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Bound Stems : Q&A

by Ted ChaseJuly 28, 2008

  Over some tea for their hoarse voices, the guitarist and multi-instrumentalist discussed the tour, their upcoming new record, A Family Afloat (QRO review), balancing music and their ‘day jobs’, why it’s great to balance music & day jobs, people’s misconception of the ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’, Chicago, Austin, Arizona, Canada, the future home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, Winston Churchill, the French Revolution, and more…

QRO: How has this tour been going?

Janie Porche: Grody…

Bobby Gallivan: It’s been pretty good.  We did Montreal, and Toronto, and Boston.

JP: We played our record release show in Chicago.

BG: The Chicago release show was great.  Montreal was particularly fun; had a great time there.

JP: It feels good to play new songs, and to be growing comfortable with new songs is a great feeling.

QRO: Is this your first tour since you finished touring the last record, Appreciation Night?

BG: Yeah, we did a short thing with Long Winters (QRO photos)…

JP: March…

BG: It’s pretty much the first big one that we’ve done since Appreciation Night.

JP: And it’s really nice, because one of our last Appreciation Night tours was with [a band they were playing with that night] Rahim (QRO photos): Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta…

So it feels like a little reunion.  We both have new stuff.  ‘Bring it!’

QRO: How have this tour compared with the tours off Appreciation Night?

BG: I’d say it’s similar.  There’s more people who’ve heard it before, when we play some songs off the last record.  But they feel similar…

JP: It feels the same.  We’ll play for whoever’s there, and it just feels nice to be playing new songs.  And that’s a great feeling, to have a new record to sell.

QRO: But you were opening for The Long Winters, right?

BG: Yeah, we were opening for them.

QRO: So it’s different in that way, at least…

BG: That was only three or four shows.  We’d be on tour with them, opening for them, headlining some different shows.  Kind of mix-and-match thing.

JP: Headlining isn’t a big thing…

Sometimes it’s really not beneficial.  We played a show [recently] in Boston that we technically headlined.  We were playing fourth out of four on a Monday night, so we went on at 11:45 PM.  What does that mean for us?

The thing about quote-unquote ‘headlining’, it’s not really as important.  You want to be when people are there, and you want to play when they advertise that you’re gonna play.

BG: It may make sense for us to headline in Chicago, or [in New York] – we’ve had some good shows [there] – but to headline Des Moines, Iowa, or even Boston…  We’ve had some good shows there, but sometimes, it’s best to let the locals do their thing last.

QRO: The new album doesn’t come out until September.  Is it tricky, playing new songs to crowds that really haven’t had a chance to hear them yet?

BG: It’s different.  It’s fun to be like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna win these people over with the songs…’

JP: I feel really confident with the new songs.  They’re more accessible, the first time listening.  We still make a lot of changes, we do a lot of sudden, interesting shifts, but I feel like they’re pretty accessible.  And it’s not like we’re not ‘careening around’…

I like that difference between ‘I’ve already heard this song, and I’m going to go see it live’ vs. ‘Wow – I’ve never heard these songs before, and yet, I like them.’  I feel great about it.

Bound Stems playing the new “Sugar City Magic” @ Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY on July 22nd, 2008:

QRO: You played Lollapalooza last year in your native Chicago.  Do you do anything differently when you play outdoors?

BG: Uhh…

JP: Sunscreen.  Hydration.

BG: Not particularly.  It was a hot, hot day.  We were not looking for the huge, ‘festival’ thing.  I don’t know how to do anything differently.  We have the same gear…

JP: We pretty much do the same thing, wherever we are.  We did a show at SMU [Southern Methodist University], this big university in Texas–

QRO: That’s the one that’s getting the George W. Bush Presidential Library?

JP: Yes.  We’re playing their Student Union, and we had to go get the P.A. out of the ‘activity closet’ and set it up ourselves…

It’s the same shit – we do the same thing every time.  ‘Cause we don’t know enough to modify.  We’re never like, ‘We’re gonna turn the ‘Gain’ down, and the ‘Master’ up…’  We just turn it on and do it.  Trust the other people, professionals involved.

QRO: You said you recently played in Toronto & Montreal.  Did you notice the weak dollar/strong ‘loonie’ [Canadian dollar]?

BG: I did.

JP: I paid eight dollars and eighty cents for a Stella$8.80.  For a pint, not even a gallon.  For God’s own Stella.  Chicken sandwiches are like fourteen dollars…

But, I don’t know, we had a great time.  It’s hard to see a new city on tour.  You get about three hours on tour to check out, and then you see it in the dark.

The people who came out to the show were great – there was kind of a spontaneous dance party in the street, afterwards.

All the police in Montreal were jeans – the ‘Canadian tuxedo’ joke is totally appropriate (that jeans are the ‘Canadian tuxedo’) – they didn’t even try to break up the party.  They were like, ‘Hey, probably soon, you guys should go to a bar.  Instead of drinking here in the street…’

There was a Canadian band, Foxfire – that’s what they do.

QRO: Oh – Brendan Canning was plugging them (QRO interview)!

JP: It was fun.

QRO: When you did your tour for Appreciation Night, you quit your day jobs, but now you’re back at your day jobs.  What are your ‘day jobs’?

BG: I’m a high school history teacher.

JP: I’m a web designer, developer, at an ad agency that works for non-profits.  So I mostly work on college websites and charitable foundations.

QRO: What was it like, returning to them after leaving them to tour?

BG: It was fine.  At first, it was a little overwhelming, readjusting to the forty hour – sometimes sixty hour or so now week.

Being in a band, full-time, made a lot of decisions, and lot of things seem like a job, which didn’t seem to be the case, before.  So going back, there was a really nice balance.  ‘Cause it used to be the case, playing in a band was super fun.  When we did it full-time, it crossed that, but now, when we go on tour, it’s like vacation.

QRO: What did they think about you leaving & coming back?

JP: For people who are outside of the quote-unquote ‘indie rock’ thing, it’s hard to explain that we didn’t fail.  Like, ‘You’re back?!?’  ‘Yeah, of course we’re back – what did you think would happen to us?’

There’s no model – the best possible thing that could happen to us is that we sustain our band, and keep doing what we’re doing.

  We’re not in a model like… U2, which is what some people, that’s only thing they have to relate to.  We’re not in that model.  We succeeded, and we’re back.

QRO: Some people think of it like a ‘career track’…

BG: It’s not they’re fault.  It’s just their reference point.  In their mind, it’s either guys hanging out in their garage playing music, or playing in a cover band in a bar, or people playing in stadiums.

It’s nice to invite them out, when we play a local show.  ‘This is what it’s like; this is kind of what we did all over the country.’  Some people understood that it was a success; other people were like, ‘Oh, didn’t work out, huh…’

QRO: [Bobby], what do your high school students think about their teacher being in a band?  Or do they not know?

BG: Oh, they know – they love the Internet.  They Google…

They’re curious; some think it’s bizarre, some think it’s cool.  They’re really interested and curious about what’s going on, they ask questions.

They show up at shows at some cities…

JP: It’s been long enough now that some of them, who were seniors in high school when we started, are now in college.

BG: In Boston, one went to Harvard, and he showed up.  It was weird…

QRO: Like The Subjects (QRO interview) – two of them are students, two of them are teachers…

JP: We played with them at South-by-Southwest (QRO Festival Guide).

BG: What a crazy story…

QRO: How was South-by-Southwest?

BG: I loved that.  It’s a blast.  We were only there for a short period of time.  We only did one show, but it was one of my favorite shows of all time, with The Subjects, The End of the World.

JP: My parents live down there, so there’s a place to stay… it’s more relaxing than most shows.

QRO: Do you do anything differently at ‘industry’ shows like that?

BG: No.

JP: No.  We don’t really like to know the difference.

BG: Same stuff we’re playing in our practice space, we’re playing on the road.  It’s comfortable that way.

JP: Even right now, even though we’re both losing our voice, if we were in Chicago practicing tonight, we would give it pretty much the same we give it [on tour].

QRO: Was that your first show since finishing the new album?

BG: We did a SXSW send-down show in Chicago.  All the bands in Chicago that are playing – ‘cause you don’t get paid for those shows at SXSW – all the bands get all these sponsors.  They gave all the bands money and food to go down there…

JP: It was great. 

BG: At The Hideout – great venue…

JP: You get like a case of beer, grocery bag full of snacks.  Like a goodie bag…

QRO: How were you able to arrange this tour, considering you’ve been working?

BG: I had this time off [for summer break], and we had to figure out how we were going to tour.  It’s pretty simple – we’re doing two ten-day tours in the summer.  It’s easier to do than string together a six-week North American tour.  We’re just gonna hit the big cities.

JP: Almost all of us work in the van.  I’m taking time off from my job, but we have wireless in the van, get it done.  At least three or four hours a day, people are always working.

QRO: Do you think you’ll tour again, some time closer to the Family release date?

BG: We’re not going to be able to, because our bass player, Dan Radzicki, was accepted to a program at Northwestern, a neuroscience program.  So that begins…

JP: Bobby’s getting married…

BG: I’m getting married.

JP: We are touring again in August.  We’re starting August 10th, going down to Atlanta and back.

BG: The original plan was not to release it in September, but we had some distribution stuff.  Our label changed distribution, and so we had to push it back.

QRO: And now you can get all your new students to buy it…

BG: Exactly.  That’s the real reason…

QRO: So you don’t have any plans to quit your jobs for rock ‘n’ roll again?

JP: What does that even mean?  It implies that we’re not doing it now.

We’re working on a model where that doesn’t survive anymore.  We have a van, and you can’t put gas in it on with what you made at the show last night, no matter what.  So that means you better work, and just plan better.

We’re more interesting people when we have jobs and the band.  As a five-piece, we like to be engaged, be involved, and talk.  When all we’re doing is driving eight hours to play forty-five minutes that night, that’s not as valuable as we could be.

BG: The industry is set everything up that you have to tour, you have to do this, you have to do that – it would be nice to turn it on its ass, ‘Oh, you can do it this way and still be very successful.’  We have people that are surrounding us that understand our situation, are really supportive of it.

Maybe if something ‘miraculous’ came along, and I was like, ‘Oh, can you guys take six months off?’  Even that, I just don’t see a situation.  I’m really proud of our situation; we’ve set it up in such a way that people are really interested in working with us.

JP: You have to reframe the asking of that question.  It’s not like, ‘Can you ditch it for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?’  The ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’ doesn’t exist anymore – at least not what we want to do.  That’s not what we’re interested in.  We’d rather it be sustainable, and we can do that and do other things.  And that’s what makes a well-rounded group of people.

QRO: I guess people just like the idea of people quitting their jobs for rock ‘n’ roll…

JP: People have that idea, but it’s funny that it’s actually twenty years old…

QRO: Like that movie set in the seventies…

BG: Almost Famous

QRO: Exactly

JP: And, you know what?  Not a chance.  Not a chance

BG: I’m getting married, like I said, and we’re all in really serious relationships.  Everyone wants to know, ‘Oh is your girlfriend or your wife afraid that you’ll do something stupid on tour?’

They’ve seen us after shows: we load out, we go find a place to sleep and sleep on a floor.  The ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’ is such a funny term…

JP: We’re probably going eat yogurt and watch Sportscenter

We’re all in relationships, we’re all committed to these things that we have.  Even if I were to like walk home twenty minutes later than everybody else, they’d be like, ‘Where the hell were you?’

This is what we do: the five of us are here, we do this thing, we load out, we go there; one step after the other.  We treat this as much as a job as our day jobs – which isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy it; we just take it really seriously.  It’s not worth it to fuck it up with stupid stuff.  We really just want it to be able to live on it’s own.

‘Sustainability’ is too much of a buzzword right now, but it’s always been applicable for what our goals are.  Can we do this, and can we pay for our ability to record?  Fantastic

QRO: How did the recording process for The Family Afloat compare to making your debut LP, Appreciation Night?

BG: Appreciation Night, post-production stuff, we would record a song, and it would be a song, and Evan [Sult], our drummer, produced the record – he produced both records – he would go in and throw samples over it, really manipulate a lot of the sounds.

This record was much more natural sounding, much more ‘our sound’, much more of a live feel than the last one was.  That’s the biggest degree of difference, as far as I’m concerned.

JP: The actual process, we’ve always worked in batches, three songs at a time, four songs at a time.  Record three, take them home with you, think about ‘em for six weeks, go back and do three more.

QRO: Appreciation got a lot of favorable coverage (Rolling Stone, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, etc.).  Are you worried about a ‘sophomore jinx’?

BG: If we relied on this, if we didn’t have our whole other lives, yeah.  You have to rely on these people that are writing this stuff – we hope they say nice things.

But we’re not in that position where we need that.  If people like it – I like it.  If they don’t, that’s fine, that’s their opinion.  But it would be nice to have the same response as for Appreciation Night

QRO: Is there a ‘Clementine’ of “Only Clementine Knows”?

BG: Those two songs, “Clementine” & “Winston” are back-to-back.  ‘Clementine’ was Winston Churchill’s wife, and “Winston” is about Winston Churchill.  That’s sort of an introduction piece, but it ended up being it’s own track.

JP: And that’s actually a line in [“Winston”].

QRO: Do you have any post-Family songs?

BG: We have a song that we play a lot live [“Corday”] that we wrote first.  It didn’t end up on A Family Afloat; it will probably end up on the next thing we record.

But no.

JP: We’ve been really busy practicing what we already have.

QRO: Why didn’t that one song end up on Family?

BG: It just didn’t fit.  It’s about a beheading in the French Revolution.

The song is one of the favorite songs I’ve ever written…

JP: It’s so great; it’s really fun to play.  It’s so high-energy, and we basically came out of the gate… we weren’t even trying to do anything; it just kind of happened.  And this song came together.

It’s a great song to play; we fuckin’ love it.  But it’s not on the record just because, cohesively, it wasn’t the right thing.  But it will most likely be on the next one.

BG: It’s a jam, man…

QRO: How did the band all meet?

BG: I went to high school with Dan and Dan [Fleury, guitar], we played in bands all through high school and college, and we met Evan through the newspaper, after graduating from college.  We just put an ad out.

We played together for about two years, and then Jan joined.  She saw what we do, and it was just a natural fit.

JP: So many people ask us what role Chicago has played in the band, and it feels really like Chicago just made it happen.  You can’t ask for a more genuine city story than three guys move there after college, read the paper, meet a drummer, I go to grad school with the drummer’s girlfriend – just assembled in a really organic way.

I guess it will be three years in August…

QRO: Are there any songs from Family that you particularly like playing live?

BG: Some of my favorites are “Taking Tips From the Gallery [Gang]”, that’s a fun one to play live.  “Winston” is really fun to play live.

JP: I really like “Passing Bell”.  Right in the middle is a ‘dance song’; everybody can ‘shake it’.

QRO: What about from previous records?

BG: We play “Excellent News [, Colonel]” and “Western Biographic”.

JP:

Maybe, in like six months, we will have a set list that really is a variation of all records, but right now, it’s like, ‘These are the songs we’re learning and practicing and promoting.’

In Toronto, somebody passed us a little note, ‘Can you guys please play “Trundlebed”?’  It’s a song from an EP that’s been around now for three years, at least.  We played it, and the next day, we’re like, ‘Let’s play that again!’  We’ll probably adapt that, but right now, we’re focusing on the new stuff.

QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, don’t like to play live, or just don’t play anymore?

BG: We can play all of the new record.  The old record, we had some problems, couldn’t play live.  Studio stuff that we just never played live.

QRO: With “Winston” and the song about the French Revolution, does that all come from being a history teacher?

BG: There’s only so much you can write about yourself, and your friends, and your family.

I’m also fascinated by the narrative of history, in general.  I just read a book called Winston & Franklin, about the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt during the Second World War, and that’s what that song is about.

JP: To me, it sometimes feels selfish to write about yourself all the time.  Like, “Corday” is a song about a French Revolution beheading.  Charlotte Corday was beheaded because she killed this government guy; she killed him about this coup that was happening.  That’s so interesting, and it’s kind of timeless.  It feels great to sing about that sometimes; it’s kind of a relief.

BG: Like Neutral Milk Hotel.  He wrote a song about Anne Frank & the Second World War.

QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?

BG: Favorite venues?  I like The Middle East a lot, in Boston.  I like the Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review) in New York.  Schuba’s in Chicago is one of my favorites.

JP: I really love San Francisco; that always feels great.  Austin feels great to me, ‘cause it’s like home, and South-by-Southwest, and there’s always good memories there.

BG: Philadelphia is a great city – I really love it.

JP: Philly’s a good surprise.

QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?

JP: Our van broke down in the middle of the [Arizona] desert.

Pretty much as classically as you can think of a– think of the narrative of a band: on tour for a while, kind of at the brink.  Our van breaks down, and we’re in the middle of the desert.  ‘What are we going to do?’  ‘I’m mad at you!’  ‘I’m mad at you!’  ‘I’m mad at everyone!’

Just that moment: ‘Okay, well it’s Sunday, it’s the middle of the night, and we’re out of gas.  So what happens next?’

It’s all from it being your job.  As soon as you start thinking of it as your job, it sucks.  That’s not what we want to do.

BG: On our first tour, when no one knew who the fuck we were, Janie & Fleury were standing outside, and this middle-aged man comes up and is like, ‘Are you Bound Stems?’  Holy shit!  ‘Yeah, we are’ – no one says that.

And he unleashes this picture of us that he had drawn…

JP: He was like a colored pencil… savant.  He’d drawn a photograph of the five of us that was spot on…

A) That’s weird, and it’s fine, it’s amazing, but it doesn’t happen to us.  And B) it’s generally not the sort of thing that makes us particularly comfortable…

BG: But it was really nice of him, he’s a big fan, it meant a lot – ‘Wow!  That’s really bizarre that that happened…’

JP: He made us sign the drawing, and he was like, ‘I have a t-shirt for you guys to sign.  So draw something on the t-shirt.’  So he made us doodle – and doodling on demand…

‘Draw a little doodle that means something to you, and sign it…’

BG: Whenever we’re down, we pull [the drawing] out…

JP: ‘Oh man, this guy – remember this guy?…’

Every day’s a story, you know?  I was driving from Toronto to Montreal, and stopped to get gas.  I get back on the freeway, and all of a sudden, the driver’s side door flies open!  That’s the scariest thing I’ve experienced probably yet, at least.  We pull over to the side of the road and screw the door back together…

It’s always something.  But as long as you know that that’s not what defines you, then it’s a vacation, and that’s amazing.  But if you put so much pressure on it…

BG: You feel like a traveling salesman.  It’s a weird feeling, just groveling, ‘How did it go?  Did people like it?’  ‘Cause you’re really relying on people to like it and help pay for your gas and your next meal and rent.

Bound Stems playing “Crossed Off Together” @ Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY on July 22nd, 2008:

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