Interview with Dan Nigro of As Tall As Lions: Overthinking It

Do you ever put limits on yourself as a band—when you say you can write a record in a week, have you ever tried?

We did that with our EP, Into The Flood. We played CMJ in New York City, and we went to go see a show at the Highline Ballroom and our record label was there, and they said, ‘Hey, would you guys think about doing an EP?’ and we said, ‘Yeah, that could be cool. When would you want it?’ And they said, ‘Well, how about in two weeks?’ ‘Wait, you want us to write and record an EP in two weeks?’ At first I was like, ‘No way, screw that.’ But then I went home and thought about it and said, ‘That might be a really cool challenge for us to do that.’

We ended up doing it. We [spent] two weeks, wrote five songs and recorded it. The problem with that was when we were done, we were really unhappy with it. That made us want to make sure we didn’t do that for the record. If it was a successful venture, I think we would have been much quicker with making You Can’t Take It With You, but since it wasn’t, we were very cautious about writing the new record and making sure that we had thought it through well.

I understand you went through a slew of producers for You Can’t Take It With You.

Yeah, and I think the problem with that was when we did the self-titled—that was another reason I think the record got delayed—we actually had the producer picked out before we even wrote a note of the record. Our friend Mike Watts who owns VuDu Studios, he was chosen along with Steve Haigler, who’s done a couple of Pixies records and a bunch of other really great things. We chose them. They had come to a show of ours and said, ‘We really like your stuff, we could really help you out with your next record.’ It just seemed to click because Mike was somebody who we felt comfortable with because we knew him, and Steve was somebody who had a name and actually had worked on records that we liked.

It was a good combination of the familiar and unfamiliar. We had agreed to do the record with them before we had even shown them one song. Whereas with You Can’t Take It With You, we wanted to have songs done before we found a producer who would be the right producer for those songs. Once we were doing the record, we met with this producer and that producer, and then we were having trouble deciding whether the producers were in it because of the money or because they actually like the music and it became a weird thing where we were overprotective of our baby, and we didn’t want to give it to anybody.

So we kept on meeting producer after producer, and we didn’t find anybody that we really clicked with until we found a swell producer, and then we agreed to do the record with him, and in our minds, we had decided that we were going to work with this guy, but in the months in between, we realized it wasn’t going to work out over some bullshit. It wasn’t happening. We ended up cutting ties with him and kind of rushing into doing it with somebody else, stupidly, because we were so crammed for time that we just picked a producer that seemed like a great option which ended up being a disaster. With that, we ended up having two producers that we were working with and two producers that we were not working with, and then settling on Noah Shain, who turned out to be a really good choice for us because he was really receptive to what we wanted to do and wasn’t overbearing with his ideas and changing the songs and taking the band in a direction that we didn’t feel comfortable with.

Did you see the original idea as a mistake, that you wanted to have songs before you brought a producer in?

I don’t think it was a mistake, I just think that we shouldn’t have been so protective of it, I think we just ended up running out of time and being too picky about who we were going to work with and thinking we were going to find this magical person who was going to make all our songs perfect. It was weird the way it worked out, and sometimes you just gotta go with something. Then again, people have always said, we’ve heard from our manager or our label that ‘We don’t feel like you’ve found the producer that’s meant for your band.’ I think in our mind we were looking for that person that was going to be the Nigel Godrich [produer of Radiohead] that would be there for every project and understand where the band was coming through or something like that.