Times New Viking

Rip it Off

BY Cam LindsayPublished Jan 22, 2008

Tape hiss isn’t meant to be heard on MTV, but having made their way up through the ranks via handmade cassette comps and kitchen parties, Times New Viking are ready for their close up. Releasing their first two full-lengths on congruous indie label Siltbreeze, this Columbus, OH-bred trio’s melodies are some of the strongest you’ll ever hear — that is if you can get past the impenetrable wall of howling feedback and the constant buzz. (If you think you have tinnitus, try turning this off for a couple minutes.) Their Matador debut comes not even a year after the righteous noise of 2007’s The Paisley Reich, and while a bigger label often constitutes change, TNV haven’t jeopardised a thing. Rip It Off preserves the same shambolic dash and no-fi veneer of their previous releases, though the band have upped the anthemic bite, seasoning discordant wanderers like "Drop-Out” and "(My Head)” with delicious spices. "Another Day” proves these noisemakers can sport some tenderness, albeit with a weepy synth that sounds on the brink of explosion. As primitive as Rip It Off’s production is, don’t count them out as no-talents hacks. Guitarist Jared Phillips isn’t called a "guitar virtuoso” for nothing, and his sizzling licks will have you drafting plans to make your own garage band try, but fail, to sound this good.

You’re coming up to Montreal and Toronto with Super Furry Animals. Have you ever played in Canada before?
Drummer/vocalist Adam Elliot: We’re never actually played up there before. I played in a band called the Disaster Scout that played in Toronto. We only played three shows ever, and one was in Toronto for North By Northeast. We’re also trying to play other shows on the same night, like a house party maybe in Montreal might happen, but I’m not sure. When you have to worry about promoters it’s hard to say.

How would anyone find out if they wanted to catch one of these gigs?
We’ll probably put it on MySpace, if we do that. And hopefully we’ll be back up on our own, likely in April.

The new album’s just coming out now, but you signed to Matador over a year ago. Why so long to release the thing?
We signed maybe Christmas last year, and had the record done in the summer. I suppose it just had to do with distribution and timing. So, [Matador] just waited until now to put it out.

Were you guys eager to put it out? Or were you still concentrating on [last year’s] Times New Viking Present the Paisley Reich?
Oh, we wanted it out. I don’t think they were expecting us to have it finished. Our second record came out last February, and we’re the kind of band that wants to put something out every year.

The band’s history isn’t documented well. Can you gimme some back-story?
We all met at Columbus College of Art & Design, the other college in Columbus [read: the one that doesn’t house the Buckeyes]. We were all pretty much best friends into the same art like the Fluxus and Dada artists, and nihilist art, so we all kind of gravitated towards each other, skipped class a lot and started playing in a band. Jared [Phillips, guitar] and I had played in a band before, but it wasn’t nearly as fun. Beth [Murphy, keyboardist/vocalist] had never played before, but we had a band name so we just decided to start.

Did either you or Jared have any kind of musical training or knowledge?
Not really. We’ve just always used the do-it-yourself approach to music, and make it about fun and a way to express ideas. The music we listen to was never about having lessons.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but in the press release and on the Matador page for the band they called Jared a "guitar virtuoso.”
We joke about it. He gets called "Hendrix Jr.” The funny thing is that Hendrix was pretty much younger when he died than we are now. But Jared’s always been good at guitar, but he’s never really had lessons. He learned how to play guitar by listening to Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan. By the time I met him he had the grunge, or the Pixies’ "quiet-loud-quiet” thing down. So he spent plenty of time with the amp in his room doing that before we ever met each other.

I’m a total sucker for the combo of tape hiss and melodies. Was that sound something you sought or was it something you stumbled upon?
I’d say we definitely approach the production of the way our songs sound much by recording our songs while we write them. We’ll play a song three times before we record them, and a lot of happy accidents happen from that. But we don’t add tape hiss after the fact; we kind of exploit when stuff goes wrong. It’s pretty much what you hear is what it is. We don’t spend much time overdubbing or anything like that.

So there’s no effort involved in capturing that hiss?
The hiss is just already there, so what you’re hearing is there. And we mix it on shitty soundboards and play it through really bad speakers. We definitely don’t intentionally try to make it sound worse.

Is the shitty quality something you feel is essential to how the music is heard?
I think all we really search for when our music comes out and its heard is that it does have the feeling that we’re into it, having fun and trying to express the idea is what we go for more anything. The way it sounds is the way it sounds. I do like the idea that you can play a thousand commercial songs in a row and the quality of production is similar, and that ours doesn’t sound like that. If it awakens people for ten seconds before they turn it down or turn it off, I like that idea.

Yeah, when I play it in the office or at home it definitely gets a reaction.
When you play it through legitimate speakers with other thousand dollar records than there’s definitely a different sound quality to it that most people aren’t used to, I suppose.

Some reviews have described your production methods as experimental. Would you agree?
The way we record it, I don’t know that it’s experimental. We’re definitely influenced and friends with a lot of bands that would be considered experimental music. I see us as being friends with those people, but we write songs, y’know. I wouldn’t say we play experimental music. I think there are common threads, like to the noise scene, but we play pop songs.

Kind of like the Swell Maps, who you remind me of a little. Did any bands influence your sound at all?
When we first started, we were influenced by the idea of not sounding like other bands that were popular. Guided By Voices influenced us, but we weren’t necessarily trying to sound like them. Right before we signed to Siltbreeze we really found the DIY scene by the accident of becoming a DIY band. We really got into the Swell Maps definitely, and Desperate Bicycles and all that stuff, but I think we kind of came into it together after we were already a band.

You mention Guided By Voices, who for so many years were known for their pop hooks and gritty lo-fi recordings. You do a similar thing, and I’m curious to know if you’re aware of the dichotomy of writing such strong melodies and then hiding them under noise.
That’s definitely an idea since the first album that we discovered in ourselves, and we like that concept. I like the way our songs sound, how the melodies are buried like that. We kind of like the idea of writing songs that someone else with a bigger recording budget can write and it’d be really catchy. The song’s there even if you can hear it loudly or not. We are more aware of that now as we get older.

Is that a method you’ll stay true to in the future?
I don’t know. The next album could be our cleanest one yet, it’s hard to say. We’re thinking more and more about melodies now though, and falling more in love with pop songs.

I think the biggest difference between Paisley Reich and Rip It Off is definitely that the melodies seem to be growing. But I guess I’m thinking of a band like Black Lips, and how their latest record really jumped to a much cleaner production, though it didn’t damage who their reputation as a band.
I would say that if we ever get cleaner where you can hear the melodies more I think it would be more about the importance in what we’re singing about. If our voices get to be heard more and more as we grow, we want our ideas to be heard more. There’s more of a responsibility to talk about what we believe in, so I want people to understand the words, eventually — and not have to read really little liner notes.

Was there anything the band wanted to do differently with Rip It Off that wasn’t achieved with the first two albums?
We saw this as our first chance to make an album from start to finish that was conceived as an album. And I think our lyrics are more fluent with each other. We knew from the get-go that more people were going to hear it, so we had that in mind. And we were ready to express ourselves a bit more.

So tell me about the music scene in Columbus. I don’t hear about it very often…
There’s an amazing scene in Columbus. It’s an anomaly. There are at least 13 bands I can think of that should tour but don’t. It’s crazy. Columbus has had lots of bands that never got outside of the city. It’s a bummer. But it’s also an honour for us in Columbus so far, because there’s a great tradition of bands like Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and Gaunt in the ’90s that has accepted us. And I hope the more attention we get, the more attention Columbus gets.

Siltbreeze felt like the perfect home for your band. Was it just a logical progression leaving the label?
Well, after the last Siltbreeze record we decided we’d give the band maybe a little bit more of a shot, as opposed to keeping it just as a hobby. So, the Matador deal seemed really perfect for our evolution. We knew that Matador wasn’t gonna make us record any differently; we had faith that they were gonna let us do whatever we’d do if we were making a Siltbreeze record.

So, have Yo La Tengo responded to the challenge you issued them with "Times New Viking Vs. Yo La Tengo”?
(Laughs) See, the challenge isn’t necessarily a challenge. The title is an inside joke. When we toured with them, we found out Georgia [Hubley] has a song that she doesn’t have to play on, so she does yoga stretches to it. And since I sing and play drums too, I always joked that I wanted a song where I don’t have to play… So Jared recorded all of the tracks for that song. And Yo La Tengo have a bunch of songs where they use themselves versus other things, so we joked about that too.
(Matador Records)

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