Interview conducted by Ellie Sleeper
First, let me congratulate you on a very fast and impressive recording session for the new album! I’d caught whispers that you all had been at work on new material here and there for a while, but the sudden mention of a new album was very, very exciting as a fan. Can you give us any further details on the album yet? Are there any contenders for a title so far?
Casey – Thanks so much and we’re very glad that people are still interested in our band! All of the tracking for the new record is now complete. If all goes well the album should be by finished in spring 2015. No timetable on the release date yet, but you guys will be the first to hear about it when we get more details. The working title is “Exposing Seas.”
As a band, is there a clear favorite track on the new album? Was there one you particularly enjoyed writing or playing?
Casey – All the songs are pretty great. Tough to pick favorites right now before we polish them up. But, the front runners for me are ‘Joan of Arc’, which has turned out to be our kind of ‘Hounds of Love’ epic moment, and ‘Snowblind’ which is a slow burn groovy gazer of a tune. Very cool rhythms and gorgeous vocals. A song called ‘Slow Road’ was something that I think we were probably the least confident of going in to the studio. It had been kicking around for a while in various forms, fast, slow, loud, quiet and really never found its identity. We recorded it in 1 take in the studio and magic happened, it’s our slow jam, very cool. I’ll be interesting to compare this list to what we like when it’s all finished.
Are there any amusing, behind-the-scenes stories from the studio for these sessions, or was it fairly straightforward?
Casey – We have always tended to work pretty quickly in the studio. While I wish there we some cool stories and studio high jinx we were on a time limit and a budget so we just banged it out. We were extremely fortunate to work with J Robbins on this record and his approach was something that certainly had a very strong influence on how this turned out. I wanted to work with someone just a little outside of the small Thrushes support group that we’ve been working with for years. J is certainly a legend through his own music (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, Channels…) and the awesome work he’s done with other bands. It was important for us to have someone that wasn’t so close to the band as to indulge our whims (ok, my whims!) to record tons of massive guitar tracks on every song that while cool weren’t necessarily in the service of the song or the record.
We all tracked live in the same (amazing) room at Magpie Cage Studios in Baltimore to 2 inch tape and that really focused us to think and play in terms of being a real band in a room playing songs which was awesome. Make no mistake this is definitely a Thrushes record and there’s lots of that good stuff that we do here, but the songs are paramount and the sounds serve the songs.
The studio space has a great legacy in terms of stuff that’s been produced here. In the 90’s it was called Oz Studios and tons of awesome bands recorded here (Velocity Girl, Shudder to Think, Jawbox, Girls v Boys, etc.) so it’s fantastic that J was able to put the space back on that path again as Magpie Cage. For a time it seemed like if you were an awesome DC or Baltimore band you either recorded at Oz or Inner Ear.
You mentioned looking to release with a label other than Birdnote for this album. Did those considerations factor into the writing and recording processes?
Casey – Ideally, I’d like to find a good label that likes what we do and digs the record and can get it out to a wider audience than we can with Birdnote. Frankly, we just don’t have the time to put into proper promotion all on our own anymore. Wasn’t a factor at all in writing or recording, other than this record will be properly recorded and produced so a label can take it and run with it.
Have you got any label or group in particular in mind? Is that under wraps for now?
Casey - Obviously there are dream labels like 4AD, Slumberland, Merge, Sup Pop, etc., but we’d be happy with a small home that allows us to do what we do. We’re very low maintenance! Ideally, something like what Sarah, Teenbeat or K were like back in the day. A small label with good people that are passionate enough (and silly enough J) to believe in their bands. The reality is that we’re in our mid to late 30’s and have careers, families, etc., so we’re not going on tour for 2o+ weeks a year to support our releases. We’re still very much a live band and that’s what we love to do, but going into debt and sleeping on dirty floors isn’t really where we’re at right now. If there are any labels that are interested please get in touch!
No doubt you’ll all be catching your breath a little during the mixing and release stages for the album, but are there any other plans in the wings you want to share with fans?
Casey – We’ve got a nice show coming up with A Place to Bury Strangers in February, nothing much else planned until we figure out what’s going on with the record.
There’s been time since Scott joined the band and since the last release, Night Falls. Has your sound changed as a unit during that period? Have there been any exciting moments where maybe you’ve surprised one another while writing or rehearsing?
Casey – Well, we still sound like Thrushes, which really is just what Anna, Rachel, Scott and I sound like when we play songs together. Scott has been a tremendous part of the band. First and foremost he’s just a plain old great guy and brings a ton of positive energy to the group. He’s a professional musician so his playing and musical IQ raise the level of the band as a whole. I’m totally self-taught, Rachel picked up the bass guitar when we started the band, and Anna had guitar lessons when she was younger, but overall we’re not exactly “accomplished” musicians. Scott certainly is and his feel for rhythms and style add another dimension to what we can do. I think you’ll see that on the new record. There is no question this is the very best batch of songs we’ve ever written. The lyrics are fantastic, the melodies are great, and we’re very happy with it! In a lot of ways this record reminds me of our first record, Sun Come Undone. It’s better in every way, but there was a moody/romantic sense on that record that I also get from this new one. Night Falls was a quantum step up in terms of songwriting, performance, etc., but was in many ways more of a rock record.
Anna - Scott is a professional drummer and brings a lot to the table as far as skill level and perspective. He’s also had prior experience with recording with his previous band, Avec. So on a technical level Scott brings another dimension to our sound. But anytime a new person joins an established group they bring their own lifetime of experiences with them which can’t help but change a routine. New experiences can only make you stronger and push harder, and that’s what Scott has brought to our band.
Has your writing process changed any over time?
Anna – On this album our process has changed some because all members are not as available as we used to be. Casey and I had been playing as a twosome here and there and have been trying some new material out we’ve written together with a drum machine. I think that has helped some because it gives the band an idea of where we’d like the sound to be. Another difference for me has come with lyric writing. Weekly practice is not always doable, so we may come up with a riff that we record and upload to Soundcloud, and then I take it home and play with it for a while. A lot of the melodies and lyrics for this album got hatched in my house. I would then make voice memos on my iPhone of what I’d done, and text them to Casey.
I have to say recording technology has really changed the way we’ve been writing and documenting our songs, and for the better. Certainly the pedal game has changed a lot over the past few years with groups like EarthQuaker Devices, Malekko, and Strymon rising to new prominence. I know I saw what looked like a few new acquisitions. Have you had a chance to come across any new gear or stompboxes you’ve enjoyed?
Casey – I’ve got more toys than I care to admit, but the core of my sound has remained fairly steady. I used to play live with a Re-201 space echo, but that just proved to be too unreliable live so I switched to the Strymon El Capistan and that’s pretty great. One difference you’ll see on this record is the addition of old school chorus sounds which is something I had traditionally stayed away from. A lot of these new songs have a certain gothy Siouxsie, Cure, Chameleons vibe, so that and an old Japan CE-2 works pretty great for that. The fuzz tones are mainly EQD Sound Shank (Burns Baldwin buzzaround clone), Op-Amp muff clone and EQD White Light overdrive. I use a Danelectro Back Talk reverse delay on some tracks and Hardwire RV-7 too. I play stereo into 2 amps (1973 Rickenbacker B212 & 1970 Fender Super Reverb blackface mod).
Slightly related to the topic of gear, I remember first hearing of Death By Audio’s line of effects through you all. Had you heard about them having to shutter the venue in Brooklyn recently? Any thoughts on that?
Casey - Unfortunately we never played there so I really don’t have much of a personal connection to the space, but definite bummer as by everything I heard they had a great thing going on there.
It appears all of the related genres and subgenres around noise and shoegaze are experiencing a huge renaissance and resurgence lately. Have you come across any newer gaze bands you like? Is there new listening outside of the realm of gaze, too?
Casey – I’ve been out of the scene for the most part over the past few years with family and work stuff so feel a bit (a lot) out of the loop. Locally Wild Honey & Free Electric State are great and there are others, but I’ve been out of the scene for sure these days and haven’t kept as up to date I’d like! Obviously some of the bigger local Baltimore bands like Wye Oak, Celebration, Beach House, and Future Islands we love.
There is a pretty great group of gazey bands that are friends that we love playing with when we can. They’re probably all familiar to your readers, but we absolutely love Screen Vinyl Image, Dead Leaf Echo, 28 Degrees Taurus, The Vandelles, A Place to Bury Strangers, Brief Candles, Ceremony, Panda Riot, Stargazer Lilies, etc. I was (half) joking to a friend after we saw Slowdive that we’ll have to deal with a thousand new crappy shoegaze bands over the next couple of years. We’re in our mid 30’s -40’s and obviously grew up with this stuff so it is a little surreal seeing kids right outta school with the Shields Glider sound down cold, but then you look back at how old Ride was when they made Nowhere. Incredible, the kids are alright!
Has any new listening prompted new influences or ideas?
Casey – Seeing Sade a couple of years ago was pretty great. Not sure if it directly influenced the record, but she is amazing. Slowdive a few months ago was pretty motivational as well; they just absolutely ripped.
Outside of music, is there anything else you’re currently into (books, films, art, etc.)?
Anna - Definitely, and I think books, film, and TV are probably what’s inspired me more for this album more than anything. I watched the whole 1st season of “Penny Dreadful” on a binge a couple of months ago, and that kind of helped get me in the mind frame to write the song “Night” that will be on our new album. We have another song called “Joan of Arc” that is of course inspired by that mythos. I think overall this album is more about storytelling, and art has really inspired that.
Lastly, is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to share?
Wishing everyone a happy new year, see you again soon!!