by Chris Castro on April 7, 2009
[Note: this is an interview that's currently still available and this archive is meant only to keep the contents and discussions inside preserved and visible online. Please follow the link in the header and read more from the source if you're interested.]
It's a beautiful thing to create music that straddles boundaries. I'm not necessarily talking about rap-metal or fusion type music, but rather music that manages to spread itself across several different territories of our emotional range. Music that is eloquent and flowery, yet at the same time, quite violent and angry, something that shivers, but not necessarily from just fear or anger, but actually a paralyzing combination of the two.
Silversun Pickups, despite having a sound easily comparable with '90s alternative acts such as The Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, seem to have a sound that is self-conscious and aware of itself, a little meek and shy even. But the funny thing is at the same time the music has an alter ego, for even though the meek, shy, romantic side of Silversun Pickups may be staring the listener right in the face, there is something furious, angry, and downright violent sometimes about their music. It builds, crescendos and decrescendos into a murky mixture of distortion, fuzz and feedback with the whipped topping of guitarist Brian Aubert and bassist Nikki Moninger's androgynous vocal exchanges.
Aubert was kind enough to sit down with The Aquarian for a few minutes recently and share some insight on the group's new album entitled Swoon, his music's schizophrenic nature and the beauty of vague lyrics.
Why the name Swoon? Does it have anything to do with the semi-romantic nature of your music?
I think that was kind of the idea. On the first day that we went in and started writing with each other I wrote that word 'swoon' on a dry erase board. I wasn't quite sure why. It sounded kind of romantic. And we're kind of a little romantic. It also sounded a little gloomy. I remember looking at the definition, it said 'a sudden collapse due to lack of blood flowing to the brain.' And I think that was how we were all feeling at this moment, about to start writing our second record.
It also sounds like a dance to me. That was something we were going through, trying to figure out what move we were about to do. The name just stayed and stuck and stuck and eventually became more meaningful than we planned.
Can you tell me about the writing process for this album?
We don't like to jam. We are kind of afraid of it. Maybe it's because we've done it and it always makes us sad. It just doesn't work for us.
What happens usually is I'll come in with a rough idea of a song and we'll look at it and see if we want to work on it and see if anyone has any ideas about where it should go. I'll go back home and write a bunch of changes and a bunch of things that feel like they are in the same universe and have a rough blue print of a kind of song. Everybody comes in and starts attacking it and that's how it kind of all starts. I get the ball rolling and everybody jumps on it.
Or someone in that rehearsal space will come up with some sort of line, or keyboard or bass thing that sparks something and then you can write to that.
Were Carnavas and Swoon written the same way?
No. This is a new thing for us because we actually got to sit down and write a record from front to back. Before we had a bunch of songs we had been playing live for a while and we took some of them and put it on the EP, and then had some left for Carnavas. With that we were touring for the Pikul EP, so we would come in and out and in and out, and we were writing new songs for Carnavas, and then try to take older material, boost it up, and make it feel more cohesive. It was a little crazy. This time we could kind of see it all at once. And the more we were writing for Swoon, the more songs were developing. All the songs are aware of each other in a way, whereas before they were all written at different times and it was a little challenge to keep them filling the same place.
It's scary when you start doing something no matter what it is, whether it's a record or a building. You know you look at a big skyscraper and think, 'How do you start this?' When you're looking at a big, blank canvas, it's intimidating. You have never done this before and maybe you can't. Who knows what's going to happen? Then once you start getting in it, it starts to open up and stops being scary and starts being really creative.
I recall once reading that you guys decided to record mostly because you didn't like the sound quality of the bootleg live tapes people were passing around.
We were just playing and figuring out how to be a band. We weren't thinking about recordings. Finally we found out people were passing around bootlegs. I listened to one and it was so, so bad that I said, 'If people are willing to listen to that then we should probably start recording.'
While many of your songs are very loud and rough there is always a certain sensitivity and tenderness lurking within them? Is that intentional?
We don't like to just be sort [laughs menacingly] 'muhahaha.' I think it's kind of fun and nice to be a little gloom and doom but have things kind of pretty and maybe a little rockin'.
It's fun to kind of put lyrics into melodies that are on another bed of music because they might be too dark. Melding the two together is very interesting to us. We love the idea that you could listen to a song and one person could bob their head to it and think, 'Oh, it's fun, it's rock,' while another could listen and get into the feeling of it. That's kind of how we are. We don't like to get over the top in any way at all. I think it's because we're crazy. We're schizophrenic, we're too afraid to jump completely in the pool.
Even though you write lyrics that are hardly accessible, it is always pretty easy to get the general mood? Could you explain how you go about writing your lyrics?
I talk about pretty general things, that everyone can understand, but I use real, real intimate details. By doing that it creates a sort of cryptic—I know I'm saying this like I have some master plan, but I really don't. That's how I write. That's just how it happens.
Once you record a song and then someone listens to it and takes something from it, they're right because it is their song, too. Just because we wrote it, doesn't mean we are right. It just means something different to us. We like that on all levels.
It's so surprising how well in tune people are and they are never far off from what the song is generally about, but they have applied their own moments. We couldn't ask for anything more.
Why do people have to hear about my problems and my pains? Everyone has their own, and if they are hearing them in the songs than I couldn't want anything better than that. That's why I always get intimidated about telling people exactly what a song is about. I feel like I'm robbing someone of his or her experience.
It's a weird thing when you're writing lyrics. I find it really difficult. It makes you shy. You're kind of pointing out things in yourself and the only way I really know how to do it is to talk about things that are happening to you. Putting the spotlight on yourself is a little scary because it's like 'Who wants to hear what I have to say?'
< Back to the interview archive