Monday, June 14, 2010

Q&A: 8 Questions With Talking To Walls

A while back, I became a fan of Talking To Walls. I've written about them here on my little slip of land in the blog world. I've gone to witness that which is TTWs live several times. And, having had a chance to chat with them at shows, it's confirmed right away that they're not only talented musicians but, witty a
nd charming as well. So, I thought to myself, I should interview these guys! I fired off some questions, sent them over to Brian Kelly (vocals/guitar), Nat Webb (guitar/vocals), Matt Krupa (drums) and Matt Miklos (bass), they sent them back ... with answers and here's the whole shebang for you. And, if that's not enough entertainment for you, there's an MP3 Grab at the end of the interview!

Quirky NY Chick (QNYC): You released a new album We Were Not So Tall (WWNST) a couple of months ago. How would you say it differs from your debut record, Naked?

Matt Miklos (MM): Well, I'm mentioned in the liner notes of WWNST...

Brian Kelly (BK): We learned to arrange songs. It was like going from Steamboat Willy to Avatar. For me, anything I thought I knew about making records was completely blown away once we started working with Greg (Giorgio, producer). That also came from this being a much more collaborative record. I pretty much wrote Naked, with some help from the other guys. WWNST is really the result of all of us looking at each other's parts as well as our own, and collaborating on the writing and arranging.

Nat Webb (NW): The important difference is that I'm not on Naked. No but seriously, Naked was really Brian's baby, as far as I can tell, whereas We Were Not So Tall was more of a team effort. You get songs that I wrote ("Came to You" and "Cloudbusters") and songs that Brian and I wrote together ("Running Out") and a lot of arranging input from everybody. A ton of guest musicians, experiments in orchestration and recording... Naked is simple, and WWNST is complex. Naked was a tea party; WWNST is a drunken rager at your mom's house when she's away for the weekend, and somehow the local high school kids found out, and you're like "Who are these kids and why are they in my house?" and later the police come.

Matt Krupa (MK): Well, experience and time are the two biggest differences. We learned a lot since we recorded Naked – the song writing is much better and the individual performances are much better. We also spent much more time in pre-production getting the songs ready to record, and then the recording process was much longer and more involved. Basically, We Were Not So Tall is better in just about every way.
(QNYC): What’s the origin of the record’s title? Who came up with it?

(MM): Hmmm. Nat's kinda short...

(BK): Initially we were against the idea of naming records after songs. It seems like a cop out, or a waste of opportunity to be creative. And we ended up with some ideas that were a little TOO creative as titles. We bounced titles around throughout the whole recording process, until Greg heard us and our latest (and horrible) idea, and pointed out that We Were Not So Tall was perfect, as it is one of the last lines on the whole record, and could sum the record and our experience learning from it.

(NW): Greg, our producer, actually suggested it. We had been bandying about all sorts of ideas for a long time, and Greg was like, "Hey, that one song title would make a good album title." The theme of the record is basically divisions and contrasts; hence you have the song "Chiaroscuro" as the centerpiece. So we were looking for a title that captured that. My suggestion was "Divisionary," which we sat on for a day or two but decided was too progressive rock. (I still intend to use it someday, so no stealing!) So, We Were Not So Tall captures both the life changes that the record is about, and the maturation and improvement of the band during this era of our musical life that the album captures.

(MK): I believe Brian came up with that, it was the title of an acoustic song he wrote. My one contribution was to suggest it go at the end of the album, as a kind of coda to tie everything together.

(QNYC): The record is produced by Greg Giorgio (Interpol, Tokyo Police Club). How did you end up working with him?

(MM): I listened to Interpol once...

(MK): Um, good question. Brian knows people, and knows how to talk to them. I just sit in the back and try to look pretty.

(BK): I was friends with his girlfriend Maya, who actually ended up playing flute on the song "Chiaroscuro." She heard we needed an engineer and producer, and he went on the short list. At first we were a little wary, if only because we knew he'd done a lot of indie rock bands, and as much as I LOVE The National, who he also worked with, we wanted a bigger produced rock sound. So we didn't want to shoehorn him into the project, because that's a little of how Naked turned out. We talked a little, he sent over some other mixes from other bands; but it was once we all met in person after agreeing to work together that we immediately knew it was the right choice. And we wanted him to know we wanted him for who he was - which is how the day after that meeting, I texted him that I took his advice and had just replaced my guitar amp with a $1200 Vox AC 30, something I wasn't planning on. But we trusted his vision.

(NW): Brian was friends with Greg's girlfriend, a flautist named Maya Szatai who appears on the song "Chiaroscuro." She had some incriminating pictures of Brian dressed up as a sexy rabbit, so when we were looking for a producer/engineer, she said, "Use my boyfriend or the press finds out about Mr. Fluffles." And that's the music biz in a nutshell!

(QNYC): You did a video for “Cut Out” from your previous record. Are there any plans for a video support this record?

(BK): Yes. We actually have a few treatments written up, from within the band and by other people. We really wanted to make the video as soon as the record was mixed and have it be out when it dropped. But we had no money. Now we have less than no money; but we think we know how we're going to pull it off now. Personally, I'm hoping to shoot and release before the July tour starts. We'll probably either do "Came to You," "Pretty Little Thing" or "Crossed My Mind."

(NW): We would love to, but it turns out that music videos cost money to make. (I know, right?) We actually did a lengthy, exhausting search for filmmakers, and got in touch with a lot of really cool, talented people. But the fact was just that we didn't have the cash to realize any of our, or their, visions the right way, so it kind of got put on the back-burner. Making a record, even a little indie affair like ours, is a big financial burden for three or four guys to shoulder. So we still really want to make a video, and we hope to do it sooner or later, but it's one of those shitty decisions where business takes precedence over music in the music business. LAME.

(MK): Indeed! We’ve been throwing some ideas around for several songs, so stay tuned! I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but a video may or may not include sock puppets.

(MM): I think we should do a stop motion video for "Came To You." I wonder if Rankin/Bass are still around. I'd be Heat Miser.

(QNYC): Of the songs from We Were Not So Tall, what’s your favorite to play live?

(MM): I'd have to say "Crossed My Mind." Nat wrote a great bass-line for it and it's just so much fun to play.

(BK): Might have to go with "Came to You." It was really hard for me in the studio - I was really wanting that Matt Beringer sound, from the National. So to have Greg on the other side of the glass was pretty surreal. I also had a voice coach kicking my butt on that session (which took a couple of days) because I was learning how to do that throaty yell properly. And when we first started playing it live, I'd beg the guys to put it late in the set so I didn't have to sing a whole show after it. So to now have it be a common show opener, and not phase's a good feeling of how far I have come as a singer.

It is also my favorite because it was the first song Nat wrote after joining the band, and I never had to deal with someone else's lyrics and vocal lines before. And it is so much easier to offer suggestions to someone else's work than your own, and I kinda felt like a jerk at first. It was weird, because I could hear in my head how I wanted to sing it which made sense to me, and some small word changes here and there. But I was also trying to be as considerate to Nat as I could, not wanting to trample his baby. We went back and forth in a very constructive manner, which was also good because it opened the door for him to do the same to me. So it was the beginning of another branch of growth, that song. And nowadays, I never sing it the same way each night. I really get to have fun rephrasing the cadence of the lyrics, and stretch out purely in the moment.

My other favorite is We Were Not So Tall, because we don't do it like on the record, and it's really pretty.

(NW): Oh, man. Maybe "Came to You," not only because I wrote it and I love the riff, but because it's just such a loud, fast rock song. I like to go balls to the wall at all times. Oh, or maybe "Song for Megan" -- the way we do it live, it gets stretched to become such a long, over-the-top thing. It's almost like a little mini concert all in itself. Plus people tend to like it. I also love playing "Crossed My Mind," because we added a long guitar solo to the live arrangement. Since there's only a mini-solo on the record, I don't have to think about playing it like the recorded version at all. So it's totally different every night -- sometimes it gets really fucked, and I end up in the wrong key, but sometimes I come up with something that I totally didn't expect and is really beautiful. That solo always surprises me, and that's one of the best things about playing live. I don't know that I would want to take a chance like that with every single guitar solo -- it's also fun to know exactly what to play, and to play it perfectly, and it's a little scary to go into a solo having no idea what will happen -- but it's one of my favorite moments of every show.

(MK): I personally like "Walkaway." Part of that is shameless self promotion since it is based off the drum part, but I also enjoy the contrast between the chorus and verse; the sparseness of the verse and the heaviness of the chorus. A close second would be "Song for Megan," as it is one of the few songs that showcases my lack of vocal talent.

(QNYC): I know a little about your music tastes as we share an affinity for questionable 80’s hair metal. But, what are some of your musical influences?

(BK): You mean besides learning to write songs from listening to Ozzy and Warrant??? Actually, some of that still stays with me. Melody and choruses and song structure has always been important to me, even if I wasn't able to express well at the time. Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge - that's an example of a very classic song structure, and the hair metal bands showed me why it worked. You can certainly deviate, but it DOES work.

Nowadays, I am listening to a lot of indie rock and alt country. I'm never far from my Ryan Adams, National, Sixers, Band of Horses, New Frontiers, Iron and Wine... a lot of beauty there. I also listen to what I guess you could refer to as the modern-day replacement of over-produced hook writers - some emo. I love the new Dashboard record. Jack's Mannequin. And while the Mayday Parade album has a lot of crap on it (sorry guys, it's hollow), there is a lot to admire there. It's obviously produced within an inch of it's life, but it's got some great arrangements and hooks. And speaking of hooks (but NOT emo) I saw you checked out Mika! :)

I'm also always listening to some punk - the kind with melody. It doesn't have to be pop-punk. Green Day, Dropkicks, the Pistols.

Finally, while they don't directly influence me, my friend Dan's new band now that Zox is done, the Stepkids makes me want to get better and better. They are amazing. Amanda Palmer's solo record is the same way.

(NW): I came from a hard rock and metal background. The first music I ever got into was early-70's metal like Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple. And honestly I haven't changed too much. Seriously, though, I like any music that has a good melody. I realized at some point that that's the only thing that really matters to me. So recently I've been won over into the cult of Lady Gaga -- she just writes great melodies. So that's what I try to bring to Talking to Walls, both in songwriting and in my guitar playing; I'd rather play a simple, beautiful line than a fast, flashy line that has nothing to hold onto melodically. Speaking of my playing style, I'd say I play like what you'd get if Billy Duffy of the Cult and Steve Rothery of Marillion had a baby, and the baby was raised in Japan.

(MK): I’m all over the place. I grew up listening to jazz and classic rock before I got into metal during my teen years. Currently, some of my biggest influences are: Frank Zappa, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, James Brown, Dresden Dolls, Screaming Headless Torsos, Coheed and Cambria, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Iron Maiden, Missing Persons, The Vandals and of course, King Hell!

(MM): Personally, I'm all over the place. During my formative years I listened to They Might Be Giants and Nine Inch Nails in nearly equal measure. I soon branched out into 90's alt rock and classical. Lately, I've been seriously delving into Nerdcore Hiphop.

(QNYC): Now I’m going to ask the infamous “What was the last …” question.

What was the last …

…song you intentionally listened to?

(MK): Song: "Malko" by Russian Circles

(NW): "Kid Charlemagne" by Steely Dan, which has the greatest guitar solo of all time in it. It's a perfect mix of flashy, creative, and melodic -- I can sing the whole thing.

(BK): "Conversation 16," off High Violet, the brand new National album. Keep going back to it.

(MM): The Ohio Players - "Love Rollercoster"

…record you bought?

(BK): High Violet, and some tracks off of the new Melissa Etheridge album because I couldn't afford the whole album.

(MK): Record: Operation Paralysis by Dillenger Escape Plan

(NW): "Year of the Black Rainbow" by Coheed & Cambria. Those dudes couldn't write a bad melody if they tried.

(MM): MC Frontalot - Zero Day

…book you read?

(BK): Been in a stint with Christopher Moore. M4 loaned me some of his books I hadn't read yet. Practical Demonkeeping and Lust Lizard from Melancholy Cove. I have Fluke in my bag that I'll probably start while I'm traveling this week.

(MK): Book: 1984 (I felt I wasn’t depressed enough lately). Also been reading various short stories by Mark Twain. Basically, anything that is free and online.

(NW): "Right Ho, Jeeves," by P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse was a master of language, and he used this superpower to write sentences that are endlessly hilarious. Example: "The fact that pigs were abroad in the night seemed to bring home to me the perilous nature of my enterprise."

(MM): Christopher Moore - Bite Me

…movie you watched?

(BK): Iron Man. I don't get to a lot of theatrical releases, so I make them count!

(MM): Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

(NW): I just saw "Get Him to the Greek" last night. Way funny, and you gotta love any movie about the healing power of live music. It made me want to play more gigs, which is good, because we have a lot of shows coming up this summer!

(MK): Movie: Hot Tub Time Machine (more entertaining than it had any reason to be)

(QNYC): Thanks for taking time out of your hectic schedule to answer questions. In parting, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?

(MK): Thanks for being awesome!

(NW): I just found a tick on my ankle.

(BK): So long, and thanks for all the fish.

(MM): We're playing all over the top half of the east coast this summer. Check to see when you're coming!

My thanks once again to Talking To Walls for taking the time to answer some questions.

MP3 Grab: "Came To You"