all words // Alyssa Moody
all photos // Mars Hobrecker
Sons of an Illustrious Father, a future-folk, “heavy meadow” indie rock band from New York City are one of those incredibly rare bands that seem to posses a kind of kinship with a bygone era — the Dylan Freewheelin’ era, to be exact. This massively talented trio of old souls — comprised of Lilah Larson, Josh Aubin, and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Perks of Being a Wallflower)– just released the first edition in what will eventually be 3 double A-side singles, (and you need to stop whatever you’re doing and listen to them — immediately.)
These undeniably magical melodies were recorded with scratch tracks — a new frontier for the band who previously released primarily live recordings. Their ever-evolving sound remains unabashedly unique and will no doubt continue to transcend the ephemeral society in which we live. We caught up with the band’s Joan Baez-meets-Lena Dunham superstar frontwoman, Lilah, to discuss the band’s new and unfamiliar creative process and simultaneously glimpse of what’s to come for this endearingly eccentric band of misfit geniuses.
For those unfamiliar explain the genesis of the band.. How’d you meet, how did the band get started, etc.
Sons started when I was 17, just me and Sofia Albam. We were drawn together over our mutual love of old folk, traditional, gospel, and country music, and started just doing covers of those songs. We were joined for a time by a cellist, Jake Sokolov-Gonzalez. My only other friend at the time was Ezra, who I’d gone to middle school with, and I spent all my time that I wasn’t playing acoustic folk with Sofia and Jake jamming with Ezra, making loud raucous rock music. Eventually the two merged. Jake Generalli started hanging around and announced that he was joining the band. Then we recruited Josh who was Sofia’s roommate to play bass. At our largest we were five. Now we’re very happily three.
What’s the writing process been like for the new material and how has that differed from your past writing experiences? // What can we expect in terms of sound, aesthetic, etc. on these singles?
This is a whole new game for us. As we’ve done for years, Ezra and I wrote the songs independently and brought them to the band, but then we really hacked them apart and worked over them together to create new pieces that are truly everyone’s. In terms of recording, we’ve always recorded almost entirely live in the past, and this time we did just the very basics live and spent days overdubbing and experimenting. So, the sound is much richer, more textured, and generally weirder. It’s more noticeably informed by a wider array of influences than our earlier stuff.
There aren’t many bands that do what you guys do in terms releasing singles instead of a full record — do you find that it’s easier in your creative process to grow and as a band/keep your sound fresh by producing small batches of songs every few months rather than recording a full-length record?
Because we all write, we end up with a lot of songs. So dropping singles is kind of a way of opening up a release valve. We also just haven’t released music since 2011, were really eager to do so, and didn’t want to wait for the completion of a full album. What is the live experience like? What benefits have you seen from the open, interactive live performance environment? What can fans expect to see when they go to one of your shows?
The live shows are tumultuous, hopefully in a good way. We definitely go quickly and frequently from highs to lows, both sonic and emotional. We strive to balance the two. For us, the shows are kind of purgatory rituals, as well as celebrations. They’re very meaningful for us, and we want them to be for others as well.
Who did you listen to growing up? Who were/are your biggest influences — any musicians or artists in particular that inspired you to do what your doing?
My father had a seemingly bottomless collection and knowledge of music, both very old and very contemporary, so I grew up an avid listener to an extremely wide range of music. But one of my most vivid memories was when I was seven and he sat me down to watch Nirvana Unplugged. I became completely obsessed with Nirvana from that point on. One of the things Ezra and I bonded over early was a love of Nirvana, as well as Daniel Johnston and Patti Smith. Patti remains for all of us a sort of paragon, both as an artist and as a human. If you could tour with any artist/band dead or alive who would it be and why?
The Band. Because they were the best.
What have you guys been listening to lately in terms of new music? Is there any song out right now that you wish you never had to hear again? Conversely, any emerging bands that you think are worth checking out?
Slow Dance In the Cosmos by PORCHES. Beyonce, obviously. And our brilliant friends—ghostpal, Nina Violet, Willy Mason, Keith Zarriello, Lexie Roth, Walking Shapes, to name a few. In terms of shit I never need to hear again, “Blurred Lines” tops the list. Not only because it’s sonically trite, but also because lyrically it’s nothing but a propagation of misogynistic rape culture.
What are your touring plans for the new material beyond the shows you’re doing over the next month or so in New York?