Maps and Atlases are certainly a small cult phenomenon. They've been around for quite some years now, and after a few EPs, they've finally released their first full length, Perch Patchwork, earlier this year. On their recent headlining tour, Dave Davison and Erin Elders took some time to talk about the climb of the band, and pretty much, how they wouldn't have it any other way.
How do you guys feel about the reception and finally having a full length out there after three EPs? I think one was never released.
Dave Davison: Yeah. I guess there were two official ones. The third one that people discuss is - and it's cool that it's out there now - it was just a CD-R that we sold at super small, independent shows. [Laughs] It's kind of funny that it's even available.
Erin Elders: No more than like 100?!
Davison: CDs that we burned. It's definitely cool that people liked them. I'm really excited about [this album]. Even following that [demo], our band through each of them have been growing and blossoming in a way and really challenging ourselves a bit more. To the point where we're hopefully making more meaningful and catchier and interesting songs. We feel excited and proud about this record. I feel excited about the fact that we have fans and people that have supported us, who are open to that type of experimentation. Each of our EPs, they're definitely different from each other. This record is certainly different from them. I think there have been people that are just open from where we're coming from, and it's exciting and cool. I feel really good about that.
How do you guys feel about the reception that Perch Patchwork is more folk? I got it and was blown away. I don't know if I had much expectation because the EPs were so different from each other. Have you seen any general backlash of it being a bit more folk than math? There's something that definitely needles throughout the album.
Davison: Thank you. That was the intention. [We wanted] to make an album that had a certain classic like quality of being sort of a world to itself. I appreciate the fact that you got that. It definitely wasn't intentional to make an album that's more pop or more folk-y and less math-y. Our goal from when we were kind of playing in college and not many shows was that we did things well together rhythmically and in a technical sense. It's just a part of getting to the goal. It makes sense with this record. I wouldn't say the goal was to be more folk and have less math, but to get to more of a song structure. To write songs, which was part of the aspect of branching out into different sounds and things. Just sort of recreate what we've been doing live. Let's see how these songs grow....I think a lot of that ended up giving it more of that kind of vibe. Trying to get certain sounds. It's still using technicality, but also, a lot of the things, for example, in the song "Banished Be Cavalier," has less tapping then we've usually done. On the record, in order to best serve the song and have us best play it live, we've sort of replaced the tapping with all different types of stuff and divide parts up to explore it in a different concept.
So this seems like a very drawn out recording process, with lots of time put into it. How differently do you think it would have come out if you had rushed it in any way?
Elders: I think with this record it was definitely going to take a long time with having our friends play different instruments on it. Coming up with string arrangements and things like that. I guess really assembling and assembling songs. I don't know if we could have done it any faster.
Davison: I also think we could have made Trees [Swallows, Houses] into an LP. I think the flow and the managing of each of the albums work best as a piece. We're all really proud of each of them. I still really love those songs. That moment. That energy that was there....With each thing that we do, I feel like it's definitely a learning process. I think any other way that we would have done it would make it sound even more different.
The timing on the record is just very well executed. Was that something you guys were very much about? Definitely seems like a rhythmic edge to the record, and that's something Maps and Atlases has always possessed, but really more so now. Was that the, if not one of, the most important things for you guys on this LP?
Davison: Jason Cupp produced the album. One of the reasons I think [Erin] and I and him and us get along so well is because I think we were on the same page with those ideas. It was really cool to work with someone who was so able as an engineer. He kicks the energy into high gear. I think the rhythmic quality was important. It was definitely the most challenging in certain ways. We never had been done a lot in that way. I think when people always discuss the sort of timing qualities with our music, other than the syncopation, for the most part, it's pretty straight forward timing. There's no drops in tempo or speeding up. That's actually what's happening on this record. It's not only timing changes, but time signature changes and tempo changes together. I feel like that's a pretty good example of the record as a whole. "Perch Patchwork" has probably the craziest changes in our songs ever. It took a long time to really think about the best way to do that without making it feel jerky.
It's interesting with that song. I feel there are very few albums where that last track ties everything together, and to have that as the title track. Where did that song come about in the writing process and why that song as the tittle track?
Davison: The song was kind of a basic concept that grows. We had sort of been discussing and messing around with the loops and the vocals and coming up with all these vocal parts. "What if we did this or that?" Coming up with all these directions and what we could possibly do in the end. Once we really started building that [vocal harmony] at the end. It really seemed fit for the end track of the album. The way the song kind of arose with this simple concept - the concept of a perch patchwork - being that it's sort of this intricate and strange design but is also really natural. It's really elaborate as a design, but also naturally occurring and part of nature. There was a picture of a fish, and I just started singing that song. It was one of those songs that we developed from beginning to end quickly with the basic elements. That as a title track, sort of just made sense, tying it all together. It seemed to develop in this really natural way.
Lyrically, this albums seems dark, but the music is very bright. Is that something sort of natural? Did they just sort of tie together in the end?
Davison: It wasn't necessarily intentional. There wasn't an intent to have an off balance with the lyrics and the music. I think it's a funny thing where a song will end up sounding kind of darker than it necessarily feels. I think it's a conscious effort to have more qualities of light and darkness. To have an element of conflict, well maybe not conflict, but just things happening. Songs that sound dark, they developed over time.It only seems crazy. The first kind of feedback I received was people commenting on the sort of darkness of "The Charm." The thing that's pretty interesting is that it sort of came onto the record in this natural way. It's really not that bitter of a song. It arose from a more lighthearted, silly song. We were talking about the overall concept of a track like "The Charm." It pulls some merits out here and there. It sounds a lot more dramatic on the record. It made sense as the first track to have this dramatic quality - this sort of darkness. It is interesting to have that balance. Revisiting these songs all the time, we're gaining a new perspective on the record, because it's out now and we're playing these songs all the time [whereas] a year ago we were working on all the songs and concepts. It's kind of cool.
It seems like these smaller bands that have been working for years are getting these followings. It seems like Maps and Atlases are part of that. What do you think about the gradual success of meaningful art as opposed to the quick fire scene we sometimes see today?
Davison: I'm glad that, and we're really lucky, that we've had time to get better on our own without anybody caring. We do want people to hear our music and have fun times touring. Regardless of the situation, we want to stay centered on the what we're creating and stay center on the people who are really into it. It's such a crazy time in music. There's a lot of bands that get big real fast. If that works, then do it. I think we are still really growing even though we were a band for a long time. I'm glad we were never sort of put up on the spotlight so quickly. I definitely don't think we'd be around still. [Laughs] We were 20 when that first EP came out. It would be too much for me at least.
Elders: We've always wanted to keep moving forward creatively. We're at a point where we feel ready to feel more confident in some of the stuff we're putting out. I think if we had a little bit wider of an audience when Trees came out, we'd all not necessarily be excited about that. [Laughs] There's so many ways to have a career in music and do certain things. Some bands put out eight records before they get a following. It's crazy.
Do you feel like longevity creates a confidence level. If this LP came out right after Trees...
Davison: I think we get more confident as we tour more. I think confidence mostly comes from doing what we want to do and having fun together. If the goal is making creative music in the way that we want to make it, then people are into that, then that's cool. We can be confident at least in the fact that we're making the art that we want to make. It's hard to think about. It's hard to think about "what would?" We're a band of people who aren't the best at doing stuff in the music biz. [Laughs] I think if we stay focused on the music that we want to make, not necessarily worrying about other stuff, I think the longer we are able to do it, the more music we'll be able to make. We knew a lot of bands that had a lot of awesome stuff off the bat, and it ended up working out for them. We're happy for them. There's the right timing for every band.
Elders: When we first started playing the goal was like, "We're going to play the Fireside Bowl." [Laughs]