Monday, April 7, 2008

interview: The Explorers Club

"I'll remember our last kiss forever"
The Bobka is not even a year old (one more week!) but somehow we managed to finagle ourselves an intern, whatever that means. So please give a good hearty welcome to Hunter, our intern. (We really like the way that sounds.) When he's not making pita's and redesigning his facial hair, Hunter can be found writing about frogs and buying vinyl at Chuck-towns 525, one of the best record stores in the southeast. In his first call to duty, we had Hunter interview one of the finest bands to come out of Charleston, The Explorers Club. You might remember us talking about them last Spring when their demos of Smiley Smile-era harmonies were setting the stage for a beautiful summer. Since then the band has signed to Dead Oceans (Bowerbirds, Phosphorescent, Bishop Allen) and is about to release their debut LP, Freedom Wind (May 20th). The band is also releasing their first 7" single "Do You Love Me?" b/w "Carry Me" this Tuesday 4/8. You can snag it HERE.
Chocolate Bobka: How was SXSW?

Jason Brewer: I was sick most of the time, but it’s a lot of fun, we definitely got our name out there… We did it last year too, and we really enjoyed it.

CB: I read that Jim and Stefan (of the Explorers Club) ran into Michael Stipe…

JB: Yeah, I saw him sitting at a table at our label’s showcase, and (Explorers Club guitarist) Jim and (organist) Stefan grabbed one of our CD’s and went over and gave it to him, mentioned that we were friends with Brain Wilson. He was really cool about it.

CB: How did the band form? Did you guys have in mind that this is what you would sound like from day one? Or did it evolve more organically than that?

JB: Well I wrote a bunch of songs a couple years ago with that sound, just to see what I could come up with, that whole sixties sound. I’ve known our drummer since high school, and met most of the other guys at college. I called them up, told them I had these songs and some studio time, asked if they wanted to put together a band. I wanted it to be like a singing group, not just a rock band. There aren’t really singing groups anymore, you know? My dad directs choirs at church, that’s kind of how I learned. I wanted to take all these harmonies, take some Beach Boys, Beatles, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, whatever, and just put it all together. That’s what I wanted with the new record, Freedom Wind. I wanted it to sound like a combination of everything on my ipod, everything I put on a turntable.

CB: Let’s talk about Freedom Wind…Can you take me inside the recording process?

JB: We recorded in Atlanta with my friend Matt Goldman…he normally does a lot of commercial stuff, but he’s into Paul McCartney, Simon & Garfunkle, ELO... One of the guys who I co-wrote a lot of the songs with, who’s also from Atlanta, was an engineering intern a long time ago, and that’s how we met Matt. He’s got a really great studio with a lot of really cool session guys. We were able to get some really great horns and strings pretty cheap, as well as just getting a really good sound. And with him being familiar with all the music we like, we were all on the same page. He and I were the co-producers.

CB: Do you guys record live together at once, in separate parts, or a combination of the two? What about the harmonies?

JB: We do both, sometimes live, sometimes overdubs. We’ll sing it together to make sure it sounds good, then record it later. It’s pretty much the same with the instrumentation; sometimes we do different combinations of instruments live, sometimes just each instrument one at a time.

CB: I’ve been listening to the demos for a long time, and after a few listens to Freedom Wind, I’ve noticed a few production changes. What was it like re-recording these songs that had already been staples in your repertoire for so long?

JB: It wasn’t weird. I was really glad to be able to go re-work some of it. The demos were pretty good, but they weren’t as great as they could be. We needed to do it properly. Nine of the songs were recorded in June, and then the three original demos were beefed up a little bit, remixed and mastered; we added an instrument here or there, re-did some vocals.

CB: Do you feel like it helps to take some time off from a song, then revisiting it with a fresh set of ears? Or do you like to just hammer it out and get it done?

JB: I like to hammer them out. When you think about it too long, you start to come up with too many ideas. But sometimes it helps.

CB: From seeing your live shows, it seems like you guys are just out to make sure everyone has a good time. Did you want that vibe to translate to the record?

JB: Live, we’re not up there trying to do an art show, we’re not trying to be as cool as possible. We take our music seriously, but we’re mostly just trying to make sure everyone has fun. I kind of wanted the record to have that feel, where people don’t have to sit there and listen to it like it’s Dark Side of the Moon or something. I think a lot of bands do try and make a Sgt. Pepper’s or whatever, the first time they make a record, and I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I wanted to make a fun record with some really good songs on it, great sonics, something you can really get into with a pair of headphones on, and most of all, the songwriting to be really good.

CB: Between Explorers Club and Dr. Dog, do you think there’s a retro revival happening? Or is it just coincidence?

JB: Probably more coincidence. We’re definitely open to combining powers… I think we might do some gigs with them later this year, I don’t know, don’t quote me on that.

CB: Wouldn’t dream of it.

JB: I think it’s just coming around, you know? There are all these phases… there was the garage rock thing, the dance rock; recently it’s like noisy kind of stuff, I think? I don’t even really know. I just think a lot of kids who grew up in the 80’s, their parents, really listened to a lot of the stuff from the 60’s and 70’s, and are making music that sounds like that. In one way, it’s just kind of a lot of watering down, of the older stuff, but there’s certainly a lot more of it. Now there’s just an explosion of all kinds of music. For me, it’s all across the board, as far as influences go. I think the wide availability of music these days is just going to make everything broader and broader.

CB: What was it like having a song on the OC? (see video here)

JB: They cut it up and remixed it! But I was glad to have a song on there to get some exposure. People definitely went out and bought the song on itunes because of that, so I was pretty excited.

CB: How did you guys get a spot opening for comedian Zack Galifianakis? Was the crowd different at all?

JB: Well I just randomly sent him a MySpace message, saying how funny I thought he was, and to check out our band, and I guess he did, because he asked us to show up at this restaurant in Charleston on his sister’s birthday, and sing happy birthday for her in four-part harmony! After that, he asked us to open for him for some southeast shows. He wanted a band instead of an opening comedian, so we got to play to a bunch of college kids who were thoroughly confused why there was a band playing. But I think they had a lot of fun.

CB: Whats next for the Explorers Club?

JB: Well the record comes out May 20th [on Dead Oceans], and we’re gonna be doing a full U.S. tour, which should be great. We’re hoping that everyone digs the record, and can have fun with it. It’s a good summertime record, good for cruising around in a car and hanging out with your friends. We’re just glad that we can share our fun with this record with everybody else.
The Explorers Club have a few dates up and down the East Coast in late April. Unfortunately, I just realized that they're playing the same night as Ra Ra Riot, bummer. Guess we'll have to make the trek to Philly to see them.

4/23/2008 Mercury Lounge, NY,NY (with the Virgins and Sam Champion)
4/25/2008 Cafe Metropolis, Wilkes barre, PA (with the Spinto Band)
4/26/2008 Johnny Brendas, Philly, PA (with the A-Sides and The SW!MS)
4/27/2008 Sonar, Baltimore, MD (with The Spinto Band)

The Explorers Club- Do You Love Me?
The Explorers Club- Forever (demo)

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