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

I guess everybody’s got their own style.

That’s something that I realized when we worked with Mike and Steve that worked out to our benefit. Mike lived in Long Island so he would come to our practices while we worked on the record, hearing songs in their early stages, so he understood where they were coming from, whereas when we worked with the other producer for this record they were hearing stuff that in our minds were finished products. Which is good because they have a full understanding of what the song is, but at the same time, we might be missing the best part that we at some point cut out or something, that somebody can be like, ‘Hey, what happened to that one thing that you guys used to do? You should bring that part back.’

I think that hurt us at a couple of points on this record. Even when we were working with Noah, I felt bad for him, it wasn’t his fault, because we went in with him with all finished product, and we were so pressed for time that some of the songs that he was working on, it literally wasn’t until two or three weeks into the project where he was like, ‘Oh, I get what you’re doing with this song now.’ We were going in there like, ‘Let’s start recording tomorrow, here’s the rough demo.’ We never played the song live for him, which is something always we like to do, because sometimes there are a lot of things missing in our demo recordings that aren’t captured in the live settings.

I know on the previous record Mike and Steve would listen to our demos and say, ‘That’s kind of cool.’ Then they’d hear it live and say, ‘Oh. I get what you’re trying to go for. We have to record it in a completely different way to get that performance out of you.’ And with Noah, there was stuff that he was saying halfway through like, ‘Okay, I’ll be honest, I didn’t get what you guys were trying to do until right now. And now I wish that we were re-recording the whole song because I would have done it differently.’

Were there any pressure issues?

Yeah. I think the self-titled there was no pressure because nobody really liked the band. (laughs) We were going in to make a record and we’ve got nothing to lose. ‘Let’s just go have fun with this thing,’ you know With You Can’t Take It With You, I can’t speak for everybody, but me personally, I felt more pressure, because everybody who was a fan of the self-titled really loved it and really got what we were trying to do with it, then with You Can’t Take It With You, we knew in our minds while making it that we were going to be doing something different. There was definitely a nervous feeling of ‘Shit. We’re going to be giving fans something that they’re not going to be expecting.’ You have this nervous feeling of this is your new piece of art and you don’t want people to hate on it because you know how picky people are on first listen, and we knew that people were going to pop it into their CD player on first listen and say ‘What the fuck did they just do?’

And sure enough, we got a lot of that. But then we got a lot of the ‘Wow! What the fuck did you guys just do? This is fuckin’ sweet.’ We kind of knew that going into the record that was going to be the reaction, and we were okay with it. At the same time, there is always that insecurity when you’re doing it, how many people are going to be okay with it and how many people are not (laughs).

Have you worked through those issues? I’m to understand you had some panic attack issues before.

Yeah. I don’t know. It seems like it happens with every record we’ve ever made where I go through this phase of not wanting to do it because I put so much pressure on myself to feel confident in what we’re doing. I think it’s happened with every single record where I freak out on myself and mentally cancel out for a few weeks. I don’t know if it’s just the way my body copes with the pressure of making a record, but I’ve always been in that position.

Do you have that same sort of nervousness with the live show?

No. Live shows are so much different. Live shows are so much easier. It’s just a moment in time and you go through it and sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s magical. With a record, that’s forever for people to judge and listen to and critique and enjoy. Whatever people do when they listen to music. So it’s sometimes harder to hand somebody a disc and be like, ‘Hey, check this out.’ And you know that they’re going to put it on and they might love it and it might give them the chills, or they might laugh with their friends like, ‘What the fuck is this crap?’ Obviously, you don’t always have to think that way, but my mind tends to process those things inevitably. All the time. (laughs)

Knowing that, would you do a live record?

Yeah. We actually tried to make a live DVD off the last record but our record label thought that it wouldn’t do well because we weren’t ‘big enough.’ We made a live DVD—I shouldn’t say it’s ‘made,’ because we put together a simpler version of it, we didn’t even have it mixed or mastered—but when you buy the bonus version of the new record, it comes with a live set from a show on the self-titled tour. We were out of funds, so it’s unmixed and unmastered. It’s the raw takes of the performance, so it sounds like a board mix. Which to me, when you hear live recordings, it’s never really the board mix. They at least put some EQs and compression and reverb and make it sound nice and pretty. Ours is straight off the board. I’m surprised because some of it actually sounds really great, and then there’s like, ‘Oh, not that part!’ You know, hit a really sour note here or there. But it came out pretty good.

As Tall As Lions perform at Capital One Bank Theatre at Westbury on Dec. 27.