Happy Anarchy

With a recent invitation to play the South by Southwest festival in Texas as well as songs being considered for hit TV shows, Heroes and Grey’s Anatomy, 2008 looks like it will be a good year for Happy Anarchy. The five-piece band just released their debut album, Reset, in November and have hopes to tour the rest of the year. I sat down with the guys Saturday night before their performance at The Bowery Poetry Club, where they talked to me about the band, how they describe their music and their hopes for the future. I’ll list their full names/instruments they play below so you get a better idea of who’s talking.

Joe Pecora-vocals/guitar
Tim Boylan-acoustic guitar/trombone
Yuhei Yamanaka-electric guitar
Pete Smith-drums
Jesse Blum-keyboards/trumpet

Tell me a little bit about Happy Anarchy. How did you guys come together
Joe: Basically, the band as it is right now is about a year old. We had another band before that with a bunch of different people. Me and Tim are the only original ones we had. We kind of tried to keep it together with new members but it just fell apart. It just ended up being me, Tim and Yuhei for a long period of time. Then Pete and Jesse joined and the band was more focused and it became a little more real for us. So it’s about a year or so.

Tim: We went basically from the early days, being the college band, the band with the silly hats that you go to see at the bar- they play cover songs and they’re a little goofy. From there we’ve evolved into a rather serious rock band. I don’t know how serious we are individually, but as far as the music goes that’s what we want to do. The sound has definitely matured. If I were to go back and listen to the old albums, which I don’t do ever, but if I were to do that I would say, “Wow this doesn’t sound like us at all because it’s so immature.” Which is not a bad thing; it’s just where we were. We were all young, just started playing in a band so naturally that’s how it’s going to come out. And as you play and as you grow, over 10 years you get to where we’re at now. Which maybe could have happened a little bit quicker, but who’s really going to complain about timelines. I can’t. I’m not going to do it.

Yuhei: The funny thing is the band, in many forms, really has been around for a long time. What I consider Happy Anarchy now is ever since Pete and Jesse joined, that’s what the band is now. There was a year period where it was just the three of us, Joe, me and Tim and we were just struggling to sing the songs. Ever since they joined, they added so much. That’s what the evolution is. How their input has helped shape the fabric that Happy Anarchy is now and helped shape the album. The album has everybody’s input in it. Coming from eight band members to three and now back up to five, the members we have now have helped shape the sound.

Why did you decide to join Happy Anarchy?
Peter was playing in the band. We had been friends for a long time; we used to play in another band together. He told me they needed a trumpet player and a keyboard player and I play both. I listened to their music and enjoyed it. At the time I wasn’t playing rock music, which was very sad for me. I kept saying to my girlfriend, “I gotta play rock music!” And so this happened. I think one of the great things about the band was that I’d show up, after missing a few rehearsals, and they would always sound better as a band then they had the previous time. They want to sound good and we all have the same definition of the word excellence, which can be a problem when you’re working with people. I think it’s just a great, rockin’, good old-fashioned American rock band. That’s what I always like to say. We sound like America rock. I don’t know. I feel like it’s a nice swishing together of all different styles of music. (Joe laughs.)

Jesse: You don’t think that’s true?

Joe: Yes. Sure. I like it.

Pete: I really look forward to going to rehearsals and going to shows. I like them all as people, I respect them all as musicians and I really think its great music and it’s one of the best gigs I’ve had in forever. I came kind of late in the game, but I was given credit which I really appreciate. Obviously they had something going on already. We’re having a good time. To me, it’s a meal ticket. When I heard that this was open I jumped at it and insisted that they call me back and it’s worked out pretty well since then.

Do you write all the lyrics and music yourself?
It’s kind of a mixture of things. A lot of times I’ll come up with a chord structure or melody line and then it gets to the band and we’ll change it just by what everybody plays. It really starts from a seed but then it turns into a whole band song by the time it’s done. Sometimes Yuhei will start with something and I’ll add to it. It’s really a group effort.

I really like the quote on your website about your music, “Indie without being Scene, and Rock without the hair.” How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
That’s one trouble we always have. People like to categorize us with something they’re familiar with. We don’t have a niche. We’re not like a hipster or indie rock band or emo band. I don’t know how to describe it. How Jesse describes it, obviously its classic American rock music. It has a little bit of everything. We take influence from the Chili Peppers to Radiohead to older bands like The Who. I think the cool part is just whatever anyone thinks it is. I’ve learned to like the fact that you can’t be like, “Yeah, they’re like this.” There’s potential for a lot of people to like our band.

Tim: We sound like a lot of things because we come from a lot of things. I always feel like you’re better off asking someone who’s not in the band what the band sounds like. No matter what I say, it’s like, he’s in the band. The other good thing about it is I’ll hear what some people say and think, we don’t sound like that. Where do you hear this in our music? I like to compare us to bands like The Flaming Lips or Super Furry Animals or bands that I really like that don’t all sound the same, their songs are different. You know they are from that band, they have that individual sound to the voice of it but their songs don’t all sound the same. So I just like saying that we’re a rock band. I know it’s broad and it’s hard to figure out what we sound like from that. But I think that’s a good thing because maybe it peaks the curiosity a little bit. Maybe you want to say, “Let me hear what this band sounds like, make my own judgments.”

You guys use the trombone and trumpet in your music too.
Yeah. It’s not every song. When we write songs it’s not like, “Okay, we’re writing whatever type of song.” Joe has an idea, we work around it. Maybe we need a trombone, maybe we don’t. Maybe we need something else. We kind of throw in whatever that we need to make the song work.

I read that you’re in talks for having your music featured on Heroes and Grey’s Anatomy. How do you go about that?
We let management do it. There’s this company in California that we work with. They work the same way that agents work for actors. They’ll get a break down of shows that need music and the company we use submits our stuff. The past couple of times we’ve gotten past the first or second round. So there’s a possibility the music will be used.

Is that similar with the way you guys got picked to be featured in the South by Southwest festival?
In the South by Southwest case, they have a showcase of bands there. And we’re one of their bands. They have about 200 to 300 bands there. They have our CD and talked with our management.

Jesse: I like to think that the music is the most important part. You try to make a good product and hope that people hear it and respond positively.

Are you excited about South by Southwest?
Yeah. We’re writing a lot of songs right now. It feels like that will be the place to do it. Austin is a big city, like a music mecca for blocks. It’s filled up day and night with music. Flaming Lips plays every once in a while. I think R.E.M. is playing this year. It’s kind of like a Sundance for music. I’m really glad we actually get a chance to be a part of it. For a small band like us, it makes us feel like we’re a part of something. The best thing that could happen for us is that we can find some other bands and develop friendships, book future tours.

Tim: I wasn’t really holding out hopes that we would get it. By this point, if I get excited about something it generally doesn’t pan out. This came through and I’m really happy that we’re gonna get the chance to go down there and play. I don’t really know what will come out of it. But, it will be great if something comes up. I just really want to get out on the road and play. We’re not trying to be rock stars.

Do you have a favorite song on the record?
“In Reverse” is my favorite song on the record. I think because it’s the best song, the most songful song we have on the album. (laughs) I love the way it rocks, the way it moves. I think it has one of the best melody lines written. A lot in that song that you can latch onto and it’s not immediately apparent. Some of the other songs are right there for you, but with “In Reverse” you have to sift through the layers that are there and there are hooks all over the place.

Yuhei: I like “In Reverse.” It’s my favorite one I think. There’s a couple, it’s hard to pick, but that one sticks out for me. It’s one of those songs where I had more in the writing process. It started when I introduced a riff to Joe and as we were working on it, it became something completely different. It starts with a drum loop, that was when we didn’t have a drummer yet, but we left that loop in there. It started with the three of us and the parts that finished it were obviously Pete and Jesse. There are live jumps in there afterwards and keyboards come in. It starts from the band where it’s just the three of us, but then it finishes with all of us. So, I guess that’s why it’s my favorite song.

Joe: I like “On and On,” it’s the last track on the album. It feels like the future. I think the song ties the lyrics and the song together. It’s where we’re going to go next.

Jesse: I can’t tell you my favorite song, it’s just hard to pick one. I would say “Personal Judas,” “Bomp,” and “Is That Right” are favorites of mine. I think they represent the sound of the band I enjoy most. I believe that is what Happy Anarchy will sound like most.

Pete: I think probably “In Reverse” and “At the Bottom of the Sea.” “At the Bottom of the Sea” being the first video that we’re going to do.

Do you know where you’re going to shoot it?
: We just met the director tonight before the show. I hear there is going to be a lot of animation, like CG and stop-action, that kind of thing. I have no idea; I’ve never seen his work. They [management] researched him and his work so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome because they’re picky. I leave that in the hands of capable people.

At first, when listening to “Bomp” it’s a pretty upbeat song and then you listen more closely to the lyrics: “Just wait a second, now, cause there’s always hope/Said the man with the necktie of a rope/Watching the clock as he waits for the trap door to swing.” What were you thinking of when you wrote it?
I have a hard time straightening out my thoughts. After a while I felt like I was getting older and I wasn’t doing anything. It’s that feeling of congestion, being pushed and stuff keeps piling on and it feels like you can’t stop running and how that feeling makes you react. There’s that part in the chorus where you explode at the wrong time and place. It’s modern life. My interpretation of modern life, but it’s better now.

Pete: It’s a man under pressure. Every once in a while that guy just loses his shit, that guy just loses his mind. An alternate name for that was thumscrewed thoughts, but it was a little too obscure. Like, who’s going to remember that? But when its onomatopoeia, when you actually use the sound it sounds like, bomp ba bomp, it’s a little more catchy. But it really is kind of like a thumbscrew thing, when every once in a while the twists get a little tighter. It’s a guy under a tremendous amount of pressure trying not to lose it. Nothing is fantastic here. I think everything is drawn from reality. Music is therapy for all of us. It’s not a business; it’s worth something to us.

Do you ever feel like you have to hold back when writing a song?
I’m starting to feel like that now. I feel like I don’t want to write any more songs about myself. I think I did enough of that for the past few years. I guess sometimes I forget that your job as a musician or an artist is to reflect life as a whole to other people. I can’t just reflect my own life. I think that’s selfish. I’m not trying to be selfish. I’m trying to figure out ways that affect me and the
n realize that they affect other
people from that angle.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
: We’re planning a week or so, 10-day tour around the South by Southwest [festival]. We’re also looking to shoot a music video for one of our songs. We’re potentially going to be doing a lot of radio promotion on college radio. That’s going to go along with a tour in time, some publicity, trying to get reviews, all that kind of stuff. Now the album’s out so we’re going to try and make a push. As far as the world’s concerned, the album’s not out yet. It’s on iTunes, a lot of electronic outlets, not in stores yet. What we’re going to try to do the rest of the year is just to push for the record, play as much as we can and do as many interviews as possible.

Pete: We have one quick tour coming up in Texas for South by Southwest for 10 days, whatever we can play along the way. I don’t want to say it’s our trial run, but it’s our maiden voyage as far as consecutive gigs without going home. I’d like to do a lot more this year. Finally we have a product to sell; we have a reason to be out there.

Do you guys have day jobs? (Pete answered this question for everyone.)
Yeah. I design and build custom sound systems. Mostly for live sound. I pretty much do solely live repair right now. I’m in a really good spot right now. I can go in, work as hard as I can and then go on tour for a while.

Jesse is a jazz musician for a living. He’s in about eight or nine bands right now, a bunch of indie bands. Whoever’s paying, he’ll do it. Joe works at Starbucks. Those are his barista friends over there. They have great benefits, they’re good people, they’re supportive. They’ll move shit around so he can go and do a gig. They’re gonna cover him so he can go to Texas. It’s a good organization. Yuhei works at HQ. He’s a bartender there. It’s a club. He reaps the benefits. It’s a very high class place. Up against Larry Flynt’s, in that vain. People who have too much money – they go there. Tim is a bookkeeper. (Asks Tim what exactly it is that he does)

Tim: I do a lot of things, I have one job, but I have seven jobs therein, so I’m a bunch of people. I’m an executive assistant. I work for a guy who owns stuff and I count all of his money and deal with all of it. You can give me upper management, you can give me IT, I do some of that. I’m all around. I make money.

Pete: This is what we really want to do. And that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve all gotten to points in our lives where we can push stuff around and get it all done. It makes for some tired weeks, but it’s alright, feels good to go on tour.

What is the concept behind Reset?
It’s really Joe’s vision concept-wise. But Reset is, in theory, there is this reset button where you would redo everything you’ve done or known. It came to a point where in your life, if that was available, would you push that button to redo everything? To potentially not meet the people you’ve met, start everything over. Conceptually, there are different songs. I think it was just a time in everybody’s life where a lot of things were happening, a lot of changes individually and even as a band. There were three of us and then eight, we had the whole struggle of trying to keep going and then we got the new members.

Reset for me is like a rebirth of this project that could have ended at any point. It’s the new manifestation of Happy Anarchy. Song-wise, it goes from some songs are country-ish, some songs are more indie rock, some songs are a little more poppy. It goes in a lot of different places. They’re all different lyrically. There’s a kind of eerie theme, somewhat depressing, kind of end of the world: skeletons, drowning and going to the bottom of the sea. There are a lot of themes that go on, ocean themes, starting over, things like that. It’s not a super concept, but there’s a mood to it and certain songs that are represented.

Tim: Personally, for me, this album was born out of a very turbulent time for us all. It was us trying to put together as much of an album as we can put together to a certain point. “Bomp” I feel really came together when Pete and Jesse joined the band. A lot of songs really finally came together that way. As far as the album, it’s about everything falling apart, doubt in general with everything around you, doubt with the world. The whole idea behind Reset is if you had a reset button and you could push it at any point, what would happen? What would reset? Would you want to reset? All the things you have to think about. If you have this opportunity to go back and fix the past five years, would you? Is it even worthwhile to go back and push reset, would it all turn out the same? Would it be better, or would it end up worse?

Pete: I think its therapy, whether on or off the record. Maybe it’s doubt. It’s a look at what’s next. The record itself as a product is the new Happy Anarchy. It’s how we’re starting out as people, but it’s also kind of a look back, a closure of some sorts. It’s a concept album, but taken individually, each song has its own strengths. It doesn’t have to be played top to bottom, but if it is, it does fall into a story. It’s also one of my best works that I’ve ever been on. I’m really proud of it.

What kind of audience are you trying to reach?
Everybody. If you listen to the album, you get a better idea on how there are so many different types of songs. I think there’s something for everybody in there. If we can turn heads for people that don’t usually listen to rock that will be great. But I think that even if you do listen to rock, it’s something everyone can connect to somehow and appreciate.

What are your hopes for the future of Happy Anarchy?
I hope we keep progressing, writing music and not working for the rest of my life.

Pete: I would like to make music for a very long time and possibly make a living with it, but if not I will still keep playing.

Yuhei: Hopefully we’ll be that one band that lasts beyond a two to three year lifespan. I’m hoping we’re a band that has longer staying power. It might take a little longer to catch on, but once we catch on I hope that we’re one of those bands that are doing something different that is still acceptable and can connect with a lot of people.

Tim: For the band, I hope that we just get to play music and I don’t have to work anymore.

Jesse: I hope that the band continues to do well and can get to the point where it is self sustaining, monetarily speaking.

For more info on Happy Anarchy check out their website and MySpace.


Hollywood Lies

Boston-based pop/rock band, Hollywood Lies have been pretty busy the past few months. They’ve been working on their debut album, Building An Empire, due out in March, and have been touring throughout much of the northeast.

In an email interview lead singer/guitarist Mathew said Hollywood Lies never was meant to be a band, just friends from different bands getting together to play and write some songs. The first three songs were written Postal Service-esque, he explained. Mathew would demo a song, then send it to Mike and Johnny, and get together with both of them separately. By the time we had recorded the first three songs, Mike, Johnny and I had played together in the same room I think once,” Mathew said.

Pretty impressive for being able to pull that off. Below is my Q&A; with Mathew. Be sure to check them out on Pure Volume, where they are featured artist this week with a full-album stream, and MySpace.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I think the best way to describe our music would be a clash of classic rock and pop. I feel comfortable with that.

What can fans expect with your album, Building An Empire?
To me, this album represents diversity and adversity. Not to say that we are the most unique band that’s ever walked the earth, because we know we aren’t and we’re not pretending to be. But at the same time, we feel like we put our own spin on things and we don’t sound like a carbon-copy of anyone else. There are straight up pop songs like “Southbound Train,” and there’s a dance song called “It’s The New Craze.” There’s a piano-based indie ballad called “158,” and then there’s some guitar solos, because I love playing the guitar. I love the band Boston, so I take after their guitar harmonies and their solos and try to bring that back.

I don’t hear a lot of bands playing guitar solos anymore, and that is something that’s really important to me, because all the music I was raised on – Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Cheap Trick, Thin Lizzy, Aerosmith, and even early Green Day, there’s soloing. I know a ton of you probably think Billie Joe can’t play the guitar, but he can. The dude can shred if he wants to. Check out “Only Of You.”

What is the concept behind your album?
There’s not really a concept behind the album, per se. I had originally wanted to do a concept album, but it just didn’t turn out that way. I hadn’t planned things out well enough, but that was originally why I wanted to work with Casey [Crescenzo], because I knew he had some experience in that sort of thing. The album is generally about some inner struggles that I had throughout the writing of it. Problems within myself that I guess I didn’t really feel like I could address with anyone, so I put them down in a song.

With the state of the record industry it seems like a lot of bands are able to survive as an independent band today. Are you hoping to stay independent or eventually get signed to a major label?
I would rather stay independent, but if we got an offer from a major label, I would definitely consider it. I think that, generally speaking, major labels translates to major money. They have the kind of bank roll to push an artist like crazy. But it’s also hard because on a major label, half a million records is a flop. Kelly Clarkson’s last album, My December sold half a million records, and that was considered a flop. 500,000 copies of a record, to me, is, as Borat says, “great success!” I don’t necessarily want that kind of pressure. I don’t want to be responsible for having to sell a million copies of an album. What if I don’t? What if we made an album that we’re very proud of, and is a great work of art, but isn’t really commercially viable? Does that mean that it’s not worth anything? I’m a big Jimmy Eat World fan. I think “Clarity” is an amazing album. Is it their poppiest album? No. Is it an album that the general public is going to receive well? Maybe not. But it doesn’t negate the fact that there’s a 16-minute song, and it’s beautiful, but that’s not something you can put on the radio, really. So major labels are tricky.

What inspires your music?
Life inspires my music. There are a lot of things that go into creating a song. My own idiocy. Other songs. People, places, the sounds that life makes. When a mood really strikes me, I let it consume me and use that to attack the song, and go at it with that vigor. You can’t force out a song, at least I can’t. I have a hard time sitting down and going, “Okay, you’re going to write a song now.” It comes off as contrived, jaded. It’s not how I work.

Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process behind your songs?
Our music, to me, is very melodically based, and that’s where the songs usually come from. I’ll either get a melody stuck in my head, randomly, and I’ll put some words to it, and go from there. Or, it’ll start with some words I’ve written. Poetry, free verse, whatever I have, and those will typically have some sort of cadence to them, and I’ll see if I can find a melody that feels natural from those words. After that, I’ll find chords and melodies on guitar, piano, bass, and even drums, that will complement what the song is all about. Sometimes it’ll start with the music and then the melody will come afterwards, but that’s very rare for me.

How did everything go with making your first album? Is it what you expected?
Everything went really well. It was all so new and super exciting, and it’s everything we expected and more. A lot of these ideas transformed and were a lot more interesting to us once we heard them in good quality as opposed to our poor demos. The only thing that we, as well as Casey, both regret, is that it wasn’t as planned as we would have liked. Instead of recording seven songs over the course of a month we recorded seven songs over the course of about seven months. We would have rather sat down with an allotted block of time and recorded everything we had. But then again, if we did that right when we went in, we would have had a very different record. So we’re all very proud of the album that we have made and feel like it’s an accurate representation of where we are right now. Our next record could be heavy metal. It could be a capella. It could be whatever, you know? It’s wherever we are while we’re writing the album, really.

I really like your video for “Southbound Train,” how did you guys come up with the concept behind it?
We sat down with our director and came up with a concept that we both liked. And then we changed it. And changed it. And changed it. But the basic concept is similar to the story of the song itself. The video is basically about this girl and I who were dating, we split up, and are both headed off in different directions. She gets on a train to go to this party, and ends up seeing me there. I chase after her, and she’s gone. The song is about a past relationship, where it just wasn’t working out, as much as we both wanted it to be. We both made some mistakes along the way, and it unfortunately had to end for the sake of both of us. So we tried to
keep it very accessible, and
very close to that. Our director wanted to make it more of an “MTV-style” video. The song isn’t about anything groundbreaking or weird, so we just wanted to keep it straight and to the point. When you only have three and a half minutes to tell a story, you want to keep it simple. Nobody is really going to watch a video a million times to figure out what it was about. You want something that you can grasp easily.

What makes Hollywood Lies stand out from other up and coming bands?
I couldn’t tell you, to be honest. I don’t think that it’s necessarily my place to say what makes us different from anyone, really. I don’t think that we’re really pushing any boundaries or making music that hasn’t been heard before. And that’s not to say that we’re a miserable band, or unoriginal, it’s just not our goal to be weird and “unique” for the sake of being different. I think we mix the styles that influence us in a way that feels and sounds natural, and I think that’s what makes us stand out – that we blend the music and things that influence us, and we do it well.

What are your plans for the next year in promoting your album?
I think the best thing that any band can do to promote themselves and their album is to put their band out there as much as possible, which I think we’re doing. We’re doing interviews, and speaking with local newspapers at our shows, trying to get in touch with the influential web zines. We’re also going to be a featured artist on PureVolume for two weeks, which is really exciting. So that’s what’s up for now, and we’re going to submit to college radio, regional rock radio, internet radio, and lots and lots of touring. That’s our plan. Tour.

What are your hopes for Hollywood Lies in the next few years?
Our hopes for Hollywood Lies are to be a full-time touring band, make some records that we’re proud of, make enough money to survive off doing this, branch out a bit and dabble in a few other things, such as record production, a clothing line, maybe a label, booking agency, artist management, that sort of thing, and above all else, have fun. That’s what this is about. You get to play music with some of your best friends instead of sitting in front of a desk answering phones.


Hello Tokyo

With their first full-length album, Sell The Stars, expected out in April, Kat explained how it all began – interestingly enough in a coffee shop and music store. She spotted John while in a coffee shop and eventually they started writing music together. Soon after, she met Sam at a music store and the three began playing shows and house parties before deciding to make Hello Tokyo a priority.

Below is my interview with Kat. I especially like her answer to how she describes her music. What do you think? Be sure to check out Hello Tokyo on MySpace and their latest music video for “Radio,” filmed at the infamous Sunset Sound in Hollywood.

Being a Jersey girl, did you decide to move to Brooklyn to start the band?
I am a Jersey girl and my band mates, at times, find me very annoying (especially when I tell them that no one drives better than Jersey drivers – I think only Jersey people understand this fact). I moved to a town in Maryland, right outside of DC, in ’98 with my entire family. I was in and out of school for about three years. Nothing I was doing with my life really made sense or mattered to me. I always looked to writing and singing as an outlet but never really took myself seriously until I hit a wall with my studies and family and just kind of stepped back and reassessed my priorities.

I started auditioning for any music projects I found in the classified ads around town and slowly found myself busier and busier with various musical endeavors. John really encouraged me to focus on writing more and so we just started working together and eventually Hello Tokyo was formed. John and Sam grew up together and reconnected soon after the band was formed. When we found out about his incredible drumming skills, we asked him to join. I decided to make a move to NYC in ’04. Living in NYC was something I wanted to do for a long time and it just seemed like the right time to do it. I continued to work with John and Sam and traveled back and forth from DC to NYC almost every weekend for two years until they both moved to NYC. The rest is history.

What can be expected from your first full-length CD?
A very different sound. We had the luxury of time and focused on a lot of things we never really had the chance to focus on before, like adding more keyboards, re-writing parts that we thought could sound better and just allowing each song to develop into something we felt 100% about. The songs were written without industry goals and really came from the heart, they’re honest and different and something we’re really proud of and can’t wait for all our fans to hear.

What was the process of recording your album?
We recorded half of the songs at Chicken Water Studios in Brooklyn, NY and the other half at Music Mania in Greensboro, NC. Originally this release was going to be another EP but we were encouraged to do a full length since we had a bunch of material to work with so our release date kept changing every time we added a new song to the album. It was kind of annoying but we couldn’t turn away from some of the songs we felt really good about so we stuck it out, worked our butts off and now it’s complete and sounding over and beyond what we had originally expected.

I read that you re-recorded “Radio” in the same studio as Maroon 5 and Goldfrapp, how was that?
I think for me personally, re-recording “Radio” at Sunset Sound in Hollywood was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Hello Tokyo. Greg Richling, a super amazing producer in Hollywood, heard about our band and asked if we’d be interested in recording “Radio” with him. We had originally recorded “Radio” a long time ago with a completely different line up at a low-budget studio. We were poor, unsure of ourselves and to be honest, not really ready to record.

Greg really loved “Radio” and wanted to re-record it at Sunset Sound so we jumped at the opportunity. We flew out to Los Angeles last summer and found ourselves in a really awesome situation recording in a studio that was built for Prince during his Purple Rain sessions and also where Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, to name a few, recorded. We said hello to Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, looked like a bunch of dorks, and some of the members of Maroon 5 were recording right next door.

What is the inspiration behind your music?
Most of the inspiration comes from basically living life, how sometimes it’s difficult to do even the simplest things, and the struggle to hold on to some form of hope. It also comes from our experiences while listening to our favorite bands and the emotions and memories, good and bad, they evoke. Music that makes my tummy leap. Blur, REM, U2, Oasis, Fugazi, Jesus Jones, Blondie, Metric, Muse and more recently Kings of Leon and Rilo Kiley are a few bands that have influenced Hello Tokyo’s musical direction.

What is the music writing process for Hello Tokyo?
We write all our songs and the process varies. John comes up with some sweet guitar parts or a funky bass line and I’ll put a melody to it, eventually lyrics. Sometimes, I’ll just freestyle like Jay-Z or Lil Kim or Run DMC or like Leslie Hall and start putting words together on a beat and just come up with a melody off the top of my head. John later adds some meat and Sam, of course, adds the sauce with his sweet drum skills.

Can you tell me a little bit about being featured in Fashion Fights Povertys 2007 look-book?
The Fashion Fights Poverty Look Book is a style guide supporting a community development through ethical fashion. We were a
sked to represent the New York City edition of the 2007 Look Book which we were more than happy to be a part of. You can get more information about the organization and book here.

What are your plans for 2008?
We’re definitely planning to tour this spring/summer and also releasing a couple more music videos. We have tons of unreleased songs we’re planning on recording for our next album this year. Most importantly, we are going to keep the momentum and keep moving forward.

How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
It’s hard to describe, I think it falls along the pop/rock genres but it has its own place. I would say our music is like if The Big Bopper came back to life and had a kid with Fiona Apple, whose kindergarten teacher was Patsy Cline and school principal was Chewbacca.



Perhaps most well known as frontman of U.K. Christian rock band Delirious?, Martin Smith has had a huge influence in the music industry over the years. Whether it’s traveling with his band to Cambodia and Rwanda or heading up Compassionart, it is no question that he is changing the way the music industry runs as we know it today. His most recent project, Compassionart, will be hosting a songwriter’s retreat next week where all the proceeds made from every song written will be donated to charity. Martin took some time last week to explain to me the idea behind Compassionart as well as his hopes for the project. You can read the interview below.
For more information on Compassionart, visit

What inspired Compassionart?
Well, in the sort of gospel, Christian writers community over the last five years people have been writing together and there has been a lot of cross-fertilization. People have been enjoying that. Historically, people in that scene write songs on their own and that’s been fun. So I thought, let me get some of these guys together under one roof for a week. And let’s write some strong, killer songs, but more than that, let’s try and give these songs away and really sew into some of these social problems around the world.

As a band of Delirous? we’ve been traveling and touring. And we’ve been able to do tours in India and we’ve been to Rwanda, Cambodia and Indonesia and you get to see some amazing things, things that really shouldn’t be allowed to happen in our day in age. So, those things have deeply affected us. We’re just trying to do a little bit and really use the microphone that we have been given to make some noise about these issues.

How did you decide which songwriters to get involved with this project?
It was a pretty easy choice really because we just found our friends. The list could have been massive. We felt it was important to start the first one with people that we knew and trusted that could do this sort of thing. And it’s been an absolute joy to see it come together.

What are your hopes for the overall project?
Our hopes are obviously to come out with 10 – 12 great songs that would become big songs at the end of the day and earn some money. And that money could really come into charity and that will end up being distributed to many different projects. That’s really the aim, we’re in this to try and generate some cash, which is always good to do.

Fifty percent of the proceeds are going to one charity agreed upon by the songwriter while the other 50% goes to what you all decide as a group. Have you chosen which charity to donate to?
That’s correct. We’re actually going to be meeting next week. I can’t believe it’s only a week away now! I want those conversations to happen around the dinner table and for us to get an idea together that we really feel as a team we can put our time and money into. And that may be anything. I want that to come from all the people gathered there and not just from me at this moment in time.

How are you planning on going about writing these songs?
We are all going to come and we are just going to throw ideas into the pot. We’ve got four writing rooms/studios set up and we are just going to go crazy for a week and just bring ideas. Then we’ll meet up after an hour and a half. We’ll play each other’s ideas, and then see who wants to write a lyric for that. It’s going to be crazy. It’s a great experiment and we hope it takes off.

How are you planning on releasing the songs? Are you going to do a compilation album?
We’d absolutely love to put a record out. We can’t plan that too heavily, there aren’t any songs yet. We’re just hoping the songs are great and then we will start thinking, okay we should really record those and then we’ll decide how we do that. It’s the early stages, but I’m amazed that all these great people have given their time to Compassionart.

Do you have a set date to release the songs?
Again, it’s too early. But I would imagine it would take a while longer to let the dust settle and then decide how we’re going to do it. Obviously, we will be on it on quick as we can. And there will be an event that comes out in a week and once the songs are written we’ll want to record them so it’s very exciting.

Overall, what are your hopes for after this week is up?
Our hopes really are that we have some people that are more friends with each other than they were before, that we come out with 12 fantastic songs that people can then go back and start doing in their own gigs and shows and churches, and stuff like that and then the thing will build and build and have momentum and we’ll put a record out. Who knows what the future is? What’s amazing is when you gather people together, then that’s when really the fun starts. It’s when you sit around and you have an amazing group of people dreaming up new ideas and I think that’s probably where the future is.

Do you plan on performing the songs written in the future on your tours?
Yeah, sure. I think, obviously we don’t know how the songs will be. I’m sure there will be certain songs that will come out of there that people will want to immediately start doing live and putting in their shows and that’s probably the way that they will get out initially.

What’s great, and I think this is the big thing to remember in all of this, is that all of us as artists have been doing what we’ve been doing for many years; releasing records, writing songs, touching the earth in some way, but the fun of it is what we do when we come together. To do something together and the sum of all the parts is surely going to be greater and that’s definitely going to be what we can give back to the music world and also to many, many thousands of kids out there that are struggling to get through the night. So it’s very exciting.

Interviews Q&A

Army of Me

It’s hard to believe a few years ago drummer Dennis Manuel of Army of Me never picked up a drumstick and singer/songwriter Vince Scheuerman never wrote a lyric, “But it didn’t matter, because we were going to take over the world,” frontman Vince Scheuerman said. Army of Me started out playing in a friend’s basement, eventually recording a demo and touring up and down the East Coast before expanding their tour to the mid-West, getting signed on label Doghouse Records and releasing their first full-length album, Citizen, back in April.

Vince was nice enough to sit down with me last Thursday and answer all my questions about the band, the inspiration behind his writing and the stories behind some of his songs.

How could you afford to do all those tours? Did you guys have steady jobs?
It’s tough because anything that you love to do is hard to make money out of and there’s a lot of other people that are trying to do it too because it’s the cool thing to do. What you’re doing, what other artists are doing, musicians, photographers. It’s really hard.And it never pays you enough anyway. It’s underappreciated. We used to work jobs. I went to college for mechanical engineering so I worked a job at the National Institute of Standards and Technology inGaithersburg,Maryland, for a while. NIST set standards of measurements of length and time and weight. I was dealing with really small lengths, like atomic lengths. So we had microscopes that could see atoms. It was pretty insane. I’d sit in the basement, in the dungeon, working on these microscopes and then as soon as I was out of there I’d be playing music, practicing. I’m just always in the dungeon. What’s up with that? I didn’t see the daylight very much. I lived in a basement apartment. There’s a theme here.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process.
The weird thing about songwriting is it’s hard to describe how it happens. I’ve heard other people describe it and I can kind of relate to how they describe it as something that you don’t really have any control over, it just happens. And when it happens you’re like, ‘Holy shit, that was awesome, but how did I do that?’ you get a feeling like you didn’t do that. It’s hard to explain. Inspiration can strike at any moment. But then I have to make myself sit down and try to work on it, try to come up with something. When I finish a song or come up with a cool thing, the feeling is amazing. It’s a really powerful feeling, like ‘Oh my God I created that, that’s pretty cool.’ But at the same moment, I think how did I write that?

I really like the songs on our new record, Citizen. I’m really proud of what I was feeling and going through during the writing of that record and how I said it. I don’t know how it comes off to other people, but when I look at how I said what I was feeling I’m like, wow that was beautiful. With Citizen, I’m like how did I do that? Where did that come from? Could I duplicate it? Could I do it again? I don’t know. It’s almost like channeling something, like a grace given to you. I still don’t know how to write songs. People are like how do you write songs? I don’t know. But it happens.

Definitely feeling upset about something or wanting something, desiring something triggers a strong emotion. There’s definitely inspiration for a song. I think a lot of songs come from a place of desire, of yearning for something to satisfy you and you’re not feeling that thirst or hunger or quench. And you write about it. Whatever form it may be. It can be a relationship, anything. It is for me. I’m a pretty passionate person. I get hungry a lot, not necessarily for food. I think that’s the human condition, the feeling of looking for something and asking questions about what does it all mean. For me, songwriting is about looking for the meaning, asking for questions, searching for those desires, searching for that thing, whatever it is.

Do you ever want to hold back when writing a song?
I’m a pretty open person. When it comes to songs I don’t really think about that. It’s not that hard for me to be personal with songs, it’s hard for me to be personal with a friend, somebody I know. Maybe you’re more afraid of the judgment that a friend may have, to care what that person thinks. Songwriting for me is my way of searching – documenting my life and what’s going on inside of me.

I really like “Better Run.” When you listen to it, it just seems so honest. What inspired it, or what were you thinking about when you were writing it?
I’m always kind of hesitant to tell specific stories behind songs because I like to leave it up to people’s interpretation. When someone has an idea of what a song’s about to them, it usually has to relate to their life. When I tell them what it’s about they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not what I thought.’ It takes away the message.

“Better Run” comes from . . . I was in a relationship for 6 years with someone. To be honest, she was really great – a beautiful person inside and outside. I never really experienced that much love from another human being, maybe my mom, but that’s about it. If there was one thing that I could bet on in this entire world, it would be that she would always love me. And I took her for granted. I was just always focused on myself and self-absorbed and I was kind of an asshole. She started to lose faith in our relationship and that woke me up to how it was and it devastated me. Not only did she not want to be in a relationship, I had been totally oblivious. I realized that I had hurt her and so. . . it fucked me up big time. It was rough. I was devastated.

So that song is kind of like, for the first time looking at someone with love, real love. The love is expressed as the desire for the best interest of the person I was singing to! If it’s not me, go find whatever that is. Even if it’s not what I wanted, it’s easy to be that person in a song. All you have to do is write the lyrics. It’s a whole other thing to actually really feel and mean that in real life, when everything inside you is screaming, “NOOO!!” It’s a very tortured song. There’s that tension there. I don’t really want this, you know? So the song hopefully captures part of that battle.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
The music is about the experiences you have in life and the feelings and the wants and the desires and the hopes and the dreams that I think we all have. It’s about asking questions and searching and trying to find myself and trying to find the answers. Maybe a couple of people have the answers, but everyone has the questions. I believe in hope and I believe that going through rough times, there is also growth and healing and that’s something I talk about in music too. So it’s kind of a mix of all that.

What’s your favorite song to perform?
I think “Perfect” may be my favorite. When we play “Perfect” live, it’s like a journey. Perfect might be my favorite song on the record, it’s a song about wanting to accomplish something great, wanting to prove that you’re worth something to somebody. And when we play it live, it feels powerful, and I feel like I can do something great. In the middle of the song, we do a section that is improvised. Brad, our guitarist, does a solo which is always great. I like to get lost in the moment.

I was wondering about the story behind “Rise.” I read that it was inspired by the tsunami in 2005, how so?
I heard this story about these children inSri Lanka, maybe 7 or 8 years old, who had lost everything in the tsunami. Their families – mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters swept away, their houses completely destroyed. They were literally left alone and abandoned.They were afraid of the water, which in a small fishing village, had been the source of life. Now it was a big monster who took everything. I can’t imagine the devastation, fear, and confusion they must have felt.

There was an American psychologist there, working with the kids, having them draw four pictures. The first picture was what their houses looked like before the wave came. The second picture was what the wave looked like as it was coming – big and gnarly. The third picture was what their house looked like after the wave had hit – completely demolished . . . and the fourth picture was what they wanted their house to look like after the wave had hit. The kids were drawing that fourth picture of a new house that was bigger than the old house. They were fixing things they didn’t like in the old house, maybe a swing set in the front yard. It blew me away that in the face of such an unthinkable tragedy, when all was lost, that here was a spark, a little ray of hope shining through. How resilient is the human spirit?

And as I related it to my life, it was the idea that maybe you were happy and content or complacent in that old house. And then something comes and just knocks you off your feet. That thing you were holding onto gets ripped right out of your hands. And although you could never, ever forget what had happened to you, that somehow, mysteriously, this was now an opportunity for growth, for a bigger, improved house – a mansion.

What’s the premise behind your album Citizen?
When we went to record this record we threw out all the notions of trying to appeal to one particular scene or group of people. Instead, we wanted to make a record that could communicate with everyone. We were living in a little secluded beach house on the coast inVirginia for about two months, where we got to escape the world that we were used to, and just concentrate on making the record.

When it came to the lyrics, I took a new approach to these songs, something I’d never done before. I wrote about how I felt. That sounds kind of obvious, like, what else do you write about?! But in the past, I had attempted to be clever or ironic, witty, etc. in my songs. Not that there’s anything wrong with clever lyrics, but this time around, it was almost like I didn’t have the energy or the desire to do that. This time, my world was turned upside down and I couldn’t do anything but write out exactly what I was feeling, no irony. I was making myself naked. And I was scared! I worried that people might think that the lyrics were dumb or too obvious, but it was all I could do at the time. I remember telling another musician friend of mine that I couldn’t be ironic or sarcastic about subject matter that I cared so much about. And he assured me that it would be ok.

And in hindsight, I believe it was ok. Because I think in music and in art, when you speak from the heart, it’s more powerful than when you speak only from the mind. You can’t escape a purely gut reaction to something. It’s real. In artistic expression, for every cynical person that thinks something is silly or stupid, that same expression might change another person’s life. Citizen is a record about being a human being. It talks about the struggles, the pain, the questions, the searching. But it also talks about the other side of that struggle, where I believe there can be healing and hope, strength – like in the song “Rise.”

For more on Army of Me check out their MySpace.
Feel free to check out the concert review on MTV here.


Jon Foreman

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Jon Foreman has a busy year approaching. On Nov. 27th he will be releasing the first of four solo acoustic EP’s. Fans can purchase it on his website, Since Switchfoot has broke with Columbia Records, the band has more freedom to release what they want when they want, giving more back to their fans. Jon was nice enough to sit down with me after his concert at Hammerstein Ballroom as the “Appetite for Construction” tour hit NYC Saturday night to answer a few questions about the inspiration behind his music, as well as the many side-projects he’s been working on.

What is your inspiration behind each song you write?
My inspiration for each song is the specific place where I’m at in life. I’ve heard that books come from locations and I think songs are the same way. Songs can be a little bit more ethereal. So maybe it’s a little bit more of an emotional, spiritual place than a physical location. For me, most of my songs come from the problems in my life. When I’m happy I hang out with my friends and go surfing. That’s not when you write a song. You write a song when you’re depressed, angry and bitter and you’re trying to figure out the world.

Tell me a little bit about your solo EP’s.
One’s coming out next week and that one is called Fall. They’re all six songs a pop, they’re coming out on my Website It’s pretty amazing to think that I can put them out. I’ve spent a lot of time on them. A lot of these songs are the more personal songs that don’t really belong on a band record. So now I can put out six songs on an EP. I’ll be doing four EP’s. It’s going to be called Fall, Winter, Summer and Spring. I’m working on Winter now, I haven’t even thought about Spring yet, I’ll think about Spring when it starts getting warmer out. I’m doing all the album art myself. I’m handwriting all the lyrics. It’s really fun.

What can be expected for the next Switchfoot album?
I think we’ve learned a lot the past year. It’s been a time of really finding who we are. I think every record kind of has to reinvent itself. The most dangerous place for a band to be is doing something that they’re good at. I think it’s much better as a band to do something that you could actually fail at. We’ve always tried really hard to push ourselves. I think that the difference with this new record is that in the past we were a little afraid of the success that we had achieved with The Beautiful Letdown. There’s just this weird fear that you feel.

Will Botwin, President of ATO Records, stopped by to talk to Jon for a bit during the interview. He’s foreseeing the upcoming year for Switchfoot as a big one.
It’s going to be a beautiful, daring, different, comfortable, fantastic year. It’s going be great. There’s going be a lot of activity next year. They’re one of the hardest working bands in the world and are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, on and off the stage.

Jon explained the relationship Switchfoot has with Will.
A little history on Will, he’s just a great guy. He’s currently the president of ATO Records, they put out the Radiohead record and all that. The history is, he was president of Columbia when we were there. So we’ve got a lot of history with him. He’s just a great guy. You don’t meet good people that often in the music industry. We like to work with good people. And that was the thing, we had so many great relationships over at Columbia. It’s not like anti- it’s more like when all those people leave, there’s no trust. And that’s what music is built on. It’s a relationship, its trust. The moment the trust goes away, then it’s really hard to make music that you feel comfortable with. Any relationship. Marriage, girlfriends, dogs. It’s all like, well, can I trust you. And for us, I feel like it comes to a point that we’re surrounding ourselves with people that we trust so that’s the best place to move from.

Can you tell me about The Real SeanJon project?
Yeah. The Real SeanJon. Puffy hasn’t sued us yet. Which is good. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe Puffy suing us would be the best thing that I’ve ever been a part of. For record. We started out kind of just joking around. It was one of those projects that was just like, “Yeah, let’s do it, it’ll be fun.” And then four months into it we had 4 or 5 songs and they started sounding really good. And it was this type of thing that we started thinking, “Man this is actually a legitimate project that we’re both really proud of.” And so, that’s kind of where it’s at now. I mixed it myself, basically in my bedroom back in San Diego. So we’re going to try to get somebody else to kind of, remix it. Bring it a little bit more to life than my ears can. I stand in front of guitar amps all day, how good of a mixer can I be?

Are you ever afraid to write a song? I mean, maybe at Columbia you were held back a bit?
I mean everyone does the whole big, bad record company thing where they blame the big, bad record company for all of their problems. And I don’t see it that way. I think we had some great years over there. There’s a lot of the things that I think happened over there that were really wrong, that even they would regret, like putting Spyware on our C.D., putting the copy protection, pulling all of our product off right before Christmas. Those are the things that they regret too. But, ultimately, when you’re writing a song…I think the biggest thing that we were afraid of was that we got to a point that we sold more records than any of our heroes. Like back in San Diego, we grew up listening to Rocket from the Crypt, No Knife, Heavy Vegetable, these are people, who big to us was selling 30,000 records. So then you sell almost 3 million records and it’s just a weird thing, like what does a band that sells 3 million records do? You know. I think that was the only time I’ve been afraid as a songwriter. Just kind of, almost afraid of writing something too big. You want to kind of bring it down a little bit. I don’t know. But, I don’t even know that that fear is justified because I’m sure honest music can happen at a big level too.

A lot of songs on The Beautiful Letdown so many people can relate to and your whole world-view is very open to everyone. That honesty – I think that’s why people are so drawn to it.
Yeah. I think it is too. I feel like with the solo EP, that’s kind of the beginning of a different way of communicating that. You can go use a megaphone and talk to an arena, or you can kind of bring it in and do like, what I’ve b
een doing lately which is an
after show, where I just play down the street. I might even be doing one tonight if there’s kids out there. It’s just fun. And I think that’s the beauty of music. It’s a communication where it’s going back and forth.

Everytime I’ve seen you perform, it’s been this type of venue, size-wise, it’s kind of medium. Do you see yourselves playing at Madison Square Garden or Continental Airlines Arena? Because you don’t get that interaction, you don’t get to see faces that you get to see at these venues.
I don’t know. I think we’d have to write songs that belong there. I think we’ve got a few songs that might translate, but I think for us . . . I didn’t grow up going to big shows. I grew up going to Soma. The first incarnation, it’s been basically established in two different places since then. The Ché Café, Soma, The Casbah I’d sneak in. The Belly Up. I played there before I was 21, we’d get kicked out after we played. We played with Phantom Planet back in the day at the Viper Room and we both were underage.

When you guys first started out, you were labeled as being a Christian band. How do you feel your music and lyrics have evolved throughout the years to what it is now?
Well, you know it’s funny. When we signed to Re:think Records it was because Charlie Peacock was the guy running it. It was because he was a believer. Ultimately when you start out you’re just playing wherever anyone will let you play. We’ve played coffee shops, we played bars, we played churches, we played everywhere. To us, it never was a big difference. We didn’t see it as a genre. And then you go to Nashville and you realize there’s a whole music section that’s devoted to Christian music and you realize there’s lines drawn and there are all sorts of “we are this, they are that.” And so that’s where we got really nervous. We’ve never called ourselves a Christian band. We’ve always kind of felt that somebody should stay at my house for a week, see how I treat people, and then if you want to call me a believer after that by the way I live my life and treat people, then that’s an honor. That’s like the biggest honor we can receive. But for us to fly our own flag and say, “Yeah, we’re into feeding the homeless and loving people and that’s what we do,” it comes across kind of tacky.

How would you describe your music to people who’ve never heard it before?
We’ve always called it music for thinking people. That and guitar-driven pop. Rock. You know, rock ‘n’ roll whatever that means. I feel like, the bottom line is back in the 60’s and 70’s, being a rebel meant sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And when that becomes the norm, then what is the rebel voice for the kids? What’s the rebel voice for today? For me, I feel like the most icono-classic person I could think of, beyond Bob Dylan, beyond whoever, Marilyn Manson would be Christ himself. I feel like his position in society is, in many cases, they pegged him into a role . . . the way I understand the Scriptures; they’re exactly against who he was. The idea that he was for the underdog, he was for the poor, he was furious with the religious right for his time. For us to put words in his mouth is a really dangerous place. I feel like rock ‘n’ roll is a good outlet to be able to kind of, speak that rebel voice through 2,000 years later. Even the religious right need to hear the gospel. All the way through the Pharisees. It’s a matter of saying I’m the problem. I guess it’s a matter of saying I’m not pointing the fingers and drawing that we-they line. Saying, no, we’re all in this together. Let’s not try and say there’s a Christian section because it’s not true. It’s false. It’s a lie to some extent.




San Diego natives, Switchfoot, are about halfway into their “Appetite for Construction” tour, where $1 from every concert ticket goes to Habitat for Humanity. With a new album in the works for next year as well as a solo EP from singer Jon Foreman hitting shelves later this month, Switchfoot has been keeping busy. Drummer Chad Butler took some time out from the tour for a phone interview and talked to me about helping out on Habitat builds throughout the tour, being away from home while theCalifornia fires were raging, the recent split with record labelColumbia, and his favorite venue to play at. Catch them in concert at Hammerstein Ballroom this Saturday, Nov. 17 with Relient K and Ruth.


How is your tour going so far?
It’s excellent. It’s halfway over now and kind of a bittersweet thing to be thinking about the end of the tour. It’s been so great – the band, crew, a really great unity.


$1 from every ticket sold on the tour is going to Habitat for Humanity. What made you decide to choose this organization over another?
Several of the guys in our band had been involved in Habit builds inNew Orleans andKentucky. It’s an incredible organization nationwide, and has a chapter in almost every city. Our goal is to encourage people to donate time locally in their own city. We’ve gone out and built alongside people in the community. One of most amazing things about Habitat for Humanity is you don’t need to have any prior experience or expertise…they’ll put you to work and you make a difference. I’ve been really excited to see our audience to come down the sites.


I’ve seen you several times in concert and you always have so much energy. How do you keep up with each show every night after years of touring?
Gosh I wish I had some secret recipe for staying healthy! Really, for us the motivation is connecting with people. I think for so much of the importance we put on bands on stage, it’s a false reality. The hour we spend on stage is less important than the rest of the day and how we interact with people. To hang out with fans after the show and talk about life is one of the most important parts for me. In our live show there’s a conversation, it’s a two-way dialogue. To have the audience singing it back is amazing, to have people after each show come up and say how much a song means to them, that’s motivating. Our motto has always been “life is short, live it well.” It comes to have a significance. Each day that I wake up and get to play music that I love and get to travel the world with my best friends is great and I don’t take it for granted…each breath is a gift.


At first you guys were known more as a Christian-based band. After 6 albums you’ve greatly expanded your music and fan base. Was there a process at all or goal to grow out of being known more as a Christian band?
We’ve always been very up-front about what we believe and who we are. Faith is just as important to me now as it was 10 years ago. Only other people will call you what they will. For us it’s always been about making honest music. For me, I don’t see a significant change in who we are at all…I think hopefully there’s a broader, wider audience. I think it’s a wonderful thing to have more people listening to the music. For me it’s about thinking people. I think it’s to make honest music for thinking people.


Are there plans in the works for your next album?
Yes. We started this summer. By August we recorded 14 new songs.We’ve been recording on the road a little bit. When we get done with this tour we’re going into the studio and will be putting that out probably a year from now.


What kind of sound can fans expect with the new album?
I think we’re definitely experimenting. We’re in a mode of trying new sounds and so far it’s been really exciting. In the mean time we’re pretty excited. Jon’s finally getting to put out his solo acoustic EP’s. As a newly independent band we’re getting more of a creative outlet; being able to put out music whenever we want, and put our music out more directly to our audience whenever we could. Jon’s EP comes out later this month titled Fall.


You guys have your own record label now, right?
Yes, it’s called Lowercase People Records. It’s something we started as a vehicle to get our music out more directly to our audience. Jon also has a side-project with Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek, called The Real SeanJon. He’s working on putting that out early 2008. We’re just excited to finally hear some of these songs Jon’s been playing late at night at coffee shops down the street after our concerts. Those are finally getting the light of day. It’s an exciting time for us as a band. This is our first tour as independent band. We’re doing something much bigger than selling records. It’s playing music with the people you love and a much bigger cause than Switchfoot. We’re changing people’s lives around the country and the world.

You guys seem a lot happier since the break with Columbia Records.
It works best for us. We’re a band that likes to communicate directly with people one-on-one. We’ve always tried to break down audience and band. Taking out the middle man is a way to communicate more directly.

What does the writing process typically involve for the band?
Most of the songs start with Jon and an acoustic guitar and we build upon that – simple lyric and melody. It’ll expand and take place as we build it as a team. It’s a daily thing; we’re always working on music. Everyday in the dressing room. We’ve got computers and microphones and guitars. We’re always recording and working on new ideas. There’s a constant flow of music.

It must have been a rough time for you being on the road with the fires in San Diego. How did you deal with being on the road and away from home when all of that was going on?
It’s surreal to look at the streets where you grew up on CNN from the back of a tour bus. It’s very surreal. I’m really grateful that our families are okay. I really feel for the people that lost so much – homes and all of those memories. When it was happening you have that desire to help in some way. We felt we were helping in the best way we could – in light of the fact that this tour was about rebuilding and working in Habitat for Humanity. I’m sure Habitat will be helpful in aiding those families. It’s a reminder that you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. Those things that we hang on for sometimes, the things around us are meaningless in the scheme of life.

What’s a typical day like for you on tour?
On this tour, in a lot of ways, we’re doing tangible work. We’re able to go out to a job site, meet with familie
s that are working with Habitat and encourage local heroes -volunteers spending their hours helping their neighbors. This tour has been much more tangible and exciting to me than just talking about the band or our latest single. It feels like there’s much more of a human element for this tour, it feels really good.

I read that you’re planning on doing a tour for the troops in Iraq. Can you tell me a little more about it?
We’ve been trying to get over there for a while, being from San Diego and having Camp Pendleton being so close and people we’ve grown up with in the Middle East serving our country. Regardless of how you feel about the politics and the war, these are our friends and family. To give back in some small way will be a really exciting thing. We’ve been trying to coordinate that. It’s kind of a volatile situation there right now. If there’s a way to do that we’ll make it work.

Do you have a favorite song you love to play on tour?
Well, right now the new song, “Rebuild,” that’s been released on this tour is fun to play. “Rebuild” was written by Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Matt from Relient K. The song is inspired by the idea that we’re a generation that has time to kill and put our hands to good use…it’s a song we’ve been playing every night at the show where all the bands come out to the stage and it’s a great part of the evening.

For the Switchfoot set, for me it’s a really exciting thing to be halfway around the world and have someone singing along. There’s a song “Dare You to Move,” that we wrote many years ago and it’s the highlight of the night. No matter where we go the audience is singing along. There’s a unity that exists inside a rock club that rarely exists anywhere else where you have strangers putting their arms around each other singing along. It’s a connection that I rarely see anywhere else. Music is a powerful thing. It brings people together.

Do you have a favorite venue to play at?
Soma in San Diego. That’s always a fun place to come back to, sort of homecoming whenever we get to play in San Diego. The club has lots of memories. I grew up going to rock shows there. When we play there it seems fitting, a natural you know, sort of full circle completion of a musical journey that started in San Diego and continues every time we come home.

What inspires your music?
For me, finding hope in dark places. We’ve had the opportunity to travel and see a lot of the world in the last few years. I’m still learning so much about the world and myself. Few experiences we’ve had in dark parts of the world…there was a trip to South Africa a couple years ago. Just seeing the light in the kids’ eyes and joy that they have surrounded by poverty and disease and they’re living in a way that I could only hope to in terms of real joy in the midst of pain. I feel we’re so sheltered here in the Western world. The more I travel the more I realize there’s hope. It has redefined what I view as hope…the experiences like that shape your world view. I’m very much a student still. Music has always been asking questions, talking about things in a song we’re not comfortable talking about in other situations. Songs are vehicles of exploring the world. I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. They’re not afraid to wear their heart on their sleeves and talk about things no one else is talking about. With music you can talk about things that are taboo and have deeper conversations, dialogue that you wouldn’t in everyday life. For me, music is a very powerful thing.



I was lucky enough to interview Sugarcult guitarist Marko DeSantis after a concert at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey last year. You can check out the article I wrote in the link above. Below is the entire interview. Enjoy!

What bands inspire you and who do you listen to?
I always say, taking history is just as important as making history; in that I mean that it’s great to go back and rediscover music from the past, but you can’t discount the music being made in your own generation. I like bands that are rooted in the tradition of rock n roll, but update it and push it forward; that’s what Sugarcult is about. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of new bands: The Adored, TV on the Radio, The Strays, Maxeen, Against Me; and always diggin’ old jams by Tom Petty, Smashing Pumpkins, The Clash, Superdrag, The Cars…

Where do you find out about new bands if the radio is too commercialized for you?
Truth be told, I’ve never really listened to commercial radio; growing up it was all about going to shows, word of mouth, mix-tapes, magazines, hanging out in indie record shops and digging through the racks. Today it’s not much different, but things like iTunes, websites and file sharing just make it easier to get turned on to stuff. My favorite way to discover a band is to see them play live and unexpectedly be blown away by undeniable greatness!

What inspires your music?
There’s an old quote attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I think the same thing can be said about creating music; you set out to document your experiences and what’s in your head and then it becomes something else bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

What is the main theme of your new album, Lights Out?
Escapism and the guilty pleasures people indulge in that bring temporary happiness but are ultimately self destructive; casual sex, drugs, pop-culture, etc.

How is this album different from your last two albums?
Each of our records stands up on it’s own; we like it that way, we don’t want to be redundant and puke up the same old same old. On Lights Out, we broke new sonic ground, we nearly killed ourselves in the studio trying to make sure the music and lyrics were the best they could be; Tim practically had a nervous breakdown, he grew a beard, never changed his clothes, the whole nine yards!

This album seems to take on more of an anti-radio argument, how so and why?
I guess after 5 years of doing this professionally we’ve had our hearts broken enough times to see that there’s a reason it’s called the “music business” and not the “music friends”. It’s all so political, but at the same time we can look on the bright side and be happy that good music is getting a fair shake: the White Stripes, the Killers, U2, Tool, etc. It’s just sad when places like Philadelphia and New York City don’t even have a station that plays rock music anymore.

Are there any venues or audiences you’ve hated playing for?
We’ve been lucky so far, no real horror stories; but there are some shit-holes out there; but we celebrate the shitiness!

You’ve played on tour for Green Day, Warped Tour, and your own headlining tours, how is each of these different or the same?
Green Day was just surreal; getting to play huge sports arenas, it’s a total fantasy world! Warped is always a fun communal vibe, they keep it real and the crowd’s always insane; personal hygiene is a real challenge though! Our own tours are the best ’cause we get to play as long as we want and bring out new bands we believe in.

Do you ever get tired of performing any songs?
Not really, because you’re feeding off the energy of the crowd and it’s either a new song or an old song that brings back fond memories of the old days. Hearing 1000 people scream along to a song we wrote 6 years ago in a tiny practice space in our hometown when nobody cared about us is always a thrill.

What’s your favorite song to perform and why/least favorite?
I’ve always loved playing the song Pretty Girl (the Way); it’s been in our set for almost 7 years and still feels fresh. I don’t like playing our really slow songs ’cause it’s hard to mellow out and get into it when you’ve got so much adrenaline going on, plus they scare me.

What are you doing after this tour?
Laundry and then getting ready for the next tour! We’re going back to Japan soon; we’ve been there 9 times already. I have a few side projects with new records too: The Lapdancers (record came out in Aug.) and Bad Astronaut (new record out in Nov.) so I’ll probably be busy promoting those as well.

How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
Loud and sexy!!!

How is Lights Out the turning point for the band, as Pagnotta says?
I hope so, we want to always move forward and keep taking chances, while still staying true to our vision. This album is more sophisticated, the arrangements are less conventional, we kind of tore up the rule book and started fresh. It’s a new beginning, so forget what you think you know.

What are your hopes for the future with the band?
I want to play in all the countries we haven’t yet been to; I’d love to play in China, Brazil, Eastern Europe, Australia, etc. Basically keep making good music, becoming a better band, and chasing new adventures…Fuck it, while we’re at it why not sell a million records too!