The Brooklyn quartet’s frontman talked about playing Bonnaroo, the delay in releasing their sophomore LP, Heavenly Bender, how the band – and the music – has changed since their debut, Slow Rewind, why they’re releasing a single in The U.K., their plans to make a video for every track on Bender, why Slow Rewind evoked Stephen Malkmus and David Berman, why Bender won’t, and being recognized – as The Red Hot Chili Peppers…
QRO: How’s this East Coast thing treating you?
Noah Chernin: Our little run? It’s been a blast. We kind of just set it up so we would have– We always find that we’re better at shows, and we haven’t been playing too much. [Heavenly] Bender is done, and we’re kind of trying to figure out what to do with that, and CMJ’s coming up.
So we decided to play last night, just to warm up, with Jealous Girlfriends. They’re friends of ours. Their singer[/guitarist] Josh [Abbot] used to be in a band together in high school. We’re all friends, so we said, “Hey, let’s make a weekend of it!” We didn’t know tomorrow there’s a Patriots game and a Yankee-Red Sox game, and we’re playing in Boston. Three bands from Brooklyn in Boston on a Sunday night.
QRO: How was Bonnaroo?
NC: Bonnaroo was amazing! It was probably the coolest moment of being in our band, up to that point. They treat artists so well, and there are so many cool people there, wanting to see music, and wanting to be turned onto new things, all the sunshine…
It was cool be around, and see what was going on. Like, John Paul Jones [of Led Zeppelin] was down there, and he was in the artist catering, playing mandolin. And it was just cool to see that, and be like, “Oh yeah, we’re here as musicians. We’re a part of this.”
From what I hear, it’s the best, and I have no reason to doubt it. The only hippies there are the ones that have paid tickets. All the bands are pretty indie.
QRO: Are you planning on a bigger tour when Heavenly Bender comes out?
NC: Yeah. Ideally, when Heavenly Bender comes out, we’ll tour for like two years. However long it takes, so that whenever the next album is out, we can tour bigger places, longer.
QRO: When will Heavenly Bender come out?
NC: We have a choice. We could put it out ourselves, and that seems to be the way for a lot of solid bands, but I think we want to wait and try to find support we couldn’t get on our own.
QRO: Is Heavenly Bender finished?
NC: It’s all done. It’s been done since May.
QRO: You were saying CMJ…
NC: CMJ is kind of like, there’s a thousand bands, and everybody’s vying for the same six people’s attention. We just use that as a goal, to try and get people who have labels, or whatever, who don’t get to come to New York all that often, to get to see our band.
Maybe it’s kind of a clusterfuck, but it’s fun as shit. You get to see a lot of people. It’s just one of those things: you don’t want to be the band – I guess you do, I don’t know – who gets signed at the big industry fest, maybe, but it helps. Whatever it takes.
QRO: Have you ever played South-by-Southwest?
NC: Yeah, we played twice. That’s a lot more fun. I mean, CMJ’s a blast, people love coming to New York, but being a band in New York, it’s kind of like, “Oh, I don’t want to really play that place. You don’t get to choose what to do, necessarily.”
QRO: What was the recording process like for Heavenly Bender?
NC: We spent a week-and-a-half or a week in a barn upstate, all tracking, tons of shit. And then Jack [Dolgen], our bass player, has a studio at his house, so we did the last-minute overdubs and singing there.
That was great. We had our friend Jay there, helping us, making sure that all the vocals were right. We took our time with the record. We didn’t have to make a release date, didn’t have anybody breathing down our necks. We kind of looked at it as, “Oh, we could just start over now.”
Slow Rewind was our first record, but this is really the first one, where Sean [Sullivan, guitars/keys] was part of our recording and writing process.
QRO: Sean wasn’t on the first one?
NC: He played on it, but he wasn’t in the band. That was just ten songs I wrote in my dorm room.
QRO: Is there a track on Heavenly Bender that Sean sings?
NC: Yeah, “Dead Moon”.
QRO: Is there any particular reason that he had a song, which he sings himself?
NC: No, like, Jack writes songs, and I write songs, and Sean writes songs. A couple songs on the record, Jack wrote the melodies, and I sing them. Sean’s voice, it’s just on, there’s no need for me to do anything but play guitar.
QRO: Is there a Sally of Slow Rewind’s “Sally”?
QRO: What about “Lorraine” on Heavenly Bender?
NC: Nah, fictional. “Sally” was a song that, when we were making Slow Rewind, I wrote all the lyrics down for our producer, so when we were doing the takes, he could check. He was like, “I read all the lyrics, they’re great, but that song, ‘Sally’, that’s not about anything, is it?” And I was like, “I don’t know…”
QRO: Do you have any fear of a ‘sophomore jinx’ with Heavenly Bender?
NC: No – If anything, this is still a freshman record. We got left back; third grade again. Couldn’t figure out math…
Don’t you have to have success anywhere, for a ‘sophomore jinx’?
Slow Rewind, I love it, as a time and place, for me, but this one, to me, is like a real band.
QRO: Do you think you made Slow Rewind maybe earlier than you normally would, over the course of things?
NC: Well, I didn’t know that I was going to make a record at all! I wrote ten songs, and my friend Brian [Rosenworcel], [the drummer] from Guster, said, “Oh, you’re gonna make a record. I’ll produce it.” And he fronted the money, and then got a deal at the Luna Lounge, once a month.
QRO: The old Luna Lounge?
NC: The old one, yeah.
So we weren’t expecting it. But what it did was make me think I should get better at singing and writing songs, since people are actually going to pay attention.
QRO: Do you have any new, post-Bender material?
NC: Yeah, we’re playing a song tonight, actually. It doesn’t have a name.
QRO: You’re releasing a single, “Be Mine Everyone”, in The U.K. on October 1st. Why? Have you had success in The U.K. before?
NC: We haven’t, we just kind of trying it. A lot of our friends put out material over there, and it seemed to do build things, to catch on here. We have a friend out there, so we’re gonna go over there, use some of that buzz to help with the CMJ buzz, just every opportunity.
They like good music there. If you’re accepted over there, it’s really a good thing.
QRO: Have you played in The U.K. before?
NC: No, but we’re gonna in November.
QRO: How was making the video for “You Can’t Stop”?
NC: It was great. It was our friend Sean [Donnelly] from college. When we first met him, I don’t remember what he was doing, but he was like, “I think I’m going to get into film.” We finally got to do a video with him. He’s got this really cool, homemade aesthetic.
NC: Yeah. It’s fun to do that stuff, and with the climate of the business, and bands, and the Internet, the more content you have, the more you’re accessible to people.
QRO: How did you all meet?
NC: I met Sean and Jack in college. And Ryan [Thorton, drums], I worked at the Wetlands with him. The whole band started out just me and him.
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
NC: All the new songs are fun to play. New, new.
It’s all fun; it’s all a challenge.
QRO: Are there any you don’t, or don’t play anymore?
NC: There’s a bunch of songs that have been cut. We only play two or three songs from Slow Rewind now. We probably wrote like thirty songs for the new album, and we cut it down to twelve, so there’s a lot of songs that didn’t see the light of day.
You have to write a lot of songs to get to the good ones.
QRO: Is there any reason you chose “Be Mine Everyone” for the U.K. single?
NC: ‘Cause I like it; it’s our most slammin’ track. It’s hard, but there’s good melodies. People like that song. We just figured, when people see us live, that’s the one they pick up one, so we might as well use it.
QRO: What cities have you really liked playing at?
NC: I liked playing in L.A.; Portland, Oregon was a lot of fun, Chicago… All the major cities are really good. Lawrence, Kansas was really fun. There’s all these really weird little pockets.
QRO: You guys have played indoor shows, and festivals like Bonnaroo. Which do you prefer – outdoor shows or indoor shows?
NC: At Bonnaroo, we’re a really small band, we’re low on the bill, so it’s a different experience, you’re really fighting to grab people’s attention. Headlining at Mercury Lounge (QRO venue review), people are expecting something, so you really want to deliver, but it’s different, it’s a small room, and it’s dark, everybody’s drunk. It’s a totally different thing.
But I like ‘em both; they’re both challenging.
QRO: Do you prefer headlining, like you are here, or opening, like you did at Luna Lounge for The Comas?
NC: Not necessarily, we pretty much do the same thing.
It depends who we’re playing with. We opened for The Hold Steady, and I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ We opened for The Comas too, but that was more of a co-bill.
QRO: Listening to Slow Rewind, you sounded like Stephen Malkmus [of Pavement], or The Silver Jews’ David Berman. What do you think about that kind of comparison?
NC: To me, it seems fairly accurate. American Water, The Silver Jews album, was the one record that I was really like, “I really want to make music like that.” Where I came into my own and kind of figured out what I wanted to do, so it seems like a pretty apt thing. I love Stephen Malkmus, I love David Berman; I think as songwriters and lyricists, they’re just amazing.
I mean, I had a lot of other influences, too; we all do. Slow Rewind is definitely more of a ‘one-dimensional’ thing.
QRO: More ‘singer/songwriter’?…
NC: Yeah, that’s more ‘me, with a band’, and this record, Heavenly Bender, the tracks are a lot more varied, there’s string sections, harmonies… It’s definitely a different thing.
When we made Slow Rewind, we didn’t think that we’d ever make Heavenly Bender. We never really ‘thought’ about it, hugely. So we just kind of take things as they come, and just not worry about anything else, ‘cause you can’t worry about that shit.
QRO: What’s your favorite tour story?
NC: We were in Seattle once, and we were on line to get into the Pike Place Fish Market [where they throw the fish], and there’s the two crackheads, and one had one of those teardrop tattoos [by his eye]. “You guys are the band! You guy are the band!” And he brought out his girlfriend, “Look, it’s The Red Hot Chili Peppers!!!”
And then we got into an elevator, and it was full, and it was the four of us squeezed into this elevator, and they jumped in, and they kept going at it, and everybody in the elevator got really awkward. I mean, half of the people probably knew we weren’t the fuckin’ Red Hot Chili Peppers.