Fresh off finishing their latest record, Life Like, Kelly Crisp of The Rosebuds sat down once again to talk to QRO.In Part One of this wide-ranging conversation, Crisp discussed Life Like (QRO review), their previous, Night of the Furies (QRO review), the ‘outdoors’ flavor to their music, how everything else in their music is different, album-to-album (except live), stand-up comedy, and much, much more…
QRO: How has this vacation been?
Kelly Crisp: It’s great. I have an ulterior motive, which is seeing comedy and being involved in stand-up comedy – I’ve been seeing a lot of comedy.
I come often, when I can, when I have the occasion to not be recording or not be on tour or whatever, I’ll just split town and come here and hang out for a week or so, and go see as much comedy as I can.
Because I used to do stand-up comedy a lot, before the band started working all the time. Then I had too many things going on to do it, but now I’m feeling like the band has gotten to a point where it’s not a struggle, so now I have a little bit of time on my hands. Can leave town and not have to worry about how am I gonna pay for heat…
QRO: At CMJ, the first night [at Bowery Ballroom], downstairs at the bar was [stand-up comedian] Todd Barry (Flight of the Conchords) – and someone asked him to take a photo of her with you…
KC: Did that happen, really?!? I’m glad you told me that story, because I would never have remembered it. I’m friends with Todd, and I’m sure he remembers that…
He’s really funny, and sweet, as a guy, but as a comic, he slays – he’s so, so good. I’m just so proud to see him do comedy. I saw him at UCB Theatre, and I saw him the night before at Knitting Factory (QRO venue review), and I said something like, “I can’t wait to see you again – love your new material!” And he’s like, “Well, you’re going to see the same material you saw last night…” And I was like, “Great” – ‘Cause I’m studying him. He’s so good. It’s good to watch him do the new material twice, because he brings a new dimension to it each time.
QRO: The funny thing was, the next day, there was a ‘New Zealand Music Showcase’ featuring The Brunettes, Cut Off Your Hands, but it said “Curator, New Zealand Cultural Attaché” – the character ‘Murray Hewitt’ from the show, Flight of the Conchords (QRO album review).
Later, in an interview of Toddy Barry, the first question was, “Does everyone recognize you now from Flight of the Conchords?”
KC: TV is somehow weirdly legitimizing. He’s been on a lot of things. I remember seeing him on a Comedy Central special a couple years ago, and I bumped into him at a Christmas party for The Onion in Brooklyn, and I was like, ‘I know you from TV…’
QRO: People remember more when playing a character, as opposed to appearing in stand-up on, say, Letterman…
KC: But, when you have a show, where the concept is really tight, and the characters are few – there’s only a couple of guys who are repeat characters on that show – and then here comes Todd Barry, or Demetri Martin… They’re memorable.
QRO: When did you finish Life Like?
KC: Well, we finished the songs probably about a month ago, where we had the songs finalized and done. But it took us a while to mix them and master them – just finished the record.
We actually sent out a first version – it changed from the time it went out to press to now. There are some that went out that are not the actual record – which is terrible to even admit, but… we have to get it right. It’s going to be out there forever – if it counts for anything, you have to make sure it’s what you want.
QRO: How did making Life Like compare with making Night of the Furies?
KC: There was so much of a different ‘vibe’ back then, when we were making Night of the Furies – we were different people back then, I think. As an art project, they represent different ‘feelings’ completely – they have a different feel, completely.
I know they’re both The Rosebuds, so it can’t be that different, but when we conceived of the metaphor of The Furies, we were in the middle of a storm – Bush had been reelected, nothing seemed to be making sense; our world was upside-down. I think we were just living with so much frustration, so many questions, that nobody has answers for. War was starting up; everything was getting really complicated and frustrating. And our way of dealing with it ended up coming out as a metaphor…
I remember that there was this tropical storm coming in, and we have these enormous pine trees in our yard – every time the wind blows, we’re afraid that the trees are going to destroy the house, because they’re so old and kinda dead. We went through a couple of hurricanes in North Carolina that were just awful, and then Katrina had just happened… Our frustration with the war, and Katrina, and everything that was going on with the world and our part in world politics, made us feel really afraid to be citizens of the world. How are we going to carry this responsibility? And I felt like there had to be some accountability – so the people who are fucking this up for everybody else should be held accountable, somehow.
And that tropical storm was coming in, and Ivan [Howard, Rosebuds singer/guitarst & Crisp’s husband] was playing the guitar, and we were kind of messing around, entertaining ourselves, and I started telling him the story about The Furies, the story on the inside of the record:
“Do you know about The Furies?”
“The Furies? What’s that?”
“The Furies are these Roman goddesses of vengeance that come down to Earth and punish people for crimes that they committed that went unpunished.” Because, I felt like, there had to be some kind of intervention.
And the funny thing about The Furies is that the guilt, the overwhelming guilt at knowing that you’ve done something wrong is what makes you go out of your mind. That ‘haunting’ is what’s torturing you. So I felt like, even if there is no accountability, I have to at least believe that men are accountable to themselves, ultimately. And I hope that that’s the case, because I want something to happen. So anyway, that became the blanket metaphor.
After we exercised that, we had more terrestrial questions. It wasn’t primordial and terrifying – there wasn’t a need for some intervention from ‘night’ or whatever to come down and help humans. But I felt like we still had a lot of questions that we explored in the lyrics – it just became a more personal record [Life Like].
Honestly, the lyrics to “Life Like”, I feel like is so much about Ivan, growing up.
He doesn’t like to write about himself, personally – he tries to be about ‘us’ – ‘us’ as people. “Life Like” is the most about himself of any song that he’s ever written. I don’t know if he would admit that…
It felt like, with this record, the questions that we’re tackling are more wholesome, and our curiosity now, is more simple. So I guess that’s a difference.
QRO: With this record, you seem to be going towards more of an acoustic, alt-country sound, as opposed to the more dance/synth style of Furies. Was that intentional?
KC: Not really – and I don’t think the ‘dance/synth’ was intentional, either. It was a counterpart of the fear, I think. It was a way to express how we felt. It got really electronic-sounding, didn’t it? Some of the stuff was pretty acoustic, but there was an electronic element to it that would make it really fit on that record. And this time, there wasn’t so much of that. But I think it was mostly because, every record we look at as its own project, so the way we produce the record becomes to its own self.
QRO: There still seems to be an ‘outdoors’ flavor to Life, with track names like “Cape Fear”, “Nice Fox”, and “In the Backyards”. In fact, there always seems to be one on your records, despite other changes. Where does that come from?
KC: I noticed that too, and I think it’s because we live in such an outdoors– we’re so connected to our geography, as people from North Carolina. As much as I maybe wouldn’t have admitted it when I was young, I feel like you ‘are’ your geography, and there’s no way that you can take it out of yourself.
I think that it shows up a lot, because it’s maybe not an ‘outdoors’ culture as much as it is a very ‘growing’ culture. I feel like we’ve always grabbed on to these images, or maybe personified the natural world a little bit.
That happened again on this record – it happened on Furies more than people thought, I think…
QRO: Perhaps because Furies was electronic, people just naturally don’t put that with nature, outdoors…
KC: What’s funny is that those songs – we did a remix record that other friends and musicians did remixes of songs from Night of the Furies – it wasn’t until I heard the remixes that some of those songs laid bare their intentions. It’s funny, when somebody deconstructs your music, and you listen to it, and you realize it really did mean something, it communicated a meaning. Bon Iver (Justin Vernon – QRO photos) remixed “Get Up, Get Out”, and he took all the catchy choruses, and brought ‘em down. And then he just left Ivan’s voice in there, and he sang along the choruses, re-sang the choruses, so it became a deeper thing, more of a ‘bad feeling’. And then the lyrics became clear.
We maybe didn’t do the best job, communicating that message. I think it maybe took somebody else…
QRO: It seems you got ‘the whole gang’ back together to make Life Like, including Portastatic’s Matthew McCaughan, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Ashley Stove’s Jim Brantley. Was it tough, wrangling them all up – it seems like Justin, in particular, has been really busy lately… (QRO album review)
KC: Well, it would have been tough, but their parts were recorded separately, and at different times.
Justin actually helped us record Night of the Furies, and so his contributions came during that time period, where there were songs that we kept off of Night of the Furies, because we knew – we have tons of material all the time that doesn’t fit together, all the time. So you have to keep it a ‘pure’ project; it has to communicate its intentions, be its own thing.
So the song “Border Guards”, for example, the guitar part that’s on there – he had the song done, but we chose the wrong drum pattern when we were mixing it, and then we had lost the drums that we were happy with from before, so it didn’t communicate the right feeling. And we knew it was a really good song, and we didn’t want to not do it justice. In that way, we took pieces of time, like snapshots of time, of different musicians, and it ended up coming together.
But Justin’s been so crazy busy that the last thing he did with us was the remix of that song, “Get Up, Get Out”. And Matt is our drummer all the time – he’s actually with Bon Iver in Europe, right now, which is really cool. But he drums with us all the time – he’s our go-to drummer. And Jim, he worked with us a little bit on recording our last record, and did some drum recording for us this time.
QRO: Why did you make the ‘teaser video’ for Life Like?
KC: You know what, that wasn’t even footage – that was a photomontage, really sped up. We had a photographer on tour with us, and he took so many photos, and he was showing them to me, and they really looked like film, like shaky footage.
He put ‘em together in a montage with some other song, and he was like, “If you want to put a Rosebuds song together for this, that would be cool.” It was so fast moving, frantic, we just put together clips of songs.
The Rosebuds playing “I Better Run” live @ Music Hall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY on January 18th, 2008: