Heading over the Atlantic for their first UK headline tour, Los Angeles’ self-confessed ‘soul punx’ letlive. caught up with Tom Connick ahead of their sold out show at Clwb Ifor Bach.
How does it feel to be playing a headline show – to be able to come over completely off your own back?
Jason Aalon Butler (vocals): Dude, we talk about it like every day. It’s just really wild to think that every time we’ve been here has been supporting another act, and to come back and anticipate nothing… we don’t feel like we’re entitled to much when we go anywhere, so as a headliner we didn’t expect too much. And the fact that tonight is sold out; the fact that just about every other show on this UK run has been sold out… I’ve been trying to formulate words to explain how cool it is, but it’s just beyond anything that I could really imagine. It’s surreal. Very surreal.
You mentioned that the show tonight is sold out, and London tomorrow was upgraded pretty much instantly. As a band whose intimate live shows are so renowned, do you ever worry that the venues might get too big? How do you play up to the different venue sizes?
JAB: I think that as a band, we just perform the same way every time. Whatever venue is chosen, we just act accordingly, as what is relative to us as a band. We don’t really think about whether it’s too big or too small – you’re lucky enough to have somewhere to play, no matter where you are.
I guess the big venues are, obviously, an honour, and I’m guessing supporting Deftones must have been too. You talk about surreal; there’s not really much more surreal experiences than that.
JAB: Yeah, man – that’s our favourite band! You become a band on your own, and then you’re allowed to play for people – and that’s cool – and then you get to play for people alongside other bands – and that’s cool – and then you’re allowed to play for people alongside one of your favourite bands – and that’s just fucking unbelievable.
It feels as though the ladder we’ve been climbing has been advancing itself with every event that we get to do.
As I mentioned, your live shows are renowned for their energy. Have you ever walked on stage and just wanted to chill out? Have a sit down? Do an At The Drive-In and have a cup of tea?
JAB: (laughs) Maybe before the show, but never really on the stage. For me, anyway. Maybe other people?
Jeff Sahyoun (guitar): (nods) Maybe every now and then.
JAB: I guess you’re just compelled naturally by whatever it is you’re doing; whether it be playing music or anything that you’re passionate about. I think it puts you in a place mentally, emotionally, even physically, where you feel that you can perform – not so much like performance as an art – but you can act in a way that you didn’t exactly feel you were about to, or wanted to, or were going to. I think that’s what it does every time you get on stage.
That’s where the passion lies then?
JAB: Yeah, I think that’s it man. You’re given a moment to act as such – as you want to be – and you take advantage of it. I think that the benefit and the privilege of it is a huge factor, and I think that plays into the way we perform and the way we will continue to perform as a band.
How do you feel about the plethora of smartphones that are everywhere now? Like you say, when you’re so caught in a moment, how do you feel about that being captured in such a way that it’s on YouTube before you’re even on the bus?
JAB: I don’t know, man. I feel like that’s just something that’s come with this new age of technology, and this new age of music listeners. It is what it is and I don’t know if I’m one to say whether it’s good or bad. I know that I personally don’t do that – I indulge in the moment when I’m at a show.
JS: There was a show we played a couple of days ago where there was two girls stood in front of me and the entire time they were just behind their phones. Didn’t watch the show once. So finally I took my guitar and put it in front of their phones and held it there for like 30 seconds and they didn’t know what to do. They were like “woah, there’s a show! We can watch the show! This is real!”
I’ve seen a couple of people with iPads at gigs…
JAB: Yeah, that shit is weird.
JS: Crowdsurfers too! You see people crowdsurfing with an iPad in their hand! That’s this generation.
JAB: You’re right, it is this generation. They’re experiencing your band on a screen before they actually see you live, whereas when we grew up you went and saw the band. And then the whole Youtube, Vimeo, even music videos were a later thing. That was a later development for us. It’s strange how it’s flipped – they’re just watching the show though their phones, literally.
JS: It was such a hassle back in the day, there was this website called Punk Rock Video or something, that would post small videos of a song or two and that was the only website that delivered that kind of experience. Then YouTube came out…
JAB: It’s so strange – that’s a great question! I didn’t even have a cellphone when I went to shows. I had a pager as a kid so my parents could get hold of me – I was a bit of a loose cannon and I’d be all over the city. They’d page me and I’d have to call within a certain time to prove that I was where I was. But that was more a monitor than a device for pleasure. So yeah. It’s weird!
Your sound is hard to define – how do you go about writing that? Do you all come from different musical backgrounds? Or the same background and it just worked from the off?
JAB: We’re all from different ones for the most part, and we’re all still very different. I think that’s what this band is, it’s a collection of very disparate musicians and individuals. We’re all very different. I guess where we meet, the common plain is this band. This band serves as the commonality between the five of us. I didn’t grow up listening to punk rock – I started skateboarding when I was 11 and then punk rock came. Before that, my dad played in a soul band and and my brother was super into R’n’B, hip-hop and rap. That’s how I grew up for the first portion of my life, and then punk rock came along, which is this communal thing that became so appealing to me.
Different influences channelled through punk rock then?
JAB: Yeah! And as a band, I think we’d really like to illuminate the fact that we just want to be a band. We believe in so many things artistically, and we want to honour those things when we play as a band. We just want to be ‘A Band’ – not a punk rock band, not a hardcore band, not a fuckin’ folk band, not a soul band – we just want to be a band.
We have a tag – everyone talks about how we’re ‘Soul Punx’ – and that’s just a frame of mind, not a type of music. Just be a band.
Obviously, Fake History [2011 album] exploded – when you sit down to record the follow-up to an album like that, what goes through your mind? Did you consciously take it in a direction, or did you block all that out?
JAB: We didn’t try to do much, other than write a good record!
JS: We didn’t try and upstage Fake History or anything – I don’t think we even thought about Fake History the entire eight months that we worked on [The Blackest Beautiful]. It was what it was.
Do you relish that opportunity to advance? I’ve noticed your earlier, pre-Fake History records don’t really get a look in any more – is it a constant state of advancement?
JAB: Yeah, absolutely – I think that music in general is about progression. That’s what music is, that’s what art is. You look at art in any form and it’s about a sense of evolution, you explain humanity through art. I’m not about to sound grandiose and say that’s what we’re doing; I’m saying that that’s the influence we see as artists. Making this record [the goal] was to create a record that five of us thought was good enough to present to thousands, and hope that our inherent scope and spectrum as a band will appeal to everyone. Again because we’re so different as music listeners and artists, I think that if everyone can agree that a song is a good song, then that will speak to a myriad of different music listeners, because we are all different music listeners.
We never really worried about Fake History. We were thankful – Fake History put us in a very auspicious position, and was a good launch pad. But just take it and move forward. That’s what bands should do – make a better record than their last one.
The reception for The Blackest Beautiful has been incredibly positive – how’s that felt for you? Was there a worry, about how people would receive it? It’s a very different album [to Fake History] – were you worried that people wouldn’t ‘get it’? I know there was a lot of talk about the production…
JAB: Maybe it’s that artistic arrogance that exists in all of us – I don’t think we were really worried about what people were gonna think, if anything the only worry was how we felt about the record. You can’t expect anyone to give a shit about the music you write if you don’t believe in it.
We went through hell trying to make the record – it took forever, we went through a lot of different transformative stages as a band. I feel like you can’t worry about what people are gonna say because then that destroys your creative process. You just have to really honour the project. Do what’s best for the music, don’t worry about all that other shit.
JS: It goes back to the kids and the cell phones – this generation and what they expect of quote-unquote production and mixing. We went through over ten blind mixes with different engineers around the world. We got this extremely clean, very crisp mixes that contain so much clarity, and sound exactly like everything that’s being released everywhere. We came upon Stephen George and he just left the album as it was – just added little diamonds and made it pop. It took us back a decade in music; brought us back to the sounds of our era. We comprehended it in a very different way. We wanted to go about things a little differently, at least on this album.
There’s a small subculture of ‘the cell phone crowd’ who don’t really comprehend what we’ve released, because they’re not used to records such as that. People who up in the same generation as we did, it’s like “holy shit! This is great, we haven’t heard something like this in a long time”. I think on the next record we’re gonna try to combine both forces.
JAB: But those kids too – we can hopefully serve as a segue, and can hopefully assimilate those kids [into the belief that] you don’t have to worry about every record that sounds like it’s been quantized fuckin’ twenty eight times over and sound replaced and enhanced. You can listen to a record as the record was written and recorded. If we were to put out a record that doesn’t sound like this record does, it wouldn’t be the record that we recorded. That’s it. Plain and simple. If you don’t like the record because of the production, then you don’t like the record, or you don’t understand the record. And that’s fine – or maybe you can find something else that you do enjoy – the content, the discordance in it. Look a little bit beyond what you’re so used to, with any art.