Did you guys have any specific objectives when it came to recording X'ed Out?
Nathan: Yeah, kind of. We didn't want the process to be this over-thought thing, whereas the last record we felt like, and this might sound silly or paranoid years later, we felt like we had eyes on us after losing a drummer, getting a new drummer, and how the music was going to change. With this one, everyone who's already interested is familiar with how we are now and everything's been well established with John, so this weight was off. It was like, "let's not focus too much on the parts when we're working on them with the three of us; if something sounds cool, go with it." We didn't want to over-think about a part not being technical enough. Not to say that everything's more simple or anything like that, but we allowed ourselves to do cool things like mash on the same chord together or play something straight for a minute. I'd say all the obsessing and over-thinking of parts went on during our own time so that when we were in the room together writing, it was like, "let's have fun."
Nick: Personally, I had an idea that it'd be cool to make more of a minimal sounding record. Minimal for us is obvious not the same minimal as a Brian Eno ambient record or something. In the past we always wanted to pile on so many things and make the songs as melodically, structurally and generally complex as we could — I guess not even purposefully but that's just what we did. The challenge this time was to kind of step back from that and see if we could take more of a "less is more" approach. Initially, I didn't even know what it would mean for our band to try to do that. I'm sure the average Joe would listen to it and think, "I don't know what this guy is talking about; there's all sorts of weird, crazy shit happening on this." It's our interpretation of trying minimalism in songwriting. It's a really weird thing for us to do. To reiterate: it was just this concept floating around initially; we didn't know what it would turn into once we started working on it.
Did you feel that you'd pushed the individual complexity of each song as far as you could reasonably go with Patagonian Rats?
Nathan: No, no, no. Not really. I feel like in a lot of ways, the stuff we did on this record is in some ways more complex because we had to hide it. It's still in there — these tricky little things that are just more subtle or quirky. I think it takes a little bit more ingenuity to hide things. Most of the songs you can listen to multiple times in a row and hear something new. There's more space for that to happen.
Nick: I don't think we've reached that limit. I don't really know what the future will be for the band in terms of songwriting, but no, there was no conscious thought like, "shit, we've hit a wall with this." It was just time to do something new. I'll gladly accept the challenge of making an even more dense record with crazier things happening that we've never done before. To me, that could be a really fun thing to try.
Did your approach to the writing process change this time around?
Nathan: We kind of tried to do away with the jamming on the spot because John's living in Texas, so when we get together to write time is very, very precious. There's a lot of preliminary work that goes on with each of us. Nick will send guitar demos a few months in advance and we'll work on them on our own and we'll get to the [practice] spot already knowing how the songs go and see if we can fit all of our pieces together and meld our parts to fit better and whatever. There wasn't much intense sitting in the practice room for hours frustrated. That was more on our own time at home.
Nick: Well, for instance, the song "Bite" we'd never even practiced that song with bass the million times we'd played it in the practice spot because none of us could figure out what the bass should be doing. Nathan had been trying out ideas and nothing was working. Literally, we'd be practicing for hours and hours a day and every time we got down the white board to "Bite," Nate would just sit down and listen to it. Actually I don't think we even got that sorted until we were pretty much recording it in the studio. It was a matter of trying to look at the song from outside the band, which is nearly impossible to do, to figure out what the song required in order to accomplish what we're looking to do: trying to make a record that maybe isn't as complex on the surface level. There's still tons of stuff happening; it's more hidden, secretive or subconscious. For Patagonian Rats, I'd bring in a riff and we'd spend an entire day working on 30 seconds of music. We found it a little more useful to have me rough demoing ideas and all of us working on them at our own pace before getting together in the practice space. We're not much of a jam band. Obviously we do that to some extent when we're writing new songs, but for some reason that's never really been our style; we'd all end up getting frustrated. When you spend an entire day working on 30 seconds of a song you feel a little bit defeated. Being all in our own little zones and attacking the songs solo-style, I think works really well for us. John lives in Texas, Nate lives in the forest and I live in the suburbs, so we all have different approaches to how we can work on these songs.
Could you tell me a bit about the evolution of "Melody Nine"?
Nathan: We just always thought it'd be cool to do a live band version. We started doing that around when we were touring for Patagonian Rats; we'd been playing that song live for a while. When it came time to record it, it was like, "yeah, we should do this version of the song." It feels like this version is the real version and the original is the version that spun from it. It's kind of cool to do that the other way around.
Nick: The original version was just all done on a computer with maybe some guitar samples — really crude. So it was nice however many years later to do that song for real.
Do you have a favourite song on the new album?
Nathan: Um, I do, yeah. "Until Lufthansa" is my favourite song on the album. There's something really joyous about it. It has little bits of everything else from the record all in that one song. There's straight stuff, there's hooky stuff, there's technical stuff, there's dark stuff. But it is really hard to choose one; that'll probably change.
Nick: It always kind of changes for each one of us from week to week. The song that's stuck with me for a while has been "Bite." It's really different territory than we'd explored previously. I think there are some really neat melodic things happening in it; rhythmically it's interesting. I guess it's a bit of a slower song than what we're used to doing and it also kind of represents all my favourite things about the band: weird syncopation; falsetto vocal melodies; harmonies; cool chorus-y guitar and super heavy bass. It's kind of an all-encompassing really neat song.
Are there any leftover or unfinished tracks that might end up on something like the Zoo Weather EP?
Nathan: There are a few little extra bits that got done. Also, we got a really cool remix the other day from Busdriver. I'm not sure what's going to happen with any of that stuff yet, but I imagine something.
Nick: We messed around with a few things but generally no. We started working out a Pantera cover that I think we'd like to finish sometime. We did an alternate version of "Frozen Zoo"; we did a really long version of "Another Surf," more or less. We had the drums set up and the last day we had scheduled for drum tracking we got done early so we just thought, "Ok, well what else should we do real quick?" I think we have maybe drum tracks and scratch guitar for the Pantera song. Hopefully when we're all settled down we'll finish that. For the most part, everything made it; it was very intentional, what we wanted to be on the record.
Is there a lyrical theme running through the new album?
Nick: On our last record I wanted to explore really basic stories and put them into the abstract universe and retell them I guess. I'm not a "lyricist" or whatever you'd call that. It's not something that comes easy to me. I can just pick up a guitar and come up with things that I'm happy with almost immediately. With writing down words and making it sound right; it doesn't come naturally to me. A lot of times it takes me a while. I do the test where I come back five days later and if I cringe and think "oh my god, why would I write that?" obviously it goes in the trash. On this record I started figuring out how to make that processes go a little bit quicker and easier. This record, it's more sort of non-sequitur fragments within each song. So there aren't full-on stories, it's more these mini-ideas that link together. I never really understood the thing where the songwriter would say, "oh, well I like to leave my lyrics up to interpretation." To me that's kind of a weird copout. What did it mean to YOU when you wrote it? But it's funny, there were a few times when I was coming up with the lyrical content for this record where I revisited it and I'd think "whoa, this also kind of means this, to me," so I was reinterpreting my own lyrics. It was kind of a cool thing, to think subconsciously I was linking these two ideas and it actually really makes sense. Sometimes that was very consciously, but it was weird, I totally found myself reinterpreting my own lyrics — something I never thought would happen.
Are there any specific non-musical influences on X'ed Out?
Nathan: For me — the schedule started in February of last year — we were going to need to be writing, recording and doing shows with Firehose and then going to Europe for two months. All of this stuff coming up was really cool and exciting but at the same time, when you see a schedule like that coming, it's like, "I'm never going to be able to get a job or work, have money," which is not that important to the three of us, but it's scary when you have rent to make and things like that. I was put in the position while we were writing it of "what am I going to do?" Do I try to stay where I'm at, where I'm living, or do I make the big sacrifice of putting things in storage, sleeping at friends' places and moms' places and things like that to be able to go for it and be a lifer, you know? I did the math — calculating how much we were going to be gone and what my bills would be — and it became a necessity and a no-brainer to get out of this life and the ease of having my own place. It sounds like an easy decision after I did that math but at the time it was going on, it was really difficult. The songs are the soundtrack of that era — going through big life changes.
Nick: I don't know about specific, as in, "I felt so inspired when I was doing this or when I saw this" that it made me want to sit down that moment. But I guess one is film in general. I almost get more excited to write music while watching movies than I do listening to music. Like, Roberto De Niro is so fucking cool, perfect and amazing at what he does that he always gets me really amped up. So I guess that is a specific influence (laughs). But it's not like I got really excited watching this De Niro movie so I sat down and wrote this song. Actually, to totally contradict everything I'm saying, "Until Lufthansa" is sort of a reference to Goodfellas, so I guess I did literally get inspired to write a song about Goodfellas and Martin Scorsese and how amazing I think that whole vibe is.
What's the most exciting new band or solo artist you've heard lately?
Nathan: There's this really cool band we're excited to have play our California shows called E.V. Kain. They're awesome. That's one of the bands I've seen in recent history. We were blown away by how awesome they are. They're great live, so crisp and powerful sounding and you can tell they're having fun. They're awesome to watch. That's been a great discovery. We put our seal of approve on it.
What would your dream tour line-up be?
Nathan: One of my favourite bands ever is Melt-Banana. It's really cool that we've gotten to play with them. I'd throw them into the mix. This question is quite jarring. We've been so inundated with doing what is smart and right. We have this not-fun side of the business that we deal with, thinking about prospective tours; a lot of things like back and forth about who is opening a show in a certain area. It'd be great to just do something where nobody's going to talk about numbers or pre-sales and getting guarantees. E.V. Kain, I could watch that band every night. I love playing shows with Mike Watt, he's so energetic and giving, he's such a big inspiration. I'd love to have By the End of Tonight get back together and tour with them; they're so fun to be around. Basically I'm thinking of all the most fun people to be around and party with: a band from the UK, Tangled Hair; this band, Lite, from Japan. I'd love to do a big touring festival that probably no more than 200 people would come see each night. All these bands we have great friendships with, I wish they knew each other. It'd be such a fun time.
Do you have any bizarre contests in mind for the new album, like when you hid a few copies of Patagonian Rats in Disneyland?
Nick: I actually had an idea where I wanted to hide copies of X'ed Out before the release date in Disneyland and I wanted to do an intense scavenger hunt for it. Instead of just me posting a photo on our website with a clue to its location, I wanted to post actual clues on our website that would lead to another clue in Disneyland. So I'd be sending people back and forth throughout the entire park. Actually, both parks: Disneyland and California Adventure. I feel like the two people who found our record last time were pretty big Disney nuts and they found it really quickly. I thought it'd be cool to make it trickier. But I didn't get to do that because I didn't get to work out a hook up into Disneyland. I was emailing back and forth with a lot of people but I couldn't get any of it to work out. I can't afford to pay for a pass just to do that. I really like the idea of being interactive; things that aren't just the music. I'd definitely like to try something else, but I haven't given it enough thought to come up with something concrete.
What's the weirdest thing that's happened to you on tour that wouldn't be incriminating to share?
Nate: There are a lot of these... I hope the weirdest thing hasn't happened yet. I'm looking forward to something even weirder. But here's something pretty strange. So, our old guitar player came on tour with us when he wasn't in the band. Just to go on tour and hang out, not to play. We lost him one night. We were loading out, there he was, then we went to say goodbye to the other bands and we turn around and he's gone. We thought, "Maybe he went for a walk," so we wait around for like, 15 minutes and he doesn't show up. So we go eat, then we come back to the van thinking he'll be there and he's not there and he's not answering his phone. Now we're wondering if he hopped in one of the other band's vans for fun and didn't tell us. We call all of them and they don't know anything about it, so we opt to just wait by the van longer, wondering if he self-destructed and just ran and got on a bus or something and went home. It'd been a totally normal night; nothing weird had happened. Then some girls who'd been at the show walked by and were like "hey is that your friend over there?" We look and maybe 50 feet away, he's lying on the ground behind a little wall just high enough so that we couldn't see him, in the driveway of a business. He's lying there and he's just out of it. We pick him up and he's slurring his words, seeming like he'd downed a bottle of vodka or something. But there was no progression; we didn't see it happen. He wasn't drinking that night that we saw or anything. He was actually straight-edge most of his life. I think he's not anymore, but at this point we still kind of knew him as being straight-edge. So we can only make assumptions about what happened, because what's funny is, we still don't know. He had a freak out. We got him in the van and he was freaking out like he was definitely going through a trip of some sort. We had a very tense overnight drive. We had to be in New Orleans the next day and we slept in a parking lot somewhere. I had to sleep next to him. I was doing the driving and neither of the other guys wanted to lie down next to him. He'd just gone psycho, smashing up the van. I remember being like "oh god, I have to crawl back next to him and he's going to wake up and not know where he is or who I am and he's going to start throttling me or something." At some point the next day I woke up and we were at a gas station; someone else was driving. He woke up, did a big stretch and said "ahhh, I feel good," gave me a kiss on the cheek, which was really weird, and got out of the van and acted like nothing had happened. And we've never talked about it since. It was like he was abducted by aliens for what felt like years getting tests and probes done and then just put back down on that random spot we found him; it was only about 40 minutes our time but he'd spent five years in space getting fucked with.