Tag Archives: Kurt Travis

SubmergeTop30of2014

Submerge’s Top 30 Albums of 2014

(in 140 Characters or Less)

How many albums came out in 2014? Hell if we know. Eleventy-billion? It was a lot, let’s just leave it at that. You probably didn’t have time to listen to all of them, that’s why we picked out our 30 favorites from local and national/international bands to share with you. Now, now…we know what you’re saying. “But Submerge, now that the holidays are over and we’re all back to work and stuff, how do you expect us to read another long-ass ‘best-of’ list?” Hey, you know we gotchoo. We waxed eloquently about these 30 albums in Twitter-friendly blurbs. Now, who’s your best bro? We thought so…

30-J Sirius-Submerge

30.

J.Sirus
Varsity Blues

Self-released

You’d think this homegrown MC was in Alcatraz from all the bars on his second album. But J.Sirus clearly breaks out here and is on the run.

29-Sunkilmoon-Submerge

29.

Sun Kil Moon
Benji

Caldo Verde Records

Heavy lyrics (assisted suicide) and the mundane (trips to Panera Bread) are equally vital. It’s folk, but it’s so much more.

28-Sylvan Esso-Submerge

28.

Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso

Partisan

Velvety voiced melodies woven into a dark bassy web. The two elements could stand alone as quality songs but together they’re beyond catchy.

27-Ty Segall-Submerge

27.

Ty Segall
Manipulator

Drag City

For his seventh studio album, the prolific fuzz-rocker charted deeper waters for a cathartic, trippy, Kinks-like psych romp over 17 tracks.

26-Childish Gambino-Submerge

26.

Childish Gambino
Kauai EP

Glassnote

Been tough taking Donald Glover seriously as a full-fledged rapper. But now that he’s crooning like MJ we have no choice but to respect him.

25-Exquisite Corps-Submerge

25.

Exquisite Corps
Vignettes

Excorpsmusic

For their sophomore release, Ex Corps stripped down their sound, dropped a string section (mostly), to bring a driving, soulful rock album.

24-White Reaper-Submerge

24.

White Reaper
White Reaper

PolyVinyl

There are at least three punks in Louisville. Together they’re called White Reaper and none of them can legally drink, so buy ‘em a 12er.

23-Kurt Travis-Submerge

23.

Kurt Travis
Everything Is Beautiful

Blue Swan Records

Travis ditches the post-hardcore he’s known for and delivers an impressive full-length pop album with lush melodies and clean production.

22-Young Aundee-Submerge

22.

Young Aundee
Caveat Emptor

Waaga Records

Buyer beware. A lyrically sparse EP wading in the deep end of ominous soundwaves, so that the electronica must emote the mood.

21-Summit-Submerge

21.

Summit
Spellbreaker

Self-released

Dark metal oozing with evil. The song “Soldier” alone has enough firepower to win the war on terror, but probably for the wrong side.

20-Salt Wizard-Submerge

20.

Salt Wizard
Salt Wizard

Self-released

That mood with a playlist of Piper @ Gates of Dawn, VU-Loaded, Pet Sounds, Cowboy Junkies? Add this album to that list. Sac dreampop heroes.

19-Hurray for the Riff Raff-Submerge

19.

Hurray for the Riff Raff
Small Town Heroes

ATO Records

Puerto Rican from the Bronx grows up on doo-wop & Motown, then dips into riot grrrl punk before settling on the sweetest of country styles.

18-SZA-Submerge

18.

SZA
Z

Top Dawg Entertainment

Emotive, raspy & powerful R&B voice delivers intelligent, poetic lyrics atop constructed soundscapes w/ unique time changes, spoken word.

17-Michael RJ Saalman-Submerge

17.

Michael RJ Saalman
Lxus Shaq

Crash Symbols

On Lxus Shaq, Michael RJ Saalman constructs a world of experimental pop tunes that spark sonic hallucinations through osculating synths.

16-YG-Submerge

16.

YG
My Krazy Life

Def Jam

A sly tribute to G-funk packed with synths, 808s and scary-ass gangster shit. It’s everything Republicans hate about rap.

Crude Studs---Submerge

15.

Crude Studs
Crude Studs 7-inch

Self-release

Aggravated verses meet sporadic, chaotic change-ups. From start to finish, the EP lasts 15 minutes. But, sometimes, that’s all she wrote.

14-Chuck Ragan-Submerge

14.

Chuck Ragan
Till Midnight

SideOneDummy

Heartfelt, moving folk songs that don’t forget to rock from Northern California’s sageliest songwriter. Ragan just gets better with age.

13-FKA Twigs-Submerge

13.

FKA Twigs
LP1

Young Turks

FKA Twigs’ debut is a shuddering, sumptuous dose of futuristic chamber-soul perfect for carrying us into the chilly months of early 2015.

12-Earth-Submerge

12.

Earth
Primitive and Deadly

Southern Lord

Carlson’s riffs combine with Lanegan’s vox to make molten metal magic. #stonerboner

11-MacDemarco-Submerge

11.

Mac DeMarco
Salad Days

Captured Tracks

Sounds like killing a sunny afternoon w/ nothing to do in a low-lying, wood-paneled den w/ beaded curtains, but it’s a good thing, really.

10-Sturgill Simpson-Submerge

10.

Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

High Top Mountain

Refreshing ‘70s Outlaw Country throwback vibe w/ plenty of slick licks & proper twang. No phony caricatures. Old school troubadours proud.

9-Tele Novella-Sbumerge

09.

Tele Novella
Cosmic Dial Tone

Lolipop Records

Cosmic Dial Tone stylistically and instrumentally takes us back to the basics while keeping it quirky & eclectic, modern groovy done right.

8-DLRN-Submerge

08.

DLRN
Neon Noir

Waaga Records

The synth-fueled, sexier side of hip-hop for those in search of that golden-era feel layered with endless soundscapes & head-bobbin’ beats.

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07.

The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream

Secretly Canadian

What has 10 legs, smokes a lot of weed & sounds like mid-’80s Don Henley? The War On Drugs’ Lost in the Dream. We still hate the Eagles, tho.

6-Future Islands-Submerge

06.

Future Islands
Singles

4AD

Dreamy synthpop embellished with the howls of Samuel Herring. This is Future Islands. If you haven’t been introduced, please do so now.

5-Tycho-Submerge

05.

Tycho
Awake

Ghostly International

Epic and absolutely addicting synth-driven instrumental album that’s ambient, groovy, melodic and psychedelic. Road trip to this!

4-Dre T-Submerge

04.

Dre-T
Sacramentality

Sol Life Music

Roots run deep in hip-hop, soul and intellect. The voice of the streets, a disenfranchised people and universally Sacramento all the same.

3-G Green-Submerge

03.

G. Green
Area Codes

Mt. St. Mtn.

Staccato beats, quirky vocals & airy guitar riffs comprise the plucky quartet’s sophomore effort. Reinvention, done.

2-Hoods-Submerge

02.

Hoods
Gato Negro

Artery Recordings

With their first new album in five years, Sacto hardcore legends Hoods are back and as brutal as ever. Gato Negro is a mean pussycat!

1-Sunmonks-Submerge

01.

Sunmonks
In a Desert of Plenty

Crossbill Records

Sunmonks seduces w/ clattering beats, enchanting harmonies & horns to make ur heart sing. You’ll dream of celebration under the desert sun.

Michael Franzino

Michael Franzino of A Lot Like Birds Announces New Solo Project, “alone.”

In our last issue of Submerge we featured Sacramento-based progressive/post-hardcore group A Lot Like Birds’ vocalist Kurt Travis and his new solo album. Now another member of the group, guitarist/songwriter Michael Franzino, is branching out and planning a solo project of his own, only this one has an interesting and rather unique twist. The project will be called alone. and will see Franzino retreat to a cabin in the middle of nowhere in complete isolation for a couple of months to write a record that he will eventually record and release DIY, sans record label. Franzino has started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $10,000 to cover recording expenses, hire musicians to play on the album and to rent a cabin and feed himself while he’s holed up in seclusion writing. “I wish to write the project in isolation because it is of my belief that the most profound art comes from the feelings of loneliness and longing,” Franzino said in a promo video on the Indiegogo page, which can be found at Igg.me/at/fundalone. He went on to say that the new music will be “a deeper exploration into the softer and more ambient/melodic side of my writing” and that “the songs will more heavily feature a string section, a horn section, a more eclectic use of percussion, more choral aspects, more electronic sounds, and a general tenacity to have bigger compositions and a wider array of noises.” He points to a few songs on ALLB’s 2013 album No Place as examples (“Hand Over Mouth,” “No Nurture,” “Kuroi Ledge,” and “Myth of Lasting Sympathy”), but mentions that they are “just a taste.” If you wish to donate to Franzino’s newest musical adventure, you’ll be rewarded with all kinds of goodies, everything from early downloads, to physical CDs with exclusive album art, posters, hand-printed shirts/patches, guitar tablature booklets, sneak peak Skype sessions from the studio, heck, for $350 he’ll even tattoo your full name on his ass (not a joke!). Look for Submerge to keep you in the loop on what happens with alone. and Franzino’s quest into the unknown. The dude is an incredibly talented composer and multi-instrumentalist and we cannot wait to hear what that crazy brain of his comes up with out there in the wilderness. Hit up Facebook.com/wearealone for more information.

Kurt Travis Submerge interview-photo-nicholaswray.com-20140502-159-top

Constantly Creating

A Lot Like Birds Vocalist Kurt Travis Uses His Brief Downtime to Record Solo Album

The life of a touring musician can be grueling. You write and write and write some more, then you record an album and get it mixed, mastered and pressed. After all that, if you have any money left, you release said album and if all goes well and all your ducks are in a row, the next logical step is to leave normal life behind and hop in the van (or if you’re lucky, a bus or motorhome) and tour the shit out of the album. It’s a process that’s not cheap and not easy.

Kurt Travis, co-vocalist of Sacramento-based post-hardcore outfit A Lot Like Birds (and former co-vocalist of fellow Sacramento-based band Dance Gavin Dance) knows the drill all too well. “A Lot Like Birds doesn’t give me a lot of downtime, but when they do, I’m kind of thankful for it because then I can go forward with some solo stuff,” Travis recently told Submerge during an interview in his new downtown Sacramento loft. “ALLB was going to do this European tour and it ended up falling through. Immediately I was like, OK, I have this amount of time, lets bang out a record and lets go out on tour and sell it.”

Travis enlisted the help of longtime friend and former bandmate Zachary Garren (they played in DGD together years ago). Garren, who now plays in the instrumental band Strawberry Girls and lives in Salinas, Calif., would come up to Sacramento for a few days at a time and the two would write songs and work on the album’s pre-production. They were also sending song ideas back and forth even when not in the same town. Before they knew it, they were sitting on a full-length’s worth of solid material, had a label ready to release it (Blue Swan Records, a new label that is run by Dance Gavin Dance’s Will Swan) and a full-on tour booked to support the record, which will be titled Everything Is Beautiful and will be released sometime later in May.

As of press time, Travis and Garren had only released one song off of Everything Is Beautiful, a pop-y, upbeat ditty called “Brain Lord.” At last check, it had 16,031 views on YouTube after only being uploaded a week prior. With no plans to release any other material from the album before its full release, Submerge was lucky enough to get a private listening party where Garren and Travis allowed us to hear rough, unmixed, unmastered versions of seven of the 12 songs that will appear on the album. What we heard was not some half-assed solo effort from a lead singer who just wants to put something out for the fuck of it. What we heard was a focused, mature, surprisingly pop-friendly album that touches on surf-rock with lo-fi garage vibes, glittering and noodly lead guitar lines, lush layers of vocal harmonies with sprinkles of synth-y goodness. It’s light and accessible (we only heard one part with aggressive vocals, and it was more of a shout than a scream) without being overly cheesy. It’s an artsy pop album, if you will, and it’ll more than likely have you moving and grooving.

Check out an excerpt of our conversation and mark your calendars for Kurt Travis’ tour kick-off show at Luigi’s on Wednesday, May 14, 2014.

EDITOR’S UPDATE: As of May 13, 2014, Kurt Travis’ Everything Is Beautiful was available for streaming here.

Kurt Travis Submerge interview

Tell me a little bit about the album title, Everything Is Beautiful. What’s the reasoning or motivation behind calling it that?
Kurt Travis: With every release I kind of have a theme, because it’s fun. It’s fun to have a certain message. My first [album theme] being this little girl I knew, she was just learning how to speak, and I related to her because it was kind of like my first solo effort and the songs were very primitive. So it just kind of had this theme, that’s why I called it Wha Happen. She kept asking me that. For this [album theme], I’ve been under this impression lately. I’m very happy. I’m very creative. I’m doing really, really good. I’m having an amazing time with A Lot Like Birds and I’m having an amazing time writing my own stuff with Zach. The theme is Everything Is Beautiful because, well, it is. Just appreciating things that aren’t necessarily beautiful, but you watch them, and they change and your perspective on them becomes different. Kind of that sort of thing like, what is beauty, or what is art? I could get really crazy on you. We could talk about what is beauty and what isn’t beauty, but it would be wrong. Everything is beauty.

Would you say this is the most pop friendly thing you’ve ever done?
Zachary Garren: It’s definitely the poppiest.
KT: It’s the poppiest freaking thing I’ve ever done in my whole life, and you know what’s really weird is I was really trying not to. With this record I was trying to go for that like new wave sound…and it came out super pop-y and funky and groovy.

How does your approach to writing lyrics for your solo material differ from when you’re writing with A Lot Like Birds?
KT: They’re very, very different. Nowadays I’ve been writing very conceptually, not as song-to-song-to-song. But kind of an atmosphere or a story within that song, and kind of vicariously really, which is weird, because that’s something that I really don’t do. I usually write from life and sorrow and just, you know, therapeutically healing myself. I don’t really do that anymore. I guess I don’t really have the need to. I don’t have to be extremely worried about what’s going to happen next. That’s totally kept me up at night in younger years when it comes to music.

Your work with your other bands no doubt keeps you guys busy: Constant touring, writing, recording, doing press, etc. Why not just use your down time to relax? What is it that drives you to want to create music even during your little bit of time off?
KT: I think Zach and I will totally say the same thing. It almost feels the opposite, you know what I mean? If you’re constantly creating and you’re doing different genres and such, I feel like sometimes the more opposite the genre, the more I’m just secretly influenced by it because it’s completely different.
ZG: I just like to create a lot. Some days I’ll do way more than other days…
KT: When I tell him to write a song, he’s got like six the next day. By the time I’m done listening to those, he’s got two more. And then when we get to the studio he’s like, oh man, I got to relearn these. It’s like that show Heroes where the guy blacks out and just does some amazing shit.
ZG: Being a musician is different than working a 9-to-5 sort of job. It’s not easy, but it’s different. It’s still fun to a degree.
KT: Even if I didn’t write a record this last month and immediately go back out on tour, I probably would have worked an odd job for a month and did it that way. But instead, I made a record, and I invested money in the T-shirts I’m going to sell on tour, stuff like that.

So in a way, it’s kind of like an “in between job” that just happened to be creating a record?
KT: Exactly. When Joe [Arrington, drummer for ALLB and who also plays on Everything Is Beautiful] is home, he plays with like four different cover bands and makes way more money… I guess there is this mentality of like, work your fucking ass off, because we are privileged enough to be able to play music.
ZG: Creating music in a way is also kind of downtime. If you’re a musician, what do you do in your downtime from your job? You’re probably doing music. We’re just kind of having extra fun. We do it because we like it and want to try to keep getting better and hopefully making better stuff than we have in the past.
KT: The more you make music and go out on tour, the more you’re going to gain fans. At this point, I’ve been doing it for almost 10 years, I might as well just keep on. Kids still appreciate it and still buy the previous stuff and the new stuff. They’re still buying it, so…
ZG: It’s cool to switch it up, too, because this new album isn’t like anything we’ve done in a long time. It’s the most accessible kind of thing. There’s no screaming so it’s a more mature version of some of our past stuff.

With this album being so much more pop friendly than most of your guys’ past stuff, is it crazy to think that this could very well become the most popular shit you’ve ever done?
KT: It very well could be, although you never know.
ZG: It has the potential, but there are so many little things.
KT: I mean, my manager is Eric Rushing and he’s pretty freaking connected. I did my best. A lot of the times I’ve shown him stuff, and he’s like, “Dude this is fucking incredible, what am I supposed to do with this? This is the best song I could never do anything about.” So this record will definitely be like, “Here you go man, this is probably the most accessible thing you can get out of me, what can we do with it now?” And I think Eric can do a lot.
ZG: And it’s still creative music too, which is cool. This is going to be like our parents’ favorite record.

On the same day that you dropped the first single off your album, Jonny Craig and Tilian Pearson, two other vocalists with past or present DGD ties, also dropped new songs from their new projects. Was that just a big coincidence, or was that meticulously planned out by your management or something like that?
ZG: Not planned at all.
KT: Swear to god. Not planned. We wanted to put it out a couple days earlier, but it didn’t work out. That’s what happens.

Don’t you think in a weird way it might have worked to everyone’s advantage?
KT: Oh we loved it! We milked the shit out of it. It was crazy awesome cross promotion. I talked to Tilian, too. He was totally super happy about it, just like, “Oh my gosh this is going to boost everything!”

One question that I feel a lot of people are curious about is what your relationship is like with all those guys? Jonny, Tilian, all the other DGD guys… I feel like people think there is all this drama. Is there?
KT: No, no. Jonny was at the recent DGD show at Assembly, and I was at that show with Zach. I see Jonny at Ace or Assembly or whatever. I talked to Tilian after the show, shit like that, we were all talking and hanging out after the show. Everybody is just doing their thing. There’s a lot of shit you can check out from all of us, there’s just a big resume from all of us, and that’s really cool.

See Kurt Travis, Zachary Garren and their newly formed backing band play songs off of Everything Is Beautiful at one of the few remaining shows at Luigi’s on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Also performing will be Hotel Books and So Much Light. Show starts at 7 p.m. and all ages are welcome.

Kurt Travis_s_Submerge_Mag_Cover

Submerge-Magazine-photo-by-nicholaswray.com

Nothing Like You’d Expect

A Lot Like Birds Readies The Release of Conversation Piece

It’s a quiet Tuesday night in Midtown and local progressive/post-hardcore band A Lot Like Birds has 80 or so fans packed into Luigi’s Fungarden as they tear through songs off their upcoming Doghouse Records full-length debut Conversation Piece, set for release on Oct. 11, 2011. Songs like “Think Dirty Out Loud” and “Sesame Street Is No Place for Me,” the album’s first two singles, have the crowd feverishly swaying back and forth to their spastic and energetic rhythms and riffs. Co-vocalists Cory Lockwood and Kurt Travis bounce around the small stage, shaking their long locks, taking turns singing and screaming, fully taking advantage of having co-vocalists (think call and response, harmonizing, layering, etc).

“I’m not the singer and he’s not the screamer,” Travis makes known as the two vocalists and I share a pitcher of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a local watering hole the Friday following the show. It quickly becomes apparent that this is an important point for them to get across. “We’re both vocalists,” he says. “I scream and I sing. And he screams and he sings. And we yell and we talk and we do spoken word. We do everything, we do all of it.”

Lockwood agrees and thinks of it like this, “I feel like a lot of times with dual vocalist bands that have a singer and a screamer, you’re diverging your fans and you’re going to have people that go, ‘Well I listen to the singing,’ and then you’ve got the guys who want tough music and they’re like, ‘Well I like the screaming.’ So if you bleed both of them, you’re forcing people to like it as a whole.”

Couple the outrageous and entertaining vocal work from Travis and Lockwood with the equally impressive instrumental work of the rest of the band, which consists of guitarists Michael Franzino and Ben Wiacek, bassist Michael Littlefield and drummer Joe Arrington, and you’ve got yourself one interesting record in Conversation Piece. One that crosses genres, tears down boundaries, leaves the listener wondering, “What’s next?” after each track comes to a dramatic close, and one that will most likely take a few listens to grow on you. They are aware of this.

“I know that music like this has to grow on people. People are really slow at picking stuff like this up,” says Travis.

“It’s almost easier for us to do weirder stuff,” Lockwood admits.

And weird it is, although we’re not talking about an un-listenable type of weird here; this isn’t just random noise after all. We’re talking about calculated time signature changes, non-traditional song structures, heavy-hitting breakdowns mixed with luscious reverb and delay-ridden clean parts, impressive and off-the-wall guitar riffs and interesting lyrical content to boot. Take the following lines from “Think Dirty Out Loud” for example, where Lockwood screams, “I spiked both our drinks with a gallon of ink / Now I’m writing a novel from your insides / We’re a spider with our limbs doing anything but walking / A conversation with our mouths doing anything but talking.” Or where Travis sings, “I eat emotional wrecks / And yours is the best.

“I remember the instance in which we started writing the lyrics,” Travis says of the song. “I was totally enjoying myself, just laughing to myself, just thinking I’m the most clever fucking person ever.”

It is noteworthy to point out that in a number of ways, Conversation Piece is entirely different than A Lot Like Birds’ last offering, 2009’s Plan B. The latter was largely the work of guitarist and songwriting catalyst (as well as the band’s original vocalist) Michael Franzino, who invited a horde of local musicians to play everything from trumpet and trombone to cello and violin on the record. Plan B didn’t even feature a live drummer, as Franzino programmed the drums himself via computer. Conversation Piece is much more of a collaborative effort and consists of mostly the band’s core instruments (guitar, bass, drums, vocals), although it does contain some programmed stuff (“A Satire of a Satire of a Satire is Tiring”) and a little bit of horns (“Vanity’s Fair”) as to not depart completely from the band’s tendency to blend live instrumentation with orchestral and programmed elements. One of the most obvious differences between the two records is the solidified lineup, which includes the recent addition of Travis, who up until this summer had spent the last couple years co-fronting another Sacramento-based post-hardcore band, Dance Gavin Dance. “There’s four new members,” Lockwood says of the post-Plan B lineup. Travis interjects, “I’m not the new guy, you know what I mean? I’m the newest by all means. But Plan B was pretty much one or two guys, now this record is everybody giving their opinions and whatnot.”

For the recording of Conversation Piece, A Lot Like Birds turned to Portland, Ore.-based producer/engineer Kris Crummett, a familiar face to Travis, they have recorded two DGD albums together (2008’s self-titled record and 2009’s Happiness).

“As soon as I got kicked out of Dance Gavin Dance, Kris hit me up and was like, ‘Let me know what you’re doing, whatever you do, just let me know,’” Travis remembers. “It was kind of interesting because when I joined A Lot Like Birds, they were already talking about and thinking about going with Kris Crummett. I love that guy, we have a good history; we have a good thing going on.”

The band worked rigorously with Crummett for three weeks, focusing all of their creative energy on the record, which wasn’t even necessarily completely written yet, as Travis and Lockwood both had a fair share of lyrical work to do while in the studio.

“Everybody was hella trippin’, but that’s kind of how I like to work anyways,” Travis says of the high-pressure situation to complete basically half an album’s worth of lyrics on the fly. In the end, things worked out beautifully for the two vocalists, who found themselves locked in a room with Crummett for hours on end, pounding out vocal ideas together.

“I don’t think either of us had any idea how well we were going to work with each other,” Lockwood says of co-writing. “I’ve never worked with another vocalist before.” Travis pointed out that because the group was away from the everyday distractions that come with being home, they were able to channel everything they had into the record. “When you’re in your home town and you have all your stuff, you know, you have your job that you go to, you’ve got your girlfriend, you’ve got your parents and all this stuff. Sometimes it’s distracting,” Travis says. “I hella missed that when I was a full-time touring musician. You kind of just focus on music. So when I got to Portland, I was just kind of like, ‘Ah, I don’t have to think about anything other than just this record,’ and it got all of our attention.”

Even still, the band didn’t finish everything they needed to in their allotted time with Crummett, and they had to record one song in Sacramento with friend and sound engineer Chris Miller. Crummett was still producing even from hundreds of miles away, though, as the band Skyped him during the sessions with Miller.

“He was still there like being able to hear the takes,” Travis says with a chuckle at the thought of Crummett’s face on a computer screen in the room for hours on end.

“He was just like eating Chinese food and shit,” Lockwood says through a laugh while air shoveling a bite of imaginary food into his mouth.

After three weeks spent in Portland with Crummett and a couple more days’ worth of sessions with Miller in Sacramento, the record was finally done, or so Travis thought. “Knowing my luck, we do like two days with Chris and then we get everything done and we’re like, ‘Yes! Fuck yes, it’s done,’” Travis says. “And then I get a call from my guitar player and he’s like, ‘You’ve got to come back and do some more stuff,’ and I was just like, ‘Dude, when is this going to end? We’re not even in Portland anymore.’ But it was completely worth it and the song came out way better than I even thought it could.”

In between the Portland and Sacramento recording sessions, A Lot Like Birds even found time to embark on a week-and-a-half long West Coast tour. It proved a good opportunity to work out the brand new material in the live setting and to gauge people’s reactions to it as well. “It was really like a testing the waters sort of thing,” Travis says. “To see who gives a shit right from the get-go. It was a good response!”

Lockwood recalls one particular night in Anaheim when a girl came up to him at the merch table after the show and told him that she hadn’t heard music like theirs in years, since the early ‘00s. “That’s definitely when I started playing music, that’s when we both started getting really into it. So if anything, if we draw comparisons to stuff from back then, that’s all I’d love to hear.”

Unfortunately for A Lot Like Birds, references to the sounds of the early ‘00s aren’t the only comparisons they’re receiving, as a large number of people (mostly via the Internet) are saying they sound too much like Dance Gavin Dance. No doubt there will be comparisons: both bands are from Sacramento, both have two singers, both have ripping guitar players and rock-solid rhythm sections; heck, they even recorded with the same producer, so yeah, sonically speaking there are some similarities too. But what’s funniest to Travis and Lockwood about the whole situation is that these quick judgments are coming from the album’s two singles, because those are the only two songs off Conversation Piece that the general public has heard.

“People have been really quick to go, ‘Oh, this is what their whole album is going to sound like,’” Lockwood says.

“They don’t even know how versatile it is,” Travis contends. “You know how the Internet goes; people are very, very quick to judge. It’s funny, it’s almost tickling. They have no idea. It’s going to be cool, because they’ll realize it when it comes out.”

Travis also wanted to get off his chest how he feels for Lockwood, who seems to be receiving the brunt of the reviews. The problem? Apparently he screams too much like Jon Mess, DGD’s co-vocalist. “Dude, if you have ears, you would know that it’s completely different,” Travis demands. “Their screaming styles are completely different. It’s just kind of like Jon Mess is the only person they can reference. It’s so funny, like when people compare me to Jonny Craig [DGD’s original vocalist who replaced Travis when he re-joined the band this year], it’s like, ‘Are you fucking retarded? Do you actually have ears? Because I sound nothing like him.’ Not that I couldn’t sing Jonny’s stuff and not that Jonny couldn’t sing my stuff, it’s just, we don’t sound alike. It’s the same thing with Jon Mess and Cory, and I just feel for him.”

Travis has gotten his fair share of attention, too, ever since his departure with DGD. “It’s just something that you have to deal with,” Travis says of constantly being asked about his situation. “It’s like one of those things about your job that you hate but you have to do anyways. I kind of relate it to that, because no I’m not upset, no I’m not tired of it. It’s just one of those things that I know that I’m always going to have to address and that’s fine. If I didn’t have all of that then I wouldn’t have any of this amazing stuff that’s going on right now. So, I think of it that way. Not like, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to talk about the past.’ All of that shit needed to happen in order for this amazing stuff to happen. I look at it like that so I’m not upset when someone is like, ‘What was it like? You got kicked out! Blah blah.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did, but things worked out.’” And if you’re wondering, everything is cool between all the members of DGD and A Lot Like Birds. So much so that the two bands will share the stage together on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011 at Sacramento State’s University Union.

After weeks spent listening to an advanced copy of their new record, an hour spent over beers at a local pub and a killer live set witnessed, it’s apparent to Submerge that A Lot Like Birds are their own band with their own identity and their own sound. Conversation Piece is no doubt the record that will solidify that and as of right now, getting the album out and into the hands of people who care about it is the only thing on their minds. With a grin from ear to ear, Travis says, “I think things will pop off real fast once that happens.”

A Lot Like Birds’ Conversation Piece will be out on Oct. 11 via Doghouse Records. See them live at Sacramento State’s University Union Ballroom alongside Dance Gavin Dance on Oct. 13. Sacramento’s own Ten After Two will also perform. Tickets are available at the University Union Box Office.

Dance-Gavin-Dance-interview-Submerge

Behind the Music

Dance Gavin Dance moves past another bout of offstage controversy and releases epic new album

Considering everything Dance Gavin Dance has been through (or has put itself through, depending upon how you look at it), Downtown Battle Mountain II is a fitting title for the band’s latest album. Released March 8, 2011 it sees the band pick up where it left off after its arguably most successful effort, 2007’s Downtown Battle Mountain. Five of the band’s original members–guitarist Will Swan and drummer Matt Mingus welcomed back bassist Eric Lodge and powerhouse vocal duo Jon Mess and Jonny Craig in 2010–reunited to enter the studio late last year. Despite their years apart, DGD’s put forth similarly remarkable results as they had in the past, in more ways than one.

“Writing started in the fall of last year around September,” says vocalist Jon Mess from San Antonio, Texas, a day prior to the band’s scheduled performances at the 2011 South by Southwest Music Festival. “Prior to that, Will had already started writing new songs. All of November and December was the recording. Tracked drums, bass and guitar through all of November and some of December, and most of December was vocals. I was there for almost a month recording, so was Jonny.”

It may sound like things came together rather quickly. Mess didn’t rejoin the band until summer 2010. His arrival was quickly followed by a tour and soon after the recording process for Downtown Battle Mountain II began. However, for Mess, it seemed much more laid-back as compared to when the band hit the studio for Downtown Battle Mountain, which was recorded in just two weeks.

“On this one [the sequel], we had two months,” Mess explains. “Last time we were in this shitty hotel, and it was freezing cold. I think I was a little sick then, too. This time we were in this house, and we had all this time. It was a lot more relaxed and there wasn’t as much time pressure–at least for me. Jonny came off a tour with Emarosa, so he came in a little later, but it was way more relaxed than prior experiences.”

Life in DGD post-recording has been anything but laid-back. Controversy sprang up once again surrounding Craig’s substance abuse. This time around, he allegedly defrauded his fans by offering to sell his Mac Book to his Twitter followers. When checks were sent, and no laptops were received, the band was once again forced to play damage control. Craig was sent into a seven-day detox program, which he just recently emerged from. Mess spoke with Submerge about DGD’s seemingly perpetual state of turmoil and Downtown Battle Mountain II, which, despite the all the backstage hullabaloo, is perhaps the brightest post-hardcore gem the band has produced to date.

I caught your recent Fuel TV performance. How did that go for you?
I was sick when we did it, so I wasn’t too happy with it. It was in Los Angeles. It was right before our first show. That was interesting. We had a studio audience there cheering and stuff. It was fun, I guess. I tried to have fun even though I was sick.

Was that a different experience for you guys?
Yeah. I’d never done that before. That was awkward. We had to do the songs multiple times and they came in with different angles. Afterwards they were shooting a comedy special with a bunch of people from VH1’s Best Week Ever–those different panelist shows where they have different comedians talking about stuff. A bunch of those people were there doing some little skits, and they asked DGD to be the backing band and play a little jazz riff. I don’t know where people can see that. It might be on Fuel. We’ll probably announce that when we find out.

You just came up with something off the cuff?
Yeah, they wanted us to play some kind of jazz, walking bass line–little flow thing that the comedians could do their little skit over. The guys came up with something pretty quick, and it ended up sounding pretty cool.

On the new album, did you and Jonny collaborate on lyrics or did you mostly write separately?
We talked about some themes, but it was mostly separate. A very small percentage of the lyrics go together. It was more of a scattered thing. That’s been our style since the beginning.

What sort of themes did you discuss? What were you personally trying to express on this record?
I like to write about all sorts of different things–snippets, fragments of ideas or dreams I have, various little stories. I kind of break them apart and put them together in different songs. One line might relate to another song later, so it’s not a cohesive body of material per song, more fragments of things that range from talking about food to being mad about something. Broad topics–nothing real specific. I don’t want to pigeonhole into having any limitations on what I want to write about it.

You and Jonny have radically different vocal styles, is that also the case lyrically, and is it difficult to get them to mesh from song to song? Is that something you work on closely together?
I think as long as the delivery is good, and you’re hitting the right notes and it’s flowing well, then the lyrical content doesn’t have to mesh in that sort of sense. First we go for the musicality–something that’s melodic or rhythmic or exciting in terms of phrasing and rhyming rather than we need to have these lyrics go together or we need a concept. That comes second.

There definitely seems to be a lot of hip-hop influence in your delivery this time around. You have this growling sort of rap cadence going on in a lot of the songs. Is that something you’ve been working on a lot on this record?
Yeah that’s definitely intended. I like all my parts to rhyme, and when I write them, I think of them as sort of a rap, like if you could rap that part, it would still fit. I’m not into so much the long, drawn-out, heavy screams over the entire thing. I’m more interested in trying to make it not necessarily as complicated as possible, but as unique and interesting that I can think of. It does come across it sounding like a rap because it pretty much is. It’s just a screamed voice rapping.

The record has gotten some good responses so far. Are you happy with the reviews or do you not bother reading those?
Yeah, I read the reviews. The one thing with some reviews is that people who write reviews are English majors, or they’re into writing and they’re not musicians themselves, so they sometimes clutter up the review with colorful verbiage or whatnot instead of actually giving content or criticizing or talking about different parts of the album. For the most part, it’s been good reviews, and I’ve liked what the people have said. Every review has something that I’ll read and I won’t understand how they perceive that about the album, but to each his own. I did watch this Youtube video of someone who hated the album, and his reasoning behind it, it was so funny because it was the antithesis of what Dance Gavin Dance is. The reasons he disliked everything was because, well, you really just don’t like what our band is about, not the album itself.

Jonny just got out of detox. How is everything going with that?
It’s going really well, actually, and I’m saying this as someone who’s not necessarily positive about the situation. He’s being really honest and real about it for once. It’s actually a little surprising to me. We’ll see how it keeps going. So far so good.

South by Southwest is basically a big party. Is that something you’re worried about as far as Jonny is concerned?
He’s doing Narcotics Anonymous. He’ll drink. He’s not getting wasted or anything, but if people are expecting him to not drink, I don’t think that’s what he’s doing currently. I’m assuming after this tour he could go into an actual 30-day program, which would be nice, instead of just a seven-day detox, because that’s not going to do it, obviously. Yeah, Austin’s going to be a huge party, but we’ve got our manager, label guy, all the people who are looking out for him are going to be there. I’m not saying we’re going to babysit him like a little kid, but at the same time we kind of are.

I read the interview you did with Alternative Press, and you later apologized to your old singer Kurt Travis and Jonny on Twitter for some of the comments you made. Given what you said that you’re not always the most positive about the situation, was it difficult for you to rejoin the band and get back into that frame of mind?
First off, that interview was a phone interview, and he relayed what I said in a sort of manner that wasn’t necessarily what I was saying. He asked me why Kurt got kicked out, and there was no real reason. I listed a bunch of reasons and he [the interviewer] picked the one about cigarettes… I said that Will and Matt said that, and then Will and Matt were like, “That’s not necessarily what we said. You spoke for us.” And I was like, “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to speak for you.” Me and Kurt are good friends, so I felt like saying, “Hey man, it came across incorrectly.” It made it look like I was divulging a story that wasn’t my business.

In regards to coming back, I was skeptical. Since I left the band, I reconnected with Jonny. We were skeptical of how the album would go down. We were just thinking, hopefully we’ll get the album recorded and see what happens from there. It wasn’t really a high-risk situation for me, because I could just do the record and if something went wrong, I could just go back to what I was doing before. There wasn’t really a lot to lose.

You mentioned the interviewer misconstrued what you said. Do you think that happens a lot regarding this band?
I think to an extent, yeah, and I think there are things that I said that I might not exactly feel, but I just said them at the time. I think that happens to everyone. It’s half and half. Some things get misconstrued, but that happens. Sometimes we feel optimistic about the situation, sometimes we feel pessimistic. If we were interviewed one day, there might be different responses. I’m not saying we’re bipolar or anything, just normal changes of emotions that people have.

Dance Gavin Dance’s Downtown Battle Mountain II is available now through Rise Records. The band is also currently on a U.S. tour with I Wrestled a Bear Once, In Fear and Faith and others. The tour will bring DGD and company to Ace of Spades in Sacramento on April 8, 2011.

No Shelter Here

A Lot Like Birds, Not to Reason Why, Early States, The Dreaded Diamond, Cryptics

Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 – The Refuge – Sacramento

Words by Bobby S. Gulshan – Photo by Cait Loper

The Refuge played host to an eclectic bill of hard-hitting bands from around Northern California. The Cryptics, a three-piece from Santa Cruz, Calif., opened the evening with a set of tunes that combined bite and sweetness. Part power pop, part jagged punk rock, The Cryptics relied on pulsing, driving rhythms and machine gun staccato guitar riffs. As the audience trickled into the space that serves double-duty as a Lutheran Church, the Cryptics took the chance to warm the crowd and prepare them for the night.

The Dreaded Diamond brought an unexpected hint of soul to the evening. The two-piece brother and sister act–featuring Juli Lydell on keys and vocals and Tyler Lydell on drums–combine a heavy percussive attack with melodies that at times soar and at other times lilt with emotional fragility. Despite only featuring two people on stage, there was no lack of presence. Juli’s stage persona is magnified not only by precocious lyrical content, but also her witty engagement with the audience. Songs like “Alphonse Muca” contain enough complexity to run the gamut from indie folk to soulful pop, making you wonder what Natasha Bedingfield might sound like if she had street cred.

Early States brought an air of big stage pomp, featuring a lighting rig and stage smoke that would be appropriate on an arena tour. However, the big-time stage setup was justified by the bright energy the Sacramento three-piece brought to the audience. A faithful cadre of fans crowded the front of the stage and danced to the techno-infused pop and sang along to infectious choruses. Early States sound relates to that of Muse without the paranoia, and in fact presents an epic send-up of an emerging generation flush with optimistic possibility. Fans sang along to “Stop Calling Me Out,” the chorus of which describes defiance in the face of frustration and judgment. The band ended with “Smoke in My Eyes,” a song driven by a jangly guitar riff reminiscent of classic U2 and a perfect coda to an energetic set.

“We’ve been called ‘moody,’” said Not to Reason Why guitarist Ian Simpson. In stark contrast to Early States, Not to Reason Why, a four-piece instrumental group from Petaluma, Calif., enveloped the venue in a sinuous darkness, like objects roughhewn out of obsidian. Combining hauntingly gentle piano melodies and arpeggiated guitar lines, Not to Reason Why lulled the audience into a reflective moment, and then would lambaste them with sonic dirges that would be well suited for the soundtrack to the end of days. The final tune, “Good Afternoon,” began with the bass player picking up a guitar, and the drummer switching to bass, as the band wove a tense lullaby that eventually arrived at epic, post-metal bombast as the drummer returned to his post and stark white light enveloped the stage during a powerfully sludging finale.

A Lot Like Birds closed out the evening with their pummeling brand of hardcore. The screams were accompanied by the melodic wails of Kurt Travis, formerly of Dance Gavin Dance, and the twin vocal attack added depth to the presentation. A Lot Like Birds convulsed with tense energy, attacking with a sonic barrage. Most of the songs they played remain untitled, but what’s vital is the energy. A Lot Like Birds are technically savvy, and some of the tunes proceed with a barely controlled chaos, as if it will fall apart at any moment, only to turn on a dime and crush you with a driving breakdown. These guys can play, and they definitely left a pint of blood up on that stage. The audience was whipped into frenetic frenzy, head banging and writhing to every single break. The final tune, “My Body at War,” drove the crowd into a swirling mosh pit. The pure catharsis of A Lot Like Birds was the perfect exclamation point on an evening of wide ranging sounds.

Happily Ever After

Dance Gavin Dance Has A New Line-up, A New Record and Big Summer Plans

Dance Gavin Dance has seen more roster changes than an MLB team. It’s tough to pinpoint why the Sacramento-based post-hardcore band has had a tough time keeping members, but one thing is for certain: it never slows their tremendous momentum when someone leaves. If anything, it further fuels the fire lit within their fixated fans, who cause a ruckus on Myspace pages, Twitter updates and message boards. The band owes a lot of their success to the Internet and their young, tech-savvy fans who never hesitate to turn to their computers, iphones and Blackberrys to show their undying love (and, in many cases, hate) toward the band.

With their third full-length album (Happiness, due out June 9), a new lineup and the entire summer spent on Warped Tour to look forward to, the band seems very happy indeed with where they are. Submerge recently sat down with guitarist/co-vocalist Will Swan during a rare break from touring to chat about the new record, hitting the road and their dedicated, albeit crazy, fans.

I got a copy of Happiness to prep for this interview and I must say, it sounds a lot different than previous material.
It always does; every new record is way different than the one before.

Is that something you go for consciously?
I just want to write whatever comes out. Being the main writer, I try not to have an agenda. So every record, I feel, is just a natural progression. This is just what we were feeling at the time.

The guitars seem less distorted and sound much clearer. Can you talk about that?
We wanted to get a really clear tone so you can hear all the riffs. It’s more like a classic rock tone.

Rhythmically speaking, it seems groovier and almost dance-y at times too.
Yeah, I wrote “Don’t tell Dave”—it’s song number eight, the like, dance-funk song—while we were on tour with Senses Fail. I recorded the drums, bass and guitar. I just wanted to play it with the band [laughs] and they were down, so I taught them the song. It just kind of came together. I was really happy to be able to put it on the record. I have lots of funk influences; I like George Clinton a lot. There’s definitely a lot of funk that came through on this record.

You took over the screaming responsibilities after John Mess left the band. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
You know, at first I didn’t really like it. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable and better at screaming. On the new record, being able to write my own parts and now being able to perform those songs, it’s a lot better feeling than playing someone else’s stuff.

Would you say Happiness is your best material to date?
Yeah, well of course, I always like new stuff [laughs]. I do hardcore comparisons between records. I feel like this one is the most cohesive vocally. Me and Kurt [Travis, lead vocals] worked together to try and come up with actual themes. We worked more together as one.

There’s one part on the record that really stood out. Who is that rapping halfway through the song, “Powder to the People?”
That’s me.

No way! It doesn’t sound like you at all. How did that idea come about?
Everyone keeps telling me that; I had to lay something over that song and I didn’t really know what yet. I got to the studio and our producer calls me and says, “I’m not going to be there for half an hour.” So I just sat there and listened to the song and thought, “What can I even do here? Rap might work!” So I just wrote the rap right there and when our producer got there I laid it down and he liked it. That song was already so weird I thought it would be cool to do something off the wall.

Another track I’ve been curious about is, “I’m Down with Brown Town.” What does that song title mean?
It’s got a couple meanings. It’s a heroin reference; it’s also an anal sex reference, it just kind of came about. While Kurt is singing, “I’m down with Brown Town“ [on “Nasa,” the track leading up to “I’m Down with Brown Town”], I’m screaming, “it’s only seconds away,” then the next song starts.

So you’re foreshadowing the next song?
Yeah, exactly. But kids online have no idea; they are all confused. Then “I’m Down with Brown Town,” the actual song, has another heroin reference; it’s like the heroin section of the CD. None of us have had a heroin problem, but we know people who have. Those songs kind of tie together both musically and lyrically.

You guys will be shooting a new video soon. What song will that be for and can you hint at the treatment?
Yeah, up in Portland. It’s for the song “Tree Village.” We’re doing all our stuff in one day, then there will be other shoots for the story while we’re not there. So we’re going to go up there and do what we got to do. The treatment for the video, I’m going to keep that under wraps. It’s a weird, kind of abstract treatment. It’s more visual; you’d have to experience it. Anything I said about it would just be like, “what the fuck?”

You’re doing a couple weeks with The Audition and Closure in Moscow leading up to Warped Tour. Are you looking forward to the summer?
Yeah, for sure. I cannot wait to go on Warped Tour. We’ve never done Warped. We played it once in Sacramento, on the Ernie Ball stage. It was fun; we had a good crowd. If we have a crowd like that every day, it would be great.
Your lineup has changed again recently. Are you confident it’s solid now?
Yeah, I think so. I always feel pretty solid about it, though. [laughs]

After perusing your Myspace comments, message boards, etc., I’ve come to the conclusion that you guys have some crazy fans. Why do you think so many people love to hate you guys?

[Laughs] The Internet is just a place for people to complain. They don’t even understand. I try not to pay attention to anything anyone says anymore. Our fans are so crazy. I cut my hair, because it’s getting hot you know? And I’ve been getting a ton of shit for it. Kids are like, “Why did you cut your hair?”

Yeah, you had quite the afro going on. So they’re missing it?
Yeah, they totally are!

Love It, Or Hate It!

Natalie Gordon of Agent Ribbons

Natalie Gordon of Agent Ribbons

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I love Valentine’s Day because my grandparents send me funny little cards with cartoons on them, and there’s always five bucks inside! I’m glad that some things never change.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I would say that I’m motivated across the board by love. However, I enjoy writing songs from the perspective of the sad or vengeful lover since it’s easier to be funny or creative with that kind of premise. Most of my songs are dark and kind of twisted, and I find that more entertaining than writing about how in love I am!

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
In high school, I had a boyfriend that made me a silver Green Lantern ring for V-Day. Also, when I was in elementary school, my dad dropped off a bouquet of roses for the school secretary—Ms. Johnson—to deliver to my classroom. She had to interrupt our lesson in order to put it on my desk, and everyone teased me long after. They said that Ms. Johnson and I were in love.

Bryan Nichols of Zuhg

Bryan Nichols of Zuhg

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
Love it, it’s pretty much a for sure night that you’ll get laid. Or at least eat a bomb dinner somewhere and get drunk!

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
For me it’s hard to write a bunch of love songs about the same girl. So, I think it’s easier to write hate-type songs. I try hard to not write songs about girls, though”¦ Everyone does that. The new album only has about three out of 12 songs about the ladies on it.

Kurt Travis of Dance Gavin Dance

Kurt Travis of Dance Gavin Dance

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I hate it, because it is a holiday that was made up for corporate BS, to make money. Capitalism sucks.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Neither, there are way more things in the whole wide world that have way more substance and meaning then love or hate, like trees, flowers, oil and war. And outer space. And war in outer space. Galactic War.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Box of chocolates, blah blah blah. Who cares?

MahtieBush

MahtieBush

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I guess I like it, wouldn’t say I love it though. I like it ’cause it’s just a cool day to kick it with your girl and any problems or whatever you go through, you forget about them that day and your focus is on the one you’re with.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Definitely hate. Without hate all you would have is people just happy with the way things are, and that’s not me. I’m not happy with the way some things are, and I’d rather fight for what I believe in.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
This one time, at band camp”¦

Nate Welch of Bidwell

Nate Welch of Bidwell

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I wouldn’t say that I love it, but I definitely don’t hate it. It’s just a good excuse to throw a tie on and act like a baller. Well that is if you have a date of course.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I’m not a big fan of hate, so I would have to say love. But I probably have written a few songs while I was pissed off so you can call it what you want. Love makes everything better and music is no exception.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
A few years back neither my friend nor myself had a date for V-Day so we thought we would just hang out. I had the bright idea to go to drive-in movies with him on the most romantic night of the year. So there we where surrounded by a bunch of cars full of guys and girls all trying to get some action. It wasn’t till our windows were fogged up that we realized maybe two straight dudes in a steamy car wasn’t the best way to pick up on chicks that night. Pretty embarrassing. I think we turned a few heads.

Mackenzie Knoester of Aroarah

Mackenzie Knoester of Aroarah

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
We all agree [the whole band] that it depends: If we are dating it is a great night out, lots of fun. If we are committed, V-Day can be a nice reminder of how much you love your honey or a sick reminder of how corporate America has made love a commodity. If you’re single, usually it is depressing!

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Everything outside the norm! Love can really get some rocking tunes out of us where as depression, hate and fear push for a more relatable song for a fan. More people notice the bad emotions over the good, creating a want to hear that you are not the only one feeling a specific emotion or being in an irregular situation.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
My senior year, I asked a guy to homecoming and he said yes just to say no two days before the dance. Well, after high school, he and I got together and three years later for V-Day he decorated our garage like our senior homecoming and took me to the dance! We’ve been together for six and a half years now.

Ricky Berger

Ricky Berger

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I love any excuse to appreciate people I adore, eat too much sugar and wear red. Those candy hearts with the writing on them are so tasty, especially the purple and white ones! And flowers, you get flowers! I might add, though, that every day should be treated like a truly special occasion and that love should be expressed consistently, not just when Hallmark, See’s Candy and jewelry stores unite to tell us we should.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Well, I think that hate is maybe just another form of love. Perhaps the truest opposite of love is apathy since one has to actually care about someone else to hate him or her. The human experience in general motivates me to write me music, every loving moment of it.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Well oddly enough, the only time I’ve ever had a special someone on Valentine’s Day, we parted ways. My valentines have always been the many loves of my life: My family and circle of friends.

Thaddeus Stoenner of Them Hills

Thaddeus Stoenner of Them Hills

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
While I definitely don’t have any strong love for the holiday, I do appreciate the irony of it. The fact that a pagan festival celebrating fertility has slowly morphed into one of the most consumer oriented and materialistic holidays under the guise of proving one’s “love” is endlessly hilarious to me. Luckily all the girlfriends I’ve had have been cool enough not to give a damn about chocolates or teddy bears.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I’m probably guilty of writing a couple hate-based songs back when I played metal. These days I find love to be much more of an inspiration lyrically. I can’t write love songs about boys and girls, but I write about loving dirt and furry creatures and the like. I am also fascinated with the many ways love can manifest, how it can be used to hurt as well as heal, and how something as beautiful as love can be twisted to make people do terrible, horrific things.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
We had an anti-Valentine’s Day party once. It resulted in several fistfights, random hook-ups, naked dancing to Beyonce, and eventually one of our friends being tied to a chair.
I thought it was funny.

Autumn Sky

Autumn Sky

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
Love it! But not for the reasons everyone else does, I guess. I think it should be about all sorts of love, so that’s how I look at it. Family, friends, romantic, or even the love we should extend to strangers.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Most of my songs definitely center on the love of something, whether it’s a person, a thing or just life in general. I’m definitely not a person who can relate to the feeling of hatred. Love is just something I’m more in touch with, and it’s something I’m much more inclined to share.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
I used to not celebrate it in high school, because I had such hard feelings about the day. I had not had much luck in the guy department up to that point. It was very Meg Ryan of me. I used to just sit in bed with a bag of Pirate’s Booty, watching old movies instead.

John Borba of Alpha Children

John Borba of Alpha Children

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I would say it’s a love/hate relationship. I love the guarantee of sex. Hate the spending of money to get it. You know, to me it seems like Valentine’s Day promotes prostitution, because it’s the one day a year I have to pay for sex! Except a prostitute is usually willing to do more for the money.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I think it’s a combination of the two. We write about a lot of things like injustice, or knowing the difference between right and wrong and defending what is right. I hate this cynical, shamelessly introverted and selfish mindset a lot of the world has adopted. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, a lot of the world spends so much time thinking about what it could get away with, that it doesn’t stop to think if it should. I think preserving the concept of love, and loving others is something that more of us should be writing about rather than girls, or breakups or”¦ trivial shit.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Well, one year I was without a lady on the V-Day, so I got together some of my buddies to go out and have a few beers and maybe pick up a girl in search of some Valentine’s Day lovin’. We go out and have a few drinks and miraculously meet some cool girls and they invite my friend and I back to their place. The drinking continues and suddenly I notice it’s 11:45, so I grab the girl whose attention I’ve been carrying the whole night and playfully whisper in her ear, “Valentine’s Day is almost over, and we’ve got something to take care of!” She makes a huge smile and drags me into her bedroom. Noticing us leaving, my friend and his love interest for the night head off into another room. So I will leave the gratuitous sex scene out”¦ because there was none. She had intended to get into her bathtub and told me to wait 10 minutes and join her. So I waited 10 minutes and entered the bathroom. She was asleep in the tub. So I had to drag her amazing, glistening body out of the tub so she wouldn’t drown. Towel off her naked body, and put her into bed. Then go sleep on the couch. I got nothing for V-Day but blue balls, but the best part was my friend got crabs.

Jennifer Valdez of March Into Paris

Jennifer Valdez
of March Into Paris

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I love Valentine’s Day because I’m the type of girl that loves to spoil the person I care most about in this world. Plus it’s another reason to go to Victoria’s Secret!

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Mostly hate motivates me more when it comes to writing music. It’s a way for me to get any frustrations or bad memories out of my system and the resolution becomes the song itself.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Well it didn’t happen on V-Day, but it is a funny story that has to do with love. In the beginning of our relationship, my boyfriend wanted to make the first time we had sex very special. He planned this romantic night and made me wait in the other room while he set up the bedroom. He had rose petals all over his bed, great contrast to the white comforter of course. This was the first time for both of us having sex on a bed with rose petals, well there were hot candles all around and it was some hot sex. The petals sort of melted. Don’t ask me how! But when we were done we got up and his white comforter and sheets had pink and red all over it and the petals were not so pretty anymore.

Danny Cocke of Owltrain

Danny Cocke of Owltrain

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
It really takes a lot to inflict such powerful emotions like love and hate for me”¦a lot more than a holiday. But really, hate is a useless emotion anyways, so I try and let go of it as quickly as possible.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I believe music tells a story, and it transforms experience. Love and hate usually play a role in all our lives, so it will always be reflected in music. I don’t usually find much inspiration in hate and I’d rather ponder on the beautiful things of life.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
One time I dressed as a giant heart and walked up and down the mall yelling for people to, “Mind the ways of the olden days,” and, “Don’t take your time and life for granted,” and. “Eat fiber,” and, “Squirrels have feelings too.” I guess everyone found all of this extremely offensive, especially on such a sacred and beloved holiday such as Valentine’s Day. The great Richard Valentine himself was stirring in his grave while I was taken out of the mall in handcuffs. And all I really wanted was a date for the night.

Big Chuck of Whiskey Rebels

Big Chuck of Whiskey Rebels

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I don’t really care about it; I’ve barely ever paid attention to it. At this point I think it’s just a way for Hallmark and florists to make bank. And chicks dig it. I don’t hate it; it’s just corny!

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Well, they say there’s a thin line between love and hate, and my songs celebrate both with equal enthusiasm. Things I love, things I hate and things I love to hate. Each day is a celebration of life and love it or hate it, you have live it on your own terms. You’ve got to make that hate work for you!

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
I truly have no noteworthy stories! It was cool back in the day though, getting like Smurf and Pac-Man Valentines and eating candy. Good times!

Brooke Sobol of Blame Betty

Brooke Sobol of Blame Betty

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
Three cheers for Valentine’s Day! How else would we know when to be romantic? Or when to buy flowers or candy? How else would we know when to put on a red dress and go out to dinner? Or when to have sex? Thank God for Valentine’s Day!

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
There’s definitely more hate than love in my songs. It’s easy to get all fired up by the bad stuff. Anger! Yeah! And I guess love is just kind of private to me.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Years ago, I decided I’d give my boyfriend at the time some photos of me posing in lingerie. I blew up red balloons and taped them to a wall in the shape of a heart. My sister came over and took the pictures with me standing against the wall, inside the heart. Well, they came out really ridiculous! I had bad hair and couldn’t pose provocatively for the life of me. Plus, that was back in the days before digital cameras—when you had to get your film developed. Yikes!
Shawn Peter of A Single Second

Shawn Peter of A Single Second

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I love it because it’s all about the love, hate it because I have to be all love-y and stuff and spend a lot of money on flowers, dinner, etc. when I’m always broke. And the corporate BS of Valentine’s Day? Really?

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Love, because music is life. Really without it, what else is there? It’s true expression of what’s inside and no matter what language you sing, speak, yell, scream”¦ you know where the band or artist is coming from.

Zack Gray of Early States

Zack Gray of Early States

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I’m not a hater, but I think I lean more towards disliking V-Day. I’m really not a fan of the whole, “card giving” thing. I have received so many cards from people in the past, but I have never been one to return the favor. You can take your girl out any other time of the year. It’s just another holiday that I feel obligated to spend money I don’t have. This V-Day I am playing a show! But don’t get me wrong; I will be spending some time with my girl on the 14th.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Definitely love. Although a lot of my songs are about the harder and more complicated parts of love. I’m more motivated to write when I’m going through a difficult situation regarding love, rather than when I’m extremely happy.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Love, because music is life. Really without it, what else is there? It’s true expression of what’s inside and no matter what language you sing, speak, yell, scream”¦ you know where the band or artist is coming from.

A.V. of State Cap

A.V. of State Cap

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
Hate it when I’m single, hate it even more when I have someone to take out because I’m probably going to be spending hella money to make sure I have a date for next Valentine’s Day just to spend more money. “What you won’t do, do for love”¦”

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
An artist’s best work is made when they’re depressed about love, more specifically about not having love. So love and hate pretty much go hand-in-hand when it comes to inspiration.
Do you have a funny V-Day story? Back in elementary school this girl that I was hella diggin’ gave me a Barbie Valentine card with a tip on how to do your own French manicure at home. I was so confused.

Bigsammy

Bigsammy

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
I love it. It’s the one day of the year when single ladies are going to want to have more fun due to having no boyfriends. Your chances of sexy time are increased on Valentine’s Day.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Hate, hate, hate. When you got that anger brewing inside of you and you start a song, you’re going to want to spit murder at someone or at something and words seem to fall and go together in a form that I like, so hate on.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
No, but if you want to make a funny story with me, ladies, you can hit me on our Myspace, and we can make some magic. Or not.

Chelsea Wolfe

Chelsea Wolfe

Valentine’s Day: Love it or hate it?
Valentine’s Day is one of the many holidays I feel really neutral about, along with Independence Day, Halloween (though at least that’s another excuse to wear a costume) and New Year’s Eve. I don’t think I’m above it, like those people who brag about not owning a TV; I just have never had a valentine on Valentine’s Day so I’ve never known the joys of it.
Valentine’s Day is an aisle of cheap candies and stuffed animals in shades of red at Longs that I walk through on my way to buy a bottle of shampoo. This year I’m playing a Valentine’s show at Vox Gallery in West Sac, it’s a benefit for a local art group—yeah! That’s what love is really about.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Love! I may be moody, but I don’t write songs about hate.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
Ah I wish! Someone promised me a Valentine surprise this year though so maybe.

Intalect1 of Soulifted

Intalect1 of Soulifted

Valentines Day: Love it or hate it?
I never really thought about it before. I guess I don’t really love it or hate it. It seems to me like it’s just another one of those Hallmark holidays to get you to buy candy and cards for your loved ones. But hey—at least it’s about love.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
Both of them, love and hate, each one has its positives and negatives and both of them have motivated me to write music. I would say I have written more songs about love, but they aren’t necessarily love songs. Some of my songs are about spreading more love to one another while others are about love gone wrong, which could turn into hate.

Cole Cuchna of The New Humans

Cole Cuchna of The New Humans

Valentines Day: Love it or hate it?
I’ve never felt an attachment to Valentine’s Day. I don’t think I’ve ever had a girlfriend that was too into it either. I just proposed to my girlfriend, so I’m not sure if I need to do something extra special this year or if the proposal covers the next couple holidays. I’m hoping for the latter.

What motivates you more to write music: love or hate?
I couldn’t really say love or hate fuels my writing. Obviously I love music, but I’ve never felt that romantic “inspiration” everyone associates with musicians. I don’t fall in love and go running to the piano. I need a neutral mind to compose properly.

Do you have a funny V-Day story?
When I was 18 or 19 I dressed up in a suit and brought flowers to my girlfriend while she was at work. I wasn’t trying to be funny at the time, but I guess it’s kind of funny now looking back.

Dance Gavin Dance

No More Drama in the DGD

Dance Gavin Dance’s mélange of screamo and R&B has earned the group quite a following both here in their hometown of Sacramento and beyond. Though its members’ mean age is around 20, the group has already traversed the country six or seven times, most recently in support of Poison the Well. With just a few California dates to come (including Bamboozle Left in Irvine and four dates as part of the Artery Foundation tour that will bring Dance Gavin Dance to the Boardwalk on Apr. 19), the band is now ready to re-enter the studio with a new singer, Kurt Travis, in tow. Submerge sat down with Jon Mess (co-vocals), Zachary Garren (guitar) and Eric Lodge (bass) outside Sargent’s House of Coffee on Alhambra Blvd. and discussed the forthcoming album and the rift that caused Dance Gavin Dance and original singer Johnny Craig to part ways.

You’re going to be heading into the studio soon, right?
Jon Mess: Yeah, Apr. 20 [2008].
[Eric Lodge and Zachary Garren both laugh.]

4/20, huh?
All: [Laughter]
EL: That first day won’t be too productive.

Do you have a bunch of songs done already?
ZG: We have nine so far. We’re going to finish up the ninth one today.

How has the writing gone for the new album now that you have a new vocalist?
EL: We kind of write without our vocalists in mind. We like to incorporate parts for our vocalists, but like, it’s just the people in the band who play the instruments who do the writing, so it’s not really affected by the vocals or anything. So far it’s been going really good. We’ve been progressing pretty steadily. We’re really stoked on the new stuff.

How would you say you’re progressing? Which direction do you see the songwriting heading?
ZG: It’s more groovy.
EL: Each song is tackling a different genre or sub-genre, I guess you would say. But yeah, it’s definitely more groovy, more energetic.
JM: There’s a lot of different types of sounds.
EL: But it still sounds like it’s us. It still sounds like you’re listening to Dance Gavin Dance.

Jon, you’re one of the vocalists. Lyrically, how is the writing going for you? Have you written a lot of the lyrics yet?
JM: Yeah, I’ve got about five songs done. It’s cool. I don’t know how it’s going to end up, but I think it’s going to be a lot better than how I collaborated with our old singer. It’s a lot more coordinated, a lot more thought out. Vocally, I think it’s a little more together.

With Jonny leaving the band, it didn’t seem like a very neat breakup.
JM: There was definitely some drama there, yeah.

Why did you guys part ways?
JM: We just couldn’t get along with him at all. No one in the band liked being around him.
ZG: No one outside of the band even liked him.
EL: Ever since we started the band, we knew that we didn’t get along. We tried so hard–literally, so damn hard–for two and a half years. It just got to the point that the band was going to be done if we didn’t do something about it.
JM: It was affecting everyone to the point where no one wanted to be in the band at all, because of the way he was bringing everything down.
ZG: The way he was acting, his attitude…

I’ve heard the tracks that you guys recorded when Jonny was the vocalist. It’s a really aggressive sound. Did that animosity sort of fuel the fire at all?
EL: I think it more just motivated us. Like, we’ve got to write the best record that we can and show everyone what’s up. The aggression–I don’t know where that comes from.

Kurt’s the new vocalist, but was there ever an inclination to just continue with Jon as the sole vocalist–especially after your last experience?

JM: It was an idea, but that would be very much changing… Well, you’d have to change the music. It would just really change the whole band in a way. It would be hard to keep growing in terms of popularity and touring and whatnot. Because then we wouldn’t be able to play our old songs. I don’t sing like him at all. We needed someone who’d be able to sing the old songs. I can’t sing the old songs, and none of us could, so we just threw that idea out the window and didn’t discuss it any further. And I don’t know if any of us wanted to be in a band that was all heavy screaming and whatnot.

Before you were mentioning that the stuff you’ve been writing has been really groovy, and that’s the one thing that jumped out at me listening to the songs with Johnny’s vocals had a really R&B vibe to it. Is that something you’re trying to amplify more with the newer stuff?
ZG: I think that’s just Will [Swan, guitar]. He’s black. He said he’s been channeling his black side.
JM: There is a song that doesn’t have a name, and it’s called “R&B Song.”
EL: We have another new song that’s going to have a big dance crescendo.
ZG: I think we all sort of like that stuff anyway.

webdgd2_hr.jpg
How long did you search for a new vocalist?
ZG: About a month I think.
EL: We knew about Kurt [Travis, formerly of Five Minute Ride], obviously. The day after it happened, we saw Kurt as an option. Our manager, Kurt is like his baby boy. Our manager said, “You know there’s Kurt.” We tried a couple people out, but none of them could come close to what Kurt could do, so it was a pretty simple decision.

Given the tumultuous history with your last singer, was Kurt someone you’d considered replacing Jonny with before?
ZG: I do remember once we’d discussed it.
JM: It was considered. We got to the point where we decided that it was better to do it now than have it happen on the road. But honestly, we didn’t kick him out. He quit, and then he wanted to come back; and that happened a lot. He would quit and then the next day he would say he was just kidding or something. This time, he did a series of events that were a big deal, and he quit, and we just said, “Fine, man. See you later.” A lot of people are saying, “You guys are so stupid. You kicked out your singer.” Well, he left the band, and we just said, “OK.” We didn’t argue. Maybe it was just a mutual thing. Then he wanted to come back. I don’t know. He was a little out of his mind.

You’re heading into the studio in April. Do you have a release date set for the album yet?
EL: It’ll be out Aug. 19 [2008].

Do you have a title for the album yet?
ZG: It’s sort of up in the air.
JM: I sort of wanted to have an end of the world type theme.

Does that fit with the lyrics you’ve been writing?
JM: I don’t know…
EL: We were going to have four-part songs about these paintings Jon had done [laughs].
JM: We have a bunch of ideas. We don’t know which ideas will come into fruition or whatever.
EL: It could be anything–continuing part threes and part fours maybe from our EP. Kind of like movies: sequel!

A sort of concept album?
EL: Yeah, but not a full concept album. Like some parts will be a concept, but it’s kind of random. We’re still working out the details.
JM: Or maybe it’s just a huge hype gimmick. There’s going to be a new CD, you like the first two, so maybe you’ll like the third part.

Also check out our interview with Will Swan from Dance Gavin Dance (June, 2009)

Also check out our interview with Jonny Craig (Dec, 2009)

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