she's able to love this hideous, deformed thing, she'll have super-vision because she's seeing through the eyes of this little creature that loves her. Then it becomes kind of fantastical, like a lot of comic books are. I didn't consider that in the beginning at all, but then as I went I thought, "Well, it seems feasible" or whatever. But I didn't conceptualize in the beginning and think, "Oh, what a great concept," or even if it is a great concept I just thought that they tied together. So you have to forgive that I'm being honest here. I don't really know what the f**k I'm doing, but I can definitely connect things afterwards. And when the guys with the see-through tops of their heads, the brain guys, started doing all this stuff and I had the scene where they go and rescue the sun, I had that first. That was the first scene I drew about them. I'd drawn all the other stuff before I drew them. One day, I just drew them starting to rescue the sun, and I didn't have any idea what was going to happen. I drew them and I went over the hill and I thought, "What the f**k do I do now?" And as I was drawing them battling the giant Death character or whatever, I started to care about them. I think that's really what it is. I don't care about them until they start to do things. Then they started to do things and I started to worry about them and care about them and care about what they said to each other. Once I started to care about them, I thought, "One of them is going to die," and I made him die, and I thought, "God, what is going to happen here?" Those panels are not the most fantastical looking ones because they're telling the story, but there's the one where the giant brain is sort of just staring about having to leave his dead friend who he tried and tried to help but he knows he's going to die and he has to leave his friend and he kind of just stares there, even though he's a giant brain that we're kind of giving some kind of emotions and some kind of way to get around with his arms and legs. But it really is a powerful drawing. So out of that story and its momentum, we jump to that. I like that a lot even though it wouldn't be something that I'd doodle while I'm on the phone with you because you've got to kind of connect things and think about stuff. So it starts with a doodle of nothing and then if I keep going on it, I start to care and then they do things and when they start to do things, they grow a heart or something. That's why that comes about. And I want people to care about them.
MR: So let's talk about Moby's new album Innocents. You're on a track called "The Perfect Life." How did that come about?
WC: Well Moby and I have been aware of each other for a while. We did a tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Europe, I think in 1994, a long, long, long time ago before Moby was really known to the world. I think we just liked each other, we kept up with each other, were aware of each other's ideas. Really, it was him. Out of the blue he said to me, "Wayne, I like the way you sing, do you want to sing on a track?" I said, "Sure, send it!" and he sent it over and we sort of cobbled stuff together. I sang and sent it back to him and I think he made it a lot better than what I gave him. I didn't think about it too much after that. I think this was last September or October, and then you fast forward and he was like, "Hey, everybody's really liking this song, we should make a video." I said, "Okay, sounds like fun." I don't really know him very well but I figured it would be something great and it was. We sort of walked around the Latin part of LA downtown and ran into a bunch of characters and they follow us in the end to this giant rooftop helicopter pad party. It's just kind of an absurd journey.
MR: So he was like a kindred soul?
WC: Yeah. When you're around people, especially when they're working and they have to talk to people and deal with people and stuff like that, that's the real deal. For better or for worse, I think that's why people are so guarded about what they do, because they're probably trying to hide what narcissistic a**holes they are. And if you're not, then you don't really have anything to worry about because you're just going along and if things don't work out, you say, "Things don't work out, let's try something else," and we laugh and have fun and we try to remember that we're just doing dumb music and this is one of the joys of life--to have ideas and then go pursue them. And you get a bunch of friends together and you try to do it. Now, that being said, I've been in some areas where people are just hideous to each other, and I don't like being around that. You have to be around that sometimes because that's the nature of the world, but when you do it yourself and you're surrounded by people who are helping you, it can be a lot of fun and there can be a lot of love and there can be a lot of creative energy and stuff like that that is wonderful. So yeah, to be around someone like Moby and see how he is around people, how funny he is and how much he cares, it's a joy.
MR: Beautiful. I know I've asked you this about four times before, but what advice do you have for new artists today?
WC: Well it's the same as always. I think you have to pursue what you love and whatever design you have set up for yourself, whatever you think you want to be, you should try to be that. I think that's the greatest confidence and the greatest freedom that my family and friends bestowed on me when I was trying. They didn't sit there and say, "Oh, that's silly that you want to do this thing," they always thought it was great. Then you get to decide in your own set of circumstances, in your own way, "Is this really great? Is this really what I want to do?" I think if you don't get to pursue it, you'd probably be bitter about it or something. You'd probably have something nagging at you. So I think if you want to do it, you should just start to do it and then after you do that, you can figure out whether you think you're doing art, whether you're doing music, or whether you're a musician or an artist or a producer. All those things kind of go together. For me, I would not be happy just playing someone else's music. I want to create my own world like you can see in the comic book. But a lot of people don't know what they want to do in the beginning. So I'd say you have to pursue the things you love, it probably is going to work best if you love having a lot of experiences, because the idea that you're a musician, if you're successful at all, that's just a very small part of all of this stuff that you would be required to do. There's so much traveling and talking and things that go along with it that if you don't like doing all those things, you're not going to want to be a successful musician because it's just a torture because you're not making music very often; you're kind of just doing a lot of other stuff. I don't want to tell anybody how to do it. It's just if you love it, that takes care of most of the bad things that you encounter. I say to people all the time, we already live like we're rich. If you're doing what you love and you're around people that you love and you get to have fun all the time, you're living like a rich person, you just don't have any money.
MR: That's a wonderful answer, Wayne. You never disappoint. So is there anything coming down the pike? Anything we should be keeping our eye on--so to speak--beyond the album and the comic book?
WC: I dont' know if I'm allowed to say it, but we are working on a song that is going to be in the Ender's Game epic movie that's coming out at the end of the year. If the song works out to be in the movie, we think we're going to pursue making a bit more of an expanded five or six song record that goes along with the theme and the stuff that we did for that movie, which we really ended up liking. A lot of times, people do songs for movies and there are a lot of criteria that you have to follow to make it suit the movie people. We don't know for sure that's going to happen yet, but we've already done the song and we quite like the mood of it and the way of it, the sound and the theme of it. Steven and I both remarked, "Man, I'd like to do some more music associated with this," and we think they're going to let us. If it works out that they end up liking our song and using it and all that, we think we'd pursue something like that. That would be even as soon as November, so I think it could work out. But I don't know. It'll probably be another week or so before we know, but I'm talking about it like it's going to happen, so that's good enough for me.
MR: Wayne, as always, all the best with this, with the tour that's coming up, and with everything that's coming down the pike.
WC: Cool, thank you for talking to me again.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
EZRA VINE'S "CELESTE"
Kiwi artist Ezra Vine is making his US debut with single "Celeste" and its corresponding video. "Celeste" combines an acoustic riff with an army of floor toms, backing vocals, piano clusters and a haunting, upbeat vocal woven through pure folk. The ethereal animated feature follows a huntsman on a long and ambiguous journey as he plods through a majestic and wild landscape. "'Celeste' is an exploration of confusion as well as optimism, and the often blurred lines between reality and desire," Ezra explains. "Everyone will take it and relate to it in their own way, and I like that."
A Conversation with Threefifty's Brett Parnell & Geremy Schulick
Mike Ragogna: You have a new album, Collapses, and you're also called Threefifty as opposed to ThreeFifty Duo. A lot's happened since the last album, huh?
Brett Parnell: Quite a bit, yeah, quite a bit.
Geremy Schulick: I guess it's been about three years since our last album came out, so yeah definitely.
MR: What are some of the things you guys have been doing and what have you been into lately?
BP: I think getting a lot more musically into different sounds. I think maybe the first records were a little more focused on the guitar. We have a classical guitar background, but I think for this record, we've put it aside a little bit while obviously still respecting it and having it stuck in our brains, but wanting to pull out electric guitars and layer a whole bunch of things and trying different effects and shoutouts to different styles of music within the album as well. So we've been working at that since the second album and I feel like the new album, Collapses is really kind of a culmination of all of that.
MR: Jeremy, would you say that Brett is telling the truth?
GS: I actually do have a lie detector right here with us so I can tell you for sure he's telling the truth. No, totally, it does seem like with this latest record, we weren't as concerned with virtuosity, although I don't know if we ever really were, per se. But I think with this last record, most of the tunes aren't really anywhere near as hard to play as a lot of the ones on the second record. There are a few that still required some serious practice from us but we did push a lot of the classical guitar asthetic aside for this one. We just wanted to expand our colors so we had a lot of different instruments on there, a lot of different effects and electronics. I think we were starting to lean in this direction with the second record; we actually wanted to have a lot of percussion on the second record and that ended up being a huge argument that we had with our producer at the time. He sort of won us over and told us not to put any percussion on it except for one track. I really agree with him now, looking back on it. He really thought that we needed to make a statement just with two guitars and all of our own compositions. He thought that should be more of a straight theme for the second record and then expand out afterwards, which is sort of what we did. So yeah, it's been a really cool process. I think the whole time that we've been playing together it's been a process of getting further and further away from being a classical guitar duo, although the entire time we're still paying homage to our training.
MR: Even though you've expanded what your concepts are, it also seems that this album is more personal. For instance, your brother's on this album and in my opinion, that's had its effect.
BP: I definitely would agree with that. I definitely have a love and respect for the two previous albums we did but I think this one we really kind of dove in and really went and wrote from the heart for it. I've always loved being part of a musical community, so it was really a special thing to do to have my brother sing on it and my girlfriend and a couple of other amazing musicians and friends of ours.
GS: My wife helped with the electronics on the first track.
BP: It was a great group to have and I think it does make it a bit more personal because there's even more of an experience involved. Geremy and I have been very lucky, we've been playing together for years and he hasn't killed me yet. I think that's due to the fact that we're best friends. But inviting in some other people added to the emotive element of the record for me.
MR: Brett, we've talked about how close you and your brother are, very cool, I'm a big fan of family. Do you see your brother participating in Threefifty music even more in the future?
BP: I would love that, to be honest. I like the idea that Geremy and I are starting to write more with the gloves off. We'll write for anything and we've had the wondeful experience of recording a video for one of our tunes that you guys showed on The Huffington Post where we had seven of us--my brother and our friends--and it was just a wonderful experience and it made me want to write more for friends and family and bring them into all the fun and excitement that is Threefifty.
MR: Could somebody describe what Threefifty's mission is now?
GS: Mission? Our mission is to fly to Neptune.
MR: Been there, overrated. I just mean is there a longterm plan for all this Threefiftyness?
GS: Yeah, I mean we're just continuing to develop our sound in that more expansive way I think. We've been working on some more tunes lately that are really going further in that direction. It's hard to say exactly what the next album will be like but I imagine it will be more along the lines of that tune that Brett mentioned that you very graciously premiered on Huffington Post. I don't know, I guess we don't have super longterm plans, unless Brett has something he hasn't told me about. We're going to keep having fun with it, I suppose.
BP: I would say if there's one longterm plan at least for me, I'd love to get into the film side of things. That idea of scoring, writing for films, it's always been something that I've had an interest in. That was one of the things that was so cool about playing with the group for the video. I was like, "Man, I'd like to write for a film using just these guys." Having friends doing it is very, very appealing to me along with going out and playing shows and whatnot, which I always enjoy immensely. I'd say that's kind of the one thing that I'm always picking up in the back of my mind.
MR: What about playing live? You guys seem to have been more on the road than you have been in the studio, right?
BP: Right, yeah. But a little more in the studio as we were trying to finish things up. I would say we tend to be out more, and usually not playing in New York. I feel like New York is kind of a hit-or-miss city to be playing in, so we'll head out to the Midwest or down South where I'm from, Northeast or overseas a few times and whatnot, always having a good time.
MR: The live platform is different from the recording platform. When you're playing live, are you staying conscious of the fact that these pieces either will eventually become recordings. I'm imagining you're testing some of your recordings on the road, right?
GS: Yeah, for sure. We've written some things that haven't ended up on any of our records, but I do feel like the vast majority of the stuff that wind up keeping in our live repertoire always end up on recordings. We don't have that many discarded rough drafts of things; we tend to write really intensely on one tune that we believe in and we make it work. There are some tunes that we write that don't really work well live because there are too many parts and they're too complicated to do with loops and stuff, but whenever we play things live, I think we're certainly testing it out for potential use in a recording, although it's always completely different recording something as opposed to playing it live. There are so many more possibilities.
BP: Yeah, I think my general rule is when we're first playing something live and we get it into the studio I want to make it better than it is when we play it live, and when we get done with the recording I want to make it better than the recording when we play it live. So it's definitely a process.
MR: Interesting. You've been doing this for a while--recording and playing live. You want to do some film scoring as well. But what do you want Threefifty to have acheived by the time you become Threefiftyone?
MR: Do you want to redefine "classical" music or are you more interested in expressing yourselves?
GS: That's a really good question. We think about that a lot. It's a tough balance. I think the music that we write, we actually really try not to consciously write with the idea that we're going to change the world and break boundaries of music.
BP: I think we used to be that way.
GS: That's true. I think with Circles, a little bit, we thought about that a lot. I think now that we've essentially been writing music for a while now, I just find that the best music comes when you're just noodling around and you're just trying to discover what feels emotional and what sounds good. I think our only criteria when we want to stamp our name on a song finally is does it make me feel something, does it stick in my head, and does it sound like us? It's personal. I think it's really up to the listeners to decide if it's breaking boundaries or anything. The thing is, especially in New York now, there are so many people that are combining various influences and genres. That's a lot of what we like about the music scene here. It's so eclectic and so diverse, it's just one big melting pot. But I feel like for us to say, "We're going to break the boundaries of classical music," I feel like the boundaries have already been broken so many times over by so many bands and musicians that are combining genres in a very interesting way as well. I think our different influences just sort of naturally come out when we're writing and we just embrace that.
MR: You guys studied with a purely classical approach for a while, maybe some jazz, too, when you were at school?
BP: Not at college, but I took about six months of jazz lessons and discovered that I was beyond awful at it. Then I was like, "Well, let's see what classical guitar's like!"
GS: It's always funny to me that sometimes people hear jazz music our music, or they say, "Oh, Threefifty is jazz and folk and classical and rock." If Brett's saying he's awful at jazz, then I would be his bad student. [all laugh] I have enormous respect for it. We know a number of really amazing jazz musicians, but it always just boggled my mind how people improvise like that. It seems like a completely different skill to me.
MR: When you look at classical and how it's taught in school or in the field right now, what are your thoughts?
BP: I've got many opinions on it. It's interesting because just on a purely technical level, the musicians that are coming out are off the charts. You can put your very talented master student up against most classical musicians fifty years ago and they'd probably hold their own in terms of putting their fingers on the right notes. However I'm not as excited about it. A lot of that has to do with the competition environment, the "he who hits the most notes in the least amount of time wins" kind of vibe, which I'm not as into.
GS: it's very impressive but it's not like an acrobatic act.
BP: Yeah. I think my three classical music heroes would be Jacqueline Du Pré, Glenn Gould, and Leonard Berstein. If you watch any performances of them or you hear any of them talk it's just riveting. You think that they're going to jump out of their skin they're so engrossed in what they're doing in a genuine way that I don't see a lot now. Maybe it was just presented differently back then, maybe it was just looked at differently, but I just don't see that as much now. It's exciting when you do see that, in any style of music. If you see somebody who is giving out and is honest with what they're doing, that's what I want to watch. I hope that's what we do to an extent, whether you call it classical, whether you call it post-rock, whatever. The most important thing to me is I hope somebody walks away moved in some way, and saying that we gave it everything we had.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists? I know I've asked you this a few times before on the TV show, so you must be well-rehearsed.
GS: I don't know if I have a better answer than I did before; I still feel like a new artist myself all the time. I would just say follow what feels most genuine to you. I personally know a lot of people that told me, "You know, when I was in school, I was told I should write a certain way." Even writing tone music was just not in style and you weren't a respected composer if you wrote tonally. I think that's fine if you're passionate about that kind of music, but I feel like a lot of people when they go to school for music feel pressured to write in a certain way or play in a certain way that they're being told to. I think that's a lot of the responsibility of the teachers to try to bring out a more personal, unique nature in each student, but it's also the student's responsibility. It's a delicate balance, to learn what you can from your teachers and take in as many influences as feel right to you but then also to realize that no one's going to want to listen to you if you just want to sound like someone else or if you write in a certain style because someone tells you to. You need to discover what's deep down. What is it that you like to listen to when you listen to music? I feel like if you don't enjoy listening to what you're playing at least at first... It's hard for us to listen to our albums after we've listened to them twenty millions times in the recording studio, I think that's natural. But if you ask yourself, "Would I want to listen to this and would I enjoy it if I were listening to it for the first time," if the answer to that question is, "No," then I think you should reconsider what you're doing.
MR: That's good, that's really smart advice. What about you, Brett?
BP: I don't think I'm as articulate as Geremy. I would say that when it comes to whatever you're doing, give it hell, don't be afraid to make mistakes, and don't forget that being a good person is way more important than being a good musician.
MR: I love that answer. That's my favorite answer of the day.
BP: [laughs] I've met a lot of really terrible human beings who are musicians, but maybe it's just because I've started to associate myself with a lot of different ones, or maybe it's starting to turn around. But just here in Brooklyn, I know a lot of musicians who are just incredible people. I think it helps with that sense of community, which again is something I've always searched for. I've always wanted to have a community within a music scene. Who knows, maybe it's turning around and musicians are going to stop being jerks and we're going to have a whole bunch of nice ones.
MR: For the longest time, I've been like, "What the hell is going on in Brooklyn?" Anyway, I guess you're going to be on the road supporting the new album?
GS: Yeah, for sure. I think we're probably going to be heading down south in the fall and then probably a New England tour in the near future as well, hitting up our respective hometowns. We'll see where the music takes us, I suppose.
MR: Beautiful. Any further words of wisdom from Threefifty?
BP: None that I can think of at the moment.
GS: Thank you so much Mike for all your support.
BP: That's what I would say, thanks, man. We really appreciate it.
GS: We're really grateful and super excited.
MR: You're very welcome. Take care, guys.
BP: You too.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
THE NEW SLY & THE FAMILY STONE BOX SET
A couple weeks ago, I posted my interview with Cynthia Robinson of The Family Stone, in which she circled almost all of her answers to my questions back into the concept of "family" in all senses of that word. With the release of the new Sly box next week, here's a link to the interview for those who missed it.
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008