Sunday, August 2, 2015

Interview with Negative Scanner

The debut, self-titled LP from Chicago band Negative Scanner saw the light of release last month from the best-in-class label Trouble in Mind. It rips with eleven burners: the longest song clocks in at a pi-mimicking 3:14 and the rest of the songs fall closely behind. While most bands will "diversify" a record (read: drift from their strengths) by putting in cringe-worthy ballads or slow jams, Negative Scanner instead plows through with memorable song after memorable song. What Negative Scanner does best is leave a hook rolling around your dome in record time, like garage rock nuggets cooked to juicy perfection through a darkening, postpunk frier. Bottoms up, motherfucker.

The four-piece (Rebecca Valeriano-Flores, Matt Revers, Nick Beaudoin, Tom Cassling) have been making the rounds through basements, record stores, and official venues since 2012, releasing a couple 7" singles and live sets before the eventual transition to long-playing record. The LP is Negative Scanner at their best. The tight, venomous energy seen live has finally transferred to a slab of wax and we're all the richer for it. I'll say it right now: this recordwill end up on my year-end list.

Not only are Negative Scanner an excellent band, but they might provide you with deep dish pizza and ice cream drumsticks if you interview them. How do I know? Because it happened to me, Jack! So before I go any further, thanks guys!

Jordan Reyes: I think I saw you guys for my first time on Record Store Day of 2014 at Saki. Have you guys always been a four-piece?

Nick Beaudoin: Well, for a couple months we didn’t have Matt, but we didn't play any shows or recorded anything, so for all intents and purposes we’ve always been a four-piece.

JR: Got it. And you guys have the two 7”s, a couple digital live sets, and now the LP?

Rebecca Valeriano-Flores: Yeah, there are actually multiple live sets that have been recorded. Two that are completely online - one from New York, when we played Rough Trade, and one from Young Camelot in Chicago. There’s another from the Owl that hasn’t yet been released.

JR: So tell me about recording the LP. You guys did the whole recording yourselves? Where was it recorded?

Tom Cassling: Well, we practice in the basement of my spot so we did it there. We tracked it to a Tascam and went from there.

JR: How long had you guys had those songs written before you put them on the LP?

NB: Some of them for a while, but others we finished a second before we recorded, literally. “Ivy League Assholes,” the first song on the record, is one of our older songs.

RVF: There were a couple songs we wrote as we recorded so we were making up our parts and recording them immediately. At least two songs were recorded somewhat spontaneously like that.

NB: “Low” was recorded like that.

RVF: Oh, so then there are three - “Gone Wild” and “Forget It” too.

JR: So is the practice space a creative space? Do you go in with the mindset of new things happening there?

NB: I think it’s more of a rehearsal space, but every once in a while there will be a moment or Rebecca will come in with an idea. I don’t think we go into practice thinking we will write songs.

Matt Revers: There’s not a lot of loose jamming.

NB: Also, as soon as we write a song, it’s incorporated into the setlist immediately.

JR: Had you guys played live before you recorded or did you record first and then play live?

RVF: We played live first. We recorded a few times and had demos, but we had probably played a handful of shows before we started recording.

MR: I think when I was approached to play, you guys already had five songs written or so. Was it just you two [points to Rebecca and Tom].

TC: Oh yeah, I guess that we had a quick demo before we had a band. We had done a five song thing with a member of Nick’s other band. Rebecca and I were splitting duties on bass parts.

JR: And y’all (Rebecca and Tom) played together before as Tyler John Tyler?

RVF: Yup, that was me and Tom.

JR: I don’t think I lived in Chicago when that was still active.

RVF: We were only around for a few years and we put out one LP and three 7”s but when that ended, it was very clear that Negative Scanner is a very different band. It’s always strange to me to hear people say that Negative Scanner came from that band because the songs are so different and Matt and Nick add a lot to the band.

JR: [To Rebecca] And you usually will come in with lyrics and riffs, right?

RVF: Yeah, I’ll come in with chords and lyrics before we hammer out the rest of a song in the practice space.

JR: Fairly personal lyrics - I think there’s an Empty Bottle mention on the album?

RVF: (Laughs) Yeah, that song ["Fan vs. Wild"] has some name-dropping, like Empty Bottle.

NB: And there’s a nice shout out to an Ocean Beach in that song, too.

RVF: The Ocean Beach in San Diego. There’s also Mission Street from San Francisco in there, which is a strip and even like a neighborhood, I’d say.

MR: How long did you live in Chicago before you moved to Miami? You grew up here?

JR: I spent like 7 years of my childhood here. I was born in LA, moved to DC, then Chicago, then North Carolina for college, back to Chicago for like two and a half or three years, and now I’m in Miami. I still plan on coming back to Chicago a lot. There’s just so much compelling art happening here. I think Chicago’s kind of spoiled actually. There’s such variety and also a history of experimentation: Sun Ra’s from here - he’s all-encompassing and no one’s caught up to him yet. Then you’ve got Thrill Jockey, and Trouble in Mind, and Hozac. I think there’s always something of merit happening in any city, but there’s just so much here. And there’s not really anything of the caliber of the street festivals we get here like West Fest, Do Division, and Green Fest.

RVF: Yeah, there’s so many in Chicago. It’s pretty cool.

NB: But that’s just the West side of town. There are really stupid, awful ones in Lincoln Park like Rib Fest. I had to bike there last summer and I swear I heard like a Fallout cover band once every few streets. And it was just like, “What? Where is this coming from?”

JR: Are there certain bands that you guys all like? I hate to say influences - it’s like “oh you guys just sound like this band."

RVF: Labels or reviewers will list our “influences” when they describe the band, but really the bands that we have in common are just like classic rock n’ roll bands or punk bands. I can say that I’m really influenced by Wire, which they might put on our record reviews, but only one or two of us are really into Wire. When you talk about something we all like, the common denominator between the four of us is like…

TC: The Stones!

RVF: Or Blondie? Or the Ramones! It’s funny. We don’t really think about it that way when people are talking about the “influences of Negative Scanner.” And someone will put Siouxsie and the Banshees. I mean, I like that band, but we all listen to different stuff.

JR: I feel like when people do that, they just go for the easiest reach. It’s usually not even true. Like, a lot of hardcore will be compared to some other hardcore band and yet, the person making it is like the biggest Nick Drake head. You never know what’s going on in someone’s mind.

MR: The bands that I listen to the most aren’t necessarily the ones that influence me the most, either. Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

JR: You guys are going to tour this record?

TC: Yeah - we’re going out the last week of August through early September.

JR: Where all are you guys going?

TC: I think, historically, Rebecca and I have a bad habit of booking Southern tours in August. (Rebecca laughs)

NB: That’s the only route that I’ve been on.

MR: I’m looking forward to this route - it’s different than the last one we did.

JR: You guys don’t go to Florida, do you?

RVF: We were hoping we could incorporate it, but this one’s only going to be about two weeks so no such luck.

JR: Atlanta?

RVF: Yup. We’re doing St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Austin for two nights, New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, and Bloomington, IN. That’s all of them in order from memory.

JR: That’s pretty good! Never been to Texas.

MR: Austin was really fun last year - we played Beerland. Do you (Rebecca) know where we’re playing this year?

RVF: We’re playing Hotel Vegas on Saturday night and a place I’ve not heard of on Sunday night.

JR: Were you guys there for South by Southwest?

RVF: No, it was before South by.

JR: I imagine that’s more fun, like, not being there for South by.

MR: You can actually park the van - I’ve heard that’s impossible at South by.

TC: I’m too cranky for it. I’ve done it before and I don’t think I’d do it again. We all have jobs and Rebecca’s in school. It’s hard to schedule all the time off and I personally would rather do a proper tour, rather than be thrown into the mix with thousands of people who are burnt out by 2 pm. It’s fun to hang out with friends from across the country you haven’t seen in a while, but it’s so complicated.

JR: When you guys play live, do you have fun playing?

RVF: Yeah, definitely.

JR: I’ve been talking to a bunch of people about this lately. I do a solo folk project. And I feel fucking terrible when I play, but I do it because I think it’s important. It amazes me that people do it and have a good time.

MR: Sometimes it’s almost like how you feel good after you go for a run. I don’t like running all that much, but there’s a physical side to it. When you finish, your body’s tired in a way that’s specific to music.

JR: Cleansing?

MR: Maybe, especially if it’s some sweaty basement.

JR: There are no basements in Florida.

MR: So what do you guys do for DIY shows?

JR: Some are outside. Some are inside. There’s always go between. Sometimes there’s like a pool too. It amazes me that they aren’t shut down immediately. Here, people are more strict about DIY stuff though. You have to be discreet.

MR: The cops are pretty eager to bust up parties or illegal shows.

RVF: I wish we could play a pool party. We just played West Fest last weekend, and these big street festivals are the only places you can see music outside. In the past when DIY shows have happened outside, they get in a lot of trouble or people get a ticket.

NB: We had one friend pull it off where he had like four bands play. At the end, cops came in and shined a light, but the band was playing “Woolly Bully,” which is like a cop call I guess. (Everyone laughs)

JR: So when did you guys meet each other?

MR: OKCupid. (Everyone laughs)

TC: I met Rebecca about eight or nine years ago.

RVF: Yeah, right after I moved here - I was probably barely twenty-one. I used to go see Tom’s old band.

JR: Let's change things up a bit. What do you guys think makes music good? Why would you listen to a song?

RVF: I have no idea.

NB: Album art. Wizardry.

MR: Pitchfork reviews.

NB: Like, if a CD comes with something, I’ll pick it up.

TC: If the record has a cool color or swirls.

MR: I like too wide a range of music to answer that I think. I’m thinking about songs that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum of what you’d consider music and I don’t think there’s anything in common other than that there’s sound. I couldn’t tell you what unifies them.

RVF: There’s a something, but I don’t know what it is.

NB: You could come up with any adjective and like a song that’s the complete opposite of that. Something with a lot of attitude like Iggy Pop and then something with no attitude.

RVF: Or Television personalities. Or even Hooks! But there’s also noisy or no-wave stuff that I like too that doesn’t have hooks like pop music. Guitars! But there’s also bands I like that don’t have guitars.

JR: Hip hop doesn’t have guitar.

RVF: Klaus Johann Grobe doesn’t have guitar.
MR: Or Suicide. Do you have an answer to that question?

JR: Me?

MR: Yeah.

JR: Yeah, I think purity matters. The reason that I play music or support bands is because I think the stuff that’s really good isn't attached to the corruption of this world. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t reference it. A lot of punk or noise touches on ugliness, but it isn’t happy that it’s here. I get really sad about how the world works and it can be really debilitating. Sometimes when I listen to a song, it’s comforting to know someone else is in the same place. But I also like Madonna a lot. In the 80s, Madonna glorifies capitalist corruption, but then I start thinking “Well, you’re not happy either! Who are you trying to fool?”

MR: Yeah, solidarity’s nice.

NB: It’s like the opposite of listening to the Strokes.

JR: I hate that band.

MR: That makes sense. There are few reasons why I should like them but I do.

JR: Well, that’s the other thing because like…I listen to Madonna first and then I rationalize it, but no, that’s not everything. I like pop too and I'll run to a Katy Perry song occasionally. But the music that I support will be pure or that I can see myself in.

RVF: Now that I think about it, I like music that my friends make. You could say that there are so many bands now that are good in all sort of genres and cities. But with friends, I’ll already like it before it gets made. But, I can’t say that for music that was made before I was born.

JR: And noise always throws something in. I feel like everyone listens to noise, at least peripherally. It makes things interesting. I was talking to this guy in Florida, actually for like two hours, and he was like “What is music? What’s music, man?” And my answer is that it’s “Sound with form.” Some people are like “music needs rhythm and harmony and melody” and it’s like, well, you’re thinking too much. When noise was first made and someone was like (knocks on wood) okay, I recorded that, then someone hears it, and there’s an automatic reference. Subsequent experiments relate to the first experiment. They’re always refracted light from the first.

RVF: I see what you mean. For noise to be music, it has to have a start or an end. Or be limited. In time. Or in something else, perhaps.

NB: What was that band who put out a record that was like twenty-six records long? Like, side a and side b existed but there were 26 pieces of vinyl glued together.

MR: Who’s got time for that?

JR: Public Image Ltd. had that one record in the metal box too. And I know there was one record where the sleeve was sandpaper so every time you pulled the record in or out it fucks up the record. Well, that’s about all I got - anything else from you guys?

NB: I’m going on tour with another band this summer so I’ll be gone pretty much all of August. Getting ready for that.

RVF: We have a lot of shows in September and the tour.

MR: We have a song coming out on a compilation tape!

RVF: There are actually a few comps that we have. That one is by Not Normal, who are super cool. Then we have songs on compilations from Max Pelt from here and Dark Circles.

TC: Then we’ll start recording another LP in the fall.

JR: Wow. You guys have songs ready for that?

NB: We have a couple locked to be on there.

JR: Shit, that was fast. But I guess you guys had this record planned for a while.

MR: Right - six months now.

NB: Yeah, and we had gone in to record the record a while ago, but it didn’t sound the way we wanted. So we’ve had a chunk of new songs ready to go.

JR: Are you going to try and put that out next year?

TC: From the pace at which we work, it’ll take like six to nine months to record it.

MR: We’re no longer a “go into the studio for a weekend” band.

RVF: I’d say it’s probably six months to write and record and then six months to get it actually pressed. We should make that goal right now. We like deadlines.

NB: And now you’ve got that recorded so you can crack the whip if we’re late.

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