Mike Lee of Letting Up Despite Great Faults
If you’re reading this, i.e., an online music publication, odds are pretty good that you’re already familiar with the electro-tinged indie-pop of Letting Up Despite Great Faults. Since releasing their self-titled full-length album (QRO review) last August, the L.A. band has been receiving some high profile attention, garnering rave reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, Exclaim!, and countless indie music blogs – no small feat considering they’re still unsigned. But judging by the rapidly growing number of fans being left smitten by Letting Up’s brand of “dreamy indie pop that boys want to make and girls want to fall in love with” (The New Music.net), they’ll soon be kissing their anonymity goodbye.
QRO contacted frontman/creative force behind LUDGF, Mike Lee, to discuss the new album, home recording, and what the digital age has in store for today’s indie artists:
QRO: The sound of this album has typically been described as ‘modern-shoegaze’, with a lot of listeners drawing comparisons to bands like The Radio Dept., My Bloody Valentine, and The Postal Service. Would you say these artists have had an influence on what you’re doing?
Mike Lee: I would. The Radio Dept. had a big influence on me when Lesser Matters came out, and they introduced me to the whole Labrador [Records] scene. As for older shoegaze bands, Lush was probably the most influential. I mean, what kid in high school decides to learn “For Love” by Lush on the guitar?
But there was also a lot of indie-pop I listened to as well, like Velocity Girl and Papas Fritas. More recently, Morr Music probably had just as much an influence on me as Labrador. There are so many influences it’s pretty hard for me to talk about just one in particular, especially since ‘influence’ is such a loaded word – but artists like Erlend Oye, DJ Shadow, New Order, and like 100 more probably have had an influence on me. If I didn’t do LUDGF, I would definitely be a DJ.
QRO: I hear Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) himself has been a LUDGF fan since way back in 2005.
ML: Well I’m not sure if he’s a fan, but he listed an older song of ours as something he was listening to which, for the unknown, no-name band, was very nice to see.
QRO: How would you compare the sound of this album to your previous release, the Movement EP?
ML: I think it’s a bit more mature. Lots of things in my life had changed personally, and I wanted to reflect more of a hopeful tone, as opposed to maybe the more unapologetic melancholy of the previous EP.
QRO: Your lyrics tend to be introspective, symbolic and musically understated. What are some of the specific themes you deal with on the album?
ML: I say the phrase “second fame” in the first two songs, that refers to getting back with an old love. “Our Younger Noise” spells out growing old/nostalgia pretty clearly I think, and still having that youthful part of you when you’re older but it’s seen as ‘noise’ instead of something awesome/magical.
Lots of other things are in there throughout the album that maybe aren’t so significant at first glance – for instance, I talk about being in a routine, and how sometimes you drift from other people because of it. The lyrics on “Pause” are from my friend and poet, Aiko Harman. She had a few poems she gave me and let me dissect them and put together different lines into a new story for the album.
QRO: I read that you recorded the whole thing in your bedroom using the program, Ableton Live, is that correct?
ML: For the most part. We did a little recording at The Ship in Eagle Rock and I used Ableton as my sequencer, but lots of other VSTs as well. A couple of the songs were done on Sonar. I swear by Native Instruments software, though.
QRO: I would think that being able to effectively maneuver your way through music software is like trying to master a whole new set of instruments. What sort of a learning curve was there for you, and how did you get your start in the world of digital audio workstations?
ML: Well I probably got into everything a long time ago, getting interested in sound synthesis and experimenting with sound modules like the Microwave XT. Then I got into sampling using an SP 808 and MPC 2000, which in turn got me into sequencing. The major push came when I got a Yamaha Motif and it could do all those things. The Movement EP was mostly the Motif and Sonar. That really made me learn about how to make hardware talk to software. The basics of all sequencers/samplers/sound modules are pretty much the same, so once you learn one, you can probably find your way around another within a reasonable amount of time. After the fundamentals, it’s really just up to you to play around with the instrument, trial and error to get what you want.
QRO: You have a U.S. tour coming up soon. Has playing live always been a priority of yours? Does that factor into the writing?
ML: I think it’s important for us to do, but I don’t center any of the writing around it. I try to write songs independent of whether or not they’ll sound good live. We sort of work backwards where we try to make the best song we can in the studio and then work out a live version of it. Most of the time they translate okay, but sometimes we try to spice things up so the show isn’t zzzzzz.
QRO: These days, it seems that artists have two primary environments in which they can be heard. The live stage, and the internet. As an indie band trying to get a leg up, have you found one area is more important to focus your energy into than the other?
ML: I’m reluctant to pick, but I think it’s actually an easy choice on the internet. It reaches everyone, anytime. Mp3s can be downloaded or streamed and be heard over and over again by the same listener. With that said, the live experience is another dimension. I don’t think it’s so much in competition with it, as the whole thing is one big package. Personally, I’ve run into a lot of experiences where seeing a band live has helped me make the decision of whether I really adore them or really dislike them. I remember seeing Caribou (QRO live review) a while back and I liked all his albums (QRO album review), but after that show I really loved what he was doing and appreciated the music more. They blew me away.
QRO: It’s also possible today for an artist to have a fan-base without ever even having left their bedroom. How does one pay their dues, so to speak, in a musical landscape that’s becoming increasingly digital?
ML: That’s hard for me to say. I do agree with that sentiment, and I think a lot of people think that’s bad because it’s flooding the market and we’ll have an influx of one-hit sensations. I don’t think there’s a way to pay your dues on the internet. If you have a really catchy song, people will want it. The real test is how long you last and if your fans will not only be with you in the beginning, but also will want to watch you evolve. You look at a band like The xx (QRO live review) and they just blew up like crazy. I really don’t think they paid any ‘dues’ considering how young they are. But I think they’re talented enough to really make a lasting career for themselves. And c’mon, if someone’s going to make songs that catchy, it’s all good. It’s up to the listener to weed that stuff out. I think artists get a lot of misdirected blame for making music that is ‘bad’.
QRO: The music blogs have been loving the new album. What about record labels – any interest?
ML: There have been a couple, but nothing will probably come of it. We are, however, doing a special Japan release through this label Happy Prince. They’re pressing copies over there with two bonus tracks that were B-sides from the album. That should be out April 14th, I believe.
QRO: After having come this far entirely on your own, would you even have any interest in signing over? What do you consider the main role of a label is, particularly for an indie act?
ML: Well that’s interesting you ask that b/c part of a deal we were offered was that we’d be licensing over a re-release of the album. A good amount of time and money went into it, and of course there are personal reasons that have made me overly attached to the album. I do believe a lot of that time spent on management, etc. of self-releasing an album, I really want to spend on writing and playing. There’s a lot of work that is just plain time-consuming that a label could take care of. Of course, there is the exposure they could give, advice, tour opportunities – tons of things I wouldn’t be able to do in my own little bubble here.
QRO: Have you been doing any recording since releasing the album, or have you been mainly focused on performing?
ML: It’s still in the infant stages, but we’re working on a four-five song EP.
QRO: Is that something you would consider releasing through a label?
ML: If the right one is interested, definitely. We’re always trying to look forward and to do things better.
In March, Letting Up Despite Great Faults will be crossing the country in support of their new self-titled album. Check out myspace.com/lettingup and lettingup.com to see if they’re performing near you.