Allyson Lowry

The Season of The Backseat Lovers

As one of their most important pieces of work to date, The Backseat Lovers’ KJ Ward shared with us some intimate details about the intimate record that is just barely a week old today.

The Backseat Lovers are this generation’s Oasis, crafting comforting tunes that audibly scratch an itch you didn’t know your brain had. They’re The Black Keys, Wallows, and Hippo Campus rolled into one, sweetened with lightweight acoustics, elevated by subtly uptempo melodies, and dipped in nostalgia – the latter of which KJ Ward recognizes as part of the band’s overall aesthetic. 

Photographs seemingly shot by a disposable camera and images of empty, old, small-town bicycles just slightly sepia-toned feel like they’re from your very own collection, family shots from your attic that you just blew specs of dust off of ever so gently – these are what grace the covers of singles and EPs and albums released by this four-piece. 

Vintage without being dated, quaint without being soft. The Backseat Lovers’ highly-anticipated sophomore LP, Waiting to Spill, is being released on not just streaming services, but CDs, cassettes, and vinyl for those who yearn for the coziness that comes from intricate retro artistry and transcendent musical transitions. To build out a cohesive, vulnerable, narrative package as this new record takes a little more time, a bit more finesse… and this young indie rock band started by high school friends has already nailed it. 

It is worth noting that the band is electric, emotionally and sonically. Whether you’re diving into the lyrics and finding your very own heart on display in songs like “Snowbank Blues” (as I did) or you’re arm-in-arm with fellow fans in an amped up club hearing these songs live, The Backseat Lovers allow you to feel alive in ways you haven’t before. We experienced that with their debut, When We Were Friends, and once again with Waiting to Spill

What was the writing and recording process like this time around for Waiting to Spill compared to the first record? Were there any similarities or major differences that are worth noting?

Yeah, the dynamic of the new one was actually pretty different from the first considering the fact that we were going into a pandemic and had a lot more time to really focus on the music. Also during that time we all kind of went full time as musicians and quit our day jobs, so we had even more time to focus on the record. With the first album, at least, it was kind of a situation where whenever we sold enough t-shirts to go into the studio and pay for a session, we’d go in and record a song or two. We did that for like… months, you know. With this album, we really took our time. We had a ton of songs to choose from and we filed it down to 14 when we went into the studio. We had a lot more time to focus on that process and recorded a big chunk of the album within two weeks in LA where we went to this studio (where all the bass and drums were done) at this studio called PLIs. Then we took pretty much a whole year in the recording process to really dial in on like the sonics of the album. We did a lot of Airbnb sessions with our producer. We’d huddle up and Airbnbs and just go to town on the songs and run things through pedals and get a super trip with all of it. We spent a lot of time just with the record and the songs this time – a lot more time than the first record. I think that’s the big difference in dynamic. Also, the songwriting dynamic between Josh [Harmon] and Jonas [Swanson] changed quite a bit. For the second record it was a lot more hands-on between the two of them. It was more collaborative in that way. They would collaborate and write these songs together or they would each have a part of a song and then we’d put ’em together before, as a whole band, we’d work out the composition. Going from there allowed the dynamic to change quite a bit for the second record, as well.

Even more so, The Backseat Lovers have grown exponentially in that time as well, which is really unique. People were grasping onto your sound and getting into you guys over the last year or two. They had the time to explore the first record and what you were doing, which means this album comes at a great time – in just two months it’ll be like four years since your debut. When you think about that time four years ago and when you listen back to those songs as you play them live, what do you think about? What do they make you feel like? As a fan, it feels like so much time has passed, but the songs hold up and consistently see new life being breathed into them, so it’s quite interesting.

Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think all artists kind of deal with this battle where you grow so much as an individual that it becomes interesting playing those songs. We still really enjoy those songs, but they hold a bit of nostalgia in that they are kind of a stamp of who we were in that time. It’s very interesting, too, when you’ve grown so much and had so much time to work on new art… but it’s not all out. It’s an interesting dynamic, but we’re very excited to play the new music just because it feels more like who we are in the now.

Of course. It just makes me happy, too, to know that you and the fans are growing alongside one another.

It’s very special to see.

It absolutely is. I think that something that I love that you guys are doing with this record specifically are the listening parties at record stores before the album comes out. I love vinyl. I love physical media. I’m curious, are you guys into that? Are you personally into collecting records and having the physical copy in your hand? 

[Laughs] We definitely are vinyl connoisseurs. I’ve collected a bunch of vinyl over the years and inherited a lot of vinyl, as well. I think when making this record, and going into this record, we were like, “We’re gonna make an album. This is gonna be a cohesive album with transitions and everything is gonna flow.” We always had the idea of vinyl in the back of our heads because with streaming services there’s kind of a little bit of a lag in between each track. However, with vinyl, it’s very seamless. The songs feel very glued together. When we got the vinyl test pressings of this album, we said, “Yes. This is it. This is why we made this album. It was for vinyl.”

The idea behind a listening party is for people to get a look at the record before it comes out and to be able to come together in their communities and support their local record stores. We feel very strongly that it’s really important to live within different communities and connect to the art in them. It is a lost art, physical albums, but I feel like vinyl’s definitely come back in the past couple years. It’s making a pretty good comeback and we wanted our songs to be part of that.

It has and we are very excited about it. I don’t mind whether or not there are people buying it to just be like, “Oh, I have it. It’s merchandise,” which, in a way, which it is. But there are still people who buy it and listen to it as is. That is how they consume the songs and that really makes an album like this one feel extra special. I love that you said that you had vinyl in the back of your mind with this record because, as I mentioned earlier, it does flow very well. The 10 songs flow perfectly and that makes me think you guys spent a decent amount of time molding the songs into one another.

Oh, yeah. There were a lot of events from the very start with the tracklist that had us constantly writing it out on a whiteboard and sorting them. It was just like puzzle pieces – moving songs around. Every session we were like, “Oh, that doesn’t feel right.” Then we’d play it and try to imagine how that song would flow into this song and so on. I think we got it [to flow] about as close to seamless as we possibly could.

“Know Your Name” and “Viciously Lonely” are an amazing set of songs to have in a row. I think those two next to each other is one of my favorite moments on the record.  With “Viciously Lonely,” was that always towards the end of the record? It does feel like a really good summary and album closer… at least in my perspective.

I can’t remember, but I don’t think “Viciously Lonely” was always at the end of the tracklist. […] I mean, the record went through so many different forms throughout the process, but it held the end of the track list for a good while. We were all pretty certain that “Silhouette” was going to be the beginning and into “Close Your Eyes,” then once we had “Viciously Lonely,” we realized that all the other songs had to fit in between as puzzle pieces from there.

I wanted to ask you a little bit about playing in New Jersey. Not even two months ago you took on Sea.Hear.Now Festival at The Stone Pony. What was playing in Jersey like and what were some highlights of that time? We have bias, of course, but we also heard the reception of your guys’ set at Sea.Hear.Now, specifically, and it was immaculate.

It was really good. I don’t think we had ever played in Jersey before that, but it was really cool to go to The Stone Pony and just see the history of that venue. Everyone kept saying, “This venue, man… it’s so rad. Bruce Springsteen and everyone.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll see what it is all about.” We rolled up and you could just feel the energy of the room before we even went on. It was a very good show, too. We had a lot of fun. Then the festival was also amazing – the lineup was amazing. I saw so many rad bands play. It was like right on the beach, so you can’t complain. After our set, we went and hopped in the ocean and then we saw Stevie Nicks after that. We knew it couldn’t get better than that.

Sea.Hear.Now has become a really special staple here and you can see why. It’s not an overcrowded festival. There are not too many bands in the lineup. You get a really good set time and you do have people like Stevie Nicks headlining. The day and night on the beach, too?

Right? Yeah, it’s pretty great. I’ve been to a lot of festivals where you can tell the people that work there don’t necessarily like the fest and they’re not having the best time. At Sea.Hear.Now it seemed like all the staff were just stoked to be there. The lineup was just good. It’s on the beach. Everyone was really chill and relaxed. We’ll definitely be back.

I saw a TikTok video maybe three weeks ago discussing how with the weather changing, the leaves falling, and the temperature dropping, the season sounds like The Backseat Lovers. Autumn sounds like “Kilby Girl.” Fall sounds like your songs… the seasons changing make way for this band and your vibe. What does that mean to you? How do you understand that? What do you think that association is?

That’s a good question. I think there could be many answers to that. I think we’ve always associated, collectively as a band, fall as one of our favorite seasons, especially living in Utah. It’s beautiful. It seems kind of like the season where all the concerts come to a close, and around October we spend a lot of time at Kilby Court and going to those last shows wearing flannels and letting music warm us up. It is a very nostalgic season. Going into this record we always imagined it would be a fall album, as well, so I’m really glad that it worked out that way. I think us and fall could be associated with just the feeling of change, too. I feel like – at least with this new record – there’s a lot of change. It feels like a big step for us. We’ve talked about it a lot as a band: that we’ve grown a lot and our feelings have just evolved now. You can hear that in the songs, on this new record, and I guess in the changing of seasons.