The amateur psychologist in all of us knows how lasting an impact our childhoods have on who we become. But, whereas we might timidly plumb the past to unearth the traumas and terrors that created our enduring anxieties, the men(/boys) of Keepaway (Mike Burakoff, Frank Lyon, and Nick Nauman) are eagerly swimming around the goo of their memories for material for their next song. So far, they’ve done pretty good. With the release of their debut EP Baby Style, the band’s already gotten major props from Pitchfork, Fader, and a widening circle of sonically-adventurous listeners. Keepaway coalesce a bevy of tricked-out samples with live instruments into a seriously textured stew. A couple of months ago, NewFlags met up with Keepaway after a rehearsal to talk about the sonic pallete of the 2000’s, the band’s pseudo-synesthesia, and the unexpected profundity in Contra (the videogame, not the Vampire Weekend record, though Frank did do some choreography for a Contra promo).
NewFlags: What was the jam you guys were just working on at practice?
Frank Lyon: It’s called “New Food.”
Nick Nauman: It’s coming together, tonight it finally started gelling.
FL: It’s part of the new style. Now that we compare the old songs, the way that they live in our memory at the moment are as fleshed out recordings that are quite dense. And now what we’re playing feels a lot more spare and spacious because we haven’t recorded them in a very professional way yet, so they seem like skeletons, even though in truth they’re probably going to sound as dense as some of the material that we wrote before this. But I do think there are certain parts of the songs that are demonstrating a kind of haunted space that’s sort of dub-step-y to me, and that’s been a very positive development.
NN: Yea, I think compositionally we’re getting less dense.
NN: Less crowded. Our ideas are more crystalline. Less goopy.
NF: But still with the intention of as much layering as was done during recording?
FL: I think that, yeah, if I were to guess right now, I would imagine the next recording would be as layered but would somehow have more space, too.
NN: Yea, I mean, the recordings we did don’t actually have that many overdubs. It’s more or less our live sound.
FL: Sort of like, imagine I’m inviting all the same people to the party, but we’re gonna make them say twice as much in half the words.
NN: Very good, Frank.
Mike Burakoff: It’s gonna be more like Moving Pictures.
NF: The Rush album?
FL: We’re adjusting the tracking of our Moving Pictures.
NN: It’s like watching the fuzzy channel on porno.
FL: I would say that’s our old sound.
NF: So you’re soundtracking that experience?
NN: We are, but soundtracking that experience in a much more beautiful place than my mom’s basement. Or Mike’s mom’s basement.
MB: I was excited because Frank brought his MPC in today. We’re gonna have two MPC’s running soon, I think Frank’s gonna have some samples coming from his direction.
NN: Which actually I think is still in the spareness direction. When all the sampled material comes from one source, there’s less ability to have it be a bunch of isolated elements coming in and out.
MB: Yea, kind of unglue it a little bit. One of the criticisms we’ve been given is that the live elements don’t always mesh with the sampled elements. I think it’s not so much a timbre problem or a sound problem; it’s the rhythm or the compositions. You know, pre-composed stuff playing off the live vibe.
NN: I think the new stuff solves that problem a lot better than the old stuff.
MB: Eventually, I’d love to do everything live. It’s just a matter of learning the equipment and learning our hands.
NN: But soundwise, I think, regardless of how much stuff is still sequenced, I think the new stuff is a lot better.
MB: Yeah. I think a lot of bands are based on a hypothesis that electronic music and rock and roll, or folk music, can’t exist together and become something greater than the sum of the parts. And so a lot of the stuff we’re doing is working out the equation, slowly, and, like, just letting the equation balance itself out.
NF: When you guys got started, did you have a discussion? Or did you just start playing?
FL: What was happened was: Nick and Mike had a long-standing relationship from their youth. You guys met in 4th grade. Whereas Nick and I only barely knew each other in college, and only really became friends when he moved out to San Francisco, and we always talked about playing, but I was already semi-ensconced in a few other projects. So we only got to play the very last night Nick was in town, and when we did, I was like, “Nick, we have to play!” and so we did this one show where I played drums over some songs. Mike and Nick ended up doing more with that stuff that summer as Longbow. This was the spring of 2008. There was this double-convergence around Nick, and then because we had both played with Nick, without really hemming and hawing too much, we all just jumped into the ring and started figuring it out sonically, not conceptually. The concepts came from sonic practice, if that makes sense.
NF: Mike and Nick: were you guys playing music together from when you first knew each other?
NN: We’d always kinda jammed out. I would always be in bands. I was in punk bands, and a reggae band, and a psych band. And Mike was always exploring his electronic music on his own. But we would jam out in his bedroom a lot, never too seriously until we all moved to New York around the same time and more or less started playing together right away.
NF: When you two were playing back in high school, were you synthesizing the electronic music that Mike was exploring?
NN: Yeah. Mike and I actually won our senior year battle of the bands, and I was more or less playing folk songs with an acoustic guitar and he was playing a drum machine and a synthesizer. I don’t usually think of that in the same lineage as what we’re doing now, but it definitely was.
MB: Making music together is just another way of being friends, Nick and I have been friends for a while now, so it’s about transposing the notes. And Frank is my friend too now.
NF: So that was a dynamic you were comfortable with – you guys playing these live instruments with electronic elements. Were you guys playing with that set-up from the first time you jammed together? Was Mike already playing on the MPC?
NN: More or less.
FL: Well, Mike, you’d been playing with the MPC for a while, right?
MB: Just over the summer.
FL: I didn’t realize that. I was pretty comfortable with it. The whole context with me joining this band was – especially when you move, you have a very happy-go-lucky, new-lease-on-life if you’re excited on your move. So I viewed it at its core as an opportunity to get better at drumming, I really wasn’t taking it super-seriously artistically. That might sound bad, but what I meant was that I wasn’t putting too much pressure on it to be artistically important. I wanted to give it as much freedom as possible by approaching it as practice. But now it’s becoming more something that has an aesthetic lineage and we’re honing in on a pocket of style, I guess. So now, things like relationships are important, that we understand each other. But at first, there wasn’t any pressure other than trying to get better at drums.
NF: Playing with the MPC, you guys are playing with an instrument that is sort of limitless in the sounds it can produce, or reproduce.
MB: Yeah. It does have limits, you know? There’s only so much you can do with your two hands at a time, it’s only got 16 buttons. It does have limits, but sonically, yeah, not much. If I played a piano, I’d be able to hash out melodic ideas much faster, but the for the kind of music that I make and have been making for a while, MPC is really conducive to experimenting with sound itself.
FL: MPC’s are amazing. Samplers in general are – I’m not sure we’ve found a more contemporary instrument, unless it’s Abelton Live, or something like that.
MB: Yeah, but, it’s all about reliability too. That’s why people love MPC’s because it acts like an instrument, it doesn’t fuck up. My Ableton Live setup is the only thing that ever causes problems, it always glitches out.
NF: I’m curious about the collaborative element of the MPC. Is it more or less Mike’s domain? Or was it until Frank brought in his?
MB: I’d love for it to be everyone’s domain. I think the more we play each other’s instruments, the more cohesive the sound’s gonna be, or the more we’ll understand what the other is doing.
NN: Yeah. But the answer is yes, it is Mike’s domain. But we sit down and listen to sounds together and talk about them.
MB: There definitely is a lot of back and forth, which, you know, is the real challenge of electronic music – it’s not always realtime. If you’re looping a guitar part four or five times, you can really hone in on the kind of sound you want, or if you have effects pedals. But a lot of what I do is precomposed – longer samples. I think the real challenge is going to be how to compose my parts around a jam session, because I feel like that’s where a lot of good stuff comes out of, just jamming with the material and letting everything fall into its own pocket.
NN: We sort of ran into that problem earlier tonight at practice when we were jamming on this new song. Most of the elements are there as far as we have drums going, guitars, vocals, a lot of sample-based percussion. But we were talking about some bass parts, and I had had some ideas I wanted to communicate to Mike, since most of our bass parts are from the MPC, but his hands were already used up. And to get the proper bass sound to fit into the EQ, it would take some time. So there’s a certain lag time or delay between having an idea that needs to come out of the MPC and actually executing it. Which can be frustrating sometimes, and it gives us a little difficulty communicating between instruments.
MB: Something we never talked about but I think is true - a large part of our music is about recreating studio tracks live, like recreating rides and effects and dynamics on a studio album. Frank just got these great mics for his drumset, you know, it’s less DIY-sounding, a lot of Brooklyn electronic hybrids fall into that trashy sound and not putting a high premium on sound quality. I think a big part of our setup is trying to recreate this balance you can get in a studio.
FL: I think we want the sumptuousness of the kinds of sonic events you get on a record, but I think there’s also a balance between that and wanting things to sound live and not just pre-recorded. Personally, I think it’s important that there are meaningful differences between recordings and live performances because those are different mediums, and to try to collapse them too completely is sacrificing the opportunity to experience the details of each event, you know what I mean? But we’re certainly going for the level of sound quality you get in the studio context live, and we’re putting a lot of energy into getting our live sound into the sort of the pocket of satisfaction which happens to be probably a little higher than what is common, but that also has to do with the fact that we’re now getting older as a band.
MB: I think it’s also the only solution to handling all the elements we’re trying to edit. The only way we can make it sound like music is by really paying attention to where things are pocketed. I’m really jealous of people who have classic four-part bands, everything has just kind of evolved to work together over the years. Bass amps were designed to fulfill a certain frequency range, and guitar amps have a certain range, and they all form around the drums.
FL: Samplers really fuck everything up! With great power comes great responsibility….
MB: I mean, we just got thrown a whole bunch of line of slack. We basically have a lot of freedom, and it’s kind of debilitating sometimes, we can get sloppy.
NF: So how did that translate when you were in the studio? What was it like to now be discussing songs with someone outside of the band?
NN: Well, we went into the studio with the five tracks that ended up on our EP, which we’d been playing live for a while. We knew we weren’t going to have a lot of time in the studio proper because our resources were limited, so we essentially went in and said “We want to do them like we do live, only better.” There weren’t many overdubs, only a few, and we were working with a guy who’d seen us live. We didn’t even discuss what we were going to do that much, just trying to put all our parts together. He came to us with some ideas – like maybe beefing up the bass or making some of the samples pop a little better. But when we were actually recording, it was pretty much the way we’d been doing them live, just one at a time.
MB: The next time around, as far as my part goes, I’d love to see my samples as evolving entities, like, things I can just swap out. Instead of using the same sample all the way throughout, from the first inception to having to lay it down on a record. Like, let’s say I sample an Indian flute from an mp3 because that’s all I can get my hands on, later down the line I might want to track down the vinyl and sample that directly to improve the fidelity. Or I could just swap out the sample. Next time we do an album, since we’re much more comfortable with the process, I think there’ll be a lot more leeway to microproduce.
NN: Hopefully we’ll have a lot more time and money, too.
NF: So who was the guy you recorded with?
FL: Kyle Boyd. A very nice man.
NF: And he’s the protégé of Biggie’s masterer?
NN: No, that was Eric, the guy we mixed with.
NF: So you had an engineer/producer?
FL: Yeah. The sound engineer was Kyle Boyd.
NN: He comes from Nashville and came up doing a lot of country records, then moved to Brooklyn.
FL: Studied under the auto-tune guru.
NN: The guy who invented auto-tune taught him. We recorded at Headgear Studios, which is where TV On the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs recorded, and he worked on the last TV On the Radio. He’s a nice guy.
FL: He kind of plucked us. He saw us play and was like “Oh, I should give you guys a decent deal right now.” You know, studios are a lot cheaper these days because there’s less money in America and there’s more deals to be had because less people have time to be in bands because everyone is working hard. We went into the studio probably way earlier than any of us expected with this project. Although we were ready.
NN: Yeah, it wasn’t premature.
FL: It was just an opportunity that kind of snuck up on us.
MB: In the same vein, if our final goal is to be playing music live, we should be playing shows as soon as possible. And it’s the same thing: if we want to be recording and have people hear our recordings, we should be recording as early as possible. And I think we learned a whole lot.
NF: When you wrote that essay on the Jezebel music blog –
FL: The Pizza Jams one?
NF: Yeah, you were talking about the specificity of the actual sounds. It got me listening to your music in a different way. Lyrically, you talk a lot about childhood, and in the essay, you talk about the sounds of your childhood. What do you feel like you’re trying to reconcile?
FL: There’s a lot to be said about that. Obviously, there’s a lot to be nostalgic for, or even envious of the immediacy and unself-consciousness in kids being creative. Especially thinking about how challenging your 20s can be in a lot of ways, in terms of how you learn to prioritize your time and balance living in the culture that you live in. There’s a lot of dis-incentives to being in a band, and you need to lean on very core inspirations that you use to believe that what you’re doing is meaningful. And I think that a lot of that comes from very childlike insights that you hopefully hold on to when you’re older. It’s very innocent.
NN: I think what we were getting at in that article was just that in an aesthetic sense or an art sense, we grew up in a culture that’s increasingly recorded, so our entire childhoods are on record – visually, sonically, literarily. Our entire lives are somehow represented in a slew of media. And I think a lot of our contemporaries are addressing this in a whole lot of different ways, and a whole lot of musicians are addressing this in different ways. I mean, that’s what the sampler is: we’re taking little snippets out of the libraries of our lives and refashioning and reimagining them. And we’re just trying to do it in a way that makes sense for us because I think we’re sort of at odds with the ways a lot of other people are doing it. I mean, we have our whole lives, and our parents’ lives, in front of us, and it’s hard to process that in a way that’s meaningful and new and our own and a part of a lineage that’ll have relevance in the future. I think a lot of people are being regurgative about it all and just taking what has come and just spewing it out in a trashy, psychedelic penis-beat, and we’re trying to be a little more tasteful about it. I mean, these ideas could go in a million directions, we could talk about it forever.
MB: What if you could pick what you wanted to throw up?! Just throw up the bagel!
FL: But back to the childhood thing.
NN: Our childhoods are, like, a matter of material for us, you know? Musically, we have all these ways of reaching into our past and repositioning ourselves as curators of our childhoods, and it would be cool if we did a good job of it.
FL: We all come at this from different angles, but I think probably that all of the art history courses that I took in college has me very interested in the 80s as – to me – an irresolved moment in aesthetic history. So I think about using the palette of the 80s as an effort to just reinvestigate, actually. It’s not like there’s an answer in particular that I’m looking for or even one that I believe exists. But I think that there’s some sort of diffuse mystery to me about it still. The 60s and the 70s aren’t mysterious to me, just something about the way they’re being dealt with in the history-producing machine isn’t that problematic to me. But at some point around 1981, the shit hit the fan completely. It basically has to do with the post-modern, and I think there’s something I’m trying to figure out that I can’t even articulate yet, but it feels appropriate to take the palette and use it plastically to make my own forms.
FL: So that’s why the 80s and my childhood are important, because they are somehow the place where my material comes from.
NN: It also has to do – very, very simply – with the state of our lives. Being in our mid-20s, we’re adults for the first time, and yet we have our childhoods behind us in a very palpable way. And we’re dealing with that.
MB: I feel like I had ten years taken away from me by going to school.
NN: You only went to school for ten years?!
MB: Let’s face it: Kindergarten through 3rd Grade are great. You don’t really have to get down to brass tacks until 5th Grade. I think this is maybe the first time since 3rd Grade where felt like I can really do anything. Right now, I’m really feeling that. And the possibility in the air is really palpable. The only thing I can really relate it to is how I used to act, almost. And I used to play a lot of video games back then.
FL: Video games are a really big part of how Mike and I relate to music. Nick did not play video games. I know that when I’m playing drums, I’m using the same part of my brain that I developed as being, like, a wicked Mario Bros player.
MB: Getting through a song is like trying to get through a Contra level.
MB: And when you’re doing really well, you know none of those bullets will touch you. And if one did, you’d be dead. That’s how I feel about electronics – if one bullet touches you, the whole level’s over. If you press the wrong button once, as far as the sequencing goes, everyone knows you fucked up. So it’s about being a good Contra player.
FL: That kind of leaps back into a bit of what we were talking about in terms of the palette. Everything that Mike is saying is to, but we’re not actually in Contra, and we know that. What’s incredible is to try to take the actual aesthetic ingredients of that experience, which is basically the sonic palette of the 80s and 8-bit videogames, and reorganize it to express more adult themes.
MB: But what’s our adult themes?
FL: Sex. Sex is an adult theme. And loneliness. Confusion.
NN: The caprices of identity in a world of identities…but I didn’t play video games.
FL: Right, so Nick doesn’t get a voice in this!
NF: About childhood, I tried to read heavily into your lyrics, and if I read too hard, tell me to back off. But there’s the line in “Yellow Wings” I want to be two places at once, it feels like the kind of thing when you’re an infant when you have to learn that there are spaces that exist without your presence.
MB: Yeah, you do have to learn that. But I think now, I’m trying to maybe find out if that’s really true. I don’t know, I think it is possible to be two places at once. And I think it’s possible to fly, too! That song, I wrote those lyrics. I was feeling depressed because I don’t think I had any income or job at the time. I think I was maybe just trying to escape a little bit, and I think there’s an admission in that song that you can’t really be two places at once or change shapes or do what you want to do all the time. But maybe you should try.
FL: Yeah, it’s an honest wish.
NF: Yeah, and in some sense, the way you guys are repurposing the sounds of your childhoods, you are at once there and also here.
FL: Yeah, I think that is a cool point to make.
NF: I also wanted to ask you about the fact that the three of you are also visual artists. Nick and Frank, you guys worked for an artist, and Mike, you do animation. It’s definitely in the lyrics, too, they’re really vivid, visually, especially in “I Think About You All the Time.” There’s the colors, the shoes, the constellation.
FL: Yeah, I spent a long time with those lyrics – and I’m always in a constant battle between being really loquacious vs. being more reserved because I can really run my mouth sometimes. And I’m trying to figure out if the most righteous way to express myself aesthetically is to let it flow or whether it’s a matter of doing more severe editing, and that song is an example of trying to let it flow, and that’s why there are so many words in it that may be vivid.
NF: So do you guys put much stock in the visual components of musical performances?
FL: Yeah. For me it’s central.
MB: For me, when I’m making a melody, I’m always seeing it visually. I’m always thinking about how that would play out theatrically, how the motions of individual parts interact with each other, and if they were actors, how they would work together.
NN: I think I see our music, too. It’s extremely visual – colors and shapes.
MB: For me, at least, I’ve been composing music on the computer for ten years, and it’s all very visual. Like, when you wanna draw in a filter envelope, you see it. And when you see the waves go by, you hear the click, but you see the click, too. You could almost feel the click with your finger when you see that threshold pass. And so when you have a whole bunch of these things going on at the same time, a really helpful way for me to organize it is to visualize where everything is spatially and how everything is hitting. It’s an organizational tool for music, usually.
NF: That’s something the three of you have or haven’t discussed before?
MB: Often when we’re talking about different parts of a song, we do use adjectives that are visual.
NN: We’re pretty visual in our vocabulary, but I don’t know that we really ever talk about the fact that we all see it that way.
MB: Well, one of the things about music that I really believe is that it has the power to transport you or to recreate reality around you. There has to be some visual component in it, and I think we try really hard to create realities.
NF: So you guys have a pretty conscious desire to be kind of evocative, visually, with your music?
FL: Yeah, I would say so.
NN: For me, it’s not even a conscious desire, it’s just a given. When I listen to music, it’s very visual, when I listen or compose or hear it in my head, it’s very visual.
MB: I don’t think any of us really nerd out on music that tries to sound like music alone. I think there’s a lot of types of music that’s all about making music that sounds like other music they’ve heard and trying to take it further.
NN: I just think that our music, and the music that we like, relates to an experience.
FL: Yeah. “Soundtracks,” is a really, really key theme. I don’t really ever think of sounds outside of the context of “soundtrack.” You know, my eyes are always doing something, even when they’re closed. Like, every sound I hear is the accompaniment to something I’m seeing, it’s all turned on all the time. So when I make music, it’s an attempt to create something that’s harmonious with the entire experience. So that maybe gets at why the three of us don’t really talk about that so much as it’s assumed. If the music feels true, it’s because it’s an effective soundtrack to our lives. So, the basic visual component is just what we’re doing as seeing creatures, and a big part of what I’m doing as a seeing creature is to sort out my art game. You know, trying to figure out how I feel about visual art, so it kind of follows that the sorts of images that I bathe myself in, because it’s a natural interest, have a lot to do with the types of sounds that are reasonable soundtracks to those.
NN: Trying to use our imaginations!
NF: So then, do you guys have a vision for the visuals of the band? Not necessarily in the sense of what the sounds are evoking, but the actual visual components of the group? Album covers? Videos?
FL: We’re actually just starting to tackle it.
NN: We talk about clothes sometimes.
NN: Yeah, we all have the same color pants. We actually planned on all wearing them, once, but Frank forgot.
NF: Are there musical performers whose visual presentation and style you guys dig?
FL: You mean fashion style?
NF: Yeah, since we’re talking about clothes now.
NN: We haven’t really talked about that.
NF: It can be personal, it doesn’t have to be a band thing.
FL: I’m pretty inspired by style all over the place.
NN: I can’t think of any musicians off the top of my head whose style inspires me. But I guess I dig grunge style. I also dig a lot of really contemporary hip-hop style. And actually hip-hop style from the 80s is really inspiring. And I also really like certain Mod-ish style from the 60s. I like the style of little kids a lot.
FL: That’s actually worth mentioning. We’re naming our record Baby Style. And that was, anecdotally, that was because I was wearing a really big oversized shirt when Mike and I were living together, and he saw me wearing it and said, “Cool, I like that baby style.” I mean, I won’t mince words for a minute: I find clothes to be an amazingly enriching field of, like, aesthetic information.
NN: Mike just got a new sweater!
FL: I’m fairly into Gucci Mane’s style. I mean, it’s pretty silly. It’s definitely baby style. I just think his chains are pretty amazing, and I’ve been sorting those out in my art practice lately, just with some chain imagery and stuff like that. Other than that, I don’t know, I definitely like Scandinavian style, Finland has some amazing things. I’ve been chilling with a Marimekko book and loving that.
NF: Don’t know who that is.
FL: Marimekko is like the Finnish national brand with beautiful patterns.
NF: “National” like “nationalized?”
FL: Sort of. You know things are pretty social there. So I’ve been enjoying this pattern book of 40s, 50s, and 60s Finnish patterns. That’s some stuff I like.
FL: Pretty medium.
NN: It was happening a lot in the summer, but then it took a lot longer to master our record than we anticipated, so it kind of died down for a while. But we have people looking at us, you know. The biggest setback, the biggest obstacle has been our band name.
FL: Yeah, we kind of don’t have a band name. Though just today we decided to be called Keepaway.
NN: In was a good name in a lot of ways, but because of the nature of its brevity and ubiquity, and especially because it’s a preposition, it’s hard for people to remember and impossible for people to find on the internet.
NF: Well, beyond guys coming to you after a show and wanting to make a record with you – we have friends in high places – Victor from Boy Crisis mentioned you guys in an interview with Time Out.
FL: We didn’t actually know that. I mean, I think all of our feelings about this kind of thing is that we’re working hard on making music because we’re interested in being successful and figuring out a way to have a really stable relationship and ability to do this. It’s kind of a luxury, naturally. I think also all of us have to be kind of hustlers, but at the same time, we also have to keep our eye on the product ahead of any one particular outcome, you know? None of us want to get ahead of ourselves. It’s super cliché, but I’d be doing this out of this context. If I was in the middle of nowhere, I would still have a really engaged musical life. I have confidence that we’re gonna go places with this.
NN: Yeah. For me, the music is an important part of what I see as my life practice as a human being trying to become a more fully realized and intentional and just harmoniously-oriented version of myself. And I’d want anything I do to be part and parcel of that, music especially. But in order to be engaged with music in that kind of sustainable way, I feel like, at this point in my life, I need to be sort of doggedly determined and, you know, mildly opportunistic, and extremely dedicated to be able to achieve some sort of stable plateau in the arts.
NF: You guys have been around a lot of young musical acts that have sort of blown up really quickly. Do you feel like because of this, like, rapid sort of cultural grabbing that’s happened with these bands can maybe almost erode their dedication?
NN: Yeah, I mean, I feel like some of these people who have been sort of swooped up don’t actually exhibit the kind of really true, ardent commitment to creating good art that I want to engage in. I’m not talking about people we know, but just thinking about the people who have been swept up by the internet’s rapid fame machine, I mean, maybe some of them will use it to launch the kind of career I think is desirable.
MB: There’s something to be said for working up to big waves rather than just being swept up by them. You gotta learn how to surf. Some of these people who have been swept up quickly and have actually managed to stay afloat have always been surfers, that’s what they do, they do a good job of staying up. I’ve never been in a band before this one, and I like that we’re taking the time we need to feel things out and also not missing opportunities.
FL: Yeah, check the current and respond to it.
NF: Alright. Well, at this point, having played together a bunch and spent time together, would you say you’re pretty close dudes?
FL: Yeah, yeah.
NN: Yeah, we’ve spent a lot of time together.
MB: I see these guys more than I see my mom.
NN: I love them both very much.
FL: Yeah, totally. There’s a lot of love in this band.
NF: I wanted to ask about that and singing, because the three of you sing together, and it sounds great. But I don’t know if I saw you guys when you first started playing out, were you always all singing?
NN: As much as possible, yeah.
FL: Well, you know, drums is an unusual instrument to sing from. There’s a lot of drummers who drum and sing backing vocals, and even some who do lead vocals. It usually takes me the longest to figure out my parts, so we’re definitely in the habit of playing material live that I haven’t been able to get comfortable enough with yet that I won’t be singing, even though we know that when we record it, I will be singing. It takes a while to pair those two – drumming and singing – as oppose to singing and playing guitar.
NN: It’s definitely a goal and one we try to achieve as much as is appropriate and good. I think that’s one of the things we can say is one of the band’s strengths, when we’re all singing together.
NF: I mean, to me, that was kind of the most interesting element of the kind of dialectic with the MPC and the analog elements, it was, like the voice. Frank, you’ve said that you feel like your voice is your strongest instrument.
FL: Totally, totally.
NF: And then Mike, you said this is actually the first time you’ve really sung in a band.
MB: Yeah. It’s always been a goal of mine, to sing over an MPC – not rap over it, but sing. But there’s gonna be some more rapping soon.
FL: Yeah. Things are gonna get rap-ier. We’d love to do some collabo’s with some rappers.
MB: I mean, really believe this, though, that the only people who are really pulling off the electronic-vocal hybrid are rap artists. I think it’s why we touch upon it a lot, because there’s not really many other people to look to.
FL: There’s some other people.
MB: But I think rap artists are doing it so well in a lot of new, inspiring ways.
FL: Animal Collective does a pretty incredible job of it.
MB: Yeah. Well, that’s another reason that we get often get compared to them is because we use those kinds of rhythms and sing harmonies over electronic bass. There’s not many other people doing that well.
FL: I don’t know, really.
NN: Gang Gang Dance is another one.
FL: I think Crystal Castles, actually, are kind of an amazing electro band.
NN: Yeah, tons of bands are experimenting with electronics, but I think you’re right.
MB: Well it depends what happens with the voice. With Crystal Castles, the electronics get the voice, for sure, the vocals are more like a keyboard part. Rap puts the vocals up front.
FL: Well, it depends on the rap.
MB: As a genre, though, if you’re gonna generalize, the mix is focused around the voice and the 808 kick.Whereas a lot of electronic stuff, it’s more dance production – you have the electronic elements and then you have the voice that’s almost mixed like a sample.
NF: Was this something that came up while you guys were recording? Was it in the mastering process more than the recording?
NN: Yeah. The guy we worked with comes from a hip-hop background, so he’s very centered on the vocals. He kept telling us “This is a vocal-hot record! This is gonna be a vocal-hot record!” He brought out the vocals and the kick drum a lot. It was interesting to work with him because a lot of my inclinations for production are not to bring out the vocals. As far as the, like, masterworks of recordings that I listen to over and over, a lot of them are very textural and are more about the entire tableau than the vocals being up-front. I’d say, musically, in my whole life, I’ve been influenced more by Loveless than by Biggie. But our record maybe only takes some cues from Loveless. I don’t know, I’m just trying to say it was an interesting process.
MB: When we were mixing, we were going back and forth between having it be more textural and ambient vs. being more of a thump-and-pop song. I think what we learned is that you can’t just average those things together and hope you come up with something good in between. You can’t just hope to take the best parts of a pop song and the best parts of a shoegaze, put them together, and expect them to sound good. In order for a pop song to be a pop song and a shoegaze song a shoegaze song, they have to have certain elements in them that directly conflict with each other. So we had to make certain choices – “the vocals are going to be like this, but the kick drum can stay like this;” the “guitar needs to be like this, and maybe we can pick up slack for that by making the drums sound like this.” Kind of moving things around so it takes up both of those worlds, but at the same time, it can be both of them, it doesn’t neglect the other one. It’s a big challenge. You can’t just average them.
NF: Cool. Is there anything else you guys want to talk about?
MB: Not right now.
NN: I have something. Nobody listening to this interview could know this, but just wanted to tell you that, throughout the interview, Mike’s been manipulating his fork, and it finally just broke!
Keepaway - "Yellow Wings".mp3
Keepaway - "I Think About You All The Time".mp3