Speaking with me on the evening of their first show in a string of fall/winter dates, Silversun Pickups’ Brian Aubert discussed the tour, the band’s playful approach to their latest release, Neck Of The Woods (ASCAP), travel for fun’s sake, and not being recognized as this year’s latest and greatest thing. To download a free four-song tour EP, including songs by tourmates Atlas Genius, Cloud Nothings, and School Of Seven Bells, visit silversunpickups.com.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. I know you must have quite a busy night ahead of you.
No worries. If it gets a little funky it’s because of School Of Seven Bells’ sound check. It’s actually a lot of hurry up and wait. Like “Get your ass over here!” then you just sit around. It’s like running as fast as you can to a Disneyland ride…then waiting.
This must be an exciting evening for you, regardless.
It is. It’s nice to actually get it going. Since the record came out in May we’ve been playing all of these one-off shows. Every week we’d play two or three shows so it was kind of start/stop. It was hard to get a handle on it all. And now we’re actually touring in a bus and just going from show to show. The only thing that’s been strange is the switch with Nikki [Monninger, bass] having to stay home. She was really sad about that. She’s pregnant with twins and basically stayed with us for as long as she could, then she got real big. All summer long she basically tutored our friend, Sarah Negahdari, who’s in this great Los Angeles band called The Happy Hollows. So, in Los Angeles we left Nikki and Sarah jumped on board. It was just really hard for her to see the bus leave. She really went far and wanted to make it to Chicago. She tried her best to figure out a way to just kind of squeeze it…squeeze so the kids wouldn’t come (laughs). We want her to be safe. Band schmand! That’s crazy. She should just lie on her back and wait for the kids to crawl out of her.
They don’t really crawl out. You wish they would, but there’s more to it.
(Laughs) They’ve sucked the life out of her!
This part of the tour ends in October, correct?
On Halloween, then we go to Australia for a while before we start back up in December with more shows. Then there’s talk of some South America shows and…I’ll…it’s crazy. I just put my head down and one foot in front of the other. It’s like, “Okay, September, 2013. Here are your choices.” Hmmm…I don’t know what I’ll be doing that day!
During the Swoon tour you took some time off to do some traveling for pleasure, not for the band. That must have been different than touring to support an album.
Yeah, in the middle of it. I got married. When I got married I said, a year in advance—this will show you how long the scheduling goes—I said May of 2010 was off. It’s amazing how everybody will listen to you when a wife is involved. Nobody wants to piss that person off. “Oh, totally, totally!” It was smack-dab in the middle of the Swoon tour. It had been a while since I traveled for fun—not that touring isn’t fun—but usually it’s something you have to do. Something band related. Without that it was pretty amazing. Especially coming from the tour then going to Iceland with your lady. It was literally the first time I’d heard my thoughts and was quite inspiring.
It’s a completely different context, isn’t it?
It’s great! Yeah, you know, vacations are amazing! (Laughs) People have been right this whole time!
You were inspired and, I read, doing some quiet recording. So you didn’t take a vacation from writing.
Yeah, I guess that’s true. Because the way things happen is, hopefully, songs start buzzing in your brain and if they don’t, then game over. You just get these ideas. So I guess you’re right. Once the ideas show up they just kind of fly around until you get rid of them. It was fun though. I didn’t really seriously work on stuff. I would just hear things and feel things. I’d have to scramble to remember them because I knew, once I went back on tour, as soon as all that was over and we flew to Los Angeles and played these big radio shows—which was a total trip— they’d be gone. If we’re down for a week we don’t know what we do (laughs). We forget everything. Band? Is that what we do? I think! How the hell’d that happen? People come see this? (Laughs) We have a mountain of material and ideas and it can get like ADD. They honestly disappear when you record it. Gone! It’s great, though. Thanks goodness, right?
Definitely! I also read that you claimed Neck Of The Woods had more playfulness than previous albums. Can you elaborate on that statement?
In the earlier days when we started in Los Angeles, we were a little quirkier. We’d just mess around with little things and find oddball ways of approaching stuff. We still kept doing oddball things but somewhere down the line, as things were rolling along and all this crazy shit started happening, we sounded like we had these little safety things—these little rules we’d built up around ourselves that we didn’t realize we’d put there. It almost made things a little bit more understandable for us and lost that adventure that we used to have. So that was a big thing, and was important for me to try and hopefully put back in the album. Don’t be afraid to dig into these little electronic kits and make the drums wild.
On this record, I really wanted to base it on the drums because they carry a lot of the weight. We always have guitar and keyboards and previous records are more assaulting, for sure, but this one I wanted the bass and the drums to have a lot of texture of their own and almost be melodic in their own way. It’s fun because we were a live band for so long. We wanted to just try and get good. We didn’t have any real thoughts on records or anything. We just kept playing and tried to find our identity. So we rehearsed the hell out of all of our previous records, wrote everything as it was, went into the studio, and just laid it down. There was little room for adventure as far as talent. With this one, we wanted to show very bare bones ideas and get into the studio and try to be creative. Not be locked in. It was kind of crazy because no matter what you do, people will play it the way they learned it. The drums: Christopher [Guanlao] would write and four weeks later we’d say, “No, now with the way the album is sounding this song sounds like that.” So he’d have to come up with something else.
I tend to think approaching an album the way you did Neck Of The Woods makes for a more genuine, spontaneous album.
That’s the word I was looking for. Spontaneity. It’s funny because it seems so controlled. Obviously there’s no real jam time. There’s no live time. We play the takes but we’re not really together playing. It became more of a spontaneous thing in that we were able to do things without being locked down, I guess. Really, organic is something that I didn’t expect this process to be but it ended up being more organic than ever. Instead of Christopher, our drummer, coming in for five days, putting down all of the drums then taking off and we’d see him when we start touring, the band was always set up. We were all always there but we never knew it until somebody started playing stuff. Everybody was active the whole time.
There’s a quote on your website that I liked. You said, “There are certain things about growing up that are horrific.” Horrific how?
Part of it is I knew there’d be certain themes on the album, especially with a lot of the conversations I was having. And I didn’t expect to record the album where I grew up until I was 18 in Topanga Canyon; that was a surprise. I did a lot of reflecting and walking around my neighborhood at night—which was kind of creepy, right? I shouldn’t have been doing that. I can imagine the conversation if a cop came: “Oh, it’s okay, I’m in a band and I’m trying to evoke something!”—(Laughs) I think there was a lot of stuff that I was remembering, subtle things about me that I only remembered because I was seeing certain places again and thinking about how I felt when I was young and realizing that I still felt that way. Those feelings aren’t gone; I just never really reflected on it.
Then there are some things that are completely gone, completely missing. Part of it is joy, something about being faced with it and the nostalgia, you realize how much you miss it. It’s weird because the neighborhood changed so much and I started to feel like I was seeing everything so closely and I started to trip out. “Did this happen? Am I from here?!” Then the next door neighbor’s dad came out and said, “Hey!” and I felt so happy (laughs). You just start tricking yourself because that world is just completely gone. What’s that quote? You don’t want to die two miles from where you were born? That kind of freaks me out. I felt like, going back to Topanga Canyon, I went through a lot of the stages that I remembered going through. First I felt like a little kid, amazing! Then somewhere during the recording process I became a teenager. And I was angsty, miserable, and felt stuck; we were literally on top of a mountain. You skateboard down for a couple miles then you have to get your ass back up. Then I felt that whole “this sucks” feeling and it was pretty much, “Well, I’m out. I’m out and not coming back. See ya!”
I used to hear people say a band was “the voice” for a certain generation. Do you think that can be said for Silversun Pickups or is it a dead term?
I hope not! That sounds like the kiss of death! When we got nominated for Best New Artist or whatever at the Grammys, I thought we were screwed! (Laughs) “Oh shit! Hey, guys, I think we suck! Please don’t win this one.” I feel like there’s always “this year’s Beatles” or the other one was “Radiohead of Blank.” I hope we’re not like that because that would be a drag! It must be a really slow time for music if we are. I kind of find this time mysterious. As far as being a musician, I don’t know. This is the music world that we were birthed in so I don’t know of any other way but there’s a big question mark to it. Where’s it going? Who the hell knows. Like with us, the people at ASCAP just found out about us. I have no idea how but I’m glad they did.
I think there are certain things that you can’t control, things that you’d want to happen. Luckily, they have happened but we can’t take any credit for it. It just sort of is what it is. We’d make records that people didn’t even like at first. It’d take them a while but then they’d come up to me after a while and they get it. We’ve had reviewers come up to us and say, “Sorry about that review, but I like your record now!” (Laughs) Talk about us at all, that’s all we need! It’s not lost on us that we’re played on the radio. We do get a sense from people that, as far as this thing has gotten, we’re not working to get shoved down anybody’s throats. We shy away from all of that stuff. So it still feels like, even when we play all of these shows, that we’re still the fans’ band, and that feels good.
Silversun Pickups will be at Terminal 5, in NYC, on Oct. 14 and 15. They will also be at Tower Theater, in Upper Darby, PA, on Oct. 16. For more information, go to silversunpickups.com.