by Dave Wilson on May 8, 2012
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The Silversun Pickups made a quick rise from the Silver Lake music scene in Los Angeles to the Billboard charts. They released their first EP, "Pikul," in 2005, and 2006's "Carnavas" was the No. 1 Alternative and Independent record for four weeks.
"Swoon" followed in 2009 and debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Top 200, and "Panic Switch" hit No. 1 on the Modern Rock charts.
In 2010, they were nominated for a best new artist Grammy and called "the most successful indie band" in L.A. by the L.A. Times. They've sold more than 1 million albums worldwide.
SSPU returns Tuesday with "Neck Of The Woods," a sprawling new album that takes the band, which earned early comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and Smashing Pumpkins' early work, on a new journey. They've teamed with a new producer, Jacknife Lee, who's worked with U2, Weezer and R.E.M., and have experimented with new sounds.
But despite their indie rock bona fides, the band members—singer/guitarist Brian Aubert, bass player Nikki Monninger, keyboard player Joe Lester and, in particular, frenetic drummer Christopher Guanlao—are also sports fans, especially of their beloved Lakers. While he's banging on the drums (and banging his head at the same time), Guanlao's been known to get his drum tech to keep him apprised of Lakers scores during the band's set.
I know you are a big Lakers fan. But I also saw photos of the band playing basketball while you were making the album. Are all of you sports fans?
There are always a couple of things that we bring on the road with us ... a basketball, a soccer ball, and some tennis rackets. Not to say we're any good at any of those sports, or we have time to play too much, but we always bring them just in case there's an empty parking lot or something we can take advantage of and be silly. We're musicians, so we're not very good athletes by any means. But we're huge sports fans.
I remember Game 7 of the Boston-Lakers final [in 2010, when the Lakers won the title with an 83-79 victory]. Luckily we had a day off. We were in Boca Raton in some hotel, and we were just going crazy. We were just going nuts watching the game. I'm sure people in the hotel were confused about what was going on.
So you don't trash hotel rooms or anything, you just scream during basketball games?
Yeah, that's our rock star thing.
In fact, during Game 6, we were playing a show in Orlando, and the game was on while our set was going, so we weren't able to watch it, but it was on backstage. I told my drum tech to give me updates during our set of what the score was. Then after our show we went backstage, and were watching the highlights. And our tour manager comes up to us and is like, "Hey, J.J. Redick is here and wants to say hi. Is that cool?" He comes back, we're like totally geeking out. ... He's geeking out. And he noticed that the TV was on and we were watching highlights. Needless to say, he was not paying attention [Redick and the Magic had lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals], and he mentioned how kind of bitter he was about it. [Laughs]
He tweeted once that he listened to "Royal We" before a game. That just drives me insane. That's just so cool. Surprisingly enough, there's a lot of athletes who like indie rock, or rock music in general. [Redick is also wearing a Silversun Pickups shirt in his Twitter profile photo.]
It still surprises you when you hear someone tell you they listen to one of your songs before games, or hear that it's playing in an arena or stadium?
When we hear that from people tweeting and telling us, it's just a shock to us. It's so fun to hear about a player coming out to one of your songs. I haven't actually heard it in person yet, but we've heard people tweet about it. "Oh they're playing 'Panic Switch' on the speakers right now at some big game." And that's really cool. Hey, they're more than welcome to use it.
What should we expect from the new album?
It's different. At least for us, it's really different. We worked with a different producer. He's great, but he's really a lot different than the other producers that we've worked with, specifically Dave Cooley, who produced our last two records ["Carnavas" and "Swoon"]. He became a little bit of like the fifth member. When we decided to try a different route with a producer, it was difficult.
But we felt we needed a change. We needed to kind of step up our game, and really kind of do something different. We know that uncomfortability is for us, anyway, it's really good creatively. I think we like that kind of pressure. We really wanted to get out of our comfort zone and do something different.
We wrote one record in the sense that we, for about three or four months, worked on these 15 songs and kind of arranged them the way we wanted to, and kind of learned to play them live. And then we went into the studio with Jacknife, and he changed most of it. [Laughs] But I think it was good. It made us really kind of on edge with what we were doing and kind of think of things differently. I think we were so used to kind of a certain way that we worked together, that it was really nice to deconstruct that and kind of build it up again.
At the end of the day, we just have too many pop sensibilities to be too far off. There's going to still be enough accessibility to the music. But as far as different sound and techniques, we did everything a lot different than we normally did. We messed around with a lot more percussion stuff than we ever did. I would have this steel kind of pan and we'd throw a bunch of old guitar strings and I would just hit that and create a beat out of it, and that would end up in the record. Stuff like that—adding cymbals later, adding more cymbals. We messed around with a lot of that stuff, as opposed to just playing drums or playing a pattern straight and getting the best take. We kept on adding and building to it. Normally we do that with guitars, just like layer, layer, layer with guitars. But this time around, we wanted to get more sounds for sure.
Which songs on the new album could you see players using to get ready for a game?
I love the first track ["Skin Graph"] because it's a nice build and it gets really dramatic, and once you get into the meat and potatoes of the song, it really drives. I think that would be cool to get pumped up. Also, the last song, "Out Of Breath" is also one of those songs that could be really cool.
Do you still get to go to a lot of Lakers games?
Yeah, as much as I can. I don't have the pocketbook like Flea [of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a huge Lakers fans who frequently attends games]. We go as much as we can. I've been fortunate to have a few friends close to the organization, so whenever there's a free ticket I'll definitely go.
I would like to play with the Lakers' live band there, actually. I would like to sit in one day.
Well, let's make that happen.
Although it's really high up, and I'm a little afraid of heights. [Laughs]
Where's the weirdest place you've played basketball on tour?
When we opened up for Muse [in 2009-10], we played a lot of these basketball or hockey arenas. One day, we tried to get into the practice courts at the Phoenix Suns' arena. They have their practice courts right there at the arena, and we were opening up for Muse and we kind of stumbled across their practice court and no one was there. It took us a while to find a basketball, but once we did, we snuck on the court. I think I bounced the ball twice, and then a security guard came out. And we ran. So we didn't really play but that would've been cool.
But this is how much of a diehard Lakers fan I am: I had my Lakers shirt, and I tried to sneak into like the locker rooms of, say, the Pistons, or something. Or like the Knicks. I tried to go backstage and take a picture with my Lakers shirt on. I was able to do that successfully a few times. Some arenas didn't care, but some were really adamant about me not doing it.
Houston ... Houston was tough. I had to have a couple of people distract security guards. So I have a picture of me with my Lakers shirt in like some Houston Rockets locker room or in front of some big Knicks logo backstage. And one day I'll make a book out of it or something. It's kind of funny. The Boston one at TD Garden was pretty choice. [Laughs] Maybe one of the Busses will see it and give me some season tickets.
We've heard of charity games with celebrities or indie rock people playing in them. I think we'd like to get in on that at some point. That'd be a lot of fun.
Think you could take Justin Bieber [who was named MVP of the celebrity game during NBA All-Star Weekend]?
You've seen me playing the drums. I'll bring the intensity. But I might also foul out.
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