Silversun Pickups brings poppy melodies, distinctive vocals and driving indie rock riffs into one cohesive package. Brian Aubert’s memorable voice strings together catchy phrasing supported by Nikki Moninger’s intricate bass riffs. The sound is rounded out by clever keyboard parts and live string realizations by Joe Lester. If that wasn’t enough, drummer Christopher Guanlao brings the energy to the next level with intense grooves and extensive fills.
SSPU has been climbing the charts both in the US and Canada. Their latest release Swoon marks the band’s most mature arrangements yet. To top it off, they’ve garnered extensive licensing placements in TV, movies and video games. The band was even nominated for a GRAMMY late last year in the Best New Artist category. OurStage caught up with Guanlao to find out about their influences, the recent GRAMMY nomination and their approach to live shows.
OS: Your band name is a reference to a local liquor store where you guys are all from, and you have referred to yourselves as a “neighborhood band”. As an internationally touring act, how do you maintain these roots?
CG: We still live in Silverlake, the little neighborhood where we (SSPU) cut our teeth. Whenever we’re not out touring, we’re still going to the local clubs and bars that we used to go to. We’re still very close to Silverlake and still consider ourselves locals. The bartenders and club owners know us, and we feel right at home there.
OS: What was it like reaching the milestone of being nominated for a GRAMMY this year?
CG: It’s really a shock. We never thought we would be a type of band that would actually get nominated for a GRAMMY. It was an amazing honor, but we don’t put too much weight into it. At the end of the day, we just want to do our thing and try and be the best at it. If we get recognized for what we do, that’s awesome, but it’s best not to dwell on it too much. If anything, it’s more of a reward for the people we work with (management, record label, etc). They deserve the recognition as much as us.
OS: How do you feel about the common comparison between your sound and The Smashing Pumpkins? Who do you take influence from?
CG: We’re fine about that comparison. When people say that our sound reminds them of Gish, we love it. That was such a cool record. We understand that some people need a point of reference when they compare music, and that’s fine with us. But our more immediate influences are My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Wilco, TV on the Radio, Joy Division, etc. The list can go on and on…
OS: Have you found that your extensive commercial licensing opportunities have noticeably boosted your notoriety? How so?
CG: We don’t mind commercial licensing at all. It’s a good way to get music out there to some people who wouldn’t normally get to hear it. Because record sales aren’t as strong as they used to be about ten or fifteen years ago, it’s a good way for us to make some money so we can continue to do what we do.
OS: Have you played any of your own songs on Rock Band or Guitar Hero?
CG: Yes, and we’re quite horrible at it. It’s so much easier to actually play the songs, but it’s tons of fun nonetheless.
OS: Your latest album Swoon contains a lot of diverse arrangements (from normal 4-piece to full-on string ensembles). How do you emulate such complicated arrangements when performing them live?
CG: A lot of the time Joe will simulate the melodies via the keyboard. But sometimes we just leave the more intricate or subtle sounds or melodies on the record. We believe that the live experience is different from the album experience. A lot of the sounds on the record won’t really translate well live unless we had a lot more things like more players or expensive equipment. So we rely on more of a live energy when playing shows.
OS: You’ve played many festivals and just came off a huge tour with Muse. What is the band’s favorite festival or type of venue to play?
CG: We like all kinds of festivals. It’s fun to play Coachella cause that’s like our backyard. Lollapalooza is great because of the history, and the same goes for the Reading Festival in England. We love to play festivals in general because of the diversity of bands that are playing and the circus atmosphere that comes with it. But after saying that, it’s really nice to go back to club or theater shows, because its more intimate and the elements (sun, wind, rain, etc) are a lot less abrasive than festivals. When you play festivals, all bets are off—rain or shine, you’re gonna have to deal with it.
OS: When can fans expect the next Silversun Pickups release?
CG: We’ll be touring pretty much for the remainder of the year. So we won’t likely have another release till the end of next year. But that’s so tentative of a schedule that I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s sooner or later than that. Stay tuned…
While you’re waiting for news about a new album, you can catch SSPU on tour with Against Me!
7/21: Stubbs- Austin, TX
7/23: City Market- Kansas City, MO
7/24: Live on the Levee- St. Louis, MO
7/26: Filmore Auditorium- Denver, CO
7/27: The Rail- Salt Lake City, UT
7/29: Crystal Ballroom- Portland, OR
7/30: Knitting Factory Concert House- Spokane, WA
7/31: Paramount Theatre- Seattle, WA
8/2: Grand Sierra Resort & Casino- Reno, NV
8/3: Fox Theatre- Oakland, CA