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Q&A With Jack’s Mannequin

It can be hard enough for start-up bands to make it these days; between plummeting album sales, soaring touring costs and fickle fans there are plenty of landmines set to derail your efforts. And it’s harder still when your frontman is diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia months before your debut album is released. But Andrew McMahon and Jack’s Mannequin have persevered through the tough times, and plan to release their third studio album later this year. As the Orange County four-piece gets set to hit the road with Guster and Augustana, we caught up with McMahon to talk about the upcoming album People and Things, explore the deep connection he feels with his fans and clear up all the confusion about what’s going on with Something Corporate.

OS: This new album has been pushed back a few times…

AM: [Laughs] What else is new?

OS: True, not the first time we’ve had to wait a bit for a Jack’s Mannequin album. [Laughs] So why the delay—have there been problems with the recording process, or are you just trying to get everything exactly right?

AM: There are no problems, only solutions, right? No truthfully, I guess you could file it into the “perfectionist” category. And just timing—there’s sort of a lot of moving parts over here. I think a huge part of what I like to do—especially when finishing a record, which I can see how it can be frustrating to fans—is that I tend to like to sit back and listen a little bit and make sure it ages well. So yeah, that was part of it. We definitely finished most of the record in like, December or January, I want to say. Then we mixed it and got to the place where we knew we were happy with the recordings but we weren’t quite there with the mixes, so I went in and did another couple weeks. Just sort of did some touching up, and actually did a little work with Rob Cavalla, who now runs Warner Brothers and produces a lot of great records. He came in and we did one song with Rob at the end of the record and just finished mixing. So it is mastered and done now, I can officially say. It sounds awesome and I’m stoked, and hopefully we’ll have a release date for you guys in the next couple weeks. I’m definitely crossing my fingers.

OS: The two songs we’ve heard from the new record so far—“My Racing Thoughts” and “Hey Hey Hey We’re All Gonna Die”— both sound like they have a very classic rock, Springsteen/Billy Joel vibe. What kind of music were you listening to as you as you wrote People and Things?

AM: You kind of nailed some of it on the head there. I think for me—I don’t know if I’d say the biggest influence on the record—but certainly a turning point in the record for me was watching Paul Simon play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert last year. Or it could have been a couple years ago now, for all I know. But I made an early version of this record that was truthfully almost too modern, and too pop. These are both things that I love a lot, but I just sort of felt like I was in this moment where I’d been playing and touring for so many years, and I had gotten to a point where I play with a band who are excellent musicians, and we’re capable of doing so much more than what ends up coming across sometimes as kind of cheesy, overproduced pop. So for this record it was like, “Let’s strip it down further than we have before, and let’s make this super honest.” And I really did rely more heavily on my earlier influences, the stuff I was listening to when I was growing up… guys like Paul Simon, and Billy Joel, and Bruce Hornsby and Springsteen. I think that a lot of those earlier influences, for me, came bare in this record. Guys like Tom Petty and even guys like The Counting Crows. I think this record as a whole speaks more to where I came from and what I grew up listening to, maybe more so than what I listen to now I suppose.

OS: You’re a very autobiographical writer, and your struggle with leukemia was a pretty prevalent theme of The Glass Passenger. Did that affect this record as well?

AM: I think to say that it didn’t would be a lie. I think it affected me differently, and I think I certainly—where Passenger I think played out in a very toxic way in my life—I think this record was a lot more healing. And I think my overall demeanor and my head space when making this record was a lot more positive. Even the harder spots, it was really focused on “Okay, this is how we’re gonna do this in the healthiest way possible.” With Passenger, I was just in such a sort of fucked up head space as it related back to so many other things that had nothing to do with my music, that it affected everything. It affected the way I perceived what we were doing in the studio and in turn, the way that things came out. There were just land mines everywhere, you know? [Laughs] I think with this record, certainly I had a lot more space from the troubles of the past, and I think in that sense I was able to talk about things that were a little more relevant to me currently than the ideas of what I had gone through when I was sick. This was the first time that I really was able to talk about how some of what had gone on during Passenger ended up affecting my personal life and my relationship and my relationships with friends and people at home. I think in a lot of senses that’s what People and Things ends up being about. It’s kind of, “Okay, you got through this. That’s over. Now you’ve got to figure out who you are and where you are without all that stuff, without framing it against all those other dramas that are now done.” I think that’s where this record comes from.

OS: Because you chose to document your struggle with the disease on film and release a deeply personal record in The Glass Passenger, your fans seem to really feel a really intense, close connection with you. How does that affect your work with Jack’s Mannequin?

AM: I think it really gives me reason for pause when I’m making things, and especially when I’m finishing them. I certainly feel like I have a sense of obligation to these people who have made it possible to live my dream on a daily basis. It’s sort of a dangerous relationship, because I do feel intensely bonded to these people. I really do. It can be a scary thing, because as an artist the number one thing you have to operate with is abandon, to some extent. You have to be willing to throw everything out to do what’s right for that moment. Sometimes these thoughts of having to please people and keep people interested in what you’re doing and staying relevant—especially as you get older as an artist—they do creep in. So I try to strike a pretty delicate balance. I really try to focus all my attention with the fans when I’m at the shows and try to maintain that closeness when I’m at the gig, and then I do tend to come home and hole up, [Laughs] and not show my hand too early, just so I don’t let it affect what I create, I guess. That’s a big part of it.

OS: Jack’s Mannequin will be on tour with Guster later this summer… how do you feel about going on tour after recording so long? Do you prefer one over the other?

AM: Truthfully, that’s a question where on a different day I’d give you a different answer every time. I love both so much. Granted, being at home and being in the studio is easier in that you’re not traveling, you’re not away from the people you care about and all that. But being on the road… it’s invigorating. I do this because I have a nomad spirit and I like to be constantly moving. I think the highlight—or one of the things I always look forward to—is just that sense of constant motion. Every day is a new day. You wake up in a different city and you have an opportunity to do that day differently than the one before. So you didn’t have the best show the night before? You can erase that with the show that night. It’s a pretty good way to keep yourself focused on the moment at hand—to wake up in a different place every morning.

OS: And speaking of tours—you had the reunion tour with Something Corporate last year, and now there’s a lot of conflicting info out there regarding your plans to play together again or record some new material. What’s going on there?

AM: [Laughs] It’s funny, because I feel like I’m always really direct about where it is that I stand with Something Corporate. But because I like to leave the possibility open that we would do shows again at some point, I don’t say we’re broken up. And we never say we’re broken up because we’re all still really good friends, you know what I mean? I would feel weird saying we’re broken up and then get together and do a reunion tour and be like, “Now we’re back together.” I don’t think we’ll do records. I can say pretty confidently that I don’t think I’ll make another Something Corporate record…anytime soon, for sure, and who knows if ever. Something Corporate was a period of time in my life, and it was an amazing period of time, but it was still another period of time that’s not now. But I love those songs, and I love the fans that love those songs. I like to leave open the possibility that maybe in a few years we all do get a month off and we can go jump on the road together and do some shows. I love playing with those guys.

OS: You mentioned that Something Corporate was a certain period of time in your life, so what has it felt like to return to those songs from your past now that you’re in a different place?

AM: I mean, it’s certainly a different experience. You certainly have a different experience with the songs. But to that extent, the first Jack’s Mannequin record I wrote six-and-a-half years ago, you know? And I still play those songs. I think my goal every time I write a song is that it’s a song that when I’m done with it, in twenty years it’ll still mean something. I think that’s kind of the challenge of my every day—to write these songs that I’m gonna like enough in ten years when I’m playing on the road. Because I plan on being there. But actually when we went out I loved it. I had so much fun playing the old songs, and sort of feeling—in a weird way—that they still seemed relevant to me.

OS: With all the touring you’ve done between these bands, you must have some crazy tales from the road.

AM: Oh, God, yeah. [Laughs] Every day there’s another story. I could go into detail for hours, but you probably wouldn’t want the recorder going. There’s all sorts of stuff, for me to just pull one out even seems impossible. We’ve had days where we’ve almost been arrested, we’ve had to sneak out of snowstorms when we’re the only vehicle on the road, driving for sixteen hours at ten miles an hour…We’ve done all sorts of crazy shit. But that would take a lifetime, to tell you all that.

OS: One last thing: if you weren’t making a career out of your music, what do you think you’d be doing? Do you have some other hidden abilities that your fans don’t know about?

AM: You know, not really. I sort of found this thing I liked when I was about eight or nine years old, and I never stopped. It sort of didn’t help me develop other areas of interest that much. If I were a betting man, I truthfully could see myself in some sort of element of design or aesthetic, like architecture or some other sort of design in a larger scale. I love buildings and shapes and the way things get put together. I could see that being something I could really find interest in.

OS: Awesome. Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll have to go with plan B.

AM: Hopefully not! But you know whatever, maybe one of these days I’ll get old and go to school to become an architect. I doubt it, but we’ll see.

Check out Jack’s Mannequin on tour with Guster this summer, and don’t miss People and Things (when it finally does get released)!

Q&A With The Bouncing Souls

There are plenty of ways to commemorate a successful career: compilation albums, tribute concerts, limited-edition merch…and if you aren’t a musician, probably an office party with ice cream cake. But the Bouncing Souls are one-upping everyone this summer, playing through their entire collection of studio albums in a slew of four-night punk extravaganzas in cities around the world. We sat down with Souls frontman Greg Attonito to talk about why the time was right for this eight-city tour, the ability to stay relevant for more than twenty years and how even in the digital age, the Jersey-based four piece is still repping the DIY lifestyle.

OS: While a lot of bands who have been together as long as the Souls would choose to commemorate their career with a retrospective album, you guys decided to do a tour where you played through all of your albums. What was the inspiration behind that?

GA: We have been talking about playing all our records live for years so it was just a matter of time. This year at our Home for the Holidays shows in Asbury Park, we decided it was time. It was a lot of memory work re-learning a lot of songs we haven’t played in years, but it really paid off. It ended up going over really well for us and for the audience I think. So…Why not take it on the road! So that’s what we decided to do.

OS: You’re playing in just eight cities, but the tour is taking you all over the world. What determined the lucky eight tour destinations— were they places that held some significance to the band?

GA: We chose cities that we have had consistently good shows in over the years. We also wanted to work with promoters that were enthusiastic about the idea. So… those are the Lucky eight cities!

OS: The Souls and Chunksaah have always had a very DIY attitude—you had to be resourceful and creative about touring in the pre-Internet age. What does that DIY attitude translate to in 2011?

GA: In more difficult economic times I think we are forced to become more DIY in all parts of our lives from the food we eat to the music we make. Most of us are working more and earning less so we really have to be more practical than ever…but I think its good for all of us because most of us have been living pretty wasteful lifestyles. So I’m glad we as the BS family have learned how to be as DIY as we can. We need that knowledge and attitude now more than ever.

OS: How do you feel about the industry now? Did you prefer the days when you got the word out about shows through flyers in record store windows, or are you a fan of doing that online through social networking?

GA: It feels like industry is in labor right now about to give birth to a new way of doing things, so it’s a trying time. I don’t want to repeat the past but I do sometimes miss how simple things were when we first started. The challenge is to carry that spirit on! I’m not a fan of social networking but I do have a Facebook page and I appreciate how convenient it is to inform people about new music/live shows etc. I’m not into it enough to Twitter and I’m also not interested in posting my every life movement. Overall though the Internet is a great thing for all of us to communicate quickly and for free!

OS: What about your fan base? It seems like you’ve stayed relevant to fans who span several generations. Why do you think your music is as popular with forty-somethings as it is with pre-teens?

GA: It’s a cliche, but we “strike a chord” that goes beyond age I think. Our music is for the heart, and it helps us all remember we are not alone and we are here in life to enjoy ourselves and live for each other. Why wouldn’t people come back for that? That’s why all of us band members keep coming back.

OS: You guys don’t reinvent yourselves as often as some musicians do, but there have been some significant changes in The Souls’ music over your career. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve gone through over the last two decades?

GA: We have intentionally tinkered with our writing styles over the years by including producers in the process. It has been great in some ways and not so great in some ways but we have learned a lot throughout. All that we have learned we are putting into the new songs we have been writing. The main focus is to enjoy ourselves every step of the way.

Since you mentioned re-inventing ourselves it might be a good time to let you know about my new solo record! Its called Natural Disaster and will be coming out on Chunksaah records this summer. It was fun for me to get completely out of the Bouncing Souls writing dynamic, get a fresh perspective and see what happens. The record sounds great and I have a renewed attitude toward creating new BS music. It will be fun to see how people respond to it because its not like BS music.

OS: Now that you’ve been together more than twenty years, do you have any advice you wish you could give your teenage selves? Anything you wish you did differently?

GA: No. I wouldn’t do anything differently. I would probably tell me teenage self not to be so stressed out, be honest with yourself and take the time to learn how to be comfortable with just being myself…Thats probably it. But my teenage self probably wouldn’t have listened to my forty-year-old self! [Laughs]

Interested in catching the Souls as they play through all their albums this summer? Check out the band’s Web site for a list of the upcoming tour dates.

Q&A With Sum 41

Chances are, it’s been a few years since Sum 41 popped up on your radar. The four piece haven’t released a full-length since 2007, and few albums since 2001′s runaway success All Killer No Filler have managed to spawn catchy, radio-friendly rock hits like “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip.” Or maybe you have been hearing Sum 41 and you just didn’t realize it—the once bratty pop punks have consistently developed a heavier and more mature sound that doesn’t sound much like their earlier work.

Either way, the Canadian rockers are back in action this spring. They have a new album, Screaming Bloody Murder, and a new outlook on what’s important to them. OurStage caught up with bassist Jason “Cone” McCaslin to talk about the evolution of the band, the struggles of putting together the new album and how Sum 41 doesn’t count on radio for their success.

OS: First, to clear up a mystery: why does everyone call you “Cone”?

CM: Umm, I mean it’s just one of those nicknames that I got in high school when I was fifteen or sixteen, something like that. It’s actually kind of a really stupid story, but I used to eat a lot of ice cream all the time. And so Deryck and all those guys—before I was even in Sum 41— they just started calling me Cone. And so when I joined Sum 41, they just kept on calling me Cone. Just one of those stupid high school things, really.

OS: Screaming Bloody Murder was originally supposed to be released in 2009, and you were only planning to release a few songs on an EP. What happened to change that?

CM: I guess the original idea was, Deryck had four or five songs written so I’d fly down to LA and we’d just kind of do these four or five songs that he had. We started talking about, “You know, maybe we should release an EP.” And then once they were recorded—and we kind of almost did fully record the EP except for mixing, really—we just decided that we liked the songs a lot. We started thinking about how EPs don’t really… they kind of go unnoticed. It’s just kind of a waste of time to do as an EP. So we decided that we really liked the songs and we didn’t want the songs to go unnoticed, and Deryck was writing a lot. It was like, “You know what? Let’s just wait and as you write some songs we’ll all fly down to LA and just record them as you have them.” That’s basically it.

OS: You guys had to pay for some of the cost of this album out of pocket—how did it get to that point?

CM: I guess we went over budget. I’m not really sure. We recorded the album, and then once it was kind of done we listened to it and we all decided we didn’t feel like it was complete. There was something missing about it. And Deryck was still writing songs, he was kind of writing songs all through the process of recording. He had these two songs, which are “Time for You to Go” and “Maybe You Don’t Want to Know,” and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got these two new songs. I think this could be the piece of the album that we’re missing.” So we went to the label and said, “We’ve got two more songs we want to record.” And to them, we were kind of done. They gave us all the money to record, and to them the album was done. So when we said there was two more songs we wanted to record, they said, “No. We’re not gonna pay for this.” And we just liked the two songs a lot, and we wanted them on the album, so we just said, “Okay fuck it. We’ll just pay for it then.”

OS: Deryck has given a few interviews regarding the new album where he seems to have a very “fuck what everyone thinks” attitude about whether or not people like the material. Do you feel the same way?

CM: No, I don’t know if it’s… we’ve talked about this many times, and when we talk about it as a band it’s not like we’re all, “Fuck everyone, we hate everyone.” We’re not bitter and jaded, we just feel like we have a real connection with our fans and we have a really strong fan base. So basically by saying that, we’re not really saying “Fuck you, fuck you.” We’re just saying if radio doesn’t play it, or if video channels don’t pick up our video, then it’s not the end of the world to us. Where ten years ago it was like, we were always told we had to be on the radio. Now it’s like yeah, it would be cool. We’d love to be on the radio. If our song gets played on the radio, we’re happy. We’re excited. But if it doesn’t happen we’re not pissed off and bummed out. We’re just like, “Okay, well fuck it.” We have a strong fan base, and people are still coming to our shows. We have a lot of fans around the world, and we still tour around the world playing really good shows…

Continue reading ‘Q&A With Sum 41′

Q&A With Manchester Orchestra

The roaring vocals and ferocious riffs that populated Manchester Orchestra‘s sophomore album Mean Everything To Nothing earned the five piece both  fans and critical acclaim in 2009. Now, almost exactly two years later, the Atlanta-based rockers are back with Simple Math, an alternately hard-hitting and slow-burning record that’s as intricate and enjoyable as each of their previous releases. As anticipation of Simple Math continues to build, we sat down with bassist Jonathan Corley to talk about exploring new musical styles, the pressure of topping Mean Everything to Nothing and Kevin Devine‘s freestyle raps.

OS: You guys had a wildly successful album in 2009’s Mean Everything To Nothing—did you feel like that was looming over you as you worked on Simple Math?

JC: After METN’s success, there was certainly pressure to create something better. I don’t think it’s a bad thing though. That expectation didn’t seem as “looming” or daunting but, instead, forced innovation and required creativity. Simple Math moves in directions that we, as a band, have never been before. It reaches into a couple of sonic head spaces that I’m not sure our fans would expect from us. The success of previous albums challenges us to create something new.

OS: When we first heard about the upcoming album, it was tentatively titled “Let Go of Your Sorrowful Groaning” and you were demoing twenty-nine tracks. How many times did you completely revamp the record as you were working on it?

JC: “Let Go of Your Sorrowful Groaning” was certainly thrown around as a title during the early stages of the album. In fact, it is still a line in the second song of our record: “So let go of your sorrowful groaning/ Let go of the ones you admire/ It’s not like I was devious or boastful/ My arms waving, I’m saying goodbye“. The song “Simple Math” came together pretty immediately, and conceptually, it defines the record very well. We worked in different stages to demo most songs a couple of times before reworking them in studio. There was more time and effort poured into the creation of Simple Math than anything else we’ve released in the past.

OS: How does it feel that that the album is already being hailed as one of the most anticipated releases of 2011?

JC: I know that our entire band is more excited about this release than just about anything else. I’m honestly very proud of the album, and can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

OS: The title track is a far cry from what we heard on Like A Virgin Losing A Child. Have you consciously shifted your sound or has it been a natural progression?

JC: The shift occurred very naturally. Since METN, we have continued to grow as musicians and evolve as a band. Even the live shows indicate a change in the dynamic of some of our older songs.

OS: Your songs alternate between very gritty, hard-rock tracks and beautiful, orchestral arrangements. Is it tough to completely change gears like that while you’re recording?

JC: It wasn’t difficult to switch between recording strings and a “gritty” track. Each one of the songs on Simple Math feels fully realized. We bounced back and forth between Atlanta and Nashville to make the record but I’m not sure that it could have gone any better. The tracks with strings were incredibly fascinating to hear progress.

OS: Now that you’ve utilized an orchestra and a children’s choir, is there anything sonically that you haven’t tried yet and really want to work into your songs in the future?

JC: As we approach future albums, I can only hope that we’re doing something that hasn’t been heard before. It’s the only reason that I listen to new albums. The bands that I end up listening to the most have found a way to constantly surprise you with new material, something new.

OS: Do you have any plans to keep working on Bad Books—the collaboration with Kevin Devine?

JC: I can’t wait to work on a future Bad Books album. During the months that we put that together, I had more than a blast. Even the touring; we approached venues that I haven’t played in years and it truly made me appreciate a lot of things like many of the nights that moved forward with some sort of freestyle-rap. The recording process was pretty simple and seamless back at home. The next Bad Books release should be a whole lot of fun.

OS: What can you tell us about your co-headlining tour with Cage the Elephant? How did that come about?

JC: We’ve known the Cage guys for a couple of years and they’re great friends. I’m anticipating some really fun shows with them. We first met while touring with Silversun Pickups, and they have quickly become some of my favorite people from Nashville.

Don’t miss Manchester Orchestra on tour, and check out the video for “Simple Math” below!

Q&A With Dispatch

With a thirteen-date US tour and plans to release a new EP in a few months, everyone’s favorite funk-rock-folk-reggae-roots band Dispatch is gearing up for a busy summer “But wait,” you’re asking, “Didn’t Dispatch play their last show in 2004?” They did indeed, which is why we sat down with Dispatch frontman Chad Stokes to get the lowdown on the reunion, the dangers of calling a concert “The Last Show Ever” and the new middle class of musicians.

OS: So why did you guys decide to get together and play some shows this summer?

CS: I think Pete and I were hanging out. I see those guys every now and then, and we hang out, and it’s always good. I guess enough time had gone by where we just felt like playing again. I guess I personally felt like we got State Radio to a really good place, where it was kind of off and running and out from underneath the shadow of Dispatch. I just felt like I could be in two different bands, and try and make it work. I think it was mostly timing, just time passing and feeling like it would be fun to get together again.

OS: Is that something that’s been difficult—balancing time between State Radio and Dispatch and your other projects?

CS: Yeah, it’s tricky because then you feel like you’re not giving your all to each one. And also, you’re trying to squeeze a semblance of regular life into there, so it is tricky. But with Calling All Crows, the foundation I started, I got a lot of help with that from the co-directors and interns. So that runs really well. We just have a good team, you know, with State Radio and Dispatch, where people really are good at what they do. So it makes it easier so I don’t have to have hours of phone calls every day. There are some things that should go on without me.

OS: You posted a YouTube video suggesting you’ve been trapped underground for the last seven years, but can you give us a little info about what you have really been up to for that time?
CS: [Laughs] I’ve just been doing State Radio. Just touring for eight months out of the year, and recording. It’s been pretty full-on. And Calling All Crows is our women’s rights organization, and we started that two years ago, or almost three years ago, so that takes a lot of time. I’ve been doing “How’s Your News,” which is a movie and a TV show and a band about and involving people with disabilities. So that takes a bunch of time. And then just… a couple of trips here and there. I went out and jumped some freight trains with my brothers with a few months. But a lot of it’s with State Radio. We’ve toured all over and it’s been really fun. Trying to incorporate Calling all Crows, we’re doing service projects before shows and stuff. So it’s pretty busy when we’re out on the road.

OS: You’ve referenced all the charities you work with—how do you feel about music activism today? Do you think there are a good number of musicians promoting change in their music?

CS: I think there’s a bunch of them. They’re not the mainstream musicians, I think the industry is set up so that there’s a much bigger middle class of musicians out there than their used to be. I think there used to be just those who were on the big record labels and those who were trying to make it. Now there’s a good chunk of musicians that are in bands that are making a career out of it, but they’re not necessarily on the radio or on videos or on Conan or something. I think they’re out there, they’re just harder to get to know. But bands like RX Bandits and Michael Foxy and John Butler Trio, these are all bands that are doing pretty well for themselves and they’re also really socially conscious.

OS: So what are some ways you recommend for our readers to get involved in charity work?

CS: Two things. One: callingallcrows.org. We’re focusing on women’s shelters in Afghanistan that offer safe havens for women and also vocational training. And then we’re still really big supporters of Troy Anthony Davis, who is on death row in Georgia and has been there for twenty years. We believe that he never received a fair trial, and his appeal was denied by the United States court, so we’re nervous about his future. We’re trying to get information about him out to the people, so we can all be informed about this kind of thing. We’re against the death penalty overall… Troy is just a great guy, we’ve become friends over the years, and we first heard of him through Amnesty International. It’s just a really great example of why the death penalty shouldn’t exist, because the people making those decisions are all human, and we all make mistakes. It can never be foolproof.

OS: Are ticket proceeds from this tour going to charity as they have in the past?

CS: Yeah, with the Dispatch tour we’re doing a dollar ticket tax that’s going towards education, towards mentoring programs and different education reform programs. We feel like you start with the kids, and then the future can look a whole lot brighter.

OS: Awesome. And there’s also been a lot of speculation that a new album might accompany this tour, is that the case?

CS: I think we just put another video out there called “SquataFriend” and it’s on YouTube. That has some new music in there behind it, kind of background music, but you can hear the tunes. So yeah, we’re working on a bunch of new songs.

OS: So are you planning to release a new EP with the new material?

CS: I think so! We’ll try to get five tunes out before the summer, right before the tour, we might be able to finish them, and then have a more full-length album come out late next fall.

OS: You guys have played a “last show ever,” once or twice. Why do you think you keep getting pulled back in?

CS: I think the quote-unquote “Last Dispatch Show Ever”… [Laughs] I never really liked that name, because I was like, “Of course we’re gonna play again at some point.” But I think since then—so that was like, 2004—I think since then we always knew we’d play again, whether it be once every four or five years, or something like that. We’re pretty careful never to use the word last again, ever since that show in Boston.

OS: It’s funny because that seems to happen to a lot of artists today—they play a “last show” and then put out some new material.

CS: Yeah, I mean it does mean “The last one for a little while.” But it seems like a lot of bands get back together at some point, to some extent.

OS: One last thing: you’ve been called “the biggest band that no one’s ever heard of,” yet you sold out arenas on this tour. Do you still feel like you’re flying under the radar?

CS: Yeah, I still feel like that. We’ll do our tours and they’ll be pretty big, but still if you were to talk to someone from the major labels or MTV or radio, if they’re over the age of 40, no one knows about Dispatch, or seems to care, really. The only waves that we’ve made in the industry are because people are impressed by the numbers that come out to see us. We’re such a fan-driven band that if you’re part of the business, you don’t really know about us unless you’re impressed by numbers. So I still feel like we exist in this kind of other world where it’s the band and the people who listen to the band, and the quote-unquote industry just kind of shakes their heads or isn’t interested or doesn’t believe in it. I don’t know. [Laughs]

OS: I guess having a crazy fan base isn’t the worst thing in the world.

CS: It’s awesome, it’s so cool. I’m so surprised and thankful for the turnout. It’s really, really amazing.

Check out Dispatch’s Web site to see all the upcoming tour dates!

Q&A With Peter Bjorn And John

They’re the trio behind the insanely catchy whistle solo that infected everyone’s brain back in the summer of ’06, but Stockholm’s Peter Bjorn and John have a lot more to offer than  “Young Folks.” The Swedes just released their sixth studio album, Gimme Some, and are gearing up for a tour with one-woman psych-pop outfit Bachelorette at the end of the month. We caught up with vocalist/guitarist Peter Moren to talk about Gimme Some, the double meaning behind PB&J’s album art and his favorite up-and-coming Swedish musicians.

 

OS: So how do you guys feel now that you’ve released Gimme Some?

PM: Great. Better than ever.

OS: Do you feel like seasoned vets now that you’ve put out your sixth album?

PM: Yeah, we’re a bit more relaxed and a bit more mature and we know that we’re going to survive no matter what happens. It feels more fun than being, like, a cool new band.

OS: A lot of critics had mixed feelings towards 2009’s Living Thing, did that affect the way you crafted Gimme Some?

PM: No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a reaction to the album before—Living Thing—but not to the critics. You always want to do something different than the time before. We talked about, quite early on, that we wanted to do something that would be really fun to play live. Living Thing was kind of hard, we had to bring along a lot of synthesizers and, you know, practice a lot. [Laughs] We wanted to do something that was a bit more simple and that was based off the way we usually perform live, which is guitar, bass and drums with a bit more energy and punk to it. So that’s what we did. It is very fun to play live.

OS: This is the first time you brought in an outside producer. Why did you make that decision?

PM: Partly because we wanted to make this kind of record that I was talking about, and we felt that in order to be able to get the great live takes where we’re all playing in a room together, it’s nice to focus on playing and being the band and not being a producer at the same time. We wanted some outside ears and some fresh input. But it’s also, of course, that we’ve been a band for almost twelve years, and we felt that we could stand to have a fourth opinion for a short period, you know? Just bounce things off his head. Also, the thing is when you vote when there’s just three people there’s always two against one. So now it comes out two against two, or three against one. It’s another dynamic, and that’s pretty nice.

OS: Can you tell us about the album art?

PM: Actually, we did a photo session of the band for a magazine, and in the picture we all did thumbs up. We didn’t use that picture, but we liked the idea of the three thumbs up. So we talked to a graphic designer we knew, Jonas [Torvestig], and he came up with this deformed, three-thumbed hand. It’s just a great image because on one hand it’s colorful and positive and peppy, and on the other hand it’s cut off so it’s a bit morbid and scary. And I think that describes the music accurately. It’s positive pop music that’s energetic, but at the same time the lyrics are pretty dark and negative. It’s like a description of the album.

OS: You have to answer questions about Sweden all the time, so I apologize, but what are some cool Swedish bands that listeners should check out?

PM: Well, I actually just learned about a band yesterday that just released one song. It’s a brand new project, but I actually found out who they were. They’re not brand new people, but I’m not going to say how old they are. [Laughs] But it’s a very good song. They’re called the Serenades, very good song. I think they have a Web site, like, serenades.com. And there’s another new band I like a lot, which is called Into the Woods. And they haven’t put out anything yet, I think. Really new. New, new stuff.

OS: You guys have said before that you get asked about your homeland so often that you sort of feel like “music ambassadors for Sweden.” Do you like that, or do you get tired of being “that Swedish band”?

PM: I mean we are a Swedish band, so it would be hard to get rid of that. But I feel we’re part of a long and proud tradition. And also the not-so-well known indie scene in the nineties, which is kind of what made us start to play. Per [Sunding], the producer, he was in a band called Eggstone in the nineties before we started Peter Bjorn and John. There was a lot of bands at that time, too, that are not so well-known to the rest of the world. But it’s not a new thing with the Swedish, the indie thing. It’s just that after the Internet came it was easier to get out there. We always had some really good bands over time.

OS: The tour with Bachelorette starts at the end of the month, are you looking forward to that?

PM: Yeah, that’ s gonna be fun. I haven’t really, to be honest, I haven’t heard a lot from her. But I think it’s going to be good. I’m really looking forward to the shows, and playing the new album.

OS: Is there a different energy when you play shows in Sweden and Europe compared to those in North America?

PM: No, I mean we always essentially do the same thing. We play and jump around and sing and dance. [Laughs] I don’t know. Audiences might be different here and there, but American audiences are usually very, very good. So I’m not worried about that. Sometimes it might be different at different venues, actually. Even if you’re just playing the same town, if you’re playing a bigger room or a smaller room sometimes the audiences are different. I don’t know why, but I think it’s more about the venues than the city. If people like a venue, they’re more happy. I don’t know.

OS: We’ve noticed that you’re constantly updating your Web site with hilarious bits of your life—do you do that more for your fans or for your own amusement?

PM: I guess we maintain the blog and the Twitter because of fan interaction, but I definitely think that part of it is amusing ourselves. Most of the funny pictures, actually, that’s John. John is a really funny guy. I think he puts them up to amuse me and Bjorn, maybe. And the fans as well [Laughs] And the fans as well. It’s really good.

OS: After six albums, is there anything new you still want to explore in your music?

PM: There’s always new things that you want to try, and even when you sit down to do something it usually ends up being something else. You can’t really plan to much, but you can have an idea beforehand of what you want to explore. And it’s not so much about songwriting. The songs you can really mold in any kind of way. You can actually write the song first, and then you can decide afterwards how you’re going to perform it. Like now on the tour, we rearranged some of the Living Things songs, for example, and they really fit in with the new songs because we play them differently. What we have been talking about for the next album, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen, is a bit more funk and soul and blues. That’s the next thing we’ve been talking about.

Check out Gimme Some, available now, and don’t miss PB&J on tour!

Q&A With Yellowcard

Yellowcard surprised everyone in April of 2008, when vocalist Ryan Key announced that the band was planning an indefinite hiatus. Citing a need to face adulthood and figure out their personal lives, Key said that the band could be disbanded for up to ten years, and added that he didn’t know if they’d ever make another record.

Luckily, Yellowcard fans didn’t have to wait too long. The band is back in 2011 with a new album, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, as well as a slew of tour dates across the world. We caught up with violinist Sean Mackin to find out about the hiatus, the new album, and why Yellowcard has the greatest fans in the world.

OS: So how is everything going for Yellowcard post-hiatus? Have you been able to jump right back into a rhythm?

SM: It’s been amazing. It has been strangely like riding a bike. This chapter of Yellowcard is really exciting for us because we didn’t know when we’d be able to pick it back up, and everything has worked out amazing, from working with Neil Avron on the record that just came out (When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes) to all the shows in Japan. We’re in the United States now, but we did a quick world tour. We literally went around the planet, starting in Japan to the Phillipines and Moscow and Finland where we’d never been. And then we met up with All Time Low, who’s an absolute juggernaut right now, they’re amazing, and went all through the UK. And now we’re a weekend in the States, and it’s just so much fun. We’re hanging out with everyone every night. It’s just a really cool moment for Yellowcard.

OS: When the hiatus was announced, Ryan [Key, vocals] said that it could be for a year, 10 years or 6 months. How did you determine when the time was right to reunite?

SM: It wasn’t really a conscious effort. I think LP [drums] just reached out to Ryan [Key, vocals] and myself. Longineau gets a lot of credit for kind of being like, “Hey guys, want to do a new record?” And it kind of just evolved as we started peeling the layers off —what label, what time frame, what producer—it was almost like fate. It was just meant to be, because it came together so effortlessly. It was amazing. So we were like, “Okay, we have to look at a couple different things and make sure we can afford to do this.” Hopeless Records has been a big part of that, putting the album out. We had a great relationship with our previous label, but Hopeless has been a perfect partner. It feels like Yellowcard’s the only band on their label, and they’re helping us out. You caught me at a really positive moment in our life right now. We’re all smiles in the camp.

OS: This was the first album you released on Hopeless Records, how did it feel to return to an indie label after your years with Capitol?

SM: It’s been really easy. I think it’s also different, because with the music industry right now, there’s all these social outlets. There’s always the Internet and stuff, but it’s amazing how far-reaching Facebook and Twitter and all these media outlets are. We’re almost doing a lot of the marketing ourselves, and a lot of the things that the record label used to do. So you need less people. And a lot of people know about Yellowcard now thanks to our previous label, so we’re in a position we’ve never been in before. We wanted to go into the studio and make a great record and this is a great snapshot for us because it’s the best version of Yellowcard we’ve ever had. We’re really focused about having good songs and entertaining our fans and really, the moment of appreciation for it. And Hopeless understands that. They’re not in our way, they’re not stepping on our feet. We hear a lot of horror stories of how record labels and bands don’t get along. Throughout our career, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve never had that. A lot of credit goes to Hopeless right now for continuing that trend for us.

OS: Was your recording process any different after taking some time off?

SM: Well, yes and no. The time off was actually really similar to how we wrote One for the Kids and Ocean Avenue. It was so much pulled from as an influence and an inspiration, and I think you can hear that energy in the music. I’ve been referring to it as a rejuvenating effect. And it’s really awesome to have that. Everyone always says, “You have your whole life to write your first record, you only get six months to write your second.” So with When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes being released right now after a couple years off, we had another batch of life. We’ve always written with our hearts on our sleeves, so it’s really nice to have that again. And with the actual process, the only difference was we lived a little further and it was a little more condensed. Usually we take two months to write the record and work with Neil to do the songs, and usually we take another two months to record. And in this case, the exciting part was emailing the songs and trying to visit Ryan Mendez [guitar] in Phoenix and Ryan coming up to see me in Seattle. So that was really exciting, as a new style. But again, when we were in the band room, we had that riding a bicycle thing. So that was a really cool part of this process for us.

OS: We’re never sure how much we can trust what we read on the Internet, but some sites are reporting that your favorite song on When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes is “Be The Young.” Is that the case?

SM: Yeah, I have a couple different ones. I really like “Be The Young.” I feel like Ryan… it’s great to be in a band with such a great poet and narrator and frontman and singer. And I think musically I’ve mentioned “Keep Me Smiling.” The last two songs on the record are really close to me.

OS: So if those were your favorites, why did you guys go with “For You and Your Denial” as the first single?

SM: I mean, I was totally excited when we went with “For You and Your Denial.” It had a working title of “Violin Intro,” and in ten years that’s the most violin we have on any of our songs. So it’s really flattering that we went with that. And it just picked up traction. It was just supposed to be an online teaser, like a leaked song, and people really embraced it like a full-blown single. We don’t really have the coverage or anything like that. Even the video, our director was gonna do a video for “Hang it Up,” and he said, “Oh yeah, I’ll shoot some footage for ‘You and Your Denial’ and we’ll kind of put stuff together.” It was never supposed to be on TV, and that’s why you never see our faces at the peak of the comeback, or whatever. People really embraced it. It was a pretty unbelievable moment, to watch it pick up traction like that and go, “Oh my gosh, we have the best fans ever.”

OS: Did you ever think growing up as you played the violin that some day you’d play it in a rock band?

SM: No, not once. I never wanted to be in a band, either. We went to the art school in Jacksonville, Douglas Anderson, which was a great experience for me. I met wonderful artists and musicians, I just really liked playing violin as opposed to guitar. So the guys started a punk rock band, and we were all buddies. My Mom actually was like, “You’re gonna get in trouble. You’re hanging out with the wrong kids.” I was like, “Mom, I’m a good kid. I know what I’m doing.” It was a lot of fun, but never once did I think— you know, I thought I was going to be a music teacher or and engineer or something like that. I never thought I’d be in a band. It’s a nice evolution of life, where it takes you and where you end up. I’m very fortunate to be in Yellowcard.

OS: So you guys are touring with All Time Low through May, do you have any plans after that? Are you going to take some more time off?

SM: We actually get, I think it’s like 10, 12 days off, and then we’re booked this year all the way through Christmas. We love it here, but we kind of neglected the international fans and so we’re going to go back to Southeast Asia at some point, we’re going to go to South America, we have to go to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and I’d love to go to Japan and the UK one more time before the year’s over. And we’ll probably fit in some headlining in the US. So we have a very busy year, and we hope to have a very busy 2012. We’re just very lucky that we have the best fans.

Check out When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes here, and don’t miss Yellowcard on tour!

Q&A With Bonnaroo Co-Founder Jonathan Mayers

In the summer of 2002, 70,000 music lovers gathered in Manchester, Tennessee for the first annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. They watched as performances by Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and Trey Anastasio kicked off what would become one of the most expansive and successful yearly festivals around. And while it may have gone through some major changes since that first summer, at its core it’s still the same sunny, happy hippie-fest it’s always been. We’re sure you’re as excited about ‘roo 2011 as we are, so we sat down with  festival co-founder Jonathan Mayers to get the lowdown on  all things Bonnaroo—from the festival’s history to the struggles of keeping the lineup under wraps to what the future holds. (Spoiler alert: it involves roller skating.)

OS: Can you give us the condensed version of how Bonnaroo got started?

JM: Yeah, sure. My company, Superfly, we were based in New Orleans. We were doing events around special event time frames like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. We were doing that for a while, and then around 2001 there were a lot of changes in the music business. A lot of big, independent promoters were being consolidated—SFX, which today is LiveNation—so there was kind of a big shift in the concert business. We recognized that traditional concert promoting wasn’t, for us, the right business model. We were very much inspired by the big Phish events, as well as the New Orleans Jazz Fest. So we did a partnership with a guy named Coran Capshaw … a prominent artist manager who manages Dave Matthews Band and Phish and a handful of other artists, as well as a promoter based in Knoxville, Tennessee [at] EC Entertainment. We found a site in Manchester, Tenessee, which is 60 miles south of Nashville. And basically a lot of artists we were working with at the time were in the jam band scene, you know, the disciples of the Grateful Dead. In that whole scene there was a tradition that it was all about community—the tape trade, going on tour, artists selling direct tickets to their fans—and so we kind of brought all those artists together. In February of 2002, we announced the lineup, and we used no traditional advertising. Not a dollar spent on advertising. We didn’t use Ticketmaster, we used our email list that we had accumulated from doing our events in New Orleans as well as the artists that were on the show. We sent out one email blast and ended up selling 70,000 tickets in two weeks.

OS: Seriously?

JM: Yeah, yeah. So that was the first year, and it came out great. What’s unique about Bonnaroo is everything is done on site. We’re creating a virtual city. And since that first year, we’ve really expanded the programming. We’ve had everyone from Radiohead to Stevie Wonder to Bruce Springsteen to Metallica, Pearl Jam, Jay-Z, My Morning Jacket, Kings of Leon, et cetera et cetera. And we’re entering our tenth year this year.

OS: You mentioned that Bonnaroo started out as a jam fest, and now there are so many different types of artists. Was there a demand for a genre shift?

JM: Well, we’ve always set out to do a great music festival, not so much any specific genre. One of the reasons we do this is our love of many different types of music. And also our audience— most people don’t like just one type of music, you know? We’re constantly talking to the fans. “What do you want to see? Who do you want to see?” The biggest response that we get is, “I like everything.” I think that with the iPod and music being so available, it’s broken down all that segmentation. So for us, it was keep evolving, keep bringing new people into the Bonnaroo experience and keep it interesting. You can’t stay the same thing you are, you’ve gotta keep evolving and yet also pay attention to make sure that it’s still in step with the original ethos of why you started it.

OS: Has that been a challenge for you—to have the festival grow and yet preserve those original roots?

JM: Yes and no. I think it’s been something that we’ve been conscious of, but at the end of the day, I think we’ve taken a few programming chances and I think it’s worked for us. I think at the end of the day, it’s all just about presenting great artists. That’s at the heart of it. You’re never gonna please everyone. With Bonnaroo, there’s so many options out there that if you don’t like one particular artist, you go somewhere else. One of the great things about festivals in general is the sense of discovery. You may go because your favorite artists are playing, but here’s an opportunity to discover something.

OS: How do you keep the lineup under wraps for so long? Do people bribe you for the performers?

JM: I just have no friends, really, so I have no one to talk to. [Laughs] No, it’s hard, you know? First off, you want to tell people, because you’re excited about it. But we try to do our best with rumors that leak out there. We’re just happy that people care and want to find out. People definitely want to know. We just do our best to make it somewhat of a surprise.

OS: What’s the farm like the other 360 days of the year? Do you break everything down? We have this vision of it being like Disney World—going on even when no one is there.

JM: [Laughs] It’s actually really cool to be on the property when no one’s there. For me, it’s like going to camp. I live in New York City, so when I’m able to come down there it’s an amazing feeling. All this amazing, positive energy has been there. All these amazing musicians have played the property. And I still remember ten, eleven years ago now first rolling up on the property. So it’s magical, but it’s basically just pasture land during the rest of the year. We bought the property back in 2007, so during the year we do all kinds of different projects. We built the permanent main stage, all kinds of other capital improvements. So there’s a bunch of different work that goes on. We’ll be doing other things on the property besides Bonnaroo, but yeah, right now it’s not much. It’s really cool to go down there when there’s snow on the ground, and see the arch and all that. It’s cool.

OS: How about some tips for artists—how can they make sure their set at Bonnaroo will be a memorable one?

JM: What’s a good way to make your set memorable? I think do what you do. Just do what you do. I think also, take advantage of all the marketing opportunities that are there. Bonnaroo is almost like a press junket, there’s photo opportunities, opportunities to do more intimate performances. I always encourage artists to stay and hang out, because it’s kind of like summer camp for artists, too. Rarely do they get to see some of the other artists that they’re friends with or that they’re into. We’re also known for a lot of cool collaborations that happen. I’d just say get into the spirit of it and hang out and hopefully be there for the entire weekend.

OS: How do you keep Bonnaroo successful when it has to compete with all the other festivals around now?

JM: You know, I think just in general we focus on what we’re doing, and don’t worry about the competition and all this. I think for us, we want to keep putting on the best event we can put on, and that’s all we can focus on. We’re not the only [ones] that puts on a festival, but I think Bonnaroo is certainly different than most events. I think that the camping element is an immersive experience, and we’re doing kind of a different look. But there’s other great festivals as well. We just want to do our thing and focus on that. We’re not in any competition with anyone. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been successful since year one. For us, it’s just keep improving, whether it’s the experience, the programming, all the elements. Because that’s why we do it—to have fun and keep challenging ourselves and keep making improvements. That’s all you can do, right? I can’t worry about anyone else.

OS: Have you ever had any crazy ideas for festival attractions that you’ve just never been able to implement?

JM: Absolutely. I have crazy ideas every single day. I’ve been desperately trying to build a roller rink, but for whatever reason we haven’t done it yet. But I want to do a roller rink. How badass would that be? You roller skate, right?

OS: Oh, yeah.

JM: It’s like, who doesn’t roller skate?

OS: You need to make that happen.

JM: I know. Well, maybe if you kind of build a consensus I can help push it through. But yeah, I work on all kinds of cool, different projects. Some of it’s like, budget decisions, and real estate decisions, and how much space we have, but we’ve been able to do a lot of cool things. That’s what’s great. It’s like, each year you kind of do make something different. And someday there will be roller skating, I assure you.

In case you somehow missed it, check out the lineup for Bonnaroo 2011 here! OurStage will be down in Tennessee for the 10th anniversary of Bonnaroo, so stay tuned for coverage in June, and to tide yourself over, check out coverage from last year!

Q&A With Diddy Dirty Money

Rapper, actor, producer, writer, designer – Sean “Diddy” Combs is one of the busiest men in the music biz. And despite his already packed résumé, Combs shows no signs of slowing down. He recently teamed up with vocalists Dawn Richard and Kalenna Harper to form Diddy Dirty Money, a dance-infused hip hop trio who won fans over with their moving single “Coming Home.” OurStage got the lowdown on the new collaboration from singer Dawn Richard, who told us about the challenges of working with Diddy, the concept behind Last Train To Paris, and what sets Dirty Money’s soulful dance music apart.

 

OS: So how did Dirty Money come together?

DR: I had just came from Danity Kane, I was writing for Mya, Cassie and Day26 and sending records to Puff for his new project. He had asked me to come write on his new project he was starting. At the time he had no idea who was going to be in his group. I was writing and referencing records for him, and I think he just loved what Kalenna and I were writing and the hustle we had. I had that “hustle ‘til we win attitude” that Puff had. Four am one morning Puff called me and asked if I would be in his group. I was skeptical at first because of all the previous drama from my last group experience, but I knew this would be life changing for me—an opportunity to make great music and write an amazing story.

OS: Diddy has been involved in so many projects in the industry, what sets this group apart?

DR: The fact that Puff is in this group with two women. That alone sets this design apart from anything he has ever done.

OS: What are the challenges of being part of a band where one member is as well known as Sean Combs?

DR: The only challenge is people not being able to see there are three people in the group. Puff is such a huge entity they can’t see where we fit. But we aren’t the type to let that bother us. All we need is a mic and a stage and the rest is for the birds. People will see, one city and live show at a time.

OS: What does the band name mean? Some people have speculated that it’s about drug money.

DR: [Laughs] No, we just wanted a name that was as epic and different as “Vampire Weekend” or “Silversun Pickups.” Dirty Money was the perfect candidate.

OS: Did you write or co-write any of the songs on Last Train To Paris?

DR: Kalenna and I co-wrote on Last Train to Paris: “Loving you no More,” “Ass on the Floor,” “Hate you Now,” and more … That was one of the reasons I signed on to this project. It was the opportunity to use my pen on the project. Being the female perspective and voice of the ride.

OS: Can you describe the concept behind Last Train To Paris?

DR: The journey of finding love, losing love and getting it back again. Puff tells his story of love in the male perspective while me and Kalenna play the female conscience of Puff ‘s love interest. We are the right and left of her brain. I may be the part of the woman that wants love to work where K might be the woman scorned. It’s the emotional tug of war love takes you through.

OS: You collaborated with a ton of artists on the album – Justin Timberlake, Usher, Wiz Khalifa – how did you decide who you wanted to work with?

DR: We actually just played records for them. And they picked the records they wanted to be on. We were so blessed to have so many great people hit us up and say “yo can we get on” or “I can outdo the records you already got”. It made for amazing, organic features that added color to the album.

OS: What does Dirty Money bring to dance music that’s original and fresh?

DR: We bring soul, truth and rawness. We are the ones that will get you to dance a lil’ different than you are used to. That pelvic region will be the first to sway with our shit… [Laughs]

OS: What’s next for the group?

DR: The tour is at the end of March—The Coming Home Tour. I just released my mixtape AtellTaleheart … along with our V-Day mixtape Love Love vs. Hate Love. Basically taking over the world one day at a time.

Check out the video for Dirty Money’s smash single “Coming Home,” and don’t miss the trio on their upcoming tour!

Q&A With Augustana

California-based rockers Augustana caught lightning in a bottle back in 2005, when their first single “Boston” skyrocketed the young five piece to sudden success. But the track’s unexpected popularity meant that since then it’s been an uphill battle for the band; no song from their 2008 follow-up Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt could match its runaway success and the album faltered commercially as a result.

Augustana are hoping to change that in 2011. With a new album, a revamped sound, an instantly likeable first single and a co-headlining tour with Arizona pop-punks The Maine, the band is ready to claim a spot on your next romantic mixtape. We caught up with Augustana frontman Dan Layus to learn about the new album, their new sound and life after “Boston.”

OS: You guys got an interesting start thanks to the success of “Boston”—you didn’t have a huge fan base yet and all the sudden you had this insanely popular single. Was it weird to get thrust into the scene like that?

DL: That’s a great question. You know, not to sound arrogant, but we were so young. And I think a lot of younger musicians would identify with this—people that were younger and hadn’t had much prior experience and did well in their first ventures— it felt normal to me. It didn’t feel crazy, didn’t feel that exciting, you know what I mean? It was just normal. It was like, “Oh yeah, of course it’s going to do well.” And that’s a testament to our immaturity at the time. There’s a lot of people that would kill for that kind of experience and that kind of success. And me, now, I would kill for that. It’s tough because when you’re sort of just picked off the sidewalk of a suburban street and don’t have much life experience, all you know is, “I went to high school,  I had a good upbringing, I did a couple semesters of college, and started this band, and here we are!” You didn’t have to fight tooth and nail and work and work and work to get to the place that you are. That being said, we were incredibly fortunate. I look back now and go, “Wow, I’m a lucky motherfucker.” [Laughs] It sort of worked in reverse in the sense that now we work our ass off and we’ve really fought tooth-and-nail to get to this third record and to get to this place where we have an opportunity to put our music out and do this for a living. It’s a really phenomenal thing, ‘cause you look around and there’s so many people that want to be able to do something like this, something that they love, and make a living at it and enjoy it. And it doesn’t happen for them. You see it all the time. I’m a really, really fortunate young man. It’s nice to be able to look back and learn from your arrogance and appreciate where you are now. Not to say that we were assholes about it, but it felt like it was supposed to be that way, I guess.

OS: When “Boston” was featured on an episode of The Big Bang Theory, one of the characters jokes that it’s a great song “If you’re compiling a mix CD for a double suicide.” How did you feel about the track being featured in that way?

DL: Oh, that was awesome. I loved that. That was one of those weird moments when you sort of go, “Is this real? Is this really happening?” That’s a really surreal thing. Because it’s one thing to hear your song on, like, a WB show. It’s another thing to see something like that where somebody pulls the iPod out of their ears and they’re singing your song, and it’s a pop-culture type moment. It’s just really weird. It’s hard to wrap your head around that. It just doesn’t even feel real, to be honest. It felt kind of like a weird dream, or something. But that was really flattering, you know, that’s a really successful show. It was great.

OS: So what can you tell us about the new album, Augustana?

DL: Well whenever you make a new record, you always think it’s the best stuff you’ve ever done. You always think it’s way better; you always think it’s a huge step forward. I’m going to go ahead and say that that’s the case. In my opinion, I think it is a big step forward in a lot of ways. It feels really good to have new material to be able to bring out to the… whatever you want to call it. The forum of music listeners. The process of making the record was at times very frustrating, a very trying experience. But it was so worth the effort that we put into it, and the hours, the days, months, years that we ground away trying to get the product possible. Trying to get the best product of ourselves and balance that world between making it satisfying to ourselves but also satisfying to other music listeners. It’s a tough thing to do, because you can really over-intellectualize it all, and you can really over-think a lot of it. Especially when you’re spending years doing it. It’s just ten songs, you know what I mean? It’s just a couple of songs that are three-and-a-half minutes long. It’s funny how you can really over-think it. But it feels great.

OS: Augustana definitely goes in a different direction than your previous albums, was that something that you did intentionally or something that just happened as you were working on it?

DL: Yeah, it was very intentional. We wanted to make something that felt— to our own ears and our own gut—felt timeless and real. We wanted to feel the conviction in the music and the lyrics and the performance and delivery of the takes. And we also wanted it to feel relative to what’s happening today. Essentially, we wanted to make a 1975, Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen American rock record, but we wanted it to make sense for 2011. And that’s a tough thing to do. It sounds sort of easy on paper, but when you really set out and try to do that, you run into a whole set of issues. Sometimes it’s easier to kind of just go back and do the same thing. It’s hard to push yourself into new frontiers sonically and in the writing process. But if you do it right, it sounds like you just made some music. [Laughs]

OS: Was “Steal Your Heart” the obvious first single?

DL: For me, it was the obvious single. There was no doubt in my mind. If it was my money, and I was putting out the record and needed it to do well, that was the song that I would do. Luckily, we were able to get everybody that works in our camp on board with that. They were considering some other songs, and sort of going down that safer road like we did with the previous record, which really didn’t do that well commercially. I don’t know if that matters or not. I don’t think “Steal Your Heart” was the obvious choice for everybody involved, but I hope that it was the right choice. I think it’s the right choice, for whatever that’s worth.

OS: So why did you choose to self-title this album? Were you trying to say, “This is Augustana, this is who we are?”

DL: That’s exactly it. It just felt like it was all in the record. Everything was in the music. There’s so many emotions and words and stories, that it was like, “Let’s just self-title this thing.” This is the band, this is the sound, these are the songs. This is what we’ve been essentially working on for my entire adult life—making other records, maturing, finding my voice (both metaphorically and physically), finding out how to write what I think is a good song, touring and touring, playing show after show—it just felt like it was all leading up to this. I don’t know where it goes from here, but it felt like the end of a very long chapter of Augustana, and hopefully the beginning of a new one. It just felt like the period at the end of a sentence.

OS: All of your releases have been on Epic Records, which is pretty unique since bands switch labels so often these days. Why do you think that relationship has been so successful?

DL: You know, I can speak from my experience. [Pauses] I don’t want to assume how other people feel, but from my observation and my own experience, it’s easy to look at the major label as kind of the big bad wolf. I don’t know why they get that stigma, but to be honest, it’s kind of a cop out. I don’t know if they get enough credit for what they do. They invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into kids, hoping that they get their shit worked out and know how to make a good record. I think that we’ve been very fortunate that they’ve been incredibly patient with us. Epic Records has been beyond supportive when the cards were down and when things have been really rough over the last couple years. A lot of bands get hung out to dry, and maybe that’s because they tarnish their relationship with their labels and the people they’re working with. But essentially, I don’t have the money to finance my own record. I need these people. And they certainly don’t need me. There’s always somebody waiting in your shadow to take your place. There’s plenty of kids that would be hungry to make a record, and be happy to be on a label. I think you have to look at it like, I’m in a really fortunate position. These people want us to do well, because if we do well they do well. Everybody wins. Everybody’s happy. So if you can look at it from that perspective you can make it a positive relationship, and then it kind of feeds off each other. Then you start taking steps forward, in the right direction. Nothing positive comes out of rolling up your sleeves and thumbing your nose at the label. It really doesn’t get anything done. They don’t need you; there’s a million other bands out there. So you just have to work with them and try and move forward. It can be a good thing, if you look at it like it’s a good thing.

OS: That’s great, because there are a lot of horror stories out there.

DL: Well, yeah, at the end of the day it can be tough. They certainly ask a lot of you, and sometimes they want you to do things that maybe you wouldn’t normally do if you were on “Augustana Records.” But I think at the same time, they ask you to do things that maybe at the time you don’t want to do, or you think it’s a bad thing, but I think sometimes they do know better. It’s good to have people outside your bubble pushing you to go further into your songwriting, pushing you to write a competitive, commercially viable song. Maybe you want to be cool, or you don’t want to go there, but sometimes I think they know what’s better for you. It is what it is.

OS: So what do you guys have coming up? Are you planning a summer tour to support Augustana?

DL: We head out in May and June. We’re going to be doing a tour of fairly… not small rooms, but 500, maybe 1,000 at the most and see if we can fill out those rooms. ‘Cause it’s been quite a while since we’ve really done a real tour that wasn’t supporting somebody else—as far as a headlining tour it’s been about three years. So we’ll see what we can do, and if we can take it beyond that, that would be great. If there’s a demand for us to keep going out and playing, then we’ll do it, for sure.

Stream Augustana’s latest single “Steal Your Heart” on AOL Music until the album hits stores on April 26th, and be sure to catch them on their upcoming tour with The Maine.

 


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