How’s the tour going?
Great! We've been out all summer opening for a co-headline bill of Greg Laswell and Cary Brothers. We also act as their band, so we're on stage for 3 hours a night. Technically speaking, we could be the hardest working band in show business. Don't quote me on that though, I gotta take a look at the numbers.
Is this your first time out west since releasing the new album? Do you have any expectations? Fears?
YES! We are jubilant. It's nice to finally deliver on a promise to fans that they will now be able to take the songs home with them. I think I expect, or rather HOPE, that they'll dig the record. I think we have similar fears that any band shares upon releasing their baby into the wild. Will she survive, or be shredded by wolves? In the end I think we are confident in the album we made, and there is an excitement in and around the band that has made this Summer's tour a great one.
You recently released a video of y’all covering Halo by Beyonce. Was covering the song a planned event? Had you all talked about it for a few days, or did it happen spur of the moment? To that degree, have you made it a live staple, or was that one-time thing? Pete: We actually were just playing the song in the van once and J started singing along. Truth is there are very few people in the world that can sing that song and J is one of them. Having a guy sing it changes everything I think. Then one night I was dreaming about what to do with the bridge and the Dirty Projectors thing popped into my head. I know that Solange (Beyonce's sister) had covered a Dirty Projectors song and that Dave Longstreth was a huge Beyonce fan. It just seemed to make sense. Truth is it took a bit of convincing to get J to do it but once we started working on it, we knew we were going to have a blast. For our big shows in New York, we always like to do a cover of a song we love, so we did Halo for our CD release show at Brooklyn Bowl. It went over smashingly and we've been doing it ever since. It's become a staple in our set. It's too much fun to not do at this point.
Having received so much praise for Loneliest Generation, do you now feel like there’s a target on your back, and you’re having to kick it up a notch to match the praise?
I guess you never know when a sniper is gonna take you down until you're lying in a gutter. And, while we don't feel like there is a target on our back, we do certainly want to give people a great show so they feel satisfied when they leave at the end of the night. Everybody wins that way.
What has been your favorite moment from touring so far this year?
We had just played a sold out show at Schubas in Chicago with our friends Pretty Good Dance Moves, and we had 3 fans drive 8 hours from Missouri to come see the show. Evidently they found the new record online and loved it. When they told me how far they had driven I almost laughed in disbelief. It was an amazing moment for us, and quite touching.
Give us a brief run-down of how you got into music and how you started writing songs. J: I started writing songs for my high school band, which I started with our current drummer, Sarab. The band split up when I went off to college, and I met Pete my sophomore year. The partnership with Pete has developed and challenged my songwriting in an amazing way. And we've gotten ourselves into some pretty lively shenanigans over the years. Pete's story is actually quite similar. We've both been writing songs since we were 14. I think most people have to write 200 songs before they write a great one, or at least one that lasts for years without the songwriter getting sick of it. Of course that's not true across the board, but certainly we keep getting better.
How did you approach the writing of Loneliest Generation? Was it a cathartic experience and did you have specific themes you wanted to address?
Our first couple years of touring as a duo provided us a lot of caffeine induced conversation in our little Toyota Corolla, which incidentally was named the Jackal - hence our label, Baby Jackal Records. During that time (and to this day) we talked a lot about our generation and the challenges we face growing up in the post-hippie, technology whatever-you-wanna-call-it era. I think generations now are defined as ending every 2 years now. It's crazy how fast things continue to change. You'd think all these options and all this social networking would bring people closer. We're not convinced that it really makes people more social or happier. But music sure does. We certainly didn't set out to make any kind of concept album, but a lot of those themes ended up on the record. It was cathartic in the sense that we felt like we expressed what we wanted to express in a musical environment where we feel like that kind of commentary is a bit sparse. I could be wrong about that, and maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I just don't hear it.
A few of the songs are about love, of course! Rock and roll would be nothing without love, and love gone wrong.
Did the album take a long while to record?
Not at all, in fact. We did a few pre-production sessions with David Kahne, and then nailed all the basic tracks (drums, bass, guitars, piano, keys) in one day. After that it took about 10 subsequent sessions to finish it up.
What are your personal highlights from Loneliest Generation?
Working with David Kahne was certainly a big highlight. He's an amazing guy, and he challenged this band to do everything better. There were a lot of small victories along the way, mostly in feeling like we had compiled a coherent set of songs without an obvious weak link. We are proud of every song on this record, and maybe we are most proud of that fact. I actually think that the ballads ("The Doubt" and "All the Noise") came out as some of the strongest tunes.
Many of the songs on the album are very introspective, especially songs like "25 Years". What is that song about? J: I started working on "25 Years" after a few trips back home to Philadelphia. I noticed I started getting a lot of marvel at the fact that I was actually still playing music and doing it for a living. Don't get me wrong, we're blessed to be able to do this, but it made me want to say to them, "well, YES, I'm doing this, and you should too, that is, whatever you are passionate about and want to do the most in this world". at least give it a shot. if you don't, you'll regret it. "25 Years" tries to draw out the insights in those conversations, and maybe spur people to examine more closely where they are and what they're doing with their lives. There is a lot of fear of failure that exists in the world, but if you aren't willing to take the plunge into something uncertain, you certainly aren't going to find happiness as easily.
How do you usually go about writing a song? Do you write on acoustic guitar mainly? Or do you prefer piano? J: I write pretty much on guitar only. But a lot of the time I'll write humming and walking around the city, or in the van. Pete writes on both piano and guitar, oh, and street humming too for sure.
Would you ever write for other artists as a sideline to your own music?
Sure! We both write a lot of music, and a lot of songs end up falling by the wayside. I would love to give them the light of day through other bands we love around New York or elsewhere. We've already done it a couple times, one being with the amazing guitar player Jim Campilongo, who plays every Monday night at the Living Room in NYC. We wrote lyrics and part of the melody to one of his songs called "Lila". Jim writes beautiful music, and that tune is no exception.
What's the most played album on your iPod right now?
I've been really digging the new Beach House record, "Teen Dream". Also, the remaster of "Exile on Main Street", which sounds even more ruckus than the original, if you can believe that. We got that one on CD for Gus. Gus is our van.
Describe the New York City and Brooklyn scene. Your sound is somewhat different, a bit more retro, and more of a throwback from many of the bands emerging from there, do you think this is a detriment or beneficial?
It's always easier to make music that seems "trendy". And chances are if you do, you will be immediately accepted in certain circles. But you probably then end up chasing some trend that has already happened, or arriving late in a conversation that is likely to start heading in another direction. We are intent on making the music that we love and connect with emotionally. Hopefully others will, too. We're certainly aware of as much happening in Brooklyn as the next guys, and are close with many of the people making that music. We have great respect for great art. If someone decides or has decided that our music is cool, then great. If not, maybe they will one day. It's all a game of what certain people think is cool. We don't really want to play that game, we just want to make meaningful music. There are too many scenes in this country and world to get too caught up in one.
Discuss working with Malcolm Burn and David Kahne. I imagine that must have been pretty surreal. How did they help shape the formation of the album? What nuances or ideas did they bring to the album?
Both experiences were amazing in their own unique ways. We actually recorded most of the songs on "Loneliest Generation" with Malcolm a year before we started working with David. And though we ended up realizing that a lot of the recordings didn't turn out quite right for some of the songs, for the ones that did work, Malcolm's touch was invaluable, and his contributions add a whole different color to the record. His approach to the songs opened up tons of ideas: add melodies where melodies are needed, and don't think about it, just hit record and PLAY. We were bummed when we decided scrap a bunch of the songs we did with Malcolm, but I think it became an essential learning and filtering process that landed us at David's door with a few new songs and ready to knock the rest of the record out. David's ears are simply amazing when it comes to teasing out the most emotional vocal takes. And he insists on nothing less. He'll do it until you get it right. The arrangements of the record were essentially done by the band over the course of 2 years of touring. So the finishing touches each producer contributed were just finding new angles to approach the tunes. Making records is so much fun.
BONUS QUESTION: Any predictions on this year’s World Series? Pete: Cubs! Go Cubs! I know, the Cubs suck. They always do. But I will never give up.