Yet Another Conversation with The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne
Mike Ragogna: Dude, when we get talking, it's like an hour and a half later.
Wayne Coyne: (laughs)
MR: Wayne, the internet has to get popular someday, right?
WC: Well, look, Mike, since this is supposed to be a short interview, if we start talking about the internet, this is going to turn into an epic weeklong discussion.
MR: You're right, who cares about the internet anyway. Stupid internet.
WC: The internet is the greatest thing ever though, isn't it? We're so lucky to live in a time when it happens. I don't understand it, like a lot of things that happen. I don't really understand it, but I'm so glad that it exists, it works and it helps me.
MR: Thank you, Al Gore. It helps us, one and all.
WC: It does, unless you don't have a computer, then you wonder what people are looking at all of the time.
MR: Okay, you have a new project--The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends. That could be my favorite title of any of your albums, but not really. Cute though.
WC: Well, the "Fwends" part of it, we didn't want to make it seem so serious. We're very lucky that we get to travel all around the world, we get to meet amazing people, and sometimes, it's amazing musicians who will play music with us. But we don't want to make it like we have these great friends and you're nobody. So that's why the "Fwends"...not taking it all so seriously.
MR: You have some cool "fwends" on this, just how did you get this fwendly ensemble?
WC: Well, some of them...I don't think we knew they were our friends until we approached them about doing our music. For example, I wanted to do something with Erykah Badu. You have to remember I live in Oklahoma City. She lives in Dallas, which is about three hours away. My wife's sister also lives in Dallas and at one time lived in the same neighborhood as Erykah Badu. So I've been kind of secretly stalking her for a while with the thought that maybe she would allow us to do some music together. Well, she was working at a studio down there and I know the people at the studio and I said, "The next time she comes in, you've got to text me and let me see if I can talk to her." Well, lo' and behold, on my birthday, just a couple of months ago, on January 13, she texted me. "Hey, Wayne, it's Erykah Badu, Happy Birthday. Let's get together and make some music." I didn't realize it could be that easy. So, lucky for me, she got a hold of me and I said, "Let's do some music together," and within a couple of days, we were doing stuff.
And some of the people have been our friends--or "fwends" as we're speaking here--for a while. I've known the Coldplay fellows, but mostly Chris Martin, even since before their very first single, "Yellow," became big. We were playing a show with them in Scotland on the day that this huge song of theirs--now in hindsight--went to #1 in Britain. We were playing a festival and we've gotten to know them as friends and they was real special times, and I think Chris has made an effort, as I have, to remain friends, to know what's going on with each other. A lot of it is just that people end up liking each other's music and like each other and say, "Let's do something!"
MR: Let's do something as in "Let's Do It" featuring Yoko Ono?
WC: I think Yoko probably sent about 10,000 versions of different things. Because she's so gracious, she allowed us to take these recordings that she did and we'd take little snippets of what she would say. This is the thing that you can do through the marvel of computers now. We recorded quite a few tracks where she was doing stuff, and then we took that track and then we combined it with parts of other tracks. It's a song virtually of Yoko Ono throughout the song screaming, "Do it, do it," as only someone like Yoko Ono could command you to do. But, she never really did it in real life. These are little snippets that we put together and put music behind it. That's kind of the nature of a lot of the things we're doing on this recording. With some of these artists, we only have a little bit of time to do something and you don't really know what's going to happen. Sometimes we take things then later turn them into songs and turn them into things that sound like performances and it sounds cool.
MR: Actually, sir, you have a lot of things on here that sound cool, for instance, Bon Iver on "Ashes in the Air."
WC: Exactly. This is a strange coming together. A friend of mine was following the singer Justin Vernon on Twitter and mentioned to him, in a Twitter kind of way, you should get together with The Flaming Lips, they're doing all of these collaborations. You should get together with The Flaming Lips and do a song." And he replied, "I should, let's do it." So immediately after that, I tweeted Justin Vernon, and before you know it, we had each other's phone numbers. I said, "Just send me a little piece of music and we'll make something of it." Probably a day or two later, he sent me a little synthesizer piece of music that to most people wouldn't seem like anything. But I already heard a little bit of what we could do with it. It was just a little three minute synthesizer part. But, that's what I had asked for, something that we could begin to work with. Myself and the other members of The Flaming Lips turned it into a little bit of a song and sent it back to him, he wrote some lyrics, added a little bit more to it, it went a couple of times back and forth, and we really have this great track. Even though, I've never met him in person and I don't think I've ever really talked to him, all this is done through email, Twitter, texting, and I guess just psychically hoping to love and understand each other.
MR: Beautiful, man. Is that the same approach that you used with "That Ain't My Trip" with Jim James of My Morning Jacket or "You Man Human" featuring Nick Cave? Did you use the same process when you have that kind of relationship with the artists?
WC: Well, the Nick Cave one... As we're speaking, right here, I'm getting a text from Bon Iver saying I'm going to get a vial of his blood within a couple of days. How perfect is that for your show?
MR: Wayne, how are going to get a vial of blood from Yoko Ono?
WC: I don't always know. I think it's like a lot of things, you just have to hope that it works out. With art, especially with music, if you try to figure out everything before you get going, it kind of drives you crazy, so you kind of have to do this leap into this little bit of the unknown and say, "I don't know, let's see what happens," especially when asking someone for their blood. Some people view it as a sacred fluid. I don't. Everyone has some blood and I'd like to keep as much of mine in my body as I can. I've taken mine out and made posters and things. I think it's a great substance.
MR: Wayne, let's explain to readers and the audience how you're going to use this blood for the double vinyl album you're putting out.
WC: Are you familiar with the way a picture disc is made? These are vinyl records. A picture disc... well, you get two of these clear pieces of vinyl and you put a picture between them and you glue them together and it looks like one record, but it's really two thin pieces put together. Instead of putting a picture in the middle of these two clear vinyls, I'm going to put some specimens of everybody's splattered blood and splash it in there like a glass specimen. I don't know how the world will react. I can only make five or six of them. I hope I can exchange them with someone who has disposable income, loves these artists and can pay for it. I think some of the artists themselves might actually buy some. We'll see what happens. There's talk about grinding some up in the vinyl of the records. It will depend how much blood I get. Some people are just going to bleed into a little cup and send it to me. Other people like Ke$ha sent me a big bunch of it.
MR: Ah, Ke$ha is another one I was going to ask you about. What was your collaborating with her like?
WC: She's really fantastic. I suppose there's a version everybody plays out in their head of a young, spoiled pop star and that's how some of her music is portrayed anyway--snotty and outrageous. But, in real life, she's very creative and enthusiastic and fun and up to try anything. The song is called "2012." I had a conversation with her. She wanted to do a big, dramatic end of the world. But I thought that it's just an arbitrary date and I liked that she liked the idea. She recorded a little forty second piece of music right onto her laptop, singing and playing some piano, and emailed it to me an hour later while I was working on some music here in my studio here. The Ke$ha track is a little of an email collaboration, then on the phone, and at her studio in Nashville. It reminds me of "Bohemian Rhapsody." She can sing her ass off. It's pretty impressive. So I would have her do layers and layers and different nuances. I think it's a really special recording. We started to record some other things that might be on her next record. I just really love her. The way that she's creative and approaches things makes it a lot of fun, and it opens up a whole world.
MR: Okay, drumroll, please for "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton."
WC: Did you want me to play it or jump in?
MR: Whatever, that's your cue.
WC: I didn't know this was really happening. Mastodon took it upon themselves to take this beautiful little Flaming Lips song, which is not very much like what they do, and did a beautiful version of it. I was surprised and overwhelmed by it, much like I think the audience will be. I heard it and went, "Oh my God, they're doing this." A lot of times when I'm around them, they're at festivals and shows and they're utterly outrageous people to be around, in the best way possible. But I had no idea what a cool, sensitive side to them there was. I think it was a great compliment that they took this beautiful Flaming Lips song and made it beautiful again.
MR: I know you're going to be working on a musical that's coming out at some point, but let's not talk about that now.
WC: When we get going...this will never end.
MR: (laughs) Ah, yes, but Wayne, as always, a question that remains. What advice do you have for new artists?
WC: In today's environment where there's this seemingly collapse of what we feel like is organized record companies--what we really mean by that is that they can't make as much money any more because so much music is out there for free--you should always pursue what you love. If you are doing what you love, you can't fail. Failure may mean different things to different people. It may mean you don't make any money or you don't have any friends or you're not famous. But to do something that you love, whether it's raising your children, helping homeless animals, making music or whatever it is, it is in itself a great, great reward. So when I see young people and they say they want to have a life in music. I would say, "Well, you can do music and you can have a life. I don't know if making music will give you a life. But, if you're like me, I am so compelled to do music that I would do it anyway." I am lucky that I get to pursue music and what I can get out of it and make of my life. But, if I weren't famous enough to be on your show, I would still get up everyday and make music because I love it. I don't know if it's good advice or bad. But what the world is, given the luxury to do what you love, you should try that first. If you don't like that, you can always go get a job you hate.
MR: As always, an amazing visit, Wayne. Thanks. And let's mention it again, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, which is a vinyl release for Record Store Day.
WC: Yeah, Record Store Day. It's a big deal here.
MR: Vinyl doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, unlike the internet.
WC: It seems to be having a great resurgence and for good reason. I don't think everybody's releases will be as well done and loved as The Flaming Lips'. We have the luxury of controlling every bit of it. We have a team of artists, and I say that not in a pretentious way at all. Down in Dallas at the record plant that's responsible for making these records, they're hand-making each one of these vinyls. Now, if it was going to be 10 million of them, we couldn't do that. But it's 10,000 of each of two records, so we're making 20,000 of them. If you get to have it and hold it and touch it, it's really special and made with a lot of love.
MR: We'll talk again soon? Maybe for the musical?
WC: You keep having a show and I'll keep coming back.
MR: Thanks so much, Wayne. I really appreciate it.
1 "2012″ - feat. Ke$ha & Biz Markie
2 "Ashes In The Air" - feat. Bon Iver
3 "Helping The Retarded To Know God" - feat. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros
4 "Supermoon Made Me Want To Pee" - feat. Prefuse 73
5 "Children Of The Moon" - feat. Tame Impala
6. "That Ain't My Trip" - feat. Jim James
7. You, Man? Human? - feat. Nick Cave
8. I'm Working At NASA On Acid - feat. Lightning Bolt
9. Do It! - feat. Yoko Ono
10. Is David Bowie Dying? - feat. Neon Indian
11. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - feat. Erykah Badu
12. Thunder Drops - feat. New Fumes
13. I Don't Want You To Die - feat. Chris Martin
Transcribed by Brian O'Neal
A Conversation with Fun.'s Jack Antonoff
Mike Ragogna: How are you Jack?
Jack Antonoff: Good.
MR: You've got a lot of momentum right now with the band. What kinds of crazy things have been happening since your second album Some Nights came out and "We Are Young" became a huge hit?
JA: What's funny is a lot of the crazy things that are happening, you know? It (was) the #1 song in the country, we're signing a lot of albums, we're on the cover of Billboard and all this stuff. It's not tangible to us because we're still on the bus, we're playing shows, and that's all we do...we just tour. That's what we've been doing for the past twelve years. The band has had fans since our first album, so it's not like all of a sudden our shows are selling out. It's actually very weird, I haven't heard the song on the radio once and apparently it's been added to every pop and alternative station out there.
MR: And don't forget the Super Bowl.
JA: Yeah, that I saw, which was very surreal.
MR: Did your parents catch it?
JA: Yeah, we saw that together. I think it was an affirming moment for my extended family that I'm not just in a band smoking pot somewhere. But actually, I think it's great that we're so isolated because we're doing what we do best, which is playing shows and touring, and all this stuff is just icing on the cake.
MR: Of course, you had that Janelle Monáe connection, that was awesome. What was it like? How was it recorded?
JA: She recorded it in Europe and we had recorded the song at least a month before.
MR: You're a blogger for The Huffington Post, aren't you?
MR: What do you usually discuss in your columns?
JA: What I write for them is specifically gay rights, gender issues, from the straight male perspective, which, one of the reasons why I think it's fascinating and important is because that's one place where a lot of these things aren't discussed. To me, that's how it all changes, the non-oppressed parties standing up and having an opinion.
MR: It's a support system that at least seems unlikely.
JA: It unfortunately is, which is sort of the big point that I'm getting at, how sad it is that it's unlikely, that we're not all standing up for each other, that we're not all allies for each other. You look at African-American civil rights and the moment that the real shift happened is when white America understood that this was everyone's problem, that we're not all free until we're all free. That's the big moment, people understanding this isn't a niche issue, it isn't a gay issue, it's a human rights issue. It's bigger than the economy, it's bigger than any sort of politics, it's human rights.
MR: Right. What's amazing about this is that it seems like a non-issue, for the most part.
JA: It crazy. I grew up in the '90s, and I don't want to sound old because I do feel in touch, being in the music scene and doing what I do. But I feel that this young generation is more apathetic than the generation I grew up in. You know, the '90s--like Woodstock '94, if you even want to tie the music into politics. It was a really progressive time. That Woodstock, if you look at '94, '99, was all about dreadlocks, purple hair, and being whoever you want.
MR: Yeah, the flannel years.
JA: If you jump to Woodstock to '99, the fans literally burned down their own peace festival, which says a lot about the culture. In many ways, although I'd like to be more positive, I think we've gone down that road. I think fundamentalist religion has been on the rise in young people, which is, to me, terrifying, because it's the birth of a lot of hate. I think that young kids have gotten more conservative, but mostly more apathetic as a whole, just "not my problem." You see it in music, you see it in bands blowing up and having this attitude which is screw everything, using a lot of hateful language and having horrible politics, and people just eating it up.
MR: Having had great success with Fun., what do you think of your Still Train years?
JR: It's really cool and it's the same story for all three of us. We didn't pop out of nowhere. I've been on tour for twelve years, my first tour was when I was sixteen in my parent's minivan that I borrowed and took all the way to Austin, which is funny that we're here all the way from New Jersey. God knows why they let me do that. But what's great about that is we learned how to play live, we learned the right way, we learned by booking our own shows, we learned by playing to five kids, then ten kids, then twenty kids. We've literally dumpster-dived and slept on people's floors, and it's been a complete steady build. We went from sleeping in the van to one hotel room, to two hotel rooms, nicer hotel rooms, and now we're finally in the bus. There are so many amazing things about it. Mostly importantly, we're incredibly grateful for everything that comes our way. But even bigger than that, I just think that we learned how to play in a Rock 'n' Roll band, to get up there and interact with a crowd and be great to our fans. Bruce Springsteen says anyone can make fans, but how you serve them is what makes you great. Lots of people have fans, but there are very few Bruce Springsteens who go out there and tour, make great records, and really care.
MR: At SXSW, were you at Springsteen's keynote speech?
JA: I wasn't, nor was I at the show.
MR: He made a lot of incredible points, one of which being you have to earn your stripes live.
JA: We're seeing that in modern music so much, with everything, for example, all that controversy over Lana Del Rey on Saturday Night Live. It's not even her fault; it's the media's fault. We should be promoting and getting behind bands that are a little bit more seasoned. It's exciting to be on the ground level, but it should be happening in clubs, then garages, then it builds. I think we're going back to that, I think it's reverting.
MR: It seems that once you get out into the trenches, you're seeing bands seasoned in a way that they're so at home in the sweat and the crowds.
JA: The greatest bands have that, and it's the only thing you can't fake. There's so much you can fake, there's millions of great songwriters out there, there are amazing producers. You put anyone in the studio with Jon Brion and they're going to sound incredible. You put anyone with Max Martin, they're going the have a hit. But live, whether it's technology or anything else, it is unfakeable. It is more than even just the talent--the way you sing, the way you play instruments, the way you play together. There is this other element that the greatest bands create with themselves and with the crowd. They create this third party, which doesn't exist, the ghost of a great show. Springsteen does it every night when he gets his crowd, himself, and his band to create this thing that happens together. That's live music. It's impossible to duplicate.
MR: This is a good point to ask this question. What advice might you have for new artists?
JA: To know that that's it. Everyone's coming up with a quicker way to get successful. Two or three years ago, it was all about Pitchfork and all about hype. You just do that and you blow up and you're Arcade Fire, which doesn't work. Arcade Fire was one of the most amazing bands. That's why they're huge. To tour, it's almost like the meat and potatoes of the situation, to go out there, get an event and understand what it means to be in a band. If you do have the one in a million opportunity to play for lots of people, you're going to want to have that experience. When we get up there in big crowds, that's all we're doing. We're doing it like we did when we were fifteen.
MR: And in a lot of cases these bands are representing their local areas, they're carrying their regional flags and they know it.
JA: I feel very strongly about New Jersey.
MR: I was about to ask, how do you feel about your own situation, being associated with Jersey?
JA: It has a very rich tradition and it's something that should be continued in any way possible.
MR: Was Bruce your idol when you were growing up?
JA: Absolutely. Bruce Springsteen and all the local punk music that was happening. I see Bruce Springsteen, in his own way, as a complete punk.
MR: I think so too. He also actually said that, that he wasn't trying to be controversial, but he was being controversial in how he was depicting people in his stories, the darkness.
JA: He's as punk as you can get. Him and growing up was hardcore and punk music, going to see it in fire halls and legion halls is the heart of New Jersey and that is a tradition that he carries.
MR: What future Fun. will there be?
JA: The immediate future is going to be a ton of touring on this album. We're going to go all over the world, it's really exciting. All of us...the success really invigorates us to want to go back and make another album. The more people you have listening, the more delicate the situation, the more years, the more special you want the album to be. It's special.
MR: When you look back at your first album, Aim and Ignite, and you look at your latest, Some Nights, what do you feel is the biggest jump?
JA: I think Aim and Ignite is an album of three people having this explosion together, finding out all these new things, learning to write together. It was almost like a honeymoon album--that initial buzz--and it was the debut, so artistically, it's very "Here we are, this is us!" Obvious in all the right ways--here's the production, here are the strings, the big guitars, Nate's voice is here--it's all bombastic. Some Nights is after that chemical-called-love disappears and something even more beautiful happens when you make a conscious effort to stay together and to work together. So this album for us was getting in a room, saying, "Okay," and it's not about shoving anything down anyone's throat and saying this is "Fun." It's about taking a step back and looking at this with a little more delicacy. It's a more mature record with a lot of less-is-more. A lot of people would never think this, but we recorded a lot of this album live--the piano, acoustic, and vocals. A lot of people see it as more of a produced record, but it's actually quite the opposite. It does feel more confident being in our own skin and defining the band, not saying, "Hey, we're three guys who can make a cool album." It's, "Hey, we're three guys who can make great art consistently" is the goal here.
MR: And what about that Still Train reunion?
JA: Yeah, definitely. There's only so much time in the day, but I love playing with Still Train, I love playing with fun. I have a couple of other ideas I can't really talk about yet, but everyone will have enough of me at some point.
MR: If you don't have a song featured in next year's Super Bowl, are you going to be disappointed?
JA: No. The only way I could be disappointed is if people stopped coming to the shows or if they stopped acting the way they act at the shows. Our fans are so excited, they're as excited to be there as we are, which is the only way we ever want it. They're singing every song. It makes us play and write on a level that we would never be able to do on our own. The fans are an integral part of our process and we've always had that, whether it was fifty kids or a few thousand. So if that ever were to dissipate, it would be heartbreaking. Anything else, who cares.
1. Some Nights (Intro)
2. Some Nights
3. We Are Young - feat. Janelle Monáe
4. Carry On
5. It Gets Better
6. Why Am I the One
7. All Alone
8. All Alright
9. One Foot
11. Out on the Town
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger
A Conversation with honeyhoney's Suzanne Santo & Ben Jaffe
Mike Ragogna: Hey, honeyhoney, our traditional kickoff question seems to involve beverages, so what you're drinking today?
Ben Jaffe: This is diet coke, coconut water, mango flavored. We're drinking in SXSW in the lovely Texas air. (Note: This interview took place at SXSW)
MR: Excellent. So what's going on with honeyhoney?
Suzanne Santo: I'm having a really good time. It's overwhelming, but also, every minute is incredibly stimulating, there's so much to see. 6th Street looks like an orgy.
MR: It is an orgy.
SS: I think it is. But I'm really recognizing the importance of hydration and little naps.
MR: You're on a very cool label. You've got the whole apparatus.
SS: They're also really attractive. I don't know if people know that collectively, as a group, they are very attractive people.
BJ: But not just in a shallow way, inside and out. These are people that go down to the mat for you.
MR: Fount Lynch, who's sitting to our left, what do you think of these guys?
Fount Lynch: They are the best-looking band on the label.
SS: Why don't we just turn this relationship into a physical one? (laughs)
MR: Okay, enough, not that I wouldn't mind the YouTube video. Oh look, honeyhoney is getting some luv from random passersby. (true story) So? What did you think of your set? They seemed to like it.
SS: To be honest with you, I wasn't happy with my vocals, I hurt my voice a little bit, which is something that happens occasionally. I try not to get upset about it, but if I strain this instrument, it's not a good thing. But I will drink away my sorrows and everything will be fine.
MR: What will you drink them away with? Could it be Jameson?
SS: The nectar of the gods, Jameson.
BJ: It was a great show, honestly, I think. There was a lot of energy and it felt great to play. It was a difficult sound set-up, but that's kind of the nature of the SXSW shows. There's so many goddamn bands playing that getting up there and having a clean sound check just isn't possible. It felt really good, I thought, though it was difficult to do it sound-wise. That's the reality of playing shows like this.
SS: You don't get a sound check, you just have to get up there and go. One of the cool things about our banb--also difficult from our angle performance-wise--is the "men-a-gerie" of instruments we have.
MR: What is included in this men-a-gerie? Or is it ménage-arie?
SS: Well, it depends on who you ask. We're in Texas so it's definitely men-aah-gerie. Or that's what they would say in Cleveland.
MR: Well, I meant...
SS: Whatever direction you want to go in, Mike, we're pretty flexible.
MR: Suzanne, not helping. (laughs) What instruments might you have?
SS: We've got electric guitar with amplifiers, a full drum kit, a bass, fiddle, banjo, and harmonies. When you take these folk instruments and you marry them with these loud electric instruments, which is really fun, it's also really tough to hear sometimes. You get a lot of feedback. When you're not given the luxury of the sound check, usually you're not really tight until the fourth or fifth song because the sound guy is like, "Oh god, oh dear, oh jeesuz, what do I do," or they don't give a s**t.
MR: So you're considered "Americana," but you're also kind of punk...well not "punk" punk.
SS: I don't know if we're considered American, are we?
BJ: Well, we're in line with these people because of the people that have been supporting us, which is great. The sound of our last record had some of the instrumentation that harkens to that. Our feeling about lyrics and our feeling about songwriting, I think, is closest to a country music tradition because we really like to tell stories and we really like to express things as directly as we can. That's something that I think is very in-line with an Americana tradition or at least a folk tradition.
MR: Where there is no bulls**t.
BJ: Yeah, I'll take that.
MR: By the way, the song "Little Toy Gun" from your first album is still haunting me. And your new album, Billy Jack...hey wait, since our last conversation, have you watched the movie Billy Jack yet?
BJ: No, but I've heard more about it.
SS: We like to keep that mystery alive in our lives.
BJ: In our heads.
MR: Uh-huh. I'm telling you, you're missing out on a major piece of Americana, speaking of "Americana." Now, we already talked about Billy Jack the album and the movie you refuse to see. But now that you've lived with Billy Jack the album for a few months, what are your thought about it?
SS: You know, we're very proud of it. It's always very interesting to watch how songs grow after you've recorded them. Some of the songs we play a little bit differently live, and when they sound juxtaposed to our record, it's cool.
MR: That's where I was going with that. You've lived with the record for a while, now you're playing live. Do you looks at your songs and think, "Wow, we've just redeveloped this song's section and now we want to go and rerecord the album"?
BJ: I actually don't. I think an important part about making records is just moving on from them. I think we're much more excited about making the next record. These songs...it's a funny time when records are different than they used to be in the sense that they are just one among a menagerie of other promotional items. In terms of the range of your artistic output, it's just one piece as opposed to the whole thing. These songs are the representation of what we created at that time. Now we're moving forward and they can be whatever they want to be over the next ten years, there's nothing wrong with that.
MR: Being what they want to be often means they have a different life live than in the studio.
BJ: I think we'd go crazy if we just had to play the same thing over again.
SS: That's something that's a standard we like to hold, which is trying different things, challenging ourselves musically. We experiment with different intros and outros, sections, and chord changes with some of our tunes. As a listener, I really like to see that when I go see bands. Sometimes it's cool to go and hear exactly what's on the record, but it's also nice to see what else you can do. And not in any disrespectful way, but it's always cool when people throw in some different flavor like funfetti cake.
BJ: Ugh, I don't like that stuff.
SS: Aw, I love funfetti cake.
MR: It's all about the funfetti cake.
BJ: I think something that is also important to us is that we have part of some songs that are improvised. We have solo sections and things like that, so we've toyed with the idea of just making that stuff standard. But it's really important--speaking for both of us--that we've always had this open zone in these songs to develop and to express whatever is going on at that time. It's a little bit of danger, which I think helps the set a little bit because you can fall on your face. There is nothing wrong with that.
MR: Looking back at "Little Toy Gun," the first album, and where you are now, what is the big difference about honeyhoney between now and then?
SS: Musically speaking, I think we've definitely matured a little bit more with our instruments, with playing together, with listening to the other musicians that we've brought into our band to play with. To piggyback on what Ben just said, when improvising, I find that I really admire bands that are able to play together and play different variations live. Obviously, you need to practice a lot but when you communicate on the stage and you go through different sections. I think that's a true achievement.
MR: I asked you this before, but what is your advice for new artists?
BJ: Well I can't remember what the original answer was, but when I think about it now, I think about dogged persistence. And commitment. You have to have complete and utter commitment to improvement and to whatever else you want to do because I think it's that commitment that people respond to the most. It's reflected in your work. If you can really get down as far as you can go with everything that you're doing, then eventually it's going to communicate with enough people that perhaps it could support you. The point is that if it couldn't, you don't care because you've already committed to it.
SS: I think that with that commitment, it's also educating yourself as much as you can with the different facets of the business as far as practicing, being proud of your songwriting or your playing, social media...there's a lot to know and I think there's a big miscommunication. I think if you're in the arena with record companies and people are going to work with you, there's the miscommunication that you're not going to have to work as hard when you get a record deal or you're working with an agent. That's just a myth.
BJ: That's a misconception that we had.
SS: And I think that, if anything, you have to work harder. It's really interesting when you do everything on your own how people react to it, and then they work with you and they work harder because they see that this band is serious, they mean it. It was a really good lesson to learn that. But yeah, good times!
MR: And the tour?
SS: I think that we're going to tour for the better part of the rest of the year and be recording our third record by the Fall/Winter of this year.
MR: Album's tentative title?
BJ: Booby Traps.
MR: I walked right into that.
SS: There you go. All these terrible things just came into my head.
MR: Booby Traps it is. Or isn't. Big thanks, Suzanne and Ben, you very awesome wisenheimers.
BJ: Thank you so much for having us.
SS: Look out!
1. Angel Of Death
2. Glad I've Done What I Did
4. Don't Know How
5. Turn That Finger Around
6. I Don't Mind
7. Old School Friends
8. Let's Get Wrecked
9. LA River
10. All On You
11. Thin Line
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger
A Conversation with Milo Greene's Andrew Herringer & Graham Fink
Mike Ragogna: What is this "Milo Greene"'s origin story?
Andrew Herringer: I was living in the Sacramento area in California and I was doing music with Marlana (Sheetz) who's the female vocalist in the band. I went to school with Robbie and the two of us had started to exchange music online. I was doing the band on my own, and Robbie was singing lead in a band as well.
MR: That's Robbie Arnett.
AH: Yes. The two of us decided to meet at a cabin one weekend, when I was doing some housesitting for friends. We took all our recording gear and he asked if Marlana could come along. So that ended up happening and the three of us locked ourselves away for a week and started recording. Those three songs became the foundation of something we knew was special. About six months later, we did another demo session, and by the end of that, we knew that maybe this was something that had some staying power.
MR: Graham, when did you come on board?
Graham Fink: Somewhere in the middle of all that. I was in another band in Los Angeles also, and I played some shows with Robbie's band and we became friends. As both our bands declined, unfortunately, we were bonding, and he had these demos that they had started making that he sent me and asked if I would like to be involved. I was pretty taken with them, and we got together and started working from there. New songs evolved and here we are today, about a year and a half later.
MR: You're being worked up by Atlantic's Chop Shop, and you're associated with Fueled by Ramen. That's a pretty big endorsement. How did that come about?
GF: I think John at Chop Shop started coming to our first shows--we played our first show just under a year ago, so we're about to hit our first real anniversary as a band. From the very first shows, he was coming up and fell in love with the band. He nerdily started courting us, we fell for all his mannerisms, and he actually dropped us off at the hotel, so we had gotten quite close with him.
MR: You played SXSW for a few nights. What was the experience been like?
AH: Pretty chaotic. We've had a couple great showcases . Just getting in front of a whole bunch of people...the thing that strikes me the most is seeing a lot of repeat people come back. Seeing the same faces is what I like the most.
GF: Yeah, it's nice to have return customers.
MR: (laughs) How would you describe playing live vs. your studio approach?
AH: Well, I think I would go with the recordings and describe them first. We like to call our music "cinematic pop." We like to see it as a soundscape, and I think there's something for us in the recordings that we add. To actually play the recordings live, we would need ten people in this band. We dub a lot of instruments and so when we go to play live, we find the things that need to be there and cover everything. But I still think that the songs are the things that really sell people. I think a lot of the arrangements, too, we worked really hard on. I think live, it's pulled off, even though it may not be exactly what's on the recordings.
GF: I think we rely a lot more on raw energy and there's a different feeling to the live show. It's a little bit louder, a little bit dirtier, if you will.
MR: Although you've been classified as a folk pop. Is that right?
MR: (laughs) Okay, "1957," let's get to that. It's your latest single, and you're going to be having an album out at some point this year?
GF: July is the hopeful release date if all goes according to plan.
MR: Does it have a tentative title yet?
AH: I think self-titled probably.
MR: Milo Greene introducing Milo Greene. Everyone is going to say, "Who is that guy?" What inspired your naming the band Milo Greene?
AH: Robbie and I were in college together and we were both doing other bands. There was a group of musicians, and we were all trying to do the DIY, just make in the music industry. We realized that in order to become a little bit more legitimate, we needed a booking agent. We can get anyone to be our booking agent, so we created the "Milo Greene" character. We created an email address, and Milo would send out booking emails for us. That actually had a degree of success to it. We always joked that we would have a band called Milo Greene in the future to pay homage to...
MR: ...ooh, ooh, I know...to the guy who got you places!
MR: Now, I imagine you're using a lot of your social networking to keep your fans on board and to let them know about events, etc. What kind of social networking and marketing concepts are coming from your end, beyond the label's promotion team? What are you doing on your own?
GF: I think when we started, we utilized Bandcamp a lot, which was helpful. It has a lot of ways which provide fans with free downloads and different kinds of incentives so that they're constantly being given material and given opportunities to be involved and not lose the attention of the fans that are out there.
AH: I've enjoyed Twitter, especially when we were out on tour with the Civil Wars in the Fall. Just seeing every night, there was an immediate response. People could talk to you and you could talk back to them. It creates a relationship almost immediately that you could not get without that kind of medium, that technology.
GF: Yeah, we've had a number of experiences with strangers through Twitter that have just been amazing memories like bonfires with fans in Seattle that just invited us over to their home for dinner, probably not thinking that we'd write back and say what time we're coming. So there's been a lot of a fun thanks to strangers in the internet world.
MR: What advice do you guys have for new artists?
GF: I've got some. Like Andrew was saying, we had been doing this a long time with other bands before we got Milo Greene going. The one thing that sticks out to me with respect to the success we're having so far is that we made a decision to get everything up to a very solid level before we put our foot forward. Rather than just starting playing shows and figuring out how to be a band together at shows, we practiced, and we recorded, and we demoed and got to a point where before we played our first show, we felt confident. That's not to say that we haven't grown together over the past year, but we really put in the time to making sure that before we got on stage or sent out music, it was up to a level that we were happy with, and not just a foundation of something to come.
AH: Yeah, when we announced our first show, we had a couple demos we posted on Bandcamp, we had a video that we posted on Youtube, and there was definitely a professionalism to it all that we wanted to make sure was there from the beginning. I think that has allowed our success to be catapulted a little bit more this last year than I think we even thought possible.
MR: Basically, when looking at a new artist or band, you feel your example is something they could follow?
AH: Yeah, I think there should be a standard of quality. There is so much music out there, if you don't break above all the other stuff going on, you're just going to get lost in it.
GF: First impressions are just so important. It's way harder to come back from a bad first impression of something and change someone's relationship with your band name or your artist than to just have a good impression to begin with.
MR: That's a good point. Creatively, how do you guys do it, how do you create the music?
AH: We've got a lot of heads involved, a lot of writers involved. The thing I really like about that is that it really makes us focus on what's needed, what's catchy, what hooks people. We're all about writing pop songs and then camouflaging them with a vibe that we think is cool, that hits us emotionally. I think the best part about all these writers together is we can filter each other. Because we all trust each other, if I write a part and the others don't like it, I say, "Okay, I trust you guys."
MR: When you're writing a part, in the context of the arrangement of the song, do you guys go through many variations of the arrangement as you're camouflaging?
AH: Sometimes. Sometimes a song hits right away, sometimes it takes a while. We've had a better experience with a couple of songs.
MR: Has the band's identity evolved since the beginning?
AH: Yeah, I think we're still figuring it out. I think the cool thing about this collection of songs is that it's not all over the place. I think it feels unified through certain arrangement things like how we do vocals, we like cymbal swells a lot, and things like that. But there'll be a lot of arrangement things that carry over. I think that some songs like "1957" has an old country feel at times. We have one called "Perfectly Aligned" that sounds like a little bit more of a dark, edgier thing. I think we're still trying to find our voice and I think, because we have so many writers involved, we'll always have these cross-genre things going on.
MR: Cool, and what's the future for Milo Greene?
GF: Hopefully, the record will be out in July. We're going to be doing some touring in May, including a few more shows with The Civil Wars, and then in July, I think we're going to do a bunch of US stuff on our own. Hopefully, we'll be touring here and everywhere in the year to come.
MR: Milo's life going to be like in the future?
AH: We've had a really amazing year. We don't have a record out, we have four songs online that are demos that we did in our apartment, and I think that we've built up, through that, through YouTube, through The Civil Wars tour, we've been able to build up an anticipation. I think that once we get the record out, we will truly be able to see what we're capable of, and who we're able to reach. I'm really excited to finally get that out, but I'm also excited that we've kept it in and built up that anticipation, which has really made people eager.
MR: Thank you very much, both of you guys, I wish you the best. When you have the album out, you need to come back here for round two.
GF: Thank you.
2. Don't You Give Up On Me
3. Silent Way
4. Autumn Tree
Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger