photos / Jason Quigley
story / Magnus Wiberg
We sat down for a chat with the Portland rockers about swapping instruments with your bandmates, what they don’t teach at music school and some rock’n’roll moments on the road.
Check out their sophomore album, Wicked Radio, out in September.
Tell us about your new album how it came about and your main influences?
We started working on these songs in the Spring of 2015, about 3 or 4 months after our last album, Uninitiated was released. Anthony had a small batch of songs that we knew he was working on but none of us had heard them. There was a mild element of secrecy for a while and we were all pressing him to show us what he had. If I remember correctly, Wicked Radio and Keep Me Out Of It were the first two songs we all heard. We loved them and it really kickstarted the feeling that we had another record on our hands. Later on we got a bit more collaborative once other songs started to come into play. Some arrangements were worked out before lyrics had been written and others came in as fully fledged songs. A few of the songs date back at least three or more years and were enhanced by the collaborative process. As far as influences, I’d say we’re pretty enthralled with all of the great rock songwriters of the last 50 years. The Beatles and The Who are probably the two biggest classic influences. Our process tends to blend classic elements with a delivery method that more closely resembles 90’s Alternative bands like Guided by Voices, Sonic Youth, and The Posies.
This is your second album, how does it differ from the first album?
After we released Uninitiated in late 2015 we were pretty certain that we didn’t want to make the same kind of record again. With the last one we were exploring our ability to be a crazy high energy rock band with lots of riffs, solos, and flashy drum parts. After that experiment, we decided that we would like to push the songwriting and vocal performances to the fore, while still acknowledging that we can be a band that does demonstrate instrumental prowess. I think the blend between those two ends of the spectrum is what sets Wicked Radio apart from our previous albums.
How do you guys work creatively together, do you jam out the songs in collaboration, or do some come up with a song that is finished from start to end?
Most of the songs that end up on records of ours tend to be at least 50% finished by the time they reach the rehearsal room. Anthony is the lead songwriter and has a lot of ideas floating around and is pretty good at fleshing them out himself before they get brought to the committee. That being said, this record was more collaborative than any previous release and features songs from all four members.
How do you prepare for a gig?
Practice practice practice until we know the tunes. After that we’ll have some tune up rehearsals before gigs. We’re pretty comfortable with the material and can be loose with intros and solo sections when we want to be.
Once we know the songs it’s really more about vibe and energy.
Do you prefer to create music/record or to play live?
We’ve really enjoyed both. I think we’re really good at the tracking process because we like to record life, which makes for some really exciting basic tracks. You can also analyze your performances afterward which is not the case with live performance. There’s something special about the “in-the-moment” aspect of live playing that I think we’re really trying to get in tune with these days. We really want to play live as much as possible these days. Especially since we’ve got a record coming out. Time to play for the people!
You guys are based in Portland. Obviously, there was a huge scene in Seattle for alternative rock in the 90s. Are there any similarities between the Portland Alt Rock scene and the 90’s Seattle scene?
I think both scenes have been historically quite diverse. The PNW has always had a habit of cultural exchange with bands moving from city to city and I think now that happens more than ever. Everyone is just trying to get their music heard and be a part of something bigger. The Pacific Northwest is a great place to make it happen and always has been.
Some or all of you have a formal music training. How do you think your approach to playing and creating differs from bands without an education in music?
Sometimes I wish we didn’t go to school haha! But in all seriousness, there is an understanding of the fundamentals that a music education gives you that has been invaluable to the way we create and consume music. With that said, I think we’re trying to better ourselves in the areas that music school doesn’t cover. It seems pretty obvious that the things that all the great bands had weren’t things that you could learn in school. We’ve been to school, now it’s time to really play and express ourselves thru music.
Could you all change instruments with each other and make it work musically?
We’ve actually done this several times when lineups have shifted. I’ve (Cory) played every instrument in the band at least once and Anthony and I used to switch off guitar and bass when we were a trio. That can be fun but it’s better for us right now to have prescribed roles in the band. Sometimes limitations bring out your strengths.
What would you do if weren’t musicians?
Play dough testers? We might make a little more ‘dough’…$$
What contemporary music do you listen to?
Courtney Barnett has been a pretty big influence on us recently. We try to check out bands that are up and coming as much as possible just to see what the public is responding to. She’s shot straight to the top in a very short time with great songs and a really fun sense of imagination with her word play. I hear she’s got a project with Kurt Vile and is coming to our town soon…
What are you working on now musically, besides touring and promoting “Wicked Radio”.
We want to start writing more songs as soon as this record is out but currently, we’re just fine tuning the songs we have for upcoming shows. There have been talks of some side projects with friends but nothing major to report.
Share your worst live show/tour stories and your most rock’n’roll moment.
Well, there was that one time that our drummer stubbed his toe so badly we thought it was broken (and probably was)… We were on tour and two days later we had a gig in San Jose that was sort of irritating in the hours before the show. The door guy was a jerk, no place to load, and it was raining etc. We played the show with a reckless abandon that hadn’t been seen the whole time we’d been out on the road. Somehow we turned the gig that was destined to suck into the biggest crowd response of the whole tour! It was sloppy, but ultimately a lot of fun. Oh yeah, and then I (Cory) drunkenly smashed my thumb while loading gear and lost the nail. We still had one more night to play after that with a broken drummer toe and my freshly smashed finger. That’s Rock n’ Roll I guess…