Friday, August 15, 2008

Sound and Vision: My Interview with Matt Dublin of The Red Romance

Out of NYC, The Red Romance's (TRRs) music is audio crack. It's so damn catchy you'll find yourself listening to their tracks on constant repeat (I'm addicted to "Just One Kiss" and "Feeling Inside" currently myself). TRR is Smiths or OMD-synth spiked perfectly into the big sound of Motown. They've got a backbeat so infectious your body will start dancing before it registers with your brain, a lead singer whose baritone voice is both choirboy clear and make-you-weak-in-the-knees sexy, and lyrics of pure power pop. You know that feeling you get when that hot person you've been flirting with from afar starts crossing the room to talk to you, that dizzying duo of romantic excitement and carnal magnetism? Put to music, that's the sound of TRR.

I first discovered TRR last January when I was setting up my SXSW schedule which required combing through over 1,000 band mp3 submissions. Some acts were penciled in on the possibility of potential, but TRR's slot was entered in permanent magic marker the minute I heard the hooky and sharp pop orgasm that was TRR's submission, "Don't Cry." Live, as I stated in my SXSW review, they didn't disappoint:

...full of poppy beauty. I thought Death Cab-cum-New Order perhaps). The playing was tight, you could tell they’d put the time in at practice. Great fashion style. And if you like The Office, Dwight Shrute’s twin plays some mean drums.


Matt Dublin, TRR's lead singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist, was kind enough to spend some time talking with Between Love and Like via phone awhile back about how TRR came to fruition, his take on songwriting and the music business, and the road to becoming a musician.

BL&L: So how about we start with an overview of the band's members, names, where they come from originally, what they play...I've seen different things online but I kind of wanted to have something sort of cohesive.

MD: Okay, well there's Darren Beckett who's the drummer, who's originally from Belfast, Ireland. We had known each other years ago, just from playing around New York City. About four, five years ago, he called me up, and said, “Hey, I'm in this band, we're looking for a bass player,” and that band was Ambulance LTD. So I went and played with those guys, and they asked me to come on board. Shortly thereafter, we went to England to record a full length record for TVT Records. We managed to wrap up a full length record and what ensued was two years of incessant touring, all over the United States and Europe.

BL&L: I thought I read that you attended NYU from 2000 to 2005, and Ambulance was 2000; how did that work?

MD: Yeah, Ambulance was playing around in New York City for about a year before I was asked to join. Also, because I wasn't a fool, I continued to stay in school during the course of my membership in the critically lauded Ambulance LTD (laughs), so I did not see fit to drop out. I actually got my honors degree in literature. And I got some award for my thesis on Samuel Beckett while I was in the middle of Arizona, in a van. My professor called me up and said I'd won this award, for my paper – and I'd already been in the band for about two and a half years or something.

BL&L: I read something like Ambulance met in Spanish Harlem, but I also saw that you had...

MD: That's bullshit, that's something somebody made up (laughs). Darren and Marcus [Congleton] and the other guys who were in Ambulance hadn't done a record, they only had a couple songs, but they had sort of wrangled like a demo deal with TVT. Then it was like, ok, now we've got to get like a real band together. So when Daren called me, I said, well, I'm at school right now, but I'll come by and play…and it just kind of took off. It was cool at first, it was really exciting. But I mean we just toured and toured and toured after that record was made, it was just relentless. We were in a van or a Winnebago for just about two years, it just was non-stop. I mean, that's kind of how the Pixies fell apart, isn't it?

BL&L: I’d read some big shenanigans with Ambulance LTD though, something about a Ford Econoline van and tinted glass and piling women in the back at South by Southwest 2005? (laughs)

MD: I don't know anything about that (both laugh).

BL&L: Yeah, yeah, I think the line went, "Man," he said as he was slumped back in the cab, stealing a glance at his watch before shutting his eyes," it's way past bedtime," to which I replied silently to myself, "I bet the Ambulance guys are heading to bed now too, hah...they'll learn."

MD: Oh, that was Matt from the French Kicks, right? Yeah, that prick, what a fuckin' traitor (laughs). Nah, I love Matt, he designed some of TRR tshirts, he did a great job. Yeah, I think those guys had already lived the life for quite a few years before we hit the scene (laughs). They were kind of like our older brothers at first. Ambulance would open up for French Kicks, and we kind of looked up to them as these older dudes that had been bushwhacking in indie rock for quite a while. So yeah, good guys.

It was kind of funny. Darren and I joke about it now, but it was almost like the band was My Bloody Valentine, but the rhythm section was from Van Halen or something. I think the frustrations and things that were being let out, they were being let out in a very non-shoe gazer like way. We were a couple of salty flishes on the road because we were just unhappy for many reasons. We had toured with a number of really good bands, and were always in the position of opening up for these bands. Ambulance was kind of the band that would give a commercial act its indie cred, so they would always have a band like us opening up to you know, sort of make it seem hip or whatever. We were this kind of critics' darling kind of band that couldn't sell any fucking records at all, so that was part of the frustration. And there were a lot of reasons for that, a lot of them were internal, had to do with the band, and the other half of it was the songs. TVT played a great part in limiting the success of Ambulance I think.

BL&L: What do you mean by the songs?

MD: It was the kind of music that just didn't lend itself to where Darren and I wanted to be. We wanted to make, I guess you'd say, indie pop music or pop music, and Ambulance was a little more, I guess, high brow. We were kind of tired of watching all these bands like The Killers and the Kaiser Chiefs, all these bands that we'd sort of become friends with, doing what we wanted to do, doing what they believed in. And this is not to take away from Ambulance or from Marcus at all, I think it was just a personal thing with me and Darren, we just were very unhappy with what was going on.

I'd had like a huge sort of catalogue of tunes that I had written in these two years while on tour with Ambulance, and there was really no place to put them. So Darren and I had just started playing together and recording songs, and TRR came out of that. And, as often happens with bands that are in Ambulance's position both in terms of people being burnt out and also the crap from the record company, things just kind of like petered to a halt. It wasn't any big blow out, we all just kind of stopped talking to each other. Ultimately, we [he and Darren Beckett] were like, man, this is not what we should be doing. We wanted to see it through for a while, but that's why we started TRR, to start this new vision.

TRR is about two years old. We had been sending demos to our friends in The Killers, Ronnie Benoche and Brendan Flowers. They had been supporters for a long time, so we had been sending them these kind of crappy demos that we had been doing just at friends' studios. I think it was around the fall of 2006; they called us up and asked us to go on tour and open up for them. Then we recorded a five song EP, and literally, a couple of weeks before that five song EP was going to come out in March 2007, they called us up again and said that they were doing an arena tour, promoting Sam's Town. So we went out and got to do real big venues, like, hockey arenas, stadiums and stuff.

BL&L: Yeah, I saw you guys had done Madison Square Garden; sort of a big deal as you were unsigned….

MD: Yeah, and also a hell of a sign of the times, isn't it? The fact that an unsigned band would be playing MSG, it's kind of unusual, but we can thank Al Gore's internet for that, right? (laughs)

BL&L: Exactly. Okay, so obviously you're Matthew Dublin, and where are you from?

MD: I'm from New York City. I played bass in Ambulance. In TRR, I play guitar, and sing lead. Adam Chilinski plays bass and is from Maine. Wes Carnes, is on keyboards, and he joined us about six or seven months ago.

BL&L: And Darren's from Belfast, that's interesting – how did he end up in New York?

MD: He's one of the finest drummers in New York City. He came here because there was nothing going on in Ireland when he was about 19 or 20, just to continue studying music, and took off like wild fire here as a jazz drummer. I mean he was very, very sought after, and worked with a lot of jazz musicians early on...then saw the light and came over to rock and roll shortly after (laughs).

BL&L: Did you come from a musical family? : How did you get into playing guitar or singing?

MD: I just started playing music when I was about 10 or 12, and was encouraged to do so by music teachers in school, and by band teachers. And that was kind of what you did as a kid, I had friends that played guitar as well, and you got together and try to learn favorite songs. When I was young, I was into heavy metal and things like that... Then you get a little older and listen to college radio stations and want to play like the Smiths and stuff. But I'd always just really connected with music and had friends that played. So, you kind of start out wanting to ape or play the kind of music that you really like, that stuff that you look up to, the records you buy. That's how it all started I guess.

BL&L: I've always been interested in what makes someone go from a listener or appreciator of music, to someone who needs to make music. I mean, there are lots of people who just go along and play guitar, just doing it on the side, and never really think, “Yeah, I'm going to be in a band.” So I'm kind of wondering how and when the change took place for you.

MD: I guess there are some people that are just really captured by music. It's only a matter of time until they get an instrument in their hands and then it's sort of, the jig is up-that's kind of just what happened with me. I think before you start playing music, you're obviously already someone who's pre-disposed to listening to it in a very intense way. I don't know how else to describe it other than being captured by music in the sense that you really have no choice, you have to play because there are sounds in your head all the time.

And yeah, there's probably a certain amount of wanting to be really successful like the people you maybe idolize. But if you're a relatively bright kid, or whatever, you're kind of looking around at “what am I going to do with my life.” And you're like, hey, fuck it, let me try to do this, this is music, this is really the only thing I want to do. When all is said and done, I think that's just kind of how it was for me, so I got serious about it. I got scholarships to go to school because I played classical music as well.

BL&L: Really?

MD: Yeah, so I mean it wasn't just like, yeah, let me get out of high school and fuck off. I went to the New England Conservatory of Music, played upright bass, I played cello, I played in the orchestra when I was a teenager and stuff. I went to the Manhattan School of Music for a year. I also played jazz as well. I went through different phases of different kinds of music. But I definitely wanted to be a musician and figure out a way to make a living playing music. That was always foremost in my mind.

BL&L: You said that there was the music in your house when you were younger that kind of influenced you – what sort of music was that?

MD: 70's music, some 60's records, a lot of folk stuff, singer-songwriter kind of stuff...both my parents were into The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mack, Jim Crochie, James Taylor, Seals and Croft, Carly Simon...
Carole King, that was the big one. Then also, because they were like high fallotin' baby boomers, there was always a lot of classical music as well (laughs).

BL&L: Ok, let's see… so, say that someone had heard Ambulance LTD, and then said, “Oh, but what's this TRR band that has ex-members of Ambulance,” how would you explain the difference?

MD: I'd say....to put it succinctly (laughs)...Ambulance, I guess is more textural, it's more about guitar stuff, it's a lot more into My Bloody Valentine/kind of Pixies side. The lyrics, they can be snarky and they're clever, and there's a lot of irony going on. I'm just really thinking about the first two records that we did.

TRR, there's a little more humor, a little more earnest emotion going on, more danceable stuff. We sort of shoot more for hooks...you could say like maybe we're a little more common denominator than Ambulance. We're trying to embrace as many people as possible, not so much about executing a really specific, kind of clever vision. We really love Motown, we really love 1960's girl groups, we love those song structures, we love real sentiments in music. We want to make stuff that all kinds of different people can understand, and we want to make people dance. I also think the difference is in the live performance and that was also part of what Darren and I wanted to do differently. We want to kick ass as a live band, we really want to engage the audience. Obviously, I'm going to be touting my own band here, that's the reason I founded it (laughs), but there's differences.

BL&L: Yeah, I could see that. I really hadn't heard Ambulance much, so I did some poking around so I could understand the difference [between the two bands]. Via Hype Machine I found a cover of "Fearless" [by Pink Floyd] done by Ambulance LTD. Now, I'm not big on Pink Floyd at all – I had an older brother who used to play Dark Side of the Moon on endless, endless repeats, so it's one of those things where I just couldn't stand listening to it anymore.

MD: Yeah, is he okay now, or...? (both laugh)

BL&L:(laughs) You know, he is what he is I guess. We're from the Albany area, so up there, you know, it's all classic rock…

MD: Oh, hell yeah (both laugh).

BL&L: But "Fearless" was one song that I always really thought was kind of catchy. Then I listened to some other [Ambulance] stuff, and I wrote down how I saw the differences. Basically, Ambulance sounded a little bit more ethereal, and lighter, and The Beatles, and I heard Velvet Underground and such, whereas TRR, the first time I heard you guys, I thought Paul Weller and the Style Council.

MD: Huh, ok.

BL&L: And I've read that you guys liked Simple Minds and that sound from Molly Ringwald/John Hughes movies from the 80's and such.

MD: I think somebody wrote that, but yeah...I mean, Tears for Fears was kind of a reference for one kind of song on that five song EP. But I definitely think ethereal, that's a good way to describe Ambulance.

BL&L: Do you feel that being in a band with some popularity before helped you know things to avoid or do differently in this band?

MD: Well, I don't think the popularity had anything to do with it, because Ambulance was pretty underground for the most part, but yeah, because of the experience of being in the band, we definitely learned a lot about what not to do. Ultimately, we're learning so much more in TRR because we are our own record company, we're our own manager, we're our own, you know, everything. We’ve had to take on many hats. Being in a band a couple years ago before the shit really hit the fan in the music industry, being in a band that was actually on a label that had all these people working for you, like a manager and a business manager, that was a very different experience. You were sort of just ushered to and fro to shows, and it's your job to do press and do shows, but you're not really privy to all the background work. But TRR, we do tour managing, our own merch, stuff like advancing shows, dealing with like the teamsters and MSG, arguing with the guy in the basement about how much we get for the shirts and stuff...that's all stuff we're doing in TRR, which is a lot more edifying I think, at the end of the day.

BL&L: Do you guys feel like you want to move toward where that's not the case, or...

MD: Well I think for now it just doesn't really matter, it's not something that is a priority. If and when the right manager situation approaches, then we'll do that; we certainly didn't set out to be “do-it-yourself” all the time, it's just kind of the way things happened. We have people that help us, a booking agent, a lawyer, so we have all those people who sort of build the team, but we're still definitely without a manager which is not, you know, the worst thing. I think there are a lot of unconventional things that we do, but that's because things are just so very different now in 2008. There are no rules about how you go and establish a foot-hold in this industry and sort of build out. All the ways that you would try to break a band a couple years ago is not what you do now; it's like all bets are off really. So yeah, we're just kind of like looking for the best model that is going to enable us to try to build this into a long lasting thing, one where we can go out and tour and put our records out.

We have been putting out our own records and licensing our own music, and that's been a viable stream of income. We've been basically functioning as our own record company and our own publishing house for that matter...that's just kind of the nature of the beast at this point in time.

BL&L: Especially after dealing with TVT, I'm sure that you guys have an initiative to pick that which is right versus that which is first in terms of labels. Some people would jump at the chance just to get with anybody, just to get their music out there, but...it seems like you guys and others have really sought to kind of wait and choose that which is right.

MD: Well, I think part of the reason for that is that at the end of the day, there is no magic carpet ride anymore for a band (laughs). Four to five years ago, the concept of getting signed was kind of a win-win situation for a band. You got a lot of money, you got to have a big push...a lot of my friends have had record deals, and maybe they're not famous, but they got to keep their couple hundred thousand dollar advance, keep their gear...so it had its perks, regardless of the impact made ultimately.

But now, record labels aren’t doing anybody any favors, so it's kind of a moot point. It's almost like, why don't you go get a record deal with a gas station? In this day and age, it almost means the same, which is almost nothing. A record deal right now, there's like 40 million different models of how record labels are still going to try to make money. So given that's the case, we're getting to do licensing deals where we're making twice as much money as we normally would than if we were signed, because if we were signed, the record label would own 50 % of our publishing because they would own our master recording rights. So whenever we got a sync deal, they'd take half of the money right down the middle.

The whole game is changing. We've been approached by a lot of labels, but it's sort of like, at the end of the day, we're looking for like a model that's actually going to work. We've been doing this shit for a while, so we're kind of more about making records that are going to be really good, and really represent what TRR is about. And yeah, we want to make a living licensing, we want to make a living touring, but as for selling records, that concept is just sort of – it doesn't mean much right now. And it probably won't ever again. So I think labels have really fallen into the background for us. We're more interested in can we get our song in this commercial so we can make some dough and record more songs or something, you know what I mean? That's kind of the long and short of it (laughs).

BL&L: I've read a few things about the name of the band, and research showed me that there's a book of fairy tales.

MD: Yeah, I found that out after, by a Scottish poet I think. Also there's a series of Western films from the 30's.

BL&L: You are the main song writer of the band. Can you talk to me about your writing past? When you were a kid, did you write a lot?

MD: I guess I've always just written songs. I remember writing a song about working on a ship when I was like 10 years old, and I recorded it for my parents on a tape recorder. When I was 13-14 years old, I'd get together with my friend and we'd try to play stuff like the Smiths or whatever. I started writing prose stuff when I was in grammar school, and short stories. I was always terrible at math, but in honors English. I have a huge affinity for lyricists, like Rodgers and Hart, songwriting teams like Carole King and Jerry Coffin, and then Morrissey and Marr….I've only ever been interested in a handful. And I like classic libretto stuff, like show tunes and Tin Pan Alley, and even all the Brill Building shit.

But if I'm going to care about lyrics, the main thing is it kind of has to be funny to me. It's got to be like, pithy stuff, lyrics that really try to say something and have a narrative quality. I think that's...that's what I've always wanted to try to do with lyrics, is just write something that actually tells kind of a story, comes from a perspective that is easily relatable.

BL&L: So would you say that writing is something that always came rather easily to you?

MD: Oh hell no, it's a torturous process. You've got to trust yourself that what you're doing is good and sometimes that's hard, sometimes you get lost in the sauce when you're writing. It can be incredibly difficult to just let something be what it is. There's a lot invested in writing something and putting something out there, so you have to wrestle sometimes, you know?

BL&L: Talk to me about muse and inspiration. First of all, where do you kind of find your inspiration or does it just show up, and when you're stuck creatively is there anything you do to kind of kick your mind into gear?

Sometimes you just have to plow through; you just have to sit there and try to just work it out. Most of the time, I think it's just about taking advantage of a feeling when you get it, an idea when you have it in the moment, and really being able to stop and pursue it. I think Neil Young basically has this thing where no matter where he is or what he's doing, and he's got an idea for a song, he'll just stop and work on it, even if he's in line at the airport or whatever. I think you do have to revere the muse, and the muse is nothing more than just, you know, neurons banging around in your brain. I mean it's all the stuff you've collected in your experiences, and things you've heard and maybe not even really thought about, but just things you absorb.

As for where those ideas come from, most often you just get lucky; you're sort of given a melody, you're given a feeling, and you go and execute it. Sometimes I'll bring in stuff to the band and other times we'll just be playing together and, and things will just come out of the ether. And that's part of that cool mystery, that if you can get tapped into it, and every once in a while the Universe will hand you something really good. And you can set out to rip stuff off, and you can set out to conceptualize something, and say, “Ok, I'm going to do this kind of song.” But ultimately, the core of even those projects that are kind of pursued, maybe a little more purposefully like “this is going to be a vision,” is it has to have something real behind it, you can't bullshit your way around that--you have to try to be saying something authentic. Every time you get up and sing a song, you might not be in that "place" and you might not mean it, but you've got to be saying something real. That's why people still listen to The Smiths, that's why The Smiths songs are still so good, because Morrissey was saying really funny shit, and it was really just true. You could say what you want about it, but you know, whether it was self-involved, narcissistic, kind of depressing, whatever, ultimately, it was kind of true and oftentimes very funny. That's the same way I feel about Lou Reed. Lou Reed will sometimes, in a deadpan way, be overly simplistic. But then he'll throw you some line that's just incredibly insightful and really funny, and devastatingly true-- that's what's so good about Lou Reed, you know? Jarvis Cocker carried on that tradition, of course.

We've put out basically three EP's in the life of the band, one early four-song demo that we sold on the first Killers tour, and then we put out the five song EP that's kind of the really slick kind of EP that we did for the Killers arena tour in 2007. We're working on our first full length record now. And for a full length, it's like you want to have a concept-- it's sort of like a little collection of moments and you want to make sure that there's some congruity there. And that's when you think about concepts, like I want to make this kind of record, this is what I want to say – what do I want to say?

BL&L: You want to make your own In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra? (laughs)

MD: Yeah, I guess, or just whatever it is. You want to make something that's a cohesive statement. So a little more thought has to go into how you're going to execute your songs. You're not just going to throw anything on the album; it has to be a cohesive statement, so that's when it's not just about waiting around for the muse. You do have to think about this shit, you know? I mean, a lot of records were made very intentionally so I don't want to confuse the record making process with getting hit with a great melody or hook idea at 3 in the morning and you've got to go write it, which is kind of what writing is about. But on top of that, you kind of have to manage that process, and do it constructively, moving all the stuff toward some kind of piece or goal, if you're trying to put out a record as a band, you know?

BL&L: And that touches on something. A lot of your lyrics seem to be about, well, romance, and the aspects of two people involved. Do you pull a lot of the lyrics from real life experience, or is it more like, “If I was in this position, this is what it would be like?” You talk about a central concept and all these songs that deal with this, but say at the endpoint, there's a gap….So then do you sit down and sort of mine things from your own experience, or is it a combination of both? Does that make any sense? (laughs)

MD: Yeah. I mean, not all my songs are intentionally written as love songs. They may have those elements, but I think if you're writing pop songs, you're writing about the human condition, you're not writing about… politics. There are very few really cool pop songs that are reaching toward something else other than human interaction, human experience, love...I think Elvis Costello broke it down once and said there's essentially four or five things you can say in a song, and it's all about love. And it's either like, "I'm leaving you," "You're leaving me," "Let's stay together," "Let's get together"...I mean, essentially all roads lead back to human connection. I don't want to say esoteric shit to people; I don't want to write for five people, I don't want to be a difficult band. I want to say things that are universal. And you couch them in the voice of the moment, you couch them in a way that's maybe specific to your personal experience. And oftentimes, yeah, a lot of the narratives in the songs are sort of the in's and out's of human relationships, romantic relationships. But it's about experience and feelings. I thought a lot about what it was to be a teenager, to be young, and a lot of the feelings that you feel, and what a momentous part of your life that is....It's almost like DH Lawrence or something. I mean, even Morrissey was like this too, the things that you keep drawing upon are the moments in your life when you maybe were most alive, so those are important, you know? I think the stuff we're doing now is a little darker (laughs). I mean, I wrote a song for an Ambulance record called “Arbuckle's Swan Song” that was about Fatty Arbuckle.

BL&L: Yeah, I was going to ask about that, that's the first thing that came to mind, I was like, “A song about Fatty Arbuckle? What?” (laughs)

MD: Yeah, and that was a real concept tune that had nothing to do with getting hit over the head with any kind of vision or feeling. At the end of the day, there may be like real feelings of emotion in that song, but ultimately it's kind of just a funny song, talking about a rather dark subject but that also has a truth. It is a song about self-destruction and whatever, that I think is universal as well. Let's face it, if you're writing pop songs, there's not an incredibly large amount of things that are worth saying in a song. I think if I want to hear about politics, if I want to hear about stuff that is really crucial to life or the community at large, or your nation or whatever it is, I'm not really sure that songs are really the best place for that stuff. That's not really what music is about.

Music sort of touches a different part of people, and I think music, because it's fundamentally a social activity, has to hit upon emotions that bring us together, that are more about the visceral, more about the common connections we all have, about touching upon experiences everybody can relate to. Millions of people flock around a specific song, written by some dude or some girl who wrote lyrics in 20 minutes, but something in it just touched them. You go to any rock concert and you see people who are truly like enthralled with the music--there's something that's very not intellectual about that. So yeah, I guess it's like, “a lot of your songs are about love,” well what the hell else is there to really talk about? (laughs)

BL&L: So, given that, I guess the bigger question is, are you a believer in true love or do you think it's something that's nice in theory?

MD: Oh yeah I definitely believe in true love.

BL&L: That's good to hear, because oftentimes you hear pop singers and they're just kind of like, "Yeah, you know… I know what it's like, been there, done that."

MD: No, no, I believe in my product (both laugh)

BL&L: Writing is a process. As a writer myself, I know I seem to be more productive in certain surroundings with certain music and such, can you speak to the specifics of yours?

MD: You mean the environment in which I work? You know what, often times, the best place to work on a song is at a sound check, that's often where I find the best moments. I don't know why that is. We have our grungy rehearsal room in mid-town Manhattan and I write in my apartment or whatever...wherever you could get it done. Living in New York is hectic and stuff, you kind of just have to make it work as it were.

BL&L: Who do you like for writers? Has there been any writer whose books you collect or always pick up when they put one out?

MD: There's a really good short story guy called Tom Jones, sort of a fun name. But he wrote this book called the Pugilist at Rest, and that's really cool. I really like Fitzgerald. He can be redundant, but I've always gotten a kick out of Bukowski, I think some of his books are really funny. Philip Roth I really like, he's sort of been a constant.

[Matt had to head out shortly so from here on, we went to more rapid fire questions.]

BL&L: What about like in terms of music, has there been anybody that you've consistently followed over the years, or anybody that you really like as of late?

MD: I tend to like musicians’ work from certain periods because I do find that nobody can be really good forever. But one guy I've like been keeping track of for a long time and definitely still check out his new stuff would be Scott Walker. And Brian Eno as well. I think for people who have been doing this stuff for a long time, I think they still make pretty interesting records. Morrissey still cranks out a good song or two.

BL&L: Now, I read that you're a big jazz fan; or rather the phrase was "a recovering jazz addict." Do you have three favorite jazz records, and why?

MD: (laughs) Well, definitely Love Supreme by John Coltrane...I really like Bitches' Brew, Miles Davis. And...that's a tough one...any Horace Silver record.

BL&L: Interesting. Now, five songs you wish you wrote, and why.

MD: "Spanish Lace" by Gene McDaniels- it's just an incredible melody. "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by Morrissey and Marr. Again, amazing melody, great fucking lyrics, amazing lyrics, just to be able to capture that kind of teenage sentiment so astutely, it's a really devastating song. Let's see.... "Sound and Vision" by David Bowie. It's just really cool the way in general that Bowie would kind of utilize early rock and roll stuff and flip it around the way that he did. "Good Feeling," by the Violet Femmes, another, just brutally honest, simple song, that's just amazing. How many is that? Four?

BL&L: Yes.

MD: "Duchess." Scott Walker recorded it and it's a beautiful song.....just great lyrics, really funny lyrics, great imagery.

BL&L: What is it about Tears for Fears and the whole 80's sound that you like so much?

MD: I don't know, I think that kind of got put on us. There's definitely like a little bit of that, like we were trying to just do some big pop stuff, and I think we were listening to Tears for Fears at the time....And not to give the usual pat-like musician answer, we honestly weren't trying to [mimic] 80's pop.

BL&L: It was more Blue-Eyed Soul?

MD: Well I think the album ended up being mixed made it have that quality. But we weren't trying to ape that style – we wanted to have that bigness, we wanted to have that, when you put the CD and you heard the song in the radio, it really would jump out at you and have a lot of energy. We were a little more into the keyboards than we are now, and that probably contributed to some of that.

BL&L: Have you had previous training as a singer? You said you had done cello and all that, but you never really mentioned singing. And I mean you have a pretty strong voice…

MD: Oh, thank you. I don't know, I just let it rip, you know? (laughs)

BL&L: I always find that interesting. I can sing relatively well, I can carry a tune, but I sure as hell know that if I was to try to sing and have it recorded and stuff, my voice would probably crack and mess up. Graham Parsons is a perfect example-he has songs where you hear his voice just like, give out because it's not a very strong voice. But you are able to hold notes and work your voice, so there's strength somewhere. Did you just practice a lot?

MD: I think just from the years of being a musician, I had a basic understanding of the mechanics of singing, but I'm certainly not a trained singer by any stretch of the imagination. I wish I was, I'd like to definitely learn how to better take care of my voice which I think is a real trick. Ultimately, I'm not trying to be known as a tremendous vocalist, I'm just trying to put across emotion in a way that's pleasant to listen to and have some energy behind it.

I have to be convincing. If people are paying money to come see you play, you have to sing well, you have to give somebody something, and if you're not singing with some beautifully trained voice, you at least have to be giving them some energy, personality, and be conveying what you're trying to talk about. Certainly no one is going to say that Lou Reed is some tremendously trained vocalist, but he's one of the most interesting singers to listen to. I'd rather listen to him sing over three hundred trained vocalists that I can think of who may put records out because he's actually telling you something.

BL&L: How was Europe, and why did you guys decide to go now?

MD: It just had been something we had been working on for quite a while. We had been invited over there in the fall, and had a lot of industry interest and people who wanted to bring us over there to play, so we just finally put it together. And it went well, there's definitely something building for us over there. It's just tough, in terms of being able to afford to go over there.

BL&L: Lastly, what's the best and the worst part about being a songwriter?

MD: Oh man...(both laugh). I think, I honestly...I don't really have a choice in the matter, it's sort of like you're selected to go to the moon by your communist government, it's not really a choice (both laugh). I have to write tunes, neurologically there's something wrong with me where I have to write music. In all seriousness, it's really satisfying. I mean it's really cool to...you're just a fan of music, and you're putting together something that, you think you or your friends would dig, since they like the same stuff. When you write a song, when you really flesh it out, you're trying to kind of celebrate what it is that you like about music, or maybe the specific influences that you might be drawing upon for that song, you're trying to celebrate what's great about music that came before what you're doing, and then also, saying something that's cool, that people are going to enjoy…and it's incredibly challenging. But if you can do it right, it's really great. It's nice to have people respond to your stuff, and that, often, can be what keeps you going. But yeah, the part I find very challenging is to write good pop songs. I think sometimes people could think, "Oh it's a pop song, there's no depth to it, how hard could it be?" But it's actually very elusive, there's a lot to trying to do pop music well. It's not easy by any stretch, at least not for me.

Download: Just One Kiss-The Red Romance.mp3

(The Red Romance full-length record is expected in late September/early October 2008. Pick up the 3-song promo EP here or their original 5-song EP here. You can also find them on Itunes.)

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