3/7 Davy Jones

jon brown

2013 was the year I fell in love with interviews — reading them, listening to them, coming up with questions for them, conducting them, editing them... in short, Terry Gross has become my spirit animal.

The structured nature of interviews and my loathed introversion are like two peas in a pod. You can prepare for an interview. You can do research. You can schedule the whole thing — the time, the location, the length. You can ask difficult questions while respecting the dignity of the people you’re getting to know. There’s a fascinating elasticity, too, because within all this structure is a mix of unpredictability and intimacy that’s totally electric. I especially enjoy listening to radio interviews and hearing how interviewees begin their answers. Those few seconds reveal so much — whether people are poised or nervous, whether they’re thoughtful or guarded. I’d love to start some sort of interview podcast. Maybe 2014’s the year.

While my skills as an interviewer are miles away from where I’d like them to be, I’m proud of the ones I’ve done, and I’d like to share five of my favorite questions and answers from the interviews I conducted in 2013.

Matuto

Conducted via phone, June 2013

When reading about your music, it often gets descriptors like “Appalachia- gone-Afro-Brazilian” or “Brazilian bluegrass.” When you’re composing and performing, does it feel to you like you’re putting two things together or do those things have more in common than people think?

Clay Ross: I really don’t think that at all, because I think they’re somewhat common experiences. There’s such a common story. Since I started, it was all motivated, purely on a musical level, by discovering, in this completely organic way, that if I put this rhythm that I learned in Brazil with this song from Kentucky, it sounds really cool, and I like that.

And then later you come to realize through investigating and studying the history a little bit more, if you look at the perspective of Colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and you take a step back 400 years and look at the collisions of cultures that are at the root of America and at the root of American society — and that means all of the Americas, not just North America -- from that perspective, you have a common story shared between Brazil, the American South… It’s a common story of cultures colliding in this new land of opportunity and things mixing freely. That gave us rock and roll. That gave us jazz. That gave us all these styles of music in the Americas that we love and have stood the test of time.

It’s the same in Brazil. They have a similar set of influences that gave birth to these very distinctive styles, but at the root of those styles are the same ingredients that are in American music. It’s kind of cool because it’s liberating in a way if you look at it from that perspective. We’re chasing the thread of the one quality about all of this music that made it exciting in the first place. Why would this style survive all of this travel and all this hardship and all this human suffering? Why would it survive? There’s something really good about it, and that exists in all these cultures.

NYMPH

Conducted via email, June, 2013

How has growing in number changed writing and performing?

Matty McDermott: Like smokin’ weed in a planetarium.

Pretty & Nice

Conducted in person, June 2013

The mixing on the album is out of this world. There are so many subtle details and variations. How much of that micro decision-making happens while writing and performing, and how much happens while recording and mixing?

Jeremy Mendicino: It happens at every point. We’re constantly making decisions. It’s all about making decisions. The way that we think about production and creation generally is it’s a constant series of decisions. Do you want the reverb on the track or do you not want the reverb on the track? Do you want that little bit to go crazy, or do you not want that little bit to go crazy? Because it’s going to be performed, and it’s going to be dedicated to the tape. It’s not going to be malleable later. So mixing is often very simple, because we’re just pushing up the tracks. They’ve got all these tiny little fragmented pieces, and some of them need automation, volume. You know, we push up the volume, we move a pan over here for that bit, we turn the reverb up real quick and it’s down again, but for the most part, the decisions are all built into the recording.

Holden Lewis: Decisions happen throughout the whole process of writing and being in the studio. Mixing not so much. I think the big difference is that a lot of bands these days will record everything and make half their decisions in mixing.

JM: Or more.

HL: Whereas I think, on any song, we have 80 to 90 percent of the decisions made before the mix is being approached.

The Most Americans

Conducted via email, June 2013

Mathy rock songs aren’t usually the ones that end up getting stuck in my head, but these songs have a catchiness to them that I can’t exactly put my finger on. How do you go about balancing the urge to explore and add complexity with the need to please people’s ears? Does that relationship cross your mind as you’re writing, or do you simply write what feels natural?

Kevin Walsh: I think it’s a little bit of both: playing what feels natural, and also trying to make sure you aren’t totally alienating people. We’ve all been playing for a long time and at some point I think it just hits you that it can actually be more of a challenge to write or play a great song, rather than playing what is technically complex or whatever. Especially as far as drumming goes, I realized I wanted to be able to sing and drum, and it was going to be to my advantage to fine tune my drum parts and get them as tight as possible without going crazy. But we love mixing in different time signatures when it feels right, or chopping a beat off here and there. It all comes down to: Are you doing it to sound cool, or does it actually fit in the context of the whole song? And you just have to be honest with yourself. Ultimately, we just wanted to make an album that we’d love and would want to listen to over and over, and I think even if you don’t admit it you’re imagining people singing along with you—I mean, that’s the dream, right? So it’s gotta be catchy enough to make folks want to sing and dance, but not annoyingly so, which is why I think it’s important to let things age a little so you have some sense of whether it’s going to stand your own test of time at least. Obviously you want other people to love it, but that’s kind of out of your hands, so if You love it you’re probably on the right track.

Jon Braun: I’m definitely also a believer in doing what feels natural, which is kind of like trying to please your inner music fan. If there’s something that feels good to the group of us that usually means it’s worth exploring. Being conscious of the balance between complexity and listen- ability comes into effect more when we’re evaluating stuff we’re working on versus when we’re writing. I think exploring complexity and technicality is a good way for musicians to challenge themselves and improve, but complexity for complexity’s sake tends to feel self-indulgent and a little pretentious and can be alienating for an audience. We just try to make sure our songs are melodically interesting without feeling too trite, predictable or rhythmically stiff.

Dead Fame

Conducted in person, January 2013

I’ve read that, for both Eric and Michael, this is the first band you’ve played in, but I absolutely wouldn’t have guessed that from seeing you live or hearing your recordings. What was your musical life like before joining the band?

Eric Klemen: I’ve been playing drums since I got my first kit in seventh grade… I did have a 3-year hiatus, because I had some tendonitis in my wrist, so I had to stop playing for a while, when that was bothering me. I’d just been playing at home, mostly, like in high school, playing with friends in garage bands, but nothing serious, just monkeying around. Then little stints in college, trying to making something work with some musician friends, but [it] never really materialized.

Michael Means: I cried a lot as a baby, so I think that developed some lung capacity. [laughs] I sang a little bit in high school.

Christopher DeNitto: Did you ever do karaoke?

MM: I never did a lot of karaoke.

CD: Because I was surprised you’d never been in a band, too.

MM: But in my mind, honest to god, I always knew, ‘Oh, I’m a performer. I just haven’t had the opportunity yet.’ And the opportunity happened. But in my mind, I was always developing myself as a performer, as an artist anyway, just with no outlet.

CD: Were you singing in your bedroom and stuff?

MM: Yeah! I put on little concerts in my mind and everything, even when I was little.

EK: I remember when Michael first [talked to] me about trying out for the band, I remember him saying, “This is something I always wanted to do.” And I was like, “I had no idea this is something you wanted to do.”

MM: I was like I finally had an outlet for all this stuff I’ve had in my mind the whole time.

Davy Jones » Richmond, VA » Copywriter
Wordpress | Tumblr | Twitter