Xylos: TAS In Session
Brooklyn's electro-popsters Xylos released their self-titled debut last spring, but the melodic quintet are already working on their second album, test-driving new songs in live shows like tonight's gig (January 26) at New York's Hiro Ballroom at the Maritime Hotel, with Deadbeat Darling and Roma!
Late last fall, the band — singer Monika Heidemann, guitarist Eric Zeiler, keyboardist Nikki Lancy, drummer Christopher Berry and bassist Matt Aronoff — came by TAS' Bronx studios and played not only older tracks, but newly-written material like "Summer Song" and "Eastern Pose."
Alisa Ali: Are you guys constantly working on new songs?
Monika Heidemann: Yeah, we worked on three before we went on tour and then we came back and started writing new stuff so our goal is, like Zeiler said, just keep writing until we have a lot of stuff and then we can cut back and think about what we want to put on our next album!
Alisa: So did you all quit your day jobs? Did you ever have day jobs?
Monika: Some of us have kind-of-day-jobs.
Eric Zeiler: I write music for film and TV stuff but less and less of that, more Xylos. Music, producing other bands and stuff as well.
Alisa: Anything I’d recognize?
Eric: Most recently I produced a record by a New York band called Team Genius.
Nikki Lancy: I teach the SAT.
Eric: Nikki is a genius, actually.
Alisa: You teach the SAT? Tell me about this gig.
Nikki: I teach the SAT mostly in Massachusetts and I drive up and work with students at high schools on the weekends when we’re not doing other stuff.
Alisa: Are you in charge of taking care of the paperwork for the band?
Eric: I wish. Nikki: I teach the SAT but I’m actually slightly [challenged] in other ways. I try not to be put in charge of anything. I just show up. My job is really great.
Monika: I teach music to kids, private lessons, and lately I’ve been teaching chair yoga to seniors. It’s like yoga poses but on a chair.
Alisa: How did you get a gig doing chair yoga?
Monika: A friend of mine gave me the gig.
Alisa: You originally came to this band to keep bass, right?
Alisa: What do you think of Matt’s bass playing?
Monika: I think I look better playing the bass than he does. I like singing better. I still play with other people and on my own. It’s not like I gave it up, never to be touched again.
Alisa: Matt, are you a full-time bass player?
Matt Aronoff: Full-time bass player, yeah.
Eric: He likes to play electric bass and break upright basses.
Matt: There must be a gag reel at the MTA office of me falling down staircases and going up escalators and breaking upright basses. They’re holding the train before I get to the station, so I have to rush to it and I’m falling down the staircase with the bass. It’s a hobby. Putting in insurance claims.
Alisa: Are you all Brooklynites?
Monika: The girls live in Williamsburg and the boys live in the Park Slope and Prospect Heights area.
Eric: We don’t like being judged [for living in Park Slope].
Alisa: Where do you practice?
Monika: Chris’ house.
Eric: He has a house with a studio/rehearsal space in the basement so we can record and practice there. We do writing and recording in different spots; I have a studio in my place and we’ll sometimes write in someone’s house. When we’re recording, we’re between different places. When we go on tour, we work on rehearsing more.
Alisa: There are three lyricists [in the band]: Monica, Eric and Nikki, correct? Can you tell me how the process of songwriting work for you?
Monika: It’s seriously just different for every song. Sometimes one of us will have a mostly completed idea and we’ll work on it. We’ll record or demo it and other times, we’ll have half an idea and someone will add something.
Eric: The song “Eastern Pose,” Monika pretty much wrote the full idea of it and the lyrics and came to us with something that was already sounding like a real song. We put in our two cents, tweaked it, but the basic idea of the song came solely from Monika. Our next song, “X-Ray,” is one that the three of us literally contributed lyrics to different parts. I brought in the verse, Nikki came up with a pre-chorus. We all put in lyric and compositional ideas, so that was the other end of the spectrum.
Alisa: Monika, what a great voice you have. You’ve been in other bands, but is the first you’ve taken lead vocals?
Monika: No. I had a band before Xylos [for which] I wrote most of the songs and was the lead singer for that too. I’ve done a couple of things with different bands.
Alisa: The band was started by Eric and it was a little bit of a bedroom project, but you didn’t think you were a strong singer?
Eric: I’m a terrible singer. I don’t know any worse singers.
Monika: You’re not that bad!
Eric: On demos, the singing [I do] is always fun for them to hear because it’s terrible.
Monika: Stop that!
Alisa: But you sing back up?
Eric: I don’t! I don’t sing at all. The only time I use a microphone is today because you’re asking us questions. If you weren’t asking us questions, I wouldn’t have a microphone.
Alisa: Do you feel comfortable singing without a microphone?
Eric: Yeah, if I’m driving. I wouldn’t go play acoustic guitar at The Living Room and sing a song. But amongst friends. Sure.
Alisa: But you’re in a safe space now!
Eric: I feel very unsafe!