Interview #1

Le groupe The Wars of 1812 a eu l’extrême gentillesse à l’occasion des « premiers » débuts de ce blog en mars 2008 de répondre aux quelques questions que je leur posais concernant la sortie de leur premier album Status Quo Ante Bellum. Un grand merci à Mei Ling Anderson, Peter Pisano, Bobby Maher et Peter Rosewall. L’interview est en anglais, pour toute demande de traduction envoyez donc un mail.

MITT: As we can read on you website, Status Quo Ante Bellum has been recorded in only five days. Do you think that such fastness is the better way to acquire a kind genuineness or navivety ?

Mei: Although we would have liked to have more than 5 days together, I think the time constraints did play to our advantage in a major way now that you mention it. On one hand, a lot of the songs could be products of different bands or genres. However, I think recording so quickly let us play the songs under the same mindset and freshness. There was never a day we dreaded recording and we didn’t have the luxury of overthinking the arrangements, so I think all of the songs ended up reflecting how we interact musically in a very honest way.

PeterR: It could be. I feel that you have to work with what you have at the time you have it. We had a couple of mics in a basement and a week to record an album. We didn’t try to create something outside of out abilities in that time, and I think that makes the record honest.

Bobby: Realistically it is both. But those were the circumstances we were given, so I think we made as honest an album as possible. It forced us to get inside the songs and determine what they needed to be instead of just playing around with a variety of options or ideas. But I also think our taking on such a task meant we probably had to be a bit naive – not to our detriment however.

PeterP: I find a delicate balance between thought and feel in all well crafted popular music. I myself, having never studied music, am a blind musician. Rosewall, having studied music in a family of near genius musicians, can see for miles ahead. I do believe there is a genuineness in the album that exists in the songs, as I brought them to the band with largely improvised musical and lyrical content. There is thought and direction, though, behind each and every arrangement that surpasses what myself and the average musician could build in 5 days. This is Rosewall.

MITT: How’s goin’ the songwriting ? Is there a leader who brings all songs or is this a collegiate decision where everyone gives ideas ?

Mei: We have too many songs! Peter Pisano (guitars and lead vocals) wrote most or all of Status Quo but, since then, we have been playing songs by both Pisano and Peter Rosewall (keyboards). They’re both incredibly talented in different ways and those two often write together. However, they are nice enough to let Bobby Maher and I to take part in arranging the songs. This means we’re equally picky and critical of each other. The problem right now is that we want to keep learning more songs that Pisano and Rosewall have written but we need to keep promoting the « old » stuff that is actually new to almost everybody.

PeterR: It is kind of both of those things. Anyone who has a song ready has a fair shot at getting it played by the band, but it is the band as a whole who ultimately decides.

Bobby: Really anyone can come to the band with a song, but really Peter Pisano and Peter Rosewall are our primary songwriters. When they bring their songs to the group, however, we all play an active role in shaping the songs through the creation of our individual musical parts and our band arrangements on the whole.

PeterP: I think you have this one answered well.

MITT: Could you explain the global meaning of Status Quo Ante Bellum to your french audience ? (title, lyrics, ambiance etc…)

Mei: Hopefully Pisano and/or Rosewall answer this. It means that the aftermath of a war is almost the same as the situation before the war, which was the official outcome of the War of 1812 in the United States. I think it relates to what Pisano was going through during the year we recorded and our band’s situation as a whole.

PeterR: The War of 1812 ended with a declaration of Status Quo Ante Bellum, which means “Like it was before the war.” The album is a break-up album. Our lead singer was writing about what he felt after he and his girlfriend parted ways. In a way he was asking to have it “like it was before the war (the war meaning the fights amidst the break-up).”

Bobby: I agree with Peter, and I think that maybe an even broader interpretation would also say that the album is about wanting to go back, back to a time or a place, but to somewhere « as it was before ». The lyrics reflect this and I think the general feel of the album itself sounds like a particular time or place.

PeterP: In addition to the direct translation, Status Quo Ante Bellum marks the end of a personal and interpersonal war I had ended during the making of the album. The tracks tell the story. Homestay is your exposition, Radios Unsigned is a dream sequence, Nothing to do is the flash back…this concept was never intended to become the focus but merely frame the project as a whole.

MITT: What’s the daily of a « new indie band » like yours with a first album ? Have you got a manager ? Could you introduce to us your label ?

Mei: The four of us live in the same house (with our friend, Kyle), so we usually work during the day and come home to either rehearse at night or hold a meeting, but it’s equally as important to all of us to spend lots of time relaxing and not thinking about the band. We use e-mail (Gmail) for the majority of our communication, probably, especially with our manager.

Our manager’s name is Kyle Frenette and he is a young entrepreneur and music-business genius. He started his own record label, Amble Down Records, while in college. His vision is to promote « regional » music. He’s Bon Iver‘s manager, so he’s doing something right! Amble Down is based out of western Wisconsin, which is nearby, so we have become close with the Eau Claire music scene as well as the music scene in Minneapolis, Minnesota (where we live). We also are on Afternoon Records, which is well-known among Minneapolis indie rockers.

PeterR: Each member of the band has full-time jobs, and we do this on the side. We work with the business end in the evenings and promote and play shows. It is a busy time, but we see our efforts paying off. We have a record label, who plays a role as a manager, but we still self-manage as much as possible. Our label is based in a neighboring town. Our label is called Amble Down Records. The label heard about our album, and pursued us until we signed with him.

Bobby: We have « real jobs » as well to help support us, so combined with all our promotional efforts, setting up shows, and playing shows we are quite busy. Our label, Amble Down Records, helps with some of the business side of things, but predominantly we are self-managed at the moment. Amble Down is a small indie label itself who after hearing our record contacted us about working with us to release it.

PeterP: I teach middle school during the day and work musically at night. I don’t know any American pop musicians without a day job. I happen to find both challenge and reward in mine.

MITT: Tell us a lil’ bit more than on your MySpace about your influences. Explain your relationship with Serge Gainsbourg’s music.

Mei: HAHAHA! The guys started listening to Serge last year, I believe, after they discovered Melody Nelson. They couldn’t stop talking about how cool he was and how hip that album sounded. Our goal is to make an album that sounds as effortless, musical, and adventurous as Melody Nelson. I became fascinated with Serge Gainsbourg during high school French class when my teacher told us about his bizarre personal life. He seems so iconic to me because you never see him pictured without a cigarette and he was open about his illicit affairs with girls. But I really like his music (especially Bonnie and Clyde and La Javanaise and all of Melody Nelson. Oh, and I’m also a big fan of Charlotte’s!)

All of us played in jazz combos and big bands at one point – that’s actually loosely how we know one another. So that has affected our musical training in a lot of ways, but we love music from the 60s and 70s, especially The Beatles. I won’t necessarily speak for the others, but I associate Pisano with Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. I associate Peter Rosewall with The Beach Boys and Daniel Johnston, and I associate Bobby Maher with classical music and Jeff Buckley. I’m still obsessed with Sheryl Crow. We like Andrew Bird, Spoon, Aimee Mann, Led Zeppelin. Our contemporary influences are always changing and being added to the list so it’s hard to name just a few, but we are very directly influenced by musicians who we know in the area.

Peter: We have many influences, and most of them are not put up on myspace. We have strong influences from classical (Mozart, Stravinsky) to jazz (Miles Davis, Brad Mehldau) to country (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell) to alt-country (Wilco, Neva Dinova) to pop (Beatles, Sia). Recently we all started listening to Histoire de Melody Nelson and loved its attitude and sounds. It was laid back. In our future music, you will hear more from this influence.

MITT: Got an iPod ? Still buy cds ? What are you currently listenning ?

Mei: I do have a black iPod. 30 GB. And a nice iPod dock! I still buy CDs (having the hard copy is so much more special!) but I trade a lot with my friends. I also love listening to music on blogs. In the past year I’ve especially loved Laarks, Elliott Smith, Bon Iver, The Whitest Boy Alive, and Land of Talk.

PeterR: I am listening to Sia’s new album, Some People Have Real Problems. I think that it has soul and invention. Sia’s voice is also very interesting. I also listen to a lot of Daniel Johnston, who just writes good songs, even if he could not record them very well. I just lost my ipod in the snow, so I don’t listen on there any more.

Bobby: I’ve lost my iPod, as seems to be typical in this band, but I do still buy CD’s because I really enjoy the whole experience of buying them – sorting through the bins, seeing all the discs you own and reminding yourself to listen to that one again, seeing all the music you still want to buy, and then finally buying whatever disc you may discover and tearing the plastic off with your teeth in the parking lot. As of late, however, I’ve been particularly poor so I’ve found myself revisiting some CD’s. So I guess I will give you the unedited 5 discs in my bedroom CD player at the moment – Jeff Buckley, Live at Sin-eThe Byrds, Sweetheart of the RodeoThe Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry BoatJohn Adams/Kronos Quartet, Gnarly Buttons and John’s Alleged Book of Dances. (And Benjamin Britten‘s Five Flower Songs are sitting on top next to Camera Obscura‘s Let’s Get Out of This Country).

PeterP: I have a generation 1 IPOD. It works better some times than others. I am listening to Andrew Bird as I type. I have listened to more Bon Iver than any other artist in the last half year.

MITT: Have you got an opinion about illegal piracy ? Would you accept that I let an mp3 from Status Quo on my blog, only for promotionnal ?

Mei: Yes you can put any of our songs on your blog! Please do!!

PeterR: I have a lot of thoughts on illegal piracy. I don’t believe that downloading something for free is a problem. I am surprized at artists that put up a fuss about that. I want people to hear what I am saying. I know that it is the way that I plan to make my living, but if I have good music, people will pay for it. There is still a power in having loyal fans. I in no way mind, and in fact encourage that you have our music on your blog. Thank you very much. It was a nice interview.

PeterP: I pirate music and movies. I do it out of habit and necessity. I accept that others do this with my own. I believe intellectual and artistic development are the greatest goods humans can achieve at this time and place. Our great preoccupation with pirating little different than a doctor gasping at a sore. If you want to help cure the disease quit complaining of the symptoms, that is only the right of the patient.

© Microphones In The Trees – The Wars of 1812
mars 2008


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