Monday, December 20, 2010
Even though no one booked them at that convention, FTSK went on to take over the scene and have a great deal of mainstream success. I had a chance to speak with Jonathan and Austin before their show in Atlanta…
How has the tour been so far?
Jonathan: The tour has been good so far. We have seen a lot of kids that we haven’t seen in a few years, because we are going to a lot of cities that we haven’t been to, or ones we haven’t been to in a long time. It is good to see fans bring out three or four friends that we’ve never met before.
Last time I saw you guys here, you put on a great energetic show. Who are some guys that you have looked up to in the past as far as live performance goes?
Austin: Band wise? For me, I saw New Found Glory in 2000 on Warped Tour. They are always running around, always getting the crowd jumping and acting crazy.
Jonathan: I hate to be cliché, but for me it would have to be Fall Out Boy. I remember the specific time when they played this venue in Dallas (Texas) called Trees, and there is a tree stump onstage. Joe Pearlman was kicking off of it and doing spins, incredible. Oh and Story of the Year.
Your EP “Friday” has been out for a little over a year now, are you planning to release “Saturday” soon?
Austin: Check it out, this is what’s happening. We went in to record five songs with David Bendeth for “Saturday,” and while we were in there recording we relaxed that this was the best stuff that we had made yet and we didn’t want to just put this out on an EP. We took a little bit more time, and recorded five or six more, with different producers. We will probably release it early next year, at the end of February or the beginning of March. It will be a full-length, self-titled release.
What about the “Weekend Series” concept, are you going to continue with it?
Austin: Still there. “Saturday” will be in a different format. Make acoustic, maybe techno…
Jonathan: Could be Christmas, techno or covers. You never know.
Some bands are making the switch to only EP’s, to keep their material fresh and the listeners happy. Is that what you were shooting for with the “Weekend Series?”
Jonathan: Our drummer actually had the idea to do an album in three parts, but it just kept getting extended. The album was going to be forty songs if we kept doing it, so we decided to put a halt to it. It takes so long to get everything approved with six band members and a major record label; it’s just easier to put it out in one big group for us. Rather than try to put out another EP and then wait a year and a half to wait for a third one to come out, we said “let’s try and write ten or twelve more songs and throw five more on an album and go.”
So is the full-length completed?
Austin: It is as of a week ago, we finished the album right before we went on this tour.
Jonathan: You are probably the first, or second interview that we have done where we have released that information.
What would you say this full-length is bringing to the table, that is different than the full-length and EP’s in the past?
Austin: I would say that it is more like “Underdog, Alma-Mater,” with more of a “rock” edge. Some songs are a little harder, bigger guitars, a little bit meaner, more crowd involved if we are playing live. We still have a little bit of dance-feel to it though. We stayed ourselves.
Jonathan: When we were picking a producer for the style that we wanted to go for, we picked a rock-and-roll producer. A guy that is known for his “wall of sound,” his guitars just scream on the albums he makes. David Bendeth is really known in this scene for doing Paramore’s “Riot!,” and he has even worked with Breaking Benjamin and a bunch of different rock bands. We think that this album is going to sonically, one of the best albums that we have put out.
You mentioned crowd involvement earlier, when describing the new songs. Do you guys have the live show in mind when writing new songs?
Austin: It’s weird, we have always written to how we want to write. For example, what story is going on in our head, some of that is personal to us. The music is whatever what we listen to that is catchy and a lot of that is upbeat stuff that happens to translate live.
Jonathan: When you are getting guitars that are harmonizing, it’s going to be catchy. When you have vocals that are harmonizing, it comes out in a really sing-along fashion.
When you guys were in the studio, or writing the record, were there any artists that you were listening to that may have influenced the record?
Austin: For me personally, I try not to get a lot of music in my head, because it might just pop out. Especially when it comes to listening to vocals, or how to sing, you want it to be you. You want the emotion to be you.
Jonathan: We put on blinders, if you will. We call them the studio blinders.
Being Christian guys, how did you decide that the “mainstream” music scene was a good fit?
Austin: I think that we all believe in being ourselves. Even if someone else is not a Christian, we want them to be who they are. Even though we are Christians that are writing songs about breaking up with girls, or our struggles, it still means something that is real to us. We always try to portray love to our fans, its kind of our thing. We will wake up sometimes in the morning and do Bible studies, its just something that is in our hearts that the Lord has put us here for a reason.
Jonathan: Another good thing is that if you pigeon hole yourself in a certain kind of music, you might lose a lot of interest from non-Christians. Like Austin said, the best thing to do is be true to ourselves, and that’s what we have done and I am really glad that people are noticing. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
|Photo by Laura Means http://web.mac.com/lmeanswell |
A big thank you goes out to all the people who helped and supported me to get this done. Thank you to Amanda, Laura, Brandon, Dave and Jonathan! Couldn’t have done this without you!
How has the “Twas the Tour Before Christmas” been so far?
Thiessen: It’s been great! It is acoustic for the most part, with a little bit of electric guitar. It has just been really relaxing and fun. We’ve got the entire tour on one bus, just like a “Christmas camp.” Not a whole lot of pressure every day. You just go up, be yourself, and play a little show, and talk a little bit.
You know the bands on the tour pretty well, correct? When was the last time you toured with Sherwood?
Thiessen: Yeah, we toured with Sherwood like three and a half years ago, but we see them every time we pass through town. Like every time we go through Seattle, we will go and visit Dan. After you tour with a band, you tend to keep in touch with them.
Would you classify this show (“Twas the Tour Before Christmas”) as an actual “Christmas Show?” Are you only playing Christmas songs?
Thiessen: Yeah, we are playing a few Christmas songs. Just a splash of that because of the time of year, I guess and because of the fact that we have a lot of Christmas music that we have recorded. So yeah, it’s just fun to kind of go into that for a minute.
Any special Christmas plans for you personally?
Thiessen: I have a big family, I am one of five kids that my Mom and Dad had. My oldest brother lives in California, and has a couple of kids while the rest of my family lives in Ohio. So anytime that we can all get together is really cool, and that is what is happening this year. My brother is going to fly to Ohio and so it will be a ton of us hanging out. It will be good times.
Is there anything that you guys are working on right now? Are you working on a solo-project?
Thiessen: Well, I started working on a couple of solo songs here and there, but I am not really pursuing a record right now. I am sort of letting that happen naturally. I am thinking about starting to write the new Relient K record. I’ve got about two months to kind of think about what I want it to be, and then I pretty much need to start writing in January and February. Hopefully that happens, and it’s not a record and we get to record it. We will be touring this summer and next fall, and then it starts getting busy again. Just doing the cycle.
How is the writing process for you now, after years of doing it? Do you still crank the songs out?
Thiessen: You know honestly I don’t like to write songs that often, only when I feel like I need to and when I’ve got something that I really want to sing about. So this record will be interesting to just step back from everything and kind of see where I am in life and write about it, however it seems worthy. Or maybe I will write about completely different stuff, I have no idea at this point (laughs).
How would you say your faith impacts your music?
Thiessen: I fell like a lot of times, when I write a song, it is coming from an introspective perspective that my faith always kind of factors. Faith is either part of what factors in to my decision making, or it is part of what factors into my fears and my doubts. It is either the positive or the negative part of it that is afflicting me during times of conflict, which is normally when you write songs about yourself when you find some sort of conflict or you are seeking some sort of resolution. A lot of times, that is when that kind of stuff will pop up, but it is always different and about something specific, just a little part of the soul, not always necessarily the whole encompassing thing. I feel like it is easy to get people to see eye-to-eye with you on little things, but if I were to talk about my faith as a whole, people tend to turn off to that. They feel like you are trying to persuade people to think like you do, and that’s not really what I’m trying to do.
Something that I have always admired about Relient K’s music, is how much you grow and change from record to record. Is that something that you specifically aim for with each release, or does that just happen naturally?
Thiessen: Yeah, we wrote the first record, it wasn’t very great, but some kids related to it. So all of the sudden there was a “Relient K fan” out there, someone who just really got it. On the second record, we just tried to focus on making it more current, write better songs that are catchier, learn how to sing better, and at the same time try to write about stuff that is still relate able. We felt that those people that understood the first record will get this one and it has just been a process like that since. We will be like “hey, let’s get better at everything on this record!” For example, I get better at playing the guitar and piano, every time we do a record because we practice more and the years go by and it’s just what happens. It is just growing up, and it’s cool how over the years the fans grow up and we grow up, and it just kind of works together. It was definitely intentional, like let’s try to relate to each other.
Who are some people that you have looked up to live performance wise?
Theissen: If you go and watch a Coldplay show, Chris Martin used to be a little timid onstage, but now the success that the band has had really gives him a lot of confidence to really own it. Also, I really admire the way that Ben Gibbard sings live, he just stays on pitch. That is something that I try to do. I don’t have the greatest voice in the world, so I just try to think real hard while I’m singing and just do a good job. Lots of really good bands live bands out there to take notes from.
Anything from Matt and the Earthquakes coming out soon?
Thiessen: I don’t really know. I don’t know if I am going to keep “the Earthquakes” part of the band name or not, or do a solo record. I think that my goal is, right now, to talk with some people that I really respect, like my buddy Jon Foreman from Switchfoot. I will just hang out with some friends this year, and kind of see what they think I should do and take some advice. I am just in this weird spot where I don’t feel the need to do anything, but maybe I should. It would be cool.
What is the status of Relient K’s A&R involvement in Mono vs. Stereo?
Thiessen: The music industry is in pretty terrible shape right now, so as far as the record label is concerned, it is basically a business. You have to be this “bank”, in which you are are going to loan this band this money, hoping that they will earn enough fans to where they will actually contribute something back into it to where the record label can continue to afford doing that. It is just a tricky thing. Not signing a lot of bands is kind of our philosophy right now. We’ve got Deas Vail and we are signing a band by the name of Indian summer pretty soon. I’m not sure when their record is coming out, but it should be spring. We also are going to sign this guy named Denison Witmer, who is this little folk artist that we have been a huge fan of for years. We are really excited to put out his record, and see what he has coming up in the future. We just want to make sure that we are only putting out records that we really enjoy and really like.
Do you have any producing projects with other artists in the works?
Thiessen: Yeah, I have been doing a lot of that. Two days ago, we had a show in Nashville, and before the show I had my buddy Mark come over to my house and set up a microphone so that we could track some background vocals for an Owl City song that I had worked on with Adam. I think that there is a Katy Perry song coming out before the summer. I produced this band called Run Kid Run and their latest release. A lot of little things like that going on.
Do you see producing as a future career?
Theissen: Yeah, It is just whatever happens. If there is a cool band that I like, and I have time to do the record, I am like “this is awesome!” It is whatever time allows.
You mentioned Katy Perry, how do you feel about her being nominated for four Grammys?
Thiessen: I guess that’s cool. I don’t understand why America embraces Lady GaGa and Katy Perry and all of the “pop stuff” as much as they do. The Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber are also included, and I don’t really get any of that. Maybe that means that I am old (laughs). That stuff seems like it isn’t that “authentic.” Katy has a cool writing style though, and her lyrics can be poignant and mean stuff from time to time. I really appreciate that about her. Congrats to all of those people who are doing well, but I listen to different stuff (laughs). I would definitely nominate some different people for Grammy’s right now.
Who are you listening to right now?
Thiessen: Have you ever heard that band Steel Train? Their new record, I love that.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
|Photo by Laura Means http://web.mac.com/lmeanswell|
For other photos for interview, check out http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=2060052&id=57701330
How has the tour been so far?
Cain: It has been pretty good. We have been talking to (concert) promoters and apparently this fall is the worst fall in a long, long time for live business in the states. Which is obviously related to the general downturn in the economy. So the shows have been really smaller, but they have ended up being really fun. We have even been going down of the floor a lot, when there is a really small amount of people, and play on the floor. Even when there are too many people to do that, it still ends up feeling more like a house party, than a club show.
Are you guys heading to the U.K. soon?
Cain: We will be there November 15th- 30th, and the last time we played there was in the end of August. We all played there off, and on throughout the entire summer.
How are the shows there, completely different?
Cain: It’s quite different, they are bigger there. Beyond that there isn’t a huge difference, I feel like the fans that we have here are passionate, interested and tend to come to repeated shows. They seem to be very dedicated.
With your latest release, Barbara, I heard that you approached the writing and recording with your live performance in mind?
Cain: That’s true. I think that the most significant, guiding principle was that we wanted to return to a three-piece live form, whereas we became a four-piece for the last record because the songs had more extensive arrangements and we needed a keyboard player to pull off a lot of those songs. We missed the energy, and more push-and-pull of the three-piece. I think the more people you add on stage, the more locked it things become. Whereas fewer members on stage gets the audience to notice any small idiosyncrasy or unique moment that one of the three people onstage is having. It also means that mistakes are accentuated, but to good affect generally if you are that type of band. We are a band who dresses up our mistakes, as to make the most of them. More slimmed Down arrangements (on the record), and in keeping with that spirit we wanted the songs to be more concise and “poppy.”
Was it difficult going back to that three-piece approach?
Cain: No, it was kind of exciting. It was cool to loosen up that way again.
I saw a great video that you and Kurt made concerning the use of twitter, and I was wondering what your take is on social networking as an artists?
Cain: It’s cool, I like it and I definitely enjoy interacting with our fans in that way. So, if nothing else I think that it has made being in a band more fun. It is great to have direct, unfiltered, interaction with your fans on Twitter and FaceBook, or whatever. I am not totally convinced that it has revolutionized the sales model. Its not completely apparent to me that it is easier to sell music. Obviously, there is a possibility of smaller bands, having their music listened to, but I am not sure to what degree it actually happens. Just because it can happen, doesn’t mean it does. Yes, anyone can log onto your “anonymous” band’s MySpace page and hear the music. So, in theory you have gotten your music in front of 5 billion people. The other thing is that something has to cause them to go to those bands MySpace page, and it’s that reliance on taste makers or radio, that is still very much a part of how music is sold and marketed. Conservatively, I am saying that social networking has made being in a band more fun, but not necessarily changed how the business works.
We Are Scientists’ music videos have always had such unique style, what would you say are some of the inspirations behind them?
Cain: Well, different videos of our have had different inspirations. The first one we made, “Nobody Move,” specifically referenced the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Which I think we did to “mixed” success. There was the “Chick Lit” video, which is the one where we are herding Pomeranians; we wanted it to look like a “City Slickers” sort of thing. The “I Don’t Bite” video, which is our most recent one, is the first video where we did not concept it. The guy who directed it came up with the concept, and he has been our photographer for years since our first record, and he has also become a good friend. We needed to get this video done, and we were going to be in L.A. where he lives, and we ended up asking him if he wanted to direct something. He responded with a paragraph of vaguely, suggestive adjectives and nouns. I remember some of the touchstones being David Lynch, Fred Easton Ellis, Tom Wolfe and he didn’t really explain what the plan was. The only thing he told us to bring was a white suit, for me to wear. So we got there, shot the video and it is pretty insane. It is very much a product of his demented imagination.
Being that both you and Keith came up with the previous concepts for you music videos, what made you decide to hand off that responsibility?
Chirs: I think it was just the “run and gun” nature of that video, and the last minute nature of it. I literally e-mailed him “hey, do you want to director a video for us when we are in town?” To which he wrote back the idea and said “yeah, I’m seeing this, this and this.” The I read it to Keith and we wrote back “sure, let’s do it!” It was just kind of how it happened. Serendipity (laughs).
Now for this album specifically, I read that Keith actually wrote most of the album while in Athens, Georgia and Miami, Florida. Does he write the majority of your songs typically?
Cain: He’s definitely the primary songwriter, and he writes all the lyrics. Typically, the way that we have worked in the past is that Keith will kind of lock himself away and start generating song ideas and make really crappy recordings with just a verse and a chorus, where he just mumbles lyrics. Lyrics are the last thing to happen, they usually happen in the studio. Then he will just e-mail me these ideas, and I will give him feedback. After we get enough that we feel like should become full-blown songs, we get in a room with whoever’s drumming with us at the time and start to work out full arrangements. After we’ve got what we think is the correct version of the song, we do a really crappy recording of that and send those to our producer Ariel Rechtshaid (who has produced all three of our records). On the last record, he came back with some really wild ideas, and cool prompts and things. On this record, because of the nature of these songs, there wasn’t much to be added. There was more of him just making it sound awesome, which he definitely did. But since the songs are more stripped down, and bare bones I think there was less room for producer flourish. That is the “We Are Scientists” writing process.
In 2009 you came out with a mini-series on MTV in the U.K. called “Steve Wants His Money.” Any future plans with continuing that series?
Cain: I think we will. We are talking to MTV in the U.K. along with a couple of other networks. Right now we really don’t have any time to do anything right now, so the future plans have been with next spring in mind as a time to shoot something. Yeah, we have some ideas and we are trying to get someone interested. “Steve Wants His Money” was made for an insanely small amount of money, and we would like to work with little more of a budget this time. Nothing insane, but just so we can shoot in more than four locations. A lot of the scenes were shot with one camera, which means that when we are talking back and forth, we have to re-do the scenes several times from different angles, which is incredibly annoying as an actor(laughs). Luckily we are good enough that it was absolutely fluid (laughs). It was just extra work.
Just from interviews I have seen and videos you have made, I have noticed that both you and Keith have great comedic timing and insight. Have you ever thought of combining the two, comedy and music?
Cain: Well, I think that we have gotten as close as we can, without making humor songs like Weird Al Yankovic or Lonely Island songs. That has always been unattractive to us. I don’t think humor songs are very funny and I neither Keith nor I would be inspired to take the time to make a good humor album, whereas writing the real songs is sort of impulsive in the way that you would want any kind of art, whether it is funny or not funny to be. You love doing it, and that’s why you are doing it. Not because you know that you can, and that is the same with the funny stuff we do, do. We do it because we come up with the idea, and it seems so hilarious, that we have to do that. Humor songs don’t seem that way to us. It is more like, “I guess we could do that?” Nah.
Perfect day, windows down, driving, what are you listening to?
Cain: That is a good question. What would I listen to? Maybe the Whigs? Yeah, Athens own and one of America’s finest bands for sure. I think I would put on “In the Dark” by the Whigs.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
|Photo by Laura Means http://web.mac.com/lmeanswell|
While on tour with Never Shout Never, The Maine and I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business, I had a chance to speak with Hulsey about the album and future plans.
You seem to know everyone on this tour pretty well, how far do you date back with some of these guys (Christofer Drew, Caleb Denison, etc.)?
Hulsey: Caleb moved to Joplin from somewhere in Oklahoma back when I was sixteen, so we have known each other for six years. Chris and I have been playing in bands since we were kids, so I have known him for a while. We have even lived in the same house for almost three years now. I have just met The Maine, Ace Enders and Jose Lopez from I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business, but it has been “instant family.” Never Shout is the headliner and we are all just Midwest boys, and there is a big family vibe on this tour that is hard to escape. We are all really close for sure.
With your debut LP, “A Note In Your Pocket,” how did you approach the writing process?
Hulsey: This writing process was different, in which I wrote a lot of it during the winter of last year. Chris and I had been living in an apartment at the time and he was writing a record he just put out called “Harmony,” while I was writing “A Note In Your Pocket.” I read a whole lot during that time, a lot of classic literature and listened to a lot of music. We both have record players, so we were always playing vinyl for each other. We would come up with song ideas, and it is really neat hearing the songs ideas that he had have a thousand kids signing along to, but I heard it at three o’clock in the morning when he came into my room, woke me up and said “listen, what do you think?” I would say “that’s great! What if you did this?” The same went with my stuff. He would say “this chorus is great, what if you add this right here? Or brought it back right here?” I wrote the whole record with Chris right there, and we would just bounce ideas back for his record, and my record. A lot of reading and listening to a lot of music.
Now the actual recording process was fairly short correct?
Hulsey: Yeah, we got there and though it was going to be a lot different. We thought that we were going to have a producer, but stuff didn’t work out. So we go there and we recorded all of the music in three days, and then we did all of the vocals in a day and a half. We played a great deal of it live, and then we would go back and re-track things that bled over. It was a very live record, because we were on a very tight time frame. We also thought that we were going to have some more days, and Tom, Toff and Caleb didn’t know all of the songs. Basically it was like “here is the song, now let’s record it.”(laughs) I played it once and then we recorded it. This next record, we are going to record in a couple of months, and we are going to spend a lot of time doing it.
I heard that “Don’t Waste Time” was a song written by Caleb. How did that become yours, and not a Denison song? (The Denison is Caleb Denison’s side-project)
Hulsey: Caleb is such a phenomenal song writer. He’s got a catalog of songs, that hopefully everyone will hear someday, but he was just like “this song just fits really well, let’s do it.” There might be another Caleb song on the next record too. He is so gifted, and it was an honor for me to put that song on my record for sure.
Had did “Black and Blue” come together? How did Sophia Smith come into the picture?
Hulsey: I played with her at a place in Arlington, Texas. When I heard her sing, I was immediately blown away. They did a Gregory and the Hawk cover, and just loved it. I heard that, and asked her to sing with me. I wrote the song, showed it to her via the internet, she recorded the tracks, e-mailed them to me, we plugged them in and put them on the record. I wish that we could have flown her in, but doing it all in three days didn’t leave much time for anything. She is phenomenal though.
You keep saying that you had three days in the studio, was that planned?
Hulsey: No, we thought that we were going to have a little more than a week to sit there and work through all of the songs. You know, I had a bunch of songs that never made it on the record.
Will the songs surface on the next album?
Hulsey: No. My thing with songwriting is that I just wanted to capture a certain time period. There were probably ten or fifteen songs that we didn’t even go through, because of the time constraints. They could have been alright, but they’re not, nobody will ever hear them, but that’s the way it goes I guess.
So you are going to start recording for the next record in a couple of months, are you writing for that right now?
Hulsey: Yeah, I have been writing on this tour, even though it is really hard to do. We are going to go into the studio to record a bunch of demos in December, then we will go on tour for all of January and February, then we will record it in March and it will be out in April. We will put it out really quick.
Who is that going to be released with?
Hulsey: We are going to release it ourselves independently.
Anyone that you are listening to right now, that you can see coming through in the music you are writing?
Hulsey: I did a tour with a guy named Corey Branan, and he is one of the most phenomenal artists that I have had the privilege of touring with. He turned me on to John Prine, and I have been listening to John Prine non-stop. I will always listen to Randy Newman, forever. On the whole van ride up here, we have been jamming Ray Charles. Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams and just classics. I feel bad, I don’t know much new music because I grew up on my dad’s records and they have always stuck. Anything old. I listen to a lot of Willy Nelson, The Highway Men, Johnny Cash, all of it.
What is next for you after the tour?
Hulsey: After the tour I am going to drive home, play a wedding, and then go into my house and not come out of my house for a solid month. I am going to write, record, and sleep.