After a six-year interval (the reasons for which are discussed below), Chicago/Georgia outfit American Heritage return with their second Translation Loss full-length, Sedentary. The album, which features a different bassist on every track, is a massive leap forward from 2005’s Millenarian, finding the band throwing off some of their technical-focus in favor of an increased emphasis on songwriting and performance. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Norden completely restructured his methodology and it’s just one of the changes that shows through on the record. Not even the biggest.
Norden, who’s joined in American Heritage by guitarist Scott Shellhammer, drummer Mike Duffy and bassist Erik Bocek, took some time out recently to discuss the process of putting together the Sanford Parker-produced Sedentary and much more.
How did you decide to do the album with a different bass player on every track? How did that idea come about?
Well, that was kind of Scott’s idea. We didn’t have a bass player. The guy on our last record, we booted him out a little while after that record, and then we were just playing without a bass player. We were like, “Fuck it,” because we just didn’t have time to find somebody and train somebody and everything. We just went ahead with our business, as if everything was normal, but then when it came time to actually start writing songs, playing out again, we were like, “Wow, we really need a bass player.”
Making the record, we just thought of people that could play bass on the record, and we thought of quite a few different people. And then we were like, “Fuck it, let’s just ask them all.” We made a big list and gave people songs, and everybody was real stoked to do it, and eventually we got it done. It worked out.
Was it a pain in the ass?
(Laughs) With some people there was a lot of… It got down to the wire. Some people, we had to prod them, “Come on, dude, get it done,” this and that, and we didn’t know if they were gonna get it done or not, because these are people all over the country, or overseas or whatever (laughs).
We had no way of knowing what they’d actually done versus what they’d told us, but everybody got their shit in on time. The last stuff we did was actually all in town. We did about four tracks at the local studio here with some people from Chicago.
What was the timeline on bringing Erik in on bass? When did he come on board?
Ah fuck… Exactly I couldn’t tell you, but it was definitely during the recording of the record. I think it was probably about… (laughs) I’m the wrong person to ask. I would say it was smack-dab in the middle of the recording process, so probably about a year and a half ago.
Was there any thought to scrapping the idea and letting him play on the tracks?
We’d already gone down the record. We’d already gotten tracks from people and everything, and he was still learning the songs and stuff, so no. It was this cool idea and we wanted to do it. It was going to give every song a different flavor, at least in the bass department. After we started getting tracks, it seemed like a really good idea, actually.
It just seems like it would be really, really hard to get everyone on the same page and to get the stuff in when you needed it.
(Laughs) It was. The people we asked were people that make music all the time. A lot of the people we asked are in touring bands, and they’re just used to spitting shit out all the time and getting things done. Most of the people.
The busiest people were the people that got their shit in right away, ironically. Because they had access to a studio, and they were doing some other projects, and they just whipped it out. But yeah, generally speaking, we got real nervous towards the end. I think we did a reassignment or two, but it was a lot better rate of return than we thought we’d get, to be honest.
What amazes me most about it in listening is, like you said, you do have a different sound on every track, but it still sounds like an album, too. It’s coherent.
Yeah. That’s lucky, I guess. We didn’t know how it would turn out. I’m a bass player, so I know all about the troubles recording bass and trying to find a decent bass tone that doesn’t step all over everything and this and that. We just didn’t know what it would turn out like, because if you have something that’s all tinny, trebly crapola, there’s just no way to suck the low end out of it. Or something that’s complete mud—we’ve got some tracks that are pretty muddy, but they ended up working.
We ended up getting everything we needed from everybody, and I was surprised. Then Sanford, obviously he knows what he’s fuckin’ doing. He was able to position every different bass tone within the mix so you could hear it and everything was sitting right. He’s a good mixer.
What about the actual songwriting? How did that go? Who lives in Georgia?
Our drummer, Mike, lives in Georgia. He’s been down there for four or five years, and for the most part, he comes up here maybe once a month, or not even once a month, maybe eight times a year.
We’ll practice for three days straight and try to get as much shit written as possible, and throw files back and forth and everyone can think about them, this and that. For the most part, it was like that, then there was a couple times where we went down there for a week and just jammed in his basement. That’s how we did it.
Me and Scott, he probably wrote a lot more riffs than I did, to be honest, for this record. But you try to show up prepared with ideas. You have to, actually. When you’ve got a drummer coming in from out of town, you can’t just show up and be like, “Hey, let’s jam this out for an hour,” and they’re like, “Wow, this really sucks. What’re you doing?”
You have to have some riffs; you have to have some ideas coming into it. You really can’t just wing it. So that’s how we had to do it. Me and Scott had to write shit and have it at least somewhat ready to be worked on before Mike showed up.
Do you guys get together and work on parts? Is that harder to do without a drummer there?
Well, we get together a little bit, me and Scott, but for the most part, we’d do it the three of us, and Scott’d come up with a bunch of riffs, and we’d learn them all, then we’d make preliminary arrangements, then I’d throw my two cents in, and we’ve just always written songs in a collaborative way, but this, with Mike living down south and us not having as much time in the practice space, we’ve had to do a couple of things. We’ve had to, first of all, be more prepared coming to practice, and have not a whole song, but a section of things, a bunch of ideas, have it all ready to go before you even come to practice.
And also, we’ve learned to not over think things. You have to know when something’s good enough and move on and keep creating shit, instead of second-guessing stuff. In the past, when we practiced two or three times a week, we’d put a whole song together, put a whole big thing together, spend a whole month on it, and just throw it all away because we thought it sucked.
We don’t do that anymore. Because we don’t have the time to (laughs). We’d never get anything done. And also, we’ve also written a few songs that are a lot simpler and more straightforward too. For those very same reasons, really. Time and “Let’s make something. Let’s write a song.”
So we have a couple songs that were written in like 15 minutes on there, which is totally uncharacteristic, but you know what? Why not? Let’s do anything. As a band, I don’t think we really are trying to make ourselves into something (laughs). We’re just kind of letting ourselves be whatever the fuck we are. We’ve been going that way for quite a while now.
What about the vocals? It seems like there was a change in approach for this record.
I think the simplest answer to that is I just spent more time on them. Also, I guess I got a little better. I changed the style, obviously, of how I did vocals, but I used to not spend a lot of time on lyrics, because it was pretty much like I’d play guitar and yell into the microphone, and it was just sort of another instrument. More like an addition to the riff.
I just spent more time and I actually wrote lyrics that were somewhat coherent and figured out vocal melodies and things like that. That’s really the big difference. Before, it was more of a [growls] and now it’s more like “Da da da, we’re all gonna die, doo-dee-doo.”
Sedentary is available now on Translation Loss. More info at myspace.com/americanheritage.
JJ Koczan’s heritage remains a mystery. firstname.lastname@example.org.