Bad Books, The Features
900 East Main Street
Rochester, NY, 14605
Doors 6:30 PM / Show 7:30 PM
This event is all ages
Neck of the Woods sees Silversun Pickups lighting out for the territories, stretching the boundaries of their exhilarating psychedelia with confidence, invention, and undeniable ambition. Having long made their bones as masters of widescreen power, the Los Angeles-based band's third Dangerbird Records album takes their filmic vision to another level entirely - this is full-on IMAX rock 'n' roll, in stereoscopic 3D and Sensurround. From the low-frequency thrust and motorik pulsebeat that drives "Mean Spirits" to the mesmerizing first single, "Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)," the album fairly detonates with high definition creativity. Roomier rhythms and judiciously applied electronic shadings form a blissed out base camp for the band's electrifying aural adventures, the elegiac landscapes of Neck of the Woods revealing an unbridled expansion of the already impressive SSPU sound.
"There's a playfulness," says singer/guitarist/songwriter Brian Aubert, "a certain kind of freethinking experimentation that we were fooling around with. We wanted to just let it all fly."
Silversun Pickups - that is, Aubert, bassist Nikki Monninger, keyboardist Joe Lester, and drummer Christopher Guanlao - emerged with 2005's Pikul EP and soon caught the attention of the wider world with the following year's Carnavas. That collection (featuring the breakthrough single, "Lazy Eye") only barely prepared the way for the band's blockbuster second album, 2009's Swoon. Tracks such as "Panic Switch" and "The Royal We" established Silversun Pickups as a potent force in 21st Century Rock, further confirmed by an 18-month tour that included innumerable headline dates, festival sets, and a 2009 Grammy Award nod for "Best New Artist."
The new album's genesis began as Aubert visited cities and hamlets from Italy to Iceland while on a brief hiatus from the non-stop touring that followed Swoon. Aubert's European impressions fueled a ream of new songs and late night home demos, quietly recorded as his wife slept in the room next door.
"I got this feedback loop going on in my head," he says, "thinking that these are just towns people are from. It might look kind of magical to me, but I'm definitely an outsider looking in. This is just normal for them, and in a lot of ways, it's very much the same as where I grew up."
While undeniably proud of Swoon and its world conquering success, Silversun Pickups also knew that the album had only touched upon their music's infinite possibilities. When the band eventually reconvened in their Silverlake rehearsal space, all involved were determined to take a more open attitude towards their songs, giving their imagination full, unbridled rein.
"We immediately said, no matter how these songs come out, let's try to catch up with them and not try to squeeze them down," Aubert says. "Let's see how and why they are the way they are. Instead of pushing them in unnatural directions, let's let them breathe. Even if we find them strange, let's try and figure them out."
To fuel the project with a fresh energy, the band decided to collaborate with a new producer. The goal, Aubert says, was "to throw something into the mix that might make us feel odd, in the same way the demos and the music we were thinking about were making us feel odd." They met with a number of top studio hands before realizing that they had already found the right man for the job in Jacknife Lee, whom they had previously encountered while contributing guest vocals to their pals Snow Patrol's most recent collection. Lee brought both infectious energy and an atypical recording model to the table, offering the band legroom to improvise and invent without constraint.
"Jacknife said, 'Let's get in there, set up everybody's stuff, and just attack this record from the ground up,'" Aubert says. "That's exactly what we wanted to do. We weren't really interested in making a record where we rehearsed everything over and over again, then came in and laid it down. We wanted to be able to screw with things."
In TK, Silversun Pickups embarked on ten weeks of sessions at Lee's studio in Topanga - which, as kismet would have it, was Aubert's childhood hometown, providing flashbulb memories that offered ironic counterpoint to his already dislocated lyricism. The recording pushed the band to the brink, imbuing them with both aesthetic intensity and increased unity.
"It kept everybody involved the entire time," Aubert says. "Christopher said to me, 'This is the most involved I've been on any of our albums,' because his drums were set up all ten weeks. Usually the drummer is there for the first seven days and then he's gone. This time, we never knew when he'd have to add something all of a sudden."
SSPU pulled apart their swelling songcraft, rending their trademark reverb and distortion to reveal a grander, more dreamlike sound. The oblique duality of Aubert's songs is matched by a similar sonic tack, simultaneously glacial and volcanic, intimate and overwhelming. The skyscraping scope promised by their previous albums is amplified on such tracks as the closing "Out of Breath," its multi-layered volatility daubed with unconcealed angst and ill-tempered aggression.
"We wanted to play with negative space," Aubert says. "We're always trying to achieve dynamic, but sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle. This time we just pulled things in different directions and made things crisper and more angular. We wanted the louder stuff to sound cranky."
Epic though they may be, songs like "Here We Are (Chancer)" retain the "nakedness" of Aubert's home demos, even so far as incorporating many of his original drum machine tracks. Even as they developed synthetic textures and electronic components, the band were resolved that the album would retain what Aubert calls "the human sound in the machine." That elemental humanity informs Neck of the Woods to its very core as Aubert unpacks evocative imagery that reverberates with the recognition of his transitory place in the universe and the realization that he is least at home in his own hometown.
"These songs started forming in places that were completely foreign to me," Aubert says, "and then ended in the place that I grew up, an environment that could not be more familiar. I went through my whole childhood and teenage years in the weeks we were there making the record."
Beginning with the unnervingly hypnotic "Skin Graph," Neck of the Woods boasts a wintry, suspenseful quality that Aubert links to such cinematic manifestations of dread as The Shining and Let The Right One In. Songs like "Make Believe" and "The Pit" - with its bluer than "Blue Monday" beats - are desultory and somewhat adrift, haunted by memory and the inability to escape one's past no matter what heights you ascend to in adulthood.
"There are certain things about growing up that are horrific," Aubert says, "things that are inside you, that make you up - those are the things that intrigue me the most."
Silversun Pickups are now preparing to take this powerfully personal work on the road, marking yet another manifestation of the multiple contradictions of being in a band.
"This is the moment where the introverted side is gone," he says. "Everything is going to be big from here on in. You've got to get out of your head, because for this part of it, that's the last place you want to be."
From inception to fruition, a series of happy accidents led Silversun Pickups to the transcendent Neck of the Woods. Every step on the journey was marked by true synchronicity in action - the stars aligned, clouds parted, the cosmos smiling down upon the band. For their part, Silversun Pickups take a more pragmatic view.
"Some people believe in The Force," Aubert says, "but I'm more like Han Solo - I think it's just dumb luck! We definitely prepared for if the luck came, but that doesn't mean that anything we did necessarily had that much to do with how well things went. I don't know what we did to deserve it, but we're thankful."
A true accident if there ever was one; Bad Books was never an intended nor calculated side project of Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull. Though the two musicians have collaborated and performed together on tour and within the Favorite Gentlemen community of artists for years now, the genesis of Bad Books came from a simple idea to fill space and time off the road by collaborating on a small batch of songs together at the top of the year. With no agenda and no expectations, what was birthed just one week later was Bad Books, a fully realized album encompassing five compositions each from both Devine and Hull, with the members of Manchester Orchestra filling out the sound and the band. The self-titled debut will be released October 19th, 2010 via Favorite Gentlemen Recordings, the record label that was founded and has been run by Manchester Orchestra since 2007.
As songwriters go, Hull and Devine could not be further apart in terms of creative approach. The methodical wordsmith Devine, an English major from Fordham, is known to pine away for great lengths of time just to accurately pin-point one word within a lyric. "I was doing a take of 'You're A Mirror I Cannot Avoid' and stopped myself for fifteen minutes because I was having trouble justifying ending two lines in the same chorus with the word 'back.' Just sitting there, staring at the screen, writing different word choices. I asked Andy if he thought it mattered, and he said, 'Of course it doesn't.' Somewhere in that exchange is I think what differentiates us as songwriters. I think Andy trusts his instincts to lead him to the right place in a song, and sometimes I want to outthink my instincts because I'm scared of repeating myself, of resting on my laurels. And I think together, those two approaches meshed really, really well," Devine said.
Hull echoes that sentiment: "Kevin is very meticulous, where I came in with a few ideas and fleshed them out literally as we were recording. Kevin's songs were awesome and he was cool enough for me to throw in some ideas to change a part or add a bridge here or there."
In contrast to previous outputs from Manchester Orchestra and Devine, Bad Books cradles a much more noticeable pop aesthetic and energy than either artist has probably ever showcased before. Nowhere is this more evident than in songs like "You Wouldn't Have To Ask" and "Holding Down the Laughter".
The Features’ exhilarating new Wilderness (Serpents and Snakes/Bug Music) quickly establishes the Nashville-based combo as one of the most exciting and imaginative bands working today. Songs like “Another One” and “Fats Domino” are marvels of pop ingenuity, animated by vivid lyrics, unshakable hooks, and experimental soul. Wilderness is an amalgamation of influences and inspirations – spanning elements of Krautrock, indie, psychedelia, and classic AOR – to conjure up The Features’ own inimitable, indescribable sound.
“I feel like we walk this fine line,” says singer/guitarist Matt Pelham. “We’re not weird enough for a certain crowd and we’re a little bit too out there for the other crowd. We fall in the middle somewhere between mainstream and hipster, which puts us in this weird place, but we’re all pretty happy to be here.”
The album, which follows 2009’s acclaimed Some Kind Of Salvation, (released on Kings of Leon’s label, Serpents and Snakes, a venture with music publisher, Bug Music), began coming together upon The Features’ return home after a lengthy 2010 tour alongside Manchester Orchestra. Pelham and fellow Features Roger Dabbs (bass), Mark Bond (keyboards), and Rollum Haas (drums) enjoyed a brief domestic hiatus before quickly hitting the practice space to woodshed new material. Wilderness was produced with Brian Carter, who recorded their 2003 release, The Beginning EP, and engineer Craig Alvin at Carter’s Paradox Productions Recording Service in Nashville, Tennessee.
Coming into the studio straight away off the road gave The Features a full head of steam, which meshed with their desire to capture some of their on-stage power. The goal, Pelham says, was to make a record that sounded, “like the band was playing live in your living room.”
The result of the month-long sessions is as painstakingly crafted as it is full-on, with Pelham’s distinctive songcraft expertly matched by the band’s sonic inventiveness. “Big Mama” and “Rambo” had already been staples of The Features’ live show, while tracks like the swingin’ psych-pop opener “Content” were spontaneously created in the studio. Other highlights include the prog-fueled “Golden Comb, with its dynamic tempo changes and multipart arrangement, and the howling rocker, “Kids,” which brandishes the Tennessean band’s native gift for their own version of meaty, big beat boogie.
“I was hearing The Monks in my head,” Haas says of the latter track, “but I think it ended up coming out sounding more like Deep Purple.”
“It’s funny,” Pelham says, “all of us at this point seem to have gone back to things we grew up listening to. We’ve started to reappreciate classic rock, which was all we could get where we lived. It wasn’t until I went to college in Murfreesboro that I found there was another world outside of things like Tom Petty.”
Since releasing The Beginning EP in 2003, The Features have assembled quite the catalog of accomplishments, spanning single releases on the UK’s trendsetting Fierce Panda label, two well-received albums, and a long history of tours as headliners as well as supporting such like-minded artists as their pals Kings of Leon. As Wilderness demonstrates, the spirit of musical adventure continues to both define and motivate The Features. “We’ve always kept moving with new material,” Haas says.
“Even when we rehearse, we tend to not go through old songs. I’ve seen a lot of bands that rehearse the material down to where I think everyone would get bored of it. When we get together, even if it’s to rehearse for a tour, we tend to work on new ideas.”
“That’s the exciting part for us,” says Pelham, “to be in a practice space, creating a song. The more we do that, the more fun we have as a band. We like touring and playing live, but the creative process of putting a song together is the rush for everybody. So the more we can write and create, the more excitement there is within the band.”
With Wilderness, The Features have crafted yet another exceptional installment in what is shaping up as quite the impressive body of work. Ever evolving and always ambitious, this is a band in it for the long haul. The Features can’t imagine it any other way.
“I think most guys would’ve quit,” Haas says, “but all of us just love playing music. That’s the biggest part of it. We haven’t gotten bored with it yet.”
“Since we were kids, the only thing any of us ever wanted to do was play music,” says Pelham. “We aren’t really happy doing anything other than that. At this point, it’s gone on so long that I don’t know what else we would do. It’s all we know.”