Interview – Darby Cicci of The Antlers June 7, 2010

The following originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. I ducked out of a lecture to perform this interview. It was very rock and roll. I just need a leather jacket to be James Dean now, they tell me.


Darby Cicci is sitting in the middle of an electrical storm. One third of the experimental indie rock band the Antlers is struggling for cell reception and watching as the storm takes its toll on wayward paper products. “I literally saw, like, this blue napkin thing under the gas station thing… It just sort of exploded.” The setting is more than appropriate to talk about the success of their latest album, Hospice. The intensely layered and nuanced record has lead to extended tours, singles, videos and, apparently, some bad weather.

Few albums release to the critical reaction of Hospice. The Antlers’ third full-length album in around four years hit with such fanfare as to launch it toward a label release and numerous year-end best-of lists. The album tells the story of an abusive cancer patient in the Sloan Kettering Cancer Ward and a man that becomes entangled in the complexities of their shared grief. The record has a cinematic edge to it, and has received the music video treatment before, but the new video for Hospice’s loudest track, “Sylvia,” takes pages right out of the Hollywood playbook.

“I started brainstorming with the director a lot about ideas. I think the starting point…we wanted to have this duality. I wanted something volatile…almost violent without being too dark.” The video portrays a man in a run-down cabin sharing (and not exactly enjoying) a meal with ghost of his dearly departed. The imagery works well with the song, the sepia tones and flashback memories meshing tonally with an album preoccupied with remembrance and loss. “We talked about ideas about ghosts and images and holograms, in a way. We wanted this ghost figure to be kind of real and kind of not.” He continues, “It’s kind of about claustrophobia and dealing with a problem that might be imaginary.” Director Trey Hock made the decision to film the video in black and white, pulling influence from classic auteur D.W. Griffith.

The Antlers lined up a long tour with the momentum of Hospice, including summer festival appearances including Lollapalooza. The problems with playing the particularly wrought and emotional material to a festival crowd is not lost on Cicci.

“It makes it very stripped down. We can’t really do the theatrics on an outdoor stage. There’s usually a lot more people at an outdoor show. It’s a little more of a rock show, in a way. We try and open it up.” Cicci says the band shies away from the quiet and subtlety of the album when faced with a crowd swimming in beer.

Hospice was conceptualized by Antlers frontman Peter Silberman, but built upon as a collaborative effort, an Antlers first. Cicci admits that his attachment to the very personal material in Hospice is different than Peter’s or bandmate Michael Lerner’s, but is no less potent. “I have to experience it in my way and develop it. I have a lot of similar experiences that I can use to understand it. It’s very natural to me.”

Darby says that what worked on Hospice is not going to be the way into the future for the band. Instead, he insists that something distinct is on the horizon.

“It’s going to be dramatically different. It already is.” Recording has been ongoing on new material, and Darby is confident that while different, the Antlers will produce something just as worthwhile.

“It’s sounding a lot different, and we’re going to play some on this tour.” Cicci says, though he remains pragmatic, adding, “Unless they sound horrible. Then we won’t.”

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Interview – Doug McCombs of Tortoise June 3, 2010

This article originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Big thanks to Doug who found time in their insane touring schedule to answer questions he has likely heard many times before. Such things happen with longevity.


The problem with inventing a genre is that no one will ever let you forget it. Chicago post-rockers Tortoise are no strangers to this phenomenon, and whether they agree with such acclamations or not, they have come to define a band that made it’s mark consciously trying to defy definitions. “Being the reluctant poster child for “post rock” has it’s drawbacks” says Doug McCombs. Their ability to take the familiar component pieces or rock and turn them into startling Frankenstein monsters of tight instrumentation and seemingly loose, improvised composition earned them founder status in a movement that would influence a countless number of newcomers.

This status as pioneers comes with it’s own challenges, as expectations are often higher for the band internally and externally. “We are often trying to defy expectations, but it’s mostly to do with our own expectations” says McCombs. He is, however, cognisant of the effects those expectations have on their audience at large, remarking that “the steps forward that we take in our approach to making music are often imperceptible to people who are looking for something negative to say about us.”

In operation since the early 1990’s, Tortoise has moved in countless directions. Such longevity is usually associated with a thinning of options and the suffering of creativity, but McCombs is optimistic about Tortoise’s chances to continue innovating. “The longer we stay a band the more often we hit creative blocks. We usually try to push through them by trying experiments. Either that or take a break. We don’t really feel any pressure to produce product although it might help if we did”. The band’s output is characterized by long gaps between LP’s, something that McCombs admits the group is not wholly in favor of. “As a band we’re pretty active all the time, but it occurred to us that the 5 years between our last album and this one might have been a little too long”.

A single band has proved simply too little for the output of Tortoise members, with McCombs and bandmate John McEntire combining for more than a dozen projects between them, including The Sea and Cake, Brokeback and Gastr Del Sol. The brackish between the projects is kept to a minimum, however, McCombs commenting that “Choosing which songs go to which band often comes down to which band we’re concentrating on at the time. If TRTS is working on an album then I’ll give whatever I’m working on to TRTS”. The creative process Tortoise takes part in is unique from the others though. “The best TRTS songs often start with very small unfinished ideas” he says, adding “if a song is too finished or if I have a concrete idea of how it should go then I’ll probably save it for another band”.

Tortoise seems like a band destined to reform after a lengthy hiatus, but McCombs sees no practicality in this trend. “I think we all feel that there is something special about the way we work together, special enough that we think we can do it for a long time”. Their legend only growing and evolving, McCombs speaks with a kind of confidence fans of most bands could only hope for, saying “monetary concerns aside, there seems to be no reason to stop making records.” It seems for now, Tortoise is here to stay.

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Interview – Tristan Thompson of Cairo March 23, 2010

This interview originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. It was supposed to be there a few months ago, but an art snafu kept it out until nowish. Cairo is a great band and you should check them out posthaste.


When there is a delicious meal set in front of me, the last thing I want to be doing is pacing myself and trying to add to the conversation around me. So while Tristan Thompson of Cairo is answering my questions, the guilt I feel over making him talk instead of eating his Victoria sandwich from Theresa’s is second only to the pleasure I take from eating my stuffed French toast. I’m speaking to him ahead of the release of their self-titled debut recorded just down the street at Fadermaster Studios. As with any new band, conversation quickly turns to origins.

“I think tacking up a poster on a lamp post somehow exists on a lower level than Craigslist even,” says Tristan of his time before the formation of Cairo. While the drummer was advertising his services, he came up with no shortage of creative mismatches. “You get calls from dudes who just play Metallica covers in their dorm room. I was like, ‘You don’t actually need me to do that.’”

Thompson relates how he met up with his counterparts JP Lancaster, Mark Crawford and Dan Crawford as a fairly innocuous occurrence. Linked through mutual friends, Thompson was the late addition to the band.

“I was actually in England, got an email from Mark who I hadn’t seen in a while and he asked if I wanted to play with them.” A sound was already emerging when he joined, and the chemistry was immediate. “They already had about five or six solid song ideas, and I really liked the dynamic, I really liked the sound of it. There was never really any discussion about what we wanted to be like or what we should be like.”

Thompson describes how each member of Cairo was responsible for his or own “portfolio” in the songwriting process. “We just trust it all works together.” In spite of its disparate origins, each part of the album is remarkably cohesive, with each member’s pieces fitting like a jigsaw puzzle. The result is a taught package of clever tracks that sounds more collaborative than Thompson admits. This dynamic may be changing, however. He adds, “There is more (collaboration) lately – I think we’re kind of growing up and leaving less to luck.”

Cairo’s sound is also a departure from much of Thompson’s background. Frequenting punk bands in his youth, postings on streetlights led to flirtations with many genres at odds with the influentially diverse Cairo. From the post-rock leanings of album opener “Cogs” to the standout sing-along “A Hot Minute (At The Tech-Noir),” it’s a far cry from some previous project’s he found himself in.

“My band in Victoria was extremely pop-y. The keyboard player tried to call it ‘party pop,’ but we rejected that and told him it had to be called ‘slumber party pop’ because the only legitimate demographic for it would’ve been twelve-year-old girls at a slumber party.”

Though he has traveled across Canada and around the world, Thompson sees no issue with being a musician in Vancouver. While bands will sometimes head east to seek fortune, the prospect of leaving is foreign to him, though Cairo seems centered around travel, if in name only.

“I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. I love other places and other cultures,” he says. But with an anticipated new album forthcoming and a seemingly endless reserve of enthusiasm, Tristan Thompson counts himself a die-hard local. “But man, I am from B.C. I am from Vancouver. And I want to live in my home. Please. Thank you.”

For more information, check out

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Interview: Asobi Seksu January 6, 2010

Originally appearing in Beatroute Magazine.


Yuki Chikudate doesn’t think definition gets you anywhere. Or rather, attempting to define her band, Asobi Seksu – the New York-based shoegaze group – is a fool’s errand.

“This question of fitting into a genre or fitting into a specific sound, it’s always a question that people ask bands,” she says. “I never even really know if that clarifies anything or if anyone is every really satisfied.” Indeed, following the release of the band’s breakout album Citrus, there was an almost fevered attempt to define the band as one genre or another. “We have always agreed with the shoegaze thing; it’s definitely part of our sound,” she says, listing off current and prior influences that have been prescribed to the band almost since its inception. “Hopefully we are growing and evolving as a band with each record.”

Despite the collective effort of journalists attempting to define the band musically, Chikudate admits there are clearly other factors at play. “The fact that I look different, I’m an Asian female…it’s very confusing, I guess, for some people.” The questions arising out of their sound (fuzzed out guitars and lyrics lapsing into Japanese at will), ethnicity and the name of the group (Asobi Seksu means “playful sex” in Japanese) are surprising to Chikudate. “Maybe I’m being naive…I just don’t know where that desire (to define us) comes from.”

Just when audiences were getting a handle on the Asobi Seksu sound and talking in earnest about standout tracks off Citrus such as “New Years” and “Red Sea,” the band threw another curveball and released Hush, an album that leans very little on an established formula. The result is clear in songs like “Transparence” and “Gliss,” representing a side of the band more concerned with tight thesis statements than thick dissonance. “We toured with Citrus for about three years and…we kinda got tired.” She laughs and adds, “I think more than anything our ears got tired.” She says the evolution was a natural reaction to a fatigue with the successful sound on Citrus, and the result was a more “minimalist place…a stark place,” born out of keyboard and drum-centric songwriting. “We wanted to go with something a little more uncomfortable.”

Following Hush, Chikudate and co-mastermind James Hanna recorded a remix album of sorts called Rewolf. The album features re-imaginings and acoustic renditions of their songs, and, despite being another departure, ties together their material into a cohesive package where most bands at this stage would have merely put out a token EP. The record was the product of a short recording stint at Olympic Records, the legendary London studio where they competed for studio time with U2. The studio closed its doors shortly after Rewolf had wrapped, so a history coloured with everyone from the Beatles to Björk is capped with Asobi Seksu. “You look at the list and it’s legends, and then there’s us. It’s kind of comical. We were honoured.”

Despite all the hand wringing and questions about the band, it’s clear Asobi Seksu has enough problems worth solving to remain intriguing. Chikudate is able to internalize the conflict. “I take it as a compliment, that people are left with more questions than answers.” She adds, “I guess it’s not a bad thing, being difficult to define.”

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Interview – Eleanor Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces November 3, 2009

Going away, but not on vacation.

Eleanor Friedberger has been away for some time and has come back with a cold. The female half of the brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces talks to me just having returned from a long stint in Europe touring behind their seventh studio album, I’m Going Away. While the album starts with a title track and ends with the song “Take Me Round Again,” Friedberger is hesitant to assign the music parallels to her life touring the planet. 

“That’s certainly a nice way to think of it,” she says, but insists that the album was created with no thematic imperative. “We wanted to make a record that people have more fun making their owns stories for.” 

While every album represents a unique sound, Friedberger calls it the first equally collaborative effort in their catalogue. “The way we first started was I was telling Matt [Friedberger] a story, and we made up a song around that story. It kinda changed from him helping me make music to me helping him.” In her mind, the process has come full circle. “Now it’s kinda like we’re helping each other.” 

That philosophy of new songwriting approaches led to a series of intriguing projects that are now on the horizon for the band. In May, a post on the Fiery Furnaces blog put out a call to fans for “deaf descriptions,” for what they thought the new album would sound like without having heard it. The plan was for the descriptions to be turned into an album to be released simultaneously with I’m Going Away. Instead, they have been immortalized on the Fiery Furnaces website.

“I almost can’t read them because I feel overwhelmed and embarrassed because people spend so much time on something that has to do with us.” She continues, “It’s very flattering. It show so much about people who like our music, they’re so creative themselves.” Another project was dual cover albums of I’m Going Away, with all the songs redone individually by the Friedbergers. Eleanor says the albums are being mastered for an upcoming release. 

“The cover record is something I have wanted to do for a long time.” She credits the idea to being sometimes unable to recall how a song is played and making up new songs when she practices her singing. “I thought it would be funny to make a record, like a fake, folk ‘60s record called Eleanor Friedberger Sings The Songs Of The Fiery Furnaces. As if I hadn’t sung them all already.” She goes on to say her songs are mostly her vocals accompanied by guitar and Matthew’s are mostly his vocals accompanied by piano. These plans were joined by yet another projects, a so-called “silent record.” 

“We’re going to be putting out a book, but we’re calling it a ‘silent record’ because it is going to be a book of music.” The book, which will include sheet music, lyrics and graphic notation for improvisation, will hopefully be put out in both record and book stores. Between all these projects, turning shows into rallies for health care reform in the United States, a U.S. and Canadian tour and plans to return to Europe, the Fiery Furnaces may indeed need to go away for some rest in the near future. 

The Fiery Furnaces will be performing at the Red Room (Vancouver) November 17.

As seen in Beatroute Magazine.

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Interview – James McNew of Yo La Tengo October 6, 2009

James McNew is talking to me from Durham, North Carolina where Yo La Tengo is set to play a show in support of their seventh full-length album, Popular Songs. While the band has had undeniable longevity and success over long history, critics are quick to point out a lack of mainstream notoriety. The album name seems in reference to that, but McNew disagrees.  “We didn’t think of the title as being a commentary on anything” he says. “I think we mostly just thought it was funny. It was appealing because it’s open to many interpretations, and I think we are happiest with anything that doesn’t just give you directions to what it means and what we mean by it.”

Georgia Hubley and Ira Kaplan started Yo La Tengo in 1984, making the band a quarter century old. McNew says existing through the span of five U.S. Presidents has not numbed him to his fortune.

“Are you kidding? This is my job! I get to do my dream job as my real job.” He admits, however, there are moments where this attitude escapes him, saying “there are moments in a day, when we’re on tour or in the studio or just working…where you feel like screaming. But it’s very easy to step back and look at the big picture.”

With a steady mix of longer, ten-minute plus epics and shorter rock tracks, Popular Songs stays true to the varied landscape Yo La Tengo songs are known for. “It would probably be a more efficient process if someone went home and wrote the songs by themselves and showed up to practice and showed us all how the new Yo La Tengo songs go. We would probably put out a whole lot more records that way.” McNew prefers the collective approach. “We basically just get together and play.” With an improvisational method like that, McNew values the relationship they have with longtime producer Roger Moutenot. “Its good to have a more objective set of ears with us to give us perspective.”

Whether the crowd at a show remains stoic (a prevalent characteristic of the modern “indie rock” concert) or is a little more animated, McNew has mixed feelings.  he jokes “if we’re playing something quiet and I hear someone talking, then I get mad. But if we play something loud, and everybody is too quiet, then I get mad too. There’s no pleasing me. I’m just happy there’s people there. God bless them for showing up.”

When talking about Yo La Tengo’s vast covers repertoire, he cannot say for sure what a band covering Yo La Tengo should sound like. “I don’t know. I think with all the liberties we have taken with other people’s songs we’re fair game.” He adds, “I did think it would be funny if all the people slighted on the ‘Murdering The Classics’ record got together and did a revenge album”.

McNew has fond memories of his time with the band, but finds it impossible to predict what the next 25 years of Yo La Tengo will bring. “Golly. I didn’t know what the first 25 years was gonna have.” He says, “I couldn’t tell you how the rest of the week is gonna go.”

As appearing originally in Beatroute Magazine.

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