16 April 2008

Band of the Week: Tapes 'n Tapes ('n EF Interview)

Band: Tapes 'n Tapes
From: Minneapolis, MN
Sound: Jittery, fuzzy, intoxicating rock anthems for those who don't necessarily like "rock anthems"
Similar Artists: Wolf Parade, Modest Mouse, Pixies, Wire
Listen Now: "Hang Them All"

The gents of Tapes 'n Tapes touched down in New York last Monday night to commence the kind of week most bands could only dream of: Virgin Megastore in-store performance on Tuesday (album release party to follow), appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien on Wednesday (flight back home to Minneapolis to follow), hometown tour kickoff show on Thursday (everyone back on the bus now), and interview with EAR FARM on Friday (of course, we may have taken liberties as to where this last activity fit within the hierarchy of events).

Such weeks in a band's career don't miraculously materialize from thin air; you know the saying...no guts, no glory. In this case, the "guts" were the months of brainstorming, writing, rehearsing, recording, and prepping that produced Walk It Off, the band's sophomore album and follow-up to 2005's immensely popular The Loon.

The "glory" part is well deserved. Walk It Off finds the band - singer/guitarist Josh Grier, bassist Erik Applewick, keyboardist Matt Kretzmann, and drummer Jeremy Hanson - at their most viscerally aggressive, amplifying the joyous energy and infectious melodic push-and-pull that made The Loon into such a breath of fresh air and streamlining it into a big, loud, dirty, ROCK album.

We've had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time with Tapes over the last month: eating BBQ and kicking it down in Austin, celebrating the album release last week, and even catching the Conan performance from the studio audience. Throughout all the fun and games, we talked constantly and informally about everything and anything related to music. Of course, when I sat down to begin working on this piece, I realized that none of it was "on the record" so I did what any hard-hitting muckraker would do...woke Josh up with a phone call the morning after the first show of their tour while they headed towards Chicago. Check out our Q&A after the jump...

EF: How was the show last night?

JG: It was so much fun man. It's so nice to be able to play now that the record’s coming out, and it was the first show we’ve had in town where we’ve had Drew (Malamud, sound engineer for tour) doing sound and that was pretty cool, all our friends were like, “whoa, it sounds so much better!”

EF: I wonder why, funny how that “magically happens”

JG: (joking) Oh I forgot, I brought the pixie dust and sprinkled it everywhere (laughs)

EF: Exactly. I guess let’s start, if you don’t mind, after The Loon and before Walk It Off. When did the writing process start? Was it when you were on the road supporting The Loon or after, when you were back home and settled in?

JG: Yeah it happened back in January, there were probably two or three songs that we had the ideas for - or had pretty much worked out beforehand - but I had then forgotten about them. But everything else really was something that came after we had gotten back from Australia, which was in mid-December of 2006, and then we took a month off and during that time I started writing. I basically wrote seven or eight new songs between January and April and then we went on another tour last year and filled in the gaps when we got back, from June through to August.

EF: And then recording started then, in August?

JG: In September, yeah in mid-September we went out for 12 days to Dave (Fridmann's) place

EF: So was everything written by the time you got out there or were there some last second things that came together in the studio?

JG: No, it was basically all written. There were a few little changes that were made to the songs when we were out there, I think like the end of “Blunt” we added another time through that we played the last part or something, and I think we made two or three little changes like that, nothing that was too major but something little that Dave or someone else would be like, “Hey what about this?” but for the most part, the songs were done. Except for “The Dirty Dirty” which I had made a demo of and we had talked about once, and then I had every intention of trying to record it late at night, just to see if we could get a B-side out of it, you know?

EF: Right, so was that an example of a song you had made a demo of and showed it to Dave ahead of time and said, “This is how I want the album to sound”? An advance you sent him?

JG: For “The Dirty Dirty”?

EF: Yeah

JG: Oh no. I recorded a demo on an acoustic guitar and it was only like a two-minute idea that I played for the rest of the guys and we talked about it for a little bit...We never played it as a band together or anything. But I think it was over a weekend there (at Dave’s), Dave always left everything on and open for us after he left the studio in case we wanted to mess around. So one night, we drank a couple of beers and started messing around and recorded some drums, guitars, and some keyboards, then we played it for Dave a couple days later and he was like “oh that sounds great, let’s work on that” and we had a couple hours left on the last day we were there and worked on it and finished it up.

EF: Awesome, so it was like a last minute thrown-together thing? Because there’s a lot of energy coming through...

JG: Yeah, it just kind of came together the last day. The last morning I remember Dave came in and said, “So what do you guys want to do today?” because we pretty much finished up tracking on all the songs and so I was like, “Well, there's that one song that we had messed around with so what about working on that little?” Then there was another song that really didn’t go anywhere, and he wanted to work on "The Dirty Dirty" so I was like, “Well I better go write some lyrics...”

EF: So you just wrote them that day and put them on tape?

JG: I had some lyrics, but not much, but yeah that morning it was like, “Better come up with something!”

EF: Yeah, time to go to work

JG: Yeah, I don't know, I thought it turned out pretty well considering all those things. I definitely don’t feel like it came out half-assed, we were like, “Wow, this turned out pretty fucking cool.”

EF: It's funny that that’s the one that – more than the others –was built in the studio because that’s the song, when you hear it live, it sounds born from a jam session, like it all came together live.

JG: Yeah, we definitely had to “learn it” after in order to play live (laughs)

EF: Right. So, I know we’ve talked about this a few times, but how again did you end up working with Dave?

JG: We basically decided we were either going to make the record on our own or we were going to try and work with an outside producer we haven’t worked with before. So we kind of went through a list of people we were excited to work with and Dave’s name was at the top of the list, but we definitely didn’t think we’d be able to work with him; we figured he’d be out of our league (laughs). Basically we talked to him on the phone a couple times and we got along really well, and we thought it would be really cool and somehow it just ended up working out. He had some time free and it worked out. I’m just really glad it did.

EF: Yeah absolutely. The album just has a nice rawness to it, it's not some huge polished studio album, it's got balls...

JG: (laughs) Thank you

EF: I mean, but that’s hard to do though, you go bore yourself up in a studio, the best thing that could come out of it is to have something with energy and urgency.

JG: Yeah totally. That was definitely a huge issue for me. We recorded it all and took it home and listened to it for a few weeks and I was kind of freaking out a little bit. I was like “This doesn’t sound like it’s live like I was hoping for.” I mean you can get really neurotic about stuff, having recordings and being able to mess with them. I was at home doing all these overdubs and shit in the extra bedroom (laughs). I was definitely freaking out a little, calling Dave probably twice a week and he was just like, “Josh these are rough mixes, its going to be fine” and then of course we went back in and started mixing and it was like, “Ohhh yes, yes, the live energy is so there.” They were just rough mixes...

EF: And so you guys went back out to the studio again for the mixing process?

JG: Yeah we had two weeks off after we recorded then we went back out for a week and mixed it that week.

EF: And then all your fears were put to rest…

JG: Yeah definitely. I mean, there was definitely a lot of thought as to how it sounded and I think, you know, some people may be into how it sounds rocking and live and some people may not be into that. Hopefully it won’t turn too many people off, but it's definitely how I was hoping it would turn out, you know?

EF: Yeah, and it’s a pretty faithful representation of how you guys sound live, which is good.

JG: Right, well that’s what we were going for so, like it or not (laughs)…

EF: What about sequencing? That’s always a huge part of the finished product. Was that something that was always in the back of your mind, like “This should go here, this should go there”?

JG: Well, there were a few things I had in mind early on as to where things should go but sequencing the record was a bit of a clusterfuck, not in a way that was bad but for some reason on The Loon there was a definite sense of where things should go; we did a couple different track orders and it all fell into place. For this record, I felt like things had to be in certain spots, but I mean we must have gone through like 50 or 60 different track orders.

EF: Jesus

JG: Oh yeah it was very frustrating. But you know, in the end I think we got it right. But a lot of thought was put into the pacing of the record. You know, it’s totally a personal thing, like “This is how I want to feel at this point in the record”…

EF: And its also how you’re presenting it to the listener too, kind of important...

JG: Right, you don’t want to put too much rock next to each other, certain other songs can’t go next to each other, it would just be too weird.

EF: Yeah. Well Matt and I have a theory - when we saw you guys at SXSW, Matt in particular thinks that you were listening to a lot of 70s metal riffs when writing the album. Like the hooks on “Blunt” or even “The Dirty Dirty"....are you a closet Sabbath listener?

JG: (laughs) Probably listening more to Black Mountain and stuff. Listening to that, and then going on tour with Ladyhawk, they’re pretty rocking, and seeing Black Mountain live and a lot of other bands that are playing more “heavy rock”, I was like, “That’s just a lot of fun”. And the two songs from The Loon that were like that, like "Jakov’s" or "10 Gallon", those songs are just so much fun to play live. So I think touring a lot and kind of all those things also led to that (the heavier sound).

EF: Talking about Black Mountain, Ladyhawk, and other contemporary bands, you mentioned to me the other night to watch out for Vampire Hands, who are playing the two shows in New York with you guys. Who else is on your radar right now of other contemporary bands that you guys are really feeling?

JG: Um, I don’t know...White Denim, they were awesome last night, I’d never seen them before. They were great, and they’re super good guys.

EF: Right, that was the first show you guys played with them, so that’s all working out?

JG: Yeah, they’re really good dudes, I’m excited to play with them. Yeah, I don't know, it’s weird, I always freeze up and forget who I’m excited about. I think those New York shows with Vampire Hands will be awesome because they’re just really rocking and it will be fun to be able to play with another Minneapolis band out there. And you know what’s funny? The White Denim dudes looked them (Vampire Hands) up because they heard we were playing with them but apparently Vampire Hands had made some post that their drummer had broken his hand and Iggy Pop was going to be playing drums with them at those New York shows…

EF: Iggy Pop?!

JG: Yeah, there’s no way. I mean maybe I’m stupid and I have no idea and they’re not lying but it seemed like the greatest thing ever, like “Oh my god, you guys are hilarious." That would be the most amazing thing ever, I still think that’s a great story. It’s a great thing to come up with, to say Iggy Pop is going to be drumming?

EF: Totally, and you could just prop an old shirtless guy up there…

JG: (laughs) Yeah totally

EF: Let's talk a little bit about Conan: how was it the second time around on national TV (ed note: the band played Letterman in July of '06)?

JG: It was less nerve-wracking for sure. It was a lot of fun. I think on Letterman, well I’ve seen the video of it and I look like a deer in highlights and on Conan at least for me I was having fun. I think part of it has to do with the vibe of playing there, everyone there was very laid back. Letterman was fun but it was very rigid, everything happens to the second…

EF: And its like the Planet Hoth on that set too.

JG: Oh my God yeah, Conan was a little cold but not anything like Letterman. Yeah, it was a lot of fun. I actually remember a little more about playing Conan, Letterman was just a complete blur….

EF: And did you get to talk to Conan at all?

JG: briefly, he came up afterwards and shook our hands and he was nice. He was talking to Jerry about his drums. He came up to me and made some comment like under his breath like “Yeah, the guitars sounded right, that’s the only thing that ever needs to sound right, isn’t it?”

EF: Awesome

JG: He didn’t have the bear claw of Letterman though; Letterman’s hands are huge, he crushed my hand...

EF: Right, and of course you can’t make eye contact with him. So, any particular stops on the tour that when you’re looking at the itinerary you’re like, “Yes, I cant wait for that one!”?

JG: New York’s gonna be a lot of fun, it's always a lot of fun. San Francisco, pretty much everywhere in general, just being able to go on tour and play new songs; we’re just having a lot of fun.

EF: At this point, there’s gotta be a few songs from The Loon that you’re like “Eh, I’d rather play the new stuff by now.”

JG: (laughs) Yeah, and we can too! We can be like, “Tonight we’re not going to play “blah”, we’re going to play a bunch of new songs." Yeah, last night was the first full show, you know, and it was cool to choose to not play some of those (from The Loon).

EF: Well, are you excited at the prospect of writing more songs for the next album? I mean is that even on your mind at all?

JG: You know, just in the past couple weeks I’ve started to think about it and I’m definitely getting excited. I think it’s been long enough now since we’ve done the record and it's actually out now and I’m starting to think about songs and so I think I’ll be writing this summer.

EF: Well, thanks for taking the time to speak with me in a professional journalistic setting.

JG: (laughs) Anytime man, it's always fun.

"Hang Them All"
"Demon Apple" (from TnT Daytrotter session)

"Conquest" by Tapes 'n Tapes live (from Emo's - 13 March 2008 SXSW 2008) on YouTube | download QT

See also:

  • Tapes 'n Tapes @ Emo's - 13 March 2008 (SXSW Day 2, pics, live video/mp3)
  • EAR FARM Spring Tour '08: travel itinerary, BBQ with bands, SXSW!
  • Tapes 'n Tapes - new song, tour/tickets info
  • Tapes 'n Tapes @ Irving Plaza - 18 May 2007
  • Tapes 'n Tapes

  • See Tapes 'n Tapes Live:
    16 April - Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground
    17 April - Boston, MA @ Paradise
    18 April - New York, NY @ Filmore Irving Plaza
    19 April - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
    22 April - Philadelphia, PA @ First Unitarian Church
    23 April - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
    24 April - Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
    25 April - Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
    26 April - St. Augustine, FL @ Cafe 11
    28 April - Orlando, FL @ The Social
    29 April - Gainesville, FL @ Common Grounds
    30 April - Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree
    02 May - Austin, TX @ Antone's
    03 May - Denton, TX @ Hailey's
    06 May - Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
    07 May - San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
    08 May - West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubador
    09 May - West Hollywood, CA @ The Troubador
    10 May - San Francisco, CA @ Fillmore
    12 May - Eugene, OR @ Wow Hall
    13 May - Vancouver, BC @ Richards on Richards
    14 May - Seattle, WA @ The Showbox
    16 May - Salt Lake City, UT @ In The Venue
    17 May - Denver, CO @ Bluebird
    28 May - London, UK @ ULU
    30 May - Birmingham, UK @ Barfly
    31 May - Glasgow, Scotland @ Stereo
    01 Jun - Manchester, UK @ Club Academy
    03 Jun - Paris, France @ Nouveau Casino
    04 Jun - Brussels, Belgium @ Recyclart
    05 June - Amsterdam, Netherlands @ Paradiso
    06 June - Nijmegen, Netherlands @ Doornroosje
    07 June - Berlin, Germany @ Bang Bang Club
    09 June - Hamburg, Germany @ Logo
    10 June - Cologne, Germany @ Gebaeude 9

    Visit Tapes 'n Tapes on MySpace
    In the recent past, the following bands have been featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week:
    White Hinterland
    Man Man
    We Barbarians
    The Dodos
    Hey Hey My My
    Amy LaVere
    Beach House
    Computer Perfection

    See the entire list of bands featured as EAR FARM's Band of the Week HERE.


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