by Madeline Virbasius-Walsh on June 3, 2009
Of all the places to meet California's Silversun Pickups on a casual Saturday morning, the recent Sentimentalist Magazine photo shoot with the band has to come out on top, at least in the areas of coziest and most unusual. It was SXSW 2009 in Austin, and our friend had graciously offered her plush loft just off Congress Ave. Lo and behold, her ornate, Victorian bed in her private boudoir proved the perfect setting, given the band's family-like closeness, the intensity and emotional largesse of the latest Silversun Pickups album, and the title itself, Swoon. Where better to gather because of Swoon than in this lovely room? We reconnected on the phone a couple of months later with singer/guitarist Brian Aubert and memories of that unexpected locale were still fresh in our minds.
Brian: I'd never seen like that loft in Austin. Must be nice!
If your album continues to do so well, maybe one day, that too can be yours!
Yeah, so I can have my vacation loft in Austin. Or maybe El Paso. [laughs]
I've seen the band perform anywhere from the Puma store in NYC one CMJ to the huge Hammerstein Ballroom, opening for Wolfmother. It's always been amazing to me to see how well you adapt to all kinds of venues.
I remember we played at Webster Hall as well, and loved that. I love that size best, it was once the Ritz, right?Yeah, that's right. And now, you've got some big summer festivals coming up.
You wrote Swoon all at once rather than the way you worked on your last album, which was more a compilation of songs you'd been doing live then and EPs like Pickul. Did this one seem easier to work on since it was a more cohesive way to write?
The chaos of touring on and off for the older EP while trying to do the first album was hard. This time, it was more intense since we were so focused on the album the whole time, locked in the studio. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and it made us a little crazy. We had no pressure from anyone else, which was interesting. People always ask about that. If we did all these interviews beforehand, we probably would have gotten nervous, saying, ‘Wait a minute! Are we supposed to be thinking about the sophomore thing?' That never crossed our minds. We were just trying to mainly make it worthwhile, a jumping off point from where we were before.
Since it was the first time you wrote a whole album at once, it must have felt different.
Yeah, it was the first time we could write all the songs with each other song in mind.
So it's like a story, all of them inter-connected.
Yeah, it was really exciting and opened up our writing into a lot of different areas. We were ready to abandon certain things, but we have our sound and wanted to explore more parts of it. There were a lot of places we weren't going before that we didn't know we weren't going, until the end of the Carnavas tour. We tried to extract different things from the older material. That was pretty much the jumping off point for Swoon.
How did you want Swoon to sound different from Carnavas?
Things weren't as emotive as we wanted. Why did we want them more emotive? I don't know, maybe because we were feeling more emotive, you know?
Definitely. It seems like you were able to get your music to a new level, with more nuances, layers and transitions in the songs.
Yeah, things like that. It's the beauty of being able to write all the songs together. Before, I think we tried to cram in a lot at once. Songs kind of danced around in all different directions. This time, we didn't have to worry about breaking down and getting really quiet in one song, because the next is a schizophrenic, nut ball of a song. So it would allow us to do something creepy and quiet too.
Did your producer and mixer [Dave Cooley, Tony Hoffer] steer you into any different directions with the songs?
Not so much into different directions, but they would push us to do something further with what we wanted to, and put us back on track if we were sitting with the song too long. We wrote about 18 songs by the end, and we tracked 16. We really worked hard [sighs].
I'm sure you feel it was worth it, right?
Now we say, ‘Did we work too hard?' I think we were just nervous about getting into the recording studio with a bunch of songs that we didn't have the luxury of having in our pockets for a while. We didn't want to stumble around, so we made sure we had everything laid down by the time we got to the studio. We played everything live. We'd worked with Dave [Cooley] before so we already had a kind of a shorthand with him. Since the days we'd recorded Carnavas, we'd been gone, and he'd been doing other things too. He'd since been walking amongst everybody, growing and changing.
Since he knows the band and what you could do, I'm sure he just wanted to push you to get your best.
Yeah, I kind of laid it out for him a few years ago when we started writing so he'd know how we were to work with. I told him the feeling of the album and he kind of got on board early.
Was there anything left to be worried about then?
I think that if there was one, the scare would be that he'd just be like, ‘okay, sounds good', and there wouldn't be the same opposition and intensity that there was before, but there really, really was! He had things that he wanted to pull out from us and he got one of those little combat things happening with us, and it was actually quite nice to be worked hard again. You just don't want to go in there and hear 'sounds great'.
[Swoon made an impressive debut at #7 on Billboard's Top 200 chart in April and remains in the Top 100 for the sixth week. Latest reports are out that their song "Panic Switch" has reached the #2 spot on Billboard's Hot Modern Rock Songs chart so I'm sure they'd agree, all the work the band put into the album was well worth a bit of sweat and tears].
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