Skip to main content

TAS In-Studio

Pure Bathing Culture: TAS In Session

When Pure Bathing Culture's Daniel Hindman and Sarah Versprille visited WFUV's studios, they observed that it was the second time they'd been to our Bronx studios. Their first time? As touring musicians with Andrew Cabic's Vetiver.

Their work with Cabic  — and a subsequent friendship with musician and producer Richard Swift — led the Brooklyn-based couple to relocate to Portland, Oregon in 2010 where they eventuallly formed Pure Bathing Culture. The pair released their graceful debut, Moon Tides, earlier this summer and will return to New York on November 8, opening for Widowspeak at Bowery Ballroom. On the road, Hindman and Versprille recruit bassist Zach Tillman and drummer Brian Wright to expand Pure Bathing Culture's lineup.

Watch videos of Pure Bathing Culture live in Studio A below, read interview highlights and listen to the full conversation with Hindman and Versprille via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, October 4, at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Pure Bathing Culture's session in the FUV and TAS archives now.

Kara Manning: You’ve been [to WFUV] in the past as part of the backing band for Andy Cabic and Vetiver. Are you still a part of Andy’s touring crew?

Daniel Hindman: We have been. He hasn’t really done any major tours recently and we both hope that we’ll be a part of it. He just came to Portland and visited some friends. He came over and showed up some new music for the upcoming record that he’s working on which sounded really amazing. Hopefully we’ll be playing with him again soon, whenever he’s ready.

Kara: Moon Tides, your debut album as Pure Bathing Culture, is one of the prettiest records of the year. A lot of it came about because of that hiatus from Vetiver and you met Richard Swift, your producer, through [Vetiver], correct?

Sarah Versprille: Yes, Richard was touring and opening for Vetiver, early on after we joined Vetiver in 2009. We met him on that tour and got along really well. Then we played in his band shortly after, the following summer. We played in his band periodically over the years. He was one of the first people who we showed music to when we started, sporadically, working on it.

Kara: He hooked you up with working with Foxygen and Damien Jurado as well?

Daniel: Yes.

Kara: So you’ve been touring — or backing — musicians for other people. Did you feel that you needed a certain bravery to commence your own band?

Daniel and Sarah (together): Yes!

Daniel: Definitely. I think we still need bravery. Putting a record out has been really frightening for us. Putting something out that people cover in the press and write about, whether they say good things or bad things, it feels really fragile to you. Yeah, we had to get brave to do this.

Sarah: I think when we started doing it we were thinking about making music together ... but at least I wasn’t thinking about how brave one might need to be to push it out into the world.


Kara: Sarah, being the frontwoman now, you [have to carry yourself] in a different way. Watching you soundcheck the first song, “Pendulum,” it was interesting to [observe] a certain Stevie Nicks quality to you. And you also sing very close to the mic. How did you adapt your style for live performance?

Sarah: It’s been a work in progress. I think it’s changed a lot for me as we’ve played live. When we recorded the EP we’d never played a show. Then, all of the sudden, we had this music and we [needed to start] playing shows. I feel that I’ve learned most of what I’ve been doing really naturally, just being on the bandstand playing music with the band. Feeling how [it is] to be that person on stage which is very different from being in someone [else’s] band. But it’s really fun for me and I get a total kick out of singing the music.

Kara: Daniel, was there ever a conversation about who would be the singer of Pure Bathing Culture?

Daniel: No! (all laugh). The first song that we ever wrote together was a song off our EP called “Lucky One.” I just came home one day and Sarah had put vocals on top of some music I had written so that was the template of how it works.

Kara: Daniel, [as I watched] you play on “Pendulum,” I thought that there is a real Lindsey Buckingham influence to what you do. You’ve also chatted in the past about Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column being an influence, that latticework [texture] on guitar. Can you talk a bit about your approach to guitar and how that informed Moon Tides?

Daniel: Those are definitely two of my favorite guitar players, probably my most favorite guitar players. Those two guys are at opposite ends of the spectrum too. Lindsey is this very virtuosic player who does solos and Vini Reilly is more latticework, the sound that is the production of the track. With Pure Bathing Culture there’s tons of guitarwork everywhere. The songs usually start on guitar and we love to layer guitars in the studio. So I think Vini Reilly’s approach really influenced me in this band. [It's] something I think about a lot. Also the drum machines in the Durutti Column stuff. How big and vibe-y a track can sound with just a simple drum machine and a guitar. Another person that really influenced me was JJ Cale. Simple, vintage drum machines and guitars can make a really big sound.


Daniel: We’re not trying to participate in some zeitgeist moment of dream pop. We wouldn’t be a boy-girl duo if there were more people that we wrote songs with. I think that utilizing those textures and aspects of pop culture history is just a natural progression. We don’t try to define ourselves with that; we might do something completely different for our next record.

Kara: I think you said in an interview, Daniel, that your next album would be totally different.

Daniel: We’re definitely working on it conceptually and just starting to write it. We definitely want to do something a lot more expansive. This recording was very minimal, everything was really fast. We didn’t spend a lot of time on the tracks. There’s a lot of honesty in it, but there wasn’t a ton of thought or production. I think for the next record we’ll try to do something more emotionally expansive. We’ll see what it is. But I know it will be different.

Kara: What was it that your producer Richard Swift brought to the mix? He’s been a tireless advocate of your sound.

Sarah: He is and that’s a huge thing that he brought to the table for us: support and always being there, in the studio, doing something. He always would say, “Yes! That sounds good.” [He] encouraged us to make the sound that we were hearing and making us feel good about doing it.

Daniel: I think we did feel funny at first. This is a band? This is what we would do? Record all of these guitars direct and have these drum machines? Call it this weird name? And Richard was always there to go, “Yeah dude! Yeah! That’s f**king great!”

Kara: Do you think Richard is the one who really pushed you to create this band?

Daniel: For me, definitely.

Sarah: For sure.

Daniel: He was the first person to make me feel valid about it. He was in a community of people that we respected. Yeah, he was at the beginning of things for us.

As soon as we began writing the songs, we knew we were onto something that was honest and representative of what we were going through in our lives.

Pure Bathing Culture's Moon Tides is available now on Partisan Records.

Cloud Control: TAS In Session

Australia's Cloud Control's charismatic debut album, 2010's Bliss Release, won the band a blissful array of awards and nominations, including a 2011 win for the Australian Music Prize, an award which enabled the band to make a career-minded move to London.

Last week, the quartet released its sophomore album, Dream Cave, a progressive leap to new electronic frontiers, produced by Barney Barnicott who has also worked with Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. The birth of the new album wasn't always an easy road for either band or producer, as Cloud Control revealed when they recently visited The Alternate Side for a session and a conversation.

Cloud Control — Alister Wright, Heidi Lenffer, Ulrich Lenffer and Jeremy Kelshaw — embark on an extensive UK and European tour this week, lasting well into November. Although the band played New York earlier this summer, no additional Stateside tour dates have been announced yet.

Below, watch Cloud Control perform new songs, like the grand gallop of "The Smoke, The Feeling," in Studio A and listen to the full session this Friday, September 27, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming online.

UPDATE: You can listen to the session now in the FUV archives.


Kara Manning: You’re currently living in London because you won the Australian Music Prize. That award carried a nice purse of $30,000 which enabled you to move from the Blue Mountains of Sydney to London. Are you still in London?

Alister “Al” Wright: We’re still in London. We’ve actually lived there for two years now.

Kara: So you used that money to facilitate a move.

Al: I guess so. Pretty much. We moved over there because we had the chance to release our record through Infectious and they kind of helped us out with finding places to live and all that kind of thing.

Kara: Did living in the UK alter how you wanted to record Dream Cave?

Heidi Lenffer: I don’t know. We’ve talked about this and I think we’ve come to the conclusion that this album could have been recorded anywhere really. There’s no UK-specific sound to it or even logistically. We kind of recorded it in a similar way. We holed ourselves away in a house, we live on site. We lived upstairs and recorded downstairs in the countryside in Kent which is an hour south of London. So it wasn’t too dissimilar [from our debut]. The main difference was that we spent two months focused on just doing that whereas the previous album was done in bits and pieces over nine months.

Kara: Because you had day jobs?

Heidi: Yeah, most of us. I think Al was the only one of us who didn’t have a job.

Kara: You worked with a UK producer, Barney Barnicott who is well known, he’s worked with Peace, Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys and bands like that. Was that your choice or something the label suggested?

Al: It actually came about through one of our friends, Davo, who we played basketball with in London. He recommended Barney to us because he worked with Barney before in one of his old bands. They were called Pull Tiger Tail. They really enjoyed working with him and Davo is a really nice guy and he thought we’d worked really well with [Barney]. The main thing is that Barney had expressed interest in us as well, so we were excited to work with someone who would be really enthusiastic about our music and be passionate about the project.

Kara: When I first heard “Dojo Rising," [I was surprised] how different it sounded from Bliss Release. There was very much an organic feel to the first record, which you’ve managed to maintain but bring a grittier, electronic edge to Dream Cave. I would imagine that was a deliberate move on your part.

Heidi: That’s interesting that you chose that track because that was one of the tracks where we had some creative differences with Barney and Al worked really hard to produce that track in a way that we were happy with versus Barney’s opinions.

Kara: What was the conflict?

Heidi: Oh, just what sounds good. The compressed cymbals and stuff.

Al: I don’t really know that much about producing so the way I did it was really unconventional and maybe hard to mix and Barney just didn’t really like it. So it was hard. We had a few times like that on the record where we had clashes and things and we had to stick up for ourselves to get it to sound how we wanted.

Heidi: The flip side of that is that he transformed several other songs with his own creative ideas.

Al: He came up with some really good stuff too. “Dojo Rising”


Kara: Heidi, you and Ulrich are brother and sister?

Heidi: That’s correct.

Kara: But you, Heidi, are the person who is responsible for Cloud Control?

Al: Pretty much!

Heidi: I accept full responsibility. There’s a thesis [that you write in university]. I was doing my honors thesis and I needed an escape, something to channel energy into. This band competition came around every year and I thought, oh this would be really fun to enter! Just for laughs! So I pulled these guys together for six weeks. We wrote four songs, entered, got knocked out, but found something special that we then came back and won the next year, 2006.

Kara: And then to turn around in 2010 and have one of the most successful and critically acclaimed albums that came out of Australia is a pretty big deal. Something that probably was beyond your wildest thoughts and surprised your parents as well.

Heidi: They love this whole band rollercoaster! We even made my mother a suggestion box that she can put her ideas in so that we don’t need to filter them! She really feels ownership because her son and daughter [are in the band].

Al: We rehearsed in the Lenffer basement for years as well. They would cook us food.

Kara: You come from the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales which sounds beautiful, but it’s the bush, yes? Can you explain the region?

Al: I think the best way to explain it to someone who has never been there is that it’s all based around one train line that goes up the mountains and then a bunch of suburbs that come off of those that are like regular suburban areas. On either side of that it’s national park and lots of trees and birds.

Heidi: The township follows the ridge so it slopes away from the townships and every suburb has a valley behind it.

Kara: Dream Cave is named because you did part of this recording in a 2000 year old limestone quarry?

Heidi: It was beer stone, and it was handmade. Limestone is carved through water and this was dug out by the Romans.

Kara: There was an amazing photo of all of you recording in this quarry on your Tumblr page. Was this an idea that you had all had?

Al: I guess it came about after we’d finished the song “Dream Cave.” We were always talking about recording in a space that had interesting acoustic properties. Not that there’s anything wrong with using digital reverbs, I love them, but we thought it would be really cool to record in a space that had that kind of thing naturally.

Heidi: We settled on the quarry because of accessibility mainly. You didn’t have to trudge through half a meter high passageways to get to it.

Kara: Dodging bats?

Heidi: There were definitely bats but they were hibernating.

Al: We had to be careful not to wake them. I didn’t see any flying around. They were just hanging about.

Kara: How do you wire something like that?

Al: There was power. Because they run tours in the cave and it was the off-season, we ran power from the start of the cave and we didn’t have to go too very far in before there was an enormous cavern. That part was easy. That was something that we did by ourselves as Barney stayed in the studio. We took a bunch of friends down as well and we only recorded vocals. To get the cave sound onto other instruments we did this thing called re-ampng which is where we played individual tracks out through speakers that we brought into the cave and recorded it at the other end of the cavern. So you’d play the drums through one of the speakers and record it at the other end. The recording sounds like the drums had been played in the cave.

Kara: Did you do this with every song?

Al: Just certain tracks. We didn’t have any rules. It was just whatever we felt needed that kind of sound.

Kara: “The Smoke, The Feeling” was one of those songs?

Heidi: No actually! “Scream Rave,” the opening track.

Al: “Moon Rabbit.” The drums.

Heidi: “Dream Cave.” Maybe just the three?

Al: We tried to sing vocals on “Tombstone” but we didn’t end up using that.

Kara: On “The Smoke, The Feeling,” Heidi, you use vocoder on that track. Do you evenly split the writing of the songs?

Heidi: It was different for both albums. On this album, either Al brings a kernel of a song or a fully-worked song. I brought three of the songs and Al brought five. The rest of them were band-generated and worked on to different degrees. Every song is a different way of writing. Sometimes we write in pairs. This time various people chipped in on the lyrics to different songs, which is interesting.

Kara: “The Smoke, The Feeling?”

Heidi: I wrote that one. I started it on a plane coming home from Ibiza after a show we played there. I was in an upbeat mood. It’s kind of an intense song, but I was quite adament, from the start, that it needed to have a driving dance groove. So the earliest demos have something quite similar sounding to the record now. The vocoder was happenstance; we borrowed a Roland vocoder, a proper one from the ‘70s, from a friend of ours and we just played around with it. I brought this song into our band room and it worked really well with the vocoder. So it stuck!


Kara: Do you think that this album, Dream Cave, defines where you’ll be going next?

Al: I feel like it’s a bit more us, this album. I definitely feel like that. I feel so comfortable with it. Then again, I felt that way about Bliss Release in 2010 when we finished it.

Heidi: We were different people back then. We’ve evolved with the songs.

Al: This is an update of where we’re at.

Kara: I read that Roy Orbison and the Beastie Boys were influential in the making of this record too.  

Al: I was listening to a lot of Rancid as well because they’re one of my favorite bands when I was in high school and I was getting back ito them. So maybe it was that. I think I was influenced by Roy Orbison as well. But it’s hard to draw lines to everything and figure out where it came from?

Kara: What about different production styles that influenced you?

Al: Definitely. I think I was really happy when you were talking about the production having electronic themes but still fitting in with the way we roll as a live band. That was really important, to incorporate those things in a way that still made sense with everything that we do so it didn’t sound like we’d stuck a backing track on top of a bunch of things.

Franz Ferdinand: FUV Live

Nearly a decade ago, Franz Ferdinand won the prestigious 2004 Mercury Prize for their self-titled debut. Although the Glasgow rockers came close to splitting apart a couple of years ago, they persevered and just released a propulsive new album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. The confident album might well push Franz Ferdinand back onto the 2013 Mercury Prize shortlist when the nominees are announced this Wednesday, September 11.

Their style of mixing rock and dance elements with pure pop hooks was infectious and yielded hits like “Take Me Out,” “The Dark Of the Matinee” and “This Fire.” By 2009 – only 5 years after their debut – they’d released two more strong albums: You Could Have It So Much Better and Tonight. 

The Scottish band begins a North American tour next month, returning to New York on October 22 for a show at Hammerstein Ballroom.

Not long ago, TAS and FUV's Eric Holland caught up with Alex Kapranos, Nick McCarthy, Robert Hardy and Paul Thomson at Avatar Studio's in New York's Hell's Kitchen for a conversation and an acoustic session, focusing on songs from Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. 

Listen to the FUV Live session with Franz Ferdinand now, also airing on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, September 13, at 11 a.m. EDT and streaming online.


Lord Huron: FUV Live

The Alternate Side has been revisiting some of our favorite FUV Live sessions this summer and one of the bands that offered us a memorable performance in Studio A was Lord Huron.

The guys from Lord Huron now call Los Angeles home, but frontman Ben Schneider keeps his Michigan and modern prairie roots alive on the band's beautiful debut album, Lonesome Dreams.

It includes one of session host Alisa Ali's favorite songs of the year, called "Time To Run," and the band performed it (and a few more tunes) during a visit to Studio A late last year. Lord Huron is touring with Alt-J next month and will play a sold-out show at  Central Park's Rumsey Playfield on September 15.

Listen to Alisa's interview with Lord Huron in the FUV archives now or tune into a rebroadcast on TAS on 91.5 WNYE today, August 30, at 11 a.m. EDT, also streaming online.

Below, watch videos of the band live in Studio A.





Baptist Generals: FUV Live

Formed in the late '90s, Baptist Generals made a name for themselves as a band that mixed well with both folk and indie rocks fans. Their sound has been compared to musicians like Roky Erickson, Will Oldham and even Howlin' Wolf.

It's been a while since we've heard from this Denton, Texas band. Their last record, No Silver/No Gold, was released ten years ago. Making a return after that long hiatus, the Baptist Generals have released a new album, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart. The band's Chris Flemmons is also in the midst of planning a "Living Room Tour" of houses and lofts during September and October of this year. Tickets for the shows go on sale on August 21.

Watch Baptist Generals live in Studio A for FUV Live, below, and listen back to their session in the FUV archives now.



Yo La Tengo: TAS In Session

Yo La Tengo's thoughtful legacy of longevity, quality and innovation is an enviable one. Few bands have managed to span thirty years so effortlessly and with such a consistently strong discography. The trio's 13th release, Fade, came out earlier this year and it's one of Yo La Tengo's best, a succinct collection of ten songs, shifting slyly from bold grooves to more brooding ambles.

The band — married couple Ira Kaplan and Georgie Hubley and compadre James McNew — has been touring all year and last month they supported Belle and Sebastian at Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park. The indefatigable friends play Los Angeles' FYF Festival the weekend of August 24 and Ithaca, NY on September 13. A European and UK tour follows later this fall.

Listen to a session with Yo La Tengo on FUV Live tonight, August 13, at 9 p.m. ET on 90.7FM (archived too) or via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 16, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Yo La Tengo streaming now in the TAS archives.

Alisa Ali: Now, I’ve seen your “Ohm” video and there is a ridiculously complicated math equation of “What is Yo La Tengo.” Can you guys talk about equation?

Ira Kaplan: Well, it was put together by an old friend of ours, Donick Carey, who used to work for “The Simpsons.” He’s had an illustrious career in television and worked for David Letterman and he’s on “Parks and Recreation” now. We’d talked about doing something together for a long time and we finally did. But that was mostly his concept. We threw in some touchstones we were hoping he’d work into the equation.

Alisa: Like what?

Ira: I think it’s almost obvious which ones came from us so I won’t spoil it. But if it’s the square root sign, that’s all him. If it’s obscure bands from the great D.C. area, that’s us!

Alisa: What I was perplexed and fascinated by was that specific equation because there’s Nancy Sinatra going into the White Stripes going into Sister Nancy … did you guys come up with the list of all of those bands?

Ira: No, mostly that was Donick. We tweaked it a couple of times. There was a lot of proofreading, including Matador staff members. This totally took me by surprise, but the Rod Stewart hit record which is known to me as, “Do You Think I’m Sexy” is actually correctly “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” So that was one of the last things gotten right. We didn’t want the student to erroneously get an “A.”

James McNew: That’s right. The spelling of Pharoahe Monch was also elusive.


Alisa: [You've played a] very different version of “Ohm” than what’s on the album, but I’ve seen you play a few times and I think it was at a Town Hall show where you played that song twice. Is that something you’ve been doing?

Georgia Hubley: Yes, on that tour and a few tours, we’ve played two sets. One set kind of quiet and stripped down and we played a lot of the songs on the album that are quieter. And then we do a second set where we’re full on rock. It seemed a nice way to open the show and have that song come back. Play it in two different forms.

Alisa: I also heard that you’re going to be releasing a vinyl series that will include different versions of that song? And a shower curtain?

Ira: I have to say, that aspect of the news is new to us. I’ve heard that too. We had a lot to do with the packaging but [the shower curtain] was someone else’s brainwave. But even the live version that more closely resembles the studio version has gotten pretty far from that version. We’ve never been particularly shy about changing songs or playing them live and we don’t care about being true to the way it sounds on the record. So there’s going to be three 12-inch records, one with the studio version, one with a live, rock version and one with the live, quieter version. And then there’s a song that didn’t make it to the record that we recorded with our friends from Chicago, Doug McCombs and Rick Rizzo from Eleventh Dream Day. Doug is also in Tortoise with John McEntire and all three of the are on this thing called “Oriole." We have three radically different remixes of that song which will be the B-Side of each 12-inch. And a shower curtain.

Alisa: Is there a particular song that you’ve done that you feel changed most radically from inception?

Ira: Most of them?


Alisa: That song, “The Point of It,” is so beautiful. Ira and Georgia, you’ve been married for a long time. Do you think your fans want to read into the lyrics of your songs? Or do you keep them vague so people aren’t delving into [your] private life?

Ira: I don’t think that’s an either/or. I hope if they were more specific, like “I called up James and we talked about SCTV for a while,” then there wouldn’t be anything to look into. I like the idea and it’s flattering if people are thinking about the words and wondering what they mean, wondering how they fit into their own life. I think that’s great if that happens.

Alisa: When you’re writing, is it an ongoing processs? Or do you set aside time?

Ira: The latter. I’d say all of us are reluctant lyricists, always. I don’t like this, but I accept that it’s true. We record the record mostly before the lyrics are written and then at the last possible second, either when the recording gets shut down or we start singing, lyrics start appearing. This record was no different. Its seems like it’s inevitable. I’d personally love to be somebody who walked around with a notebook and came with ideas for songs.

Georgia: I know personally that the music part and the melody part is something that comes really naturally. The words are just a little harder. But what are you gonna do? Ira: Ultimately the lyrics were written very quickly. Finally, we just looked at the calendar and knew they had to be written. They came quickly, but when we’re writing songs, we leap into the creation of everything but the lyrics.

Alisa: How would you describe each other’s writing style?

Georgia: I don’t know if I could. James: I’ve never had to before.

Ira: We make up songs as a group. We’ll make up songs, record them, make a record and then go on tour for a long time. And then it gets to a point where we need new songs and we all know it. We start getting together and making up music, kind of with no direction. That’s a really fun time. It’s also kind of a strange time but it’s also really exciting. I would be on my way to practice and be like, “Wow! Today we could make something up that I’ll be playing for the rest of my life! I can’t wait!” I really like that. I always loved that. It feels very natural and exciting to make up music out of nowhere, between the three of us.


The Polyphonic Spree: TAS In Session

Not many groups claim nearly two dozen active members — all ambling onstage in flowing white robes —  or cite David Bowie as an early champion, but The Polyphonic Spree is no ordinary band.

Tapped to do a wide range of gigs over its 13-year history, from the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert to 2007's Lollapalooza to a spot on Showtime's "The United States of Tara," the quirky Texan collective has forged its own unique niche of trippy, motivational, mod chamber pop. 

Following a seven-year hiatus and a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to record a new album, The Polyphonic Spree is back with that crowd-sourced release, called Yes It's True, out this week on Good Records. They will livestream their London show from the Village Underground on August 6 at 9:30 p.m. BST (4:30 p.m. EDT), celebrating the record's release, and then make a beeline back to North America this month for a West Coast tour.

Resplendent in bold paisley tunics and alabaster lace frocks, The Polyphonic Spree recently paid an inspiring visit to WFUV and The Alternate Side. Below, watch videos of The Polyphonic Spree taking over Studio A and read highlights of Alisa Ali's conversation with founder and Tripping Daisy alumnus Tim DeLaughter.

Later this week, listen to the entire session on 90.7 WFUV on Tuesday, August 6, at 9 p.m. EDT, streaming here, or via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 9, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to the Polyphonic Spree now in the FUV archives.

Alisa Ali: Generally, The Polyphonic Spree is anything from 13 to 25 [people]?

Tim DeLaughter: I’d say about 18 to 23.

Alisa: That sounds about how old you need to be to get into a Polyphonic Spree show.

Tim: We do all ages!

Alisa: But obviously, The Polyphonic Spree is your brainchild. Did it just start with you and [your wife] Julie [Doyle]?

Tim: I’d done Tripping Daisy for quite some time and I’d always thought of doing something like this, even back in that band. But I thought it would be something I’d try later on. Some unforeseen circumstances happened and Tripping Daisy was no more. I took a little break from music and decided to go for this. It was an experiment. I had no idea that it was going to be a band, like it is now, 13 years later.

Alisa: I read in your bio that one of the seeds was planted when you were a child and you had an affinity for singing into the fan.

Tim: I did! I still do it to this day. The way my voice sounded, and resonated, in the fan. I like the way my voice would glide. That’s the number one reason why I started to use effects on my vocals back in the day. I’d double and triple track. It got to the point when I thought, what would it sound like if I had ten people singing as one instead of me and a fan, me and effects, me and myself? It all started from the fan.

Alisa: You must have always known you wanted to live the life of a musician.

Tim: I’ve always done it since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school I remember my music teacher walked into class one day and she had coal black hair, tight bun, horn-rimmed glasses and a suit. She was very stern. Red lipstick, pinched face, not a fun lady at all. But she takes this album and she props it up on the bulletin board and says, “We’re just going to listen to this record today.” She puts it on and it was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Trilogy album. We heard the whole record and I’d never heard music like that before and I was in the third grade.

That day, I told my friend, “Let’s start a band.” I didn’t have any drums so I went to the nearest ice cream place — a Baskin Robbins — and got some ice cream buckets and bolted them together, made my drums. My friend’s dad had a Les Paul. We went to his house, wrote a song and then came back to school and played it for the class. The way the class reacted to it … I was like, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” So I’ve been doing it ever since.


Alisa: Did you title the album, Yes, It’s True, just to make interviews easier?

Tim: I don’t know. My wife [Julie] came up with that and it became a recurring theme of things that were going on with us at the time. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We were using it as a term and we just started throwing it around.

Alisa: The song “You Don’t Know Me” is very positive, but it also addresses some skepticism that your band has faced since its inception.

Tim: Yes, we have. It was troublesome from the very beginning. We were having a difficult time just getting places to place since the band was so large and people couldn’t get their head round it. Club promoters thought it would be a nightmare having [that] many people. It was tough. The irony is that the band actually broke outside the States, in the UK and Europe, compliments of David Bowie. He’s the one who brought us out. He saw what that potential was and he believed in it. He brought us over and the rest is history.

Alisa: So any person you talk to about the band has a whole slew of questions about the logistics of managing this band. Does that get frustrating that you have to address this constantly?

Tim: No, I’d want them to know what a gift it is for us to be even performing. It is a gift. We are like five bands in one band and when people come to the show they need to feel the gravity of that. It takes a lot of compromising and a lot of money for us to orchestrate this band. To be able to navigate is 24/7. It’s the only thing that’s been on my mind and my wife’s mind for the past 13 years. We put everything into this band. The people who are playing wth us … we have two people for a 20-piece band because we’re all our own crew. We can’t really afford to have a light person. I’m running lights onstage myself. We run our own merch. We do what we have to do. It’s a lot of money to work the band.

Alisa: This record, Yes, It’s True, was crowd funded through Kickstarter. You did a little video explaining how all of this works. There were bullet points on what you needed the money for and how you would use it. It was comprehensive — there’s even a special tour bus to accommodate that many people.

Tim: Yes, there’s two in the country and that’s the only one we’ve ever used. It can sleep 27 people. It’s the largest sleeper bus that it is. In the UK they don’t have a bus that large so we have to rent two buses which is doubling the cost every time. It’s a lot of work and planning. You think about a four or five piece band and you’re thinking about everyone’s schedule. Well, you do that with 20 people and them trying to make it work because it might not be their only gig and it’s hard to commit … well, it’s always worth it. And the people in the band feel the same way or we wouldn’t be able to continue to do this.


Alisa: I imagine that a sense of enthusiasm surrounds [The Polyphonic Spree]. Your music has such a joyful, positive outlook.

Tim: I think [the people] has a lot to do with what it takes for us to be able to do this. The songs really come to life when you have this collective around you. They’re all sharing the same energy and you’re feeding off of each other. It’s pretty amazing to have that many people onstage musically, to exchange that energy. When you bring in the crowd … I implore them to join in and be a part of the band that night. The room just raises for that evening. It’s pretty cool.

Alisa: You’re the main songwriter and do the arrangements as well. Solitary? You and Julie?

Tim: I write the songs on my own. They’re just stripped-down versions, nothing special. They’re done on piano or acoustic guitar. Julie’s right there with me the whole time as a soundboard. When I bring it into the band … the only prerequisite [for people in this band] is that they’re able to improvise on their instrument. I wasn’t going to be writing out charts; I didn’t go to school for music. The thing I knew that I could do was if I found people who can improvise, I could sing parts, they could play it, and we could get in there and write our parts together. Then we go in and record and it just comes to life.

Alisa: Do you sing the cello part?

Tim: It may be something like that, but a lot of times they come up with their own parts that work really well. But if I have something in my mind, I’ll sing it to them and they’ll play it. Especially in the studio; that’s when it really happens. You have to make a lot of calls right then and maybe there’s not much time to do pre-production. A lot of it is really on the fly, but in order to expedite it quickly, I’ll sing it.

Alisa: Do you enjoy the recording process? Or do you have anxiety about it because there are so many moving parts?

Tim: I have some of my best time and some of my worst times in the studio. I get really wound up and overwhelmed sometimes. It’s so weird [because] you have this idea of the sound and this thing that you want to come across on a record.

When you’re put in there on the spot, it’s time for it to happen and you’re doing these little steps along the way, it’s not fulfilling where you want it to be. So you’re constantly trying to get there and it’s not ever quite getting there. When it is, it actually is. But in my brain, it’s not. So I’m constantly working myself up and they’re always trying to talk me out of a tree. I’ve ended up on the floor many times, curled up in the corner, in the bathroom (laughs). There’s been some crazy stories. But Julie’s really good about keeping me grounded and keeping it all together. The people I’ve been working with for years understand that about me, so they know how to deal with it.

Alisa: It must be really great to have it done now and know you can just play these songs.

Tim: Yeah, it’s awesome. Especially with this record. This was such a huge surprise. We took the record and we gave it to Tim Palmer, who is a mixer. I’d never really given [an album] to a mixer — we’re usually hands on with it all the way through. When he came back with some of these songs, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It was way more than I could have ever expected.

This record is really special. I love a lot of elements about it. It keeps on giving.


Local Natives: FUV Live

The Alternate Side is giving away tickets for Local Natives' show at Terminal 5 on September 24 and it seemed a fine time to revisit the band's FUV Live session from earlier this spring.

Below, watch videos of Local Natives' live performance and listen to the quartet's conversation in the FUV archives or via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 2, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online

The Los Angeles band also stopped by Studio A back in 2009 to play us some songs from their debut album, Gorilla Manor and you can watch Local Natives performing the songs, "World News" and "Camera Talk" here.



Smith Westerns: TAS In Session

Earlier this summer, Smith Westerns arrived at WFUV and The Alternate Side prepared to play an acoustic session of songs from Soft Will, an unplugged gesture that mirrored the subtle sonic adjustments that the rakish Chicago rockers have made since their 2009 debut.

Not that the band's latest release, Soft Will, doesn't reverberate with a certain punkish bravado, but there's a grander maturity to Smith Westerns' taut songcraft these days. Smith Westerns — vocalist/guitarist Cullen Omori, bassist Cameron Omori, lead guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich (who sat out  of the FUV/TAS session) — are touring North America now and land at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday, July 24.

Watch videos of Smith Westerns in performance at FUV, below, and listen to the session on FUV Live on Tuesday, July 23, at 9 p.m. ET (also streaming) or onTAS on 91.5 WNYE on Friday, July 26, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online. Read highlights of Cullen, Cameron and Max's chat with The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali:

Alisa: You don’t usually do acoustic sets, so did you have to work this out a bit? Or do you wing it?

Cullen Omori: No, no, we spent time working on it. It’s different because you don’t have drums. The strum becomes more percussive. It’s something that we’ve never done; from the beginning, we’ve always played loud and electric. It’s something that appealed to us, so scaling it down is new and kind of challenging. It’s a good thing to do.


Alisa: I saw the video for “Varsity,” a very sweet, young love kind of video. Were you in that video?

Cullen: No!

Cameron Omori: None of us were.

Alisa: Cullen, you kind of look like the guy in the video a little bit.

Cullen: Because we have long hair? No, no, it’s actually a friend of ours. He did it with his girlfriend. We needed to do the video kind of quickly and I had an old friend from Chicago, Alan, and it worked out really great. I like it. I thought it was a good video.

Alisa: A lot of the songs on this record have a light, summery feel-good vibe to them. But the lyrics are more reflective and not so happy-go-lucky. I feel that the studio mix is so that the vocals are not as upfront; I feel that the guitars are much louder than the vocals.

Cullen: When we were in the studio, compared to all other albums, for us the vocals are up fairly loud. I think, of course, we like to have the guitar and other instruments be voices as well. But for us, we did a good job putting it up in the mix.

Max Kakacek: We definitely went into the studio deciding to put the vocals up and I think since all of us heard the song so many times, we all knew the lyrics, so it might have gotten lost in the music, but for us, we feel confident that the vocals are this loud.

Cameron: Plus when people come to the shows and see us live, they can pick out the lyrics they couldn’t understand on the record.

Alisa: What about the reflective, lamentative mood of the vocals versus the bouncy feel of the music?

Cullen: The lyrics are more reflective, the songs are different from the records we’ve done in the past, all in the love song medium. For us, the way we make music, I don’t think of it as a sunny thing. Most of the time we write the music is in wintertime or I’m in my room, not outside. It’s one of those interesting things when you put records out and they’re called sunshine-y. But we write in the basement.

Max: It smells like mold.

Cullen: We piece together the songs in our apartment or bedroom. I guess, as far as the lyrics becoming more reflective, we had done two records and I felt that lyrically, it was getting more confident. [I became] more confident to talk about things, so I imagine why it’s why I moved things in that direction.

Alisa: Has writing become easier for you?

Cullen: No … I think it has always stayed the same. As I write or as all of us write, you get better at playing your instrument or you have a better idea of what you want to do. As you get better, the vision gets bigger and bigger so you want to be able to create what you see. It never gets really easier, but your vision expands to what you want to do. It’s still a grind.

Traditional guitar music always had, for me, if not the most thoughtful lyrics, but iconic ones. Even when we were doing the first and second record, and there were very traditional love songs, I still spend time making them. Well, the first record not so much; I was like, let’s write it down and do it, but that was the first record and we never thought anyone was going to hear it. But for Dye It Blonde, I wanted to write more in the love song medium, and for Soft Will —  after seeing the support for Dye It Blonde — it definitely gives you confidence as a musician and songwriter to do your own thing.

Alisa: Things really took off for you pretty quickly after [Smith Westerns] formed.

Cameron: That record came out three years after we’d formed. We’d been touring on it. There was no overnight success.

Cullen: There’s a difference between being blogged about or online as opposed to who comes to shows and how much you can tour. On the first record, with the debut, it took us three years [to make it] and we did it while we were all going to college. We wrote that album and it came out when we were 18 or 19. We were in our first year of college. It got picked up and people were talking about it, but it was never one of those things where we could go to any city and play a show. We weren’t getting recognized or anything. A couple of music people knew us. Dye It Blonde was really the first time where we could headline a tour and play for people. Because we had done tours where we headlined, before Dye It Blonde, and we’d play the same rooms to 20 people. The next time around there would be 300.

Alisa: You had said in 2011 that one of your big goals was to sell out Chicago’s Metro and you did that. What is your big goal now?

Cullen: When I said that, I thought it would be nice. We’ve always done it step by step. The reason we talked about selling out the Metro was because we’d played Schubas [Tavern] and sold it out. We played Empty Bottle and a couple of months later, Lincoln Hall. So we’ve always taken it on a step by step basis. If we’d formed in 2009 and said, “Let’s sell out the Metro or Webster Hall,” I don’t think it would have worked. For us, it’s always been about putting out a record, go on tour and see how people react. There’s never been that thing where we want to make a huge jump. If anything, we want to maintain where we are.

Cameron: There’s no months and months of strategy or planning behind it. It’s organic. It seems to work better. If we were to sit down and be like, “Where do we want to be," I feel like we wouldn’t be able to reach that goal if we set it.

Alisa: You have a great rapport, you’re brothers, Cullen and Cameron, and you all have been friends for so long. Initially, it was Max and Cullen and then you came in , Cameron. At that time, all three of you were taking turns?

Cameron: No, I was in the band originally!

Alisa: All three of you formed the band?

Cameron: In high school. I lived with Cullen! We did it together.

Max: Originally Cullen was drumming and we had no singer and then Cullen started to sing. To record, Cullen and I switched off on drums. But we never played live with Cullen or me on drums.

Alisa: Initially you didn’t know who the singer would be? How did it become you, Cullen?

Cullen: I guess I was the person who said, “I’ll do it.” When we first started playing, it was very much a punk thing. I was all about doing it, playing shows. As I kept doing it, I got better. I was never a singer, I never sang up to that point. I started singing when I was 16 with this band, so that was 2006. Never sang with a choir. Up to that point, the kids who sang, I thought, were the kids who wanted attention. That wasn’t me. Still isn’t me.

Alisa: So you didn’t feel apprehensive?

Cullen: It was totally a punk show. It was playing as loud as we can. When we were in high school, we wouldn’t go to high school parties; we’d go to post-college or college drop-out, pizza-and-beer record duded who’d get hammered and let us play for them. Then we’d grab the beer, listen to a lot of the records, and that influenced us a ton.

Alisa: What kind of records influenced you on Soft Will? You have an instrumental track on this record that I feel is very Pink Floyd.

Max: That was a fun thing that I wanted [to do], building instruments on instruments. An exercise in playing on this idea of making something epic, but tongue-in-cheek funny too. It’s silly that it’s on there, but fun too.

Alisa: I think it’s a lovely, orchestrated piece, actually! I don’t get the humor!

Max: It’s over the top in a certain way.


Alisa: For this record, you worked with [Grizzly Bear and Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer]  Chris Coady — did you communicate with him in a different way?

Cullen: We really like working with Chris. We’d consider him a good friend. But we don’t go to the studio with a ton of songs, but with all the songs we want on the record. We also go having recorded almost the entire album in the basement where we practice. We show Chris the songs and we talk about what would be cool, what songs we can recreate and make better. That’s how we work.

Cameron: Chris is also really open to suggestions. It’s not a thing where you say you want to do something and he says, “No.” Before we go in, most of the songs are pretty much fleshed out with everything that we want in the song and then, with Chris, we figure [it out].

Alisa: So when you have the songs fully-fleshed out, were there any that were vastly different?

Cullen: For this record, no. Everything became more clear. The one song we wrote in the studio was “Varsity.” It was brought in as a demo and we worked it all out, as a band, in the studio. Looking back, when you listen to the demo, [the songs on Soft Will] are just clearer. You’re in a studio with a lot more equipment that’s more expensive than the equipment we have in the basement!

MS MR: TAS In Session

Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are the NYC duo known as MS MR. They recently released their full length debut, Secondhand Rapture, and stopped by The Alternate Side and FUV's Studio A to play some of their new songs and chat with Alisa Ali about their music making process.

MS MR are touring the UK and Germany this week, but they'll return to New York for a hometown show at Webster Hall on September 24.

Watch MS MR live in performance, below, listen to the session in the FUV archives or on TAS on 91.5 FUV this Friday, July 19, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.