What differences do you see between this album and its predecessors, especially Bitte Orca?
I think in the past Dave obsessed over composition within the songs and not so much on the emotional core so I think that's the heart of it [now]. It's a little more personal and straightforward.
Are there any emotions or experiences in particular that you can describe?
Having gone up to the middle of nowhere to work on [the record] provided a lot of solitude. It was a good environment for searching and going inward and I think you can really hear that.
Is that what made you decide to go up there and isolate yourselves?
Originally the idea for working on the album was that we were going to find a warehouse in New York somewhere and build a studio and make the record in New York [City]. When you live in Brooklyn or New York somewhere and you come off tour, you just realize that it's impossible to decompress in New York City because it's so crazy all the time. It's crazy expensive and there's very little personal space. We got to talking and realized the best thing would be to get the hell out and have a place in nature. Nature is really important to Dave and me -- really to all of us in the band. We found a few listings upstate in various areas and went up and looked at them. We would pick a place on the map and drive and walk into realty offices and be like, "Hey, we want to rent a place." There's all these places for sale up there but nobody's buying them because there's no real economy up there anymore. It's sad. This place [we chose] was for sale but it had been on the market for a while and of course the guy was happy to be making some money renting it out. It was a really big house on 50 acres in the woods. There's a creek running on one side and a pond and wildlife. You'd wake up and it was extremely quiet. [Lots of] birds. There's no grocery store in the town so you had to go to the next town over to get groceries -- it was a twenty five minute drive. It was really homestead-y.
What was in the town?
The town [Andes] was cool. There was a post office and a little bank. There's a place called the Andes Hotel that's a little, old building that a long time ago was an old hotel but [now] it's just kind of a bar with a restaurant and stuff -- just an all-American spot with a pool table and karaoke every now and then. There were also a few art galleries and boutiques that Manhattanites had opened but it's nowhere near as extreme as a place like Woodstock.
Are you guys outdoorsy? Would you go hiking?
Yeah, we would, especially in the springtime. Dave is way more outdoorsy. [He's] kind of ballsy -- a "go for it" [guy]. I just hung out outside.
Swing Lo Magellan album coverI read that the guy on your album cover was your neighbor out there? What's his backstory?
Yeah. He's from around there. He had worked for the Park Service at some point and he's a hunter. He was our only neighbor, really. He lived at the top of the driveway and the driveway was maybe a quarter mile long. We would hang with him from time-to-time. He pulled Dave out from the snow a bunch of times because he got the car stuck in the snow and ice.
Would you guys have any culture shock when you'd get back to the city or were you back-and-forth so much that it was easy to readjust?
It definitely was pretty shocking. The last hour of the three hour drive [to Andes], there's no cell service. It's really, really out there. Also, the temperature drops big time. You come out of New York and it's like 95 [degrees] and you're blasting the A/C but when you get up there, it's gorgeous. There's so much air and so many trees! It's a big contrast [from the city].
When you guys started to decompress from the tour and work on this album, did you ever experience any feelings of pressure or anxiety about matching the success of Bitte Orca?
It's hard not to feel a certain amount of pressure when there are people who care about what you do because you don't want to let people down [but] I think when you start really worrying about that stuff, you can get yourself in trouble artistically. That was a big part of the reason behind really taking our time with this record. We had cleared the calendar completely -- we didn't play a show for 18 months. Everybody went their separate ways and did their own stuff for a long time.
What's the story behind Gun Has No Trigger?
That one's hard for me to talk about. Dave has a lot to say about that one. Swing Lo Magellan was [about when] a friend of ours gave Dave a GPS and that's kind of what that song is about -- looking at the GPS in a bummer way and not trusting your intuition and not paying attention to where you are.
Aside from the way the band functions musically, what are the dynamics like when you're not making music together?
It's really great. We actually have two new members in the band and we spent five weeks rehearsing for this tour, which is the longest we've ever rehearsed before a tour. And they were pretty intense days too -- like 10 hour days or more but we're having a really good time. We joke around a lot and talk in a lot of silly accents and voices. We're very, very comfortable [together].
Is anyone the "camp counselor" or the wrangler who makes sure everyone stays focused?
I might be kind of like that character sometimes. That hasn't really happened with this new group yet. [Even though it's] a new dynamic that we're getting used to, it feels very peaceful and workable and mature.
Photo by Steve Scap