Special thanks to John Nolan for answering these questions for us.
The new record feels more "fun/free spirited" than the self titled, was there less pressure recording The Needles, The Space or more? What sort of writing process did the band go through in preparing and recording the album? Were there any specific influences (musical, personal, etc) that were present in the process that lent their selves to the record's final sound?
John: We tried to completely separate ourselves from any kind of pressure or expectation during the making of this album. We made the record without a record label; we worked with engineers who were our friends and who we had worked with many times before. We tried to create a relaxed environment where we could have fun making a record and be open to everyone's ideas. I think that really helped create a more free spirited sound. We spent almost two years writing songs and doing demo recordings before we went into the studio, so there wasn't this pressure of "Ok, now that we're done touring for our last record we have to get together and write new songs". We were just always writing and recording whenever we had time and trying to make sure we knew exactly what we wanted the songs to sound like before we went into the studio. All of that helped take a lot of pressure off and help us just enjoy the recording process.
What was it like to produce an album completely by yourselves? What sort of thoughts do you have on critics saying it is over or under-produced?
John: It was great producing the album ourselves. As I said, we had done pretty extensive pre production by ourselves and we had talked a lot together about the different instrumentation we wanted the songs to have. So we were really excited to put all of our plans for the album into action. It was great to watch everything come together and to have such an up close perspective throughout the process. As far as anyone saying the album is over or under-produced, I think it's all just a matter of personal taste. Whatever your opinion on the sound of the album I think it's pretty clear that nothing sounds the way it does on accident. I think it's obvious that everything was a matter of us and our personal taste. We think that most popular modern day rock albums sound unnatural and cold. We wanted to make something that sounded different. People are used to hearing drums that are hit replaced and edited to machine like perfection and vocals and guitars that are always doubled or quadrupled. We went for a much more natural and stripped down sound, so I think it makes a lot of sense that some people would not like the production on our album.
What made you guys decide not to re-sign to Victory Records after the contract was up? If the contract was not already set in-place beforehand, would Straylight have originally signed to Victory in the first place?
John: We left Victory because we felt that with the direction our music was headed it really didn't make sense to be on a label that markets their albums to the emo, punk and hardcore crowd. I think that if we had had a choice in the beginning we wouldn't have gone with Victory, but they were actually excited to put our first album out and I think that it ended up working out well for us.
How does the band balance commercial demands with their own sense of independence and musical integrity?
John: When it comes to writing music we try to never think about what will be commercially successful. We just try to make music that we like and hope that other people will like it as well. We feel that making music that we're in control of and proud of is the most important thing. As strange as it is, when you have any sort of success as a band it can become hard to make music strictly for yourself. We just try to always make that our first priority.
How did Nate (singer for the Format) become a contributing member to the song "It’s for the Best" on the band's debut self titled album?
John: We did one of our first tours with The Format and became big fans of theirs in the process. While we were recording our first album they were on tour and one day ended up not too far away from the studio we were in. We asked Nate if he would come by to sing on that song and he did.
There are noticeable themes of existentialism in the bands music. How has existentialism affected you as people, and how has it changed your musical creativity?
John: I don't really know that much about about existentialism. It's not like I consider myself any sort of authority on it. I do know that part of existentialism is the concept that we control our own destinies and that we need to take responsibility for our actions in order for our existence to have any meaning. That idea is one that I've come to through my own experiences and it's helped me make more sense of life. I think that in the past I've had problems because I wasn't willing to accept responsibility for what was going on in my life. I was really quick to feel victimized, and if you feel like your the victim of something you feel helpless and do nothing to change your life. The more I've thought about it the more I've wanted to express it in the lyrics to our songs. It's something that's very personal for me and also something I think everyone can relate to.
The band was originally formed by you and Shaun to create music they were happy and content with to make. Now that a few years have past since Straylight Run's conception, is where the band is at now what everyone had originally intended it to be? Would there be any changes to the point the band is now at in its career? Where do you foresee the band going in the future, in a musical and personal perspective?
John:What we wanted to do was create a band that was free to do a variety of different things from song to song and album to album. Shaun and I never wanted to be in the sort of band that was bound by people's perception of what we could or couldn't do musically. I think that I can say we've accomplished that. I think that in the future we'd like to see our music become even more diverse and more unpredictable but also more recognizable as Straylight Run. I think that we started to do that with the jump from our first record to our second and I'd like to see the same sort of progression in our next album. I think we'd also like to see our music spread to a more diverse audience. I'd like to see more people of different ages and backgrounds becoming fans of our music. I think we've started to see it happening a little bit and it's very exciting.
After jumping what some would call major hurdles (several leaving their already-established bands to create Straylight, the drama that ensued, and later label issues), what is Straylight's proudest moment, as a whole and with each person individually?
John: I think that our proudest moment would have to be the completion of this new album. We worked harder writing and recording this than we have on anything else we've ever done. This album is so personal for us in so many ways, it represents such a huge part of ourselves and our lives. Finishing it and knowing that we were happy with it regardless of what anyone might think was a very proud moment.
With all of the issues that occurred at the beginning of Straylight Run, (especially with how internet message boards run rampant afterwards), as well as critics, has the band learned to take criticism and everything else in stride? How does the band deal with things like that?
John: I think we've learned to avoid paying too much attention to message boards and criticism in general. I think it's really important to try to not take that stuff too seriously. When someone on a message board says "John and Shaun should just go back to Taking Back Sunday!" it really is pretty funny to think about someone seriously making that statement.
While Michelle did have a few of her own songs on the band's self-titled, she's moved to creating a place for herself on the new album as a full vocalist herself, instead of complimenting John with back-up vocals. What brought her step to move forward and take charge of vocals on more songs?
John: Michelle came into our band after Shaun, Will and I had already started writing songs together. I think we had maybe even demoed a few before she was officially a band member. So she was kind of coming into a writing process that had begun without her. That definitely affected the amount of songs she would end up contributing to our first album. Michelle had also only been writing songs for a few years before she joined Straylight Run. She was still finding her voice and style as a song writer. I guess it might be kind of surprising for some people to see how much she stepped forward with this album but I think people also forget that three years passed from the writing of our first album till the recording of our second. That is a lot of time for someone who's serious about song writing to develop and find themselves and she definitely did that. For us it was just a natural thing, as she developed and wrote more and more songs the more she came forward in the band.
Where did the inspiration come from for the new video? Does it fit in with the theme of the song, or is it completely abstract and just something that interested you? Why is Michelle not engaging with an instrument in the new video? How did you come to that decision?
John: The inspiration from the new video came from Travis Kopach the director. He had done a short film a while ago that he showed us that was along very similar lines and we really liked it. I think that the imagery and the feel of the video fit well with the song but I don't think there's necessarily a theme to it that ties them together. We did a whole separate shot of group performance where Michelle was playing the piano, but the director wasn't happy with the footage so he just used the shots of us performing individually. In those shots Michelle wasn't playing the keyboard because it didn't really seem necessary since the keyboard parts happen sort of sporadically in the song. I thought it was pretty funny that people thought that putting her out there without an instrument was some kind of commercially driven decision. I feel like people were imagining a big record label executive coming down to the video shoot going "We got to get that instrument out from in front of that girl!" It just ended up that way, it wasn't a very big deal to us. I don't really understand what difference it makes whether or not someone has an instrument in front of them in a music video. I mean, we're all just pretending to play our instruments anyway right?
The band includes the brother/sister set of John and Michelle. Growing up together, was music a big part of your lives? How did the two of you first get into music?
John: I think that music was always a pretty big part of our lives, but when we were young I don't think it was any bigger than it is for most people. We both kind of just started to pursue music on our own as we got older. Michelle was always interested in singing and did a lot of it in the church we grew up in. She also started piano lessons when she was pretty young but then I think she had to choose between piano lessons and dance lessons and went with dance. After that she got pretty serious about dancing and it wasn't till she was older that she started getting back into the piano and then the guitar and then writing and singing her own songs. I always wanted to learn an instrument and I used to just mess around with the piano even though I didn't know how to play it. My mom showed me some chords and scales and that kind of got me going. When I was about 15 I decided to learn guitar and actually learned the basics from an instructional video I got from Blockbuster. After that I learned things from people I knew who played and then later I took lessons. As soon as I could play basic chords I started writing and singing songs even though I couldn't write or sing.
Are there any new songs, or songs left over from the album that were not put onto the CD that could be released as b-sides on potential singles?
John: We released a few different versions of our album that had different b sides and different cover songs on them. I think there were four b sides and three cover songs that we recorded. There's one more song we haven't released that Michelle wrote that was just a short kind of intro to Still Alone. Other than that everything is already out there.
What plans does the band have tour-wise after the stint on this summer's Warped Tour?
John: We actually don't have any definite plans for tour after the summer as of right now. It looks like we'll be going to the U.K. in September. We have a lot of potential things but we don't know for sure what we will definitely be doing.
What sort of tour essentials are needed on the road, or at shows?
John: The things we need for touring and shows are pretty basic. Aside from our instruments we just take the sorts of things that anyone would take on an extended vacation.
What books are you all currently reading? Are there any books that you would recommend to AP users as essential reading material?
John: Right now I'm reading a book called Don't Know Much About History (Everything You Need To Know About American History But Never Learned). I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It covers American history from the time that Europeans first arrived in America up until the election of 2000. It goes over everything you learn in school but it also goes deeper and tries to get past the mythology of our history and paint a more realistic picture. I think that Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is definitely an essential book. Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is another. 1984 by George Orwell is definitely one I'd recommend. I am also a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. There are so many books that I think are essential; those are just a couple off the top of my head.
We had asked users to submit questions for the interview, and many seemed to have the same idea over and over for certain topics to be brought up. Are there any questions that are asked in interviews that you're absolutely tired of repeating or being asked? Are there any questions or topics that you dread being brought up?
John: The question of where we got our name is one of my least favorite. We've been asked it so many times since we started and it was never that interesting to talk about even at the beginning. "What's it like being in a band with your sister?" is another one that's gotten pretty old. Sometimes people will ask "So what's the deal with Brand New and Taking Back Sunday?" that absolutely boggles my mind. For a while we were getting a lot people asking why Shaun and I left Taking Back Sunday, which was understandable at the start of the band, but it got really irritating when we would still get it two years into our band being together, and it's incredibly annoying now when every once in a while someone still asks it. We've done so many interviews where literally every question that's asked has been answered a hundred times. Interviews like this one are very refreshing; it's nice to answer questions that are different and well thought out.