We asked the two bands performing at this Saturday’s Snallygaster to have a chat. They did. Mick from Brett and Mario from !!! on writing, recording and performing.
Buy tickets to Snallygaster here. VIP tickets have already sold-out. Hint-hint.
Mick from Brett: Do you have any fond memories of coming through D.C. on tour?
Mario from !!!: I mean shit, I love playing the Black Cat. Some of my favorite shows have been at the Black Cat. And the record that kind of put us on the map was made in D.C. We did “Giuliani” at a recording studio in DC—the Trans Am guys had a studio, Electrical Audio. They had a studio and that’s where we came together and that’s what defined what we became for the next few years. There’s roots there that we have that are really important. Yes, we became associated as a New York band, but a lot of the seeds were sown in D.C.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzlh_badpVE
Mick from Brett: What can the D.C. audience expect in terms of the live show. Do you guys ever bring it down for a segment or do you keep the energy going the entire set?
Mario from !!!: For this band we do have a sort of ‘hit it and quit it’ attitude. As I’ve gotten older, I do like bands that go and knock you out and leave it as such. DJing is a much different experience for me, but seeing a band live is a much more enjoyable experience in a shorter context. That’s been our attitude with the band. We’ll be able to grab people’s attention and hold it from there and see it dissipate from there. That attitude from our early days is one thing that we’ve always carried through with us. We don’t try to beat around the bush too much.
Mick from Brett: You guys have been touring pretty hard now during the album cycle for your latest release, Thriller. (Warp, April, 2013) Do you feel like you’re now in a good live pocket with those songs now that they are road-tested?
Mario from !!!: Yeah. We’ve actually been playing a lot of new, ‘new’ stuff because we’re working on a new record. But we kind of hit the ground running after we released Thriller and usually once you’ve been touring for three or four months after, certain tracks on the record turn into something that we hadn’t anticipated. Certain tracks on the record we never played as a band, they were created in the studio. These songs that we started playing out thinking, “This might be fun to try” became some of my favorite tracks to play after we’d been playing them for a while. It’s nice to see the band to take hold of it and turn them into something we’d never thought they’d be even in the studio.
Mick from Brett: Sometimes you write a song in the studio and then start playing it with the band and you think, “Damn, I wish we could have recorded it with this certain energy in the first place…”
Mario from !!!: When you’re in the studio with a track that you’ve never played live, the creative momentum that you have trumps the fact if you’ve played it live or not because, for us, I really like how they come together in the creative moment. If you get it sounding unique and good on the recording, then you can embellish and take it places live that make it fun for you and the audience and see if it catches fire. Things are much more visceral that way and we’ve always kind of lived off that.
Mick from Brett: I agree. It’s really obvious that everyone in your band is highly proficient and the live experience greatly expands the compositions. For instance, when I listen to a song like “Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard” which is so propulsive and completely kinetic, then move to a new song that I really love “Careful”—that is a kind of a chameleon of a song that very subtly and tastefully goes in and out of different sonic places—I wonder how you have grown as a writer. How has your creative process changed through the years?
Mario from !!!: Actually both those songs in particular started in similar places. A groove was started and we built off of it. But each of those tracks just suggested something completely different. On both of those tracks I’m playing several instruments. On ‘Giuliani,’ that was the first song that we ever created in a studio. We recorded a lot of it live, but at the time we were listening to a lot of dub music and we took some sounds we created in the studio and wanted to kind of meld those things. Something like ‘Careful’ was very influenced by a lot of the newer tech-house stuff that we listen to. The layering was trying to introduce new things to take the track to a new place…
Mick from Brett: Absolutely. It’s a very cool arrangement. It’s not obtuse at all in how it hits the different parts of the palate. And then “Slyd”—that song just rocks—instant gratification and very sweaty and late-night feeling. But ‘Careful’ has a unique quality to it that is able to suggest some of the references you were just talking about, but doing it stealthily.
Switching gears a little, how has !!! been so successful for so long through the logistical difficulties of being a bi-coastal band? (band is based out of Sacramento, New York, and Portland)
Mario from !!!: We’ve been a band for a long time and once the guys moved to New York, from that time there were long gaps—because of finances or whatever—that we couldn’t do much of anything so when we would get together we would try to squeeze in as much as we possibly could. When we’re together…in theory…we’re generally pretty focused and try to make the most of the time we have together. It was a good combination of us writing stuff that people thought was interesting and also being at the right place at the right time—in NYC in the early-aughts where it caught fire. We were able to keep going through touring. From 2007 on, we came into ourselves. Prior to 2007, we would go through long periods of not playing. So the band has always stayed fresh to us—the duration of the band is 16 or 17 years now. We’ve been able to maintain by keeping distance at some points, and then coming back together and flourishing from there. I don’t recommend it people—it’s fucking hard to create music with other people who live far away. But we established how the band was going to work once everybody moved away. The formula seems to work for us.
Mick from Brett: Yeah it also seems like there is a great deal of personal responsibility within the project…
Mario from !!!: Yeah…we did a tour before everybody moved to NYC and talking to the guys after we got back—after all the touring that we’ve done I’ve never seen a band that did what we did and that it was really important that we take it and see where it could go. Fortunately everybody agreed. You know how it is—when you’re playing music and you find where something chemistry-wise works, you try not to mess with it too much.
Mick from Brett: Absolutely. It’s an important moment for a band. What have you been inspired by over the last few months that are influencing your new songs for the next album?
Mario from !!!: I think the progression has been is that we’ve tried to do more direct, shorter and somewhat more pop arrangements. The momentum from our last album is carrying over with shorter more catchy songs—kind of continuing in that vein. But there are still things that haven’t been recorded yet that are longer, 12-inch DJ oriented tracks. You just keep writing and hopefully the next song you’re working on keeps everybody psyched and there you go…
Mick from Brett: I admire that because it’s hard to make a focused song.
Whether you have a really good melodic or lyrical idea, the challenge is to present it in a way you can get it out in a focused and direct way. That’s a really hard thing to do because you have to cut away a lot of stuff and figure out which are the ‘right’ and ‘best’ parts…
Mario from !!!: I hear what you are saying. Back in the day it was like, we just let it ride. Like…this part just goes on for a minute and it never bothered us. But now working with Jim Eno (Spoon, Polica, New Pornographers) on our last album—he really helped question what we were trying to say through the music and lyrics and that influence continues on to the newer stuff…