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Interview: The Appleseed Cast

Kristin recently spoke to Aaron Pillar & Chris Crisci of The Appleseed Cast about their new album 'Sagarmatha' and the making of the record, the changes in the music industry since the band formed in 1997 and life outside of the band.

K: So, how's the tour going so far and what've you been doing to pass the time on the road?
Aaron: The tour is good! The shows are fine, everythings been good. We had a couple of bad shows; well not bad shows but just kind of not great. We got caught in a tornado in Tennessee, that was fun! I mean, it was about a football field away, like a hundred yards in front of us, & that was pretty exciting because we probably cheated death for a second! Like, literally. We stopped at this overpass right in front of it & we sort of contemplated for a second. We just didn't know what to do when there's a tornado in front of you! I had food poisoning, that was kind fun! But, to pass the time, the laptop is popular; surfing the internet. I've been reading a book about golf and mountain climbing. And sitting around and smoking lots of cigarettes.

K: It's interesting that you mention the book on mountain climbing with the new album being titled Sagarmatha (meaning "Mount Everest" in Tibetan sanskrit). Are you a mountain climber or are you planning on getting into that?
A: No, I was like a backpacker when I was a kid, Boy Scouts & stuff, but we were in Europe a couple of years ago & there's this book called 'Into Thin Air' that I read & reread seven times on tour. I just think these guys are crazy. I really wanna do it, although I know I would die long before that would happen. But the more I started reading those kind of books, I got into all these different people. That was just one big story about Everest, & I wanted to learn about all the other mountains and all the other things. Long story short is, we had like 3 weeks to write all the lyrics, we had basically the music done and we were trying to think of something to try and jump start it all, we kind of had some ideas but nothing solid. We wanted to do that kind of concept, but didn't want to make it something we had to translate. The night before, well, I'm a big Battlestar Galactica geek, the new one, it's my absolute favorite. Well, it's over now, the series finale was before we left, but I was watching that or Twelve Monkeys, and we just ended up thinking of like, zombies and disease. So I was like, "well, we'll call it Sagarmatha & this is what is means". And it kind of has great imagery. So it is from mountain climbing but it has nothing to do with mountain climbing!

K: How would you describe this album to readers that have yet to hear it?
A: I like the one that's on our Myspace; you can pick what your band sounds like. Theres a ton of things on there, but I found "melodramatic popular song." [LAUGHS] No, but, I mean, we were just talking about this upstairs. Basically we're a rock band. We're two guitars, bass and drums. So we're a loud, guitar based band, but I think there's an overwhelming influence of how pretty that can be, within how loud that can be, and there still be pretty moments.

I usually have a lot of the starting points & then Chris adds a ton of color to it, but it's the idea that it has a mood. It's either happy or its sad. I'll hopefully have a lot of those moments within a song. There's only so many notes; there's only so many chords. You can only do so many things within rock music without being just kind of goofy, as far as if we shred and all that stuff. It wouldn't make any sense. If we're gonna play the same progression that so many have done before, why play it? What does it mean? How do you alternate with that? Thats kind of my thought on that. So at the end of the day we're a rock band, but maybe more of an "art rock band", I guess. I just want it to be memorable in some way, or make you reminisce. Its music that makes you want to reminisce about things, be it good or bad. I get that a lot from people, & that's cool. They'll say "You make my drive to work better" or "You helped me get through my finals, or that old girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever." And that's perfect, 'cause that's music for me. I listen to talk radio, I watch TV, but I don't really listen to music except in those times. Music means people over for a party, or something bad happened.

K: How would you compare Sagarmatha to the previous albums The Appleseed Cast have put out?
A: It started as an instrumental EP, that was the idea. Then it was stretched out & within time it was like, "we just need to put out another record." We didn't think we had enough material to back up an EP & a new record right away wasn't going to happen. So we went back to some of the ideas from Low Level that were longer (and probably some of our playing was better) to be able to do more interesting changes in some of the longer songs. And the process of making it was pretty long and sort of arduous. There were a lot of different stages to get to the end but I think it's kind of darker and a little bit heavier at times. When we did the last studio session we had two musicians that helped us, and both of them are like, total music nerds. They know every obscure, weird record from the 60's and 70's and stuff, and they were bringing in a lot of weird things. It was just a different way of looking at it. They'd be like "Oh! Put this percussion there!" So, I think there's a lot more percussion and little bits of piano & organ that made the sound more organic, in a way.

A lot of it was home produced, too. Almost all of my guitars were done at the house, so I didn't get that overproduced sound, which I like. It's not a bad thing but I really wanted to try & get the sound that I heard in my head and have it sound the same on the record. I always do big, heavy distortion things and by the time we'd get the record back I'd be like "That doesn't really sound like what it did for me when we were in the studio..." Two or three of the records, for me, were sort of a disappointment on certain songs, and I shouldn't worry about just my own guitar parts! [LAUGHS] But I always thought that was the important part of the song! I think there are certain elements (even though live they're two different animals, live and the record) of the record that were better abled to retain the heaviness, recording at home. There's also a ton of stuff that's totally impossible to do [live] that I love. There's no way. There's a song that I wrote, where at the ending part theres this ridiculous loop that I made that I could never recreate. We even ran it through a splicer! So, you can always tape it and play on a sampler, but it was cool to realize that there are moments of "Oh I'll never be able to do that live, but I don't really care!"

K: Did you a particular sound in mind for this album or did it sort of just develop as you went along?

A: I had an idea of what I wanted my guitars to sound like & for what I wanted. Not what I wanted Chris to do, but I wanted him to have more time. A lot of the time I feel like he feels overwhelmed with everything else on the record, so I think sometimes he underplays what he can do & I was determined to make sure that didn't happen. He can play things I can't & I wanted to be like "Try and do some crazy stuff that I could never try to do but you can!" I wanted him to try and mess around with that. It was pretty funny. The first studio we went to, I had a dream guitar set up. I had all this junk; I had a big rig and three guitar rigs all together. It was the best sound ever. At the end of that, it actually wasn't very good. What sounded better was the recording with just one small amp. To tell you how far it had to go, it was almost like it was live. Just two guitars, bass and drums, bass and overdubs, no vocals, no keyboards, no nothing. Then you have what we have now, which is a ton of crap on every single song. When we finally got to the last part of studio time, which we weren't even planning on doing, John and Dustin came in. Dustin came in to help with keyboards (I didn't even know he was going to be there. He kind of just showed up and was like "Do you guys care?" and then he set up an entire room of keyboards. He's a great musician & we kind of just took the whole thing & ran with it. It was like "Alright! We'll just put on as many things in the world as we can!". So, it certainly changed. I actually have a variation of the beginning of 'Raise the Sails' that sounds like an Oingo Boingo song. Its awesome!. We went back to the original drums and I heard it the other day, I had found the CD in my car and I was like man, we probably should've gone with the Oingo Boingo version, I mean, just to see our drummer now play it would probably be really funny, it's like really upbeat, it's pretty crazy.

K: So do you prefer the method of home recording or are they just different aspects entirely?
A: Total different aspects. Black Moth Super Rainbow is on our vinyl label, & they did their new record at Tarbox, which is Dave Fridmanns studio. They were there for six days & spent a couple grand. We didn't spend any money at all & made the whole record, at least from what I understand. Something about that is awesome. One guy going "Hey, what do you got? Cool, let's make it!", you're going to get something that way.

I think with how much Chris and I will second guess it & want to mess with it, it's pretty cool to have the personal rig at home, where you can be like "Do this, mess with this, fix this!" That keeps records from coming out when they're supposed to but....[laughs] and it's not that I want to see studios out of business, there's just something about it. We set it up so that we have everything "mic'd" up so if Chris is playing guitar and I go "Organ!", the organs right there. It's just a matter of assigning a track to play organ. If I want to play whatever, it's all right there and it's not that you can't do that at a regular studio but that's costing you $500. I don't want to make it sound like it's money per say, it's not necessarily that. We've been lucky enough to have pretty much good money coming in from making records. We just laughed, it was like "I made this song, what do you guys think? It wasn't recorded great, but it's a really great idea and its really cool. I recorded it last night, & it only took me an hour!" So that's really cool, we've never had that before.

K: How different was it going from always writing as a band to taking full control alongside Chris?
A: It obviously caused a big change in the band but it was something that we needed to do for a while, you know? Finally saw the writing on the wall. It was kind of how it was when I first joined the band, when I first met Chris back in LA in '97. It was like "Here's the songs that I wrote, here's what I want you to play" and that turned into a good thing for some records; a free-for-all with everybody putting their two cents in. Then it almost became sort of creative gridlock, as far as trying to force that angle as a band where we were all going to sit & write together. There would be times when everyone would just sit and stare at each other, or stare at Chris like "Okay, tell us what to do." and it's like "Okay, but you're not going to like the fact that I''m going to tell you 'okay, why don't we replace this & this just kind of eliminates that'.'" At the same time, I don't envision the future being like [nods at Nate across the room] "Here Nate, here's your bass line!" It's not going to be like that. It'll be like we're all writing together, but it's also cool knowing that the precedent is put out there that basically Chris has the final say. If he doesn't like it, then we're going to figure something out. That being said, it eliminates the weird tension. It's just something that we needed to have happen because we were always starting the songs anyway. The songs are usually always coming from guitar or whatever, but we always had that door open, & that door was always there. So yeah, that's that & it's a good thing!

K: With all of your albums showcasing so many different stages of your life and career, which album or song would you say you're most personally attached to and why?
A: Hmmm. I have to think about this for a second...[laughs]

K: You can pick one or the other!
A: [laughs] I think for an accomplishment of how difficult it actually was to do & the fact that it kind of really helped us be seen at the time as more than...mehhh, you know what, I get it. I get where 'Mare Vitalis' falls into the "emo" trap but 'Low Level', I thought was like, not drawing any comparisons whatsoever but we did the double record before Kid A came out. which I heard a lot of comparisons to. We weren't trying to do that; we were trying to get off Deep Elm to be quite honest [laughs]. That was the reason we did the two records. But to go into the studio with like, four songs, & then just say "screw it, let's just get crazy!", & we did that on tape too (we did all of those songs on tape, we used nine reels of tape!), & to actually make that be solid music from start to finish, seventy two minutes on both discs, with no gaps or real forethought with how we were gonna make these things end in the right notes to make sense, just maybe gave us more credibility as a band. It also was just a blast to have that much time & we never really got too bogged down on that. It was a lot of work, but it was more the accomplishment of it. I think in a lot of ways I'd say this record, for me personally right now. There was just a lot of stuff happening. I don't think that we were really ever going to break up, but I could see where it might still not be made yet. We just had to power through & make it happen. It was really only the second record that I had a lot to do with helping Chris with the lyrics. I normally haven't been doing that. I sort of asserted myself more, which I had made a point to do, even if he hates it. 'Cause that's sort what I used to do, just shrink away and say "you know what, it's fine." But I realize that that doesn't work in a band, & I needed to put it out there.

Song? Oh, boy. At certain times, I won't listen to it for a really long time, & then I'll listen to "Fight Song". I know that its a song that just helped us a lot. It's funny because it sort of sticks out to me on that record; it's such a little anthemic break up song. But it's really great. It's exactly what it is; it's a break up song. But I think it was supposed to be kind of like, you know, "no more break up songs, so I'm going to do one more because I'm done with all that business." There's just moments, I couldn't say just one, and I'll say "yeah that's the one!" I'll hear random stuff and go "wow! I remember when we recorded that, that's a great song, I'm gonna relearn that!" So, that's something that I've always been pretty stoked on; the idea that it can come through in waves & come back around.

[Chris walks in at this point]

K: What are you guys currently listening to?
A: Ed Shultz, & we listen to the morning briefing; it's just political talk. [looks over at Chris] I don't know, what have we been listening to? Through the whole west coast we listened to Sirius XMU. It's like their indie rock station, & I think by the end of that leg of the tour we absolutely just hated everything. We've rocked the new Mastodon a couple times; it's a pretty good record, I like it. But, gosh, I'm pretty bad when it comes to listening to music. I need to like, that should be one of my missions when I go home, I need to go buy a bunch of new records. I mean, I brought some old stuff, like some old Fugazi records. I've listened to them a few times but, it tends to be talk radio or sports [laughs].

K: In your opinion, what's been the biggest change within the music industry since you put out your first record?
A: You mean, what's changed for us?

K: Yeah!
Chris: MP3's [laughs]

A: I would have to say, some of it would be...

C: Cell phones!

A: Yeah, cell phones are pretty huge. The internet. I mean, we had internet when we started but it wasn't like, easily as readily available. There was no wireless or anything.

C: I just remember having to pull over on the side of the road somewhere & put some quarters in a phone booth and call the label & that was just ten years ago.

A: Well, outside of technology, for me, we almost broke up at one point because I had this really terrible relationship. That's kind of fixed now, & that sort of made things better. It made me see clearly that I didn't want to stop doing this, because at that point I felt like this was just a stupid idea; that being in a band was just dumb & I needed to be serious. I got caught in that, you know, and it was just...[Chris cuts him off]

C: You thought this was a stupid idea? [jokes]

A: Yeah, I did! [everyone laughs] No, I just didn't think I could handle it. I was like "I just need to get a job and blahblahblah" but I think getting those things fixed & having a better perspective, (especially this last year with some of the changes in the band that we talked about, just kind of being like "Look, this is how it's going to be & this is how we're going to deal with it."), those things definitely give things perspective as far as what we can achieve & what that even means. Sometimes in the past we had thought about "when we get a bus" or "we need to have trailers so we can have this guy come with this & we can have all this other stuff." That stuffs great if you're at a pit stop place where you need to be in the next city & you have to have a tour manager & a manager & all that stuff. This year was sort of that realization that we've never needed any of those things & I'm not looking for those things. I just have fun doing this part of it. It's fun!

K: If music wasn't an option, is there a different form of art you'd use to express yourself?
A: I paint a little bit, but I don't know that I would've ever really pursued that. I wanted to, that's why I always went to art when I was in college, but I don't know. I always thought I would've been okay at acting, I don't know why.

C: It's not too late to do that.

A: It's not too late?

K: It's never too late!
A: I always just thought I could pull that stuff off, the whole like, get lucky & be like DiNero where you just get to be yourself all the time, you know, you don't even need a script! But, if I had my choice, I'd be a professional golfer. Unfortunately, I wasn't born with the gift & you have to be born with the gift. You're either really great at it or you're not. It's just that simple. It's kind of a bitch. [looks over at Chris] You? You always wanted to write.

C: Yeah, I like writing & I'm not good but I like painting, I like pretty much any artistic activity. I kind of enjoy hacking my way through it.

A: Well, you're a woodworker now.

C: I'm a woodworker now!

A: He's building his own guitars, or getting close to it.

K: Wow, that's awesome!

K: Ok, last question. What can we look forward to from The Appleseed Cast for the remainder of 2009 and do you have any plans to tour overseas?

A: Hopefully! We've never really had everything coordinated where we go, as far as the European side of it. I've never really felt that the European side was as hooked up as it needed to be. I just want to go over there when there's like, press and promo. Because we go over there & basically just play shows and it's great. It's totally fun. But there's always that kind of like "man, we spent $5,000 on plane tickets to basically come over here and play shows!" I don't want to leave anybody out, but I'd like to go when there's a real good point to it. I think he's going to finish Old Cane's record & then I have this wild hare to score a book as a side thing, but we'll see if I can get that. Actually, we'll logistically figure it out. I don't know how many chapters in the book yet, that's kind of the road I'm on right now. I'm thinking there's actually like thirty something chapters & that's going to be really difficult [laughs]. Work on the new Appleseed Cast record! We want to start working on that as soon as possible. Pretty much just staying constantly busy & not being so with Myspace & with the digital format, sort of brace that a little bit more. And not worrying about always having to get down to "okay, here's the new full length!" you know? Just start putting out some random stuff.

K: So does that mean there may be an EP in the near future?
A: Yeah, I don't know that it'll be an Appleseed EP, but I think that it'll be, you know, something that we're working on. That's kind of what we want to do. That way, we wont tarnish the Appleseed name if it sucks! [laughs]

C: [laughs] It's so untainted!

A: [laughs] So yeah, I just want to be more productive. It was a pretty long time between this & the last album, I think it's a good thing 'cause when we go out, it's fresh. Having the studio in Chris' house is just really fun. [looks over at Chris] That'd be great too, if we could somehow just finagle you into a new house!

C: Yeah, my prospects went down the tubes a few times...

A: Our place is cool now, but it would just be really cool that have a proper...

C: I would love to have a room that sounded really good!

A: It's basically a shitty basement. Got equipment; shitty room! So, who knows!

C: Just gotta give Obama a couple six more months & we'll be fine!

A: Yeah, we'll turn this baby around!

The Appleseed Cast's new album 'Sagarmatha' is available now through Vagrant Records/The Militia Group.

Kristin Stubblefield

Alter The Press!