On the last leg of their tour with The Most Serene Republic, Adam Baker of Annuals sat down with QRO. In the conversation, Baker talked about bands they’ve toured with (good & band), the new Sweet Sister EP (QRO review), the upcoming new LP, EPs vs. LPs, opening vs. headlining, their short time on a major label, why they need more members in the six-person band, throwing up in a bag, and much more…
Adam Baker: It’s been really, really great. They’re probably my favorite people I’ve ever toured with, in terms of just ‘hanging out’.
And the music has been awesome. A lot of times, with some of the bands we’ve been with, you end up sitting in the back a lot, just because sometimes it doesn’t mesh well. I just really enjoy both of them – I’m not bored on this tour, which is great.
That’s not to say that all the other bands we’ve toured with have been ‘bad’; it’s just that both of the bands, we’ve just really enjoyed touring with.
QRO: So you can’t ‘name names’ as to who exactly was the worst band you’ve toured with?…
AB: I want to, but I can’t. I really want to…
But they’re not even together any more! That’s my only hint…
QRO: You’ve toured with What Laura Says before, but how did you hook up with The Most Serene Republic?
AB: [Our manager] Kari manages them, so we were looking for a good co-headliner that meshed well. We didn’t even know them, before we got on the road – that’s why it was a pleasant surprise.
After talking to them, it all made sense. They actually have the same musical taste background that we do, from when we were thirteen or fourteen and stuff. ‘Cause they’re actually our same age group, when a lot of people have been older than us. Just by three years, but that makes a huge difference. When you’re coming into your adolescence, the music that you listen to is so important.
QRO: You toured with them in Middle America & West Coast in May, then took a two-week break before this northeast leg – why was that?
AB: To be honest, I’m not sure.
To be honest, I didn’t even know about the second part – I actually got in trouble with work, because I didn’t know about the second part! A week before, "Oh shit! Guess what? I’m going to be gone next week…"
I don’t know the purpose. Maybe just because… the perfect amount of touring time, to me, has always been three weeks. When the fourth week comes around, it starts turning into routine, just like your other life. So I like breaking it up, but it wasn’t like a ‘request’ or anything.
QRO: There were no Canadian dates on this tour – despite touring with a Canadian band…
AB: It was always our intention to do a national tour for this EP that came out – we just wanted to spend more time on the record coming up.
And The Most Serenes, they play Canada all the time, so I don’t know – I’m not sure why there wasn’t. I have legal issues, myself, getting into Canada…
AB: Seems that way, ‘EP tour’. That’s maybe one of the reasons we were matched up.
QRO: Have you shifted fully to headlining (or, in this case, co-headlining) tours, as opposed to opening tours – or do you still do opening tours/gigs?
AB: Honestly, we’d like to get on some opening tours. We’ve had some offers, but the main problem is that it’s hard to find a band where their people would really be into our music, to make that worth it. We also want to get out the next record as soon as possible; we want to spend a lot of time on it.
We’ve turned down a couple offers, we actually do like the bands, but we just wonder: it’s the first of three slots, how many people are actually going to be there, and then how much time do we have left on the record after that, what’s the release date going to be, with those two months in consideration? But if The Flaming Lips (QRO live review) came out of nowhere, "Let’s play some shows" – drop everything, let’s go!
It’s not that I prefer headlining, I just don’t mind playing smaller clubs.
QRO: In October of last year, you opened for The Deer Hunter at Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review)- but had previously headlined the place, in January of last year (QRO review), and even on Halloween ’07 (QRO photos). Was that just a coincidence?
AB: I think it was just that that was the club that was just open.
I’m trying to think back to all the times we headlined the Bowery – were there people there? I remember one Bowery show that we headlined, there was, I don’t know, 15?…
At bigger places, we sort of have to have some help. We’re a small band, you know?…
Annuals playing "Hardwood Floor" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on January 28th, 2009:
QRO: How did making Sweet Sister compare to previous recordings?
AB: It was great, honestly. Because the last record, the full-length, was done in a very sterile sort of way, a way that I’m just not used to. I tried to tell myself, ‘This is the more adult, the more ‘professional’ way to do it.’ Because I’m a young guy, I’ve only done it my way – I can’t be right all of the time. But I came to realize, you are right, if it has to do with how you work best.
So it was great. It was home recorded, done at our place, mixed with a close friend of ours in town. Just really fluid, really fun – and I’m never going to another way again, because that was just vaguely stifling. Having suggestions of other people to come in, work on songs who don’t really understand the way that I, and the band as a whole, work – it’s kind of unorthodox, it’s a new way that a lot of people are working this way, but a lot of the ‘old dogs in the game’ don’t understand it.
Home recording has come a long way.
QRO: So, with this EP, was this more how you made the records before [last full-length] Such Fun (QRO review)?
AB: Precisely. That’s exactly how we did [Be He Me]; [Be He Me] I was still learning how to do it, honestly.
And some EPs after that. We did do the Wet Zoo (QRO review) release – that was done sort of in the same way, but with some help from Jacquire King, who’s a great producer. He also worked on Such Fun, but we… things happened. I’m not mad at that guy, but he was with such other stuff at the time – he was working with Kings of Leon [Only By the Night – QRO review] at the same fuckin’ time! I have nothing but love for the dude, but the amount of focus the Annuals need – which I’m not fond of myself, a lot – things just didn’t pan out right. It slowed things down and stuff.
But I’d love to work with him again, when he’s not working on a Grammy-winning album… Unless it’s mine!
QRO: Is that also why you changed labels?
AB: That happened because Columbia cut Canvasback, so just about every band that was on that label is gone, except for Manchester Orchestra (QRO album review) – they’re on Columbia right now, and I think they’re still doing okay.
They’re actually doing really well – they were on the cover of A.P. Magazine! That’s awesome – at least someone survived through that…
QRO: You guys toured together… (QRO live review of Manchester Orchestra on that tour)
AB: That was a great tour. That was another one of those with people we really believed in, were really fun.
QRO: Do you have post-Sweet material, like for a full-length?
AB: Yeah. It’s all written, and a lot of it is demoed out already. Right after this tour, the full-length, we’re going to head on into it. Because I’ve just spent more time on writing this time, and I don’t really know why.
Actually, I do. I’ve wanted to get the lyrics done beforehand. This is sort of not a big deal; everyone does it differently. A lot of times, I’ll be in the studio, I’ll finish the song, and all I’ll have is a melody, a feel – syllables that don’t make sense. There are actually songs that I’ve done where I’ve just gone, ‘Fuck it’ – there’s this is one song that’s all like that, and I just didn’t bother to do lyrics.
I just wanted to do that a different way. Because a lot of times, I end up just writing it in the studio, sort of how… I guess I can’t really compare it to anything, other than, I guess, how Timbaland would write a song, you know? I have no idea how he writes a song, but it’s not sitting in your room, playing a guitar. Even though I come up with all the riffs and stuff, usually I put it into the studio and chop things around. That’s still going to happen, hardcore, but I just wanted to try something a little bit different.
QRO: Does Sweet Sister point towards the music direction you’re trying to go, or are you just constantly changing things up, record-to-record?
AB: I think it’s more where I’m at right now – or was then.
I know the new stuff, it’s kind of reminiscent… but it’s also very, very different than anything that we’ve done. Definitely a lot more electronic, let me go ahead and say that. A lot more electronic. I think it’s going to be awesome – that’s all I can really say.
I’ve always been all about Aphex Twin and all sorts of crazy electronica, dub-step and whatnot. I guess I’ve always been afraid or something to actually put it into music, but these days, everybody’s eatin’ that shit up! ‘I’m the best at! So I’m going to do it!’
That’s the secret – I’m the best at it… [laughs]
QRO: What’s the set list breakout on this tour – do you do all/most of Sweet Sister? And what about earlier records?
AB: I think we do most of Sweet Sister almost every night. A lot of Be He Me. It’s pretty even, come to think of it.
There’s barely Such Fun, just because that’s ‘the newest of the old songs’, you know? The Be He Me songs, we’ve been playing now for about four, five, five years now, six even?…
If it was a ten-song set, I’d say three of them were Sweet Sister, three were Be He Me, and I guess the rest is Such Fun? No – plus b-sides. So it’s pretty even.
QRO: You seem to alternate between LPs & EPs – Git’ Got EP before Be He Me, Frelan Mas digital EP & Wet Zoo split with [alter-ego] Sunfold before Such Fun (and Sunfold’s Toy Tugboats – QRO review), and now, after Such Fun, Sweet Sister – why is that? (That’s also something The Most Serene Republic do…)
AB: I really like working on EPs. That’s mostly the thing, I guess. I love focusing on four songs at a time, getting them totally done, wrapped up, shipping them out. I’d love to just work on three EPs, just put three out in a row, but apparently that’s not ‘appropriate’ or whatever…
QRO: Have you ever thought of just working on three, then just throwing them together as one?
AB: No, ‘cause in the back of my mind, I’m like, ‘Gah! I still have to finish fuckin’ eight other songs…’
It’s probably going to keep going like this: EP, full-length; maybe two EPs, full-length. I like EPs a lot. I’d love to do singles – that’d be awesome. Move to Europe…
Annuals playing "Carry Around" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on January 28th, 2009:
QRO: What songs do you particularly like playing live?
AB: My favorite’s probably "Eyes of the Darkness" – that’s a b-side from Such Fun; that one the label didn’t like, said couldn’t be on the record.
Let’s see, what else? My favorite Such Fun song is "Down the Mountain"; this really fast country song. "Sway" from Be He Me, because that’s a really fun song, and the drums are awesome – I love turning around and watching Nick [Radford] go. It always feels great, especially on this tour, because Simon [Lukasewich] from The Most Serene Republic comes up and plays violin on that song. He has a perfect pitch…
QRO: He came on stage when they were on tour with Grand Archives (QRO review).
Do you feel like now, this tour, you’ve got more of a chance to do b-sides, things the old label didn’t like?
AB: Oh, yeah! That’s one of the things I like most about recording with indie labels, or with no label at all: you don’t have to report to anybody.
Even when they infer that they’d rather have another song, that always means that they’re going to fight you. They’ll be so polite about it – now it just infuriates me even more, ‘cause I’ve seen it go through. Why don’t you fuckin’ say it straight out, instead of me working on this song, and then you saying, "Oh, we’re not going to use it…"
It’s great [now], how it should be for every band. Especially since record labels are useless these days, entirely useless. Well, not ‘entirely’ – ‘almost’…
QRO: It seems like you guys do a lot of instrument switching up – have you always done it that way?
AB: Yeah. Generally, the reason that happens is because we can only fit six people in the van, comfortably. Because we usually have a seventh person. I would love to take twelve people, and I would love for that to be the band, but we don’t have enough money yet.
So, yeah, that’s pretty much just what we’ve got. We just have to know different instruments, be comfortable running back and forth. It’s fun, though.
QRO: I saw you guys at one show at SXSW last year (QRO recap), where I got to see your two drummers playing together, from the side.
Have you ever seen photos of the faces you and [bassist] Mike [Robinson – QRO interview] make?
AB: Yeah, I’ve seen some pretty funny ones. Whenever I do open my eyes, it’s pretty funny. But now I just do that more because it seems to freak people out.
QRO: Are there any songs you can’t play live, because of the arrangement, or just don’t like to play live?
AB: Yeah, there are songs that are more annoying than others, because we either have to bring out backing tracks or more people. Or we could just rearrange it.
There’s one song, a b-side called "The Giving Tree", that would just literally be impossible, because it’s almost entirely double orchestra. And it’s also one of my favorite songs ever! But I’m happy with it just staying, for now, until we have at least one other person. If we had one other person, we could do it – all we need is two more hands, and a really nice keyboard.
The only other one that used to be a problem was "Sore" (QRO video), just ‘cause of the massive amount of strings – the strings weren’t even that much of an issue; more it was the electric beat that comes in halfway through the song. But it wasn’t a big deal; we just had the backing track – everyone understands: ‘Alright, he’s not a machine…’
Annuals playing "Sore" live at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on January 28th, 2009:
QRO: Do you think the new stuff being more electronic will make it easier to play live, or harder to play?
AB: It will be very different. We’re gonna have to spend a lot of time just changing how we do things. I think Nick’s gonna have to make his drum kit a hybrid electric. We’re definitely working on that right now. I’m gonna have to play more keyboards like I used to.
Other than that, I’m excited for it, honestly. Because I think it’s gonna sound awesome. I miss some bass, live – some bass cannot be achieved by a bass drum.
QRO: What cities or venues have you particularly liked playing?
AB: Chicago’s my favorite, still, just because they’ve always shown us extreme love – like, above & beyond; I don’t understand it. From the first time we went there…
New York’s always great, because it’s fucking New York! We have so many friends here, gigs we’ve had over the years, people always come out.
I like Seattle because, when you drive south, the drive whenever we leave Seattle is just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced, through the Redwoods.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
[long pause for thought]
AB: There’s so many of them, but they all involve one member of the band, and something embarrassing happening to them, so I’m wondering which one I can say…
Alright, one time [multi-instrumentalist] Zach [Oden] got really drunk. We were leaving, and driving an hour to the hotel. And we used to have this guy from New Jersey as our tour manager, ‘Jersey Jay’ – huge, 250-pound Jersey bruiser.
So Zach’s like, "I’m gonna throw up! We have to stop somewhere!" We pull over to the side of the road, in this really nice neighborhood. And Zach can’t throw up – he’s really OCD: he needs a bag, for some reason. He needs to do it in a bag because he doesn’t want to fuck up the sidewalk or something, or someone’s yard, whatever…
And Jay’s like, "Are you serious? We need to go. We need to go because we need to get up early…" So some guy’s walking by, with his sandwich or whatever – "Gimme the fuckin’ bag." Literally, word-for-word, "Gimme the fuckin’ bag."
"What? My sandwich is in here…"
"Take it out of the bag and gimme the bag."
After like a minute, he hands over the bag, and Zach [throws up] in it, and the guy’s like, "That’s what you fuckin’ needed it for?!?"
There are other, way crazier ones, but I’m definitely sure they wouldn’t be okay with me talking about…
QRO: Do you guys do anything differently when you play outdoors?
AB: No, we just hope that the sound doesn’t suck. That’s mostly it. I hate playing outdoors, I just hate it so much.
Well, that’s not true. It’s really cool to see some of the things when you play outside. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, we were playing this festival in our hometown of Raleigh, the downtown – it was New Year’s Eve. It was in the middle of downtown, and there was this huge tunnel of buildings. At soundcheck, it was awesome – I was like, "Check…WHOOOM…", going all through my downtown, in my fuckin’ city.
And then it rained, hurricane-style! We thought no one was going to be there, but there was- I couldn’t even count it. I couldn’t see the end of it.
But they all had umbrellas. Just a sea of umbrellas – it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen…