In the conversation, Thurlow discussed their new record, Migration (QRO review), why it sounds so different than Takka’s last, We Feel Safer At Night, playing Brooklyn Academy of Music, further touring plans, his/their feelings on South-by-Southwest and CMJ (including playing four shows in one day), the advantages & disadvantages of being one of the many, many bands from Brooklyn, being the unofficial ‘house band’ at the new Bell House (QRO venue review), Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Chinese Democracy, meeting the kid from the “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” video, and much more…
QRO: You weren’t in the band when they made their first record, We Feel Safer At Night?
Drew Thurlow: No, that’s correct, I wasn’t. I’d been good friends with the band for a long time. Gabe [Levine, vocals/guitar] and I actually went to college together. We weren’t in school at the same time very much – I’m a few years younger – but I just kind of knew them, we played together and other stuff.
I actually know the guys from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (QRO live review). They’re really close friends of mine; we moved here together. I was living with them at the time. My closest friend is the drummer in that band [Sean Greengalgh], and he was producing their second record, and he asked if I wanted to play some guitars on it. I was like, ‘Yeah, sure’ – and then I guess, all of sudden, I was in the band.
Rene [Planchon], the other guitar player, who joined at that time, was a childhood friend of the guys from Clap Your Hands. So we’ve known him for a while. It’s kind of a collective – we all had a rehearsal studio together, too, that we were sharing.
QRO: How was making Migration, joining the band while making it?
DT: It was good. It was hard. We got together as a five piece for the first time in July, and started core tracking in September. We didn’t have a ton of time to write and flesh a lot of stuff out. I think we had an ambitious artistic agenda. There were very specific things we wanted to do, and we set out to do it, so we’d go in for a few weeks in September, then track what we had, then write, go back in October, end of October, and track.
It was quick. I think that we’re definitely satisfied with the recording, I think we like how it turned out, but I think next time we want to do it with a little bit more breathing room, little more time to flesh the songs out. Not like, writing song parts while you’re tracking, which is really hit-or-miss.
QRO: It seems like you took a darker sound on Migration. Was that intentional?
DT: Gabe is kind of our leader; he’s the primary songwriter. We all realize the vision together, but he kind of steers the ship.
The first record was with different people, and he had a certain thing he wanted to do. When we all joined together, I think we all wanted to do something different. From someone who wasn’t involved in the first record and was involved in the second one, to me, there’s not a lot of common themes that run between them. I agree that, if you were a fan of the first record, the second record might seem really different.
And the third record – who knows? We haven’t really started working on it yet, but it seems like we’re going to change yet again.
Takka Takka playing "Change, No Change" live @ Barnard College in New York, NY on April 25th, 2008:
QRO: When you play, do you just play Migration songs, or do you play any Safer songs?
DT: There’s a couple. We actually play the title track; we’ve changed that a little bit. We play that song “Fever” – the reason why we play is because we’ve completely reworked it, totally new Takka-fied, there’s an extra guitar part, the percussion’s changed.
And it was in Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, so it just seemed like a natural thing to play.
QRO: The version in the movie, was that the original or the new one?
DT: In the movie, it was the recorded version.
QRO: How did getting on that soundtrack come about?
DT: The guy that engineered that first record, he lives in L.A. now, and I think that he suggested it to the music supervisor for the movie. They put it in early, in a rough cut of the film, and for whatever reason, the director liked it.
I actually didn’t see the movie, but apparently it’s in a scene where they’re driving in a car, and he puts in a CD, and he plays it.
QRO: So it’s not background music – it’s something that’s actually played?
DT: Yeah, I think it’s a focal part of the scene. But I didn’t see it…
QRO: Do you have any post-Migration material?
DT: We actually worked on some stuff the last couple of weeks, but nothing we’re going to play.
We haven’t really sat down and really… we’ve been talking about the new record, but we haven’t really started making some tough decisions about what it’s going to be like and try to write. Gabe’s always writing, he’s always tracking; he sends stuff out, we talk about it, but there’s nothing new yet.
QRO: How did this ‘Sounds Like Brooklyn’ date at BAMCafé (QRO venue review) come about?
DT: They e-mailed us and asked us if we wanted to play. That simple, really.
It’s really good because I think the record we made is really ‘nerdy’ and ‘artsy’, and it kind of fits in the aesthetic of BAM. There’s a lot you can say about it, and I think that it fits in the academic world of music.
[note: Takka Takka’s January 10th date at BAMCafé was actually not part of BAM’s ‘Sounds Like Brooklyn’ series, which takes place in February, but just part of BAMCafé’s regular series of free concerts]
QRO: Do you ever worry that there are ‘too many bands from Brooklyn’, that you may get lost in the shuffle?
DT: There’s a lot of bands out there. I’ve been in New York about five years now, and was just talking to Conrad [Doucette, drums], who’s been in New York a long time, and worked in music – there was a time in New York where it wasn’t the thing to be in a band. I think the turning point was in the late nineties with The Strokes and Interpol (QRO album review).
I heard stories that there just weren’t as many rock venues – Bowery [Ballroom – QRO venue review] had just opened. There weren’t as many rehearsal spaces – there’s rehearsal studios all over the place! There was a time when there just wasn’t a lot of rock bands, and now it’s crazy! It’s so saturated…
It’s funny, because you don’t worry about… I guess you call it ‘competition’, when a lot of bands get heard. Music’s not meant to be competitive, but, in that sense, there’s a lot of noise to get through.
QRO: Do you have more touring plans after this?
DT: Yeah, we haven’t announced it yet, but we’re going to be touring in March, East Coast, South, Midwest, Canada. That will still be in support of Migration; we won’t have a new record out.
QRO: When did you last tour?
DT: We did two weeks in October.
QRO: Were those all headlining dates?
DT: We headlined the Midwest thing. Then we did the East Coast with Oxford Collapse (QRO photos).
QRO: How was that?
DT: It was great – we fuckin’ love the Oxford Collapse guys. We love their band, they’re awesome people. We miss them. We had a really cool show, ending the tour. They were on the road for so long – they were on the road for six, seven months. After their last show, they took a break; we did a Mercury [Lounge – QRO venue review] show, which was awesome. It was packed – totally a good way to end.
QRO: Are you doing SXSW this year?
DT: Yeah. We weren’t going to–
It’s playing a twenty-minute set on a rented backline in a club who doesn’t normally have music with a sound guy who doesn’t know who you are. It’s become a Mardi Gras.
But we’re going to be touring, and we’re routed through there. We’re going to be there, play our label showcase, and we’ll probably play a couple of other parties.
QRO: What do you think about ‘industry showcases’ like that, or CMJ (QRO Recap)?
DT: I’m not sure how much sense they make. We played a shitload over CMJ, but that made sense because we’re in New York. It depends on what you want to do: if you’re a college kid, and you want to have a fun week, that’s great; when you’re at SXSW, it gives you the opportunity to see a lot of people you don’t normally see and connect with people. But I don’t think a lot of tangible, career-advancing things come out of it. It just becomes a self-perpetuating thing: it gives press a reason to cover something.
QRO: What’s it like, being a New York band at the New York-based CMJ? Do you think that makes it less special?
DT: That’s a good question. CMJ is not SXSW; it’s not as robust. I think a lot of the things that are covered in New York are New York-based, so I think being a New York band helps, just for the practical purpose of not traveling and get hotels and stuff. A lot of the parties that are thrown are New York-based things. Like, we played the Earfarm party because he’s a friend of ours and he’s putting out our record on vinyl. We played the Brooklynvegan party because he’s a good friend of ours. We all work together anyway, so it makes sense. I guess there are some advantages.
QRO: Have you ever had to play venues at CMJ that you knew, as New Yorkers, that you didn’t want to/wouldn’t play otherwise?
DT: Yeah. This year, we played a party at Le Royale – it’s like an opium den. They don’t have music there. And we played a party; it was a sponsored Petron party. That’s the kind of thing you do that you wouldn’t do, only do because it’s a festival. We played a warehouse for PASTE, but they don’t have music. It was awful – they didn’t have a P.A. It’s not the way you want to present your music. We wouldn’t normally ever do that, but it’s the festival…
QRO: On Day Two of CMJ 2008 (QRO CMJ 2008 Day Two Recap), you played at Cake Shop (QRO venue review) during the afternoon, and then played almost immediately after that down a few doors at Piano’s (QRO venue review). What was that like?
DT: We did four shows that day. Cake Shop was running late, and Pete from our label, when we were done, he literally picked up our amp off the stage, walked up on the street with it, put it on stage at Piano’s. I followed him out with my guitar practically still on, and we set up and played. I think there was about ten minutes in between sets. But that’s just the nature of the festival. We had a friend of ours helping us, which was so awesome. We just rented a van.
We played four shows, and they were all pretty close. Between four and ten, we played four shows. So we did Cake Shop, Piano’s, then we went over to The West Village to that Le Royale place, and then we did something else [Red Bull Space]. That was a long fuckin’ day.
It’s really interesting: ‘cause when you play one show, you’re touring or something, this is a big deal for us, playing BAM, you’re whole day’s about that show. You’re thinking about it, anticipating it. But when you have four of them? It’s so weird, ‘cause you get in that state to play, that emotional state to play, then you’re done – and you’ve got to do it again, and then you’re done – and you have to do it again…
I thought it was a really interesting mind-fuck. I really liked it.
QRO: Did you play the same set list?
DT: We switched it up a little bit, but the sets are so short. Just play ‘the hits’…
I think the purpose of CMJ, and even SXSW – SXSW’s lost it, ‘cause it’s too big – is just getting your name in as many places as possible. Just getting print out.
QRO: Last April, you played at WBAR’s outdoor show at Barnard College. Do you do anything differently, when you play outdoors?
DT: The sound’s different. The acoustics are weird. Besides that, no.
During the daytime, too, it’s different. The crowd’s different, you’re different – you’re probably not drinking. Hopefully not… The acoustics are a big thing.
Takka Takka playing "One Foot In a Well" live @ Barnard College in New York, NY on April 25th, 2008:
QRO: How did the band all meet?
DT: Conrad and Gabe kind of started the band together. Gabe started writing some songs, demoing some songs, and he got Conrad to play. Conrad and a friend of Gabe’s named John Paul Jones – not ‘the John Paul Jones’ – was in the band, too. The first incarnation was four people.
We just kind of all knew each other. John Paul was playing in a band called The Lynnfield Pioneers, who did about three records on Matador. So Gabe and him became friends, just ‘cause Gabe was a fan of his band, I think. We knew the guitar player Damian [Jurrens] because he had worked at MTV with a friend of ours, or something. Our bass player now, Grady [Jurrens], is Damian’s brother. And me and Tyler [Sargent] & Sean, from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, all kind of knew each other. It’s really a familial collective. Sean & I play in a Guns ‘n Roses tribute band together, as a joke – it’s a really drunken mess. They’re fun shows…
QRO: Do you play anything from Chinese Democracy?
DT: No – we won’t do that. We usually do a Bowery show, once a year. We actually just played a late show at Mercury on New Year’s Eve – we didn’t start our set until 2:45 AM! We didn’t finish until 4:30 AM – it was out of control…
QRO: When you’re not rocking, do you guys have day jobs?
DT: Yeah, some of us do. Most are freelancers. Conrad does a lot of copy-editing, and he works for FUSE. He was there for a while, writes for Blender. Gabe does freelance graphic design, worked in publishing and stuff. I work for a record company. Rene’s done random stuff, waiter…
QRO: Conrad hosts that trivia night…
DT: He used to host it at Piano’s, and now he hosts it at Bell House. He does it one Monday a month.
QRO: Have you ever been burned out by a tour?
DT: We haven’t done a ton of touring where we’re out for weeks at a time, but we did one last CMJ, on the way down. Our label had reissued our first record, but the second one wasn’t out yet, and Grady ended up getting really sick, and was out for a while. So we did four shows, and I’m a bass player – I was a bass session player for a while, so I kind of sit in on bass – and it was just awful. This agent that was booking it – we were playing to the sound guy every night. It was really demoralizing.
QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?
DT: It goes and comes in waves for me, personally. “Fall Down Where You Stand” is interesting for me, the guitar parts are complicated, and a really good theme of the band right now, the way the guitar is. And I think Gabe’s voice sounds great.
QRO: Are there any songs that you don’t particularly like playing live?
DT: Nothing consistently. Sometimes you’re in the mood, and sometimes you’re not. A lot of it has to do with the crowd, if the crowd’s feeling it. We have some slower songs that I love to play. The last song on our record, “You and Universe”, and I think it’s such a beautiful song. I would love to play it more, but it’s kind of an album closer, and it’s really slow. We did a show supporting Mates of State (QRO album review) over the summer, and it was a big rock club. We came out and opened with it, and no one wants to hear a support band’s ballad…
QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing at?
DT: We go to D.C. a lot and we play Black Cat, which is fuckin’ awesome. Vicki, who runs the venue, is so good to us. We’ve just had some really good shows there – we did one with Frightened Rabbit (QRO album review), we did one with The Cribs (QRO album review), and we did one with Oxford Collapse. All in the last year-and-a-half, and they’ve all been awesome.
QRO: You guys played the opening of Bell House…
We’ve become kind of the unofficial house band of Bell House. We’ve played there three or four times, I think. We’ve done two real shows there – we’ve done a benefit for Obama there with Dragons of Zynth (QRO album review), which was really cool. We played with Loney, Dear (QRO album review) not too long ago.
We’re just close friends of Skippy, the guy who runs it. Conrad does the trivia there; Gabe lives right down the street…
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
We were playing in Athens, Georgia. It was part of the tour where Grady was sick and couldn’t be there. It was a really bad show, and we ended up hanging out at the bar for a while, got drunk. We’re huge R.E.M. (QRO album review) fans, and we hung out with the bar manager for a while – and it turned out that the bar manager was the little kid from “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” video, the skateboarding kid!
I was driving that night, so I wasn’t drinking, but everyone else in the band was very heavily drinking, and I remember Gabe and Conrad being, ‘Oh my God! You [slurring]…’ It was really funny to watch that.
Takka Takka playing "The Takers" live @ Barnard College in New York, NY on April 25th, 2008: