Envy on the Coast - 05.13.10

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Envy on the Coast - 05.13.10Envy on the Coast surprised many of us with the release of LOWCOUNTRY this year. It's an album that shows the band stepping outside of any norm or preconceived notion and branching for something just a little bit special. As vocalist Ryan Hunter - who moved behind the drum kit for the record - talked about the recording process of the album at the Photo Finish South by Southwest showcase this year, it seemed the new direction was a retreat back to simpler times. In essence, sometimes you have to go back to move forward. After SXSW, I caught up with Hunter over the phone to talk about the praise of the new album and what exactly he meant by stepping away from songwriting and coming back when it felt right.

I want to expand a little bit on what we talked about at South by Southwest. LOWCOUNTRY certainly sounds a bit different from our expectations of Envy on the Coast. You had said something about going in with a different mindset, a different attitude in recording. You also said that if something didn't click that you guys would walk away for a few hours and come back. Can you kind of go into that writing process?

Starting with writing, every aspect was different this time around. Mental attitudes. The group that was writing. The four of us. Every single aspect of it was different. When we wrote, we chose to write it at home as opposed to picking a location and writing it somewhere. While I thought that [writing Lucy Gray] was a great experience, in speaking to a few mentors and friends of mine, I think that one place we went wrong [pause] a lot of people go away somewhere or lock themselves up somewhere and don't want a lot of distraction. I think the problem with that for us was the whole goal was to get back to writing music where it was completely second nature. Something that just comes out of you and will let the pen write its own stuff. In order to do that, I think the first huge decision that we made was to live at home and write the record somewhere near our home. So we borrowed a friend's practice space fifteen minutes from our home. I think when you started playing music as a kid, it was an escape. It was something that you did whenever you had free time. When I was fourteen or fifteen, I was coming home from school, I would rush to my bus, come home and plug in my guitar or sit behind my kit for a while. I would just bounce from instrument to instrument. That's all I wanted to do. That's all I thought about all day. We wanted that stress around us at home of paying our bills and stuff. We didn't want that secluded type thing. We wanted to escape again. That was the first huge thing about the record. Then when we sat down to write, everything was open. It's really hard to explain because I actually hope I can get back to that place when we write something again. It's difficult to explain something like that. Parting ways with our drummer was a really liberating experience for us. He's an unbelievably talented musician, but the way he did things for us was different from the natural way for us to do things. I think it put us into a place [where we could go into] a room and have fun. On a day when it wasn't fun or second nature, we would just stop. There was a pond, forest, wooded area away from the practice space. The unwritten rule was we would go hop in the van and drive down there for an hour and hang out and then come back and jam again and give it a shot. Sometimes we would come back to the space and put on records and just hang out and talk. Sometimes we would just go home and give it a shot the next day. That's the way I want to write music. The way I want it to be written. It shouldn't be someone knocking on your door asking for fifteen songs by a specific date. That's the reality of being in a signed band. You kind of have to create the illusion that it's not that since it's counterproductive and goes against what music is about. There's not supposed to be deadlines about creating things. It's supposed to happen naturally by making music the same way we did when we were fifteen years old.

I find it interesting that you say you wanted to get back to the mindset. Why do you think you lost that feeling with the last record?

I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that we hit the road for the first time when we were seventeen I believe. Back in 2006. It was a totally new thing for us. We had never been out on the road and experienced touring before. We had seen a lot of what was out there and what we were competing with and what we were associated with and what we were lumped in with. When we went in to write a record, everyone wanted to show that they were proficient musicians and lyrical people. I know that for me, every song was very thought out. I don't know where it came from. Maybe it came from subconscious pressures of being a signed band. I don't know. No one ever called and said, "Alright, it's time to write a record." The minute that they did, we were like, "We don't know how to do that. We've just been writing songs." Someone knocked on our door and put us on the road. Someone knocked on our door again and said to write [them] twelve to fifteen songs. We didn't know how to do it. Everything prior to that just kind of happened. There wasn't much thought behind it. It was just music. I think we all froze up for a minute. We started getting in our own heads for a minute. We started attacking every song like you need to get ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag. Then you realize that it was so counter intuitive. It was so not us. We listen to a lot of stuff. We didn't grow up on mathy stuff. We didn't grow up on confrontational music. Even for the type of mood we got into for writing [Lucy Grey], I don't think it's healthy for any other band, no matter how mathematical they are, to go about it the way we did. We were just kids. We still are kids, but we just wanted to go back to something natural. It really comes down to a simplistic thing of having a good time and creating. Lyrically for me, I just sort of let it hit the page and there was no conscious thought of what I wanted to say on this record. Maybe that'll change this next time around. I find myself now putting things in my notebook, saying what I want to say, but I don't slave over it like I once did. I just let it happen.

So you're saying the point of LOWCOUNTRY was less self approval?

There's always going to be critiquing. I don't mean to say that we just went in and jammed out those songs, it was just more organic. It's much more like I would lay a groove down over something someone was playing and that was it. It was cool, so we went with it. After that, we'd move on to the next thing. Basically, I would take all the demos, and since I was playing drums on things, I wasn't thinking of lyrics or music or how it was composed, I was forced to kind of hear the music as it was coming along and wait to get into the lyrical and vocal mode. We'd never done that either. That seems to be much more our thing. That was another huge change that we made. I felt like we were working backwards prior to making this record. I've never been a Beatles fan or a singer-songwriter type guy. I've never been the type to sit down with an acoustic guitar and write a song. The first thing that registers with me is rhythm and percussion and bass. That's the first thing that pulls me in when I hear music. For example, on this last tour, our sound guy was playing Earth, Wind and Fire every day when we were loading in. Every day I would hear those [beats]. Every day I would be like, "What is he playing out there that has these unbelievable grooves!" That's what always pulls me in when I'm writing. This time around, we started with the rhythm of things. We started with the groove of things...I needed that there. In the past, I wasn't able to get that involved with the rhythmic structure of things, because I wasn't allowed to get behind the kit. With Lucy Grey, when someone told me to write a record, I had four dudes looking at me going, "Um, I guess you got to write something." I guess I do? I didn't want to step [on my band members'] toes. I sat down with an acoustic guitar and wrote a bunch of songs. I'd bring them to the studio and we'd work backwards trying to establish rhythms and establish parts to the skeleton of this song. Again, it was counter intuitive. I'm not meant to do this type of thing, bringing in skeletons that way. It's more natural for me to come in with a drum groove and have [one of the other guys] lay something over it. That's much more natural for me. Having me sit behind the kit, and wanting that, it was much more comfortable. I was able to do a job that was much more obtainable early on in the game. Standing in front of a microphone, there's only so much I can do verbally. There's only so much I can lend.

LOWCOUNTRY certainly takes a direction that's a bit more contemporary. Certain critics have compared the band's sound to that of Incubus on this album. Having more of a full sound. These songs seem a bit more thought out before, even though you speak of this natural build. What do you think of the comparisons LOWCOUNTRY has gotten so far?

It's always nice to hear that critics are digging the record. We don't read reviews really. Personally, I try to stay away from them as far as possible. I feel like the good stuff can be as damaging to your ego as the bad stuff. I stay away from all of it. Unfortunately we had a few people out on the road with us for the last tour that when the record came out who were glued to their iPhones just spewing that shit in the van...I heard a few things. I think the Incubus comparison has always followed us. They said it about the EP a long time ago. I personally don't hear it because I haven't listened to that band in six years. I think unfortunately, and this is coming from a vocalist, a lot of people focus on the vocals when they're comparing things. I think that's a sad thing. Even producers will tell you that's the first thing that everyone will hear, the first thing everyone will listen to. Tonally, I think I've just always sound like [Brandon Boyd]. Tonally, I think he's always sound like Daryl [Palumbo}. Tonally, I think both of those guys took from Mike Patton. I think they are all in the same circle. There are Faith No More songs I've played in my car where people [thought it was Incubus]. I think you can't help your genes. I think we could put out the most leftist sounding record tomorrow, and as long as I'm singing on it, we'll get that comparison. People are always going to pull the Glassjaw card out and the Incubus card out. But hey, they're talented bands, so I'm okay with that. As long as they don't say we're riding them, I'm okay with that. No one has said that. They always say [we] are more aggressive or a "darker Incubus." That's cool. I don't write about the sun and clouds or anything like that, so I'm glad they recognized that.

Again, I want to touch back on the album sounding a lot more full than what you've done in the past.

I would have to give any comment that says that [this album] sounds full or big or anything, I'd have to give that credit to [producer] Sean Beavan. Sean is absolutely brilliant. I think he's amazing. I thought his work was amazing before he did our record. He's an unbelievable inspiration before. during and after this record was made. It's really difficult to talk to producers or anybody who's in the position that's going to take something that you've created, and is now in charge of delivering it or interpreting it in what you're saying or you're going for. Being at the helm of the ultimate product. It's really hard to put your trust in someone like that. I've found with directors, producers or anyone in that position that you can have hours and hours of conversation with them and you can feel like you've come from the same bloodline and can create the most amazing thing together, and at the end of the day, you never really know until you get to the end result. There's so many things that come between those conversations and the ending product. I have to say, from day one, Sean gave us a call...he had heard four or five tracks [being that we were in the middle of writing the record] and said, "I feel like when I listen to this stuff, well, I spent a lot of time in Louisiana, and I'm getting this gospel band from hell vibe. You guys have this extremely heavy rhythm section, but then you guys have this organ tone going through your demos. You have these lyrics that sound like there's a preacher on a pulpit type thing. I just really love everything that I'm hearing. It's just really different from what I expected when I heard that you guys wanted to work with me." When he said all those things....[knowing] we wanted the rhythm section to be the focal point of the record...that it was the most important thing to get the gnarliest bass and drum tones out there, he got it. But still, as much as he said he got it, we were all stoked, but I knew in the back of my mind, from past experiences, not to get my hopes too high. Then we got in there every day and it was not only a musical learning experience. I mean he toured with Nine Inch Nails for ten years. He was one of the top three sound guys in the world when he was touring. He has seen things, done things and experience things that I can't even fathom. I'm the type of person when I meet someone like that, I just ask questions and soak it all in. That record being full, it's Sean. He's the man.

Through this entire experience, do you feel like you are not only more comfortable as a songwriter, but as an artist, being able to pick up any instrument. I think the idea through this was trying to prove yourself and going back to saying "Fuck it. Let's just write like we were young again." Is that the kind of advice you can give to up and coming bands?

Absolutely. That's a lot to summarize and squash into one interview question, but that's the best advice I can give. I'm a lucky kid. I'm very fortunate. I've had that lesson instilled in me time and time again over the last five years. You kind of have to see a little bit of the dark side of the path and positions that bands take and steer into the right direction of what it is all about. I'm fortunate enough to have good mentors and really talented people I've looked up to my whole life and have researched how they have created and why they have created these great things. What they did after they created these things. People like Mike Patton and Trent Reznor and band's we've toured with like Circa Survive and Glassjaw, those are all bands that I feel like if the industry would disappear tomorrow, those are the guys that would be making music for art's sake. It's what they do. They've never followed any sort of bullshit path. They've always done what it takes to make art on their terms. It was great to do [this album], because it was what we wanted to do all the time. It should be fun. It should be amazing. If it is not, then stop and do something else, because that's what art is about. It should be a liberating experience. It shouldn't be stressful. It can be stressful, because things come in the way. It shouldn't be in the way things are created. I'm really happy. I'm really happy with this record. That's hard to say, because I'm really critical with our music. I'm really critical with everything I put my name on. To make songs that you're proud of, and that you're connected to, that's awesome.
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 25
02:17 PM on 05/13/10
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great interview, i really enjoyed his answers
02:29 PM on 05/13/10
I'll buy you a raincoat
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Yellowcard2006's Avatar
That was really thorough.
02:41 PM on 05/13/10
Cody Nelson
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I might need to check out this album now. Have yet to listen to it.
03:12 PM on 05/13/10
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Amazing interview. The "Gospel band from hell" analogy is perfect. From the first time I played the record all the way through, I couldn't stop soaking in the Southern groove that permeates through each song, and it really feels like Jer's basslines and Ryan's beats are driving the whole thing. Can't stop listening to "Like I Do" in my headphones, such great music these dudes came up with and I hope they make their way down here soon.
03:51 PM on 05/13/10
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I absolutely love Envy On The Coast and I really enjoyed reading this interview. They're a great band and they all seem like genuine guys. I saw them recently at Toad's Place and it was just completely amazing. I'd see them again and again.
04:47 PM on 05/13/10
Xx sorrow xX
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a good read
04:49 PM on 05/13/10
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Ryan Hunter is my hero!
05:06 PM on 05/13/10
Soft sound
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11:11's Avatar
Best interview I've read on here.
06:14 PM on 05/13/10
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Wow, my respect for EOTC has increased. Really genuine and detailed answers to all of the questions
06:53 PM on 05/13/10
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Amazing interview. The "Gospel band from hell" analogy is perfect. From the first time I played the record all the way through, I couldn't stop soaking in the Southern groove that permeates through each song, and it really feels like Jer's basslines and Ryan's beats are driving the whole thing. Can't stop listening to "Like I Do" in my headphones, such great music these dudes came up with and I hope they make their way down here soon.
Everything about this band just amazes me. Like you mentioned, they've got an amazing sense for the rhythm parts of songs and never neglect the bassline. Also, their guitar parts are great; there's always something intricate/technical going on in when it comes to those parts.

Plus Ryan, Sal, and Brian are all great singers (so we never have to worry about shitty backing vox at live shows).

This band is sick.

Edit: Shit after reading this whole interview, I've got to hand it to Ryan for being extremely articulate and well spoken. Sounds like a smart guy.
07:25 PM on 05/13/10
ohh lee
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I might need to check out this album now. Have yet to listen to it.

you really should check it out. AOTY so far for me.

this interview is great, such a great, genuine band.
07:40 PM on 05/13/10
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such a talented dude/band!! ooweeee
08:17 PM on 05/13/10
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Best interview I've read on here.
you must have missed the Mark Hoppus interview.
08:58 PM on 05/13/10
Cody Nelson
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you really should check it out. AOTY so far for me.

this interview is great, such a great, genuine band.
Choice cuts?

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