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Aug 23 2006

Interview With Silversun Pickups


Last week your truly had the opportunity to chat with Joe Lester (that's him on the right with the glasses) of the Silversun Pickups about their recent D.C. show, their future touring plans and those pesky Smashing Pumpkins comparisons.

So how is the tour going?

It's been really good. It's kinda crazy because it's not like a regular tour. It's like, fly to the East Coast, drive around to a bunch of places, head back to New York , fly to Chicago, drive around a bunch in the Midwest...It's not linear at all. It's like hopping to and fro and we have all this publicity stuff during the day time, it's kinda starting to wear on us a little bit. Well, not wear on us, but it's catching up to us.

Well, it's kind of a new experience for you guys, right?

Yeah. We've never done anything like it.

Have you toured the East Coast before?

Yeah. We did a three and a half week tour with Earlimart two years ago. The tour actually started, for us anyway, in Boston and went all the way down the East Coast and all the way across the South and then back to L.A. But that's the only time. And we've been to CMJ a couple times and that kind of stuff, but no real proper touring until this time.

And now you have all these press commitments eating up your downtime...

We've done touring where were used to being in the van for long drives and things like that, but when we have to be somewhere at 1 p.m. for an interview as opposed to 7 p.m. for soundcheck, that starts to catch up with you a little bit.

Is it just the band in the van? Do you have a soundman or a roadie?

Our manager has been with us for bits and pieces of the tour and we had a defacto tour manager on the Midwest leg of the tour because renting his tour van with him driving it was cheaper than renting from a place like Avis. We've never had that before, so that was pretty cool.

So where are you located?

I'm in Washington D.C. I saw you guys play the Black Cat last week.

Oh nice.

That was a great gig. I was really blown away. I was telling everyone how impressed I was with the show. I loved that your amps were as big as the stage was.

[Laughs] That show was kind of funny because we got there and the opening band was soundchecking and they told us "We usually only soundcheck the openers here," and we were like [puzzled] "Ooohkay." Because that's kind of backwards, but were just like "Whatever, that's fine." We've played so many little clubs, especially in L.A., where all you can hope for is that you're loud enough and that's it. So we're used to that.

That has to be tough for you since you do the keyboards and effects.

I've managed to figure it out. I just keep turning up until I can hear myself a little over Brian's guitars and that's usually a pretty decent indicator that I'm sort of where I need to be. But not always. We had fun at that show. All these shows have been crazy because we didn't really know what to expect because it's the first or second time we've been through these towns, so we're like "where the fuck did all these people come from?"

Thats easy, they all listen to KEXP. They really took a liking to you guys.

They've been super great.

I would imagine that's how most of the people heard about you guys. They played "Kissing Families" like crazy.

They've played the shit out of the E.P. and whenever they ask us to do anything, like "Hey, we're having a party," and we're like "We'll be there," because they've been so great to us.

That's how I found out about the band. They put "Kissing Families" as the first track on one of their Music That Matters podcasts.

We didn't realize how much reach they had. We get crazy emails from all over the place from people hearing us on KEXP, like from South America.

It's crazy how internet radio has changed everything, especially since real radio sucks so much right now. It's driving people all online. People can sit in their cube all day and just listen to WOXY or KEXP or something like that because they know that's how they'll find the good music.

Absolutely. It's a great equalizing force. Now good bands who aren't able to get on some major label and get heard, they're saying "Fuck it, we can make a CD in our hometown and if one of the internet stations hears it and likes it, we can still have people hear out music." And that's pretty amazing.

And then you do things like visit the WOXY studio and perform and they make it available for streaming and downloading. It's just more material for your fans to hear.

It just feels nice to do stuff like that. Like going to WOXY and seeing that they're people who really love music as much as you do and they honestly are there just because they want to have a radio station that plays the music that they want to hear.

What size venues are you playing on this tour? All they all tiny rooms?

Yeah, mostly rooms that hold between 150 and 250 people. We played at Schubas in Chicago and they said it held like 200. So it's all smallish rooms. I'd say the Mercury Lounge in New York was the biggest place we played. We're just surprised when there's more than 20 people there.

Obviously you guys are going to be playing bigger venues pretty soon. Have you thought about that at all?

Not really. You hope that some day you'll be able to do that but this next tour we're on with Viva Voce is all places about the same size as what we're playing on this tour. We don't want to get too big for our britches. We've played some bigger places on tours when we've supported other people, like The Wiltern in L.A., and you just don't realize how great stage sound can be until you do that.

That's what I kept thinking during the D.C. show. I can't wait to hear you guys with a big sound system behind you.

That's something to look forward to. We may have a sound guy with us on the next tour. We've talked to Viva Voce about maybe splitting one for the whole tour. I've just started looking at where we're playing on the next tour. Dates have sort of been filtering in to us.

Bloggers love you, but the one criticism I generally read in regards to your band is the dreaded "90's influence." How do you feel about that?

It's funny. In one way it's weird because everyone wants to give us a tag like "New New Wave" or something like that. A 90's revival sounds sort of weird, because the 90's weren't that long ago, but at the same time the bands we keep get compared to, at least they were good 90's bands. The first three Smashing Pumpkins records were great. I'll take My Bloody Valentine comparisons all day long. It's better than Toad the Wet Sprocket or something like that.

The first time I heard Carnavas, it reminded me of Gish, which is one of my favorite records.

I think that's because it has alot of big fuzzy guitars on it and I guess when you think about it, there aren't a whole lot of bands that are doing that right now. It's more that jangley, dancey, Strokes-y guitar, so maybe that makes it more of an easy comparison. It's just what happened when we started playing together, there was definitely no thought that we were going to make "the new Gish," you know? Honestly I haven't heard Gish in probably 10 years. It's just one of those things. Everyone needs something to grab on to, and that seems to be our thing. It's an easy comparison to make for a lot of people. I don't really think of it as slanderous or anything. It's bound to happen.

The band has been together for a while now, like five years, and you're just now starting to take off. Do you feel like this attention is a long time coming or is it more of a natural progression?

None of us have really thought about it that way. We'd done some demos with some friends of ours in 2001 or 2002 that was every song or song idea that we had, and we didn't really feel like any of them were done. So we just kept playing and figuring out what we wanted to do and what we wanted to sound like and eventually a few different labels approached us about putting something out. So we were like "Oh yeah, we better do that." I think we're at a point now where we can out forward a pretty good representation of what we are. We were just playing so much that we never really though "Oh fuck, we have to get a record out." We were playing alot and it was fun and it was what we like to do. So when it was presented to us, we decided that we should probably record something and put some shit out for real.

What's it like being an up and coming indie band in L.A.? In New York the blogs are hyping new local bands every week, whereas L.A. doesn't have as big a blog community or online presence. Did it help to be left alone for so long and be given time to grow?

I think so. We've noticed that alot of the blogs in New York, and not in a detrimental way, but it reminds me of the press in England, where they find a new band to champion pretty often. I don't want to call them fickle, they're not like the NME,they're just horrible. But there seems to be alot more of the championing of those kind of bands whereas in L.A. maybe since it has the reputation of being the place where shitty bands go to make it big, maybe people don't pay attention to bands from L.A. as much. And in a way, that's kind of nice, not having someone constantly looking over your shoulder.

And that gives you time to develop before you have hundreds of people coming to see you play.

I think it's much nicer that way. If people want to talk about us, great. We're not going to collapse in front of them. We've been doing this long enough that we know how to play shows.

Earlier this year some friends and I went to see an unnamed, over-hyped band from Brooklyn in concert and they were horrible. It was one of the worst shows I've seen in a while. They could barely play their instruments.

It's funny because I heard a few of the songs from their record and I really liked them but then we saw them on Conan last night and I don't know if I really get it. They were all just standing there and I...I just don't know.

Yeah, so my friend wrote a spot on review calling them out on this bad show and some people commented that we should take it easy on them because they'd only played x number of shows up to that point. But that didn't stop them from going out on tour and charging people $15 or $20 to see them play.

There shouldn't be apologists for that. With live shows, you're selling a commodity of sorts. You're presenting yourself as someone that's going to entertain people for an hour or whatever. And if you're going to charge people $20, tell me you've played more than six shows together. I don't want to slag off on other bands, but that is kind of weird. There's been a couple of instances that we've come across that's kind of like that where we were wondering where all the press was coming from. It's much more interesting to me when you go see a band that you've never heard of. Where we're from in L.A., you go to venues just like people in other parts of the country go to bars. Cover charges are like $5 and you just go see bands. Sometimes you want to go see them because you've heard of them and sometimes you just go with a bunch of friends. We'll just go get a drink and see if anyone good is playing. Those nights are the most fun, when you see something that makes you say "Holy fuck, where did these guys come from? They're amazing."

What's the scene in L.A. is like?

It's weird. And I mean that in a good way. The places that I end up going to most of the time, It's all over the map. Like this band Darker My Love that are this crazy, super freaky, fuzzed out, awesome droney space rock and The Movies, who have this awesome 80's Talking Heads kind of vibe. And here I am using the same comparisons that we were talking about earlier, but...[laughs] There are alot of really great bands. Like the Cold War Kids, they're great. We tried to get our label to sign them and now like every major in the world is courting them. We toured with them a bit and they're awesome. There is a band whose live show is fantastic. They're really fun. There's always good stuff in L.A. if you know where to look. We get slagged of alot by people saying there's no scene here, but they just don't know where to look.

As mentioned earlier, the Silversun Pickups have a few West Coast dates left on their current tour before a short break and their tour with Viva Voce at the end of September. You can visit their media section or their MySpace page for MP3's, audio streams and videos.

Other interview by information leafblower:
Aberdeen City
John Vanderslice
We Are Scientists
Robbers On High Street
Mike Doughty
Record Producer Chris Shaw
Jeff Lin from Harvey Danger, Part One and Part Two
Sea Ray

Posted by Kyle in Misc. Music | Permalink


Leaf, you magnificent bastard! Great interview with the best new(ish) band that I've heard in awhile. That CHYSY diss was just about as thinly veiled as Nicole Richie after a bout of food poisoning.


Posted by: Uncle Grambo at August 23, 2006 1:25 PM

their episode of the interface goes live on the 1st :) /shameless plug

Posted by: redboy at August 23, 2006 4:03 PM

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