Tier 3

music / / poetry / / philosophy / / -ology by Nick Courtright

Archive for Interviews

Band Interview: Caribou

Caribou is the brainchild of Dan Snaith, a man who grew up in Ontario and got his PhD in mathematics in England (check out a PDF of his impressive and practically unpronounceable thesis here), all the while developing his own brand of retro-influenced electronic pop. His mode the last few years has turned more and more towards what the layman would call “songs,” and the change has resulted in some of the best music of the last half-decade. In an effort to further understand how a man gets his PhD and then tours the world supporting electronic pop music, we had ourselves a little chat with Dan, who proved to be just as smart as he sounds.

One thing I absolutely had to know about regards your PhD—I saw that you specialized in Algebraic number theory, and I found your thesis online, and…Overconvergent Siegler modular symbols? Sounds pretty intense. I was wondering if you could tell me about that?

Well, I can, but it’s not something I can explain, really. It’s not something that’s applied—which is kind of why I like it—it’s completely abstract. It’s not applicable to anything in the real world. None of those words make any sense because, without, you know, taking a course and learning a few definitions and thinking about math and learning more about it—it’s real cumulative and it’s something that’s impossible to explain in any two sentences that make sense.

Yeah, I was looking through your thesis desperately seeking even two sentences that a non-mathematician could say aloud.

It’s like it’s this whole separate world that’s fully inaccessible. And I think somehow that that’s what I like about it.

Something that’s purely theoretical?

Exactly. In some ways it’s really self-indulgent. It’s just for the fun of doing it and for the challenge of working on it.

But I think it’s good that people still do things not just because it’ll get them a job, but they do these things because they enjoy them.

You’ve said in the past that your music is not mathematics, but aesthetics. But even with that in mind, how do you think your mathematical background has influenced your music?

I don’t think it influences my music directly, but the things I like about mathematics and music are the same things. They’re both kind of creative and they’re both kind of individual pursuits. But although I enjoy the same things about both of them, I don’t think there’s any way in which the mathematics affects the music. As far I can see anyway.

If math and music are two separate worlds wholly, how do you think you would describe your aesthetic taste?

It’s really hard to say. I guess I would say that I have a tendency to like things that are kind of layered or more messy sounding or maximal sounding rather than spare minimal music, music that’s more based on space. I tend to like music that’s full of lots of things going on that create a big world of sound or whatever—lots of different surprises and interesting sounds interacting that are based on simple elements. But yeah, it’s hard to say. And even that stuff’s not entirely true.

I think there are so many things to like about music and so many different reasons to get excited about making music, and that’s the reason I’ll never get bored doing this. Each time I can think about something different when I’m making the record or when I hear new music, and it can surprise me. It never gets boring because there are so many different elements that are exciting.

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Band Interview: Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent

This interview originally appeared on the Austinist on March 11, 2008.

Phosphorescent, the woodsy and brutally honest project of Brooklyn-by-way-of-Athens-and-Alabama musician Matthew Houck, used the strength of last year’s Pride to firmly establish itself as an act to be reckoned with. Combining haunting natural effects and skillful understatement, the album presents an intentionally rough-around-the-edges sound that has drawn complimentary comparisons to everyone from Dylan to Oldham. In advance of Phosphorescent’s three SXSW shows, including the Austinist/Gothamist get together on Wednesday, Matthew Houck spoke to us while snowed-in in New York.

So people listen to your music, and they get this idea that you’re some somber mystic, wandering through the forest in a pit of despair.

(laughs) Yeah, I see that.

How does that image compare to who you actually are as a person?

Well, I think music is one thing and life is another. To a certain degree I don’t really care all that much about what picture people might have of me as a person based on my music. They’d have to be kind of idiots to think that, really. No one really thinks you’re a certain way because of a song you sing, but then I might be way wrong about that. Maybe they do think that, and if they do there’s really, you know, I can’t spend too much time worrying about that.

You don’t really see your music as being necessarily your “heart,” but rather a separate product?

It’s not really separate, it’s just a specific part of it. It’s not a whole picture. It’s just a narrow little slice, of what you happened to write down that day, or you happened to sing. It’s not a full picture, and that’s fine. It’s not supposed to be a full picture. If every song you wrote was for the purpose of representing yourself as a complete human being, to the world, the song would be, I hope, more than three or four minutes long.

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Band Interview: Doug Martsch of Built to Spill

This interview appeared on the Austinist on February 29, 2008.

Alright, so Built to Spill is one of the greatest, most influential, and most acclaimed bands of the past fifteen years. There’s really no way around it. And for those of you who are a little late to the love-in, here’s a very small sample of some of the things that have been said about them:

“A band whose talent and proficiency at times seem[s] boundless.” –Pitchfork Media

“Flawless.” –Trigger Magazine

“In short, he’s a talent more people ought to know about.” –Rolling Stone, on Doug Martsch

“Better than getting laid, finding God and winning the lotto combined.” –San Francisco Weekly, just last week when discussing their live performance

So when a band like this comes to Stubb’s, as they do on March 2nd (along with famed Nirvana influences Meat Puppets, as well as Helvetia) you should pay attention. And that’s exactly what we did, to the point that we arranged a conversation with BTS frontman and fearless mastermind, Doug Martsch, a man whose honesty and candor proved as engaging as his music.

Back when Built to Spill first started coming out with albums, getting “big” in quotation marks, the music industry was a lot different, built around radio conglomerates, big time record labels, and word of mouth, but now everything’s downloading and blogging and MySpace. As someone who’s seen both sides of the shift, what do you think of the way the music industry is now compared to how it used to be?

I’ve never paid too much attention to it, but I think it’s cool that people can share music. But to me, these record companies? I don’t feel bad for them at all. They argue that the artists are going to suffer and stuff but I think they’re full of shit. I think they’re just worried about themselves. I don’t think they care about the artists. And the artists will do fine, there are ways to sell your music, and big deal if you don’t sell your music? Who cares if the artists don’t have mansions and shit, you know? Why shouldn’t the artists just make music in their free time and just have regular jobs like anyone else? If you wanna make music you can go tour—there’s no way that they can get into your show for free. These record companies just dominated for so long they’re just scrambling, and I don’t feel bad for them at all.

It was the establishment and now they realize they’re not necessary anymore, so they’re trying to stop it at all costs.

Yeah, and they abused their position. They totally milked people, they milked the public. They charged people way more than they ever needed to for records. You can’t feel bad for them.

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Band Interview: Yoni Wolf of WHY?

This interviewed originally appeared on the Austinist on March 7, 2008.

Lurking in the near, near future is the album Alopecia, the strange, provocative, and incredibly engaging new album from Why?, a Bay Area band that seems to be ticketed for a whole new bunch of notoriety, right quick. While Why? in the past has often incited listeners to, well, invoke the name of the band–mostly because of scattershot verbosity and music that seemed more pieced-together than refined–they’ve pulled all their unbridled talent together into a cohesive and coherent, not to mention very good, whole. And, seeming as they’re going to be tromping all about Austin’s stomping grounds next week for SXSW, we sent out some questions to lead figure and wordsmith Yoni Wolf. You know, just to see what he’s all about.

Alopecia! Your most accessible and genre-confounding record yet, it seems like Why? is poised for a much wider audience. What, to you, makes this album different or more broadly accessible than your earlier work?

Well, I think we got our shit together a bit more this time in most every aspect of process: songwriting, arrangements, pre production, recording, mixing, mastering–the whole shebang. I think we were just somewhat more prepared every step of the way because we’ve been through it all a couple of times now.

You grew up in Cincinnati, but didn’t really find your crowd musically until you moved to San Francisco. Looking back as an adult, what about your Cincinnati experience made you the musician you are today?

I think everything I am today is based on my upbringing somehow, be it Cincinnati, Messianic Judaism, my high school friends, my siblings, my parents…

Okay, here’s academic question #1. In “Song of the Sad Assassin,” you start off by saying “we lifted the body from the water like a gown,” which is a really kick-ass metaphor. How do metaphor and image work for you in your music?

I use metaphors and images like they are gonna go out of style any minute: with frequency and in great abundance. I can’t get enough. Metaphors and images are really great tools.

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Exclusive Interview: Battles

So there’s this band. They’re called Battles, and they’re getting pretty damn big pretty damn fast. The reason for this burgeoning bigness is at least three-fold: their critically-adored debut album Mirrored, the YouTube sensation known as the “Atlas” video (watch it after the jump), and, not least of all, their ferociously energetic live show. While there’s no doubting that their music can be a bit challenging, and isn’t for the faint of heart, this is one of those bands you just know is going to get huge.

At Battles’ sonic center is John Stanier, a former member of Helmet who could be seen destroying the drums at Fun Fun Fun Fest with an impressive combination of machine-like precision and animalistic stamina. We got a chance to talk to John about the (undesirable) genre ascribed to Battles, the band’s investment that’s really starting to pay off, the future, and the most difficult question to answer during an interview.

So you just finished talking to some Australians?

I just did two really lame interviews, super horrible interviews, like “Are you happy that you’re being well-received?” Of course I’m fucking happy.

Like, do you know how to play the drums.

Yeah, you know.

I’d read around and I’ve heard some rumors that you’re getting kind of sick of this classification, so I just wanted to hear your—

Math rock?

Yeah, math rock.

The M-word. Yeah, we never liked that. That was lame since day one.

Who came up with that shit anyway?

To be honest, I think it was the fucking English. I think the fucking English press did it. It’s always their fault, one way or another, but I think they—because to me, it’s such a nineties word. Like that’s a really old word, isn’t it? Seems I’ve been hearing math rock in indie circles since the early to mid nineties.

If you had to describe your music, what term do you think you would use?

Big time party music. Anything but math rock.

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Exclusive Interview: The Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces have an unmistakable sound and an unmistakable presence. Between mastermind Matthew Friedberger’s pounding around on three different keyboards, to sister Eleanor’s ultra-intense vocals, The Fiery Furnaces are a band who’s crafted quite a unique little niche in the psyche of music lovers all round that big ol’ world. With their two-night to-do at Emo’s coming less than a month after the release of the acclaimed and surprisingly accessible Widow City, Austinist pulled up a phone to talk to Matthew as he drove across West Texas, his UT graduate(!) sister riding alongside.A while back in an interview you described yourself as an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese band—I really thought that was great.

Yeah, we tried to sound like an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese version of The Who.

Do you think that description still fits?

Well, we don’t sound like that so much on this record. Now we try to sound like, let me see, what do we try to sound like? We try to sound like somebody trying to listen to Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney records through a Magic Eight Ball or Parker Brothers Ouija Board game.

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