Filed under: Interviews, Scene Around Town, Words of the Week, XCLUS!VES | Tags: Asthmatic Kitty, Helado Negro, Interviews, memory tapes, Neon Indian, Prefuse 73, Roberto Lange, Savath y Savalas, Stars Like Fleas, sufjan stevens, the silent league
20 Watts was given the opportunity to sit down with the members of The Silent League after their set at Westcott Theater this weekend. The interview was held in the second floor of Westcott Theater on a few comfortable couches with the six band members relaxing, throwing back some beer and wiping the sweat from their foreheads after an energetic live show. Here’s what we talked about.
20 Watts: We’re here with the Silent League. This is Eric Vilas-Boas interviewing. You guys have just released your third album, how does that feel, how is it different from your first two?
Justin Russo: I feel like our first two albums were sort of just building up steam, figuring things out as we went along. This one we’ve done our best to pre-plan and get everything into place. I’m pretty happy with the way the album came out. Everything’s been going great so far, so yeah, I’m pretty stoked.
20 Watts: How is the third album constructed compared to your first two? How was it different?
Shannon Fields: I don’t really want to compare it to the first two records, you know? The differences with this one, I think were that we didn’t really have a roadmap going into this one as much as maybe we did before. I think before we had discussed a clearer picture of what we wanted. This one was more finding out what the group did, as a group, as a band, rather than, kind of you know, one or two people writing songs–mostly Justin writing songs and then kind of the band fleshing them out. This was more of the group going into the studio and just kind of trying to find out what we had to say to each other, and then, I don’t know, pouring over it for two years, over and over again (laughs).
Justin: Just the vibe of the group of people together was really important this time around. In the past we had done a lot of constructing pieces pulled from different places and stuff. We knew this time around that it was important to get just a good chemistry, you know, in the room. I think you hear that on the record
Shannon: And–it’s a cliche–but I think, with this record, we were only trying to please ourselves, and that might not have been true with the first two records… entirely. Maybe that’s a bad way to put it, but I think that in the earlier records, we were probably more consciously thinking about trying to reach as many people as we could with that particular music and how to do that. There was a lot of discussion about how to do that, and this was really about trying to please each other and ourselves.
20 Watts: It’s interesting that you mention pleasing yourselves. You [Justin] used to be a part of Mercury Rev, and people say that their really notable album Deserter’s Songs was constructed in kind of the same way. Would you agree with that?
The Silent League: No, no, no!
Justin: That was the architecture of one man, that wasn’t a group at all. That was one guys’s vision, and sure he was pleasing himself after several records of trying to please other people. For us, we were trying to please ourselves, but it wasn’t just one guy or one vision — which is a lot harder to do.
2o Watts: Did that play a role in your and your brother Jason’s eventually leaving the band?
Justin: Well, we didn’t leave under any kind of bad terms or anything like that. We left to pursue our own things. He left to create his band [Hopewell].
Shannon: We really like both of those bands, and we feel–well we don’t sound like each other, but we’re sort of exploring the same things. I think there’s a lot of play with nostalgia in an unironic way thats going on with Neon Indian and Memory Tapes and with us. I think we’re all trying to kind of mine–not the music of the past–but our own personal impressions of the past, and sort of doing it in really idiosyncratic ways with both of those groups, and we really sort of connected over that. I talked with Alan Palomo a lot about our shared love of Todd Rundgren. I don’t even know if you know him; he’s this kind of ’70s art-rocker–kind of silly but kind of brilliant. And Memory Tapes we actually share a record label with, and that was the original hookup there. I fell in love instantly with their stuff, and I guess they liked our stuff enough to want to remix it.
20 Watts: Well that’s sweet. Now that you’re getting this kind of wider exposure and you’re playing more and more shows than you used to play, you’re also playing more free shows as well. Why play free shows when you guys are able to get more paid shows?
The Silent League: (Laughter)
Justin: One of you guys want to answer that question?
Jesse Blum: To me it’s like “why not?” if its a good show, and it’s a good event, and you know that it’s going to make like a complete picture, like all bands, from beginning to end, like you could go there at eight o’ clock, leave at one in the morning and be like “Ahh, what an enjoyable evening of music” (reclines in chair), then I think it’s worth doing.
Danny Lockwood: I think the venue also matters. It’s a good balance, you know I don’t really see a difference in how we play. It’s just sometimes you play a free one, sometimes you don’t. And they’re both pretty enjoyable.
Shannon: The truth is getting paid for a show and playing a free show is often not much different for us financially (laughs). Sometimes it’s just nice to get in front of a big crowd of people and give them something.
20 Watts: That’s definitely commendable and absolutely a part of music these days. What are your biggest inspirations? What’s your songwriting process?
Justin: Well, a lot of my stuff just comes from personal experience. This time around, with Shannon producing the record, we tried a lot of new stuff, like pick a topic and just write five pages on that topic, straight-up editorial-style, and from that we would just try to flesh out where we were trying to go from that and then pull things and try and paint a picture that way.
20 Watts: So when you say five pages…paragraphs?
Justin: Oh it was five full pages. He’s pretty strict. He was a cruel taskmaster, but it was a good experience.
20 Watts: He’s not a newer member, though, is he?
Justin: Shannon and I formed the band in ’04.
20 Watts: So when you started out, you didn’t task each other to write five pages, I’m guessing. But you, Shannon, you’re kind of a big producer, you’ve also produced a lot of stuff for other bands as well…
Shannon: Well, I don’t know about “big,” but I’ve acted in a couple of projects, like Stars Like Fleas. I’ve been doing it in Brooklyn for about 8 years. It’s not accessible in this way; it sort of rides the line between an art project and a band. It’s been sitting around on the margins for a long time. we’ll play art museums, we’ll play house parties, we’ll play in Brooklyn. I’ve produced records for them and I’m working on some solo stuff. I’ve played in Helado Negro, which is Roberto Lange. He’s part of Prefuse 73 and Savath y Savalas. He just put out a record on Asthmatic kitty, Sufjan Stevens label. I play in that band live and I play on the record a little bit. But I think everyone in this band probably has the same story. Everybody in the band has acted in a lot of stuff. Thats Brooklyn, you know, because everybody just wants to be active and play in everybody’s stuff. It’s really a small little community.
–Interview by Eric Vilas-Boas