Apex Manor

<img src="http://www.qromag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/apexmanorinterview.jpg" alt=" " />Before the release of their first album, before their first-ever live show, QRO got a chance to talk & drink with Ross Flournoy & Adam...
Apex Manor : Q&A

Before the release of their first album, The Year of Magical Drinking (QRO review), before even their first-ever live show, QRO got a chance to talk & drink with Ross Flournoy & Adam Vine, previously of The Broken West, now of Apex Manor.  In the barroom chat, Flournoy & Vine talked about the break-up of The Broken West, the birth of Apex Manor, how making music in the two compare, Los Angeles’ famed Silverlake music scene, writing & recording a song in record time for both NPR and Dan Harris of ABC News, backing up Forgetting Sarah Marshall star Jason Segel doing vampire puppet opera on Craig Ferguson, and much more…


QRO: To start with, what happened to The Broken West?

Ross Flournoy: You know, I think that we all just kind of, individually, got burned out.

We toured a lot, and our records came out in pretty- there was a relatively small window between the two of them; it was like a year-and-a-half or something.  And there was a lot of touring around there, so it was a very intense two and a half years.  It wasn’t anything dramatic, there wasn’t some big blowout, it just kind of got, I think, a little sick of each other.  We’re all still on really good terms, Brian [Whelan] from The Broken West is in Apex Manor.  Everyone’s good, but I think everyone got tired of it.

[to Adam] Would you say that’s- you weren’t in The Broken West, but Adam’s friends with everybody.  I’d actually be curious to here your take.

Adam Vine: I think that’s accurate.  There certainly wasn’t any big ‘blow out’.  I think that when you spend that much time together on the road, in a band, grinding it out, it can take a toll.

I felt maybe there was some reaction to the second record [Now or HeavenQRO review], how it did, and how it was received…

RF: I was just thinking about that.  I’ve been asked this question a couple of times, and I haven’t really to anyone else sort of said this, but now that I’m thinking about it, Adam’s exactly right.  I think that it was definitely a part of feeling like we had worked very hard on the record, and relative to the way the first record [I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go OnQRO review] was received, it was just no one really liked it… [laughs] I think that was very demoralizing for us.

The first one, you know, it wasn’t Funeral by Arcade Fire (QRO live review), but it did better than Merge [Records, Apex, Arcade & Broken’s label] expected, and people seemed to be into it.  And then the second one, it was a real change, I understand that, but the sales really dropped off.  At this level, it’s just really hard to sustain.

QRO: Unless you get on an iPod commercial…

RF: Yeah, exactly. Super-high morale will sustain you through shitty circumstances, but if you don’t have that, it’s just really tough. That was definitely part of it.

QRO: Do you think you put out the second record too soon after the first one?

RF: I think, in hindsight, I would have waited – it came out in September ’08, and I would have waited and put it out in like early ’09.

I think I would have recorded it a little bit differently.  I think the songs are really good, and I think the songs are, on the whole, better than the ones on the first record.  But towards the end of The Broken West, we sort of a new band, a new drummer [Sean McDonald], and he really injected a lot of energy into the band, playing live.  If I had it to do over, I would maybe have tracked the record live, and with him.

And that’s not to knock Robbie [McCorkingdale], who was our old drummer, ‘cause he was great, but there was something about the last live line-up of the band that was really great.  And if I had it to do over, I would remake that record with those guys.

Super-high morale will sustain you through shitty circumstances, but if you don’t have that, it’s just really tough.


QRO: Why did you leave Silverlake for Pasadena?

RF: My girlfriend had bought a house.  Kind of a mundane reason…

We had lived in apartments since we were out of college, and we had lived in an apartment in Silverlake for four years.  And we just decided that we wanted to have our own place.  We just found a really good deal on a house, and it just happened to be in Pasadena.

QRO: Do you still think of yourself as part of the ‘Silverlake music scene’?

RF: I do, yeah.  [Adam and I] were talking earlier today about this.  We have a lot of friends in a lot of different bands there.  There’s a band called Henry Clay People (QRO photos) from there, and Adam collaborates with Joey [Siara], the singer, they write songs together, I did some work with them.

If you want to call the people we hang with a ‘scene’, it’s not what you would think of, when you think of L.A.  It’s really down-to-earth, super-nice – there’s almost something Midwestern about the people.  And I think, actually, the music that’s created by that particular group of people has sort of a Midwestern theme, a lot of Replacements (QRO deluxe edition re-releases review) influence…

[to Adam] What do you think?

AV: I think that’s sounds about exactly right.  I think that group tends to be very smart, but kind of humble.  You would never know, just from their music, just how sharp these people are.

Fewer and fewer of those people actually live in Silverlake.

RF: Over time, I thinking, Henry Clay People, the Siara brothers, Joey lives in Glendale, and then Jim Putnam from Radar Bros. (QRO album review), he’s in Atwater Village.

AV: But we still all go hang out there.

RF: When we all hang out, it’s in Silverlake.

AV: There’s the Edendale Grill, where we go to hang out.  That’s a bar.

RF: I feel like in the last two weeks, we’ve been at the Edendale with Jim from Radar Bros., and Joey, and others, Le Switch.  [Adam’s] birthday party…


The Broken West was kind of by committee. Because it was a band, you know? And this was really my ‘baby’.

QRO: You started the Apex Manor material by making “Under the Gun” all in one weekend for NPR.  How was doing that?

RF: I’d been writing before I wrote that song, but I’d been in a funk for maybe two to three months, wasn’t really writing anything.

I think it was mid-November; I was out on my porch, smoking a cigarette, on Facebook on my iPhone.  I’m a fan of Monitor Mix, so I got their news feed on Facebook.  And it said, “Here’s a challenge: All our readers, see if you can write and record and submit a song,” this was Friday afternoon, “And have it done by Sunday to submit it to us.”

Something about it, ‘I should just try.  I should just make myself do this.’  I hadn’t been writing, and I think a lot of times, I work best when I have an assignment, some sort of direction, something prods me into action.  So I wrote that song, and was really, really happy with how it turned out.  And that kind of got me feeling more confident again.

QRO: Were you nervous that you were writing a song under time constraints about writing a song under time constraints?  Like it was too ‘meta’?

RF: Yeah, I thought about that, but I kind of liked that thing.  It’s really just the last chorus that’s really about writing a song, and that was actually kind of a reflection of the fact that I was up against a deadline.  There’s this line in the song, “I’m out of time / I’m cracking on the title,” and that was about, ‘Oh shit, the deadline’s here and I don’t have a title for the song!’

QRO: How did NPR know that any submission had been written over a weekend?  Couldn’t someone have just submitted a song that they had already written & recorded?

RF: I feel like this is a detail has been glossed over about that story: There was one condition – the song had to have the word ‘dog’, the world ‘yellow’, or ‘NPR’ in the lyrics somewhere.  That was the only condition: write any kind of song you want, doesn’t matter, but it has to have one of those three words.  And I picked ‘dog’.

I guess if you had happened to written a song about your Labrador, they wouldn’t have known.  But that was there way to weed out the cheaters.

QRO: And the song did premiere on NPR, didn’t it?

RF: I went to [Merge Records home] North Carolina in late September, to meet with them about the record, and I hadn’t told anyone – I hadn’t thought to tell them.  We were all meeting together, and I sort of said that story off-handedly, and Christiana [Rentz], who does press, was like, “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”  I think NPR liked it, that they had a role in that process.

QRO: Were you tempted to put “NPR” into the song, just to get it that much more attention from them?

RF: I really should have done that… [laughs] Maybe then they’d be playing it all the time, like during All Things Considered.

I’m scared shitless about this. I’m terrified. If this doesn’t do well, I’ll probably have to change careers. There’s no one to blame it on but me…

QRO: How does making music as Apex Manor compare to doing it as The Broken West?

RF: Adam said earlier, and I think this is a good way of describing it: The Broken West was kind of by committee.  Because it was a band, you know?  And this was really my ‘baby’. I got input from a lot of people, from Adam, who co-wrote four of the songs, and from the two producers, one of whom is Brian from The Broken West, and the other one’s this guy named Dan Wong.  There were a lot of people involved, but ultimately, it was my thing.

I would say that’s the difference in how it was conceived.

AV: And executed.  ‘Cause I feel like that allowed you to then just record a lot of stuff on your own.

QRO: That was actually my next question – how do they compare recording, one vs. the other?

RF: A lot of the record was made at home.  That wasn’t by design, at the outset; I got really into recording.  For every one of the songs that’s on the record, I made a really fleshed-out demo, that was kind of complete.

On the demos, it was all drum-loops and stuff, because I’m not a drummer and I don’t have a way to record them.  So we need to record actual drums.  After that, we were like, ‘A lot of this stuff already sounds pretty good, so what’s the point in trying to redo it, just because we’re in ‘recording mode’ now.  It’s already been recorded.’

I’d say at least half of the record was done at home.  It was kind of just basically the demos.  “My My Mind”, most of all – there’s a new bass part, because the bass player played it, and there’s an acoustic drum kit.  And everything else, [Adam] and I did on the demo.  We didn’t re-record anything.  Vocal was the same, everything.

So that was kind of true for quite a few of the songs.  Put some drums on top, and everything else was done.

QRO: It seems like you diversified, style-wise, with this record, compared to Now or Heaven, which was itself more diversified compared to I Can’t Go On.  Was it just a natural progression, or was their more freedom as Apex Manor?

RF: I think it was that, I think it was just more freedom.  Sometimes I wonder if this record is too all over the map, but I just felt like I didn’t have anybody to answer to.  I was on my own, basically, and also, when Merge told me that they wanted me to do a record, that really felt liberating.  ‘Alright, Mac [McCaughan] & Laura [Balance, Merge Records founders and members of Superchunk – QRO live review], and [iconic alt-producer] Spot, and everyone who works there, if they’re into what I’m doing, then I feel like I’m just gonna do whatever the hell I want to do.’

It wasn’t really by design, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Well, I should try to write this style, and this style…’  It just kind of happened that way.

QRO: Do you feel extra pressure with The Year of Magical Drinking, being that you’re debuting your new band?

RF: 120% yes.

QRO: Did you feel pressure for Now Or Heaven, since it was a ‘sophomore record’?

RF: I did.

Honestly, I think there’s no going back from – when you put out your first record, and if it’s even relatively well received, that’s ‘the moment’.  No one’s ever heard of you, they want to get on the bandwagon, they’re excited, there’s a ‘glow’ about everything.

But yeah, I’m scared shitless about this.  I’m terrified.  If this doesn’t do well, I’ll probably have to change careers.  There’s no one to blame it on but me…

AV: You can blame it on me…

QRO: Have you played live, in front of a crowd, as Apex Manor yet, or will these February dates be the first time?

RF: No, we have not – the closest we’ve come is we did two different sessions, but it was stripped down, acoustic, for WFUV, and for Rollingstone.com.

Our tour starts in weeks.  I’m scared shitless about that, too.  There’s a lot scaring me these days.

Tour dates

2/2/11 – Santa Cruz, CA – Crepe Place
2/4/11 – Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern
2/5/11 – Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
2/7/11 – Salt Lake City, UT – Urban Lounge
2/8/11 – Denver, CO – Hi Dive
2/10/11 – Tucson, AZ – Hotel Congress
2/12/11 – Los Angeles, CA – Satellite
2/24/11 – San Francisco, CA – Café du Nord (Noise Pop)
3/16-19/11 – Austin, TX – SXSW
3/21/11 – Washington, D.C. – Red Palace
3/22/11 – New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
3/23/11 – Cambridge, MA – TT the Bear’s
3/26/11 – New York, NY – The Mercury Lounge
3/28/11 – Chicago, IL – Schubas Tavern
3/29/11 – Minneapolis, MN – 400 Bar

QRO: [Adam,] this will be the first time you’ve ever played live?

RF: He made his ‘radio debut’ for WFUV.

AV: It wasn’t live, but it was the first time I played for that kind of purpose.

QRO: Your February dates are leading up to Noise Pop in San Francisco.  Are you also going to be playing South-by-Southwest in March?

RF: Yeah.  We’ll be doing South-by, and then we’ll go from Austin to, I think our first date will be in D.C.

At a certain point, I realized, ‘Well, I kind of did know how to play music, and if I try, I could do this’ – and Ross played a huge part in that, giving me the confidence to do that.

QRO: [Adam,] are you extra-nervous about playing live, even more so than [Ross]?

AV: Yeah, for different reasons.  For him, this is sort of his ‘big project’ – he’s steering the ship.  But yeah, I’ve never done this before.  I’m still learning the songs…

RF: You know the songs.

AV: I know the songs, but I feel just new.  But in a way that makes me work hard, and it makes me kind of enjoy it because it is new.  A lot of these guys, they’ve been out, whether it was for The Broken West or other bands, for years and years.  They’re all pros, and they enjoy it for what it is, but for me, this is new territory.

QRO: Why hadn’t you been on stage before?  You had said that you had written some of The Broken West songs…

AV: That’s a good question.  It’s something we’d talked about before.  There was kind of a rotating cast of keyboard players in The Broken West.

RF: We’d talked about having you in it.

AV: You had asked me once, and I said no.

Music seems like a world apart from most other people. Even if you’re a fan, it’s like, ‘I don’t know how to play music, so I can’t do that.’ At a certain point, I realized, ‘Well, I kind of did know how to play music, and if I try, I could do this’ – and Ross played a huge part in that, giving me the confidence to do that. Also, I was doing my own things, both personally and professionally.

RF: I think that’s a really good point he makes.  It’s just true across the board, that people feel like there is this barrier to entry, as a musician.  He’s got as much musical aptitude as anyone I know, but he, for a long time, because he hadn’t been playing an instrument since he was eleven, he didn’t really think he could do it.  But the fact of the matter is, if you have the aptitude, and you have the interest, you can do it.  And he’s living proof.

QRO: When you picked the name ‘Apex Manor’, did you check to make sure that it wasn’t used by anyone else?  Because I know that happened with The Broken West’s original name, The Brokedown…

RF: I did.  When I started kind of thinking about names, pretty much right after Merge said they wanted the record, which was in January…

QRO: You didn’t think of doing it as just ‘Ross Flournoy’?

RF: My name’s too hard to pronounce. [note: it’s pronounced ‘flur-NOI’] People really screw it up all the time.  And also, I didn’t want people to think it was some sort of ‘acoustic, songwriting’ thing.

I started thinking of names in February and March, and my lawyer was really, really adamant about me checking.  Any idea I had, she wanted to scour the earth to make sure there was nothing, not even a shoe company.  She was really sensitive after [The Brokedown]…

So I googled ‘Apex Manor’, and the only stuff that came up, really, was an interview I did for Aquarium Drunkard, talking about Now or Heaven.  In the liner notes of Now or Heaven, where the recording was done, it says, “Apex Manor,” ‘cause that’s what we call Adam’s apartment.

Long story short, that was encouraging.  I was like, ‘Alright, no one else has really put these two words together, so I can roll with it.’

QRO: When you play live, will you just be playing Drinking songs, or also any Broken West songs, or something else, like covers?

RF: That’s a really, really good question.  Originally, I was thinking we would just play the new stuff, and then, when I was at that meeting at Merge in September, Mac sort of said, “You know, you should think about…”  Even for just the practical sense of, you need material, ‘cause the record’s only ten songs.

If you’re touring on your first record, I feel like you’ve gotta be creative. You’ve gotta play some other shit.

So we’ll play some Broken West stuff, and play some covers. If you’re touring on your first record, I feel like you’ve gotta be creative.  You’ve gotta play some other shit.

QRO: Do you have any songs that you’ve written since Magical Drinking?

AV: We [just] wrote a song for an interview for Dan Harris [of ABC News], for [his web program] Amplified.  He’s trying to change up the format of the show, to make it less of a straight-ahead interview.

So another friend of ours had this idea that we should come here from California and write a song about New York.  And they would record that process.  So we did that.

QRO: Almost like [making] “Under the Gun”…

AV: Yeah, exactly.  It wasn’t the same amount of time.  We started before…

RF: We cheated.

AV: Once we knew the idea, we couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I don’t think that would end up on another record, necessarily.

RF: But we were both really happy with it.  We’ve talked to Dan – we recorded a demo of it in his conference room.  I’m gonna do a polished mix and send it to him.  We talked about maybe having [that] people could download from their website.

QRO: Hooray For Earth (QRO spotlight on) did something like that through Amplified, originally releasing their Momo EP (QRO review) through Amplified, and then later re-releasing an expanded version as a physical disc (QRO review).

RF: So Amplified’s done this kind of thing before?  Cool…

Apex Manor performing “No Small Magic” for Dan Harris’ Amplified:

QRO: Who’s in the band?

RF: Adam, obviously, and Brian Whelan, who played bass in The Broken West and co-produced the record.  He was heavily involved from the beginning.

A guy named Andy Creighton plays bass.  Andy’s in a really, really awesome band – well, it’s his project – they’re called The World Record, and they’re from L.A.  I’ve just been a big fan of his for a long time.  Actually, I played in The World Record.  For the last year, I’ve been playing in Andy’s band, and also in – Brian has a new band.  It’s called Wheelhouse, although that name will change, because apparently there are like ten other bands named that…

So basically, it’s kind of like the three of us have been playing in each other’s projects.

And the drummer is a guy named Derek Brown.  He’s in The Eels (QRO live review).

QRO: What do you think about industry fests like CMJ (QRO recap) or SXSW (QRO recap)?

RF: I like ‘em.  I have soft spot for South-by, because I used to live in Austin – we both used to live in Austin – so I like going back there.  It’s almost always like ‘spring has just sprung’, so the weather’s great.  It’s really just fun.

CMJ, I like it.  I feel like it’s harder to have an industry or any kind of thing in New York, ‘cause it can’t dominate the city, it’s all spread out.  South-by, you really feel like everything is kind of central.

As far as playing them, it’s kind of a ‘work thing’.  The first South-by The Broken West did, we played like eight day parties.  It was a lot of work.  I’m grateful that anyone would even fuckin’ ask us to do play there, but it’s a lot of work.  It’s kind of taxing.

QRO: This the most important question: What was it like playing on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (QRO Indie on Late Night TV), backing up Jason Segel when he did his piece from A Taste for Love, the Dracula puppet rock opera his character composed on Forgetting Sarah Marshall?

That was really, technically, the last show. So we got the band back together for that show. And it was a fuckin’ blast!

RF: That was a lot of fun.  We ended up doing that – it’s kind of a long, boring story.

There’s a producer in Brooklyn named Phil Palazzolo, who I’ve become friends with since then – he does The New Pornographer records (QRO review), he did the new Okkervil [River – QRO live review] record coming out in May.  Phil has a friend who is Jason Segel’s publicist.  Jason was booked to do that thing, so his publicist called Phil and say, “Hey, buddy, do you know any bands in L.A. that might work?”  And Phil didn’t know anybody, so he asked someone else, and they said, “You should check out this band, The Broken West.”  And so he watched us on YouTube or something, and thought we would work.

So he e-mailed me, ‘We’d never met, but would you be interested in doing this?’  And we were like, ‘Fuck yeah!’  We’d never played late night!

And we were broken up by that point.  That was actually the last show! [laughs]
That was really, technically, the last show.  So we got the band back together for that show.  And it was a fuckin’ blast! Jason Segel was really cool.  It was fun.

And that was really fun because it was like: we’d never done late night TV, and we got to do it, but have it not be one of our songs.  We weren’t stressing out about it.

Jason Segel, backed by The Broken West (in their last-ever performance), performing “Dracula’s Lament” live on the 1000th episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson:

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