Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Q&A with Tiny Animals

Great pop songs, sibling rivalry and plenty of bad puns. All and all a pretty decent interview with Brooklyn's Tiny Animals (the trendy address aside, don't call them indie kids).

How and when did the band first get together?

Well, we could just give you a date on which the great conjunction occurred, but the story goes much deeper than that. It's basically a family affair. Rita and Chris have been playing music together since childhood. Much like Tiger Woods or Michael Jackson, our father urged/taught/forced us to play guitar and drums so that he could join in on bass guitar. Approximately 16 years later we met Anton (a sufficient replacement for our father), who then became a part of Chris' first band, Fighterpilot. He was called upon to complete the power trio that is now known throughout the universe as Tiny Animals.

As someone with two sisters, how difficult is it to be in a band with your sibling? Any Kinks or Oasis style fights yet?

Yes, Rita and Chris fight constantly. Physical violence is very common. OK, that's a lie. The truth is that we are deathly afraid of Rita. Her biceps are comparable to Arnold Schwarzenegger's circa 1980. So, in order to avoid unwanted brutality we resort to therapeutic discussions, rather than an onstage bloodbath.

What can you tell me about the new record?

Well, we would like to take this opportunity to clear something up. This is not an "indie rock" album. It seems that publications are incapable of reviewing it without trying to pinpoint exactly which specific brand of indie rock we are offering. They either praise us for being indie rockers with a refreshing pop-edge or they bash us for sounding too mainstream for an indie rock trio. Why can't people just call our music what it is...POP ROCK! What exactly makes people think we are playing indie rock? We certainly don't sound "indie". We are signed to a record label (plug: North Street Records). We drive around in Bentleys. We live in Brooklyn....oh wait, maybe that's why. DAMNIT!

Is there a general theme to the songs?

The general theme is total awesomeness. Eh? Seriously though, there is no underlying theme to Sweet Sweetness. But fear not, album number two is already in the works and it is a full on concept album. We can't yet reveal the concept of course, so just let the anticipation simmer.

How were the songs written? Did someone bring in the lyrics and the music was built around them or was it all done more collaboratively?

Ten of the 11 original tracks on the album were written by Chris on his own and then arranged/perfected/tailored in rehearsal by all three of us. “Goodbye July” is the one song on Sweet Sweetness which was a truly collaborative effort. We enjoy playing it so much that we have decided to do a lot more composing as a group. If it doesn't work, we will hire a ghost writer for the next album.

Do you share similar musical influences?

Not really. While there is some common ground, Chris' favorite band is Hanson, Rita mostly listens to whale sounds, and Anton gets most of his influences from 1980's TV theme songs. (Note: Some of this sentence is actually true. You decide what part!)

Anything in particular you were all listening to when writing the record that had an influence on the sound?

No, but during the drum sessions we did watch Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. We'll have to go back and take a listen to find out if there are any direct influences or plagiarisms. We may have lifted a few melodies from the scene where he falls into the shark tank and screams "That's not Snowflake".

Gotta admit, I loved the YouTube video you created. How did that come about?

Thanks! What's interesting is that we were convinced the humor of our webisodes would be too personalized for others to find funny. As for how they came about...you know how sometimes you have a stupid idea and you're like "Man, I should make a video of this", but then your buddy says "No don't do that. You're a moron". Well, our buddy was at work that day. But honestly, we have been doing absurd videos like these since we were kids....there are many more on the way. Stay tuned!

Have you started touring behind this record yet?

Yes, but we are slacking. Can you get us a booking agent?

Anything else you want to add?

Yes. 5 + 16 = 21

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Birds of Avalon Q&A

Indie upstarts The Birds of Avalon have a fantastic vintage sound to their songs.

The fact that their latest Uncanny Valley was recorded in a makeshift basement studio on a classic 16 track tape machine and some other borrowed equipment, help add to the classic DIY feel of the songs. In a matter of days, the band had a new album to its growing catalogue.

The group formed in 2007, when guitarists (and husband and wife) Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler left the group Cherrie Valance and hooked up with singer Craig Tilley, bassist David Mueller and drummer Scott Nurkin. Christened the Birds of Avalon, the Raleigh band went to work on their debut Bazaar, Bazaar. They’ve spent the past couple of years opening for bands like Ted Leo, The Raconteurs and The Flaming Lips, continuing to put out more songs along the way.

Kumar was kind enough to answer a few questions before heading back out on the road again. So what's the music scene in Raleigh like now?

Well there seems to be no shortage of good bands around here, it’s kind of hard to keep track! Everything from Bowebirds and Megafaun to Double Negative and the reformed Polvo- it’s pretty diverse. Right now, though there are a few good venues, there isn’t one place that coheres to independent music in Raleigh. We had a wonderful venue here for several years, called Kings (which was co-owned by Paul from Birds of Avalon) but during the downtown “building/ development” boom of a few years ago, the building was torn down to build, what else, a parking deck! So things are spread out to some extent- more house shows and oddball nights at otherwise fairly mainstream venues.

How would you compare Uncanny Valley to the first record?

Aside from the actual recording of it, I think we’re getting better at self-editing and conveying one idea in each song as opposed to some of the more complex arrangements on the songs on Bazaar Bazaar. On the new record, the songwriting is less traditional - non-vocal “choruses”, etc… and we were more focused on getting interesting sounds rather than working too hard on guitar parts. The way we made this album had a lot to do with it too. It was all written and recorded in three weeks in our basement on a 3M 16 track tape machine we borrowed from Mitch Easter. Actually, some of Bazaar Bazaar was recorded on that same machine, but done in the studio. The first album was kind of a compilation of some of our very first songs and it was recorded in a few sessions over several months. Following the release of that in ’07, we toured pretty heavily and then made the very quick EP, Outer Upper Inner, early last year. It was recorded and mixed in five days and done entirely on 4-track tape with not many overdubs. It was kind of an experiment to see if a record could still be made like it was 1968. When we recorded Uncanny Valley it was really helpful to have that experience to draw from in keeping things spontaneous and not getting too bogged down on one thing.

It seems like you went from release the first record, straight on the road, to releasing this one. Did you have any significant time off to write and record or was most of it done on the road?

Actually, you might be thinking about the other record we recorded in December/January, which wasn’t released. After the first album, we released an EP in March of last year and toured for four solid months supporting it. We took a few weeks off and proceeded to write a bunch of songs, recorded an album and then wrote and recorded another album right after that. The second batch is Uncanny Valley, the first batch will be dealt with in the future.

How different were the experiences recording the two records?

The first recording was done at Mitch’s wonderful Fidelitorium studio. It was much more of a traditional process - we wrote all the songs, went into the studio and tracked (on a 24 track machine) for about 10 days and mixed in about a week. That record is a pretty dense record that somehow didn’t make sense to release in the summer. Uncanny Valley was almost the opposite- most of the songs were written as they were being recorded and it was all recorded at home on a 16-track tape machine. We mixed at Fidelitorium very quickly and kept the recording fairly simple, only using 15 of the 16 tracks.

Is there a general theme to the songs on Uncanny Valley?

A lot of the songs turned out to be about disorientation and have a foreboding quality to them. We really didn’t set out to do this deliberately, but I guess we must have been in a dark mindset when we wrote it! The title came after the record was already done- inspired by a phenomenon in which human beings become more unsettled by robots or other human facsimiles in direct proportion to how lifelike they appear. This seemed to sum up the impression we were trying to conjure- where things aren’t exactly how they might appear; being unsettled in a seemingly normal situation.

You've toured with some amazing bands. Have you learned anything helpful from any of the musicians you've toured with recently?

We HAVE been really fortunate to play with awesome bands- all of whom are inspiring in different ways. So even though we aren’t gonna have confetti cannons anytime soon, it was amazing to see how much work goes into making every Flaming Lips show a multi-sensory experience. I also loved seeing all the cool guitar effects Jack White (on the Raconteurs tour) and Steven McBean (on the Black Mountain tour) had.

What's next for the band?

We’re actually leaving for a 10 day tour of the Northeast in about two hours! We’ll be doing dates through early fall while we write and record some more songs hopefully we’ll be putting a new album out sometime soon!

Anything else you want to add?

I think you covered it! Thanks!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Song from The Honey Brothers

Great new song from The Honey Brothers (sounds like absolutely nothing else you've heard today!).

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

AthFest June 25-28

Label A&R folks may have stopped visiting Athens, GA after R.E.M. and the B-52's were signed, but the city has continued to churn out some amazing bands (The Whigs, The Black Lips, Dead Confederate, etc.).

Next week (June 25-28), the city gets a chance to trot out some of those groups at the 12th annual AthFest held in dowtown Athens. Over 175 bands and artists will perform over four days on two outdoor stages. The all ages shows are free, but wristbands will be sold for the 20 or so music venues.

Among those playing next week are The Black Lips, Patterson Hood & The Screwtopians, Randall Bramlett Band, Dead Confederate and many others.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New Song from Sub Rosa

Southern California's Sub Rosa, have a strong apprecaition with early 90's grunge (everyone from Screaming Trees to a mellower Nirvana).

The band was kind enough to make an MP3 of their new song "Here In Filth" available for free.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Give Me Back My Black T-shirt"

I am a big fan of t-shirts.

In fact, covering music for the past 15 years, most of the pay I get is in band t-shirts (and I have no idea why they are always black).

Over the past couple of week, I've come across two great t-shirt companies that are worth blogging about.

Launched in 2005, Worn Free is a rock T-shirt company that wants "to resurrect the coolest shirts of all time."
The label reproduces t-shirts worn by rock legends like Joe Strummer, Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Gram Parsons, Johnny Ramone and Joan Jett (among many others). The shirts, though not exactly cheap, are among the softest I've ever worn (yup, that's a good thing).
Here's a little more from their press materials:"We’ve spent more than a decade combing worldwide photo archives of music and style icons, learning what they’ve been wearing and bringing it straight to you."
Check out the catalog - the Joey Ramone shirt is really cool.

Another great shirt company and this one won't make you feel like a materialistic jerk for buying yet another t-shirt.

This Brooklyn company offers t-shirts and sweatshirts created by recycling cotton scraps and plastic bottles. "PLAYBACK is on a mission to dissolve the uncomfortable, expensive, cardboard look of past sustainable clothing, and replace it with a hip new model that combines quality, style and color." Not just for jam-band lovin' hippies, the shirts are actually very cool looking.

Here's some more info from the company: "Unlike other sustainable brands that take rolls of organic fabric and dye them into color, PLAYBACK achieves its profound success by utilizing the preexisting color of the original recycled material to color the yarn. This eliminates one of the most harmful processes used in clothing production- the chemical dyes. Since the products are made with only existing materials, PLAYBACK has also eliminated the need for extra cotton growth and in turn does not require massive amounts of land and water. By reducing the amount of textile and plastic bottle waste, PLAYBACK takes recyclables out of the landfill and puts them to good use."

The color names themsleves are cool as well: "Beer Bottle Brown," "Soda Bottle Green" and "Water Cooler Blue". Here's a link to their catalog.