Slumberland Records head honcho Mike Schulman must be smiling a lot these days.
Since celebrating the esteemed indie label’s 20 year anniversary with four special live shows (two on each coast—and if you missed DC’s homecoming show last November, ouch!), Schulman has seen the recent Black Tambourine reissue greeted with the kind of rapturous plaudits usually reserved for rock royalty (it currently sits as the third best reviewed full-length release in the country, according to critic complier Metacritic), and sent Pains of Being Pure at Heart fans into a tizzy with a new 7” single tease.
I don’t doubt for a moment that the hipper-than-thou kids that write for Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum and Pitchfork are foaming at the mouth for more. Happily, they won’t have to wait much longer.
With the May 25 release of Neverever’s debut album, “Angelic Swells,” Schulman has delivered a big wet kiss to Slumberland’s fervent followers. This Glaswegian-by-way-of-L.A. pop group makes striking pop sounds hallmarked by so many of the label’s defining ingredients: echoey guitar jangle, cooing vocal harmonies, infectious melodies and the kind of beats that make you want to shake a tail feather even if you got no rhythm, girlfriend.
Yet there’s also something really different going on here. If it’s fair to say that previous Slumberland bands have flirted with the classic pop sounds of the 50s and 60s, then Neverever have gone for a full make-out session. What’s remarkable is that they’ve done it in such a way that isn’t overly reverential or pat; the band’s other influences––chiefly the U.K. post-punk and indie pop of the 80s (think Postcard and the C86 era), and the glam and power-pop of the 70s, blend in with the aforementioned sounds as if they were always part of the same genre, rather than something that should be confined to a separate section of the record store.
Trends will come and go but certain pop sounds never go out of style. The Shangri-Las will always be cool. So will The Kinks. But so will bands like Television, Orange Juice and The Shop Assistants. Neverever make music informed by this simple truth. It’s not surprising that Schulman seized on the band’s talents and is now proudly introducing their debut album to the world.
While the band is playing only a handful of dates across the U.S., Schulman made sure that DC would be part of the itinerary. Neverever plays the Velvet Lounge tonight, in a rare appearance with fellow Glaswegian indie stalwarts Veronica Falls (a band the NME recently branded “the sexiest damn lo-fi pop group to have stalked these shores in quite some time.”) To mark the occasion, BYT did an e-mail interview with Neverever to talk what it’s like trading Glasgow for L.A., the Slumberland legacy and the band’s unusal connection to Veronica Falls.
BYT: So…a little history first: How did a charming Glaswegian couple obsessed with making the perfect pop song end up in L.A. of all places?
Jihae: Well, only one of us is actually from Glasgow. I was born and raised in L.A. and I missed it terribly while living in Scotland, so that’s what brings us here! I was only a temporary Glaswegian for about 3 1/2 years while I went to art school, and I wasn’t very good at it. Too gloomy.
BYT: L.A. is obviously a lot different than Glasgow. How are you taking to it? Does living there inspire your music making?
Jihae: I’m taking verrry well to being back at home, I’ve never been so in love with L.A. in all my life! Everything about it inspires me now that I fully appreciate it. There is so much amazing history, music-related and otherwise. The lighting, the scenery, the endless possibilities and ridiculousness, the beaches, the canyons, the mountains, Disneyland!
Wallace: I came to visit L.A. for Christmas with Jihae when we first met and was a convert straight away. It’s weird, I will still go to places and instantly recognize it from my mis-spent youth watching skate videos. The first time we went to In n Out I was like, ‘wow, this is the place from the mouse video..arghhh’. So, in a way, LA has this strange nostalgic quality for me even though I never grew up here, not to mention all the West Coast 60s stuff…
BYT: A related question: It seems like a particularly fertile time for independent music in L.A. There’s the noisy/avant side of things being represented with bands like HEALTH and No Age; the tape-hiss friendly “glo-fi” sounds of Airiel Pink and Nite Jewel; an abundance of post-punk formalism (Weave is one band that comes to mind); and the lo-fi jangle of Best Coast/Pearl Harbor. With so much musical activity as part of the backdrop, is it more of a challenge to find your fans and carve out a space of your own?
Jihae: Oh, I don’t know, I think it’s great that all this is going on in L.A. right now. For a while there it seemed like L.A. had been forgotten about and made into a bit of a joke, band-wise. Everyone thought it was all Red Hot Chili Peps and whatnot. All of those bands you mentioned have great things going and parts to them that we identify with and maybe have in common, but I also think we sound very different from them all and don’t really fit into any one of those categories. So, I guess we just do what it is we like to do, the best we can, and hope people like it.
BYT: One of the things I love most about L.A. is the Part Time Punks event which happens every Sunday at The Echo. You played there as part of the Slumberland 20th Anniversary party which featured a stellar line-up, including Go Sailor and Henry’s Dress. What was that experience like for you?
Jihae: It was swell getting to play the Slumberland 20th Anniversary parties in both S.F. and L.A. We were honored to get to play with all the other great bands on the label and to get to help celebrate all the amazing things Mike Schulman has made possible.
Wallace: We also got to play Part Time Punks with the Yummy Fur!!! Never thought we would get to play with Yummy Fur.
BYT: Obviously, Neverever is a band with a keen sense of pop history. Considering all the legendary recordings that Slumberland has put out through the years, you must be pretty excited to have your debut album coming out on the label. It’s been so terrific to see a resurgence in the label’s popularity…
Jihae: Yeah, we’re super excited!
Wallace: Yeah, we can’t think of a label we would rather put our first record out on. I remember when Mike first wrote my old band, we were all so excited that he had even heard of us, nevermind that he wanted to put our record out.
BYT: So many bands make music influenced by one particular sub-genre or era. What I really like about Neverever is your songs strike me as a kind of distillation of so many different strains of classic pop songcraft––I hear 50s rock and roll, 60s girl group/Phil Spector obviously, 70s power pop, classic indie pop—both of the late 70s/early 80s variety (Orange Juice especially!) and C86 bands to name a few…and by weaving these different strains of pop together, it’s clearly apparent that they have more in common than maybe some music fans realize…was that part of the thinking you guys had? That, hey, all these dividing lines are kinda bullshit and good pop is good pop?
Jihae: Yeah, I do think pretty much all great pop music has a lot in common. I think a lot of it deals with very base teenage feelings and sentiments, has that driving feeling that makes you tingle and want to grab the person you love, run away, and go wild! It makes your heart feel like it’s gonna beat right out of your chest and all over your date’s new outfit!
BYT: I also wanted to find out more about the actual songwriting process for you guys. Since you are a couple as well as a band, is it sort of a case where really *any* time can become songwriting time? Do you ever write songs in bed together?
Jihae: Uuum, we actually work in kinda different ways so it took a while to figure out a process that was easy for both of us. We find it’s easiest to do our collaborating in a studio space instead of the living room and then add our own extra parts whenever we like. Do we write in bed together? How dare you! No, not really.
BYT: What can you tell me about the making of your debut album “Angelic Swells”? What was that like for you? Any fun stories from the recording sessions?
Jihae: It was a little rough considering our first engineer was sent to the mental hospital on our way to the first recording session. We had to find a new guy and a new place in about a day and then had less time to tinker around. Then it rained for the exact amount of time it took to do the photo-shoot for the album cover, which involves me in a bathing suit and smoke bombs.
Wallace: On the first day of our music video shoot we realized it just wasn’t working and had to find a new person to film it, and our vinyl test-prints got sent back from the lab all wrong a total of three times. Other than that, it’s been a breeze!
BYT: Speaking of the album, you re-recorded the track “Blue Genes” which you had previously released as a 7” single last summer under a different band name—the Champagne Socialists. Why did you choose to re-record it? And what prompted the name change?
Jihae: We love the original recording of Blue Genes but thought it could be re-vamped for the album. I always like it when bands have multiple versions of songs on different releases. As for the name change, it was kind of something we hadn’t gotten to put much thought into before it got used, we just really didn’t like it after we saw it as our name. We just thought it looked and sounded a bit lame.
Wallace: Yeah, the single happened so quickly Mike asked us if we wanted to put one out and do a little tour with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Girls, we said yeah, then thought wait, we don’t have a name and we have not played yet. We chose Champagne Socialists as we had to have something but it’s a bad name so we changed it…
BYT: The release of the album coincides with Neverever’s one year anniversary as a band. You guys have accomplished a lot in a really short timeframe. Have you given much thought to how fast things have happened?
Jihae: Yeah, I guess we have done quite a lot in one year, but we’re both really impatient and hard to satisfy, so, it doesn’t feel like we’ve done enough!
BYT: Beyond the album’s impending release, does the band have any plans to put out any singles? Any plans to do a music video? And if you did a video, what are the chances it would involve giant beach balls, bikinis and maybe some surfing? 😉
Jihae: Yeah, a single is going to be released shortly and we’ve already done our first music video which hasn’t been seen by anyone yet. There are actually no beach balls, bikinis, or surfing to be found, but you’re not totally off.
Wallace: We are also wanting to record a new EP in the near future and a Halloween themed single!
BYT: Singles are obviously a central part of the pop pantheon that Neverever wholeheartedly embraces and celebrates. If albums do go the way of the 8-track and we are just left with singles, how would you feel? Do you think there should always be room for the full-length album format?
Jihae: I think that would be a shame. Singles are great but I think there is a lot to be said for a full length album that transports you to another place for 45 minutes or so. I’ve always really liked concept albums too and I guess you can kind of do that with a series of related singles, but it’s not really the same. Attention spans are so short and getting shorter, I feel bad for all the kids that might miss out on the joy of albums in both their conceptual and physical forms.
BYT: Neverever is currently playing a few U.S. dates with another top-notch indie band with Glaswegian roots: Veronica Falls, who are on the Captured Tracks label (Blank Dogs, Dum Dum Girls). Jihae, you were the lead singer in The Royal We with one of the musicians in Veronica Falls, prior to Neverever, correct? What’s it like to now be in a situation where you are both finding success in new bands and getting a chance to play some shows together?
Jihae: Two members of Veronica Falls were in The Royal We, both Roxanne and Patrick. It will be cool to catch up with them and get to play some shows together, we haven’t seen them since we left Glasgow and so much has happened for all of us!
BYT: And now for the serious question: You guys are unabashed students of pop history here, so I have to ask… 50s/60s/70s/80s/90s—which one gets your pick for greatest pop decade and why?
Jihae: That’s a really tough one, I love so much pop from the mid-50s through to the mid-70s, from doo-wop to glam rock, and a little bit here and there from the decades to follow. But I think I’d have to say the 1960s is the overall winner in my world.
Wallace: The golden years ‘98 to ‘02––Limp Biskit, Korn and Osker…..
BYT: Thanks very much for the interview!