by Jeff Miers on March 25, 2016
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Bassist/vocalist Nikki Monninger provides the walloping low end that propels Silversun Pickups’ sonic assault, a fact given ample evidence by the band’s career-defining new album, “Better Nature.”
Monninger, who will be here with the band to perform at Spring Fling on March 28 at the First Niagara Center, chats about the touring life, balancing motherhood and career - she’s the proud parent of twin girls - the band’s relationship with producer Jacknife Lee, and her love for Buffalo. (“I’ve got family there. It’s always special to play in Buffalo.”)
Buffalo.com: Do you like doing the multi-act tours like “Spring Fling” and the outdoor summer festivals, or do you prefer going out on your own and headlining?
Monninger: I love to have a mix. It’s really nice to be out with this tour, to hang out, to watch each other’s sets. Cage the Elephant opened for us on tour five or six years back, and we all love them, and we all became friends. We’ve played with Foals, and they are just amazing live. This is the first time we’ve played with Bear Hands, and they are a really cool band and great bunch of people. The mix is nice.
Q: The new “Better Nature” is your second album with producer Jacknife Lee. From the outside, this seems like a marriage made in heaven, because he captures the power the band has in the concert setting, but he also understands the ethereal and more dynamic material. Is this how it feels from the inside, too?
A: It does. We have a shorthand now, we all understand each other, and Jacknife is like part of the family. He pushes us, and by pushing us, he gets us to do things we wouldn’t, otherwise. Jacknife loves spontaneity; he’s all about getting us to play in the moment, and to capture that moment.
Q: You guys are truly “indie” now, with the launch of your own label, New Machine. How does this change things?
A: We had a great run with our label, Dangerbird, but when the contract ran out, we thought, “Gee, maybe it would be cool to just do this ourselves.” Lucky for us, our management team, Q Prime, had experience with this, and they helped us transition, and eased us into some areas where we were totally green, and really had no clue.
It just didn’t feel right to go with a major label. So far, being truly independent feels right to us.
Q: Is there any real reason for anyone to work with a major label these days?
A: That’s a good question, because the world feels so much smaller these days, and so much has changed since we formed, back in 2000. It feels much more do-able, because we can take care of some things ourselves, and then we can just hire people with specialties – publicity, promotion, etc. – ourselves without a middleman.
Q: Your bass playing on this album is responsible for much of the forward propulsion in the songs. Is it difficult to maintain the power and drive while still crafting bass lines that move and breathe and don’t just pedal on the root note?
A: A lot of that has to do with Jacknife pushing me. (laughs) I like to have things planned out, and he loves spontaneity, so we ended up meeting somewhere in the middle, and that turned out to be the best thing. We were all more than willing to experiment this time around, and that’s why you work with a producer – to be challenged, and to keep from meandering, to stay focused.
Q: How much of a challenge is it balancing family and motherhood with road life?
A: I’m doing Facetime two or three times a day. (laughs) I buy postcards and send them to my girls from every town we visit. It’s hard, no question, but it works, because my husband is home with them and we go out in shorter bursts, so I never have to be away for too long. We take it one tour cycle at a time.
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