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TAS In-Studio

Junip: TAS In Session

Although Junip, the Sweden-based trio of José González, Tobias Winterkorn and Elias Araya, got slightly sidelined a decade ago as González' solo career took off, the band has more than made up for the delay.

Junip's second, self-titled album continues from where 2010's Fields left off, mixing a maze of bold, sharply melodic layers with a melancholy drift. The trio — which expands to a sextet on the road — is doing the UK/EU festival circuit in an undemanding way this summer, with one upcoming date this month at Suffolk's Latitude Festival, but more shows in August. They'll return to the States in October for the Austin City Limits festival.

Watch Junip in session with FUV and TAS below and listen to González and Winterkorn in conversation with Russ Borris on FUV Live tonight, July 8, at 9 p.m. ET (also streaming) and on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, July 12, at 11 a.m. ET, also available online.

Junip is available now on Mute (US) and City Slang (EU).

UPDATE: Listen to the Junip interview now in the FUV archives.


Russ Borris: I liked that you played “Walking Lightly” because, to me, [there's] a running theme [of] “don’t really really stress about stuff.” Is that an intentional vibe?

José GonzálezYes, I think for that song. We have that way of living life. It’s nice to convey that in music. Some of those songs are dark and things won’t get better. “Beginnings” is one of those songs.

Russ: A little soul searching when you write these songs?

José: Yes, definitely. Or sometimes pretending. I’m not always soul searching.

Russ: Pretending.

José: Exactly (laughs).

Russ: Do the words come first or the music?

Tobias Winterkorn: We always start with music, just jamming and trying to find a certan vibe or tunes. Then we record it.

José: Very last minute I start doing vocal melodies and write the words.

Russ: It’s also very atmospheric. The songs have a lot of life in them and breathe. How does that work in the studio? Do they change as you go? When you play them out live?

Tobias: Both, I guess. “Walking Lightly,” for example. It started out as a jam for five or six minutes and then it turned out completely different than I thought it was going to be.

José: It used to be just two chords going back and forth. I think we were yawning while playing. But then we figured out the chord changes and that really opened up the song.

Tobias: Then we could stop adding stuff to it.

José: More and more and more chord changes.

Tobias: Basically when we’re producing we’re three [people] and on tour we’re six people. It’s the type of song where you can add stuff while touring.

Russ: When you’re in the studio, then you go on the road, you realize, “We need more guys!”

Tobias: We thought about that when we were writing. But we don’t think about it and [thought] we’d solve that later!

José: We started calling people. Different drummers, for example. It’s not easy to rehearse, money-wise, being from LA, UK, Sweden.

Russ: People [scattered] all over.

Tobias: Norway too.

Russ: The production on the record is really very warm and there’s a calmness to it. I like that it matches the vibe of the songs.

José: I guess soundwise we like distortion and edge, but we like to listen to stuff at loud volume without hurting our ears. So when we record, our co-producer Don Alsterberg likes to put it through tape which usually takes out some of the high frequencies. [They] can be hurtful when you listen loudly. So that gives [the music] this soft blanket feeling.

Russ: If we trace back the beginnings of the band in the mid-2000s when you put out your first EP, did you think you’d be able to get to a full record? Was there hope you’d record more?

José: Yes, we’d talk about it once in a while. Sometimes it felt very real ... and sometimes it felt like words that we’d say when we were drunk. But when we actually got together and did the first album, we were sort of surprised. We actually made an album! It was sort of similar with the second one, but a bit more determined and things ran a bit more smoothly.

Tobias: Actually, when we wrote Fields we decided [to do it]. José: I decided not to go on any more tours. I wouldn’t do any more solo stuff until we had our album. Russ: How does that work with the solo stuff when you’re writing songs? [Your] thing versus a Junip idea?

José: It’s usually not a problem because we always start from scratch with Junip. Whenever I’m writing words or trying to come up with melodies, I’m doing that with demos. So I start of choose beforehand [if] I’m going to work on a solo song or a Junip song. I very seldom have a riff or lyric that I need to choose; there’s always a melody in mind.


Russ: “All Is Said and Done” has a great build to it. It’s not a tense thing — it’s pulled back a little.

Tobias: It’s trying to hold back when you don’t want to do it … but have to in a way.

Russ: What’s next for you guys? Are you thinking ahead already?

Tobias: We’re going to concentrate on [this album]. We’re going to summer festivals, another European tour and then back here. I think José has a solo project in his back pocket that he wants to work on.

José: Yes, gathering ideas for my solo album, working on music for a film, continuing to play music and touring!

Russ: “Line of Fire” has a cinematic feel to it. José, has working in film been an aspiration?

José: Not directly, but the funny thing about that song is that we thought [that song] would fit perfectly as the end titles for a movie. I picture myself working with film music later in my life. I still find it more fun to try to write songs and if they get used in film, great. But not necessarily work with film.

Nick Cave: FUV Interview

Over the last week TAS has been revisiting some of our favorite WFUV interviews from the past six months. Watch and listen to Eric Holland's fascinating conversation with Nick Cave at the Bowery Hotel earlier this spring, detailing the "the adventurous making" of Push The Sky Away, Cave's 15th album with the Bad Seeds.

In addition, Nick Cave discusses the absence of guitar on the new album, the impact of Grinderman, Miley Cyrus (really) and the "counterpoint" that exists in his writing.

Listen to the entire conversation with Nick Cave, with music, from the new album, in the WFUV archives now or watch the interview itself below.


The National: FUV Live

This week The Alternate Side is looking back at some of our favorite FUV Live sessions from the last six months and we thought that New York's own The National fit perfectly with Independence Day. 

Watch videos of the band playing live, below, catch up with The National session in the FUV archives or listen to The National this Friday, July 5, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

The National released their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, earlier this spring. The band has steadily held our attention ever since their 2001 self-titled debut. Over the years, the band has developed a uniquely somber yet lush style. The musical arrangements ebb and flow like tides and often have an eerie and tense feel to them — as though you may get pulled into an undertow. But there are also moments of serenity and joy in their sound. It is not lighthearted, easy-listening pop; it's rousing and dramatic music with poetically dark and evocative lyrics.

The music is created by two sets of brothers — The Devendorfs and The Dessners — with Scott and Bryan Devendorf on bass and drums respectively, and twins Aaron and Bryce Dessner who both play guitar. The deep baritone voice of the band belongs to Matt Berninger, who writes the lyrics.



Low: WFUV Live Session

Over the long and leisurely July 4th holiday week, The Alternate Side will highlight some of our favorite FUV Live sessions from the first half of 2013, beginning with Low. 

This year, Low celebrates 20 years together as a band, and they recently released a tenth full-length album, The Invisible Way. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, it's a beautiful pairing of thoughtfully-introspective lyrics and sparse musical arrangements. The veteran indie rock trio performed a few of the new songs, like the haunting "Plastic Cup," in Studio A back in March.

Listen to the Alisa Ali's conversation with Low here in the FUV archives and below, watch videos below of Low in performance.

Low kicks off a summer tour on July 18 in Indianapolis and play Chicago's Pitchfork Music Fest on July 20. The Invisible Way is out now on Sub Pop.




Still Corners: TAS In Session

As adrift in moody atmosphere as a Jane Campion film, Still Corners' second album, Strange Pleasures, takes a nocturnal journey through London, reflecting the romantic evolution of a relationship.

The Anglo-American duo of Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray just wrapped a tour with Chvrches, appearing in New York last week for three gigs, including their own headlining slot at Mercury Lounge. A handful of UK and European festivals are set for later this summer.

Before their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg last Tuesday, Still Corners made a side trip to The Alternate Side to play a set of songs from their haunting new record, out now on Sub Pop. Watch videos of Still Corners' performance and read highlights of their conversation below.

Listen to the entire session this Friday, June 28, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Still Corners' session in the FUV/TAS archives now.

Kara Manning: You’re described as a London duo, but in truth, you’re an Anglo-American duo because, Greg, you are from Austin, Texas.

Greg Hughes: Yes, that’s right. I went over [to London] about a girl. It didn’t work out but I stayed.

Kara: I interviewed Exitmusic last year and they met in an amazing way on a train, going through Canada. Then I heard your story and thought that it almost trumps Exitmusic’s story. It also involves trains.

Greg: A lot of people actually don’t believe us. But if you live in London, it wouldn’t be that surprising because trains get missed and go different places quite often. I was at London Bridge ….

Tessa Murray: You weren’t at London Bridge! He was trying to get to London Bridge.

Greg: Yes! I was trying to get to London Bridge from Charing Cross. The train said it was going to London Bridge, but it didn’t. It went out to this place that I’d never heard of before called Kidbrooke. It was actually a dark, foggy night. I got off of the train and there was this other person on the platform. I guess [Tessa] came up to me because I looked confused.

Tessa: He looked a bit annoyed. I was a bit annoyed. The train was definitely signposted to London Bridge and it was twenty minutes before the next train. I just said, “Did you get on the wrong train too?”

Greg: i was surprised because people in London don’t speak to each other.

Tessa: But I’m quite friendly.

Greg: We’re all too busy being miserable. But we got to chatting and that’s when Tessa said, “I’m missing choir.” And I was looking for a singer for my project Still Corners. So we shared the train back, talked about music and film ….

Tessa: And you had five books in your bag which you showed me.

Greg: So Tessa came down and we started working on music. It grew from there, a really great fit. Actually, [Tessa], you told me recently about the bench ….

Tessa: I was going to sit down on a bench to pass the time, but it was wet. So that’s part of the reason I spoke to him.

Greg: So the project hinged on a wet bench. Very weird to think about.

Kara: Your most recent record is Strange Pleasures which is the followup to [your debut] Creatures of the Hour. You were snagged by Sub Pop before your debut was released, but it was based on the double-A single you’d released, right?

Greg: Yes, it was the “Don’t Fall in Love/Wish” combo that we put out on The Great Pop Supplement in London. Shortly thereafter we did a video for “Wish,” the B-side, and that’s when we started getting some momentum. I think we noticed that Sub Pop bought the song ….

Tessa: On Bandcamp. We got an email saying that they’d spend £4 on the two songs which is twice what you’re meant to pay.

Greg: They doubled down. But we didn’t really think about it and then a day later we got an email and [reps from Sub Pop] flew over, and they saw us play. We were talking to other labels, but [Sub Pop] were really cool. It seemed like a great fit.


Greg: I think I turned an adjective into a verb on “Beginning to Blue.” It’s just about when you’re in a relationship and it’s starting to stall and you get that icky feeling ... it’s beginning to blue.

Kara: The album leads off with “The Trip.” I immediately thought of the Steve Coogan film, but I know that’s not what it’s from! But cinema plays a huge role in what you do. Do you find artistic inpsiration in film?

Greg: The whole film angle, when you watch a certain movie, like a David Lynch film, part of the film is the atmosphere that it provides and for Still Corners, atmosphere almost defines us as a band. Maybe it’s not something you’d bang on — you wouldn’t just throw on “Silence of the Lambs” — you have to be in the right mood. And we’re kind of a moody band.

Tessa: I think with the film, the influences, is us as sponges. Particularly with Greg, in watching loads of different films and soaking in those different atmospheres. When the songs are written, they probably project some of those things that we’ve seen over the years. More like a sponge, you squeeze it out, and that becomes a song. The dregs of the water in a little puddle!

Greg: Yeah, it’s essentially about the vibe and the atmosphere and we try to bottle that up into the music.

Kara: Greg, you do most of the songwriting, but do you find that the more [you work with Tessa], the more that might expand as you look to the third album?

Greg: Absolutely. It already has on the second album. Tessa and I have this sympatico and she’s almost able to read my mind. It was much more collaborative this time, so I think for the third record, we’ll be going more towards that. It’s fun, exciting an it definitely yields new, interesting directions. I think the first record was a darker record.

Kara: It was more about internal heartbreak too. This record seems to be about what you’re on now, a journey. It happens at night, there’s a nocturnal vibe to the record. Have you been working on songs for the third record?

Greg: No, actually. We totally revamped the live set and we brought on board Jack [Gooderham] who is our new drummer and he’s amazing. We’ve been working on blowing that up as big as possible.

Kara: I was intrigued that your song “All I Know” was a song that spun out of the aftermath of the [2011] London riots. What was it about that time that was a paradigm shift for you living in London, especially as an American?

Greg: The riots were a very strange time. If you’re in London, it’s never empty, but during those few days the streets were absolutely empty and all the shops were boarded up.

Tessa: Well, the streets were empty apart from where they were rioting.

Greg: Yes, well, all the surrounding area was empty. It created this very odd atmosphere. With the song, I tried to reflect that. When you turned on the the television there were fires everywhere. Businesses were on fire. Cars. So the first line is, “Summer was like a fire.” It took off from that. The chorus echoes the inability to comprehend what’s going on. It’s difficult to put into words, what’s happening, when everything around you is going crazy.


Kara: Lyrically are you as moved by literature?

Greg: Yeah, we read a lot of poetry. Keats, Yeats and Blake. Robert Frost.

Kara: What other songwriters?

Greg: Leonard Cohen. He’s amazing. That’s writing on another level though. We try to go deep, but maybe we’ll go deeper next time.

Kara: You speak a lot of influences — like Broadcast or Yo La Tengo — but what is it about Still Corners that really defines you?

Greg: Tessa’s voice which is very unique and intimate. It has a real soul to it, but it’s almost like a choir. That, as well as the atmosphere that we’re trying to provide through the songwriting. I think that’s what defines our sound.


Kara: I have to ask you about the title of the song, “Going Back To Strange.”

Greg: Well, if you’ve ever left a place or moved away from home, when you leave ….

Tessa: … You’re still connected.

Greg: You don’t know what you give up. So the things that annoyed you draw you closer to it. So you eventually go back to the strange part of that.

Kara: Because you’re such connoisseurs of great music, if you were to demand that people have three essential albums in their record collections, what three would you choose?

Greg: The first album that comes to mind is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. But as pertaining to us, Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and Cocteau Twins’ Four-Calendar Café.

Tessa: I’ve got one, but it goes against the grain maybe. The one that immediately sprung to mind, but probably because I really love it, is Lou Reed’s Transformer. He’s not entirely happy.

John Grant: TAS In Session

John Grant's personal struggles have fueled, not foiled, his artistic output. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic who, newly sober, then faced an HIV-positive diagnosis, Grant discovered that honesty about those predicaments freed him creatively.

For his powerful second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts, Grant relocated to Iceland, delving into the electronic music that defined his adolescence. He's bringing his love of lush synths and ornery moods on the road, touring North America this month and coming to New York's Mercury Lounge on July 1 (go here to win tickets from The Alternate Side).

Listen to a compelling TAS session with John Grant on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, June 21, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to the John Grant session now in the FUV/TAS archives.

Watch videos of Grant's performance in Studio A below (backed by his Icelandic bandmates) and read highlights of his candid conversation with The Alternate Side's Russ Borris:

Russ Borris: I absolutely love this record. It’s a tremendous piece of work and clearly a very personal record. One thing that stands out to me, the synths on this album, is that they have a way of being both cool and dance-y but invoking dramatic feelings too. A balance and not something you necessarily always get. What drew you to that sound?

John Grant: This album is sort of rooted in my adolescence which took place during the 80s so the music I loved the most during that time was all the synth stuff. The New Romantic stuff, the New Wave stuff and all of the industrial stuff. It started out with maybe the first couple of Eurythmics albums, back in the beginning of the ‘80s, and the first couple of Devo albums. Missing Persons’ [debut] Spring Session M, stuff like that.

Russ: Missing Persons gets lost in that mix.

John: You know, they had one of the greatest drummers ever [Terry Bozzio] in that band. The stuff that they do on that album is, to this day, is amazing. There’s some really crazy cool time signatures, sounds and performances on that record. It continues to be one of my favorites throughout the years. The more of the New Wave-y stuff, like Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, Visage, Pet Shop Boys — this is the stuff I was listening to constantly. All this electro and dance stuff. Then I got into Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly. At the same time I was still taking my classical piano lessons so I’ve always had a strange mixture. I grew up with two older brothers who were listening to Nazareth, Molly Hatchet, Kiss, Van Halen and Aerosmith and there was a lot of that ‘70s AOR rock in there: Bread and Supertramp. My parents were listening to Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, Roger Miller and Loretta Lynn. So I have a wide range of things to choose from.

When it came to doing this album, I always wanted to bring the synth stuff into it and also diistill all of these things I love into one whole, hopefully. I think it’s an ongoing process for me. I wouldn’t say that I’ve achieved that perfectly on this album, but I think that I’m on the road to getting my sound right — or getting the sound that I want — and bringing all of these elements together.

You mentioned the cinematic qualities of the sound mixed with the synths, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I make a lot of mistakes. But I chose to work with Biggi Veira from the band GusGus on this album because I knew that he’d be able to help me find the sounds that I wanted to find. He’s also a master at creating suspense and tension which is so important with electronic music. It keeps it from being cold, which is something that people say is their problem with electronic music. I think you can also use things in a very classical and cinematic way to create dramatic and warm atmosphere as well.


Russ: You fronted a band called The Czars for while. I feel like now, you have your voice in a different way on this record. How long did it take you to get to that place?

John: It’s taken a long time. I guess it’s taken 15 years. It was a process of me getting out of my own way. When I started out, the coolest thing to my mind was Radiohead, so I thought that’s what I needed to be like. I had all these ideas of how I wanted to be perceived. It took me a long time — I keep using this word — to distill. To strip off all of the layers of my inner censors, my own filters, how I wanted to be perceived and to simpy realize that the best thing I could possiby do was be myself. That was more than enough for my music. I think that’s what you’re hearing on this record; I feel like I’m getting much closer to being able to just “be” as opposed to worrying about perceived in a specific way. It’s very important in the studio to completely ignore any voices that tell me that I need to worry about what other people are going to think about what I’m saying, the sounds we’re creating or the mixture of sounds we’re using. I do worry about it sometimes, but when I go into the studio, it’s really important to me to completely ignore that. I think I have done a good job of ignoring those voices and making sure that I’m doing what I want to do.

Russ: That can get exhausting, [taking into account] what the fans or critics are thinking.

John: You can’t. It leads nowhere and the bottom line is that there are going to be people who love your music and there will be people who are going to hate your music. There will people who will be like, “Meh, I don’t care.” That’s none of your business. You’re not doing the music to please people or worry about who is going to like it. You’ve got to make a record that you feel is what you meant to do, so when you go to bed at night, you say “I made the record that I wanted to make.” Maybe it’s not perfect or it didn’t achieve what I set out to do yet, but I’m on the road to doing that. I can sleep well knowing that I stayed true to my vision. There’s a lot of things on this record that I don’t necessarily want to say in public, but when it comes down to where I was when I was writing the song and what was going on with me, I felt that it was important to me — someone who is in recovery from addiction — I need to deal with the facts and the way things are. I spent a lot of my life trying to avoid facing myself, so it’s really important for me to be in the moment and look at things, even if they’re ugly and they don’t sound nice. That doesn’t matter. That’s the way it was at that moment, and it’s all right. It’s not like I’m alone in this.

Russ: Do you remember the lowest point when you were dealing with addiction?

John: I do. I remember a lot f low points. I remember going to the doctor — I was trying to get into the hospital to do an alcohol treatment program. One of the nurses that day talked to me about [if] I could give up drinking. It got to the point that I was beginning to fantasize about suicide a lot. I was thinking … I was starting to really think that was a good idea for me. That was the lowest point for me. When I really decided I needed to quit and I needed to get help … I think when you lose perspective to that extent and you think it’s a good idea for you, you really need to get some outside help. And I did. I think that’s one thing that’s good about me; I was never too ashamed to say that I needed help. So, here I am.


Russ: There’s a rejuvenation you can hear in the music as well. One of the things that I think works so well is the humor that you’re able to interject in a song like “GMF.” Dark humor, but it works so well … and thanks for cleaning that up for the radio! Where does the dark humor come from with you?

John: I think it started with me with Woody Allen. I’ve always been a huge fan of his, especially the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s Woody Allen. It started there and continued in modern times with people like Todd Solondz [and his movies] “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness.” It’s always been my defense mechanism in this world, humor. Especially dark humor. I wouldn’t want to be without it. I was a little afraid when I got sober … I thought that being a coke addict and being addicted to booze made me more interesting. I might have thought that because I was worried when I gave that all up, maybe I’d be too happy. I wouldn’t be able to write music or have my dark sense of humor anymore. Luckily, it hasn’t gone away and I still enjoy many of the things I always enjoyed. Bottom line was that it was always a defense mechanism but it’s also inextricable from my personality.

I struggled with being gay and coming out in my adolescence. That’s something that I express a lot on this album. I go into detail in this album about what it was like to get sober and to be infected by HIV after making all the effort to face myself, get sober and deciding that — and this is gonna sound corny — you’re going to show up for your own life. Take part in your life and realize that you’re someone who is deserving of love and able to give love, no more and no less than anyone else. That was a very difficult place for me to get to. I talk about these difficulties on the album and I think it’s very important to do that. I feel like it’s a universal thing. People don’t necessarily have my struggles. It’s not necessarily about sexuality with someone else, but people connect to the fact that you’re talking about real life. That resonates, even if they can’t identify with your specifics.

Russ: You talk about learning about your HIV … how did that throw you?

John: Well, it was a big smackdown. The difficult part of it was the psychological part and understanding what it meant. I was really angry with myself for allowing it to happen. I put myself in a situation where I didn’t have anyone else to blame but myself afterwards. After getting sober, deciding that I wanted to enjoy life and do as much as I could with my life, I realized that I was holding onto a lot of self-destructive behaviors in other areas, like sex. I had to admit to myself that I’d been using sex in a very similar way to the way I’d been using drugs and alcohol. I didn’t want to admit it and keep the sex for myself because I enjoy it and it’s a natural part of being a human. You can get away with that one a little more. Then I ended up getting HIV because I didn’t want to look at the self-destructive behaviors that I was still holding onto. It forced me to go to the next level. There are a lot of people who have been dealing with HIV for a long time. People who have been very, very responsible. Or a country like Africa where HIV is an epidemic and children are born with the disease. They didn’t have the opportunity to make the stupid choices that I made. So I had to think about those things.

I didn’t tell my family for a long time because I wanted to think about why I got there … and how I was going to continue on with that. I couldn’t ignore that. I still had a long way to go, as far as becoming a healthy … a healthy human. It was a really dark moment, but there are a lot of people who have gone through it and dealt with it. I had friends who were on their deathbed in the ‘80s and ‘90s when things weren’t so advanced, and you can live with it. It’s something that you can live a full life with. Now it’s not just about me anymore, it’s about making sure that I’m thinking about other people. I was so wrapped up in my own self-hatred and old patterns that I learned when I was growing up that I didn’t realize that the nasty thing that happens, all of these self-destructive things splash out into other people’s lives too. It gave me a lot to think about.

Villagers: TAS In Session

For Villagers' second album, Awayland, Conor O'Brien says that he was more "open-minded," delving into electronic ambience, fresh instrumentation and a robust collaboration with his bandmates. The result, much to O'Brien's satisfaction, is a more confident album than 2010's Mercury Prize-nominated Becoming a Jackal.

Villagers play New York's Bowery Ballroom tomorrow, June 11, and a handful of North American dates before heading back to Europe at the end of the month for Glastonbury and an array of other UK and European festivals.

Irish singer-songwriter O'Brien recently brought the acoustic — read that as solo — version of Viilagers to FUV and The Alternate Side to play songs from Awayland. Watch videos, below, of O'Brien's performance, read highlights of his conversation with Alisa Ali and listen to the entire session on FUV Live tonight, June 10, at 9 p.m. ET, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, June 14, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online and in the FUV archives now.


Alisa Ali: The title of your new album, Awayland, has fancy little brackets around it. Any reason?

Conor O’Brien: Yes, there is a reason. I thought it looked kind of cool. Also, the title’s meant to represent the kind of inner world that we can all live in. Even though the album uses a lot of place names, traveling and stuff, it’s actually all going on inside the head of the protagonist. I wanted to represent that visually.

Alisa: Are you the protagonist?

Conor: Aspects of me maybe come out. But I think a lot of time I’m playing roles in the music. I think that’s more creative and fun and you discover things about yourself while you’re writing.

Alisa: While you were writing this, did you discover anything new about yourself?

Conor: I was a miserable, miserable twit. No, what did I discover? I dunno. Maybe a bit of a sense of humor. I felt like I was a little more morbid with the first album and I think in this one, there’s some humor in there. There’s more colors and textures and things. It’s more of an open-minded sounding record. I suppose I discovered that I was an open-minded kind of guy.

Alisa: I understand that after your first full-length album you did a whole lot of touring for that; you spend two years on the road?

Conor: Probably more. We were playing before we got a deal or anything so we were touring Ireland for about a year. Then we got a record deal and toured for another year and half. A lot of touring with one album.

Alisa: You played with Neil Young too, right?

Conor: He was amazing. It was very inspiring to watch. We did some touring with Fleet Foxes which was amazing. Brilliant to be able to watch them every night, doing their thing. And I played with Cass McCombs who is a labelmate of mine.

Alisa: Did you pick up any tricks of the trade from these other musicians?

Conor: What struck me was that everyone has their own way of dealing with audiences. Like Robin [Pecknold] of Fleet Foxes is very quiet, he doesn’t really need to talk because the music does the talking. We toured with Grizzly Bear as well and Ed likes to chat with the crowd. Everybody’s got their own thing, so long as it’s representative of your actual personality, then it works.

Alisa: So how do you deal with in between songs?

Conor: It depends. I’m very moody so certain nights I don’t speak at all and other nights I just talk crap. The band just looks at me, “what are you saying?”

Alisa: You were in The Immediate and then after that band broke up, the next day, you began writing songs for Villagers.

Conor: Yeah, pretty much. I remember waking up and writing the first song. I didn’t have the name Villagers, but I was writing more introspective, acoustic-based stuff. Straight off, I called our drummer, the Villagers drummer, and I freaked out. It was like a rebound. “Oh my god, I need a band! I need a band! Join me!” So James was there from the start and we were just jamming together. I picked up the electric after a while and we started playing more late ‘70s, punky or post-punk, Elvis Costello, Stiff Records kind [of music]. So a lot of the songs began like that and then I stripped them away, got an acoustic guitar for the first time and realized that let the words … it set them free. That’s when I realized we were onto something.

Our first show was just the two of us and the second show was a full five-piece band. I thought there would be members coming in and out and people leaving, but I’ve stuck with the same band since the beginning and we recorded the most recent album together as a group. We’ve slowly become a more solid group, really, which is exciting. You can bounce ideas off of each other and you lose a bit of your ego, which is really good.

Alisa: Did you have a huge ego before the second album?

Conor: Probably.

Alisa: You must have had a slightly inflated ego after Becoming A Jackel because that album did quite well. Were you surprised?

Conor: Yeah, it’s not the most obvious album to make its way into the mainstream. It quielty crept in there and I had a crazy couple of years touring it. Learned a lot and used all of those things that I learned for this album. I think we wanted to move a bit more this time and not be quite as look-at-me-and-my-emotions kinds of thing. Actually, I’m about to sing a song which is totally look-at-me-and-my-emotions.


Alisa: On this album, you’ve become a little more interested in electronic elements. I understand you had a little bit of writer’s block, you went out and bought a synthesizer, drum machine and sampler and spent some time trying to figure out how to use those things?

Conor: It’s the first time I could afford those things! New toys. I wasn’t into the idea of sitting down and doing the same process again as the first album. I wanted to come at it from a different perspective and therefore, when I sat down with the acoustic guitar, I was totally blocked. I couldn’t really bring myself to even start the whole process. I wanted to experiment and find out new ways of making sounds. That happened for a few months and I sort of thought that the album was going to become like a Krautrock album or something. Completely instrumental and techno influenced. Crazy. The demo for that song I just played was drum ‘n’ bass which was interesting. I’m kind of glad I stripped that one down a little bit because you couldn’t really hear the words over the apocalyptic explosions and stuff. But some of the electronics made their way into the album eventually. So there are subtle elements in there.

Alisa: There are some lush and grand arrangments on this album, but I always feel like your voice is at the forefront. You don’t seem to be singing very loudly at all. Is that something that you pay particular attention to while mixing?

Conor: Yeah, a lot of the songs on the second half of the record are sung in a very low register. I can’t pinpoint why I wanted that, but I wanted a feeling of all this madness happening in the music and right in the middle of it is someone whispering to you in your ear, even though there’s the crazyness of the epic sounds swirling around your head. Mixing it was the most important part of the process. It was really creative. Myself and Tommy, who is in my band, mixed it together. We were getting a little pressure to give it to someone else to mix, but we stood our ground and did it. That’s probably the most creative part of record-making, is mixing. Especially the way we made this album, which was very slow and laborious.

I think when we were recording we really didn’t want to think about the album. We just wanted to make sure we felt good playing the songs. We were totally aware of what it feels like to play songs for two years on the road. So we were like, “Do we feel good playing these in the room?” And that really influenced a lot of the arrangements. I think that’s why they sound more rhythmic and beat-driven, because it means we can sweat it out every night, which is good.


Portugal.The Man: TAS In Session

Portugal.The Man's seventh full-length album, Evil Friends, is released this week amid some fanfare. While the band still clings to a certain DIY rigor, it's indisputable that working with producer Danger Mouse — and finding a major label home on Atlantic Records — takes the group to a different level.

Curiously, Portugal.The Man had some trepidation about working with the Grammy-winning producer, a conundrum which frontman John Gourley frankly discussed in a recent conversation with The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali.

A full-on North American tour is ahead for the Portland, Oregon rockers, including sets at this weekend's Governor's Ball Music Festival in New York and the Bonnaroo Festival later this month.

The group — Gourley, bassist Zach Carothers, keyboardist Kyle O'Quin and drummer Kane Ritchotte — performed three tracks from Evil Friends for The Alternate Side and FUV Live. Watch videos of Portugal.The Man live in Studio A below, read highlights from the interview and listen to band's session on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, June 7, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online, or via FUV Live beginning tomorrow, June 4.

Check back later this week to find the interview in the TAS/FUV achives posted here.


Alisa Ali: Have you ever been to Portugal?

John Gourley: Yeah, we went once. I guess it was three or four years ago now. We played with Peaches and Nine Inch Nails.

Alisa: That’s awesome!

John: We became friends with Peaches and her band. She lives in Berlin and every time we go to Germany we end up hanging with them at this bar called White Trash. It’s fitting. The atmosphere in this bar … it’s kind of a cool hang.

Alisa: You’ve just released your seventh full-length album Evil Friends. Do you count Zach, Kyle and Kane as your evil friends? Or is this more your Alaska friends?

John: I’ve been thinking about this since we’ve been asked about the title. I was in the middle of this conference call and somebody said, “What’s the name of the record?” I was way behind on turning things in and working on artwork. And I just said, Evil Friends. It just stuck. The chorus of “Evil Friends” and the bridge of “Creep in a T-shirt” are the same lyrics and they were actually the placeholder lyrics for the entire album. It just stuck in those two songs and ended up being the record title as well.

Alisa: There’s a lot of devil references in all of your music or involve the devil, God or sinning.

John: It’s just all about contrast. [Like] naming our pop record The Satanic Satanist. When we made that album, we were just sitting back going, “How do I write the music that we grew up listening to? How do I write a song that’s three minutes long?” To me, that's seriously difficult. Anybody can put a bunch of pedals on a board and run noises through it and call it experimental, but I think writing songs is really difficult. Within that, you have to find contrast. You have to find dynamics. It’s something that doesn’t exist as much in music today. It just doesn’t. Everything’s really compressed and you have to get those sounds and that look as well. The aesthetic can counter the music just as easily as the lyrics can.  

Alisa: Did you grow up religious at all?

John: No. Grew up around it. I’m fine. Whatever anyone wants to do, I don’t care.

Alisa: Do you do the artwork for all of the records?

John: Yeah, I’ve done all of the artwork with my friend Austin Sellers in Portland. I failed every art class I was in. I dropped out of high school. This isn’t great to say ... I feel like education is really important and I continue to read and practice things the way they work best for me. A lot of people work in trade; you learn a skill. That’s what I did. With the art, we couldn’t afford to hire someone. There’s artists I really wanted to work with us, but it never really panned out moneywise. So I started doing the art and I’m really glad I did.

Alisa: The video for “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” is pretty awesome. Can you describe it?

John: Yeah, we shot the video out in New Jersey. We came out with our friends That Go - Stefan Moore and Noel Paul — and our buddy MIchael Ragen who has directed a lot of our videos. He’s been the DP on pretty much every video we’ve had since Censored Colors. He’s a funny dude. I talk to him every day.

Alisa: It’s got a creepy, eerie vibe to it.

John: Yeah, definitely. That’s That Go. The director always has a treatment. The way I look at these things you need someone to direct it; you can’t be on both sides of the camera.


Alisa: You guys are pretty prolific. Or do you feel a little self-conscious about using that term?

John: The reality is that we were just recording every year. We’d break in the winter, go to Alaska, and we’d record music when we got back. That’s just how we did it. Again, it was like learning a trade. You have to do it all the time to progress, grow and learn. I feel like every record we put out is like a debut album. New band. It really is.

Alisa: You still feel good about all of the records? You have a ton of EPs out as well.

John: I feel like this band has been so lucky to have the freedom that we do. I love Atlantic Records, that is the coolest thing that we’ve done. Being part of that label and history is amazing. But we got there, I feel, because we didn’t stick to any genre. We’re not just a rock or pop band. It’s whatever we want to do. That’s David Bowie. The Beatles.

Alisa: You worked with Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, on this record. He’s such a nice guy. I understand that you were going to forego a producer, you went into a Texas studio, and then midway you got a call that Brian wanted to work with you guys.

John: It was more like, “Brian wants to talk about possibly working together at some point.” I was actually put off …

Alisa: Why?

John: We were in the middle of this record. We felt, “You guys trust us, let us do it.” But we’re not idiots. It’s Brian. He’s amazing. I’m a huge fan of his. [The label] calling me in that situation took so much pressure off of the situation because I was kind of annoyed, but I went out and he said, “Hey man, just so you know, I don’t want to work with another band. I worked with the Black Keys” — that’s the amazing thing about Brian, he’s very hands on. He’s a good dude and loyal to what he’s doing and wants to make the best music he can. So the Black Keys — that just levelled everything right there. I was like, “Whoa, great, because we’re already working on a record, we don’t have to talk about it, let’s listen to music and hang.” As I was walking out, he’s like “We should probably make a record together.” I called the guys and said, “I think he wants to work on a record?” I wasn’t sure.

Alisa: You ended up scrapping a lot of the songs you had worked on.

John: Oh we’d only finished two. When we work on albums, it’s music first and, the last two weeks, I do all the lyrics and most of the melodies. We’ll have some placeholders, but it all comes together in the last two weeks. And he hit us up right before the last two weeks. I’m glad he did. It’s really cool. It’s nice to have someone who can say “no” in a positive way. Or who can stand up and play something. There’s nothing worse than getting “no” and then no example of what you’re doing wrong or how to improve.

Alisa: Did Danger Mouse have any specific touches? Can we hear them on “Sea of Air” at all?

John: We finished “Sea of Air” before we went in with him. We definitely changed some things … it’s all vibes. We pitched that song down. One of the coolest things about Pro-Tools and working in digital music is the options that you have. It’s pretty endless. I think we played some things on tape and some on Pro-Tools and we pitched the whole song down three-and-a-half steps, which is a lot. It sounds like the same song, but there’s something different about it. Hearing my range, Danger Mouse would tell me to sing higher or lower. I wrote “Hip Hop Kids” when we were on tour with the Black Keys. And Patrick [Carney] is probably the person who put in my head that Brian might be a good producer for us. It was [initially] out of the question for me — he’s Danger Mouse! We’re not going to get him.

Alisa: But, hello, you’re touring with the Black Keys. That’s how I assumed you made the Brian Burton connection.

John: It didn’t come together until about a month after that. But I think Patrick had shown him some stuff, but Brian knew all the records. One of the funniest things we talked about was his perception of the band before he came on. In his mind, we were a noisier, heavier band. I don’t know why that stuck in his head. Maybe because of "The Satantic Satanist" or “Evil Friends” as song titles. That stuff might throw people off.