This was an interview that was originally intended to be carried out in person before Copeland’s show on August 17, 2007 with The Rentals, but the concert got canceled at the last minute, so this was done via email. The band takes this chance to answer a lot of questions about the reactions to Eat, Sleep, Repeat, their current label status, and their plans for the future. Here is what they had to say…
Can you talk about the decision to sign to Columbia Records? I know when we talked in our last interview, you had said the rumors were false, so this must have come about pretty quickly?
Aaron Marsh: It really did happen super fast. I think from our first talks with our A&R to the point we signed the contract was less than 5 weeks if I remember correctly. The decision to go with Columbia was a no-brainer. There was an A&R there who had signed some great acts in the last 25-30 years. He was super excited about our band. We were free agents. We'd turned in our last record on our Militia Group contract. The thing that sealed the deal was the fact that Columbia has a relationship with Militia in the fact that they can upstream any Militia record. It was an ideal situation. We were signing for future records, and Columbia could get their hands on our current record (Eat, Sleep, Repeat).
Bryan Laurenson: It is funny about our last interview, though. When you asked that question, we were being honest. At that time we hadn’t been approached yet, but things took off shortly afterwards. I remember thinking later on, “Man, I hope Steve doesn’t think we are a bunch of liars!”
Does it concern you at all to have joined the Columbia roster when other bands (TMG alumni even) have had less than ideal experiences (Acceptance, Lovedrug)?
Aaron: Funny you should mention it. Over the last couple months, our relationship with the label has followed a similar path. It's finally official enough to talk about publicly. Columbia had some pretty significant personnel changes a few months back. Some key people involved with our band were let go, including our A&R. He was the guy that brought us on board and was our most important contact there. With him gone, there was really no reason for us to be there. It's pretty crucial for a band to have that key man on their side. So after months of red tape, we were released from our contract. So now we’re looking around at some options for our next label home. It’s pretty exciting to have this kind of freedom, especially this far into our career.
Talk us through what happened with the whole departure of James. Was it a mutual decision? Did you guys beg him to stay? How long has this been brewing, etc?
Aaron: It was super weird to play with a different bass player than James. He and I have been playing music together for 7 years. But he is one of the most gifted graphic artists I've ever known. He's really an incredible talent. However, over the last 5 years we all noticed his passion and effort for art and design take the backseat. I really feel like he went too long working outside of his natural talent. There's a certain satisfaction you get when you do something that you were born to do. Anyway... all of that to say, we're rooting for him.
Have you settled on a permanent replacement yet? How do you think this will affect the direction and dynamic of the band?
Aaron: Of course it will affect the dynamic of the band. I don't think we're in the market for a permanent replacement just yet. My friend Andrew Sampson is doing this tour with us. He's the singer of a band from my hometown called The West Fifties. He's been working out very well so far.
Will James still do the artwork for Copeland records?
Bryan: I am sure we will just take one record at a time. But we do have a B-sides record coming up later this year, and hopefully he is going to be a part of that on some level.
When I talked to Dan from As Tall As Lions after their set on the AltPress Tour, he mentioned how they were undergoing a focused effort to move away from the “scene.” Signing to Columbia and a tour with a group like The Rentals – that would seem to indicate a similar line of thinking. Is this something you have thought about and/or are acting on?
Aaron: Every artist wants to think of themselves as something that's individual. The whole idea of a scene involves generalizing a bunch of bands. I think this is something that we used to care about a lot more than we do now. Right now, we're just thankful to get to make music. If people want to wear white belts and flat iron their hair before they come to the show, I don't care. As long as they have fun, it doesn't matter. The idea of going on tour with the Rentals is to play for new people.
Bryan: We definitely used to care more about what “scene” we were being received by. I think now we feel more like a fan is a fan, no matter where they come from or what kind of music they like.
I would guess that a Rentals show brings out a little bit of an older or more mature audience. Has the crowd been more receptive to you guys than some of the bros on say, the Jack’s Mannequin tour?
Aaron: The crowds are much smaller than the Jack's tour, but I feel like these audiences are a little more receptive to our music and give us the benefit of the doubt before writing us off. That's just my gut feeling though. I'm not conducting any kind of survey after the shows or anything.
Aaron – how does it feel to see the Anchor and Braille album coming together?
Aaron: It's pretty awesome. This seemed like the never-ending project because I've been working on it in small spurts for 2 years. It's taken the back-burner to so much other stuff for so long. Finally we see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we just gotta find a label to put it out.
Bryan: It’s been fun watching that project develop. It’s really turned into a great record, in my opinion.
That is pretty cool about Anberlin signing to Universal, yeah? Seems like some good bands are finally getting the attention they deserve. What do you think of the overall trend?
Aaron: It's pretty cool that a bunch of our friends are kinda having their major label shots right now. Not just Anberlin, but Mae, The Rocket Summer to name a few. It's pretty exciting. But I think everyone is a little scared. The industry seems like it's caving in on itself. Every label is down-sizing and dropping bands. I want all my friends to have hit songs before it all collapses!
Aaron - is there ever a part of you that enjoys the production side more than artist activities?
Aaron: Artist activities being touring? It's no secret that I enjoy recording MUCH more than touring. I love to create. My first love is certainly to be recording my own music... but helping others shape their songs and translating that on record is a close second.
Aaron - I heard some rumors of a possible collaboration with an artist out of California named Stacy Clark (a favorite of mine). Is this true?
Aaron: Yeah. She and I have been kicking around ideas for a while. I'm at least going to do a guest vocal on one song.
Bryan: I made a Stacy Clark ringer on my phone. It’s actually the one that rings when Aaron calls me. haha
Is the rest of the band getting deeper into any other side projects? I know you had mentioned last time that Bryan was working on some stuff – any progress on that?
Aaron: Bryan hasn't really had time to work on it too much. He stays pretty busy with family life when he's home. Jon helps me out a lot with random recording projects. He played drums on all the Anchor & Braille stuff as well as a couple Anna Becker songs. He's also quite a handy carpenter and has been helping me do some much needed remodeling to my home studio.
Bryan: I haven’t made much progress since we last talked, but I am planning on making some real headway with the back half of this year. Copeland will still be my main focus, but I have a lot of non-Copeland songs that I wanna get out there, before I just stuff them away forever.
What do you think of the general reaction to Eat, Sleep Repeat? Did it seem like the critics “got it”? Did sales numbers match expectations?
Aaron: Man. This question probably deserves it's own separate interview! To be perfectly honest, sales numbers were a pretty huge let down. But it wasn't completely the fault of the record or even Columbia. To make this brief, there were a complex series of roadblocks that we hit when this record was coming out. Those roadblocks were timing, label politics, and the obvious artistic issues of the sound of the band changing. Despite the sluggish sales, we're all super proud of the record. I probably shouldn't say this, but this is the first time I've ever had the slightest inkling that I wouldn't be able to top myself on the next record. As I'm writing more songs, the feeling is going away, But it's a pretty scary place to be for a songwriter.
Bryan: I’m not worried, though. I’ve been working with Aaron for over 5 years, and he pretty much never writes a bad song. We are definitely ready to start writing heavily again.
Talk to us about this b-sides record. A lot of people are worried it is going to be comprised of acoustic/alternate song versions that are already floating around the internet. Can we expect to hear some entirely new material?
Aaron: Yeah. We're actually putting a lot of work into this thing. Not just a bunch of old bonus tracks. There are 2 or 3 songs from the In Motion Sessions and ESR sessions that never quite finished. They were songs that didn't fit so we just stopped working on them 'til now. Plus, we're picking our favorite EP tracks, bonus tracks, acoustic versions, and compilation songs. We're going to go back to the original sessions and beef them up, remix, add some strings, add some vocals, replace some guitar sounds. Hopefully when we're done this will be a really cool double-disc collection of recordings from the last 7 years that (fingers crossed) sounds like a cohesive record.
Bryan: I remember buying b-sides records when I was younger, and always thinking they seemed so haphazard. It always feels like it is just a group of songs that took 10 minutes to put together. We want this record to feel like more than that. I think it’s going be a cool way to be nostalgic and share what our journey has been like over the last 6 years or so with our fans.
When are you planning to start work on your next new studio album? Any preliminary ideas on the direction you’re going to take?
Aaron: I've been writing and demoing a bit on the road. When we get home we'll get the b-sides record together. When we get done with the b-sides record, I'm going to do some production work with a couple other artists, writing Copeland songs all the while. The goal is to have enough songs to start recording in late winter/early spring. But we're not going to go into the studio until we're super confident with the songs themselves.
Okay, so what are you guys listening to now? Tell us about an artist/band we should all know by now and be listening to.
The Cardigans - *entire catalog*
Stina Nordenstam - The World is Saved
Camille - Le Fil (the thread)
Kate York – Sadlylove
Tegan and Sara – The Con
Jose Gonzalez – Stay in the Shade
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
Thank you guys so much for your time! We wish you all the luck in the world for the future.