"Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups talks songwriting and 'Better Nature'" (AXS)

by Stephanie Csazar on September 23, 2015
from http://www.axs.com/news/brian-aubert-of-silversun-pickups-talks-songwriting-and-better-nature-66560

A still from the Nightlight video

Silversun Pickups, an alternative indie rock band, has released the first two singles off of their upcoming fourth studio album, Better Nature, set to be released Friday, Sept. 25 by the band's own New Machine Recordings. I had the privilege of talking with lead singer and guitarist, Brian Aubert, about songwriting, recording, and their latest music video for their hit single "Nightlight."

You've said that Pikul and Carnavas were inspired by your time on the road touring for the first four to five years of Silversun Pickups and describing Neck of the Woods was a spontaneous and playful record. How would you describe Better Nature?

Better Nature feels a lot like the first couple but it doesn't feel nostalgic at all. I think there's little sounds and things so it kind of touches into that universe. Once you go through something like that there's always a little residue. Like when you walk out of the bathroom and there's a little toilet paper on your shoe. I think that on every record we come out with that. You can kind of hear the last bits of the previous one. Little nuggets that need to be expunged. It felt very current in a different way.

I guess in the beginning there's always this angst that's really progressive and as time goes on so does the nature of life. That feeling dissipates and becomes much more intense and turns into profound things that life just sort of delivers to you that earlier were unavailable to you. It's just living. You lose people, people are gone, and big things start to happen. This record really felt sort of like that to us.

"Kissing Families" is one of the first songs you've written lyrics for, how has your songwriting and recording process changed over the years and on Better Nature?

Lyrically, especially, that's always challenging to me. I remember it took me forever to write "Kissing Families" and I remember finally writing it in Portland while I was visiting a friend. Musically there's a critic that sort of sits on your shoulders and sometimes it's very dangerous. The more and more we make records the more and more we get closer to silencing that guy. Lyrically the same thing is happening. I never like to write lyrics too straightforward. Some people are very wonderful at storytelling and saying what they mean exactly. They do it really brilliantly but for me it's something that's either just not really interesting to me or I'm not really good at. On this record especially I just really wanted to loosen up a little bit.

For the first record I wrote for a month before we went into the studio and we had all these songs. I just kind of wrote it all out as one thing and I had some songs with all the lyrics and some with notes and some with nothing. I sat there and just wrote them however bad it was. If I had nothing I would just put something there and I would just keep slowly coming back to it and coming back to it, to the point where I would get used to it or I didn't put so much pressure on myself to have it finished. I think I enjoyed writing this one a little more. When we were working on this album, and coming back to it thinking I had to work, it might be done. At times I had to do a little tweaking, the sound of my voice is important to me. Sometimes a certain ending of a sentence I'll justify a word to exchange it with, one that will make more sense with a vowel, so it sings better. I do see my voice as an instrument that is kind of able to blend in and out of things.

I've noticed that I emotionally attach more to your music than to the lyrics so that makes sense. Your music grabs you first and I think that's more difficult to do now.

That's nice of you to say that because I rarely go lyrics first with the band. I always found it interesting for people to really read into it and then it was a treat for them to really find out what they said. Sometimes I feel like words, from my point of view, can be dominate and be a little over the top. Lyrics can be subtle and hearing them can be subtle that's what I really like.

Silversun Pickups has always released memorable music videos whether they're silly, clever, or childlike but you've taken it to a whole new level with "Nightlight", directed by Mark Pellington. Tell me about the making of the "Nightlight".

It's really nice of you to say that. Recently we looked back at all of them and we were definitely surprised that not one of them is really bad. Our music is the art on the record that matters and pretty much where we put all of our energy into. Videos to me are a chance to flirt with another universe to create something brand new. It's involving us in something else. The way that works is I like finding people that are really excited and hungry to make something. They've this idea that they've always wanted to do regardless of us and they just have no avenue for it. I love the idea of our song being a vehicle for whatever their passionate thing is that they want to get out.

Now sometimes they'll tailor that to the song like Mark Pellington did but sometimes it's just sort of a happy accident. If we were to control it would just be something more of the same so it's really dumb luck that we've worked out with these videos because we're lucky people wanted to work with us and that they have great ideas. Mark Pellington I didn't want to work with at first because he's really established and I didn't think he'd be that hungry for it but boy were we wrong. Now I realized that this guy's for real. Since the early ‘90s he's had a camera in his face, he shoots every day, that's what he does, he probably goes home and shoots. He had this crazy idea and on paper it read much weirder and stranger but he was so passionate about. He really tailored it to the song, which was surprising, and something he didn't have to do. My nervousness was that we've escaped these things so many times where someone says they want to do something interesting or left of center and they've all stuck with it. I'm always thinking any minute we're going to run into the problem where they don't but when we saw the first cut he totally did it and took us on a wild ride.

Nikki and I drove from LA to Vegas, got there, walked around for two hours in our suits and hung out in this weird guy's living room in Vegas, sang the song a little bit, screwed around a little bit, got back in the car, and went home. To be honest our experience of the music video was sort of like the way the music video comes off. We just showed up, weird things were happening, Meg ran down the hallway in the white outfit, we're filming over there and the next thing we know she's in the pool, now we're filming outside, Meg flies by and she's in red. It was just insane and then we left. We got really lucky and I'm glad that happened.

"Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)" isn't the first instance of Nikki Monninger showcasing her skills as a singer, and you both mirror each other beautifully in the track, but I've noticed on Better Nature her vocals are more frequent. What led to this change?

I really wanted her in this one. I wanted her prevalence and I wrote three songs that had her doing vocals and this is the only one that landed. Originally she sang it completely on her own but then the song was shaping up in such a way that it sounded just a little more interesting if we did some sort of duet which we never really did before. In Swoon we do a little bit on the song "It's Nice To Know You Work Alone" but even that's not a back and forth. This was just a sweet little thing and she wrote the lyrics about a close friend of hers that's gone. It's one of those songs that she was demoing and writing and it had a life.

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