2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate? According to There’s a Traitor in the Room, one of the Louis XIV songs on their almost-released record Slick Dogs and Ponies: THEM!
The San Diego band has never been too big on false modesty. The song most people associate them with, the greasy glam-dance number :Finding Out True Love is Blind”, was basically a list of girls who they want to screw and vice versa.
Many of the songs on their first album sound like they were written from inside Vince Neil’s brain, even if the music is more Brownsville Station than Theatre of Pain. Since that record came out though, they’ve been holed up in their huge personal studio obsessively expanding and redefining their sound. The result is a more confident and nuanced rock-and-roll, still full of sexy riffage but with big Zeppelin beats and Bowie string sections and beepy disco electronics. It might surprise some people, and the jury is still out on whether the maturation will be successful.
It’s undeniable though that they are one of the hardest-sweating bands in show business, on or off the stage.
I talked to guitarist and songwriter Brian Karscig as he checked into a hotel in Nashville TN, about Candlebox, Flash Gordon, hot French accents, and, of course, how great Louis XIV is.
But given the amount of work and thought and balls they’ve put into making their music more awesome, they do deserve to brag a bit.
BYT: So how’s the tour going so far?
Brian Karscig: So far it’s been insane, man. We’ve been first on the bill most of the nights but it seems like everybody’s been getting there pretty early. So it’s been fantastic for us.
BYT: I’ve checked out some show reviews for the tour so far, looks like you guys have been reaping the praises.
BK: Yeah, I know. It seems like people have been really digging us, and we’ve been playing a lot of the new stuff for the first time, so it makes it fun for us as well.
BYT: I’ve heard you’ve got violins on every song in the live show, is that right?
BK: Yeah, our new record was pretty much recorded with an orchestra on a lot of the tunes. So we just figured, let’s bring it out on the road. So it’s more like the original album when people hear it. Plus, I think we went through a pretty big ELO phase, (well I’m still probably in it). We wanted to do something new, I mean, we toured for a couple of years as a four piece band. You got to keep things interesting in a group, especially in your live show, to keep it fun, keep it challenging and exciting you know?
BYT: Lots of bands are adding strings to their live shows; it’s like a movement of some kind.
BK: I’d love to get, I think the last piece is a cello, which we could incorporate. But obviously you have to do things when you get the budget.
BYT: You don’t yet have the cash for the full rack of keyboards and flaming ELO stage show, eh?
BK: I wish!
(i’ll use any opportunity to squeeze a xanadu video in. even if, yes, i do know its not ELO’s brightest moment-svetlana)
BYT: So last night I heard Guilt by Association at a dance-party type thing at a club…
BK: Oh, no way!
BYT: It seemed like it worked really well as a dance floor hit too…
BK: It does have a beat.
BYT: Was that a purposeful thing, like, “let’s make a dance song with a club beat…”
BK: You know I think that’s just our cup of tea. When Jay and I (we write our songs and Mark [drums] is a big factor too), usually it’s just the three of us in the studio, we’ve always kind of been big fans of something that you can dance to. All of that old T-Rex scene and other stuff we like had a good groove that, whether you can dance to it or not, you could definitely move to it. It had a swagger to it, a strut. That’s the music and the rock that we’ve always been into. I think you can dance to everything on our last record! In the dying world of radio, the radio is kind-of becoming the clubs. So that works to our advantage now.
BYT: Have you ever thought of doing any remix work with a dance-music DJ or anything?
BK: Maybe not with dance producers, but I would love for someone to come hit us up and remix some of this stuff, do it all dance-styley. I could totally get into that, what have we got to lose? It might open our eyes to something that we’re just not that familiar with, and anything that can spark new creative ideas I’d embrace. But we have this cat Tommie Sunshine, a New York DJ, do a couple mixes of songs on our last record and they turned out really cool.
BYT: So lets talke about the new album. Where’d you record it, the same place as your last one?
BK: Me, Mark and Jason own a studio that we’re now calling XIV Recording (ex, eye, vee) Studios. It’s an old church in San Diego, the Eastside Church of Christ. We saw a For Sale sign on it one day and just went in there, met the landlord, got the place, knocked out some walls, built some new ones, made a control room and a tracking room. Over the last three or four years we’ve been building on it, new tape machine and console, just a lot of frickin cool gear you know? It’s great because we’ve found in the past, since Jason, Mark and myself have been in bands forever together, and once Louis XIV started in 2003, we learned that if we ever signed a record deal, never to waste your recording budget on just going in with some producer and paying studio time to make a record in 6 weeks between the hours of noon and midnight. So we decided to take the recording budget, build our own studio, produce the records ourselves and be creative whenever it comes. You can’t really put a timeclock on creativity. I think we have regrets from the other bands we were in, because the record had to be done at a certain time. In some respects it is good to put a timeline and a cut-off date on it, otherwise you’ll end up doing what we did on this new record–we recorded seventy tracks and we never left the studio and we all went a little mental.
BYT: Seventy? Wow.
BK: We finally did narrow it down to twelve. We released eight B-sides, and we put out a four song EP. So twenty of them will see the light of day. The other fifty may resurface, or we might just put them out one day for the hell of it.
BYT: So that’s the problem now, you’ve got so much freedom you have to work hard to limit yourselves. On the new record you’ve evolved in some ways, with instrumentation and songwriting. What was the impetus for that?
BK: Well, in any relationship, in a love affair or in a band, anything you’ve been in for a long time, you have to find ways to keep the relationship’s creative motive happening, make it feel spontaneous and exciting again. Jay and I were never in the business of doing the same thing twice. It works for some people.
The Green Day’s out there have got it down to a science, where they can write ten albums that all sound exactly the same, but appeal to millions and millions of people.
I’m not dissing that, that’s just not what we do. I like to constantly do things differently. On this record we’re challenging ourselves. When we had a song idea on either piano or guitar we go in and do the given beat that would go with it, and then we stop and challenge ourselves. Like let’s try to do a really fucked-up beat too. Or what would it be like if instead of a piano we brought in cellos? We did guitar harmony over guitar harmony over guitar harmony. We almost went through a process of completely over doing everything and then pulling things back once they were all there. It was fun and exciting for us, until we got entirely mind-scrambled with it. But we made it through, so maybe we had to push things too far and break new boundaries with ourselves to get the album that we’re all really excited about now. I know we’ll raise eyebrows and we’ll have fans that say, “Oh that doesn’t really sound like them.”
But generally most of our fans that have heard the record know that, sure it’s a departure, sure it’s something new, but it’s undeniably Louis XIV.
If we did the same thing, just a couple songs about sex and fun and girls, we’d probably take a lot of shit for it! We’d probably never be able to make this album, because then people would just call us the Flirt band or whatever.
In the last few years it was a time and a climate when it just wasn’t all fun and games like it was when we wrote for the first record. There was a lot going on, it was a serious time in the world, and in our personal lives, with touring and being creative and the war. There was some fucked-up shit going on. It wasn’t that easy to be focused just on the good times. It was time for us to address everything and break new ground. And a lot of that had to do with orchestras and songs like Free Won’t Be What It Used To Be, which don’t talk about the same things as Finding Out True Love Is Blind.
BYT: It’s funny how when you started you got comparisons to Marc Bolan and David Bowie from their early 70s glam phases, where those guys went through the same thing, evolving, getting more experimental…
BK: Absolutely. We’re definitely influenced by T-Rex and Bowie, but I don’t think we sound like them. It’s flattering to be in that good company…but I do recognize that they were innovators as musicians, 35 and 40 years after their records people still talk about them, because they didn’t do the same thing over and over again.
It’s like, the bands of the 90s, the Candlebox era and all that, that was only 10 years ago and I don’t think I’ve heard anybody mention those names since. In the last ten or fifteen years, music’s gone through a phase of being homogenized, which makes it dated. I have no disrespect for any of these bands, I even like some of them but, when Pearl Jam came out, they put together a Nickleback and a Creed and a Stone Temple Pilots. Green Day worked so they put out a Blink 182. We went through this phase of being really confused, like boy, no one’s being original. But our initial goal was to be our own favorite band. And once we focused on that we developed into our own thing. Now we standing in a class of our own and, even the Editors were saying the other day, “People were asking us what you guys sound like and we really couldn’t describe it.” And I think that’s the best compliment you could possibly give me. Better that than to be pigeonholed, someone constantly comparing you to someone else. We’ll still get the comparisons, but I like that we’re standing on our own right now, when we need to be.
BYT: The new direction sound a little more lyrically serious too, like you said. Was any of that in response to the criticism you all have gotten for just singing about chicks?
BK: Not really, because we do sing about chicks! We just sang about other things as well too.
The thing that always struck me was that on Best Little Secrets Are Kept there are really only 4 songs that spoke about sex and chicks. There’s also the Ball of Twine’s, there’s All the Little Pieces, there was God Killed The Queen, and Louis XIV (the song), and all the other fantastic tunes that turned out to be our fan favorites, that didn’t really talk about sex. It’s just that the big song that was attached to us on the radio, which put us on the map, was largely about that. And we are fun guys. We like to party. This record has just as much of that, but musically and conceptually there are so many other things to addresses than the women, sex and fun content. Production-wise the first record was scaled down to one or two cellos, one violin, one or two guitars, one vocal with maybe a harmony. Jay would sing a verse, I would sing a chorus, but isolated and stripped down. Now everything’s very full of life. There’s a freaking thirty-three piece cello section on the solo of Guilt by Association, and you can dance to it! So I think the focus is going to shift on this new record from what we used to be known for.
BYT: Well I do have to ask you a couple debauchery questions.
BK: Do it!
BYT: I’m always arguing with my friends about which city has the hottest women (not that I’ve been to every city but it’s a vital discussion for science you understand.) You guys have toured a bunch, what’s your experience?
BK: On this tour or in general?
BYT: Oh in general, I’m not asking you for the play by play.
BK: I’m going to say Montreal, and Toronto.
BYT: Really? Damn!
BK: Sydney, too. And Paris.
BYT: Well, obviously.
BK: That’s a cliché but it’s true. Paris has absolutely gorgeous women.
BYT: I can’t believe how much props Toronto and Montreal get for their hotness quotient. I hear that all the time but the few times I’ve been there I haven’t seen it.
BK: Well for Montreal, there’s just something about a beautiful woman with a French accent. It’s kind of the same thing when the Americans freaked out when they first heard the Beatles talk. There are beautiful women everywhere, but it’s characteristics like language and accent and things that you’re not used to that maybe spice the deal up a bit.
BYT: Let’s talk about Flash Gordon for a second. I love that badass cover of the Queen title song you released (as a promo for the new Flash Gordon TV show). Were you guys fans of the original soundtrack and movie?
BK: That movie was the staple of my childhood. The irony is, that was the first record I ever received in my life when I was a kid, 1980 when I had a record player. Well I still do, I usually only listen to vinyl, because I have a shitload of a collection from my parents. That record, with Flash doing the double biceps flex on the back, and the movie, everything about it was insane. So when we got the call to do it, I almost thought someone was pulling my leg. The way it was pitched to us, they said someone was re-doing the movie. But it turned out they were re-doing the series, which is actually really bad. But the opportunity to cover a Queen song, shit, I probably would have done it for anything. We never saw the show, didn’t see anything, got the call, went down to the studio, which is a mile and a half from my house. Got in at 4, whipped out the version by midnight, sent it over and they decided to use it for the ads. Once we saw the show we were like, you know, we just don’t want our name being associated with the show. But every time you see an ad for the show they use the song.
BYT: It’s a great cover. For some reason I’ve been watching the movie over and over again recently.
BK: Fucking Max Von Sydow as Ming...
BYT: Ornella Muti as the Princess, so hot.
BK: Hell yeah. But just to cap on the Flash thing. The best thing about it was we got to put it on our EP. Three of the songs on our new record, the string arrangements were done by David Campbell, the composer, Beck’s father. He does mega song arrangements, 24 piece orchestras, in the basement of Capital Studios, over there in Hollywood. It was an amazing experience. So while we were doing that, his engineer, this guy named Steve Churchyard, was the actual engineer of AIR Studios under George Martin. He really dug some of the stuff we were doing in the studio, and he lived 25 minutes outside of San Diego, so we invited him down to the studio one day, telling him we were doing the Queen cover, and he brings down the exact same phaser that they used in all the Queen recordings. The Eventide phaser. So we actually used the exact model that Queen used on that whole album on our version of Flash.
BYT: So the next step is re-doing the full record, on stage with the spinning drum risers, with you and Jason in those white leotards that Freddy Mercury was always sporting. Right?
BK: You know what, I’d do it. I just don’t think it would look that good. We might frighten our fans away.
BYT: Looking forward to seeing you guys at the 9:30 club, fully clothed. Thanks!