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Q&A: Incubus Wonders “If Not Now, When?”

Where does a band go after selling millions of albums, topping the Billboard charts, and packing stadiums worldwide?  If you’re Incubus, you go back to school.  During the band’s hiatus, guitarist Mike Einziger studied music composition at Harvard, while singer Brandon Boyd took classes at art school and recorded a solo album.  Feeling the urge to collaborate once again after their time apart, the members of Incubus recently reunited to record their newest album If Not Now, When? We spoke to Incubus singer Brandon Boyd about his approach to lyric writing, the charitable activities of the band and why the new album isn’t as different from Incubus’ past material as it might seem.

OS: Several members of the band have mentioned that the need to spend time in “real life” led to Incubus’ lull in activity.  What motivated the end of your hiatus?

BB: I think what motivated the end of our hiatus was a collective desire to write together again. I had just finished my first solo album and I was feeling like my songwriting muscles were primed to get into some larger ideas. I know Mike had spent the past two years in a classroom too, so I would imagine that he was itching to play hooky.

OS: If Not Now, When? represents yet another move away from the heavy rock style of past Incubus releases.  How would you characterize the band’s new sound?

BB: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as a “new sound” per se. But more of an intuitive shift in the unending process that we have been operating in. Even our hiatus was part of that process. But this new album is as honest a representation of us as artists right now as we could deliver. I think it adds a needed juxtaposition to what we have written thus far!

OS: The cover of the new album is a photo of a man on a high wire.  What’s the significance of this image with relation to the record?

BB: Spoiler alert! I joke. I have lots of ideas in mind about what this image represents. But I’d rather the listener muster their own version of what he represents in relation to this work. Ha! That is if they actually buy the album, and not just “borrow” it indefinitely.

OS: In your new songs, it seems like the lyrics are sparser than in previous Incubus releases.  What’s the impetus behind this shift?

BB: I have been on a slow progression towards this notion for many years. My greatest challenge as a songwriter has been to say more by saying less. I’ve always been my most communicative in ink. And apparently I have a lot to say. But the most rewarding experiences I have had while communicating this way have come when I can squeeze a Galaxy into one sentence. This album is the closest I have come to it yet! Thanks for noticing…

OS: You’ll be going on a mammoth US tour following the release of the new album.  What’s it like getting back into some of the older Incubus songs that you haven’t played in a while?

BB: Most of the older songs are a lot of fun to play! There are a few here and there that make me cringe and I try and distract the guys from them with physical humor or threat of bodily harm. But for the most part we are quite proud of our catalog.

OS: In a live setting, how will your less aggressive new material fit in with some of the mosh-inducing songs in your back catalog?

BB: There is a notion held by some people who aren’t as familiar with our band that we are and have been an exclusively “heavy rock” band. The fact of the matter is, we have always had a vast diversity of music that we write and perform. We aren’t dissimilar to the patterns of normal human behavior in that respect. Sometimes we feel heavy, sometimes we feel light. The trick is finding the balance amongst that gamut of emotions. That’s really all we have ever tried to do. But to answer your question more specifically, the new material fits in beautifully!

In truth, every one of our albums going all the way back to 1997, have had moments of calm, moments of serenity, feelings of strife (at times) and then odes to grace. One of the things I enjoy about being in this band is the freedom to express any and all of those emotions.

OS: Since 2003, the band has given a portion of its proceeds from touring and record royalties to the Make Yourself Foundation for charitable causes. What social responsibility comes with being in a famous band?

BB: For clarity’s sake, we created the MYF in 2003 as a way to donate monies to a few specific causes that we’d been working with. We started by doing a series of live recordings and selling them online then donating all of the earnings to said charities. We’ve evolved it into a way to as well meet some of our listeners every night through a series of EBay auctions and all of those proceeds have gone to help fund a now large number of charities. Since 2003 we have raised about 1.5 million dollars and brought some needed eyes to many wonderful organizations! It has been a really cool way to introduce young people to the idea of socially conscious service and, as well, meet many of our long time listeners! Win, win. You can go to themakeyourselffoundation.org to get more information and visit some of the places where the funds have gone.

Cheers! See you on the road.

Check out Incubus’ summer tour dates and watch their new video for “Promises, Promises” below!

Q&A With Matt Nathanson

Following up a beloved album that spawned four popular singles and spent thirty-four weeks on the Billboard charts could be a stressful endeavor for a lot of musicians. But not Matt Nathanson. The San Fransisco-based singer-songwriter catapulted into the spotlight with his 2007 album Some Mad Hope, and since then he’s been everywhere—touring with the Indigo Girls, performing on Live From Daryl’s House and providing the melancholy soundtrack for primetime dramas ranging from CSI to 90210 to Vampire Diaries.

But Nathanson didn’t let the pressure of releasing a follow-up get to him, taking four years to carefully craft his most recent effort Modern Love. We caught up with Nathanson to talk about Modern Love, his new, hopeful outlook on life and the perks of being a rock star.

OS: This album as a lot to do with conflict, and you’ve even said that the title—Modern Love—is about conflicting ideas. Can you explain what you feel the conflicts are between modernity and love?

MN: Well, it’s sort of not conflicting as much as much as it is the duality. It’s just this thing where “love” is ancient and amazing and hard to handle and difficult to understand, and “modern” is a functional concept. Modern art, modern architecture—it’s well-though-out answers to questions like the most efficient way to cool or heat a house. Modern architecture deals with that. Or, the most efficient way to build a chair. So, the idea for me was this duality of these two things that, in theory, are mutually exclusive, but actually kind of work together, and how do they work as a unit? We’re in a time now where things move so fast that if you want to buy a record you can just click a button, whereas before when I was a kid, I had to get on my bike and save up money and bike over to the record store and physically pick it up and bike home and put it on.

It’s the idea of how you can sort of have… well, not sort of. You can have entire relationships on Facebook or Twitter, without actually dealing with people one-on-one. It’s like the great human collision. Is this idea of, where does love exist? How does love function? Where does that molten part of who we are—how does that show up now in a time where the emphasis is not put on actual human contact and being face-to-face with the person or the record? You can see a whole live stream of a show on the Internet and never leave your house, when really the best part of a live show is being in that room. And I’m not saying that technology isn’t amazing, because it’s totally amazing. But it shouldn’t completely replace the experience, because what’s so amazing about these experiences is the effort extended by everyone around and the crashing together of people. So that’s what the record’s about thematically, this idea of, “Where does this stuff come up now? Where do the human parts of ourselves live in a time where we’re more and more technologically based, and moving faster and faster?”

And then sonically, the record took on a similar kind of aesthetic—acoustic guitars and a voice and really well-recorded drums. Then we took it back to the laboratory and kind of mashed it around a little bit, and kind of beat it up. We put it through the computer and messed around, so it became a similar thing—where does the organic meet the non-organic, and the greatness that can come out of that. Not saying that the record is “greatness”. But where can the heart come out of that, the humanity? So that’s a very long answer to your pretty short question. [Laughs]

Continue reading ‘Q&A With Matt Nathanson’

Q&A With Less Than Jake

It’s summertime, and that means swimming pools, popsicles—and if you’re anything like us—some uptempo ska-punk joyously exploding from your speakers. And what better group to satisfy those sunny cravings than with sounds from Gainsville legends Less Than Jake? With a brand new EP and a slew of dates on Warped Tour 2011, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to groove to the five-piece’s horn-infused punk this summer. We sat down with Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello to talk about the new EP, the good old days and what it’s like to return to Warped year after year.

OS: You guys just surprised everyone by releasing Greetings From… on Monday. Why release a surprise EP instead of doing a lot of promotion?

VF: Well, here’s the thing: are we really living in a world that needs advance promotion when you’re talking about music? I think that’s left to pop stars who want to be actors or actors who want to be pop stars. With Less Than Jake, we don’t have the budget allotted to us that, let’s say, is from a major label where you can do some long term promotion and sort of build it up. I think that the model that we have right now… Less Than Jake has its own brand, we’ve been around for twenty years. So doing something unannounced allows that immediacy of hearing about it and spreading the word from fan to fan to fan. That works where we’re at currently. There’s so much white noise and competition—there’s 150 channels on TV, there’s infinite possibilities on the Internet, there’s your cell phone, there’s everything down the line—so I think that… to cut through the static, a long lead-up for our band is just not possible. Doing it the way that we’re doing it, we’ll probably continue doing it because we’re only a few days in and it feels right. I’ll go back and say to be able to cut through the static, you either have to have a lot of money or you have to have an initial sort of lightning bolt. We went with the lightning bolt.

OS: And you wrote, recorded and are distributing Greetings From… all on your own, correct?

VF: Yes, it’s the first thing we’ve done that that’s basically band-written, band-recorded, band-marketed, band-distributed. And it’s going well. Without getting too lofty on it and making it a music industry interview rather than a Less Than Jake interview, here’s the thing: You have a certain amount of the pie, right? And ten years ago, the revenue of that pie for a musician was three-quarters record sales. And that shrinks, and you have to find ways to fill that gap as that revenue shrinks out. So people replace it with extra touring, you know? But there’s only so many days of the year where you can do that, so many people that will come see you, so many hours that those people will spend. So when you starting talking about, “Okay, we need to fill this void in revenue,” and you start working it out that way, you realize that currently if you’re signed to a major label it’s a 360 deal where they own 1/3 of your song, 1/3 of your touring revenue, 1/3 of merchandise sales. So you start figuring it out like that, and I think doing it how we’re doing it extends the revenue flow into our band. We may sell less records, but we’re making much more money than we would if we sold ten times the amount of records on a major label because we’re not profit sharing with anyone.

OS: So you can enjoy that freedom now of not owing anyone and being able to record and distribute on your own terms. But last time we spoke, you said the most creative freedom you ever had was when you were just starting out. If you could choose between the two would you go back to the days when there were no expectations or preconceived notions of what your music should be, but you maybe had a little less freedom in other aspects?

VF: I’m going to have to say yes. And I’ll tell you why, because I like the days when we could do whatever we wanted and we didn’t have a twenty-year track record. When we did, let’s say, the Grease soundtrack or we did something else that was fun, Slayer covers, no one was judging it. To give you a familiar sort of scenario… we did TV/EP last year, where we covered TV theme songs from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s. And the reviews of that EP… it was eleven minutes of fun. It was meant to be fun. It was meant to be a stopping point between writing new material. And people took it and reviewed it as such that it was this release, and they sort of dragged the fun out of it…if we were a band of two years, the review of TV/EP would have been decidedly different. So I think that doing a TV covers CD when you’ve been a band for twenty years, people are judging it as this decisive career move and all this shit. It’s not! It’s just fucking fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. People trip out and get sort of wound up in the details and facts and history when they should just let it be what it is. Not everything is supposed to be a social statement, not everything is supposed to be exclamation marks. Sometimes, there’s a fucking comma in there, and that’s okay.

OS: Right. And sometimes you just want to put your own spin on the Animaniacs theme song.

VF: Exactly! But it goes beyond that. Lately music is so dour. It’s such a downer. I understand why dubstep and that sort of modern DJ-based music is much more popular than its counterparts in live rock and roll. Because people are showing up to go have fun, you know? I would defy anyone to get together thirteen mid-sized rock bands and have 10,000 people show up and lose their fucking mind. But that happens on a weekend basis across the United States when it comes to DJs and live DJ gigs. People are showing up to dance and have fun. I think the state of rock and roll over the last decade or maybe more, it’s dour. It’s a downer. It’s taking itself way too seriously, and I think it has to have a turnaround or live music is just sort of going to go the way of the buffalo.

OS: Well the good news is, bands like Less Than Jake and ska/punk bands in general are certainly keeping the fun in the live show.

VF: Yeah no, the style of music that we play is definitely indicative of fun and it’s based on a live show being fun and being… not very mellow. That’s who our bands are. But I think we can only be a life-preserver in that way for so long before people start not coming out to go see live shows. [Laughs] But let’s move on on that one.

OS: [Laughs] Now that we’re sufficiently bummed out. Well on a less depressing note, Anthology was also released earlier this week–you’re not worried about overwhelming fans with releases or one taking attention away from the other?

VF: No, because with Anthology it’s directly for the fans, directly for the longtime fan. It’s eight hours worth of music, it’s four DVDs, it’s awesome. And the price is right, it’s $15.00 direct from the band, $15.00 from Amazon, Interpunk.com, things like that. It’s for the longtime fan who wants to see six records played in their entirety. And beyond that, I don’t think it’s that overwhelming. I think with the EP, it was sort of designed for shock and awe, and with the DVD it was meant to be more of an organized release than what the EP was.

OS: Hitting them on both fronts.

VF: You have to. Once you have people paying attention to you, you sometimes have to kind of jump into the fray a little bit more and throw a few tricks out while they’re looking at you.

OS: That’s something that’s notable about Less Than Jake in general–you all seem like pretty savvy businessmen in terms of getting fans to buy your records and keeping fans interested in your merch. Were you clever about it from the beginning, or did you get better at it through trial and error?

VF: I think that it’s something that we’ve been good at all along. We’re on our 287th release, between vinyl records and things like that. But we always designed it where we were adding some extra touches like doing a 7”. There was a little bit where we were concentrating on touring more than doing releases, and we’re sort of reversing that—we’re touring less but we’re going to release more music.

OS: And speaking of tours, you guys are gearing up for Warped—is that strange for you now, since with the exception of bands like Big D, you guys have been playing together for a lot longer than most of the other bands on the tour?

VF: It kind of is, you know? It’s a loaded question, and I’ll tell you why. We were a young band once, and I understand it. You’re trying to go for the brass ring, everything’s fresh, everything’s new, and I’m cool with that. I’m cool with bands who get overexcited about being on Warped Tour and maybe let the excesses and the fact that they’re on a big summer tour get the best of them. I’m okay with that, and I don’t feel weird about that. But at the same time, I think that how Warped Tour is designed—Warped Tour is designed for popular music. A lot of people sort of give it a bad rap of, “Oh, it’s changed.” Well, Warped Tour hasn’t changed, the skeleton is the same. It’s always about popular music, and what’s popular now is Christian metal and sort of poppy screamo. And that’s what most of the tour is on. So when I’m sitting around, are there a lot of bands that I’m going to enjoy listening to? Not particularly, you know? And that’s not being an old fuck about it. I can appreciate them as musicians, I can appreciate them for their show and for their drive, but there’s not a lot out here for me to go like, “Oh, yeah, you heard that one song? Oh, I love that one song. Or that one record.” It’s not that tour anymore.

OS: Then what is it about the tour that brought you back this year?

VF: I think it’s a good way to play in front of people who have heard our band but maybe not necessarily ever came to see our band play.

OS: So if the Christian metal isn’t doing it for you, what are you listening to these days?

VF: A lot a reggae, to be honest with you. Sizzla, which is great, and then a lot of old reggae as well. Punk rock— I think that there’s a really good, fresh generation of punk rock out there. Red City Radio, the Menzingers, bands like Make Do and Mend which are great friends but also did a great record. I think that you have a new group of bands that are coming out—like Tigers Jaw is a great band, you have Dear Landlord—there’s a massive and healthy crop of catchy punk rock, and I pay most of my attention to that. And a lot of reggae as well, just to kind of balance things out. It can’t always be fast and rough punk rock, the converse side for me is slow and mellow reggae.

Check out Less Than Jake at their Warped date nearest you, and grab a free download of their latest single “Goodbye Mr. Personality” here!

Q&A With Randy Houser

Professional songwriters don’t always make the leap to the big stage, but for Randy Houser the transition was natural.  After gaining recognition for co-writing chart-topping country hits for Trace Adkins and Justin Moore, Houser recorded his debut album Anything Goes for Universal South Records.  Several CMA award nominations, television appearances and national tours later, he is a major player on the country music scene.  This summer, he’s on the road with Willie Nelson for the Country Throwdown Tour and preparing new songs for his third studio album.  OurStage caught up with Houser to talk about the inspiration for his most recent single, his experience breaking into the Nashville scene, and his method for achieving a unique sound in the studio.

OS:  You recently released a new single called “In God’s Time,” which has a pretty powerful spiritual message.  Could you tell us more about the inspiration for the song?

RH: “In God’s Time” came at a time when I really needed to hear from God.  He more or less kind of popped me upside the head and said, “Hey, you need to think about things a little bit,” and I think that’s what I did.  This song had been in my heart for a while.  It’s really about slowing down and letting things happen instead of trying to make things happen.  It’s not like you’ve got to quit working, but a lot of times we expect things to be the way we want them, and we expect to have things happen when we want them and how we want them.  Sometimes that’s just not the case.  Sometimes God has a different plan for us.  So in that song I was learning to chill out and handle a lot of things that I had originally called problems.

OS: As the first single from your next album, does “In God’s Time” give a preview of what to expect from the sound and themes of the rest of the tracks?

RH: I’m not sure yet, really.  At this point I’m just writing and I’m not sure what the next album is going to be.  I’m just writing a lot of songs and then I’ll put them together after that.

OS: You grew up in Mississippi and played in a few bands there before moving to Nashville to pursue music as a career.  What was it like when you were musician trying to break out in Nashville?

RH: It was tough, but I had already spent so many years playing and recording music down in Mississippi.  I was twenty-five or twenty-six years old when I moved to Nashville, so I had been doing music for a pretty good while before that.  When I moved there, I had a pocketful of songs and I got a publishing deal pretty soon after.  I was able to make a living writing songs for other people, which really helped.  There was never a big transition from songwriter to performing artist because I had already played music for so many years that it was just natural.

OS: Speaking of the transition from writer to performer, do you find there’s a difference between writing songs for others behind the scenes and performing your own songs onstage?

RH: Yeah there is a difference.  As a songwriter for hire, you’re just writing songs and predicting what other people want to sing about.  When I’m writing songs for myself and when I’m going to record a song, it has to be something that directly relates to my life or I won’t record it.  I’m not up there trying to act like somebody else or trying to play a part.  What you see is just my songs and myself.

OS: You’ve mentioned that in Nashville, everybody uses the same production techniques, and that you want to break from this standard sound in your recordings.  How have you done that?

RH: You hire different musicians and you hire different engineers that have different visions.  Like with our last album, we used Charlie Brocco to engineer the record.  He knew a little bit about what the Nashville sound was, but he comes from a more rock and roll background.  We made a country record with a guy that does rock and roll, and it’s not a big, loud, slamming guitar record.  “Whistlin’ Dixie” is probably the closest thing to that on my last album, but [Brocco] didn’t actually engineer that song.  He did the rest of the record, though.  We’re really just making a little departure from the same sound that everybody expects.

OS: You’ve recently been playing alongside Willie Nelson on the Country Throwdown Tour.  What has that experience been like?

RH: It’s been the most awesome experience ever.  I can’t think of a better way to spend my summer than touring with my biggest musical hero.  Simply put!

Check out Randy Houser’s upcoming tour dates on the Country Throwdown Tour here, and take a listen to his new single “In God’s Time” below!

Q&A With Matt & Kim

Whether you’ve seen them running naked through Times Square in their video for “Lessons Learned,” caught the “insanity” that is their live show or even drank from a beer bottle with their faces on it, there’s a pretty good chance that the antics of indie pop darlings Matt and Kim caught your eye on their rise to indie stardom. And with shows that play out like a punk rock dance party and videos guaranteed to make you smile, the Brooklyn-based pair ensure that you won’t stop hearing about them any time soon.

We caught up with Matt Johnson to find out what’s going on with the duo and learn about their current summer tour. Of course, we just spoke with Matt in November, so this time around we decided to get a little crazy and find out about the tour with a friendly game of Mad Libs. Here goes nothing…

OS: Okay, so I have a paragraph here that I’m going to read, and whenever I get to a blank I’ll just say so, and you can fill it in with whatever you like.

MJ: Wait, no! I don’t want to hear the paragraph first. I want you just to tell me what kind of word I need to fill it in.

OS: Well, we can definitely do that!

MJ: Isn’t that how Mad Libs generally work? You tell me, like, “Oh, it’s a verb, or an adjective or a noun”? [Laughs]

OS: I just thought you might want a little more info than that. But I’m totally okay with doing it old school. [Laughs]

MJ: Yeah! No, I’d rather be surprised.

After a few minutes of Mad-Libbing, we’ve come up with one of the more interesting and oddly food-centric tour diaries that we’ve ever read. Matt’s answers are in bold.

So far, our summer tour has been slippery. And a few times, it’s been moist. But it’s given me a chance to show off my super-hype skills, and that makes me stumble. The coolest part so far has been the silver dollar pancakes, because of the free Cinnamon Life. I’m a little nervous about the inner thigh touching, but I think I’m probably just being bitchy. There’s only one thing I would change about this tour, and that’s the big toes. The most important thing I’ve learned over the past few months is just to eat. After the tour is over, Kim and I will probably tango for a while. I think that will be super dreamy.

OS: Well, thanks for putting up with our silliness!

MJ: Sure! I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

OS: Then we just have a few other questions. Did you two toss around any other band names when you started working together, or was it always Matt & Kim? If you were named Donald and Esther, would you still have gone that route?

MJ: We were trying to come up with a name for a while, and it’s just really fucking hard. I mean I could imagine it’s sort of the next hardest thing you could do to naming a baby, I’m guessing. This is the sort of thing you’re going to stick with for a long time. And we couldn’t think of a name. The closest we came to thinking of a name was the “Scream Team,” which we thought was pretty good. But other than that… we got asked to do a show, and we didn’t even think of ourselves as a real band. They just listed us as our names, and it worked. It worked for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I think just being [known] by our first names really has a lot to do with what we’re about as a band.

OS: Your fans always describe you guys as just being the happiest people. How do you keep up the constant cheer?

MJ: Well, there’s definitely days that are tough. There’s days where you had to wake up at 4:00 am to catch an early flight and whatnot. But when we do shows, that’s what the rest of the twenty-three hours of the day were leading up to. You know, we get on stage and there’s 1,000 people, or you’re at a festival and there’s 30,000 people that are just super excited you’re playing. We just automatically bust out into a grin.

If you haven’t checked Matt and Kim out live yet, you still have a few chances to see the duo on tour this summer. And be sure to check out the delightfully impromptu new video for “Block After Block” below!

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 Sondre Lerche

Sixties pop, melodic indie rock, contemporary jazz, Brazilian psych-folk, singer-songwriter—these labels don’t quite do justice to the ground that Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche has covered in his ten-year career. Which is why it’s amazing that, at age twenty-eight, the Bergen native just released an album that marks several firsts. It’s the first album he’s recorded in New York since moving there in 2005 and—despite being his sixth studio recording—it’s his only self-titled work, which is fitting given that the new processes he employed and themes he explored on the record have helped forge some of his most personal, honest work to date. We sat down with Lerche to talk about how his new methods impacted the album, compare the musical cultures of his two homes and learn what he would sound like if he put out a black metal record.

OS: You’ve drawn from influences that range from garage rock to jazz over the course of your career. What sort of influences will we hear peeking through on the new album?

SL: The thing with this record that was new to me was that it wasn’t so much a genre thing. The songs felt really candid to me in a way, both musically and especially lyrically. When I started thinking about making a record out of it, I thought it would be weird to dress these songs up too much and make them these experimental, stylistic exercises. I immediately knew I wanted to see how much I could get out of pure elements. So it was more a matter of stripping things down and really enhancing the atmosphere of the song and the narrative, the underlying dramatic movements… The songs also are much more concerned with reality and how things really are, and in the past I’ve had a bunch of songs—not all of them, but a lot of them—have been much more concerned with how I would want things to be. They’ve been about this idealized vision, which to me is really truthful and comes from a place of honesty. But these songs just demanded a different treatment because they’re much more here and now and dealing with things as they are. Or trying to figure out how things actually are.

OS: Do you think that new process was a result of this being the first album you recorded in New York?

SL: Maybe it was. It’s always hard to sort of trace what influences what, and what makes you do what you do. But I definitely felt the need to make a record where I live, and I’ve lived in New York the last six years but I’ve traveled almost everywhere else to make records. It was important to me to find a studio in the neighborhood… here in Williamsburg—ideally, I wanted to be within walking distance. That was what I was hoping for. And I found this studio, Rare Book Room, where a lot of my favorite records of the last couple years have been made: Dirty Projectors, Spoon made a lot of their last album there, Animal Collective, Deerhunter. Nicholas, he’s worked with a bunch of my favorite bands, so we hit it off pretty quickly and I thought the pairing of him with my old buddy Kato [Ådland]—who I’ve worked with ten years—the pairing of those two characters would be really stimulating and exciting. The two of them hadn’t ever met until our first day in the studio, so it was pretty exciting to see how it would go. And I wanted limitations, also. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to lose focus. I wanted to serve intuition, in a way. And instinct. So we had three weeks to record and mix the album. And also, it was a great opportunity to work with a lot of new friends from New York who are really great players but who I really hadn’t worked with in the studio. I had a bunch of people I wanted to bring in. So we’ve got McKenzie from Midlake playing drums, and Dave Heilman who’s a really great drummer also plays on a lot of the record. And he’s in my live group now, so he’ll be going on tour with me the next month.

OS: This is your sixth album, but your first self-titled release and your first release on Mona Records. Why did you feel that this was the one to self-title?

SL: Well, I’ve never been a fan of self-titled albums as a concept. There’s a lot of self-titled albums that I like musically [Laughs] but I felt like a self-titled album would be a missed opportunity in a way, because you could find a really great title for it. I thought it was sort of giving up. And in a way, it was. I was chasing the title for this record, and usually I know pretty early on what the title is going to be, but for this one I didn’t really have a clear title. I became really obsessed with the idea of finding the perfect title, and I couldn’t really find it. I started having these dreams where titles came to me, and I woke up from one of them and had the feeling of having found the title. But I couldn’t remember what it was. So I just decided, “All right, I’m going to leave it open, in a way, and I’ll fill in the title if I remember it later.” It’s self-titled, it just says my name, but hopefully that’s all you need to know. And in a way, it’s also because it’s a bit more stripped-down, it’s a bit more introspective. It makes sense.

OS: But despite not being a fan of self-titled albums, your album artwork has always been just a picture of you.

SL: It’s strange. I feel in a way that I’m sort of old school. When I go through some of my older, favorite albums with singer-songwriter types or solo artists, it just seems sort of classic when you have a picture of [the artist] on there. I wouldn’t mind mixing it up and doing a cover without my face on it, but I haven’t really found a piece of artwork that I feel represents the music more. And because I perform solo a lot of the time… it just seems like a classic format, in a way. I actually just received the album from the printer today, and I noticed, wow, it’s a close-up, this one.[Laughs] But yeah, I’ve yet to find a piece of art that would make sense, and that would feel specific to the music. It’s the same with the title—I can think of a lot of nice words, and there’s stuff from the sentences and lyrics that I could use, but it would have to really click with me and really feel specific.

OS: Large portions of this album were recorded on tape—why go analog in the age of digital?

SL: I’m not very technical, so I’m not one to say that one is always better than the other. A lot of my albums we’ve just done digitally, with Pro Tools or whatever. We’ve taken advantage of the accessibility of technology that makes recording possible for us. And I’ve done home recordings that have turned into songs and albums. I definitely think that’s a great thing, but for this record we had access to a tape recorder and we didn’t want to do too much with the songs—we wanted to leave them pretty raw. When you record on tape you can’t really edit, and you don’t have the advantages that you have digitally when you can always second-guess and go back and change. When you record on tape, it’s final, and I like that sort of commitment. You have to really commit to, “Okay, we’re gonna use this take. There’s a little mess up on the third verse, but I don’t care. I love the overall vibe of it.” So you commit more to an atmosphere. That felt much more right for this kind of album.

OS: So after spending a few years in New York and completing your album there, how does the city’s music scene compare to that in Norway?

SL: In a way, Williamsburg feels a little bit similar to the music scene in Bergen, where I’m from in Norway. Bergen is sort of the indie rock or indie pop city of Norway, and there’s a lot of great bands. In addition to that, it’s also the black metal center of the universe. So there’s definitely a varied scene, because Norwegian black metal bands are pioneers in their field. Bergen is an amazing music town, and I think that’s why I’ve kept going back there to record. I’ve been very attached to musicians and studios there. And living in Williamsburg, it feels like it has the same size. It’s like a little village. Bergen is not a city, it’s a little village. A little town. There’s a lot of collaboration and side projects. People start their own labels, and their own companies, and put out their music and their friends music. So in a way, the vibe is a bit similar between Bergen and Williamsburg.

OS: That’s pretty funny. I’m trying to figure out what it would have sounded like if you got into black metal instead of pop.

SL: Well, that’s the thing! I’ve spent a couple of records trying to see how far I could push going into different directions and still sound like myself. I’ve worked really hard to test the limits of this, and I feel like I could do almost everything and I’d still sound like Sondre Lerche. But I would like to test that—maybe I should work with some black metal people and see how that would turn out. Would it still be me?

Check out Sondre’s latest single “Private Caller” below, then head on over to AOL Music and stream the full album!

Q&A With Kimberley Locke

Kimberley Locke is no stranger to the spotlight, placing third on season two of American Idol, putting out hit songs like 2004′s “Eighth World Wonder“, making TV appearances on VH1′s Celebrity Fit Club and earning a feature in People Magazine. But she’s no one trick pony, either—the Idol alum has a new single on the way, a new ABC show co-host gig alongside Project Runway‘s Tim Gunn and a recently-founded entertainment company. We sat down with Locke to talk about selecting the new single, the challenges of balancing her television and musical careers and her plans for I Am Entertainment.

OS: What sparked your decision to have fans vote on your songs to determine your next single?

KL: I think I was just trying to engage my fans, and I think a lot of the time when it comes to music selection the fans get left out of that process. That decision is left to the powers that be, and sometimes even the artist doesn’t get to have a big say-so in that, depending on the situation.…So I was thinking I’d have to pick the three singles that I really liked, and I was like, “Well, why don’t I just engage the fans and let them help me really narrow it down?” So that’s kind of how we came up with that whole idea, because I think the fans like to be engaged and they like to be a part of that process.

OS: Do you have a favorite that you’re hoping the fans pick?

KL: I have to say not really, because the three that I’m putting up I’m big fans of. It’s one of those things where you can’t decide which one, so it’s like, “Okay, if either one of these make it I’ll be completely satisfied.” [Laughs]

OS: So tell us about I Am Entertainment—what are your plans for that company?

KL: Well, I Am Entertainment is an entertainment company. One of the reasons I wanted to create the company is a) for artists–whether it’s consulting with artists on their project or helping them figure out what the next steps are, and really giving artists great, sound advice about the business of their career. I think that a lot of artists are out there trying to figure it out on their own, when we all can use a little guidance. I think that I can give some good advice, considering that I’ve been in the industry now for eight and a half years. I’ve learned a few things. I’m not saying that I’ve learned everything by any stretch of the imagination, because I am still learning things. But I wanted to create a company that is for the artist….because the sky is really the limit in terms of the different areas and genres that you can go into….I kind of want the company to just be what it is, about entertainment, no matter what capacity or genre of the business it’s in.

OS: When you released your most recent song through Dream Merchant 21, there was a “singles clause” in your contract and you were very conscious of the fact that we live in a singles-driven industry these days. How does that effect you when you’re working on new material?

KL: I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think there’s much of a difference…even when you’re only recording a single. When I first started this process and I didn’t really know exactly what my next move was going to be, I basically was like, “Okay, well I’m just going to write every day.” So what happened when I did start the company and I did decide that I was going to go independent and release the next single, I looked up and I already had ten songs recorded. So I’m like, “I have to pick one single, A, and B, what am I going to do with the rest of these songs?” The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had enough songs for an album, so do we release an album or do we only release a single? I think doing the singles only thing kind of works in the respect that it gives you time to see what the single’s going to do… I think in another respect, it keeps the fans on their toes.  They know that next single is coming every six to eight months, they don’t have to wait two years to get another single. I think it’ s a great way to keep the artist out there on a consistent basis with new, fresh music and new sounds or something different. But at the end of the day, you can say, “Hey, I’ve got ten songs, let’s do an album,” and that gives you a little bit of flexibility I think in how you want to work it and what your plan is and what your goal is.

OS: You’ve had more and more co-writing credits as your career progresses. Do you find yourself becoming more comfortable with songwriting as time goes on?

KL: Yeah, absolutely. I went from not writing at all to writing five days a week. I think what people don’t understand is the writing process is so mentally exhausting some days. Some days are better than others—some days you go in there and you have these great ideas and it just kind of spews out of you, and then other days it’s a little more work and it’s a little more taxing. Especially when you’re writing from the heart and writing from your experience. But I think you get better at it, and you find out what you’re strengths are. Then it’s all about being partnered with the right person that makes you even more comfortable…

OS: In addition to your music, you’re also lined up to co-host a new ABC show—The Revolution—can you tell us what that’s going to be about?

KL: I’m so excited! The Revolution—which by the way, that’ s a working title, I don’t know if they’re completely sold on that title yet—basically is a lifestyle transformation show. It’s going to be on five days a week. When you talk about health and lifestyle, it kind of encompasses everything. I think it’s a feel-good show, it’s an uplifting show. It’s about giving people takeaways on a daily basis that they can actually transform their lives. I think sometimes we get overwhelmed with biting off more than we can chew, and we want a quick fix, and we want it to happen overnight. Change takes time, and that’s what our show is about. We follow our guests for a total of five months, and watch them transform their lives in a way that the viewing audience will be like, “Oh my gosh, I can totally do this.” That’s what we want to leave people feeling, whether it’s their health, their finances, their bedroom, their family—whatever it is they want to do, and however they want to transform their life, we’ll give them daily takeaways… and those things will set our viewers up for success instead of setting them up for failure. That’s what the show is about.

OS: Helping people must be something that’s important to you, don’t you do a lot of charity work?

KL: I do a lot of charity work with one charity in particular, I work with One Heartland. I’ve been working with them for six years—seven years maybe—and I recently became a member of the board, which was very exciting. When I first started working with the organization their focus was pediatric AIDS, mainly focusing on mother to child transmission. And because of wonderful research, mother to child transmission is really down. It’s actually something we can prevent from happening. So we recently revamped our program to include children who are socially ostracized, the LGBT community, children who have other terminal illnesses or just have life-threatening illnesses or who just have liveable illnesses that they’re dealing with. Because what we do is we send kids to camp every year for free. What we’ve learned is that camp is such a healing process, and our camp is a safe camp where they can go and meet other kids who are in the same situation and understand that they’re not in this world alone. Working with them has really changed my life, it’s been such a positive experience… I love it because I love to watch the organization grow into something bigger.

OS: This isn’t the first time you’ve been on television, you’ve appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, Family Feud and of course, Idol. What are some of the difficulties of reconciling your music career with your television appearances?

KL: You know, I don’t see that as a difficulty at all. All the jobs feed the greater good, and they all kind of feed the same dream. I think that being on television five days a week is only going to help grow my music career. People will always know me as a singer, because that’s what I do. That’s my talent, and that’s how I came onto the scene. I think that now, it’s just about me broadening my career and the scope of my career into different areas.

OS: Idol alums Matt Rogers and Kimberly Caldwell have also tried their hands at hosting TV shows. Is there something about the experience on Idol that predispositions you guys for television hosting?

KL: I think there’s a lot that prepares you for that role, I just think that it’s recognizing that. A lot of contestants get off the show and they only focus on the music, and they only focus on singing. And that’s great, if that’s what they choose to do. But there’s a plethora of opportunities out there that you can take, and one of them is being a personality on television. Because that’s where your audience came from—you just spent seven months on television in front of the world, basically.

OS: With the show, the production company, and singing, you must be the type of person who just can’t sit still for too long.

KL: [Laughs] I love it, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Voting on Kimberley’s new tracks ends today, so hurry on over to her Facebook page to help pick her next single!

Q&A With The Airborne Toxic Event

It’s no secret that tough times can lead to great songwriting, and in the case of Los Angeles’s Airborne Toxic Event, they can be the reason a band gets together in the first place. That’s what happened in 2006, when frontman Mikel Jollett turned a particularly awful week into a handful of songs, and eventually into one of the most successful rock groups around.

Currently on tour to support their second full-length, All At Once, the five-piece is still busy turning difficult personal experiences into universally appealing songs. We got a chance to chat with guitarist/keyboardist of Steven Chen about the new album, the lingering impact of “Sometime Around Midnight” and the risks of shooting videos with cats.

OS: We hear it’s a sad story, but can you give us the rundown on how this band got started?

SC: Well Mikel and Daren met through mutual friends, in I think the summer of 2006. And Mikel had all these really tragic things happen in his life—his mom was diagnosed with cancer, he got diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, he quit smoking, he broke up with his girlfriend and he just spent a year writing a ton of stuff. He met Daren, and then the two of them were just playing, practicing for a whole summer. And then I had known Mikel when we both lived in San Fransico together, and Mikel knew the rest of the people in the band. They were all his friends. So we just all of the sudden sort of came together, having casual meetings at his house where he would invite people over and we would drink and play music and record some stuff. Eventually… I came in and played, and Noah was in there, and Anna was in there, and there was a very palpable chemistry. Eventually it all just worked out, and we played our first show within a month of officially forming.

OS: It seems like you guys gained momentum pretty quickly right after that.

SC: Well I don’t know, it looks a certain way from the outside… It’s hard to figure out what a good frame of reference is. This is my first band, but it’s not Noah’s and it’s not Daren’s. I guess it was like a year where we just played around LA a lot. And then we were just dropping off demos at radio stations and going for the local shows and stuff like that. So you know, we’ve been around for four years, a little over four years now.

OS: You’ve been compared to everyone from Bright Eyes to U2, but who would you say you were inspired by as you worked on All At Once? Who were you listening to?

SC: Oh man, I think we listened to all kinds of stuff. Mikel listens to a lot of Leonard Cohen, and we listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan when we were getting ready to record the album. The Clash is big, everyone in the band loves The Clash. Daren, the drummer of our band, he’s sort of like our resident music historian… Noah is an upright jazz bassist, so he like a weird mix of jazz and like, punk rock. He’s played in jazz bands, he’s played in country-western or punk bands, so that’s sort of where he comes from. And me, I listen to a lot of indie rock or brit-pop like Pulp or Pavement or The Smiths. I’m a big fan of late ‘70s, early ‘80s New York pop—New York Dolls, Dead Boys. And British punk.

OS: The video for your latest single “Changing” starts off with you turning off the radio as it’s in the middle of playing what sounds an awful lot “Sometime Around Midnight.” Was that something that was important to you on this record? Stepping away from that single?

SC: [Laughs] I don’t know if we thought about it too much. It was just more… it was kind of funny. And it’s our song, you know? It’s very much a part of our band, and we thought [“Changing”] was kind of a different vibe of a song. It’s kind of just tipping our hat to “Midnight.” I think it was like, a five minute discussion, and it was in there. People have been talking about it a little bit, but I don’t think we were trying to say, “Oh, screw that,” or anything.

OS: Several reviewers have said that it really sounds like you’re really defining your sound on this album. Did you find that was the case— that you really hit your stride as you worked on All At Once?

SC: You could say anything in retrospect, everything looks different. I think when you’re doing it, you’re not really trying to create a specific sound or a kind of music. If anything, Mikel had a really strong idea of how he wanted to kind of lyrically write around a theme. The songs on the album, from the first track to the last one, they tell a story. It deals with a pretty big concept. But when we were doing the record, Mikel had written all the stuff. He had written upwards of forty songs… and we worked on them the whole summer of 2010. We were just at his house every day, drinking coffee when we were there in the morning. We had a wall of songs that we were working on, and we had moved them around, moved them to the bottom of the pile or worked on them. But we just wanted to create the best songs that we could create. You never think about genre, you know? I think you can just be a rock band. The genre is generally more trouble than it’s worth… I don’t think you need to be pigeonholed, or lock yourself into a certain kind of sound.

OS: It’s interesting that you mention the storytelling aspect of your songs, because it seems like lyrically you always try to paint a really vivid picture.

SC: Yeah, Mikel’s very good at that. And it’s vivid because it’s true. All the songs—or most of the songs—are true stories. “Midnight,” you know, we were all there that night. It’s funny because every single member of the band was there that night as the story was unfolding. But yeah, the story is the thing. He really writes from the gut… and that’s what people respond to. There’s a lot of truth in it, and people recognize that story in their own lives. We hear that all the time, people will come up to us after the show or before the show. Some people are near tears, and some people are like, “I just divorced my wife, and this song got me through it.” There’s all kinds of stories.

OS: As you were gearing up to release the album you did an Origins Tour, where you played cities 5 nights in a row, beginning at the smallest venue and working your way up. Why do you think your sound translates so well to both back alley bars and huge arenas?

SC: Well we have a saying in the band: you play the show that you’re playing. You’re not playing another show, you’re playing that particular show—whether you’re playing for fifty people or you’re playing for 50,000 people. You’re playing that show. So if we’re playing at a small place… a lot of those small venues, you kind of just play to that room. If there’s something in the air that’s a little bit unhinged, maybe we play a crazy punk show. But then, if it’s more intimate, maybe we tell our stories and play songs that are a little more intimate and not quite as out of control. We just get a vibe for the room, and we play to that room.

OS: You also did this “Bombastic” series of one-shot acoustic videos to promote the new album, similar to those you did when you were promoting your debut. Why is that something you keep going back to?

SC: A lot of it’s for the fans, you know? When we did it the first time, we got such an overwhelming response. More than we ever thought we’d get. And in the band, we always feel that a good song is a good song in any genre. If a song is a good song, it’ll sound good as a country song, as a punk song, as a folk song. So we just wanted to strip it down and play the song as it was, and do it in one take. I think it’s in the spirit of being able to show the song at its really stripped-down level, and different things come out depending on how you’re playing it. Sometimes we’ll switch parts, so maybe the viola will get the electric guitar part or vice versa. So that happens. It’s the same way we play live shows, we never use tracks. We never have pre-recorded tracks. A lot of bands do that, we just never felt that was appropriate for a live show. We just want to get in that room and play. The big change was the setting—we had a lot of good ideas of different settings where we could play, and we chose the ones that were the most interesting.

OS: So are there any crazy settings that you still want to try out?

SC: [Laughs] I can tell you what we tried to do with one of those settings, that was unsuccessful. With the Bombastic video for “It Doesn’t Mean a Thing,” we had this idea… if you watch the video, unless you watch carefully you don’t notice that there are actually cats sitting on a rocking chair. Kittens. And we originally had, like, fifty kittens. We weren’t terribly loud, but they were running all over the place and it was really, really difficult. There was like, one kitten that stayed in the shot. So that was one that we unsuccessfully executed. We couldn’t execute that one, but we like the idea of it. But we’ve done a few in moving vehicles, we’ve done one in a car, a boat, and then on the new album we’re on a bus. It’s kind of fun to have it be a challenge, where it’s kind of difficult or you have to improvise.

Don’t miss The Airborne Toxic Event on tour, and give their latest single “Changing” a listen below.

Q&A With The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus‘ anti-abuse single “Face Down” essentially launched the Florida natives’ career back in 2003, earning them a slot on the Take Action Tour as it helped their fans deal with depression. But since then, things have been a little tough—the band left Virgin after just two records, and are independently releasing their upcoming album I Am the Enemy. We got a chance to catch up with Red Jumpsuit Apparatus frontman Ronnie Winter to talk about the impact of “Face Down,” the band’s genre-jumping abilities and how their split from Virgin just might be the best thing that could have happened to them.

OS: The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus was really popular in your home state long before you blew up everywhere else—what was it like to grow as a band in that Florida scene?

RW: It was pretty awesome. There’s quite a few bands, actually, from our local area. So just growing up there was a lot of really good music to look up to that came from our local town. I feel like that had a lot to do with it. Red Night Scare is basically from our hometown, so is .38 Special. Also Yellowcard is basically from the same hometown that we are. So a lot of bands have become successful from the area. When we were in high school we really felt if you do good enough, you have a shot. I think that’s cool. Lots of kids kind of get that idea in their head, that if it’s not you it’s somebody else, you know what I mean? Then we just started writing songs… And I don’t know, eventually we just decided to play a show, and it was one of those things where literally right after the first show we just had a lot of really great responses. Everybody wanted the CD, and we hadn’t made one yet. We didn’t even have tee shirts, everybody was asking for tee shirts. We had other bands who were there that had CDs and shirts and nobody wanted them, and we didn’t have CDs or shirts and everybody wanted them. So we were like, “Okay, well maybe we’ll put our other bands on the back burner, we’ll focus on this thing for a while.” And literally less than a year later we’re selling out big venues and selling a lot of CDs on our own… we made enough money to quit our jobs and live off the band almost a year and a half before we even tried to get signed, so that was really cool.

OS: A lot of that early success was thanks to your first single “Face Down,” which was a very personal, vivid description of abuse. How did it feel to hear that all over the radio?

RW: It was definitely weird, especially, you know, when my Mom and Dad heard it. [Laughs] That was weirder. But I don’t know. When you write a song, you don’t think about what this is going to sound like on the radio, you know? You just write what you’re thinking, and on that particular day, that’s what I was thinking about. I wrote it, I showed it to Duke and the rest of the guys in the band, and I was like, “You know, I feel like this is a pretty good song, what do you guys think?” It wasn’t really that big of a deal to us at the time, we were just writing a lot of honest songs like that. There’s another song called “Getting By,” which is almost to the same beat that I wrote “Face Down” in, talking about basically after you graduate high school, realizing how shitty the world really is. Everyone goes through a little bit of a depression phase, I think. Either you shoot into college, you get straight A’s, full scholarship or someone helps you out with money, or you’re working full time, so that’s hard to get by. It’s the same kind of scenario. We were just writing from the heart. It was a little interesting to hear it on the radio, but it definitely is a true story, so I’m glad people were able to relate to it. I have thousands, literally thousands, tens of thousands of emails of people thanking me for writing the song, saying that helped them get through a difficult time. That wasn’t the intention, the intention was just to describe what I was feeling, but something positive came out of it.

OS: After that single, you guys did a lot of positive stuff—you joined the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and participated in the Take Action Tour. Do you feel like there’s pressure there because of that—that there are certain themes you have to cover?

RW: Well, not really, because most of the stuff that we’ve done has always been really fan-driven. You mentioned NCADV—they actually approached us and said that they’d had some kids calling in and saying that the song made them want to call in and talk about their problems and change their lives. So they reached out to us and just said, “Hey, we really like your song ‘Face Down,’ would you be willing to do something with us?” And we were like, “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” So they actually initiated, you know what I mean? That’s not us. We didn’t like, decide to go grab them. Same thing with the Take Action Tour. As I said earlier, we have a lot of songs that deal with depression and teen suicide because we believe that’s a topic that needs to be talked about. Teen suicide is still happening all over the place, and people talk about it like it’s not a big deal, but it is. It is to us. And we believe that a lot of the time, you can save a life if you just talk to somebody. The Take Action Tour knew that that was kind of our vibe, they addressed us and asked us if we wanted to do the tour even though it’s a charity tour. There’s not really any pressure because a lot of times there’s not anything to be pressured about. People just come to us and ask us to do stuff, and if we think it’s cool and a cool vibe, then we do it.

OS: Speaking of tours, you’ve been with everyone from poppy acts like Amber Pacific to hard rock bands like Shinedown to the current tour with hardcore band Yashin. Why do you think you’ve been able to mesh well with so many different types of bands and fans?

RW: We actually have a lot of really different sounding songs. We definitely don’t try to stick to one genre with our music. Both of our first two records, if you put one song next to the other a lot of people say they don’t even believe that it’s the same band… Everybody in my band has completely different taste in music, which is cool. We all sort of bring that into the mix when we write. Some of our guys are really big into hip hop, some of the guys are really into country, I’m mainly into post-hardcore and punk rock, and some of our guys are straight up alternative and old-school rock. I think that helps, the fact that we have enough different style songs that we can mold our set list to whatever band we’re playing with to where it sounds cohesive. Or not! Sometimes we’ll do the opposite, and we’ll want to stand out. If we’re playing with a bunch of hardcore bands, we’ll play a really poppy set so we totally stand out and don’t sound anything like anybody else. One time we played with Fergie at an arena in New York, and we played every song that we have that was all screaming and barely any singing. So we stood out in that scenario. I don’t know, it’s just kind of fun. We do what we want I guess. We’ll find a way to make it work.

OS: You guys went through some tough times after Lonely Road was released, and you ended up firing your manager, Steve Tramposch. Do you think having a manager was important or did you do okay on your own?

RW: Now we have a management company called the Collective. The thing is, we had a guy who was just one guy in his office. When everything started, it really wasn’t that much work. He could totally handle it, and he was a good manager for sure. He worked 24/7 for us, and that’s what we needed. That’s what we always wanted was to pay somebody money to open doors for you. It’s that simple. It’s nothing personal, it’s business… After we had a couple records out, when the workload got to the point to where it’s more than what one person could actually handle, he just wasn’t able to keep up, and we had some conversations, and we parted ways. It’s that simple. We partnered with Collective, which is actually a management firm, so instead of one guy we have an entire team of people behind us. Everybody’s got their own job, nobody gets overworked, and your band is taken care of 100% of the time. I think we just grew as a band out of that situation and into where we are now. Nothing personal, it just is what it is. It wasn’t a lot of drama or anything… we were with him a long time, and we parted ways, and that was that.

OS: In the video for “Choke“, you guys are killing what look to be some record label execs. Was that inspired by your split from Virgin?

RW: [Laughs] I get a lot of questions about that video. The first thing I want to say is it’s actually part one of a three-part series. A lot of people don’t know that, and we did our best to try to explain that, but a lot of kids will throw up one video on YouTube—once they see it, they’ll throw it back up. It’s impossible to embed in their YouTube stream, “Hey, this is part one of three.” But if you go to our page, it explains that in detail. The actual story is a string of characters who are just basically criminals… They go into this place and they kill a bunch of people. In the second video, they go to a little hideout. They’re drinking booze, they’re smoking cigarettes, they’ve got money on the table. Basically it’s a robbery, but you never see the robbery scene. And then in the third scene, it’s them being chased down by the cops and there being like a showdown at the end. We all get shot because we won’t turn ourselves in, we fight the cops. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s just a story like any other video. We wanted to stretch it out and make it three parts because we thought it would be cool. We’d never had an opportunity to do that with Virgin. So we’re like, “Hey, now that we’re independent we can do whatever we want. Let’s do one long story in three songs.” If you look at the video in context, it’s clearly not about a record label. But if you just watch that one video, for sure, it obviously looks like it, because we actually shot it in our management firm’s office. So you can see, like, gold records on the walls and stuff. And we thought that would be fine, because we thought that some people would pick up on that. But obviously, who cares? It’s rubber guns, you know what I mean? And yeah, it was a little bit of a message to Virgin. But the real message was, “We can do whatever we want now.” Not, “We’re gonna come kill you.” Anybody who thought that is basically just out of their mind. It’s stupid. First of all, if you’re gonna kill somebody, don’t make a video of you killing them first and then send it to them. That’s pretty dumb. Basically it was just showing them that we don’t have any kind of restrictions as far as graphic or artistic—we can literally do whatever we imagine now.

OS: So it’s been a positive thing, the split from Virgin?

RW: Absolutely. 100%. You can believe it or not—we’re not going to put a bunch of our personal files online—but in the beginning there was a lot of people who were like, “Oh, Red Jumpsuit got dropped.” And a lot of bands say that they didn’t, but we 100% didn’t. It’s very simple. We actually signed a deal with them that was three solid, two optional. That was the deal. So what that means is we absolutely had to make three records for them, and then if they still wanted to make records with us, then we had to make another two for them. But we only made two for them, because when the third record came around, basically they couldn’t honor their contract. They sent us a new contract with all these weird, additional things in the contract, like “Okay, we can’t honor the contract because we didn’t sign the musician. I’m a new guy, and we don’t have the budget we had back when we signed you, and everything’s changed, and blah blah blah.” And we were like, “Guess what? We don’t give a shit. We had a contract. You’ve been doing this to us for four years, saying, ‘Follow the contract, follow the contract, follow the contract.’ And now that the contract’s in our favor, you don’t want us to follow the contract? I don’t think so. Follow the contract. Take your own advice.” They didn’t want to do that, so there was an option in our contract that said if they didn’t follow their contract, we could get out. So we got out. Bam. It’s pretty rad, actually. Doesn’t usually happen that way. It’s pretty rare.

Check out the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus on tour with Yashin, and give their new single “Reap” a listen below!

 


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