Q&A with Kris Roe of the Ataris: Part 2

As promised, part two of my Q&A; with Kris Roe. If you haven’t yet, check out the Ataris’ MySpace, which Kris runs personally, for the latest tour dates and music. And be on the look out for a new album in the near future!

On this tour, are you just playing the whole Blue Skies album?
I’m playing our whole Blue Skies album from start to finish and then I also play a handful of songs from our other records at the end. Time permitting; I usually play four or five of our other most well known songs at the end. “So Long, Astoria” and “In This Diary” are usually always in the set and the other three I just toy with what people are drunkenly shouting at me or what I feel like playing.

Why did you decide Blue Skies?
Well, it was beyond the five, six year anniversary of that album, and almost the 10 year anniversary of that album and I think that was the album that, other than So Long, Astoria, got most of our core fan base into our band. We usually played the majority of songs from So Long, Astoria over the years and Blue Skies we played like the four, five most known songs. There was the other half of that album that we never played since we recorded. And that’s the same way probably with a lot of bands. You record an album, you play the best four or five songs and the rest are just album tracks. So, I just thought it was a fun challenge to go out and do something like that. And also, I feel it would bring a little bit more interest to the show to people that wouldn’t necessarily just come out and see me play acoustic. Maybe they’d be like, “Wow, that’s kinda cool he’s doing a whole record and playing a few other songs.”

I think that the majority of the album people are always singing along with. For me, there are some songs that were later on the album and were just kind of filler. I think that’s why that album did so well. We kind of back loaded the album. The strongest songs are the first five or six songs. There are a couple of strong songs later on the album. But for the most part, that’s why we put those songs towards the end of the record, because we wanted to make the strongest record from the beginning because most people only listen to the first five songs of an album anyway and then the diehards listen to the rest. I think people know most of the songs, but I don’t expect them to know every one. If they do, they’re usually creepy or too much of a fan. No not, really. But you know what I mean.

How would you describe your fan base? Has it changed a lot over the years?
It definitely changes throughout time because music changes. I think it depends. I think to sum it up, we have this core fan base and those are the kids that really come out, the kids that have been listening to the band for so long and they kind of grow with you. And then we have the people that discovered our band on So Long, Astoria when they heard “In This Diary” and then “Boys of Summer” and that’s cool too. But those are the people, I think, that usually have a shorter attention span. This is just a guess off of what I have seen. Because, I think the radio public are more on to the next thing because they love the current single and that’s fine, but that’s how it is where I grew up. In Indiana people just discovered shit off of MTV and the radio unfortunately. For me, a lot of my friends, we were kind of the kids who seeked things out, discovered bands and just stayed with them. Those are the kids that really stick around. Once we get a new album out and we have a song that’s on the radio or MTV you’ll notice a new resurgence of new fans. Right now, it’s kind of mid time between records and I’m not really out supporting anything, I’m just out doing this for fun. So it’s usually the diehards. The people that really love your band and your music and know the songs.

80% of the people that come to these Blue Skies shows are not the kids who are more apt to yell for “Boys of Summer.” There are those nights. When you play a college town you assume that will be more of the thing because that was more their era. I think the kids that come to these shows; they were into the band before that. I love just as much the kids that got into our band because of that song than the other ones. I think it’s equal. I try to make sure to play some songs from that record at the end. I think those are two of our most popular records and I really try to make a fair set if I have time.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?
I think the best song in our band’s history is the song “Fast Times at Drop-Out High.” That was an older song that I feel stood throughout the history of our band and doesn’t feel dated to me today. There are some songs you write and a month or two later after you record them, you’re like, “That feels really dated” and it’s something you don’t ever want to play again. And then there are some songs that stick throughout. Pretty much everything I play in my set I feel happy playing. There are a couple songs that I’d rather not play and are slightly dated, but I want to make the people who paid happy and give them a set that’s good for them. There are some songs I sing, either love songs from the past that I don’t believe a word I’m singing anymore that I’m just singing so people want to sing along and hear it and there are some songs that I still believe like the day I wrote it. But, that’s the good thing about being a songwriter. You move on and your songs stay frozen in time and you just gotta live with that.

Do you remember how to play everything and all of the lyrics?
No. [Laughs] But I give it a shot. Most of the stuff. I have a handful of songs beyond the Blue Skies album that I can choose from every night within reason. If someone is yelling out something that is rare, I’ll sometimes take the challenge. Sometimes I fail miserably. Like, last night I think I failed miserably on a couple.

You’ve been doing this so long, what inspires you to keep going?
Hands down, it’s the only thing that I really enjoy doing. I take photos, I like doing that. I have some other interests. For right now music is the only thing that I know and the one thing I want to continue doing. That’s pretty much it. I’m a really driven person, but I think when you get something that you know, it’s like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s true. Just keep moving forward and try to do as much as you can.

Can you tell us about your photography skills?
Skills, I don’t know. I just take photos of things that I like and strike me. Overall, my general photography is stuff that’s kind of sad but beautiful at the same time. Growing up in the Midwest you have all this worn down beauty. You have these old factories but you also have a side to it that’s kind of tragic but beautiful and that’s the thing I come across in my photos. I just became a photographer by accident. I stole my old roommate’s camera because I needed to take photos for a record because we had a deadline and the guy that was doing the photos flaked out. And after I was like, “Well, shit, I can do this.” So I always feel weird saying I’m a photographer because there are so many people that go to school and do this for a living and for me it’s just something I do. I think anybody, if you have a good eye, you can take photos. Anybody can write a song. It’s all in here. [pointing to heart]
It’s all trial and error really. For me, it’s like guitar; I never read a book of fuckin’ tablature or chords in my life. I just hear it and go. Look at the Ramones, look at painting, or photography, or anything, it’s all in here.

Are you working on a new album?
Not currently. Planning to do a new album, but probably later in the year. I’ve written some rough ideas of songs, but for the most part, that area is just getting started. I’ll probably be doing this touring off and on throughout the summer just to have some money so when I do go in the studio I’ll have some money put aside to pay the bills. I think it will be my hope to realistically get in the studio by late summer now. I think by then I will have tapped every market I can actually play. After this tour and South America and Japan we’re going to try to book Europe and Canada and I think after that, the only thing I can really do is go in the studio. It’s really hard to go beyond that when you’re just doing a solo tour. We used to play Australia a lot, but I think to go down there and do a tour by myself I’m not sure I can do that by myself. But, who knows.

Welcome the Night is a little deeper and darker than So Long, Astoria. What was going on in your life when you wrote it?
I agree with part of that. I think So Long, Astoria has a lot of really personal songs but I think the biggest difference is that album [So Long, Astoria] was a bit more uplifting and positive and optimistic and Welcome the Night was not necessarily self-loathing or anything, but it was more self questioning. That was just because I wasn’t really happy with my life at the time and I was just trying to find a place in my life where I was content and happy. That album was kind of a cathartic process of me questioning myself and trying to find that place in my life. So, that’s what I was doing. Kind of like therapy, that album was. I think where I am at now, writing is a little back towards where I was when I was writing So Long, Astoria. I think your writing reflects where you are in your life. I’ve kind of come around full circle again.

How did your fans respond to that?
I really expected, overall, to be a split kind of thing. I just wrote what I know and I always like to change it up and do things that are different and daring. I think that I really expected half of the people to get it and really pay attention and the other half to be like, “What the fuck?” and that’s good ‘cause unless you shake shit up, then you’re selling yourself short. I think art is about people questioning and people not understanding it. I think it would be more of a tragedy if people just listened to it and got it the first time they heard it. Things that are easily palpable for me are things that fall to the way side and is the art and music that you’re going to forget 10 years from now. I think that was an album that needs to grow on people. The people that really paid attention to it, I think they got it and the other ones weren’t supposed to get it.

What is your typical writing process like?
Laziness. No, I’m really bad. I keep a little journal. Usually I write the most when I’m just sitting in my car because I don’t let myself get distracted. When I’m just driving around the country I’ll get a piece of scrap paper and I’ll just write my thoughts and later I’ll put it altogether and try and make it into songs. I write a lot of free verse and poetry and things and put it all together and make it into something. It’s changed throughout the years. Before, in earlier albums, I used to write more in a format and start with the actual verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Later, as we went along, I started writing differently. Now, it’s a little different, more disjointed, but it comes together after the fact. Musically, I usually come up with a melody or music part in my head and I’ll jot it down. I put the two together at the end.

Have you ever been afraid to give away too much of yourself in your music?
The only time I was ever afraid of that was when I didn’t want to dispel too many things that would scare the shit out of my mother and father or my ex. There was one point when I finally realized that as a writer, I think your only duty is really to say everything you need to say despite what some people might read or see. After writing that last album, the immediate response I got from a lot of my fans was, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Yeah, ‘cause I wrote it two years ago and if you were to ask me then I would have been like, no I’m not.” Today, yeah, it is a thought. But you really can’t give into that. You really have to keep pushing it and write everything despite the consequences or that’d be your biggest mistake.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it before?
I think we’re a band that has something to offer everyone. I feel it’s really personal stories. I try to write things that I feel everyone can relate to but that are brutally honest and really try to put my whole heart out there, sometimes to my disadvantage. Definitely, when you do that, you get a lot of the creepy people that are like, “Oh my God!” asking me all these questions. It’s like you don’t know me, but you know me. It’s kind of weird. I want to be known as a storyteller or the singer/songwriter type artist. That, I would portray to someone who had never heard us.


The Ataris

In a way, I feel like I grew up while listening to the Ataris. Everyone has that one album they remember listening to like it was yesterday. That album for me was So Long, Astoria. The entire album was the anthem to my senior year of high school you know, that tumultuous time of having no clue what you want to do with the rest of your life and the thought of becoming an adult causes more anguish than anything else. Okay, maybe that’s being a little too dramatic. But come on, “Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up/These are the best days of our lives/The only thing that matters is just following your heart/And eventually you’ll finally get it right.” Those lines from “In This Diary” were my motto just five years ago and I’d like to think they still are today.

Kris was nice enough to sit down with me last Friday before his show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and talk to me about the Ataris, the state of the music industry and his current acoustic tour, among many things. I’m going to break up the interview into two posts because it’s way too long for just one and you guys really should read the entire thing. He’s not only a good interview, but an amazing musician to see live so be sure to check out his MySpace and see when he’ll be playing your city!

How is the tour going so far?
Well, hands down, this has probably been the most crazy, cursed tour I’ve ever been on, at least the beginning of this part of the tour. I did a small run on the West Coast and those dates went amazing. But the first four shows of this tour, two got canceled due to the fact that the shows were double booked and two got canceled due to winter storms. But, as of last night, that was the first show of the tour and it ended up going really well and tonight’s show is nearly sold out so I think the curse is coming to an end finally so that’s good.

I saw on your MySpace the massive bulletins, “Please repost tour dates.” Do your fans request certain places to play?
In the years I’ve been touring, you make a note of where you actually can play and draw people. This tour was pretty much all booked by me off of our MySpace. I made a kind of, rough routing and then I went over it and started filling in the gaps. Usually when you’re booking the tour you start with the weekends and get the good cities where you know you’ll draw good on the weekends. For instance, I know Hoboken has to be a weekend and Long Island and other parts of New Jersey are usually some of our stronger markets. I wanted to make sure that our strongest markets I put on a weekend. A Monday is a Monday no matter where it is. It’s usually your weakest night and you just try and fill up the dates. I try not to take any days off. It’s usually 50 some odd dates with no days off and then I go to South America and Japan on the same tour. It’s definitely a lot of fun and it’s the best thing I could be doing. There’s no overhead hardly on these shows. Just a hotel room and gas every night. Me out traveling in my car. It’s a good way to make a living I would say.

Have you always been a very DIY type of band?
I think this band was kind of founded on that belief that you just gotta do everything yourself. No one’s going to do it for you. There’s so many bands out there that the harder you work at it, the better the shows are going to be and I think that’s pretty much how this band started getting to people, our C.D.’s got into people’s hands. We just toured enough that finally we were probably halfway through our second tour ever, right when our Blue Skies album came out and at that point we started realizing it went from 50 people at the shows to 300 people at the shows and we didn’t do anything different other than keep going to the same areas and get in the van and people would come out and see us. Just continue that kind of mindset and it really works.

Do you think it’s been word of mouth?
Oh, yeah. When we started there wasn’t that mentality, there was no MySpace, there was no Facebook or any of those places where you could just get on and promote it like that. It was all word of mouth. It was you go out and play a show and they’re like, “Hey, we saw this good band play last night. Go out and check them out next time they’re through.” And you trade phone numbers with other bands and are like, “Hey, there’s a place that books bands in Albuquerque or in Phoenix.” Now it’s easy because you put up a bulletin and are like, “Hey, I need a show in St. Louis.” And somebody emails you and says, “Hey, I book shows here.”

Also, I keep a list of all the people who have booked good shows for me in the past and now I have good contacts and most of them stay current and you write them back and say, “Hey, can you book me on the next tour?” But we have a good booking agent; he books some of the biggest bands in rock music. But the thing is he’s got so many bands I didn’t want to trouble him and ask him, “Hey, will you book an acoustic tour for me?” He books the Ataris and I was like, I can do this myself and I just wanted to see if I could do it. First time I did it and it went well. He actually emailed me the other day and said, “Man, I gotta compliment you on your booking” and jokingly said, “if you ever need a job as an agent, you know where to call.” And I was like, “Sorry, I hate dealing and haggling with people, I’ll leave that to you.” I just want to go out and play. Anything to get a show, I’ll do it.

Do you take fans requests?
For the most part, if it’s something valid I will. I’ve done some weird things. I played this guy and girl’s wedding once and that was great. An endless bar and their mom paid me $1,000 to play a wedding and paid for all my travel. It was like, “Alright I’ll do that. Sure.” I’m probably more reasonable than any band. If you had a reasonable request and could meet the guarantee of the tour, pay the costs, I’ll play anywhere I don’t really care. I mean I’m not a whore or anything, but I’ll definitely do anything within reason as long as there will be people there and it fits into the current routing of the tour.

You guys have been together since, what, 1994?
I think our first real tour, when we really put ourselves on the map was more like 1997 or 1998. I’ve been recording songs myself since, the first Ataris album. All the demos were just me and a drum machine and I’d give that to bands we’d see. Through that we got a record deal and put out three independent records. Probably about halfway through our second record, Blue Skies is when people started actually taking notice. I think for our first record when it was out, nobody paid attention. Once we got out there and really started touring, at that point, ’97, ’98 that’s when people actually started coming out to see us.

That’s been 10 years. Have you seen a huge change in the music industry since when you started?

/>Oh, for sure. There are two things you notice. Obviously, when we started, the Internet was beginning, but it wasn’t a prominent factor. Now, it’s over saturated. There are so many bands. Anyone and there brother can record music and put music out. B. Like I said, booking shows is so much easier. There’s pros and cons of it. I think that it was better for rock bands then on some levels because it was so much easier to make an impact. Now, if you put an album out there are 10 other bands that are just as good as you that have an album out too so it’s harder to make headway and really get your name out there. Whereas then, there weren’t as many bands doing it. But, at the same time, it’s easier to do it now. I don’t know. I try to change with the times. I’m just utilizing the tools I know I have compared to back then when I didn’t have them.

So, over the past 10 years, have you ever had to have a day job?
I’ve worked so many odd jobs. Literally, I can go down a list. I’ve worked restaurants, I’ve worked at a factory, I worked in an adult bookstore for six months, I worked at a K-Mart, Taco Bell. I’ve done it all. That was like from 15-20. I think about 22 or 23 was the last time I had a real job outside of this band. So I feel very blessed that I’ve been able to spend nearly seven, eight years of my life job free other than the music. There are definitely times now and in the last four years that have been a struggle. The one thing that I will say about the music industry is that it is very inconsistent. There might be six months where you make a lot of income and then the next six months it’s very slow. So that’s why, right now, if I’m out and I stay touring and stay busy I’m able to pay all my bills, but if I’m not, then I might as well work an odd job, because you’re sitting around at home and you’re not making any money when you’re sitting around at home.

I read on Wikipedia that you sold an old drum set to pay for rent.
First off, never believe anything you read on Wikipedia because that’s the most inaccurate account of anything. When I first started dating my girlfriend, her mom wikipedia’d me and there was stuff on there that I went on Wikipedia and changed myself. I was like, “Holy shit, your mom wikipedia’d me? And now she thinks I’m a drug addict or this or that because I wrote one thing in a song.” Wikipedia is so fucked. Some other Internet sources are fine, but Wikipedia is a joke. I’m sorry. And you notice that because you start doing a bunch of interviews and everyone gets their questions from Wikipedia. And you’re like, “This is so easy.” So me and John one night, we were like, “Let’s go on Wikipedia and change it because we’ve got like 20 interviews in one day coming up next week.” And we changed it and wrote shit that wasn’t true to see if they’d ask us based on that and it was totally, probably 5 out of 10 interviews were like, “So, I heard you were once a drug dealer in Columbia.” And we were like, “Yeah, I lived in Bogotá for five years of my life and I dealt smack and lived down there, and yeah, I lived in a hut.”

I am resourceful and within reason, when I’m sitting around at home, everything is expendable when it comes to material possessions. I’ve sold all kinds of shit on my eBay. For me, I’ve got a lot of things and I keep everything and I’d rather a fan to have it then for me to have it. But I don’t play drums regularly and so I never sold a drum set. I’ve sold like old lyrics I’ve had and art photography, and old guitar equipment. But, for me, if I don’t need it and I’m not using it and it’s sitting in my closet, I’d rather one of our fans to have it and be stoked on it. So, yeah, whatever. Mortgage. It’s a hard thing.

You guys broke away from Columbia and have your own label now, right?
Quite a while ago. We did our last album, Welcome the Night, on this label Sanctuary and then about five months after we put that album out the label folded and they basically decided that they weren’t going to put any future records out from anyone. There were a lot of good bands on the label like Morrissey, Tegan and Sara, the last one they released was the girl from the Cranberries, her solo album. After that they said they were just going to keep her back catalog and not put anything else out. Currently, we’re basically just waiting to record some songs and then we’ll start deciding where we’re going to put it out. We have label interests, but not until we have some songs to play for them can we really decide what we’re going to do.

We have our own label imprint on our last album. But in this market, it’s not something I would expect to pursue. I wouldn’t want to have a label per say. You can put your imprint or whatever you want to call it. That was pretty much the extent of it. It was strictly in case we wanted to exercise that option really.

A lot of bands are breaking away from the major labels. Do you think that’s the future?
I think on some levels it is. Unless you’re a band that can exist by selling records through the big conglomerates like Wal-Mart and places like that. Those are really the only places that people buy full records I feel. Independent record stores don’t make enough of a dent in it anymore. People buy the song on iTunes that’s a single or they’ll download the record for free. Unless you’re like a pop, R&B;, hip-hop or country artist. If you’re a rock band, you probably sell a small fraction of what you would have sold six years ago. A band like the Foo Fighters who would win a Grammy, they would sell like, maybe 800,000 of a record now, where six years ago would probably be a double platinum album which would be a couple million. That’s just the changing market if you’re a rock band. I think you just have to change with it and realize that’s how it goes.

They’re actually talking about lowering the number it takes to have a gold record. Now, currently, it’s 500,000 for a gold record and a million for platinum. Within this coming year I think it’s going to lower in half, like 250 or something for gold and then platinum is going to be like 6, 7, 8 I don’t know. That’s pretty crazy because for the size of our country, I mean, based on other countries, a gold record in the UK, it’s a small country, but it’s less than 100,000. It’s changed a lot. It’s really put a dent in the music industry. On some levels, I think that’s good because it really shakes shit up and I’m all for that, but if you’re a real starving musician and you’re trying to support yourself on your art, it kinda fucks you really bad.

For part two of the interview, to read about the upcoming album and Kris’ typical writing process as well as the change in the Ataris’ fan base over the years, click here.


Interview From the Vault: Kristopher Roe of The Ataris

Just about two years ago I interviewed lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristopher Roe of The Ataris when they performed for the first time in over a year at Rutgers for Springfest. Live bands, food, and games in a carnival type setting on Livingston Campus is the typical Springfest setting. Kris opened up to me about the renovated band, their future album, Welcome the Night (which came out in February of 2007) and playing for a college crowd. Be sure to catch their show Friday, February 15 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken with Army of Me. For more info on future tour dates or to hear some of their latest songs check them out on MySpace.

When was the last time you performed?
October of 2004, we played our last show in Florida, some random show we flew down to do for Halloween. I just remember it was one of those things that we didn’t know if it would be our last show as that band was. It was me, John, Mike and our old drummer Chris. It came at a point where the band felt like it was very limited. What we did on our last record I felt was the best that band could do.

I didn’t feel like it represented me anymore and I didn’t enjoy playing music with our drummer anymore. He really wanted different things than me. He wanted to be the hugest rock band in the world, whereas I just wanted to get in a van and play shows with my friends and have fun. I didn’t really feel like we had a friendship bond anymore. And our bass player went off the deep end and got involved in things that I wasn’t so proud of. I hated seeing my friends succumb to those things, and it’s like tough love. I had to be like, “This band’s here for you if you want it, but you’ve got to sort your life out first.” A year went by and I never talked to him, so obviously he chose the other elements over me and over this band, and it happens.

John and I started playing music with a few of our friends out here in New York where he lives and we recorded a bunch of demos and from that the band took its own shape. After we had the five-piece going, our friend Angus (who played cello) and our friend Bob (who played keys) and we were like, well with the three guitars it sounds atmospheric and is very full and special but it still needed more layers. I wanted to have a certain sound and I knew when we all played together – the seven of us – it really just clicked and I felt the chemistry and that was what we were looking for. When we recorded the record we recorded it all live, we all got in a room together, all seven of us, and we played and recorded. The only thing that was over dubbed was the vocals so pretty much how we sound on the record is how we sound live. It’s an honest representation of what we sound like now, which was what we were going for.

What is to be expected of your new album, Welcome the Night? Is the sound similar to your previous record?
It’s completely different. At first it sounds like a different band. Musically its way more um, I don’t really know. There are seven people in the band, there’s three guitars, cello, keyboards, and we got a new drummer and a new bass player. It’s very atmospheric, it’s more dreamy, spacey, it’s like a big wall of sound. It’s more akin to all the British bands, like Radiohead, Muse, Snow Patrol, and Doves. We came to a point where I don’t really feel the music we were creating was the music I listen to and the music that I wanted to represent me. I think that we just kind of had to step outside ourselves and be like, “What do we really want to do and what do we feel feels really honest?” We just started writing a bunch of songs and eventually after two years off with a year of writing, rehearsing, and recording, the record just kind of wrote itself.

Where do you get inspiration for your songs?
Lyrically, this album is like a story about questioning yourself. There’s a lot of existentialist thought in it, about how in life there is so much more out there. It’s me questioning myself, asking what is out there in this world and what is beyond this world. The title of the album is Welcome the Night and it’s based on this concept that to me, everything in this earth and this planet is like, we are in transit and everything prior to our lives and after our lives is darkness. Welcome the Night is me thinking of the time where there’s not going to be me having to question myself and what my purpose in life is and that there is something better beyond this life.

Is there any venue or audience that you hated playing for?
Hated playing for? Oh good, I usually get the other one. I hate playing radio festivals. That’s the worst. It sucks! Usually, for the most part it’s always at these dumb, Clear Channel type amphitheater type venues where a lot of people are just sitting down with no atmosphere whatsoever. You’re playing outdoors during the day probably and there’s just no vibe. It’s too open and there’s just no feeling whatsoever. Too much hate, man. I can’t get on a tangent.

Usually it’s all pretty good, as long as people keep an open mind and don’t like to shout for stupid songs. Occasionally, you’ll get the one random punker guy. I’ve learned to ignore them. Back in the early days I would get kind of irate and get stupid. I broke my hand getting in a fight with a kid because he threw some shit at me, and I never did that shit ever again. Just don’t let people get to you. One time in Australia I got pegged in the head with a bottle and I was like fuck it, I’m just gonna keep playing because I knew it was the night of some Australian soccer championship. I knew it was some crazy, pissed off soccer fan and I knew he could kick me to shreds. So I was, like, “I’m just gonna deal with it.” If you don’t call attention to it, usually people will just go on about their business.

How is it playing for a student crowd?
Playing colleges is always a good opportunity to bring your music to people that sometimes wouldn’t often get the chance to hear it. Because usually when you’re so absorbed with studying and probably a lot of partying I would assume as well, the music seems to take a secondary position in your life. Where a nerd like me, all I do is listen to music and pretty much sleep in all day and play music.

Is it a lot different from Warped Tour and headlining shows?
Yeah, I just feel the crowds are a little bit more narrow-minded [at Warped Tour]. I think that Warped Tour is more of a young audience and they already have their mind made up a bit more, whereas colleges are a little bit more collective and willing to listen to more different and daring things.

Do you choose the songs you play based on your audience?
Well for this tour, there are two songs we play in the set because we know people would be bummed if we didn’t play them. Two older songs we’ve been playing for a while that we reinvented in a way with this band that I think come across different so that we still like them. If you play a song a million times you also have to realize that some people will be hearing them for the first time ever. So you might be sick of it and it might not mean anything to you lyrically anymore, but to somebody else it might. I try to be 25% compromise, 75% just us being honest to ourselves and doing what we feel is best. So, overall I think the main thing we stick to is we try to play a set that is comprised of songs
that are lyrically relevant in this point in our lives and try to get more of the story telling of The Ataris across. Nothing that is really too silly because there is some stuff that I wrote when I was way younger and it’s just not really me anymore. We do half new and half old. The old songs I feel had a lot more to say and still fit alongside the new songs we do.


Phil Bensen

Fellow New Jersey native Phil Bensen sat down with me before his performance at The Knitting Factory. Bensen’s music is the perfect blend of soulfulness reminiscent of the Jackson 5 intertwined with pop influences of musicians like John Mayer and Maroon 5. Before warming up for his set, Bensen took some time to discuss his musical influences, hopes for the future and the inspiration behind some of his songs. Be sure to check him out at the Bamboozle Festival this May and visit his MySpace for more tour dates and album tracks.

I read that you started out performing in college.
I always wanted to get into music but I never had the patience to sit down and do it. My college was a real liberal arts school, it was very artsy – people playing music in courtyards and stuff like that. They had these coffee houses and the first night I went to one of those I was like, “I have to do this. This is what I have to do.” And that’s when I started to play. I had played before that, but I really got inspired. I loved it. So then I started playing, never thinking it could be a career. And then just getting better and my voice developing, writing some songs it was a natural progression. Here I am two years later, there you go.

You’ve been on tour the last two years, right? How has it been touring with bands like Lifehouse and the Jonas Brothers?
Well, technically I guess the last, yeah two years. But not really always on tour. Kind of getting shows here and there and recording and getting all that stuff ready to go. I only played one show with Lifehouse. The Jonas Brothers have been great to me. It’s not like, the best fit for me musically, but it works. For them to be playing sold out House of Blues and stuff like that and to invite me along because they like my music is a really cool thing. And so I’ve done shows with them, toured the west coast with Secondhand Serenade and Powerspace and just shows like this, up and down the east coast with Sparky’s Flaw. Bamboozle. Two years ago I was there, but it was on the small stage and no one knew who I was. Last year I played on the main stage and it was really cool. This year I don’t know yet. I know I’m in the line-up.

What inspires your music?
The great songs with great hooks, songs that are not cheesy, that are real music, you know? Like The Beatles, Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, John Mayer, Maroon 5, Bright Eyes I love. There are so many. I’ve always been a big fan of Elliott Smith. My stuff is . . . I don’t know, I’m kind of breaking away from the acoustic ballady kind of stuff and going more towards funky, cool, more pop-rock sort of stuff. That’s sort of the direction I’m going in. But also having some of the ballads too.

I really like your song, “Paper Airplanes.” What’s the story behind it?
It’s actually a good story behind that song. I was playing an open mic, trying to get anywhere in music, and there was a guy singing a song, “Paper airplanes fly so high” and I’m thinking to myself, “No they don’t. That’s kind of a dopey thing to say. They crash. It’s a piece of paper.” And I thought, “Hey, that might be a cool concept.” You know, with something delicate and beautiful and it gets destroyed. I thought it’d be a cool thing to pair that to life in general. It’s sort of a pessimistic view on the world.

There are all these stories within the song, what inspired those stories?
A lot of times, especially when I was in college, after partying it’ll be like 2 in the morning and it was always cool to look up at the sky and just see planes go by and I don’t know, it was just almost like a somber, sad kind of place. And then, the train story in there was a real thing. You see yourself and you see a guy that’s 20 years older and a guy that’s really old and you’re like, “Wow, that guy was once my age, once this young.” And there was this guy on the train ready to die. I don’t know. That’s my song. It’s almost like a Catcher in the Rye inspired song in a sense where the guy in Catcher in the Rye wants to be protecting all the kids jumping over the cliff and there’s no way he can do that.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?
You know, it changes every night. It’ll be like, “Wow that song felt really great or that song didn’t.” I like to play “Bruised.” I think it has a bit of a dynamic. It’s just a MySpace special, but it will be on my next album. Then there’s this song called “A Little Respect” that I like to play. “Not Good Enough” I like to play. There are more, but I like to play the more upbeat songs because they’re just more fun to play.

Do you have a favorite venue you’ve played at?
I played the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and that was awesome. There’s so much history. The people there were so nice and they kind of carried on the tradition that old-folk, country singers have and they’re so into that tradition of music. They’re like, “Hank Williams was here and he did this and this and it’s so great to have you guys here.” The venue itself is really cool. The balcony wraps around and so you’re almost covered in the audience. That was cool. It was the Jonas Brothers’ show and there were thousands of people there. It was really cool.

What are your hopes for the upcoming year?
I hope to get a big deal like Sparky’s Flawless and I don’t know, write a song like “Who Let the Dogs Out” part two [laughs]. I really want to get a deal and write a record. My record’s gotten out, but something that people listen to and are like, “Wow! I love that!” That’s my goal. And really continue to build a fan base.

How would you explain your music to someone who’s never heard it?
I try and do that all the time. I’m like, “You know Maroon 5? You know John Mayer? Well, it’s kind of like a mix of those two.” That’s like the best way to describe it. Sort of like a soft pop/rock/soul/jazzy. Jackson 5 too.

Interviews Q&A

Sparky’s Flaw

Take four friends from high school, add a college roommate to make the band total five, mix in a recent record deal, touring Thursday through Sunday to keep up with classes and you get the current life of Sparky’s Flaw. Frontman Will Anderson took some time out on his way to class for a phone interview and told me all about the band, their album plans and the story behind the band’s name. Listen to the interview here.

Tell me a little bit about Sparky’s Flaw. I read that four of you were friends growing up, did you always want to start a band together?
We were all best friends in high school – the four of us – and then our drummer actually started a band with a couple of guys and we all got really jealous. He was our friend and he was playing for this other band. We all played instruments, I played guitar and the other guys play, some of them played or just picked it up for the sake of joining the band. We decided despite our drummer, who was in this other band, we were going to start a band and then he decided he wanted to join our band so it worked out well. We played all through high school, tried to play as much as we could around town. Then we got to college and met our great guitarist, who was my best friend going through college. I’ve known him all four years so it worked out well.

So are all of you in college?
Three of us go to school. Two of us go to the University of Virginia, myself and our guitarist, and two of the guys are not in school and the other one goes to Mary Washington which is about an hour up the road.

How do you deal with prioritizing school, touring and working on your record?
That’s a great question. We’re still trying to figure that out. I’m going to class at 12:45 and then we leave for Philadelphia at 1:15 so I’m going just so I can get the check saying that I was here. We missed a week of school going to L.A. recording our CD. It’s a struggle, but we’ve all sort of gotten the hang of it. And the teachers are pretty cool when we tell them what we’re doing. They seem to live vicariously through us, so we just show up and let them know what we’re up to.

So you just signed with Mercury Records and you’re working on your first album, how is that going?
We’re working on it right now. We’re halfway through with it. We did basically six songs over our winter break and we’ll finish up the rest of it this month and then over spring break through the big chunks of free time that we all have at the same time. We will go back to L.A. the first week of March and knock it out.

Do you have a name for it yet?
No, we haven’t really thought of it. We still have the other six songs to choose. We don’t even know what songs we are going to do yet. We’ll figure that out when it comes, but definitely nothing yet.

Do you have a tentative release date?
It’s supposed to come out in the summer I think. Sometime in the summer, I don’t know when.

What can fans expect from it?
Its cool. Its rock, its very rock. Its rock with pop twists and soul. We’re still honing the sound, trying to get some continuity to it. It’s definitely rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s good. I think they’re catchy songs and they’re fun to listen to. We’re just trying to have fun and hopefully when they listen to it they will too.

I read that your song, “The New Year” was featured in the Rose Bowl. How did that happen?
Yeah, it was crazy. Our managers got an email from ESPN saying “Hey, we like the song and we want to use it in the Rose Bowl.” We didn’t really think it would actually happen but yeah, we were all watching the Rose Bowl and there we were. They played it during highlight reels and stuff. It was pretty crazy because we had no idea it was coming and thought it was a passing thing and it wouldn’t follow through. We were all watching at home in the off chance that it would and it did. It was sort of out of nowhere. It was a good boost of encouragement.

Since you write all the songs, what is your typical writing process like?
I have a really weird sleeping pattern so at midnight I’ll start writing songs. Actually, I sit down and write every night because it’s a good habit. Ninety-five percent of time it’s stupid stuff that I write and I usually give up after about a half hour. But on a night that something good does come up it’s one of those all-nighter things where at 5 ‘o clock in the morning I’m banging on our drummer’s door, screaming, “I got a good song, listen to this,” and wake him up and make him listen to it. It’s usually an all night sort of trance thing where I go into the zone and knock it out as quickly as possible. Often times I’ll come out with it and come back and rewrite all the words in a few weeks once I realize how terrible the idea was. Usually the music comes first and lyrics come later. But you definitely know very quickly if it’s a good song or not.

I’ll have the entire song laid out, the lyrics and the melody and then the guys will add their opinions to it. It’s just a matter of they add their little twist to it eventually. But I usually come in with a full song ready.

Where do you find the inspiration behind your songs?
Everywhere, really. Often times, if it’s about somebody I’m very specific about who I’m writing the song about. If I meet somebody interesting or hear an interesting story about somebody usually that’s a big one for me. And then sometimes just fiction, and random things that I think about.

I really like your song, “Under Control.” What was going on in your head when writing it, what inspired it?
That’s a funny song. I used to do this thing where I’d advertise, ‘cause on the east coast sororities, especially in the south, are huge. So to advertise for shows I would go into sororities and sing to the girls. It’s like 130 girls, college-age, it’s the perfect age – who we’re shooting for basically. I wrote that song with the melody and I had this crush on this girl for probably about three years all through college. She had no idea who I was. So, I wrote that song in the off chance that she would hear it and realize it was
about her. But unfortunately,
she did not and she still does not know who I am. It’s kind of weird. I don’t think she has any idea that she has that song written about her. It was definitely for that one girl who I met at that one sorority and who I still see all around and she went to that school.

Is your band really named after one of your friends, Sparky?
Yeah. When we were in high school there was this kid who we called Sparky and he was a cool kid, he used to wear tailored suits to school every day so he looked really good every day. The only problem was that he also wore duct tape shoes to school every day. So that was his only flaw. We were desperate for a name and we came up with Sparky’s Flaw and it sort of stuck.

How would you explain your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
Its catchy songs, but its rock and roll and soul.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?
“Under Control” is probably my favorite song to play. We do some cover songs, “Under Pressure” by Queen. Our saxophone player and keyboardist sings it, it’s an incredibly high song so it’s fun to watch him sing it while I get to sit back and not do anything.

What are your plans for the rest of 2008?
We graduate in May. So we’ve been doing Thursday through Sunday touring. It’s crazy, but we’ve been doing that this semester so far. The moment we graduate we’ll hit hard and I don’t know who we’ll tour with. I know they have names in mind but I don’t think we can confirm them. But we’ll definitely be out all summer and through the fall and hitting it hard. Which is fun, we’re excited about that.

For more info on Sparky’s Flaw, be sure to check out their website here.


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.”

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