Flashback - Interview with Fake Problems

(This is one of the first band interviews I ever did. With the recent release of "It's Great to Be Alive", I thought it was relevant again.)

Fake Problems’ bassist Derek Perry and drummer, Sean Stevenson pulled up three black leather stools to the bar at the Creepy Crawl in St Louis, MO. Passing a single Budweiser and cigarette between them, the pair cracked jokes as they reflected on the evening’s events. Sweaty and slightly intoxicated, the pair recalled the very beginning of Fake Problems.

“We all played in bands in high school, that’s how we know each other,” he said, pausing to take a puff of his cigarette, “We came together as a super group from high school bands. Everyone was going to college and we decided to keep going in the music direction,” Perry said.

Joining Perry and Stevenson in this Naples, Florida based band was front man Chris Farren and guitarist Casey Lee. Formed in 2005, the band began touring only two months after they formed. “We all moved into a house and recorded a CD that summer and then went on tour,” said Stevenson “We view ourselves as a summer camp band, that’s sort of how we view our lives”. Smirking, he added “Imagine us as the ‘Heavyweights’. That’s how we live”.  

The show opened with a track off the band’s latest CD, “How Far Our Bodies Will Go”. As Farren strummed the opening chords of the title track, the crowd whipped itself into frenzy, echoing his vocals as the song increased in tempo. Perry and Farren hung out into the crowd, thrusting their microphones into the faces of eager crowd members. A boy in an Operation Ivy t-shirt threw himself forcefully into the stage, reaching toward Farren, singing the chorus at the very top of his lungs. Fake Problems has a very active and interesting stage presence, never resting in one spot for longer than five seconds. Lead singer Farren sprinted back and forth between the drum set during vocal rest periods as Perry holds his bass above his head, carefully plucking at the strings. Stevenson pounded away at his silver glittered drum set, smiling to himself.

At one point Lee rushed back to the drum set, helping Stevenson add a heavy tom beat to the song. The two play away laughing amongst themselves as the song goes on. It seemed that this band was indifferent to the audience’s perception of them and wanted nothing more than to have a good time playing music they love. They tried to have fun with the audience and the show was all the better for it. When the band announced that the show would conclude, the audience remained, chanting and pleading for more. Finally, the band emerged, half of them shirtless, to play the telling opening chords to their song “To Repel Ghosts”, a song seemingly designed to sing along with. A mass of young men mounted the stage and link arms to sing the chorus along with the entire band, concluding a night that was far from dull.

Fake Problems is reminiscent of Andrew Jackson Jihad meets Bob Dylan and CCR, all tossed into a blender and then electrocuted. They have taken the traditional “Florida punk sound” and turned it on its head, infusing it with call and response lyrics and indie rock elements. Add in a little alternative country and folk rock and you have Fake Problems. Perry claims that his favorite album is “More Adventurous by Rilo Kiley” which is evident in the musical styling of this band, particularly in songs like “Oh Maria” and “Oh, Your Silver Heart” off of “Spurs and Spokes”.

“The only reason we play music is so we can keep playing music.” mused Stevenson. “It’s very personal. We want to be big enough to make money but not doing stupid things. Everything we do we want to believe in”.

“We’re always dodging major labels and we’re highly sought after.” continued Perry. “For our next record, we decided to go with an indie label because it’s real”.  

The band worked with AJ Mogus, the producer of the new Cursive record to record their latest album, "It's Great to Be Alive" which dropped in February to rave reviews.

Interview - RATATAT

Thanks to MOVE magazine, I recently had the pleasure of a thirty minute telephone call with Evan from electronic group extraordinaire, RATATAT. 

Here is the interview, republished with absolutely everything.

Be it the catchy name or the infectious electronic music, Ratatat is a band that is hard to forget about. Quirky Skidmore college students Mike Stroud and Evan Mast began working together as musicians in 2001, pushing the boundaries for musicians everywhere. Known for their live shows and raw musical talent, the band quickly worked their way into the electronic scene.

 With the 2008 release of their third studio album, LP, (the band has released two remix albums where they rework rap songs), the electronic duo showcased its ability to create some of the most complex beats and multilayered pieces of music currently being produced. This pair of instrumental musicians turned electronic makes it clear that no instrument is out of their realm, no technique too complex. MOVE checked in with Evan Mast of RATATAT to talk about the band’s musical progression, hip-hop and the ups and downs of the road to stardom. 

Andrea Kszystyniak : You’re about to start a new tour in mid-March?

Evan Mast: March 21st I think for sure.

AK: How are you feeling about the whole thing?

EM: I’m looking forward to it, it’s gonna be good. We’re playing like a lot of cities that we haven’t played and a lot we haven’t played in a long time. It should be fun.

AK: Have you guys played in Columbia, MO before?

EM: Yeah, a long time ago, probably right after our first record came out. We were touring with the band Clinic and we played at the Blue Note.

AK:How do you feel this tour is going to be different than the last few that you’ve been on?

EM: The last tour we did was probably six months ago or something. It’s kind of different. We switched up the way we’re playing the songs. We’re switching instruments a lot more than we used to. We got a lot more instruments on stage and we’re kind of running around doing different things. We’re a lot busier than we used to be during shows. The last tour we did was in Europe and we did it that way as well and it ended up working really well so we’re going with that again.

AK: Are you going to pursue playing with a live band ever?

EM:  It is a live band, even if it’s just the two of us. There’s different levels of live too I guess. I mean, um. Because of the way that we write songs, there’s so much layering and there’s so many different things happening in the arrangement and the interpretation changes so much from song to song like I feel like if we ever fully did it with just the four or five dudes playing in a live band, it would probably sound pretty horrible. It’d be hard to capture all the details. We talked about in the future maybe rearranging the songs for strings or something. I don’t know. I hope to keep it kind of open ended so we can approach it from different angles.

AK: Your songs are definitely really layered. What is usually your strategy when laying down new tracks? Do you lay down drums first; do you start off with just a basic concept? How do you go about it?

EM: A lot of the time we start with drums. . For the last record, I had been making a lot of the drum beat stuff while we were on tour so I just kind of made a stockpile of beats and then when we went to the studio we just start like listening through and if we heard something that kind of inspired an idea or something we just started playing over it and um, a lot of the songs happened that wa. A few of the songs started with just piano parts or guitar parts or whatever we had around. It tends to be like yunno starting with a melody or a chord progression or a beat. We kinds just start playing over the top and we just improvise things and kind of just put on another layer and then respond to that and then put on another layer and just keep going until it seems kind of finished.

AK: That’s really cool. What program do you use to mix the whole thing?

EM: Logic. Pretty much everything. WE record everything in Logic and then last time when we ended up going to the studio to mix it we ended up mixing the tape on like an analog mixer too.

AK : I just downloaded your latest remix CD. It’s really really good. Is the remix and artform that you’d like to mess around with a little more, kind of expand on?
I’m not sure. We haven’t been doing much remixes. We’ve kind of been taking a break from it. WE did so many for a couple of years that I kind. I think we’re just kind of more inspired to do our own stuff…I don’t know. Not right now. I’m not that inspired to change the form much right now but maybe eventually. 

AK: How were your remixes received by the hip hop community? What is your relationship with the hip-hop community?

EM: Uh, we don’t have much of one I don’t think. We never really got much feedback. I think rappers are kind of closed off from other forms of music but maybe not anymore, I don’t know. I guess now you have like M.I.A. and Santigold showing up on Jay-Z tracks so maybe they’re starting to take credit. They have like little things here and there. It would be like John Doe has a friend that works at Def Jam yet again and whatever. I feel like there’s been a million little connections like that that were supposed to happen but nothing ever amounted to anything. I don’t know. We might have to give up our dreams of being hip-hop producers. (laughs)

AK: Would you ever consider laying down any sort of vocals yourselves on your tracks or no?

EM: We’ve done a little bit of stuff just using vocals as sounds, kind of in the same way, using vocals the same way we would use another instrument or something but I don’t think we’ll ever get into writing lyrics and any kind of that weird vocal stuff. I can see like possibly a thing producing tracks for other people or doing like side projects with other things but I think for Ratatat we’ll probably stay pretty much instrumental.

AK: What is the origin of your name?

EM: Not really much there. We just kind of had to come up with a name. We used to be called Cherry. 

AK: Wait, what?

EM: Cherry, like the fruit. This was before we had a record out or anything and we got off the first tour and our lawyer was saying that there was a bunch of other bands using the name already so we had to come up with something new. We had this tour starting in a couple weeks or something so we were just kind of scrambling to come up with a new name and it we were just brainstorming a little.

AK: How do you feel that you have progressed as a band from that time when you were Cherry to now with the release of LP3?

EM: We’ve come a really long way. In the early stages we didn’t really know what we were doing. I don’t know, maybe we still don’t know what we’re doing. But I don’t know. I think we still approach song writing in the same way. It’s still just about trying to keep us entertained and keep doing what keeps filling up the house. I guess we’ve just sort of defined our sound a lot then and expanded on it. I don’t know. It’s a weird thing. We just make the songs and the project just sort of grows and expands. It’s a lot of work and you guide it but I feel like it ends up I don’t know, it’s become this massive thing that we never expected.

AK : Who are your influences? 

EM : I have a brother that is five years older than me. When I was in junior high, he was getting into punk rock and he would talk about music to me. That was a definitely a huge influence because I kind of avoided a lot of the bad music that a lot of kids get into at that age. He’s also been in bands and stuff to. That kind of inspired me to get into playing music when I was little. He proved that it could be done. 

AK: What do you consider your best moment since you started playing music?

EM: I think I remember when we played at Coachella about two years ago. It was a pretty huge moment. That was like after our second record came out, a couple months after that record came out. That record was super difficult for us to make. It was a really long process A lot of work went into it, we were struggling with writing and many different things for a couple years. It was a good feeling to be touring. It felt like the reward for all the work. That kinda peaked at Coachella. That was the biggest audience by far that we played to at that point. That was a really good moment. Also, recording the last record LP3 was pretty amazing. It was more than a moment though, I guess it was like six weeks but we were just having a good time throughout the whole recording process. 

AK: Okay, sweet. What are you into right now musically? 

EM: I don’t know a lot of up and coming stuff. I’ve been on a big Bach kick lately. Harpsichord music and organ music. A whole lot of French, a lot of African stuff. Like African guitar music. I tend to go through phases. I don’t know. I tend to go through phases. I’ll get into one style of music for a couple weeks and then move on to something else. 

The band has embarked on a national tour and should be visiting a city near you very soon. For dates, check their website. Though I have yet to see them live (I seem to be out of town every time they come around), I've heard that they are absolutely phenomenal  live. Definitely don't miss your opportunity.

Check it out:

Back from Recess

Truth be told, I have yet to make blogging a habit of my daily life. Things have been incredibly hectic over the past couple months and I've been focusing more on passing Economics at the University of Missouri than any sort of heartfelt discussion about what's been impressing me, musically or otherwise.

Musically, 2009 has been absolutely stunning:
Bulleted and compressed raving.

- Okay, "Merriweather Post Pavillion" by Animal Collective. I'm so far behind on this one but all I can say is that I literally did not move the entirety of my first listen to this album. By the close of the first track, my friend Hannah and I had secluded ourselves in her dorm room and were laying on the floor with the lights off, simply absorbing the dynamics of this work of art. Although the first five tracks are much stronger than the conclusion, this album is probably going to end up on my top ten of the year.

- Remember that absurd animated video with the lizard, talking about sea horses and drinking out of cups? Well, if not, here it is:

This was my first introduction to electronic musician, Dan Deacon, followed by this, a video for his song, "Crystal Cat":

While I absolutely adore this song, I wouldn't consider it musically complex, nor technically worthwhile. Ear candy for certain. I sort of discounted Dan Deacon as a legitimate musician.  Then I heard his latest album, "Bromst" for the first time. My senses were bombarded by every sort of stimulus imaginable, be it catchy hooks, strange ambient noises or electronic rhythms. My favorite track, "Snookered", opens with the simple rhythmic pounding of bells and rapidly moves into an experimental romp as Deacon toys with everything imaginable, expanding the song into a piece of ritualistic beauty. 

- I now have a radio show, broadcasting live from the University of Missouri station, KCOU, every Tuesday morning, 2 - 4AM CENTRAL. Be sure to check it out. Entitled "Snack Time", it's an opportunity for you to get reacquainted with bands you may have forgotten about and have a blast listening to those on the up and up. My cohost Hannah and I will make staying up into the wee hours of the morning entirely worth your while.
Don't delay.

I leave you with a promise to update more. Be sure to check out backdated posts.
And for goodness sake, listen to the new Wavves album.