"The Ghost Media Interview: Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups" (Ghost Media)

by Ghost Media on August 11, 2006
from https://ghostmedia.typepad.com/ghost_media/2006/08/the_ghost_media.html

[Note: this is an interview that's currently still available and this archive is meant only to keep the contents and discussions inside preserved and visible online. Please follow the link in the header and read more from the source if you're interested.]

In between the debauchery of the the Pitchfork/Lolla firestorm, the crack staff here at Ghost Media found time to do some actual hard hitting journalism. Thank God it's over and we're back at the heavy action...but tonight at the Midwest Music Summit we were reminded of one of the great musical triumphs of the year...the new record by the Silversun Pickups. I left their show about 2 hours ago, and couldn't go to sleep without reminding you good readers that THEY ARE PLAYING AT SCHUBA'S ON SUNDAY. For the love of God, people....don't miss this show. It's that good.

In the course of said hard hitting journalism we managed to rap for a bit with SSPU singer and songwriter Brian Aubert, and what follows is the text of the interview. Click the "Continue Reading" link for the whole interview, or download a couple of tracks from this previous post.

Ghost Media: So you guys have been playing together for years...what took so long for your first full-length to be released?

Brian Aubert: We’ve been doing it for a while, but when we began it wasn’t really thought out...it kind of just accidentally happened really fast before we really thought about being a band. We were just a couple people hanging out after separating from bands we had been in. Nikki made a tape for the CMJ rock festival in NY...it was like a boombox tape, it’s horrible. There are not even any songs. It’s just two 15 minute weird clear guitar things with no vocals and then one song that barely makes it 5 seconds. And it’s literally a boom box in the middle of the room. It was more funny than anything. “Let’s send it to CMJ, that sounds fun.” We made a funny fake bio on a crown and laminated it with a picture of our cat and talked about the cat. Then we got in to the festival and we were like “oh fuck”. But we wanted to go to New York! So we just went out there and played, and we ran into some people who ran clubs in Los Angeles...so right when we flew back they offered us shows. So for the first couple years it was just playing all the time. We’ve always been playing all the time, up until the last three weeks...which is our first time not playing for a while. And even then we played 2 shows.

We kind of learned to be a band on stage instead of practicing in a space. It was really trial by fire. After that, things started to form...we got new members who were also friends form other bands. It really started to solidify about three years ago. When that happened we started to self release our own things. Then we went through Dangerbird [Records] and released an EP a year ago, and now our album is out. I think our album was supposed to be out last year, but the EP we put out kind of went larger than expected. We were just stunned that it got radio play and all of that stuff. It’s still going.

So basically we toured a lot more for the EP. The EP is becoming affectionately being adopted as our first record because it’s long enough, and none of the songs repeat. Even if the EP sold two copies we were not going to repeat any songs on the album because just think that sucks. I hate when bands do that. People wait for a while, they have an EP for a year, then they get the record and they’re like “oh great. It’s the same 6 songs with four more songs that suck.” I think that really blows. The EP exists and we wanted it to be its own entity. Through touring more, a lot more actually… and making the record at the same time kind of lengthened the whole deal. So since October until about a month ago we were wearing two different hats. We’d be on the road and then we’d get home and get our recording hats on. It was a little bit crazy. I think it was kind of bad. We were working so hard on this record, and you hate to get so far along and then leave it. We just wanted to stay focused on it. The more time you have away, you find yourself second guessing. So that was a little hard. It would take you a day or two to get back to where you were “oh yeah, that’s how the record feels.”

Ghost Media: The sound on Carnavas is very distinct from the Pikul EP. Was that a conscious choice or the result of a more organic evolution?

Brian Aubert: That’s what we wanted. And we also really wanted it to be that if you had the EP and you liked the EP that it wouldn’t be “The EP Part 2”. The EP sounds a little more homegrown, a little more acoustic, and a little warmer. And even the songs we saved for the record, as well as the new songs we wrote we wanted the record to be more metallic. Anything that used to be acoustic we’d take it out and put clean electric in there. We didn’t have any strings or cellos. We wanted all keyboard-y type things...for it to sound futuristic. I’m not sure if it happens much anymore, but I always like when you hear a song from a record from a band and you know what record it’s on just because of the way it sounds. I love when albums have a unity to them. I think records should have a sound. Let’s say the long “Lazy Eye”...that song was around during the Pikul recordings and if that ended up on Pikul it would have sounded really different

Ghost Media: The guitars in particular sound much fuzzier and meaner.

Brian Aubert: That was fun. Before we would go in and document what we play live, and then jump out. And it sounds fine. But we really wanted to get into the mechanics of the sounds this time. We’ve never played in the studio, and we’re a bit green in there. Some bands, obviously like the Flaming Lips for example, are just brilliant. And I have no idea about a studio at all! This time we really worked at it. We’d set up a ton of different guitars and amps all aimed at a mike, and sometimes certain sounds would be just too blended together, and we never used distortion pedals, we just used distortion from the amps turned up all the way. Things like that. It’s funny...the EP was recorded more live, but it doesn’t sound as much like us live as the record does. It took all these tricks. The same pedal setup that I use live that I hit in a way and attack in a way live sounds all big and loud but if I did that with a mike it might come out muddy. So I had to kind of trick it out to get it to be the same thing. Everything we did we worked hard on. It was really crazy, but I think it worked out OK. Plus we’re big fans of loud, beautiful fuzzy guitar stuff. And we just decided, fuck it...this is a rock record.

Ghost Media: Your lyrics would never be classified as “easily accessible”, yet at South By Southwest people were screaming along like they wrote them themselves. What’s the deal with that?

Brian Aubert: The one thing that blows me away is that we kind of write everything a little vague. Unless you’re me, or you’re with me on the balcony one drunken night, you’re not really going to know what those songs are about. But somehow nobody ever gets the mood wrong. Everybody always reacts to each song exactly right. They just throw it in with different pieces of themselves, and I think that’s awesome.

Ghost Media: Your success has been helped along by some pretty solid support by the blogs and internet radio. What’s your take on that?

Brian Aubert: There were certain key stations for sure. Even our self released stuff would get played on certain online radio stations like Little Radio, which is a really good online station here in Los Angeles. It got bigger when stations like KEXP, which is massive, I guess, and WOXY decided to pick up the EP on their own. And not only did they pick it up, but they really fell in love with it and pushed the hell out of it. And I really do think that those two things are what opened the door to doing more. Because when we started playing nationally we were somewhat spoiled. We’re always waiting for things to go sour...to have these really shitty shows, and we just haven’t. If we play a place and it’s sold out we just can’t believe it. But if we play a place and 5 people show up we still can’t believe it. We’re still like “Oh my god there are 5 people here in Sacramento. Fuck, we’re great!” You can never take it for granted, but yeah, those stations helped a lot. Cities that are usually pretty difficult have been alright. The big cities are always relatively simple, but it’s the smaller ones that are hard. If you’re huge in Ft Stockton then you’re huge all over the world.

Ghost Media: Whats your take on what’s going on in music right now?

Brian Aubert: I think there are two bands in our age of popular music…in Europe Radiohead and in America Wilco. I think those are really the two greatest bands that are out there. Bands that are going to be around forever. Those are to me the two most amazing bands in the world right now. [Nels Cline] that guy is amazing. I went though a huge phase in my life when I’d go see every Nels Cline show, because he played here [in L.A.] a lot. He’s amazing. Not just amazing. AMAZING. And him and Wilco, especially with the sparseness and bizarreness of the latest record...it was just the most perfect match I’ve ever heard. That guy can play anything. He used to play tons with Mike Watt out here, so it was always Nels Cline and Mike Watt doing really bizarre stuff. Some shows you’d think he didn’t even know how to play the guitar because he’d just be going crazy. Then out of nowhere he’d bust out the most classically trained thing you’ve ever seen. And you’d just sit there in awe. This guy is unbelievable. And now he’s in Wilco...a perfect blend.

Ghost Media: It seems like we’re reaching a low point in the cycle of the music world where everyone has copied everyone and people are eager for innovation. Carnavas isn’t creating any new genres, but it sounds fresh, important, and seems to come from a place that is very personal to you.

Brian Aubert: You have to do that. I just think that’s unfortunately not the way most people in music do anymore, I guess. You have to, because if you don’t do that than what the hell do you have? You have nothing. You have to sound how you sound. We sound the way we sound because we don’t have any clue how to not sound this way. It could really hurt us, but that’s the way it goes.

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