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Black Lips @ The Galaxy

25 Nov

(Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 19th, 2011 for OC Music Magazine)

There wasn’t a moment during the Black Lips show at the Galaxy last Sunday when a fan didn’t jump onstage. They weaved in and out of the mics, kissed the lead singers, and danced, before diving into the crowd so hard their shoes went flying.

They threw their bras onstage, stole the mic and sang, and took off their shirts and swung them over their heads. Security guards looked the other way, but if someone hung around too long, they’d push them back into the crowd or escort them off stage by their arms and legs.

The high energy was so infectious that even singer/guitarist Cole Alexander stage-dived, bringing his guitar with him. It felt as though there were no rules, and the song “Bad Kids,” off the Good Bad Not Evil album, seemed to be the night’s anthem.

The Black Lips formed in Atlanta, Georgia back in 2000 and in eleven years they’ve put out six albums – each different from the last. These Southern boys, who describe their sound as “flower punk,” are far more punk than flower, though their recordings would have you believe otherwise. Their psychedelic, country, doo wop, and indie influences never seem to overpower their true punk nature, but you’d only know this if you saw them play live. They’re the kind of band that has to be experienced with all the senses – maybe that’s why over fifteen girls ran onstage to steal kisses during the show.

By the time it was over, everyone in the pit was drenched in sweat – their faces flushed, and grinning from ear to ear. It was the experience teen-aged punks have wet dreams about, but you had to be twenty-one to get in.

Inspired by the anarchist mood of the evening, I seized the opportunity to sneak backstage when I saw the door to its entrance swing open and the security guard walk away. Read on for the post-show interview with bassist/singer Jared Swilley:

A: So how do you feel about all these girls jumping on stage and trying to kiss you?

J: (He laughs) Well, tonight my girlfriend was on stage behind me but I always try to pull away from it anyway.

A: What’s your favorite part of performing?

J: Usually when the show’s over, that’s best part. It’s a good feeling. I didn’t have much schooling but its like if you take an exam and you know you aced it, and you’re done with it, it’s like there’s no more cramming or studying – you’re done.

A: What’s been your favorite place to perform so far?

J: In the world? Oh, that’s hard to say. There’s so many places – I guess New York is cool, and Tokyo. Big cities, they’re fun. Small towns are fun too. We’re not really in a small town right now though so…

A: Well it’s Orange County so it’s kind of like the greater LA area…

J: Yeah. It’s cool here. I like the youth of Orange County. They’re like real punk – I enjoy it.

A: I saw you guys perform at the El Rey on Valentine’s Day like four years ago and this show was completely different. It was much more of a punk scene. Everyone was jumping onstage and I feel like last time it was more…

J: Well the El Rey is kind of strict. But yeah, Orange County is fun.

A: How do you feel about people jumping on stage? Do you ever get worried, because they’re hitting your mic and…

J: I like it, the only thing I worry about it, sometimes, is I don’t have dental insurance so like the mic is right there but I’m really good at balancing it with my knee, so when I see someone running I catch it real quick. But you don’t want a mic in your mouth because then your teeth are out.

A: Yeah, and it ruins the whole show.

J: And it’s a lot of money.

A: What’s your least favorite part of touring?

J: I guess the no sleep part kind of sucks. Touring is really fun. The only bad parts of it are like what’s shitty about anybody’s day. Like oh, I’m tired, I have to wake up. So it’s not really shitty at all.

A: Does it ever get to the point where it feels like a job?

J: No, this is the most bullshit job. It’s the most awesome job.

(The lead singer of Bleached walks up)

J: I’m really glad you guys got to play tonight.

B: I know, it’s the best. I lost my voice.

J: I can’t believe I have my voice still. Losing your voice, that’s what sucks about touring.

A: What’s your remedy?

J: Well I learned it from a long line of old soul singers from Atlanta. Mighty Hannibal taught me this trick that he and James Brown and Sam Cooke used to do. It’s just white vinegar and cayenne pepper and you shake it up and gargle it before you sing. It’s not a cure-all but it’ll get you through. And boiled ginger, that works well. I just boil ginger all day and drink the water. It’s good.

A: You guys are from Georgia. How do you think that affected the development of your sound?

J: I grew up with a lot of gospel and like country music and my father is a preacher and I grew up in the church, like singing and so I guess just like traditional music. I actually live in California now. The other guys live in Atlanta. I’m a Californian.

A: What do you think? It’s very different, right?

J: It’s cool. It’s just a different vibe. I don’t know, Southerners are different from Californians. There’s no Southerners here – I haven’t met one yet. But it’s cool, endless summer, I dig it. Tacos…

(A guy comes up and asks if Jared would make his boyfriend’s dream true and take a picture with him.)

(“Of course,” Jared says, and makes sure he’s given me enough of his time before he leaves.)

J: Alex?…

A: Yes?

J: It was a pleasure meeting you.

He shakes my hand and walks away.

What a Southern gent…

Davis Fetter: The Interview

17 Sep

                                                                                                                            Photo: Haley Reed

Davis Fetter was the creative force behind Venus Infers but he’s recently decided to step out on his own. He’s foregone his previously enigmatic presence and now records songs that peer directly into his soul. Read on as Fetter opens up about his involvement with Venus Infers, how he’s never really been in love and how he’s transitioned from a guitarist and songwriter to a one-man band.

A: People are always comparing you to other artists, from Bono to Julian Casablancas. Does that make you feel like you’re being stereotyped? Like you’ve been put into a box?

D: People come at you with comparisons all the time. Like a fan will say I like your song because it reminds me of this and I think that’s cool because that means they’re personalizing it, but if they’re comparing it in a bad way and dismissing it because it’s a derivative of something else, that’s not as fun but I think it’s okay.

I always think if people are listening then my job is done, I’ve gotten them to listen to it. You can’t force people to like your music, you can only have them interact with it how they want to and that’s the beauty of music. Everyone is going to have their own personal taste.

Music is funny because people take it so personally, even when they’re not creating it. And it can mean everything or nothing at the same time, to two different people. For me, there’s certain artists that everything they’ve ever done or will do I’ll probably love.

A: Who would those people be?

D: Anything that Morrissey is involved with. I have everything the Smiths have ever created except for maybe a couple random B-sides. They’re my all-time favorite band but definitely like the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Lennon – all the greats.

A: I love Lou Reed and when I saw your older band’s name, Venus Infers, I thought that had to be a play on the Velvet Underground song, Venus In Furs.

D: Definitely. I always loved that song but I thought it represented American psychedelic music in the best way. Lyrically it’s cool and you can delve way into it and get creeped out, or you can take it for pop music and enjoy it.

I think that’s the coolest thing about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s stuff. It can be kind of twisted and dark or it can be like poetry and observations, or pop music.

A: I was checking out your YouTube channel and from the songs you covered it’s evident that you have an eclectic taste in music and a good range of your voice. Was it hard for you to find your own unique style and develop your voice?

D: Oh man, I’m learning everyday. I picked up a guitar when I was young but I never wanted to be a singer and I only started singing about 4 years ago. When I started Venus Infers I was just writing the songs, and then from writing more and more I would get into the scene just to hear how they should go and then slowly but surely just kind of kept going with it and here I am.

Those covers, they’re just for fun. I always play those songs live. I like picking songs that are either requests or just songs that I’m really into. Lyrically, vocally, it’s a challenge for me, wanting to sing like Hank Williams, or try to sing like James Brown. It’s just trying to sing like these guys that I really look up to.

A: Do you think your ability to sound like them has actually helped you find your own voice?

D: Yes and no. When I first started learning other people’s songs, that’s when I was playing guitar and I was real little and that was just about learning exactly perfect. Like every Buddy Holly song I learned on guitar, I learned it perfectly. And then I played them from time to time and now I sing them, sort of how the artist would have done, it but I try to put my own little spin on it. It’s almost like I try to emulate it so that I can change it when I play the song.

A: There’s a quote on your Myspace about how much you love singles. Why do you think you like singles so much?

D: I think the root of it all is probably from my parents giving me their collections, 45, singles. It’s just about discovering bands through one good song at a time. I feel like sometimes you can get more from a single than a whole album. I see the counter argument, I can hear my friends saying, no, fuck you man, Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ was amazing from start to finish and there are great albums out there, of course, I have them, but singles are rad because at the birth of rock and roll and pop music you got one song at a time because that’s how it was released. You got to really listen to that song and just get it, and absorb it.

I really like pop music and I think it has a negative connotation to it now but over time pop music was the best music, for me anyway. When I say pop, I don’t mean Lady Gaga necessarily, but I mean like Elvis, and Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the Beatles and John Lennon, all the great artists that we’ve ever known.

You get that mood, you get that vibe because whoever created that single they were thinking, okay let me say what I need to say as concise and simple as possible. I think in a modern way, pop stars kind of dumb down the audience, but the classic greats were more like, no, let me give the audience the best and most concise version of what I have to say.

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s getting a PhD in Russian and we were talking about Russian propaganda and how it’s very succinct and simple but there’s so much message inside one phrase. I feel like singles are the same way because at least for me, one song will affect me more than the whole album. And also with me going under my own name, I want people to digest the song and get the message because I write hundreds of songs but it takes a while to get that one song that 10 others were trying to say.

Photo: Haley Reed

A: When you say now you’re going by your own name, did Venus Infers break up or were you playing with the guys and now you’re stepping into the limelight as just yourself?

D: Venus Infers was what I liken to Bright Eyes. It was the same situation – Conor Oberst wrote the songs and then put a band together. In Venus Infers, I was the only full-time member in the group and I wrote the songs, wrote the lyrics, wrote the music. It was a collective of artists. A few of the guys stayed in for quite some time, like a couple of years, but it was always my intent to write songs under a pseudonym.

A: And why do you think you needed to write under a pseudonym?

D: I think because at the time it was my first stab at writing and I was probably just nervous to go out on my own. At first it was kind of freeing because if you look at the entire Venus Infers catalogue, it was all over the place. There were albums with two different singers, 4 EPs where I was singing and then I had different musicians playing on the record.  Any whacky idea I had, I could pursue.

When I started writing songs a year ago, they were so personal and so focused and I was kind of like, whoa, this might not work for Venus Infers. These songs were about very real things that I’ve experienced so I thought I’d almost be doing a disservice to the listener if it wasn’t from me.

A: I heard you were chosen on the Locals Only playlist on KROQ?

D: My first single ‘Euphoria’ was just played a few weeks ago and then I had 3 singles released on KROQ that I did with Venus Infers. I’m really excited about my new song ‘L.O.V.E.’ because it’s kind of inspired by Roy Orbison.

In the studio I’m really into the 50s and the 80s, as far as recorded sound. It’s like the two decades I feel are the most unique in sound: the 50s being the most raw version of recorded pop music and the 80s being the height of recording technology. So when I recorded ‘I See Love,’ to me the chords and the message of the song make it a 50s song but the guitar pedals and the technology that we used was 80s technology.

Photo: Haley Reed

A: In that same quote where you professed your love for singles you also talked about how all your songs are about love. Do you find it easier to write when you’re in love or in lust? Or when you’re in some sort of love-induced turmoil?

D: I’ve seen it all and I’ve written about it all. I have 10 songs recorded and finished but I’m releasing them one at a time and I’m hoping people see the progression. ‘Euphoria’ is about looking for that feeling of perfection, basically longing for love. But ‘I See Love’ is a little bit darker like, ‘man, everyone is so happy and everyone is in love and I’m not.’ You’re out and about and you see a couple…

A: And you almost resent them…

D: You go through these emotions right? You get envious, you get jealous and then you might hate them and then you realize, ah, I’m happy for them.

This next single called ‘L.O.V.E.’ is about losing love – a break up song so to speak, which definitely did happen. I feel like ‘Euphoria’ is about how I’ve never really been in love. I’ve said the word before but I don’t think it was that pure, unconditional love where you lose yourself and you find yourself.

To answer your question, I’ve never been in a situation romantically where I’m like, I’m so happy, let me write about it. I’m just trying to write about what’s real to me. It’s easier when you’re hurt or you’re longing or searching for love to write about it, because I’m still searching for it. That romantic love between two people, I’ve never really had that.

I’m old school and I like 50s music so I believe in romance and when I was in college and reading Shakespeare, I believed that stuff and I still do. I think it’s harder to find these days, I think our society right now is a bit troubled and love is kind of a gray area for most people these days but I still believe and hope it’s out there.

I made a list to myself about all the songs I wrote about and the one thing I didn’t write about was love and I was like, holy shit, what’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I tackled that subject? I started thinking about it a lot and trying to get out exactly how I feel and what I ended up with was, yeah I don’t think I ever really have been in love and I really want to fall in love, but I think I’ve never been there so maybe I can write about that. I think, if I can’t say I love you, maybe I can still write about, you give me ‘Euphoria.’

 (Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Kinski Gallo: The Interview

4 Aug

Monte Negro is a bilingual Spanish/English rock band that is currently on their six-week, 47-stop, cross-country ‘Longest Day Tour.’ OCMM caught up with the LA-based band, who describe their sound as world beat with splashes of eclecticism, as they rode in their tour van on the way to their next gig.

Lead singer and songwriter, Kinski Gallo, tells us about the difficulties of being in a genre that has yet to become mainstream, what life is like on the road, and how music has affected his life from its very beginning.

A: Where are you guys right now?

K: We are actually an hour away from Atlanta. We play a show there tonight.

A: So far, how does this tour compare to previous tours?

K: Well for one, we have a new drummer but in general, I think that every tour we try to learn from our past mistakes, like, what works for you and what works for everybody. A tour is so taxing so you try to create an environment of harmony because everybody needs their space.

This tour to me, so far, is a little more mellow. There’s no drama, even though it’s been crazy. We’ve had a flow to everything. We’ve played at a lot of places for the first time and it’s great because you play for new people, new fans, and you’re sort of challenged.

A: How is it different from your previous tours?

K: It’s more intense, but more organized, so it’s the best of both worlds. The other tour we did was three weeks, this is six weeks, so it’s a lot more cities to cover. And additionally we are playing more shows.

We have two days off every week and we play four gigs straight, so it’s definitely more intense in terms of playing more regularly, almost everyday. It can get pretty taxing for the soul and the body, especially the way we perform.

A: What do you do on your days off to recoup for the next set of shows?

K: Mostly we sleep and read and really just do mindless things – go for a walk. The kinds of things where you don’t have to deal with anyone, you sort of just turn it all off.

A: What would you say has been the highlight so far?

K: I think the highlight has been the Congress show in Chicago. There were 4,000 people and major screens, and it was just a proper rock show. It sort of sounds louder, it’s rock n’ roll, there’s moshing, and it’s beautiful.

A: How do you deal with homesickness? Or do you even get homesick?

K: Of course, you’re in a different place everyday, in a different hotel, and there’s no stability to it. And some of us are married.

Just getting out of your own space is a beautiful thing but it’s a commodity that you take for granted. We’re like everyone else but after you’ve done so many tours, you learn to surrender to the honor of it.

A: What’s your favorite thing about touring?

K: I love performing different songs to different people everyday. We try to change it around so that if people go to our shows two days in a row, they’ll experience a different show. Everything is just being able to have that chemistry between the people and the band. It becomes a well-oiled machine that’s very comforting. You enjoy it because they enjoy it, and it’s beautiful.

A: Can you tell me a little bit about how Monte Negro formed and the process that it’s taken to get to this point?

K: Monte Negro formed 12 years ago, and Rodax is my brother. He’s the bass player. We just kind of met randomly through one of my ex-girlfriend’s brothers who told me about [guitarist] Jason and said, “You’ve got to come see this kid play.” So I went to see him and the rest is just kind of history.

We signed to Sony Records, Epic Records, and then we were intensely touring the next three, four years going to Puerto Rico, Mexico, all over the U.S., and we went to Canada.

A: How has your sound evolved over time?

K: We were doing a lot of heavier stuff back in the day. We were doing the Warped Tour and after maybe four or five years, we realized the music we were doing was kind of one-dimensional and we wanted to make it more eclectic. So we started combining reggae, alternative – just everything we liked about music. And then we started becoming bilingual rather than just playing English and I think it was then that we came into our sound.

We always challenge each other and I think the beauty of it is that even though we try to stick to our ideas, we’re always very open and I think that as long as we have that in ourselves, we can continue to create and compromise.

A: Do you think that it’s hard being a bilingual rock band? That it’s maybe affected how mainstream you are?

K: Yes and no. I think that in general, good things take a while – like a good soup. In the United States, people are speaking in half-Spanish and half-English but I think in general, sometimes people feel threatened by another language. I believe though that when people begin to discover us, there’s a lot less resistance to listening to us. Those doors of stereotypes are broken down because I think music is universal. I listen to a lot of French music and African music, and I don’t necessarily understand it, but I think it creates a unanimous feeling.

I think it’s harder [being a bilingual band], but I think it’s a lot more rewarding because you realize that little by little, more people are coming that don’t even speak Spanish.

When I was little, the way we learned English was just listening to American music. I didn’t understand the words, but I could pronounce them.

A: I’ve actually heard that from a lot of bilingual or trilingual people – that growing up to listening music from other countries helped them build their language skills.

K: It’s definitely more enjoyable. You can sing along with it and you can get better pronunciation because you’re hearing it from a native.

I was born in Mexico, where my mother was from, but my father was from the United States so it’s one of those things where neither culture is better to me. They each have a lot of greatness to them and I’ve just picked the best of both worlds and applied them. I write in English and in Spanish and I think every language has a very poetic nature to it. That’s what’s always interested me about language, so I try to write in a serious manner.

A: What’s next for Monte Negro after this tour?

K: We are contemplating releasing a compilation record, and we have plans to go to Mexico in November. There’s another tour coming up there, and then we’re going to do another three-week tour in the States. After that, we’re going to Canada, and then I go to Paris for a while to do some shows out there, and Jason is going to Guatemala. He’s trying to learn more Spanish. Then it’s just more work – flowing with the constant motion and never really relaxing.

A: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?

K: I would say thank you for listening and keeping open-minded. Keep listening and keep finding music that excites you.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Wallpaper.: The Interview

30 Jul

As I walked up to the Detroit Bar just before sound check to meet Wallpaper.’s lead singer, Eric “Ricky” Frederick, I was surprised to see him without his trademark shades and fedora. He was a pared down version of the persona I’d seen in his #STUPidFACEDD music video, and I suddenly understood the symbolism of his band-name.

In a button-down shirt, rolled up jeans, and a pair of lace-up Tom’s, Ricky softly told me he was saving his voice, and we found a place to begin the interview. Everything I’d read and seen about Wallpaper. – that their music was the next big club-scene anthem, that the tracks off their recently-released LP have titles such as “Butt2butt” and “FUCKINGBESTSONGEVERRR” and that they were affiliated with the Jersey Shore somehow – just didn’t seem to match up with the person I saw before me.

It wasn’t until Ricky went onstage for the sound check that I saw where the members of Wallpaper. were coming from. They’ve got the soul and moves of James Brown, the hooky mixed-genre beats of modern pop, and a stronger rock n’ roll sound than their LP alludes to.

Ricky’s stage presence is strong and his energy is contagious. After The Hood Internet wrapped up a killer set and the crowd was primed for the headlining act, Ricky – now donning a white suit and his obligatory headwear – commanded the venue and had everyone dancing, jumping, and singing along. The absurdity of some of the lyrics and song titles somehow made sense and when the set ended with #STUPidFACEDD, I thought to myself, “This could be the next ‘I’m in Miami, Trick,’ by LMFAO, or ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Read on for the pre-show interview with Wallpaper. front-man, Ricky Friedman:

. . . . . . . . . .

A: Why the name Wallpaper.?

R: Pop music is wallpaper to me, or it has become that, I don’t think it’s always been that, but I’m trying to change that and make it something that we are more emotionally invested in.

A: How did you get started in the industry?

R: I started playing punk in middle school and high school and slowly got into touring and putting out records. I learned how to produce records when I was in high school – producing my rock band’s stuff. I played piano when I was a real little kid, so I have a background in a lot of weird ways, and then went to UC Berkeley and got a music composition degree and it all kind of just strangely turned into this.

A: When did you have your first break?

R: I feel like I haven’t had the break yet. I feel like for me I’ve been working for so long that it feels like a steady incline so I can’t sense any major changes – it’s just like things are always getting a little bit better, things are always a little bit bigger than they were before, but I don’t feel like there’s been that POW – that overnight explosion. I mean, I’m definitely not opposed to it, but right now it just feels like I’m working.

A: Do you think this upcoming tour will get you some of that exposure?

R: Yeah, I think that some of things that we have coming up – the MTV stuff and the Jersey Shore stuff – will probably help that, but I’ve been doing this for so long that if I think like that, like ‘Which thing is going to give me that cosmic burst,’ then I would be spinning my wheels. You always have to know that, I guess, you can’t think about the end, you have to think about the means to get there and the process and if you’re good in the moment and you’re good with the process, then things will work out.

A: Tell me a little more about the Jersey Shore/MTV stuff in the works…

R: I don’t really understand exactly how it all came together but, from my understanding, they thought that #stupidfacedd obviously fit the tone of the show so they’re going to give it a spin on the premiere episode, which is pretty exciting and pretty cool.

A: What was that moment like for you when your #STUPidFACEDD music video premiered on MTV?

R: Oh man, that was pretty wild. I sort of grew up on MTV. I was talking to my bandmates about this the other day: The show The Grind, on MTV, it was like this crazy club-dance show, I used to watch it every morning right before school from like third grade to fifth grade so I’m really like an MTV kid. Being involved with them almost has a sentimental element. It’s pretty cool to me.

A: Your LP comes out this week. What are you most looking forward to about that?

R: I’ve been working on these songs for a long time, there’s a lot of new things, a lot of new influences and I just like getting the music into the peoples’ hands.

A: What does stupidfacedd mean?

R: Stupidfacedd is the state of inebriation directly before blacking out or passing out, or before you get sick, it’s that pinnacle – that really special place where you feel fearless and you feel loving and you feel so attractive and time stands still and all your friends move in slow motion, all that stuff.

A: Is the pound sign in #STUPidFACEDD a pun on internet culture?

R: It’s a hash-tag for Twitter. I just thought that it made sense. A lot of people on Twitter will post something on a Friday night and put hash-tag drunk, you know?

A: Would you consider your lyrics satirical?

R: Satire is a very strange and a very specific word. I think that my lyrics are going to mean different things to different people. I think the meanings woven into my lyrics don’t need to be expounded upon by me. I want people to listen to them and get what they can get out it and it can go either way.

A: What do you do to prepare for a show?

R: Do sweet interviews. (We laugh, I blush) No, I just chill. I’ll have a whiskey or two and I’ll do some vocal warm ups, stretch out a little bit, have some Mexican food – that’s like every show, for sure.

A: The majority of your songs have references to drinking and partying, yet you told me earlier you were holding off on drinking tonight until after the show. Why is that?

R: Well, tonight I’m not. I usually will drink before the show but on this tour, we’re headlining and it’s longer sets so my throat’s a little sore. Post-show it goes down, big time.

A: What do you expect from your upcoming tour with AWOLNATION?

R: That’s going to be dope. I love Aaron, the singer from AWOLNATION, he’s great and I love summer touring. I love that everyone is sweaty in the van, in tank tops and board shorts, just getting gross. And the tour’s all through the South, through the dead of August so I’m looking forward to it.

A: Any last words for your impending fan-base?

R: I thought you were going to say impending doom. Uh, (he pauses) don’t fuck without a condom.

We laugh, he heads onstage for the sound check, and I make my way over to the merch table where dozens of free condoms in metal containers with Wallpaper. stickers on one side are displayed. Ah, now I get it…

(Originally published in  OC Music Magazine)

Saint Motel: The Interview

1 Jul

Photo: Diana King

The tunes of the Yellow Magic Orchestra boomed in the background as singer A/J Jackson and guitarist Aaron Sharp of the “garage glam” indie band Saint Motel walked through the Hollywood Bowl and tried to find a quiet place for our interview.

The quartet, including but not featuring bassist Dak and drummer Greg Erwin, recently played the SXSW festival and are known for their over-the-top high-concept performances like their annual Zombie Prom and their traveling Rock and Roll Circus.

As they passed a bottle of Jim Beam back and forth, the two caught up with OCMM discussing their current southern California tour, how their film school backgrounds have contributed to their success and of course, groupies.

You were all in film school together – what inspired you to form a band?

A/J: Sharp and I were in both in bands all the way through school and Sharp started out as a classical guitar major. I didn’t want to study music – I wanted to make music and the music I wanted to make wasn’t taught in school and Sharp felt the same way.

I saw Aaron and he was pretty renowned as the best guitarist on campus and I wanted to meet him. “Hey, join my band, man,” (AJ reflects, in a mocking tone.) So we exchanged credentials and I had to woo him.

ASharp: You had to woo me? Is that what you said? I had many suitors at the time… (Sharp quips) no, I – once I saw them perform I knew that there was good songwriting and a good foundation for everything that I wanted to do in music so I joined the band and a couple of bands later we formed Saint Motel. We met Dak our junior year and Greg our senior year.

Why the name Saint Motel?

A/J: We were a different band in college but when we graduated we wanted something new. We went through about a thousand names, I’d say, and Saint Motel was kind of a hybrid of some of those names. Really, we just liked the dichotomy. We wanted something where the two words don’t necessarily fit together but they felt right together. And also we wanted something that had negative and positive connotations that balanced somehow. Our comic board was just full of political…

ASharp: Yeah and we’re not a political band at all, that’s not our agenda, so we just decided: we’re having a good time right now, let’s just change the name. So then, we did. We knew we wanted the name to be really powerful and that’s why we took our time with it, I think, instead of settling for something along the way.

You guys are known for your theatrical performances and visuals. Can you tell me how that got started and what goes into creating these events?

A/J: Around the same time we became Saint Motel, we decided we didn’t want our shows to be like every other show. We wanted the experience to be different. By this time, we’d been going to a lot of shows and when we started out we made the concert room like a living room or a study. We had lamps on our amps and we had taxidermy heads mounted to the walls and all sorts of trees in the “living room,” the “sex den”. We experimented with a lot of different lighting and makeshift ideas of what an entire show could really look like.

Since we’ve always been live thus far, out of necessity I think, we had to be kind of creative. But then we started doing video stuff with our live shows, like we did the video piano that we still use today and that just keeps getting crazier and crazier. And that led to having live cameras mounted on the stage so it kind of felt like a stadium concert show in a small venue because there was a whole lot of action going on and it’s a little bit of a sensory overload but we like that. There were a lot of people jumping around and jumping off things, cameras mounted on the stage, in the audience, light shows. We want as many things as we can.

ASharp: And the Go Pro show…

A/J: Yeah, we had cameras mounted all over our bodies and on our heads and Go Pro sponsored the event and we wanted to see if it looks cool or not and they all fell off our heads.

ASharp: It’s pretty funny because I told them that was going to happen but they wanted to do it anyway.

A/J: And also we like all our shows to be events. We’ve done a lot of pretty high-concept things. Rock and roll circuses in New York, and the Zombie Prom in LA and Vegas and the Kaleidoscopic Mind Explosion in 3D, the Future Father’s Day concert, all kinds of things. We do it mainly because it’s fun but also because it keeps us interested.

So did your background in film contribute to this? Because you’re almost building sets on stage…

A/J: Yeah, 100%. We make posters and trailers and it’s very much like a film. We’ve had new actors and hosts and surprises every time and it’s usually some sort concept behind the event. It’s very, very cinematic and I think our music is too.

What’s been your favorite show so far?

A/J: I had a lot of fun at Make Music Pasadena.

ASharp: Oh yeah, Pasadena was great.

A/J: We don’t play favorites. Every show is our favorite.

ASharp: Well, I mean, every show we do what we do. If we play in a backyard we’re going to put on the same kind of show as if we’re playing at the Roxy. If we’re in a stadium or the back of a Dodge Caravan…

A/J: Oh yeah, in the back of a U-haul, right?

ASharp: Yeah that was a fun show. We played in the back of a U-haul in a parking lot, totally illegal to chill with a generator. People were jumping inside the U-haul and outside. That was crazy.

A/J: Yeah, that was so dangerous. We played underwear/panty parties. We should play more of those, don’t you think, Aaron?

ASharp: Definitely. Here, here! I second that notion, Sir!

Because of these elaborate performances do you prefer performing at intimate venues where you have more control or are festivals just as fun?

A/J: I think it’s about the energy of the crowd. You play better.

ASharp: And if we’re all in a bad mood before the show because we’re tired or whatever and 300 kids came early just to see a rock band, that’s going to cheer us up instantly. I love shows like that, when you get the vibe off the crowd and you get happy. It’s really a great experience.

Your behind the scenes videos make the filming process of your music videos look like a blast. What don’t we see?

A/J: Well, a lot of times they’re pretty low budget so you don’t see that everyone on the set is pretty much doing favors and you don’t see that everyone in the band is wearing many hats. We all contribute and get everything ready. It looks like we’re chilling, kicking back while it’s getting made, but that’s not how it is.

ASharp: We have too many thank-yous that we need to send to all the people that have helped us behind the scenes. Like my family has helped a lot with all the gear and you don’t see them.

A/J: You probably do see a lot of our friends on set.

That was my next question. It seems like you know all your cinematographers, producers and choreographers. Or do you just get close while on set?

A/J: We only work with friends at this point. If it wasn’t directed by a band member, it was directed by a friend.

Did you decide to give away the free download of Puzzle Pieces to combat piracy, get your name out there, or are you guys just generous?

A/J: We wanted to put out some new music and we’re still working on our next release. We thought it was a good way to put something out before the album comes out. It’s tempting… you’re sitting on this big pile of music and it gets kind of frustrating sometimes. We have a lot of new material; we’re just trying to figure out a way to release it that makes sense right now. The Puzzle Pieces download for free was just, we were really excited and anxious to put something out there because it had been so long since we released anything.

ASharp: And ForPlay, we put that all out at once, we’ve never experienced putting out a single so it was pretty cool to see the response.

What inspires your songwriting and who writes the songs?

A/J: It’s a collaboration. Usually I start out with the basic idea and then I bring it in and then we all just build on it from there but it’s usually about whatever is going on in our life at that point. Usually it’s more focused, like there’s this one song called “Skullet” and we wanted a song called that so it was, what does that sound like?

ASharp: Normally they just build on themselves and some stuff you’ll never hear. Not that you’ll never hear but they didn’t make the cut.

A/J: Yeah, we try to record our rehearsals and ideas as much as possible because any idea can become something, even out of context. And a lot of the basis of our music comes from messing around, like between rehearsals and we’ll go back to it a few years later and record it. That’s what happened with Puzzle Pieces.

ASharp: Puzzle Pieces is an old song from when I was in middle school. I used to play piano as a kid and then I tinkered off of it and started playing saxophone and bass and guitar and Puzzle Pieces was what I always did on piano and it was like, oh shit, let’s make this a song.

A/J: Yeah, and there’s a few things on the record that are old like that. (Sharp hands him the bottle of Jim Beam) Thank you, sir. (He takes a swig and passes it back) But yeah, it’s fun right now we have about a week’s worth of free time, play time for us, before we go back on tour and it’s pretty much time to play out new ideas.

Now for the question on every girl’s mind: Do you have girlfriends or are you dabbling in the groupie love?

(They laugh)

ASharp: Saint Motel is single. The entire band is single.

A/J: You can ‘friend’ us. (We all laugh) I think this is the first tour we’ve all been single on. We’re in a relationship with each other.

ASharp: Kind of the way I’ve been seeing it recently is I kind of already have three other girlfriends that I have to deal with and I don’t need another thing that’s going to stress me the hell out. I need to focus on…

A/J: What about love, Aaron? What about love?

That’s why I asked about the groupie love…

A/J: We don’t really have groupies, we have lovely people that are interesting and that we have conversations with.

Mm hmm…

CDs, MP3s or vinyl? What’s your medium of choice?

A/J: Cassettes, yo!

ASharp: Floppy disks, old floppy disks.

A/J: I think all forms of music get the point across but nothing compares to live. That’s the trick behind Saint Motel. We need to figure out how to put the live experience on record and it’s really hard to do that. That’s a constant struggle for us to keep recording new tunes and get the sound we want. It’s daunting sometimes, but fun all the time.

What was your favorite band in high school?

A/J: I don’t know, I went through a lot of phases. I was really into Ween. A lot of my friends were really into Fish but I was still in my punk phase. I listened to a lot of my parents’ records – Jim Carroll Band and Blondie, everything that I love today.

What do you expect from your current tour?

A/J: Ideally, we’ll be playing shows that are really fun and therapeutic and finding some good music out there and meeting a lot of interesting people and going to a lot of interesting places we’ve never been to before.

What’s next for Saint Motel?

A/J: More touring, abroad. Hopefully we’ll go to Canada again soon. A subsequent album that will be dropping at some point. New music, new videos, I don’t know… there’s always something new for Saint Motel.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

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