Monday, January 28, 2013

Interview with Anthony from Radar Eyes

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Chicago-based Hozac Records - they release some of the most infectious rock n' roll based records every year, which happened once again in 2012 with releases from the Liminanas, Puffy Areolas, The People's Temple, and Radar Eyes. I listen to every record that the label puts out without exception and I have never found a dud. When I picked up the copy of Radar Eyes' debut self-titled LP, I was once again in awe of the consistency of quality in releases. Radar Eyes had a lot of influences and sounds involved in their music. A little bit of 80s punk, a little bit of Jesus & Mary Chain, and a little bit of the history of garage rock.

In September I took a job at a Beer Distributor and now have about 60 bars, restaurants, and hotels in Chicago that I call on and place orders for. One of these bars was Handlebar, a vegetarian restaurant that celebrates the cyclist lifestyle on North avenue that has some of the best french fries in the city and a great craft beer menu to boot. Turns out the manager of the restaurant, Russ, was a member of Radar Eyes. He got me in touch with Anthony, who has been in of Radar Eyes since 2007. We ended up chatting about the band's roots starting almost out of nowhere. Anthony, at the time, had been booking shows for the Cobra Lounge and was looking for an opening band. So he just assembled a new one out of a band called Night of the Hunter. Thus, Radar Eyes was born.

The members of the band Anthony, Shelley, Nithin, Russ, and Lucas all contribute different roles to the songwriting process and instrumentation of the band - Anthony says later in the interview that the band has become even more collaborative since the release of their newest LP.

The band has their own page on HOZAC'S WEBSITE and are also on FACEBOOK - I highly recommend the LP they released earlier this year. It's an atmospheric punch of rock n roll.

The band will also be releasing another album in 2013.

This is what Anthony said.

Jordan: So what’s the discography of Radar Eyes like? You said you started in 2007 but your debut LP came out in 2012 so basically what happened in between?

Anthony: Right, right - it’s a long time. It started off when I was playing in another band at the time - a band called Cococoma.

J: Oh I love that band!

A: Yeah, and Radar Eyes was sort of just a fun band so we didn’t really have a lot of aspirations to do anything with it, but as time went on and we put more effort into it, it became a more serious thing. Now it’s something that I do all the time. The first thing we put out was a tape with Plus Tapes. I met Dustin, the guy who runs it, at Pitchfork and I was talking with the guys at the Hozac table because I’m friendly with them and I saw the tape label, who had a booth next door. I told him that I had the Disappears tape and the Cave tape and how much I liked them - I still had a tape player in the car that I had at the time and it was nice to be able to play contemporary bands on the tape player (laughter). This was about when people started putting tapes out again. So I told him that I would love to put a tape out on the label - so he came to see us play and was into it. We basically recorded it live in our practice space and did a little bit of overdubbing and mixing.

Then we had a couple singles on Hozac before the LP came out. That’s the extent of it and we have a few coming up this year.

J: What do you all have in the works?

A: In the works we have another single on Hozac, a single on Agenda records, and then the guy, Chris who does the Notes and Bolts podcast, wants to put out a split flexi with us and another band. I just did the recording recently a couple weeks ago. Then we’re gonna record at Electrical Audio at the end of next month and hope to finish up a full-length.

J: So you all have analog-centric products - do you also use analog recording methods?

A: The LP, the tape, and one of the singles were all recorded on the same piece of equipment, which is an 8-channel mixing board with a quarter-inch reel to reel built in to it. It looks like a gigantic four-track, but it’s a much bigger and professional version, though it still retains a sort of home-studio feel. I did the mixing in Logic on my computer. I’m not married to analog sound. I like using it, but I like being able to mix digitally since it’s much easier.

J: How do you guys go about recording songs? Are you the principal songwriter?

A: Well, not necessarily. Right now, I do mainly guitar playing but the songwriting process is all over. Sometimes I’ll come in with a song that’s completely done, but more often than not, especially over the last year since Lucas has joined the band, he’s brought in a lot of good ideas and we’ve made songs around those. After we finished the LP, I feel like I had done so much on that record that I was creatively friend (laughs). So Lucas really helped out with that - I didn’t even want to think about writing a song or making music. I spent a lot of hours in the basement mixing and overdubbing. I really have no training on how to do that stuff so I was kind of figuring it all out as I went. It was frustrating for a lot of it.

J: You labeled yourself earlier as a garagey punky band. I definitely think a bunch of your songs are like that, but then on songs like “I Am” you have a more ethereal, ambient vibe - soundscape-like. The lead instrumental track is so otherworldly and it’s so different. Where does it come from? Is there an influence or idea?

A: “I Am” specifically is a strange situation. We had that song completely done and I just thought that it was lacking something so the main melody line is a synthesizer and I wrote that in the studio in my basement after everything had been tracked. Even playing that song live we had never used that melody line. I had always thought the song was a little flat, but once I had written that then the song really came together.

As far as the influence, I liked the structure of that song but it never felt finished until I added all those extra layers and synthesizer. I guess I had some ideas of how I wanted it to sound, but I wasn’t thinking of those things when the song was originally written. It came together as I was putting it together in the studio, putting together the guitar, bass, and drum tracks. It ends up sounding more like My Bloody Valentine Loveless influenced or shoegaze, but I think it was out of necessity as far as what the song called for. I had something and needed to figure out what the song called for - what does it need? Those sounds and synthesizer parts were what the song called for.

J: That’s crazy - I would have thought that you had worked off the synth-line first.

A: Yeah, that was the thing that just tied it all together.

J: So what would you say has influenced your sound? What bands have influenced songwriting or production? Maybe even beyond bands - events, ideas.

A: As far as the album, the LP, I really have always liked the idea of homerecording and doing it yourself - the outsider influence in music. As an exercise in being able to communicate in a studio with an engineer, I wanted to know how to do this stuff. I wanted to know how to do it myself to be able to talk with someone. Without any actual training, I had to do it myself. This was the approach with the recording.

As far as bands who influenced me, I’ve always been into regular punk-rock bands like the Ramones, the 70s cleveland punks like the Electric Eels. There is stuff on the LP that has been influenced by bands from the 2000s - the alt-garage-rock. The ponies who were a band when Radar Eyes first started that was a big influence on me. They culminated a bunch of sounds and influences that I liked into a band. I’m a music nerd for sure - I like a wide variety of music. It’s hard to pin one thing down. In my teenage years I was into a lot of the punk at the time and a lot of Geffen records like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. and those bands. 

J: If someone put a gun to your head and said what was your favorite band of all-time and if you don’t answer then the bullet goes into your brain.

A: (laughs)

J: And you only have 10 seconds.

A: Well, the first band that comes to mind is the Ramones - they were a band that played music that I could play - they started me into making music. I would listen to them and think “I could do that.” It made being in a band possible for me. And that stuff had come out 15 years before I was playing music. It made me feel like it was okay to play guitar even though I sucked. I think that’s the most important thing for me. The reasons why I started.

J: So who writes the lyrics for your band?

A: Currently I write all the lyrics. On the LP, Nathan wrote the songs that he sang, which are “Bear Bee” and “Prairie Puppies” and a couple others. But as far as lyrics now, I write all of them.

J: What do you talk about when you’re writing lyrics? Where do they come from?

A: (laughs) Well, most of the stuff on the album was personal experience. I mean, I could go down the list of songs and say what they’re about. But I’d rather have people tell me what they think the songs are about.

J: Are you a fan of poetry in general?

A: I am, but I don’t read a lot of poetry. That being said, I can definitely appreciate it. I like great lyricists, everyone from Dylan, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and a bunch of others. But that’s probably the main influence. I don’t think I’m an amazing lyricist, but it can be pretty cool to write lyrics. I get inspired by great lyricists - people who put words together well.

J: What do you think makes a great lyricist?

A: Somebody that can tell you things that have been said a hundred times, but the person does it in a way that can be new, refreshing and interesting. You can talk about love but do it in a way that doesn’t sound like it’s been said a million times. I think if you can do that, that’s pretty good.

J: What do you think about songs? Do you think it’s similar?

A: I think music and lyrics can come together. But someone who can write a great song and put chords together in an interesting way. It’s gonna be the same chords you’ve heard a thousand times but in a new way. That’s impressive to me too.

J: The same stuff in new and interesting ways. Seems like that’s kind of where we are now. There’s a lot that’s been done. I can’t even tell what we haven’t.

A: Even down to the subtleties. Just changing a little thing here and there that makes something more interesting. Paying attention to details is refreshing. Having taste or restraint in songwriting. I find that the more that I write songs, the more that I want to approach from that standpoint. You can throw anything at it, but then you have to ask yourself what is actually good. Having a bullshit detector. What’s good here and what’s not? You have to be honest and leave your ego at the door.

J: What about rhyme in lyrics? What do you think about its role? When you hear rhyme in lyrics do you think “that’s cool” or “that’s unnecessary” or “that’s cool as long as it’s not the same shit I always hear?”

A: Yeah, the latter there. It can be good if it’s used well. Like rhyming the most boring lyrics. Someone that doesn’t take any actual interest in whether the songwriting is good. People who throw it off and say that’s good enough.

J: I feel like that gets done a lot. For me it kind of pisses me off.

A: I think bad lyrics are bad lyrics and I am definitely guilty of it. Even some stuff on the album I had just tossed off because I was more concerned with other stuff at the time. But now in retrospect I take more time with them. I’m not a great lyricist and I don’t think I ever will be, but I take more time with them than I used to. I think about each word a little more. How does it fit in and what does it mean? I find language and communication interesting - how do you put an idea into another person’s head.

J: What’s the new album like? What are the song ideas like?

A: We have about five songs recorded for a new album. Five new recordings that haven’t been released. We’re gonna do five or six more in the next month or so. I would say that the stuff is a little darker than the last LP. It’s more of the stuff that I’ve been listening to lately. I mean, I’ve probably always listened to it, but even moreso lately. A lot of 80s minimal synth stuff and post-punk. I’ve been going through about a year and a half long new wave obsession. Stuff like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure, and things in that era. It’s gonna be a little darker and post-punk. It’s still two guitars and drums. The last song on the LP “Side of the Road” is similar - I’d like to write more synth-based stuff, but I don’t generally write songs on a synthesizer.

J: So you usually write on a guitar?

A: Yeah, it usually starts with guitar chords or a bassline.

J: When do you all end up working out songs?

A: In practice we will bring ideas and mull over them. Bring a basic structure and then I always record in early practices and then send those recordings to the band and have people bring suggestions to the table. There’s a lot of homework especially in the new songs. On the previous LP, a lot of the song ideas were my own. But the new stuff is very collaborative and everyone has been a huge part of the writing process. It’s awesome. I love that everyone can fit in more. The band is really great.

J: Do you or anyone do anything artistic or creative outside of music?

A: Yes. Me not so much. Music is my thing. Russ is also a visual artist and does a lot of t-shirt designs and poster designs. He makes great calendars every year for his friends and so I got an awesome screen-printed calendar. He’s really artistic in other ways. Lucas mostly does music - he’s in a bunch of bands but is also insanely prolific in songwriting. He writes a lot of music all the time. I don’t know what else he does. Shelly has a pretty creative job being a librarian. She does a summer reading program and has to bring in a lot of ideas and material for the kids.
J: How was it working with Hozac Records?

A: I really like those guys. I’ve been a fan of what they’ve been doing for over fifteen years. They used to have a zine that I started reading back in the mid 90s, maybe late 90s called Horizontal Action, which is where “Hozac” comes from. They help me to find out about a lot of music that I wouldn’t know. A lot of 70s rock n roll and garage bands and contemporary stuff. Even Jay Reatard’s first band, the Reatards. They’ve been great otherwise too. Todd and Brett are awesome dudes.

J: That’s about all the questions I have. Anything else you want to say?

A: Oh, man. Uh.

J: It’s a pretty heavy burden. Anything in the world.

A: (Laughs). I got nothing for you.

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