Saturday, April 18, 2015

Interview with The Weepies

Apart from being one of my favorite bands, The Weepies are genuinely one of the best husband-and-wife musical duos you could ever hope to hear. Deb Talan and Steve Tannen effortlessly mix their crisp vocal interplay with catchy melodic hooks and inventive instrumental passages to make ear-catching, heart-piercing music that’ll sink deep and stay with you. Get ready for their upcoming album Sirens (out April 28 on Nettwerk Records) by grabbing their exclusive NoiseTrade retrospective sampler Who the Hell are The Weepies? and checking out our interview with Deb and Steve!

NoiseTrade: With the upcoming release of your brand new album Sirens (out April 28 on Nettwerk Records), you guys have compiled an exclusive retrospective sampler titled Who the Hell are The Weepies? What made you pick these specific songs to introduce yourself to folks who may not be familiar with your music?

Steve Tannen: We have a monkey named Chantal, and she threw darts at a stack of Weepies CDs… 

Deb Talan: No, don’t listen to him! These are the most popular songs from each of the major projects of the last few years. So, people can see who we are without having to delve too deep in the catalog. Sort of a “Hi, my name is the Weepies” type thing.

NT: As a huge fan of Be My Thrill, I was stoked to see “I Was Made for Sunny Days” included on the sampler. Man, that bassline! Can fans expect some more of those bouncy, melodic moments on Sirens?

Deb: Thank you! Yes yes yes! Eli Thomson, that bass player, joins us again on several tracks here, as well as an amazing cast of other musicians. We feel there’s a good mix of up and down on this record. It reflects the emotions of the year, which turned out to be full of life!

NT: One of the major life ingredients that went into the writing and recording process for Sirens was Deb’s diagnosis, treatment, and recovery from Stage 3 breast cancer. How do you feel that the individual songs on Sirens captured specific steps along that journey? 

Steve: Rather than steps, I think it hangs together like a musical photo album. We’re not that intentional, where one thing leads to another. We tend to work better when not looking too directly at anything. It lets in a little more of the unexpected and strange. Sirens was made literally upstairs from some very heavy emotions, but it wouldn’t have made sense to just sing about exactly what happened. The songs that made it to the surface are all informed by what went on below. It’s hard to say what exactly happened way down there, you can just feel it.

NT: I read that many of the vocal performances were recorded while Deb was still undergoing chemotherapy treatments, particularly the song “Sirens” which was captured in just one take. Can you describe what you hear and what you feel when you listen back to them now?

Steve: I hear some fear in there, but I think Deb sounds great.

Deb: It’s like looking at pictures of yourself from last year. You think, “Remember this? That was rough,” or “Hey you look cute here.” We don’t generally listen to our own records though – not after mixing them over and over!

Steve: It’s nice to hear. Though sometimes when we’re out and about, we have a kinder ear than we used to, even for ourselves.

NT: Your list of guest musicians on Sirens is beyond impressive: Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello), Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), Rami Jaffe (Foo Fighters), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel), and Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam), just to name a few. How did you manage to wrangle all of them onto one album and how did you decide which songs to put them on?

Steve: We were isolated from everyone during treatment. So we thought “If we could have ANYONE play on this…” Then we literally rung up our heroes, and they all said yes. They were very kind and genuine. It was what you hope when you talk or work with someone you admire. It was a bit surreal. A lot of support came from very unexpected places this year. We’re grateful.

NT: Finally, Sirens includes a cover of Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” that feels so joyous and spirited. What made you choose that specific song to cover and also to take it up a notch from the original?

Steve: We really weren’t trying to challenge a classic! After we had given a new album of original songs to Nettwerk, Deb was healing and full of energy and we still had time in the studio. Since we had just finished a big project, we felt freed up to do just about anything. We were goofing around with songs we adore by other artists, just literally playing, and after we listened back this take sounded so hopeful. We shared it with Nettwerk, they loved it, and it made it’s way onto the record. Again, not much planning, we just followed the music.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Interview with Josh Garrels

Throughout his career, Josh Garrels has always written songs that are easy to enjoy and hard to label. His acoustic-based, indie-folk foundations have always been bolstered by lush accompaniments such as sampled beats, synthesizer loops, and orchestral ornamentation. The result is a stunning sound that is completely unique to Garrels and one that has garnered him an ardent following of fans and supporters.

Take a listen to Home, the brand new album from Garrels (released this past Tuesday), and you’ll hear that he's added a wonderfully soulful, vintage R&B layer to his already impressive eclectic sonic palette. For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we chatted with Garrels about the writing and recording process for Home, his new backyard studio, and his two cents on the ever-evolving “free music” discussion.

NoiseTrade: You’ve given your new album the deceptively simplistic title of Home, a word that can mean many different things to different people. What specifically does it mean to you?

Josh Garrels: The idea of home, in it’s most idealized sense, would be the place where we’re fully known and accepted. I was fortunate enough to have a pretty solid upbringing. Since I was young, home-space has always felt sacred and safe to me. Yet, I am conscious that home being a safe place has not been the reality for many. But regardless of whether we come from a good home or broken home, leaving home is a necessary coming of age experience for all of us. Now I’m a man, with a wife, and children, and a home of my own, yet somehow life has begun to feel more chaotic, anxiety-ridden, and out of control than it ever had before. In short, I’ve had the trappings of a home but have felt inwardly homeless (unsafe, scared, unknown). It’s these unsettling feelings that I had to work out with God and in my songwriting. The result is the 11 songs that make up Home.

NT: From a musical perspective, it seems you’ve added an even more soulful layer to your songs than you have on previous records. What inspired that new sonic layer and how did you go about achieving it?

Garrels: I’ve had an abiding love for soul music for years. I grew up listening to hip-hop, which was my gateway into soul music. Most of the hip-hop I listened to was just samples from James Brown, Al Green etc. with a grimy beat layered on top. All my albums have had a little bit of soul influence, but I gave myself permission on this one to really push into it. My dear friends at Mason Jar Music in Brooklyn helped with the production of about two thirds of the album. They heard where I wanted to go with some of the songs, and they did a great job capturing the vibe with string arrangements, horn sections, and their live house band.
NT: I hear shades of vintage R&B records and late 60s-70s Motown/Philly International singers in songs like “Leviathan,” “The Arrow,” and your gorgeous album-opener “Born Again”. Did you have any specific bands or records in mind while writing and recording these new songs?

Garrels: Yeah, I’ve definitely been listening to a lot of older music for the past few years (50s, 60s, and 70s), so I’ve been influenced by the classic production and songwriting from those periods. Ive always been partial to Al Green and Stevie Wonder, but also newer soul singers like D’Angelo and Michael Kiwanuka. On a song like “The Arrow” I was probably harkening more to my love of blues rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, or The Black Keys.

NT: Songs like “Heaven’s Knife,” “Benediction,” and “At the Table” still carry the layered acoustic-based vibe that your fans have come to expect from you. What all goes into your decision-making process as to whether you keep a song intimate and bare or whether you color in the sonic spaces with other elements such as full band instrumentation, samples, and sequencers?

Garrels: Sometimes I have a definite idea how the song should sound from the start, so choosing production (or lack thereof) is easy. “Heavens Knife” and “Benediction” came together fairly simply, as the acoustic guitar and vocal were obviously the focal point of the song and everything else would just be there to serve those. “At the Table” was perhaps the hardest song on the album to produce! It was one of the first songs I wrote for the album, and I felt strongly that it was a vital part of the album's arc and storytelling. Yet, when it came to production, I struggled with it. I threw so many ideas, snippets, and sonic textures at the song that at one point my wife Michelle said, “I think it’s beginning to sound schizophrenic”! It was the last song I finished, and it took a lot of discernment to know what to strip away and what to keep. My friend (and mix engineer) Dave Wilton helped me to find the heart of the song and only keep the instrumentation that complimented the focus.

NT: This is the first album you’ve recorded in your new hand-built, backyard studio. What were you feeling during the construction process and how did it evolve once you were able to work in there after it was completed?

Garrels: The studio is great. It’s one of the most substantial mind-blowing gifts I’ve ever been given, yet the construction didn’t come without toil and adversity. Part of the reason I haven’t put out a full length album for 4 years is that it took me a year and a half just to build the studio! Getting it done was a difficult process. The moment it was completed I got moved in and started another long, arduous process of making an album. It was a joy to create the songs in my backyard, appropriately at home.

NT: As someone who has never shied away from the free music platform, what sorts of conversations do you have with fellow artists about frequently giving your creative work away for a season?

Garrels: I think when I gave away Love & War & The Sea In Between four years ago, giving away full albums was a little more of a radical step of faith. In my estimation, over half the artists I’m friends with nationwide give away their work, at least for a season. With millions of people creating songs and uploading them to the web internationally, most artists know they need to dismantle the monetary barrier between themselves and the listener or they simply wont be heard. I truly believe that generosity begets generosity. You give before you receive. Is it nice when people actually buy my albums? Yes! But if I had to choose between one person buying my album, or 10 people getting it for free, I’d rather have 10 people listening to my songs!