Friday, January 16, 2015

Interview with The Vespers

While a band containing a set of siblings isn't exactly a new thing, one containing two sets of siblings certainly is. The Vespers are made up of two sisters (Callie and Phoebe Cryar) and two brothers (Bruno and Taylor Jones) and the familial bonds are wonderfully apparent in the way they interact, write, perform, and even do interviews. The Vespers are getting set to release their brand new album, the aptly named Sisters and Brothers, on February 10 and to prime the pump a bit, they've compiled Sisters and Brothers Primer - an engaging sampler of new songs, live cuts, and a couple tracks from their widely-praised last album, The Fourth Wall

I recently spoke with the Nashville-based folksy foursome about their expanded sound on Sisters and Brothers, what it was like to record the album with Paul Moak, and why it's important for them to keep it all in the family when it comes to their career. 

NoiseTrade: Your new album Sisters and Brothers showcases an eclectic musical evolution that builds upon your previous folk and bluegrass sounds. Were their specific influences that fed into your new songs or do you feel it’s just a natural progression of playing and writing together for the last five years? 

Phoebe: I think it's a combination of both. My tastes as a music lover and listener have evolved a lot in the last few years and naturally that changed the way I write. I want to make music that I like and so the songs that came out and ended up on Sisters and Brothers were a result of my love for the latest projects from John Mark McMillan, Arcade Fire, Wild Cub and many others.

NT: Your Sisters and Brothers Primer features two studio tracks from Sisters and Brothers (“New Kids” and “Break the Cycle”) and two live versions of songs (“Sisters and Brothers” and “Out West”) that will appear on the new album as well. What made you pick these specific tracks to introduce the record? 

Bruno: Keeping in mind that Noisetrade is a huge platform for discovery, we choose to introduce the album version of “New Kids” for the first time here and have it kick off our NoiseTrade sampler. As a pretty upbeat song with a sweet-pop flavor or two mixed in, we thought some folks who might just be discovering the band may jump in a canoe and paddle out a little further with us after we broke the ice with something a little more mass friendly. 

“Break The Cycle” showcases a rock/jam side of the band, which is new, and the live cuts are there to showcase what the band sounds like live to encourage folks to maybe think about experiencing the record in a live setting. We also put two previously released tracks up to showcase our roots. 

NT: In true indie artist fashion, you guys don’t rely on many outside voices or hands in your creative process or day-to-day career logistics. What’s behind your staunch DIY ethic and what advice would you give to other bands thinking about taking the same approach. 

Bruno: Our goal as a band has always been authenticity. So, on the creative side we’ve just focused our energy and made decisions based on what felt would assist in creating the most authentic music. Our DIY ethic to get that music out there comes from the vision we had to develop our sound and brand first, before exploring outside voices and hands in the day to day. 

We’ve always had mentors and a couple of team members around us, but up until right around the five-year mark last year, we never had an official manager, or felt like we were “next level” ready. My advice from an authenticity point of view would be to carve out your sound, show some growth, and then seek professional help to assist in scaling that.

NT: How did working with producer Paul Moak influence the performances on Sisters and Brothers

Phoebe: Paul was our muse and motivation for this record! Paul's name actually means good vibes (look it up, it's Greek) so anytime we were discouraged or mechanical in our performance, he needed only to walk into the room and flick his fiery dreadlocks and all was well. I remember Callie was tracking vocals on “The Curtain” and Paul cut her off, ran into the vocal booth, snatched her lyric sheet, and cried indignantly "I can TELL you're reading the LYRICS!" 

NT: Having successfully navigated around the sophomore slump trap with your last album The Fourth Wall, were there any differences in the way you approached going into the studio this time around? 

Taylor: This time working with Moak at the Smoakstack was unique because it was the first time we recorded everything for the record in the same place. On our previous records we were a little more spread out, usually over two locations or so, while we were tracking. For instance, we'd do drums at one house & vocals at another, just depending on what was necessary and what we had access to. In this case though, Smoakstack was a one stop shop for us. Everything was there that we could possibly want or need so we didn't have to move around at all. 

Musically, our approach was different this time because there were four or five songs that we had never really played together. “Not Enough,” “Curtain,” “We Win,” and “Signs” (and maybe one more I'm forgetting) were all written but not arranged yet. So, we got to listen to Paul and really get down and dirty with him to come up with the way we all wanted the song to sound. With that process came a freshness when we went to actually tracking them since those songs were so fresh to us. It made for a really fun and creative time. 

The recording processes for us have been unique from album to album. Each process has been appropriate for where we were at the time on a personal and professional level and Sisters and Brothers was no exception. 

NT: Finally, you can’t have a band of two sibling groups and not have some interesting road stories to tell. Cryar sisters, tell us something about tour life with the Jones brothers and fellas, please return the favor. 

Phoebe: Touring with the guys is a lot of fun actually. They treat us girls like queens and let us sleep on the bunks while they do all the driving. However, they have the best (worst) senses of smell and we can't eat anything but dry crackers or they'll complain and roll down the windows. That's what's so fun about that one time we put Taylor's leftover pancake from Denny's in his seat to welcome him back from the bathroom. 

Bruno: Traveling with the Cryar sisters is awesome. They are great. We grew up completely opposite on everything though. My brother Taylor and I were always in to WWE wrestling growing up, and one time we had the night off near Cleveland where Monday Night Raw was happening on that night. We thought it would be fun to check that out. We BEGGED the girls to go with us. They finally agreed. We made signs… Whole nine yards. It was a blast for my brother and I. The girls… not so much. They thought it was completely ridiculous and a total waste of time. We still owe them for that! 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interview with Sean Watkins

Americana phenom Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, Works Progress Administration) has played with a wide variety of other musicians during his two-and-half-decades-long career as a band member, sideman, and special guest. 

However, for the first time ever in his 25-year career, Watkins is about to embark on the first full-band tour of his solo material behind his most recent album All I Do Is Lie. To help celebrate the milestone, Watkins is offering the album in its entirety here on NoiseTrade. 

Watkins was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy tour prep schedule to chat with us about All I Do Is Lie and what it’s like to be in the solo spotlight after so many years of collaboration. 
NoiseTrade: Your most recent solo album All I Do Is Lie is far more relaxed and introspective than your releases with Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, or Works Progress Administration. Was that an intentional direction on your part or a natural outcome of only having to answer to (and speak for) one voice? 

Sean Watkins: It wasn't an intentional direction as much as I wanted to make a record that I really felt was "me" – whatever that meant. I wanted the lyrics to be largely autobiographical and I wanted the music to be a clear and honest representation of who I am as songwriter and composer. 

My goals were to write songs that I felt had a strong and clear message or meaning and then to record them in a simple, non-dressed up way. Not that I didn't have fun on the production side of things, I did, but my hope was that these songs would hold up alright in just a guitar/vocal situation. I guess it was sort of half intentional direction and half natural outcome. 

NT: From a songwriting perspective, do you approach your solo material any differently than you do your band member/sideman output? 

Watkins: Writing for a solo project can be equal parts fun, terrifying, rewarding, and disappointing. I feel like it's a case of one creative situation needing the other. I love being creative in a band situation and I’ve been fortunate to be in bands with people and musicians who I love and respect. I realize that that is not always the case and I am very appreciative of that. I have tried to take advantage of it and soak up all my times in those situations.

I also like the idea of having to stand on my own two feet, whatever that means. It's fun and good and healthy to do as an artist of any kind, I think. I love it all and I think each creative situation can help the other if you let it. 

NT: In what ways do you think being a part of multiple musical groups has impacted your solo material? 

Watkins: Being in more than one band is really important. If you can make it happen, you should. It alleviates the pressure on one or the other, especially if one band is more successful than the other. It's good to have multiple outlets. That way you aren't trying to cram all your ideas through one voice.

NT: I read that some parts of All I Do Is Lie were recorded in hotel rooms instead of an actual recording studio. Was this just a logistical decision or a purposeful move to capture specific moments in the creative process? 

Watkins: That is true. It was done out of necessity. I did a few songs in a studio near my home in Los Angeles and a few other songs in my own garage studio. I also did a few while I was out on the road a couple of years ago with Jackson Browne. He doesn't like to sing more than 2 or 3 nights in a row, so we had 2 or 3 days off a week. I had started my record right before leaving for that tour and I was antsy to stay productive while on the road. So there were a couple of small midwest studios and a few hotel rooms that were appropriated along the way. It was fun and challenging and a good use of downtime. 

NT: You’ve planned a full-on tour for All I Do Is Lie starting this month, which is a first for one of your solo albums. Are you more excited or nervous about being front and center for a whole show? 

Watkins: I'm totally excited. I've done a lot of solo shows but mostly just at home around Los Angeles. I'm taking out a couple of my closest friends and respected musicians along with me. It's going to be a blast. I'm really looking forward to it.