In the midst of their tour with Menomena, singer, songwriter, banjo enthusiast Chris Archibald, of Bucks County’s own Illinois, took a second to talk to QRO. He discussed the tour, the upcoming full-length, the recently-released 7”, how The Monkees influenced his music, alternate name spellings, and seeing Mary Louise Parker shake her ass for a brick of weed to his favorite song to play live…
QRO: How has this tour with Menomena (QRO photos of Menomena) been going?
Chris Archibald: It’s been really good. Yeah, it’s been really, really good. It’s been really, really, really good, ‘cause they’re great people. We’ve been friends with them for quite awhile, and we haven’t seen each other for a couple years, so it’s been really nice, just reunite, form Voltron again.
QRO: How do you know them?
CA: We met them four years ago. We opened up for them when they came, I guess they were touring [I Am The] Fun Blame [Monster!], their first record, and they came through Philly, and we had opened for them and just hit it off. Always kept in touch, via e-mail, exchange numbers and such, just seeing each other here and there over the past few years, if we’re in the same city, we’ll stop by. But it’s just been super great touring with them.
QRO: How does it compare to your two previous tours this year, with The Kooks & The Hold Steady?
CA: It’s smaller, on some level. The Kooks, there was always lines around the block, and I think The Kooks tour sold out the same day all the tickets went on sale.
So The Kooks tour was really highbrow. The Hold Steady was a blast, played really big venues, too, but these guys, it’s awesome, ‘cause they started this whole army themselves. It’s been great.
I don’t want to say anything that’ll get back to The Kooks or The Hold Steady, but it’s been really great with these guys. A lot of fun.
QRO: It seems like you’ve been touring all year. Why such a heavy workload?
CA: I have no idea. I guess we’re just trying to form an army, too.
But our full-length is coming out on 4/20, so we’re just gearing up for that, tightening a few bolts. That’s why we’ve been touring non-stop, just becoming a family.
QRO: You just played CMJ, like the WOXY.com thing…
CA: That was weird, wasn’t it? Real weird. They told us not to be loud at all. Instruments shouldn’t be loud and we can sing. That was kind of interesting.
QRO: Do you do anything differently for ‘industry’ shows like CMJ or SXSW?
CA: No, we don’t do anything different. I think the mood is kind of different, ‘cause your kind of packed, swamped with stuff with to do. While you’re going on stage, people are like, “As soon as we’re done, we gotta run over here!” So you’re not really thinking and having fun as much as I’d like to.
But it’s definitely fun. I think it’s funny as hell when you’re running around town like rats, carrying drums and stuff.
QRO: So where are you on the new album?
CA: Some of it’s being mixed right now. We recorded some last summer, and we just recorded some this summer in L.A. So it’s being mixed, being put together.
It’s gonna be twelve songs, and instead of a hidden track, we’re gonna have a hidden record. So you pop it in your computer, and there’ll be another record on top of the record.
It should all be mp3’s. So when you put it in your computer, it’ll just be like, ‘whump!’ Instead of twelve songs, you’ll have about thirty.
I’m not exactly sure how the format’s going to be yet, but we were talking about making the CD, like an audio CD, you put it in your car stereo, and it only plays the audio CD songs. But if you have an mp3 CD player in your car, it’ll play thirty.
QRO: How was the recording with Mickey Petralia (Beck, Eels, Flight of the Conchords)?
CA: It was amazing. It’s really cool to be in the same room as all the acts that have been prior, pretty amazing. “These are the mikes we used for Beck’s stuff.” It was kinda surreal.
QRO: You also just came out with a 7” that you recorded at your home studio. What was making that like?
CA: We just kinda picked two songs, two of my favorites. I picked my happiest song and my saddest song.
For the last four years, I’ve just been writing a whole bunch of songs, they just keep adding up, and people forget about ‘em, so I just wanted to do something, keep the rhythm going. ‘Cause we’ve been touring the same EP, and we really don’t play the full EP in our live set. So I just wanted to put something else out there, to keep people’s interest until the full-length comes out.
QRO: Are either of the two new songs on the MySpace page, “Moving Thru”, and “Irish Whiskey”, going to be on the record?
CA: Possibly? Maybe, maybe not – Maybe on the hidden record? It’s still kinda up in the air. But I like those two songs very much. We’re gonna start playing them live, so that might be better.
QRO: When did you make the 7”?
CA: “Life Takes a Week” is about two years old, and “We Were Wrong”, about a year old.
I just write songs all the time. I think you can feel my mood in both of those songs.
You can tell kinda what I was feeling, if you listen to the songs.
QRO: How did the sessions with Petralia compare to when you were making the EP, What the Hell Do I Know? (QRO review)?
CA: Last summer, we recorded in Brooklyn with Eli Janney (Girls Against Boys). I had a lot more time to do that, and it was a lot more closer to home. That was a little more relaxed, but we were kind of restrained, ‘cause we didn’t have the access to do everything I wanted to do.
But with Mickey’s stuff, he heard it and kinda understood it, what I was going for, and he really helped me get it across the way I was trying to get it across. He really helped me transcribe it, ‘cause I’m a mumbler, and I just mumble on, but he’s like, “I see what you are trying to say. Let me help you say it.” And that was really nice.
Working with him, it was short and brief, but it was… I hate to be gay, but it was ‘magical’.
QRO: Is there any special extra ‘first full-length’ pressure?
CA: Our EP did pretty well, so I guess there is some pressure, but I’ve never been more confident of anything. I’ve never been more proud of anything, either. So I’m pretty excited.
The pressure, I guess, is in my own head. I guess it’s kind of anxiety, ‘cause I can’t wait for people to hear it. Especially our team; like, we’re still getting some mixes; like, nobody’s really heard a mix yet, from the Mickey session. So I’m kinda anxious for everybody to hear it. Like, even the band.
QRO: How much new material do you play live?
CA: This LP, we’ll be playing the whole thing, entirely. That won’t happen again, like the EP. I put a lot of gay love songs, and I didn’t want to play it live, ‘cause the whole set would be kind of slow… ‘Iron & Wine’…
Which I love, but I was just going for something crazier. You can’t drink beer and be sad. When you’re playing live, and you drink beer, I get all rowdy.
QRO: Is “Bad Day” based on real-life events?
CA: That was one day. Yeah, it was a pretty weird day. It was the middle of April, and it was a snow day, but it was in April, so it was so weird. And I was working at a restaurant at the time, and it was actually really funny, ‘cause I woke up late, and I thought, ‘cause there was so much snow on the ground, I thought it was ‘the end of the world’ kind of shit. ‘Cause it was 70° degrees the day before, and then I wake up, and there’s like eight inches snow on the ground.
That was just how the day started. It was kind of weird. That was one day, and I didn’t lie at any part of that song, if you can make out the words. It’s all real. That happened.
QRO: Why the banjo?
CA: Why not?
I started with guitar, but I’m always trying to branch out, finding… Like, I love cheap keyboards, cheap things you find at thrift shops and garage sales. Just like, “That makes noise, I could try to incorporate that.”
But I’ve always liked the banjo, ‘cause I’m a huge Monkees fan, songs like “You Told Me”. I was eight when I started listening to The Monkees, and I always loved the banjo from that. So I always said, “I should get a banjo.” One day, I was sitting in traffic, and I was right next to a music store, and I was early, so I was like, “Lemme just run in and see what they got.” And the first thing I saw was this beginner banjo, this tiny little– it was like a ‘learning banjo’, no back to it, and it didn’t really stay in tune well. But that’s what I wrote all that stuff on, like “Nosebleed” – pretty much all the banjo you hear is from that little, tiny, cheap thing. Not the one I play live.
QRO: Now you’ve gone all ‘professional’ with your banjo?…
CA: I hate to say it, but yeah. They’re so goddamn temperamental – they’re not supposed to be whacked, and I whack ‘em around, and they don’t like it. But I got a few things with Gibson, and they’ve made me this lightweight banjo thing, and it’s amazing. It’s pretty much all I play now.
QRO: Were you specifically talking with Gibson about that?
CA: Yeah, they’ve given me a few banjos.
It was cool because, the first one, it was just a really nice banjo – that I shouldn’t own. It was that nice. So I was like, “Yeah, but I don’t want to take that. I don’t want to bleed on it or anything.” Strings are like barbwire.
So then they gave me another one, and then they were like, “We got it.” I was talking to my one rep from Gibson, and she was just like, “What is it that you need?” And I’m like, “Stronger tuning pegs, needs to stay in tune better, needs to be more lightweight…” So gave me this last banjo, and they were like, “Cool, Arch”, and they inscribed it on the back. It was really nice, a very beautiful gesture.
QRO: Speaking of “Nosebleed”, what was it like, seeing Mary Louise Parker, the ‘pot-dealing mom’ on Weeds, dancing on a pool table, for a brick of marijuana, to “Nosebleed”?
CA: Ain’t that perfect?
It was amazing, so surreal. We love that song, but we’re kind of sick of it, but to see it, actually in a media format, it was pretty amazing. Especially when they chopped it all up; we didn’t know that was going to happen. They were like, “Well, it airs on Monday”, and we were like, “All right…” And I don’t have Showtime, so we went over to our drummer’s [Martin Hoeger] house, and we watched it. And we were all like holding hands and shit; it was all weird.
But I’m so proud of her, shaking her ass for a short brick of weed to one of my songs. And what a healthy ass it is. Luscious…
QRO: Back in May, you appeared on FUEL’s Daily Habit. What was that like?
CA: That was cool, too. We were in L.A., and we had to go do this taping, and we were like, “FUEL TV?” We weren’t really sure what it was, but our guitar player, Andrew Lee, he knew what it was, he skates, and he does all that stuff. He was familiar with that stuff, he was like, “We’re playing on the Daily Habit?!” – he was freaking out – “Oh my god, it’s huge!” We’re more ESPN guys.
But that was really cool. And we got to meet a couple of surfers, snowboarder guy; Jamie Kennedy was there. So that was a really fun day.
QRO: How did the band all meet?
CA: We just grew up together, playing Little League baseball, going to school, living in the same neighborhood.
QRO: Were you ever tempted to add an ‘-e’ to the end of your name? ‘Illinoise’…
CA: Ha ha. I’ve heard that from a million people, but no one’s ever asked me that.
Yeah, now I am; now I’m more tempted than ever. ‘Cause we didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, we just grabbed the name and kinda ran with it; we didn’t think about Googling it or any of the repercussions of it. So now we’re getting the repercussions of it, and we’re like, “Fuck! We should have put ‘Illernois’”, something, I don’t know, anything…
But yeah, now I am tempted to put an e – two e’s: Illinoisee…
QRO: But then you’ll just get the Surfjan Stevens album, the Surfjan Stevens song, “[Come On Feel the] Illinoise!”…
CA: That’s one of those things too that kinda bit us in the butt.
But actually, it was great, because we were playing shows –
People just automatically assumed they knew who we were, ‘cause his record was so great.
QRO: Is it extra-special, going to like, Chicago?
CA: Yeah, ‘cause our name’s all over the place. It’s great; feel like stars.
QRO: Which do you prefer: headlining or opening?
CA: At this point, opening, but I can’t wait until the day that we do headline.
I guess that’s more the anxiety I’m feeling about the pressure of the record. I can’t wait to do it. I can’t wait to headline; I think we’d all be better. But we know our role in opening, and it’s supposed to be fun. Music’s fun, shows are fun. And they’re called ‘shows’, not, you know, ‘go to watch somebody stand still and play three chords’.
QRO: Do you guys prefer indoors or outside?
CA: Depends what the weather’s like. Right now, in Canada, I prefer indoors. But in the summertime, in Chicago, I prefer outdoors.
QRO: Has Andrew Lee ever gotten in trouble for smoking when playing indoors?
CA: Every night.
He’s on a different kind of schedule than the rest of the world. And that’s great, that’s the great thing about him, though.
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
CA: My favorite’s gotta be “Nosebleed”, ‘cause it gets you going. Drew, what’s your favorite song to play live?
Andrew Lee: “Crazy”.
CA: That’ll be on the full-length. It’s a slow ballad kind of thing…
QRO: Are there any songs you don’t like playing live, just don’t play anymore?
CA: Yeah, well, we have so many songs that we’ve been playing – we have over three hundred songs recorded.
CA: There’s a lot of songs that we’ve played in past. I don’t know, we kind of dumbed it down into the ones that make us rowdy and feel good, but we’ll also pull out ones we do.
QRO: Are there any songs that you can’t play live, just because of the arrangement?
CA: Yeah, there’s some songs, like “Alone Again”. That was on our EP, we don’t really play that live, ‘cause it just doesn’t come out the same. And I feel like it just slows down, ‘cause we build, build, and build, and if we play “Alone Again”, it always just seemed to slow things down. You just see people going to get drinks and stuff.
Not that we can’t play it, we just… um… I guess I don’t like it, to answer your other question. I think it slows things down. Yeah, “Alone Again” I don’t like playing. Write that down.
QRO: Is it difficult, when you’re writing up a set-list, to figure out your jumping between keyboards and guitar and banjo and all that, figuring out what song into what song?
CA: Yeah, it gets kind of complicated, especially when– That’s another part about being an opening band: headliners have the full board, so a lot of the times, especially on the Menomena tour, it’ll be like, “Well, we don’t have enough room for five vocals.” ‘Cause sometimes I put a vocal mike on the keys, so I don’t have to bend the thing up and it slows me down.
But I kind of like that kind of ‘flow’ of it. That kind of gets me going sometimes, too. Sometimes I make fun of myself of about stuff like that. I like the ‘train wreck’ atmosphere sometimes, shit just isn’t going well, nothing works, everything’s backwards. I don’t know; it’s kind of funny to me. Keeps me on my toes.
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing in?
CA: Chicago, The Metro, is one of our favorite. We really enjoyed San Francisco when we were there; anywhere in California is nice, ‘cause everybody’s so goddamn friendly out there.
Philly, absolutely, anywhere in Philly, Bucks County, where we live. What was the other place we played? Oh, Toronto! The last time we were in Toronto, we did really well; we played to like a million – that was with The Kooks. We did pretty well, as we had a lot of XM Radio stuff going on. So we did a bunch of stuff for XM out in Toronto; I think we have a little bit of an army. Fingers crossed, knock on wood…
QRO: Is there any places that you haven’t been that you want to?
CA: China. All of it.
We just like playing; it doesn’t matter where it is, or what country or anything – we just love it. But I think it’s fun, going somewhere you’ve never been before.
QRO: How much tour plans do you have, once the new album comes out?
CA: Um, form Voltron, take over.
You usually don’t tour an EP, but it’s been really well for us; this is our third or fourth tour now. For seven songs. Three of which we play in our live set.
I don’t know; I’m really excited. But I know it’s just going to be busy, busy, busy. Which is totally fine; we’re excited to do that.
QRO: Do you think you’ll make it out to Europe?
CA: Oh yeah, definitely. We have plans to go out to Europe, right after South by Southwest.
QRO: Do you know if the record’s coming out the same time Europe as in America?
CA: That’s the thing: we don’t have a label out there or anything.
But that’s another exciting thing: I can’t wait for the record to come out. ‘Cause then, maybe, I can afford to pay some money to the band, and myself.
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
CA: On this [tour], so far, us and Menomena, we stopped at “South of the Border”, which is right between North Carolina and South Carolina, and it’s just like the fireworks mega-center. So we just loaded up on hundreds of dollars of fireworks, and set them all of in about a half of an hour.
QRO: Is it that they’re illegal in North Carolina, but not in South Carolina, or something?
CA: No, it’s extremely illegal all over the place. They like to sell them, but they don’t like you setting them off. Which is kind of funny.
Some of these ones, man, you could stick them in the back of your van and just fly. Some of these fireworks, they’re ridiculous; they’re like cannons. And we didn’t know what the hell we do, so we were like, “Just light it!” “Boom!” “We should have stood back from that one…” Pretty funny.
QRO: Anybody lose any eyebrows?
CA: No, but we still smell like sulfur.