Ahead of their record release show, Gimme Noise spoke with vocalist/guitarist Nick Costa. He detailed the new album's recording process, how their collective sense of humor colors their music, and the reason why he was the only one who didn't clap while recording What a Drag.[jump]
Gimme Noise: There was quite a quick turnaround between Big Whoop and What a Drag.
Nick Costa: When we made Big Whoop, we recorded about 18 songs and only used 12 of them. We went into making the new record intending to use the leftover tracks from those sessions, but we ended up just writing a bunch of stuff. I generally have a pretty decent stockpile of material, and Sam [Sanford, guitarist/vocalist] started writing a lot for this record as well, so it just didn't make sense to use the old material at all. We were way more proud and confident with the newer songs we were making, so we decided to just kind of discard the old "b-sides." We still bust them out live from time to time, though.
There was a nearly three-year gap between your debut EP, Zen and the Art of Popular Music, and Big Whoop. What has changed as far as the writing and recording process for you and the band since the early days, and to what do you attribute the recent increase of productivity?
With Zen, we had a way different dynamic. I didn't play guitar for the group, and writing duties were primarily between Sam and our old guitar player, Matt Kisch. In the gap between Zen and Big Whoop, I started writing a lot more frequently and playing guitar more. When Matt left the band, I took that as an opportunity to bring anything I had written to the band and it drastically changed the vibe. Our writing process went from being an extremely tedious process to me bringing a finished song to the group and basically saying, "Do whatever you guys want." With that kind of process, it's way easier to write a ton more material, and it's a lot less stressful.
Did you record the new record in your house again, or did you head into a proper studio this time around?
I wouldn't say it was a "proper studio," but we certainly worked with a proper producer. We decided to record with Knol Tate in his house, and that was the best decision we could have made. The guy totally understands what we're trying to do as a band, and is SO good at his job.
In what ways did he help capture the precise sound and tone you were looking for?
He did an amazing job of naturally capturing the type of band that we are. We hadn't practiced in months before we made the record, and we went into Knol's and tracked 11 songs live in one day. He "trimmed some fat" on some of the songs, but mostly made sure that we performed as best as we could, and got great sounds. It was so comfortable, and since it was such a great environment to work in, we were able to confidently perform these songs. No stress, no bullshit, just going into the studio and busting out some songs. It was great.
You dabble with synths, keys, and other sound effects on some of these new songs. What did those added textures bring out in your sound?
For this record I suppose we took a few more liberties on the keyboard side of things. They just filled out some of the songs that we felt were lacking something. Our friend Tommy Rehbein brought a few synths over to Knol's house and we just messed around with sounds all day. It was a blast. Knol was good about making sure we didn't do anything too ridiculous, but every now and then he would find a sound and we'd kind of be like "uh...really? That's the sound you want?" But he was always right about it. I'm way more into the idea of hearing something and being unsure or even worried about it than making "safe" decisions for the whole record. Also, none of us are keyboard players by any means, so everything was an experiment. It was a total blast to add that layer of things, but Knol kept making fun of me for having "sausage fingers" when I was tracking the keys.
There seems to be an underlying sense of levity to the band, within the songs themselves as well as the credits, album/song titles ("Don't Fear the Richard," The Simpsons referencing "Human Blimp Sees Flying Saucer"), and even your truly strange video for "NYC Freakout."
When it comes to our personalities, we're just not overly serious people. When it comes to the actual songwriting aspect of things, we're entirely serious. That's about the only thing we're serious about. We're constantly joking around with each other, so it wouldn't be honest to anybody if we were some overly dramatic band. That's not us. We have a truly stupid sense of humor. That's who we are. The whole time I was putting the "NYC FREAKOUT" video together, I was just giggling like a school girl. I remember texting the band afterwards saying "You guys...this is my masterpiece".
You've been playing music with everybody in the band since you were teenagers. How did you all meet, and when and where did you first start playing together?
Well, Andy and Sam are twin brothers, so they've known each other for a while I guess. Sam, Andy and Adam [Mallory, drummer] all went to school together and formed their first band together. I met them through mutual friends. They were in a band called Lies in the Effort, and I was in a band called Westfall and we played a show at the Red Sea when we were 15 and 16. Since Andy and Sam had their driver's licenses, they came over to my place and picked us up. We were great friends ever since.
A few years later, their band needed a lead singer, and they asked me to join since we had known each other for a while. I initially denied their invitation because I just wanted to play guitar, but eventually gave in. They were called Messengers at the time, but we changed our name to The Person & the People shortly after.
How much does that long-lasting bond and friendship you've formed with your bandmates assist you on stage and in the studio with them -- does that familiarity allow you to take your music in directions that might not be possible with musicians you aren't as well-acquainted with?
We know exactly how each other works. Like, I can bring a song to these guys, and I'll always have a general idea of how they'll react to it, and how they'll play to it. However, we always share new music and new ideas with each other, so we're constantly growing artistically together. When I play with other musicians, it's always a great experience, but with this group of guys it just feels natural. For lack of a better term, it feels like home. It's just comfortable and effortless, but I'm always so proud of the music that we make together. It couldn't happen with a different group of people.
Was there a specific album or band who inspired you at an early age to get into music?
Well, my brother got an electric guitar around the same time as Enema Of The State by Blink 182 came out, so that was kind of a game changer for me. We'd sit and learn every song by ear. That album taught me how to play guitar. However, it was Foo Fighters' album The Colour and the Shape that got me into the craft of songwriting. That record is all over the place. Ever since then, I've just been listening to anything I can, and I'm constantly obsessed with some record.
When and where did you buy your first guitar, and do you still have it?
My brother and I both got guitars as gifts. My first guitar was a little Squier acoustic. My brother got an Ibanez strat rip off (I don't remember the exact model). My brother re-painted the Squier, and I think it might have gotten smashed...but I still have the Ibanez. It's covered in stickers and tin foil and teenage angst.
Your liner notes for What a Drag claim that everyone but you clapped on the record? Why wouldn't you just give in and clap along with the rest of the band?
I was gone that day! I would have loved to be there. I missed all of the clapping and percussion because I had to visit some family in Illinois. But the pizza I ate on that trip...my goodness. So worth not clapping on the album.
You're playing with your friends in Taj Raj and LOTT for your record release show. How inspiring is it for you to see so many of your friends and fellow musicians in the local scene putting out such great work of their own?
Well, I played with Taj Raj back in the day, and I also played Leah's (LOTT) first show ever. It's been amazing to experience such dear friends make such good music. The new Taj Raj stuff is absolutely stunning, and I have never seen LOTT play a show that hasn't left the entire room in silent awe. I'm honored that such good musicians and friends want anything to do with us.
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