**Originally published Oct 22, 2016. Reposted with permission from the author.
Yesterday, the Dean Ween Group unleashed their debut album under the direction of founding member and frontman Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo). Formerly of the notorious American alternative rock band Ween (begun in 1984) – and still pulling inspiration from past work – Dean Ween has brought a new flare and energy to his catalogue with this new work. A rotating cast of incredible musicians finds their home with the musical project, various talents displayed on the recordings that were created in the incredible new(er) space that Dean Ween built from the ground up.
Shortly before the release of The Deaner Album, we got to sit down and speak with Dean Ween himself. Here’s a little bit from one of the most influential alternative musicians of our time.
Tell me about the studio you’re working from today.
Sure. I’ve ran it – and no exaggeration – over 25 buildings since when we started. It’s very hard to find a place where sound is not an issue, you know, privacy, security, neighbors, all that. So finally after being at this for 32 years, my friend’s father owns 200 acres and offered to work with me on my own spot. He’s a younger father, like only in his 50s. I’m 46 as of today. Yesterday was my birthday actually.
Oh wow, happy birthday!
Thank you. So, he said if you build a nice place you can have it. So I did, and sunk about $150,000 into it. Borrowed and built this beautiful place that I call my forever studio. It’s in the woods, I’m here all day everyday and all night every night. Every instrument, cable, amplifier I’ve ever owned is all here, it’s all set up. It’s very hard to force a studio into a vintage house. You know, we’ve had to do that – use the living room as a recording room, control room. So, I have everything perfect. It’s a gigantic live room for a band to play in, everything is mic’d up. Then there’s a giant control room with monitors, talk back, kitchens and showers and bathrooms. Musicians can stay here. You could blow up a bomb in here and you wouldn’t hear it outside since its soundproof.
We built it with being a studio in mind. We made it totally perfect and right. It’s so relaxing when you come here. It’s like a second home. We’re so respectful of it. I do not- a lot of time over the years, studios were too close to the bar, and the place turned into a hang, after hours. So it was very important to me that never happen here. So the couple years I’ve been here I respect it, and we keep it very clean. It’s very relaxing when you walk in. It’s all esthetically fun to look at and play with. I tell people don’t bring your junk here. I’ll put it outside if you do. I don’t want your broken amps or guitars. No I don’t want that poster. Take it with you when you leave.
Every time we move out of a place we end up throwing out half the shit- it’s like stuff that doesn’t work or will never get used. Some junk someone left while crashing there.
Well it’s cool to have your own space and establish your own rules.
Yeah. It’s really gorgeous.
Before all this happened, Ween, The Dean Ween Group… what’s the first album or song you remember listening to, and who introduced it to you?
Wow. That’s going back too far- I can remember pivotal things. Radio was a huge thing for me. Just seeing that radio isn’t as important as it used to be. That’s where you went. Even MTV doesn’t show videos anymore – it’s like reality shows. The local station would play the top 5 at 5 every night. The 5 most requested songs. So the fans were actually choosing them. I remember buying the 45s and taped the songs at 5, and would use my tape decks to edit out the announcer talking. Which was really hard.
I remember watching Teen Tot with my babysitter on Saturday Night Live – Steve Martin doing it – and she worked at like Gimbles the old department store. She bought it for me and the next time she babysat me she brought it and I was so happy. I listened to them and I still have it actually.
Musically, my babysitter had a bad brother. He was a bad kid, same age, and had his older brother’s record collection and A-tracks. I remember going over there and hearing Sleeper and Ziggy Stardust. The first *record* record I got on my own that I really coveted and wore out was the Beatles Red Album 1962 – 1966. Then they put out The Blue Record, 1966 – 1970. They had the lyrics with them. That was the thing that changed it with me. Reading the lyrics you know, “Yellow Matter Custard”, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, all that. Just the visuals that went along with the lyrics are just so freaking great. I wore that record out until the needle went out the other side of the record.
Was that around the time that you decided you were going to pursue music?
I didn’t really know that until later. My father owned a car lot. There was a music store across the street. And I’ve learned this as a father, I don’t want to buy expensive stuff if I think it’s going to be a passing thing. And I want to be there to support him, but want him to appreciate it. So, my father bought me this guitar, it was probably unplayable. But I made it playable, made it look cool with stickers, painted it. Kinda sounded like a chord when you belted all six strings. I would play it with myself. Which meant I couldn’t play minor chords or you know, too much with it, but I was off to a start.
Then I really wanted a drum set after that. I had two cassette decks, so I would record the drums first, the foundation, I was like 11. And then I’d put the guitar on it. Of course I needed a bass but it was all cheap stuff. And then my father realized that I was really, really into this. And I started taking lessons, and at Christmas one year, I was like 13, he got me a real guitar, a Fender, and I started taking lessons, learning how to play without just that one chord. I was recording every day, starting to see concerts. I wanted to be that guy really badly. Not a singer, but a guitar player.
Yeah, my drumming was really good, still is. I played drums on the Ween records, people don’t realize that. You know I remember an interview once where Kurt Cobain said he wanted to be as big as Sonic Youth. That was his goal. And that really stuck with me. Because, it was the same thing with us, except, we wanted to be the Butthole Surfers. As big as the Butthole Surfers. I mean, that was my goal. I thought if we could get to that point, then we were really famous and really good.
I didn’t think about what I was going to do after high school. I wasn’t going to college, I knew Aaron wasn’t going to college, we figured we were just going to work. We wanted to get an apartment together, so we did the day we graduated high school. We made music there pretty much 24/7. We had been doing that in my parent’s bedroom for like 6 years already. So we had a lot of experience recording ourselves. We got a multi-track recorder, a 4 track, instead of just dubbing two tapes back and forth. I knew we weren’t going to go to college, I didn’t know where Ween was going to go, but as it turns out, we had put all our energy in the right places, and we got signed that summer.
So there was never really any guesswork to it. So that was in 1989, and our debut record came in 1990. It was a double record. It was almost to me like a greatest hit, of like 7 years of Ween. We had that much experience. So we got that one out of the way, the second and third ones were almost done already. The second one came out and we got signed. Then we were on Warner Brothers all of the sudden. So I never really had to think about it much. Like I said, we put our energy in the right places. We worked really, really, really hard on being good.
You know, it seems like a whirlwind thing, but it’s not. When Ween started out, it was very experimental and noisy. And it sounded like two twelve year olds, you know. But within a few years, we were happening. We were writing really clean songs. Choruses that you could remember, that were catchy, my parents were hearing it, they loved it. You know, I was still doing the same exact thing, it’s incredible. Really nothing has changed on the front end. I still work exactly the same way I did back then, you know, but with better music.
I heard there was about a year after Ween where you didn’t work with your guitar, really?
It was more like 6 or 7 months, I don’t really think that much about that. I’ve suffered from anxiety my entire life. Depression is something that was never in my vocabulary. I’ve never been depressed but when Ween split up, I lost everything. All I’d ever done was that. I mean, I’ve told you how long I’ve been at it, I just knew I couldn’t get out of bed, eat, shower, go out. The guitar was just another thing that got ignored during that 8 months. I didn’t mow the lawn either. I just didn’t do anything, just ran up debt. Only battle with depression I ever had. I was stuck. I really empathize with people who have it now.
If it weren’t for my friends, my friends saved my life, they were like, “You have to start playing again. You have to force yourself, even if you’re not into it. Go out. You don’t realize how much you miss it.” So I started and it didn’t feel right. But it took, and they were right. I got a band together, called it the Dean Ween Group, said “fuck it I’m still Dean Ween.” And when does Johnny Ramone cease to be Johnny Ramone? He dies, that’s the answer. Even when the Ramones broke up he was still Johnny Ramone. And with Ween being a duo and all that, I didn’t know who I was. Hard to explain, I lost my confidence, my career, my identity, sense of worth. Love. Hobby. Passion. I’ll never make that mistake again.
You’ve been working on The Deaner Album for a hot second. Any fun anecdotes from the recording process?
Yeah, it took a while to make, and then it happened like a tornado. When I got it going I really got it going. Up until that point, I had like two songs from like a year before and then it just like caught. I ended up replacing those songs with newer ones, when I was like totally back, when the group was happening and touring. People were commenting and fans wouldn’t go away, and good stuff like that. So the anecdotes have more to do with building the studio, and watching it go up, and really just visualizing it. Fantasizing about how long I was going to be in the studio. I swore I would come here every day, and do a song a day. All day, every day, all night. And I have for a couple years now. So I have this enormous catalog, just ready to go. The second Dean Ween record is done. It’s ready to go. It’s better than the first one, and I can’t wait to get it out there.
But for the touring, we’re playing everything. I don’t have to play Ween songs unless I feel like it. Which, I do, they’re mine too.
“Exercise Man” is pretty witty. What inspired that song?
I sang it to my son when he was like 2 or 3 in the car every time we saw some idiot jogging or riding his bike in the snow at 6 am. i would make up lyrics to songs and we’d sing them. Ironically enough I’ve recorded a few of them, he’s 15 now, they were just funny ideas. A lotta people say ween makes children’s music and I guess that’s partially true. evidenced by how many kid’s shows we’ve been involved in—especially spongebob.
Do you have a favorite song off of this album, by chance?
YES. “Bundle of Joy” is my hands down favorite. It was one of the last songs I wrote for the album too.
You have a pretty extensive tour coming up.
Yeah, that’s the first leg of it. We’re going to be out all of next year. We might even go overseas.
What are you most looking forward to about getting out on the road?
The food. I eat much better on the road because normal people need to eat a few times a day. The restaurants where I live totally suck. Honestly, the music and the camaraderie, read the lyrics to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road again”, Willie has a way of summing things up perfectly and that song is about touring. traveling will always represent the epitome of the American dream, especially for a young man. Getting to meet people and play music for them, the road is where u get all the love back from the people you’re hoping to reach with your music.
You have a fishing charter business? HOW do you find time to do all of these things?
I am very busy, just leave at that. even having a few spare hours feels like a victory. I took some time off to go fishing two nights ago and I enjoyed every second of it.
Though they started their respective musical endeavors on the same page – they began writing music together at the age of 11, only to pursue different paths beginning in high school – twin sisters Leila and Omnia Hegazy were on opposite ends of the spectrum as they explored music careers independently of each other. But after graduating college in 2012, they chose to combine Leila’s R&B influence and Omnia’s pop rock intensity to create a unique and wonderful sound in a collaborative effort. It was years later, in 2016 shortly after their father passed, that the project now known as Hegazy – their surname chosen in honor of their father – .was born.
Hegazy’s debut EP Young is due out in early 2018. In honor of that news, we fired some questions at the budding stars to get their thoughts on mindfulness, the writing process, and the upcoming release.
What was the first album or song you remember ever listening to, and who introduced it to you?
Most likely Billy Joel, although we can’t remember which album/song we heard first because our Mom was a super fan and she played ALL of them. We also heard a lot of Oum Kalthoum growing up (renowned Egyptian singer) thanks to our Dad. He was Egyptian and played her music all the time. There’s a classic song called “Alf Leyla Wa Leyla” that every Egyptian knows.
Was there a moment that you realized you had the talent and the drive to pursue music? What is the origin story of Hegazy?
We were both super young when we started singing, probably around five. We were band and chorus geeks all throughout elementary school and beyond, playing clarinet in school band and then taking up instruments outside of school (Omnia learned violin and Leila learned piano). We were eleven when we started writing songs at our great-grandmother’s piano, singing gibberish until it sounded like something. We wrote our first songs together and when Omnia started playing guitar a year later, we started writing separately. Creating on our own made a lot more sense logistically as we got older because we went to different high schools and colleges and weren’t together as often. Leila studied jazz and got into R&B and soul music, while Omnia wrote angsty pop/rock songs on acoustic guitar and flirted with singing in Arabic here and there (our Dad was the language coach throughout that process). So needless to say, we became very different people as we grew up, in personality and musical style. When Leila moved back home from college after graduation, we became roommates again and continued to work separately until at some point our styles started to meet in the soul/pop realm. We started collaborating again, co-billing at shows and sometimes even playing together. After our Dad passed away in late 2015, we decided to officially become a duo under his last name, Hegazy.
We know you work together in homage to your father, and that’s such a beautiful and unique thing to offer. But we do wonder, as twins, is it difficult working together? Are there any quirks or rules to the relationship?
That’s a great question! Twin relationships are really intense, and probably even more intense than that of normal siblings. There are no secrets, and there’s no filter because you’re so comfortable with each other, so it requires a lot of mindfulness to express disagreement constructively, without being too blunt. And because each of us participated in differing musical genres before we became a duo, we definitely have artistic differences when we write songs together. So if one sister doesn’t like the other’s idea, the rule is to sleep on it before ruling it out. A lot of times, one of us will be so opposed to the other’s idea in the beginning, but after sitting with it, she’ll realize that the idea was actually pretty darn good, even if it’s not what she would have opted to do on her own. The power of the pause is real and compromise is so important in order to make any kind of partnership work! We’ll be real with you guys and admit that we are still working on this.
What is your writing process like? Take us inside it all!
Our songs almost always start with melody and chords first, with the understanding that everything is subject to change. Even though we’re a duo, we rarely start writing a song in the same room. We still work on our own, and after coming up with a song, one sister takes those ideas to the other for feedback. Very often, one of us starts a song, and the other finishes it. Sometimes finishing it means completely reimagining it and sometimes, it just means tweaking it, either lyrically or in terms of form. Both of us agonize over lyrics – it’s probably the one thing we argue about most. Regardless of ego, two heads are almost always better than one and we know our music is better for it.
Your debut EP is expected in early 2018. What have you been learning through the production process? Any fun memories or anecdotes?
We had so much fun recording this past summer with such a kickass band and producer. Our producer Jon Seale of Mason Jar Music in Brooklyn did an amazing job of taking our differing influences and bringing them to life in a way that represents both of us. We recorded most of our vocals the same way we practice: facing each other and watching each other’s mouths so that we could match each other with precision. We have of course learned, that everything does take longer than you think it’s going to. Creativity takes time and patience is key. Fun thing: While we were recording, our producer Jon had just gotten an adorable Australian Shepherd puppy. She wasn’t there most of the time because obviously puppies make noise, but seeing her always made our day.
What do you think is the most important advice you have ever gotten regarding your music?
Our Dad was the one who constantly suggested that we work together and like typical teenagers, we didn’t listen at the time. But he is the reason we are a duo today. We know he’s up in the clouds somewhere saying he told us so.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We released two singles with music videos this Fall called “Alive” and “Here to Stay” and we are so passionate about both of them. “Alive” was written about quitting a day-job to pursue music, and for the video we actually followed around 5 real people with a camera crew as they went about their jobs and their passions. We wanted to show that how people pay their bills isn’t necessarily who they are. This video is so New York, and so us.
Our recent single “Here to Stay” is political satire about xenophobia in America and the video features the most adorable child cast. As Arab-American women, we have a lot to say about what is going on in the US right now in terms of the Muslim Ban, the removal of DACA, and anti-immigrant sentiment in general. We felt a moral responsibility to speak up through our music, and couldn’t have made a record during these crazy times without acknowledging the hateful rhetoric that has been normalized in the past few years. But the song/video is actually really uplifting and playful, despite how serious this topic is. We had a small, but amazing film crew for both videos, and we need to shout out our director Steph Ching, who took our concepts and ran with them in the most beautiful way. These projects truly came from our hearts and we’re so proud of them.
Molly DeWolf is one of those outstanding artists that immediately leaves a positive impact wherever she goes. Not only is her debut single something of a stunner, but she also attended Harvard, where she was the director of the school’s oldest co-ed a cappella group. And that’s not it! She appeared on season 10 of American Idol and went on to build RYOT, which eventually sold to Huffington Post. After a brief hiatus from her own music during those times she was off being a genius, DeWolf has now found a seamless and unique approach to the industry that allows her to create from an authentic place.
Explains DeWolf of her debut single: “The idea behind ‘8 Seconds’ is knowing someone for years, being in and out of each others’ orbit, and then all of a sudden they become your person, which mirrors my own experience and current relationship. That’s a beautiful notion to me, that ‘lighting and timing’ are the primary factors dictating your life and who you end up with, as an ex lover used to say. I’m fascinated by the idea of fate vs coincidence.”
In honor of the release of “8 Seconds”, we took a few minutes to chat with DeWolf about inspiration, motivation, and, of course, the holidays.
What was the first album or song you remember ever listening to, and who introduced it to you?
I remember my nanny ChaCha introducing me to Bohemian Rhapsody when I was about 6 years old. I was obsessed with the song and wanted to listen to / sing it all the time. My 3 year old brother became a huge fan also, because he wanted to be me when he grew up, so when he wasn’t in Batman or Superman costumes he was wearing my dresses I’d grown out of. Obviously neither of us at the time appreciated the irony of that flamboyant anthem being our soundtrack, but if I remember correctly, there are some hilarious home video VHS tapes of us from that era.
You have one of the most interesting backstories we have ever heard, to be honest. Do you mind recapping it a bit for our readers?
Yeah… let’s see. Seattle to Harvard to White House to American Idol to Philanthropic Consulting to startup news organization that pivoted to documentary films and VR/AR, sold to HuffPost/AOL, to Venture Partner making tech investments and back to music again…
Without context, my resume probably seems like I’ve been like playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey: Career Edition. It’s such a random assortment. Truth be told, most of my decisions have been made based on who I want to spend my time with more than what I want to spend my time doing. When i meet someone who inspires me, my first instinct is to try and figure out ways of working with them. That inspiration has clearly not been limited to one industry, city or sector.
Your first track off your debut EP is titled “8 Seconds” and it is nothing short of stunning. What inspired this track, specifically?
Wow, thank you. I’m so humbled by people’s response to it.
I actually wrote it with the intention of performing / presenting the song as a gift at a dear friend’s wedding. The story behind their relationship, which I watched go from friends to soulmates in what seemed like a few moments, mirrored my own romantic situation somewhat, so I was able to write from the dual perspective of firsthand participant and active observer.
I’m fascinated by coincidence and the way we infuse meaning in hindsight. We are pattern seeking animals, and I think that’s at the root of how and why we believe what we believe, especially when it comes to love.
What was the writing process like for this song and the upcoming EP? Has it developed or changed since your first foray into the music world? You seem to be in a better place, destined to create music with more meaning and that has a purpose for you.
After Idol, I told myself I had no interest in participating in the music industry. For years, this was the internal logic preventing me from creating, even though I felt pangs of remorse just about every day that I wasn’t. The writing of the EP felt cathartic in a number of ways, not the least of which was in dismantling the years of self-doubt and textbook insecurities.
I have to give credit where it’s due to the BRÅVES boys, who became friends and then incredible collaborators. Johnny What in particular, turned five stark piano & vocal tracks into something entirely else. They are so talented.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?
Everything in moderation, even moderation.
Doing anything fun this year for the holidays?
For the first time ever, I think I’ll be in LA! Even though I’ve lived here for almost 7 years, I’ve been traveling every holiday season. Cuba last year, other years Mexico, China, home in Seattle, everywhere but my current, chosen home. I’ve also been on planes just about every week of 2017, so I’m actually really excited to just be here.
Just last month, Massachusetts-based indie pop/punk rock four piece Kindling released a particularly impressive and instrumentally heavy 10-track album titled Hush. Though the intro to a lot of the tracks starts in a different soundscape, eventually the meat of most of the songs hits with multiple guitars that create an almost cacophonous ambiance around the chorus of vocals. It’s quite the experience, and while we certainly suggest showing off your dance moves while enjoying the album, we also kind of hope you have access to a starry night sky, dope lawn chairs, and string lights to enjoy “Rain”.
We got the chance to catch up with vocalists/guitarists Stephen Pierce and Gretchen Williams shortly after the release of Hush.
What was the first album or song you remember ever listening to, and who introduced it to you?
Stephen Pierce: I don’t know exactly the record, but my parents were always listening to a lot of British Invasion stuff — Yardbirds, The Animals, The Kinks.. My dad liked the Stones and my mom liked The Beatles. There’s in particular this one tape my dad had of The Yardbirds’ BBC sessions that is seared into my consciousness, right down to the hammy BBC announcer’s voice.
Gretchen Williams: When I was about seven or so, I had a camp counselor that had my troop perform the Shangri-Las‘ “Leader of the Pack” in a talent show. Naturally, I was assigned to be part of the motorcycle gang and made a construction paper leather jacket to wear. I really loved the sound and doomed-love-story subject matter as a kid, and played my cassette of the recording a lot at home.
What is the Kindling origin story?
Gretchen: In the winter of 2014, Stephen and I formed Kindling after he asked me to contribute to a few songs he’d written. Initially, we didn’t really have a sense of where we might be headed; we just wanted to write a bunch of catchy songs quickly. Our demo was just the two of us, and we subsequently self-recorded a 7″ before recruiting others to the band.
How would you say you’ve developed your sound and your relationship with each other since your first EP?
Stephen: I think Hush is definitely bigger and more ambitious than the previous stuff, which was probably bigger than the stuff that preceded that… Each recording we’re one step closer to being a fucking prog band or something. But seriously, the more ya work at anything, I guess the more comfortable it’ll feel, and I feel pretty comfortable these days with the band, from our process to our songs to how I communicate with my bandmates – communication hasn’t always been an easy thing for me. But, like: You figure out what works best for everyone, and try to do things that way.
Gretchen: Despite a lot of the lyrical content of Hush focusing on uncertainty, I think we’ve found a little more confidence on this record. We reached for a bigger, more complex sound and integrated some new instruments (mellotron and sitar appear on a few tracks throughout the album).
What is your writing process like? Do you start with a melody, start with concept, brain dump lyrics? Take us inside it all!
Stephen: I usually sit with a guitar on the couch and just, like, watch tv and if something good appears, I’ll hit mute on the tv and record it on my phone, then revisit it at the practice space, or sometimes maybe just, like, loop it and vibe it out. Lyrics come afterwards, usually I’ll demo the instrumental stuff with Andy, our drummer, and spend a lot of time listening to the instrumentals while, like, riding my bike or something. Then Gretchen and I will work on vocal phrasing and words. Or we’ll have ideas and throw them back and forth between each other, usually what we come up with is pretty similar.
How do you imagine people listening to this album?
Gretchen: Late at night when you can’t sleep; or on a long bus trip; or walking through the woods; or just trying to get through the day — basically any time you might feel a little bit wistful and restless.
Stephen: I like the thought of Hush playing annoyingly loud while quitting yer shitty job, or something. Tell off the boss in a giant spectacle with the assistance of Hush.
Who is your favorite superhero? Substantiate your claim.
Gretchen: The only comic I ever read growing up was Archie, so I guess my favorite superhero is Jughead? He always seemed pretty impervious to the stresses of modern life in Riverdale–a trait I admire.
Stephen: Spider-Man, because he was such a loser and I find that highly relatable.
What is your favorite word?
Gretchen: Probably a toss up between “somnambulance” and “goblin.”
Stephen: Mine is “Goblinambulance”
Perfection. Anything else you’d like to add?
Stephen: Thanks so much!
Hush is available now. Keep up with Kindling here.
In August, New York based rock trio Upright Man – comprised of Aidan Dolan (guitar/vocals), Nick Katz (bass/vocals) and Max Yassky (drums / percussion / background vocals) – released their debut self-titled album. Packed to the brim with guitar-driven psychedelia and well-rounded, intense – yet somehow innately relaxing – vocals, the ten track album made a strong impact on its audience almost immediately. Exploring a wide soundscape with the prowess of a much more experienced band, we’re under the very strong impression that Upright Man is here to stay, and they’ve certainly left a mark.
We caught up with the guys briefly before the holidays to get a little insight into their process and more. Check it out below, and get your ears on Upright Man if you haven’t quite yet!
What is the first song or album you ever remember hearing, and who introduced it to you?
Max: It’s either “Only The Lonely” by Roy Orbison, or “Busted” by Ray Charles. Thanks Mom.
Aidan: Though I had heard music everywhere before I knew what it was, the first album as a whole that I became aware of was probably Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” It was in the CD player in our car that we took to and from school. The attitude and badassness was so obvious to me as a little kid and I still feel the same way.
Nick: Probably “With The Beatles” or “Help!” Though I discovered at 14 that I already knew all the words to “In My Hour of Darkness” by Gram Parsons even though I had no memory of listening to the record before. So I think I heard a lot of music before I was really making memories.
We know you met at NYU, but what is the Upright Man origin story like? Was it a meet-cute?
Max: I had to look up meet-cute. No it wasn’t anything like a romantic comedy, but we all did hit it off pretty quickly. We met and hung out as peers in school and then started making music for other people’s projects. We – all three – started making prog-jazz-classical music before we moved on to the space-rock music we’re making now.
Nick: Yeah, what Max said.
Your self-titled debut just released. What has that been like for you?
Max: Releasing an album feels like the most foreign part of making music to me. We play and write so much that sometimes I forget the end goal is for other people to hear it. I’m kind of stunned when I imagine strangers listening to it.
Aidan: It feels good to enter a new stage of development for the band. Now that we have a completed product, we have to get it out there and take the band on the road. Our passion is music and creating it, but as musicians and a band, we have to take responsibility for so many aspects of the business of being a band as well.
Nick: There’s inherent satisfaction in seeing things finished. Having people seem to like it is just a nice little bonus.
Do you have any fun anecdotes from the recording process?
Max: We had a fight with a very obstinate restaurateur. We ordered enough tortilla chips and guac to fuel a small force of underpaid interns, but got zilch. When we called up the restaurant, instead of your expected “Oh we’ll fix it”, we got put on hold while the owner checked the security tapes and assured us that all the chips left with the delivery fella. What do you do, right? Try and explain the laws of physics? Zero tortilla chips delivered to us = zero tortilla chips delivered to us. We each tried to explain this to the owner and finally our producer hung up dejectedly.
Aidan: While we were recording at Avatar Studios in NYC, we decided to use the physical reverb chambers, which are located somewhere in the stairwell of the building. We realized the mics in the reverb chambers were picking up this whole class of elementary school students playing outside, creating a really eerie far away sound of children screaming and laughing. We decided to record that and even took it a step further by running outside and asking them all to make as much noise as possible to be on our record! It sounded awesome, but we never found a place for it. Maybe next record..
Nick: It was awful and I hated every minute of it … I’m just kidding, I love being in the studio.
If your album were any Thanksgiving meal dish – an appetizer, main course, side dish, dessert, drink, whatever – what would it be and why?
Max: It’s the unidentifiable yet delicious troth of hot mash brought by that one obscure work friend of your cousin’s.
Aidan: Dat bomb gravy.
Nick: Guys, you’re really selling it short, it’s the whole turkey, stuffing, drippings and all.
We really love the composition and overall sound of “Ecstasy”. What inspired that song – if we may ask – specifically?
Max: Thanks. When we were writing it I remember thinking of this image I had in my head from a news clipping. Apparently some of the older folks in Gaza would sit on this one couch on the edge of the city, eat watermelon, smoke cigars, and watch the chaos as if it were a television program.
Aidan: It started off on guitar as the little intro chorus/riff. The lyrics sort of came from describing a feeling of pure resignation and disconnection from the world, while still being ironically blissful in its comfort. There is a moment of self realization and hopefulness in the song, but some things never last. The form has an interesting way of mirroring that emotion in a developmental way.
Nick: It was born of self restraint in a way.
Being a musical project located in NYC has its advantages and disadvantages, of course, just as any place else does. Have you been able to navigate the highly saturated music scene in NYC to find some of your favorite gems?
Max: That saturation is one of my favorite things about the city. It does make people cynical about exploring new music, but for studios, venues, stores and new people to meet, being here is a total boon. Of course you meet great people everywhere and there’s plenty of shit here too.
Aidan: The saturation is advantageous in the way that Max says, giving you so many options to experience many different types of music at a high level musicianship, but as a band in its nascent stage, you have a lot of other bands and forms of entertainment to compete with on any given night, so it’s hard to grow beyond the audience of your family, friends, and friends of friends. There is a very elusive sense of a scene and you have to really make a ruckus to get people to come to your show over something else.
What are you most excited about with your debut album?
Max: Having a copy.
Aidan: Seeing and hearing other people’s reaction to our music.
Nick: Getting to the next one.
The band will be playing a show in honor of an upcoming video release and Aidan’s birthday at Mercury Lounge. Tickets are available now. Keep up with Upright Man here.
We caught up with the highly revered Juliette Lewis on a freezing cold day working from home. There was a strange sense of excitement in the air for about an hour before the phone call, which may or may not be attributed to the holiday season. (Or our immense love for this woman and all of her talents. Could be that.) My nerves had gotten the best of me, as I explained to my father earlier in the day that Lewis recently released her first collection of songs in years – an incredible EP titled Future Deep – and that seeing her perform live this past summer had really increased my faith in her ridiculous amount of talent.
Check out the fun – but all too quick – conversation we had with Juliette below. We’ve included the EP for you to rock out to for the rest of the year and beyond.
How are you today?
I’m pretty good. Just a few more days until Christmas. I’m not sure. When is it? (laughing) Where are you based out of? I’m in Los Angeles right now.
I am actually in Kansas City, Missouri.
Wow, that’s neat.
So we’re snowed in right now. Is it OK out there? Heard it’s been raining.
Oh yeah. It’s raining and it’s freezing per L.A. weather, which is great. (laughing) It’s good. We needed rain so it’s all good.
Absolutely. Alright, let’s dig in! Your career is super expansive and amazing. Everything you touch turns to gold. So we were wondering, what keeps bringing you back to music?
That’s sweet. When I was a kid, I was always involved in music. So when I was a kid – before the art mediums were segregated to the extent that they are now – I took dance and sang in musicals and created characters and did storytelling. Then, I got successful doing one thing, which was mainly actin gin movies. When I turned around 30, I thought, “Holy shit, you’re 30 and you didn’t do that thing you wanted to do.” And that thing was to make music.
For me, it begins and ends with a live show and the live show experience. I always likened The Licks – my first band – to like, when you have a band out of high school. The music was really energy based, I wrote songs specifically to perform live. It’s not until now that I’m really enjoying the process of making the album. I got into the idea of making rock music as a collective, so I worked on this record [Future Deep] with Brad Schultz – who produced half of it and is a songwriter as well as a member of Cage the Elephant – and Isabella Summers – who is in Florence & The Machine, I did a few songs with her. For Future Deep, I wanted to work with people and write songs that I dug.
What keeps me coming back to music – and any art form – is necessity. I was touring for about five years and wasn’t making movies. What brought me back to acting was the thought that I wasn’t done and I still had more to say. In both mediums, I feel like I still have more to say. So it’s about navigation of those two streams – those two currants – and it’s proved challenging but exciting at the same time.
Fair enough! Your live performance – like you said – is crazy. I knew you made music and I had heard it before, but I didn’t get to see you until Riot Fest Denver this year and you KILLED IT. Your Evel Knievel outfit, your presence. What made you decide to go with that?
I don’t know! (laughing) I like showmanship. But at the same time, there’s no other way I can be on stage. I don’t know how to do a sedate show or a whatever show. Every show I do, it’s like my life depends on it. And it’s the people that bring it out in me because I want to move every single set of eyes I see in the crowd.
Music – for me – has been sort of spiritual in the sense that I used music to get over a lot of fears. I used to – believe it or not – have a fear of crowds that was happening when I lost my anonymity at around twenty. I never wanted to go to malls or concerts or any place where there could be crowds. The great irony is I formed a rock band and now there’s no crowd I can’t put myself in front of. I don’t throw myself in every crowd, but mostly it cured me of my fear of people. I like the idea of bringing danger and electricity and unpredictability to a live show experience. It’s an expression to me against the anesthetized, plastic part of our culture that’s been happening, especially with women in the arts where there’s this weird, unspoken way with which we deal with women in the arts.
I also feel like a superhero on stage. And Evel Knievel, he wore a badass suit. So I got one made. (laughing) I was inspired by David Lee Roth and others growing up, and he wore great outfits.
performing at riot fest denver 2016
I wish I could pull it off! You do everything right!
Well thank you, I’m glad you were there!
Very happy I got to experience it. So what do you do to prep for a live performance like that though?
It’s weird because when I started my band, I very much approached it – and I guess acting more and more as I go on – by trying to maintain energy. So before I go on, I stretch and love looking at a venue or a space before it’s filled. Every stage has an electricity or a vibe, which is one of the pleasures of touring. You have all that came before you in that space.
I am inspired a lot by my band this time around. I had a bass player named Juan Alderete (The Mars Volta) and his groove alone would excite me for a show. He’s one of my favorite bass players of all time. I was just really excited to play with the group of people I put together. I always know why I’m doing it. I love people and having them come into a space to form a collective and shed their fears and problems and get into a space where we all unite and celebrate life, love, and music.
One ritual I do have is when I’m putting makeup on my eyes. When I’m doing my eyes in the mirror, there’s a focus and I’m doing vocal warmups while I work on it. I always do my eyes, but everything else I sweat off.
So Future Deep makes you feel like a total badass when you listen to it. Are there any fun anecdotes that you have from creating it?
Each song has a whole life of its own. “Hello Hero” is a song Isabella and I created in London. I met with her, we talked about music. It’s so neat to talk about something, to play a song and to create a beat or melody and watch it all come to life. When Brad and I made all our songs, it was snowing. I went to Nashville and we bunked out at a studio there and it was so great because it was snowing outside so we didn’t want to go outside. We made “Any Way You Want” and “I Know Trouble” – which is very inspired by “I Put A Spell On You”.
A lot of the best songs will sort of write themselves. I usually work with musicians who will play something and it will unlock a whole story that is sitting there within me, or a melody. If you’re connected to your truth, you can then access it.
One time, they took me out to Bowling Green, KY. I basically kidnapped most of the members of Cage the Elephant and made my EP. Drummer Jared Champion, Matt, and then Brad Schultz took me out to a bar in Bowling Green. I have a rule where I don’t accept shots or drinks from strangers, but (laughing) I just missed that rule. It was their southern hospitality. I was wrecked in the studio for two days and they just made fun of me. So that was good, I was like a member of the band for a minute. I passed the test. (laughing)
The whole record was made in a couple weeks. It started because I knew Brad Schultz from ten years ago when we were both touring in London and then I heard a recent record of theirs, and I digged the sound a lot. New rock n’ roll doesn’t have a whole lot that’s carrying the torch of soul and groove in the music, but they do it. They do it right.
Do you have a favorite song from the EP at all?
Definitely. We played most of them live the past year, so I do. These songs live take on a life all their own. Like “Future Deep” takes on this dance tone, and people are super into it. “I Know Trouble” is definitely a favorite as far as just a soul-ripping blues song. I love “Any Way You Want” as an out of the gate rock track. And “Hello Hero” is one of my favorite things I’ve done of all time. It’s dancey with big beats and the grooviest bass line. I love “Hello Hero”.
I will have to say I do everything haphazard because I’m totally independent. Vinyl is coming in two weeks, I’m making all of this myself. There’s a lot of freedom in it. Then there is social media and things like this interview that are fun and very helpful.
Over the years, have you had anything interesting or fun on your rider list?
We have such a basic rider. One, we’re so punk rock and low budget. (laughing) There is NOTHING fun on our rider. We play little rock clubs where you’re lucky if you get half your rider. PLUS I always have a couple vegans in my crew, so we prioritize getting them fed. Especially in Europe. So there’s nothing fun ever. Socks? I’m not vegan, but ginger cookies. I like ginger. Nothing exciting. (laughing)
What would your advice to young girls chasing their dreams around the world be, especially with our current political climate?
My biggest advice is to find your truth. I learned how to sing from jazz music, and I realized imitation isn’t bad as long as you develop who you really are. To imitate Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald – I used to sing like that. Then I got with Linda Perry and she helped me get more courageous. She asked me what I like and what it is I want to say and we just started playing. So I would just tell people to try. There is no perfection. Be willing to make mistakes in your art and keep doing it. Stop it with the pressure.
I think with social media, people like writing and directing their own bits online and putting themselves out there. Perhaps there’s less perfection. But then on the flip side, there are young girls who say, “I can’t take a bad picture.”
I’m really big into doing what you fear. Not in an unhealthy way, but to stand up and speak a poem you wrote that was meaningful to you. Say it in front of people. There are so many inspiring things that come from that and you’ll find that there are other people who hear and feel your truth. You’ll find who you’re meant to speak to and where you’re supposed to be.
Please break the mold and don’t get lost in beauty stereotypes. Nowhere in my art am I thinking about being safe or attractive. My deeper concern is expression and connection. That is the end all be all.
I got the privilege of touring with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and it showed me that with certain artists, I don’t see any age. I don’t see anything but a one of a kind voice and a musical force with the most incredible songs. I got to tour with her and Cat Power f0r a month and it was such a phenomenal experience. Two completely different women and musicians. It was so liberating.
You do amazing things, woman.
Well thanks! I’m just open to opportunities and trying not to overthink. I try to leave it to chance. I don’t always feel prepared, but I’ll go for it and do my best in that moment, where I’m at. This record we just made is nothing I would have been able to write ten years ago. But ten years ago was what I could do at that time.
Do you have any big plans for the holidays?
Yes, I’m going to go to the snow. I grew up in California, the snow is like a miracle of life. “OH MY GOD! THERE’S SNOW!” I just want to be surrounded by it. I love that you’re surrounded by it and can’t drive right now. We’re going to Utah. I’m going with my guy and his kids and my sister and their kids for New Years. I’m really excited to play board games and to be stuck with each other and do things in the snow.
As far as Christmas, I’m just doing my thing with family. Should be relaxing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Try and be active in the things you believe in and connect with other groups who are also active. Try to protect the vulnerable. That’s the main concern with our political climate is those people who have to be vulnerable by whatever things are about to be laid down. Right now is a very inspiring time. People are finding their voice and coming together. I’m going to that march on Washington for female rights at the end of January. We’re all coming together. It’s amazing.