SXSW 2012: A conversation with Peter Pisano and Chris Koza
Gimme Noise had the privilege of being a fly on the wall
when two of the most talented and humble artists to come out of the
Twin Cities sat down to talk during a quiet moment at SXSW in Austin,
Chris Koza: Have you guys been busy this festival?
Peter Pisano: Yeah, we've probably played 5 shows.
CK: When are you done?
PP: We're done...now.
CK: Since you're done for the rest of the festival, what's the plan for tonight?
PP: Rest. The way that I've been doing it -- I've really enjoyed hanging out with our publicist, Lyssa Thompson -- I'll usually call her and find out all that is happening.
CK: You guys weren't down here last year?
PP: No, we weren't. We were recording our last album; I didn't really want to go, so I had a good excuse.
We weren't gonna go this year, because it's so overwhelming for me; it's so tiring and I don't like crowds. If this was like Lyn-Lake Fest, and I could walk eight blocks to my house to take a nap, then come back out, I'd be able to do it. Here there's no escape, that's why you have to drink because if you're being sensitive to all of this all of the time, you're being overloaded. Alcohol helps to take the edge off of it, that's why I think everyone's just fucking hammered all day long -- even label owners.
We had Paul [Gillis] say we weren't gonna do these shows, then Brian [Moen] said, "Naw, I think we should." I was like, "Alright, fine," so we had to call everyone back and reset everything back up.
How many shows did you guys do?
CK: We played Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It's been good. I wanted to make sure we had sure we had something to do everyday.
What was the highlight of your SXSW this year?
PP: Every show is important; you want to be there. There's been times where it's crept up on me -- meeting people. I did a panel on Thursday.
CK: Was it up-and-comers?
PP: No, it was regional music; it was a sales thing. That was fucking awesome. I enjoyed that as much as playing in a show -- probably more. If that's what is a part of what this SX thing is, then that is the part I can latch on to, because I have a hard time with the music thing. Twenty percent of the people are just hanging out, seven percent are listening, seven percent are caring, and the other percent is just your party.
CK: It's so interesting when you have people that are people that are there regardless whether they're listening or not. They're making up their own minds, but they're basing it on others too.
PP: I would say ninety percent of the whole is not there at the very least.
CK: Yeah, it's like, "Why did that person leave during that song?"
PP: So many people nowadays listen to music with the perception, "How do people hear this?" You're not even listening for yourself, and you think, "Is this gonna be something a lot of people are gonna get into? Is this girl, that I think is cute, listening to this shit before we go out on a date?" You're not even listening for yourself.
CK: That's what I get a lot with the four album stuff. "What are you doing after this project?" It's tough to answer that.
PP: Right. Have you put out something since the four albums?
CK: It was April of last year since we put out the fourth one.
PP: How do you feel about that -- just doing the four album thing?
CK: It was good to do it; I'm glad that we did it. It was good to write so many songs. It was concentrated time in the studio -- sitting down and saying, "I gotta make a song right now that I'm gonna hate, or at least give it my best shot."
PP: And it made a new band.
CK: Yeah, everyone's roles were necessary.
PP: Did renaming the band make it different -- like this feels different? Was it creatively a different project making those records as Rogue Valley instead of Chris Koza as a band?
CK: I don't know.
Linnea Mohn (of Rogue Valley): I think so, but I think that's just semantics.
PP: It still felt as much of a collaborative process?
LM: Yeah, we just have a couple more singers.
CK: You might compare it to Coloring Time. I saw you guys performing at the XYZ Gallery.
PP: That was very different from any of the Coloring Time that we do now.
CK: Maybe that was the first performance.
PP: That was the first time that Joe [Horton] and I decided to do an improv set together. It's taken on a totally different beast now. When we played the show together -- at the time it felt so good.
CK: That's when you really learned how to smoke. It was like, "Mmmm." Somewhere in the world, Keith Richards is smiling.
Have you been pleased with how people have been connecting to your music? It seems like the crowd knows your music.
PP: I don't feel that, but I just close my eyes the entire time. I've been doing that more and more, and I should probably stop it.
CK: You just go into your own performance daze.
PP: I totally do. I mean, it's not as if I am cutting myself off to what's happening. Even if your eyes are closed, you still know what's going on.
LM: I think that works for you though. You don't seem isolated by your eyelids.
LM: I actually appreciate that about Doug Martsch when we saw Built to Spill last night. He just closes his eyes because he's cool.
CK: He looks like he's sleeping cause his face doesn't get scrunched up.
LM: He was doing what he does.
PP: I've never seen Built to Spill; I've never really listened to them.
CK: With all of the guitar stuff that you do, I think you would like them.
PP: That's becoming a big thing for me; I just started listening to the Replacements for the first time.
CK: Which albums?
PP: I liked Tim, Let it Be. (Laughs) Really, I just went straight to the Paul Westerberg stuff, and that's all I listened to. I also really dig the Dinosaur Jr. shit, and I'm starting to get into the Lemonheads kind of thing.
PP: It's like that post-punk rock and roll thing.
CK: People trying to write more sensitive songs?
PP: Is that what it is? I think it's more hard music. Someone just banging out their feelings. That's reassuring. That's nice. It's comforting. It makes sense.
CK: I feel like punk music with the Replacements, they were just singing about asinine things: going to the market. I like the girl there. (Laughs) Then later in their careers, they're into character studies.
PP: I think it just gets better and better. That fucking 49:00 record is out of this world. Some people have this thing where they have to have it happen like eight times, and with his, it's like oh, once. That's it. You heard it.
Maybe that's the nice thing about it, but I don't feel like Paul Westerberg. I feel like I gotta do it three or four times. With Paul, he's established himself with the culture and a fanbase that understands -- or I think it understands -- what he's doing. He's been really direct with what he's doing, and people responded to that. I do think there's a relationship there. The reason I don't have something like that is because I haven't been doing that for thirty years. That's where I'm setting my fucking compass as an artist. I want to do that; that's the reaction that I want, so I gotta put a little something different into it.
CK: Well people have responded to it thus far.
PP: Yeah? It's fucking relative.
PP: If someone told me that I would be at a table smoking cigarettes talking to Chris Koza four years ago, I would have been like, "I made it! I made it!"
So if someone told me I would be getting to play this showcase two years ago, I would have been like, "That's amazing."
That's not saying I don't appreciate it now, but I need to do a better job of appreciating a lot of things.
CK: You know, one of the things that always strikes me when I watch one of your performances is the amount of genuine gratitude that you seem to express onstage. Between songs, you have your funny moments, you have your candid moment, but generally what I glean from you is that you're pretty damn satisfied with how things are going.
Not in a cocky way at all. You're just like, "Yeah, this is good." You appreciate when you're experiencing what you're doing. After all this, you can't always count on people caring what you're doing.
PP: I appreciate you saying that. Sometimes I need to say that cause it's like I need to remind myself of that. Sometimes I gotta say, "Hey everyone, this is a really good thing happening right now," but I'm also saying that to myself. Sometimes it's to remind myself, but I'm trying to play here, so having to talk between songs says, "This is the space that you play guitar in."
If you come off the mic, and you change character or get into character, for the first time -- how do you get out of character or change character and go play a song? I don't know; it's a lot of work.
So, are you thinking about what's next? Thinking, "Now we got this catalog; let's play some shows."
CK: Well, we really wanted to tour because we stopped doing that to produce all that quantity of music, but now we're focusing on the songs we think define us as a band -- captivating the people that are seeing us for the first time. It's challenging to pull from all of these songs, but we trend towards the songs that are fun for us to play together.
PP: Can you find a consistent theme going through the songs, or should it be a showcase of each of the different places?
CK: More of the different places without having so much dynamic variety, because that can be really challenging. I find in so much music today, there's not necessarily so much songs a band has, but rather they have a sound and they play songs with that sound.
"Yeah, that was really great, but I can't remember any melodies; I just hear this is cool."
That's one way to do it, and it's super effective. I think people can gravitate towards that.
PP: But you're a songwriter, not an aestheticist.
CK: And that's the problem: I'm gonna write a country song, I'm gonna write a rock song. It's challenging, yeah. I'm trying to get away from writing songs in so many different styles and just focus on a contained palette -- something we're gonna draw from for every song.
PP: You've got some digging to do.
CK: I'm already down there digging. I just hope someone doesn't shovel the dirt over me while I'm in the hole.
PP: I just started doing some more recording. I made a dub record -- I shouldn't say I made a dub record. More so, it was a forty minute long composition that was going to be a whole album kind of thing. That was me digging.
CK: It was one song -- like an opera?
PP: Yeah, but it was way more a sound-scape kind of thing. It was more like a process than a composition, but every time I got to the end of those projects, I was just like, "Fuck it." Shove it off to the side. I thought I had found it! It's like relationships. Everyone that comes along, you think, "This is it! I thought I finally found the person." This hurts much more.
CK: That's a good analogy.
PP: Eventually I had a moment of clarity and started writing songs again. It was really great. I have some stuff, but I don't know what it's gonna be. Brian and I have been talking about how we're going to do it. I've been recording it all to a four track cassette.
CK: Oh, I love that.
PP: It has a very specific vibe that I've already chosen, so it might be something else entirely for me. Brian's recording some other stuff too, so everyone's doing different stuff.
CK: It's so funny thinking about ways to reinvent yourself.
PP: Not really, because you're yourself today.
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