SCHOENBURG on Sufjan Stevens, adulthood, and his record label
Photo via SCHOENBURG
Billy Schoenburg may be one of the hardest working musicians in the Cities. On any given
night of the week, the singer is seen working at a venue or out enjoying a concert. Along with his bandmates, Graham Barton and Dan Hoppe, Billy's band, SCHOENBURG, will be releasing their second album this year. Hydrophobia & Identity Insecurities brings out a mature approach that tells of a young group in transition from youth into adulthood.
Gimme Noise spoke to Billy prior to his album release at the 7th Street Entry on what he's learned in the DIY business model and how Sufjan Stevens colors his music.
Gimme Noise: Billy, you do a lot of work in the local music business. How important do you fell it is to integrate yourself into the local music scene here?
Billy Schoenburg: I think it's pretty necessary. I work at a couple venues and have tour managed for a few artists around town. I feel like each job, gig, and volunteer opportunity is just another puzzle piece. Trying to figure out what I'm putting together has been the real adventure. All I know is that there's a lot I don't know and every time I work a show or event that gap closes a little bit. Also, it helps to show your face as often as you can if you're trying to book shows, get in with press, or work with other artists in the area. People take you more seriously if they know you're out five nights a week at shows.
What made you release a full length this time around?
We actually worked on this LP at the same time that we made our EP, Short, But Sweet. Over the past couple years I wrote all of these songs and they just developed into two separate projects. While we were in the studio working on Hydrophobia and Identity Insecurities, we were also working on the EP at home during late nights. Since the EP was half the length of Hydrophobia we had time to make it our first release.
Do you feel this album is an extension of Short, But Sweet?
Not really. Short, But Sweet is just a small collection of tunes that I thought were short, sweet, and simple. They went well together. Hydrophobia and Identity Insecurities is more about me growing up. The themes are still simple and the melodies are still poppy, but the songs relate more directly to stuff that I went through over the past few years.
What were you able to do on this album that you weren't on the last album -- storywise and otherwise that were left on the table with the last album?
The big things were arrangements and lyrical depth within the songs. On the EP the tunes were stripped down to a guitar and vocals, which worked really well for those songs. On Hydrophobia, everything is fuller. It revolves around the sounds and abilities of our collective trio instead of the sound of one voice.
Who was influencing you creatively when you were writing for Hydrophobia?
Even though it rarely sounds like it, Sufjan Stevens is someone I always look to -- especially his earlier stuff. Some of the folkier tunes on the album you might hear that in, but I am not about to suggest that any part of my songwriting could really compare to his. He's just a songwriter that I really respect. A lot. Also, when I was writing a good portion of the tunes I was just discovering Jeremy Messersmith. I remember thinking, "This dude writes some good songs." Seeing how active and accepted he's been in the local scene has also really encouraged me to keep going with the songwriting game.
What's the story behind the title Hydrophobia & Identity Insecurities?
It's ultimately about overcoming. That's the biggest theme in the album. If you go down the list of tracks, each one touches on getting past something, whether that's love lost, making a new life in a new place, or oil spills. Hydrophobia specifically refers to the song "Deepwater Horizon," a song about the BP oil spill a while back, told from the oil's perspective. I remember questioning why oil is so criminalized by public opinion. Obviously it's a dirty, nasty thing, and obviously BP took responsibility for it, but I think a lot of people see the pelicans soaked in oil and the ruined beaches and just place blame. The oil didn't ask to go anywhere. It was super happy underground. We brought it above water. We messed up and let it loose in the ocean. That stuff is literally hydrophobic. It won't mix with water. That's a weird way of looking at it, but we and the oil obviously overcame. It's still being used in cars, and we have come up with newer and bigger problems to worry about as a country.
Identity Insecurities just sums up my struggles with figuring out who the hell I was when I apparently entered adulthood.
A lot of DIY went into the process of the new album. Why did the band decide to go this route, and how did everyone contribute?
Well, we created a label when we released our last EP. One of the things we decided we really wanted to do was make it centered around doing (almost) everything in house. In a world where no one has practical use for a CD, we think its important to put a lot of thought and love into that packaging and all the other merchandise that goes with it.
The members of the band are Me, Graham Wakeman, and Dane Hoppe. Dane and Graham tracked the album, the three of us arranged and performed everything on the album, Graham produced, mixed, and mastered it, and we collectively did all of the design and assembly of the physical package (with some help and advice from CopyCats Media, Big Table Studio in St. Paul, and Northwest Graphics). It's nice when it comes time to put album credits in the liners and you only have to use three names.
What have you learned about releasing an album since last winter?
A lot. We started with practically no knowledge of what goes into fully putting together an album and its release. As we approach September we have a lot of ideas of what we can do better next time around, and what we did really well on these first couple attempts. Again, we are putting together all these little puzzle pieces, and by our next release I think we are going to have a considerably easier time figuring out where they all go.
What can we expect at the album release show?
Good up-and-coming songwriters. The support lineup is Kara Laudon, SuperChris (Chris Cote), and John Mark Nelson. I am increasingly surprised by how great those three are at writing songs. It makes it really hard for us to want to follow any of them up. Sincerely.
It's at the 7th Street Entry, so anyone familiar with the room knows it has one of the best vibes in town, as well as the best sound. We are going for concise sets and quick turnovers from act to act.
Expect SuperChris to wear a cape, expect Kara to melt your hearts, and expect John to tell you stories that you'll get lost in. Oh, and I guess SCHOENBURG will then try to tie that all together. As a side note, there will be a kickin' after-party at Honey, MPLS with Sexy Delicious and Youth at Large. It's gonna be fun.
SCHOENBURG will release Hydrophobia & Identity Insecurities at the 7th Street Entry on Monday, September 3, 2012 with John Mark Nelson, SuperChris, and Kara Loudon.
18+, $5, 7 pm
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