Ann Harbor’s quartet Pity Sex melted us with their super dreamy-noisy pop debut, Feast Of Love, and now they released a more confident album. We talked with drummer Sean St. Charles about their sophomore effort, White Hot Moon, and much more.
In 2013 you guys released your breakthrough debut album, Feast Of Love, and it had a really great response. Were you expecting such thing for the first album?
I don’t know, not really. In some ways we were confident in the record because we liked it a lot and I think if you really like what you’re doing and you feel like you have a pretty good taste, then I think it sounds all together surprising, but also anytime you play a show and there’s people is always surprising or if they liked the records is always surprising. We liked the music and we thought that it was like cool and interesting, but the way it took off was something that we didn’t expect.
How do you think you guys have grown as a band since Feast of Love?
I just think we’re more comfortable playing with each other, we’re more comfortable in the band. Brennan and I have been playing together in bands since we were kids and it was always easy for us to write to some degree, but when we were writing Feast of Love the interaction of the band had just come together, so it was pretty difficult of figuring out how to write music together or how to record together. With this new record, we’ve just had that figured out for years now. So instead of thinking like “How do we write a song together?”, we thought more about “What kind of song do we want to write?” and that was the overall intention of the record and I think as such what we’re doing seems more interesting to us. It just seems more fleshed out.
I read in an interview that Britty graduated (with a Bachelor’s in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience) in University of Michigan, and she currently works full-time at the University, among other things. What about you and the rest of the band?
I also graduated from the University of Michigan and I studied English literature and creative writing. Since we graduated, I’ve been really doing mostly band’s stuff, which is kind of crazy. If we weren’t doing the band, I probably would have gone right to graduate school and kind of moved on to academia, although it was never really something that was possible when we were doing band’s stuff. So yeah, I’ve been working on that and also I work in a bunch different places like local businesses, coffee shops and things like that. Brennan works in a screen printing shop, Brandan works in a non-profit rating center… I think the last few years we’ve been imagining what our lives look like outside of music and now we’re kind of figuring out how they work with music again.
How do you guys manage to balance your jobs with the band and be able to release a new great album?
I just think we don’t take the band too seriously. I mean, we put a lot of effort into writing songs and playing music. When we’re just sitting there and doing our regular day job, I don’t think any of us think of the band all the time and that kind of give us the freedom to do whatever we want musically, because it doesn’t feel desperate or like the band is the only thing we have going for us. We can take a more measured approach to what we want to be doing with music like “Is it valuable to be writing a song or making art?” I think it’s easier to think about that when it’s not the only thing you’re doing.
Did you find something challenging about writing the second album?
Yeah, definitely. I think that’s exactly it, it’s been a few years since we wrote a record and we’ve toured in big chunks here and there, but never full time. I think just staying present in the band and keeping us all together has been difficult at times. Brennan, Britty and I also are living in Ann Arbor, but Brandan lives in Detroit, which is a different city about an hour away, so just getting together to practice a couple times a week is difficult just logistically, but I think otherwise it’s giving us a calm when it comes to practicing or writing music. That kind of mitigating was difficult about the space. I felt like sometimes the space isn’t important or just because you got a better perspective with what you’re doing.
What do you think it was the biggest difference between White Hot Moon and Feast Of Love to the band?
I just think we didn’t need to figure out who we were anymore. We could just write a record that we were interested in, so I think we took bigger risks and it’s more expansive. I think that’s interesting to us, those are the kind of records that stick with me at very least looking back just at my favorite things. It was nice to be able to take that sort of approach like a wide length as opposed to a quick length like “Oh, we haven’t an EP or a demo, we just got signed and so we have to put out a record right away.” Just having all this space and distance kind of allowed us to fill in the room with who we actually were as opposed to just like what we needed to get done right away. That was really nice and I think as a result, we just had more fun with it. We took more risks and we did more interesting things, and so that was really nice.
For this new album, you were inspired by Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. In which way were they an influence for your writing this time around?
For me at the very least, a band like Yo La Tengo kind of represents what I think a great band does for a long career. I think they have 13 records that are huge and always interesting, but they’re also like each one feels like a project. It seems like they’re trying to do something specific and I think that’s really interesting, it gives you the space to think like “What is a record doing in like a whole catalog in your band’s career?” I think that’s nice and I don’t think a record needs to be all defining or I don’t think everything needs to be exactly good, it doesn’t always need to be the best pop song or whatever. I think you can approach writing music like “What’s a theme that is fun? What’s something that’s compelling?” I think that’s where a band like Yo La Tengo does really well and I think that translates into the music too, because the music just feels like an environment. That goes to Sonic Youth too. I think Sonic Youth is a huge influence on how we write guitar parts, especially just making atmosphere just like a classic pop rock set up. I mean, we’re just two guitars, bass and drums, so how do we expand in such a limited set up? And those are two bands who done it really well. It was super helpful just thinking about what we love about bands like that.
“White Hot Moon was kind of inspired with just messing with magic and mysticism in a way that feels like really grounded in ways that life is like boring.”
How is it like the lyrical process between you and Britty and what did inspire you this time around?
For me, it’s always about what I’m reading or what my life is like. I think we always like to approach our record with some sort of conceit in mind and with this one I think Britty and I both approached like what life is like, what is it like to be living a life that feels like a little strange, which it can mean like romantically or that can mean in regards to dealing with a death of a family member or a change in any sort of way. That was like what kind of inspired us to take like different stories in that world. For me, I kind of let the thought of messing around in what is like strange about banalities of life, like the small moments… I think everybody’s life, no matter how exciting it is – even if you’re playing in a band and that’s cool and you play a show everyday and then it becomes boring to some degree or just feels like a routine, – I think in those moments the little strangeness is interesting. I’ve kind of wanted to tease out that a little bit and that has to do with what I’m reading, like a surrealist like Haruki Murakami and he’s one of my favorites.
What’s the meaning of the album’s title, White Hot Moon?
White Hot Moon was kind of inspired with just messing with magic and mysticism in a way that feels like really grounded in ways that life is like boring. There’s a Murakami book called 1Q84 that kind of plays with the thought that there are two worlds that are happening in parallel and the moon is different in the two worlds, and that’s how you know which world you’re in. That was a concept that was on my mind, but I was just sitting in my room one night and I was writing a song thinking about what the record was going to be and I looked out my window and I saw the moon and I just said that phrase to myself. The more I thought about it, the more it stuck, and I think that Britty is really interested in science fiction and how that feels in the real world. I just felt like it was a title that we both could get a lot out.
The artworks of your releases are always so captivating and mesmerizing, so what’s the story behind the new album’s cover?
We always use a format for our LPs, so we kind of knew how we would set up. It would be like a painted color and a photograph over the top. When we’re thinking about what the record is going to be, we always think about how’s the cover art gonna work in there. We talked with Brennan – he does all the design work – about some concepts and we really like the thought of neon and that kind of relates to what we think this world is. I think this thought of a world that’s really futuristic, because our world is super futuristic, but also sort of like grainy with bright and futuristic colors that also feel like true to the real world. We were hoping to find an image like a neon sign that really captured that and that picture is actually from an arcade in the town that we live in. Brennan was just kind of walking around taking pictures of neon signs and that one just worked out really well. It’s a neon sign of an elephant that’s kind of reflecting a mannequin head in the window and it just felt perfect for this world. I think there’s something that is really appealing and in an aesthetically cool way, but it’s also sort of disconcerting. [laughs] I thought that fit with what we were trying to do with the record entirely.
You worked once again with Will Yip for this new album. What led you to work with him for White Hot Moon?
Will is just the best at starting a project and immerse himself entirely. At this point, we’re super comfortable with him. We would send him demos before we got into the studio, then we showed up in the studio on the first day and he was like tap out tempos for every song. He already had ideas like “That guitar part would sound great if we mic the room this way” and so that’s really nice. Will never pushes too far with his own vision, he just knows how to really fulfill whatever the band is doing and in that way he’s almost like a band member. Will wants us to do anything we want and he’ll sit there for 12 hours and record us, like slamming a door if we think it will sound cool on the record, which is really great. Beyond that, Will just works so hard. We would record for 12 hours a day and then go into the city that we were staying. Will would walk home from the studio and we would work at home for 8 years, he would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning. When we got in the next day, he would be like “What do you guys think about this?” and we just couldn’t imagine how he had all that time. There’s no one better than Will at getting into our project.
You guys are all vegans, which is really great! Any tips or advices for people who want or are trying to commit to that lifestyle?
I think people are afraid of it being difficult and it’s really not. I think being vegan for some people, it’s a big ethical thing, for some other people just think it’s good for the environment or it’s good for the health… I think just approaching it as an easy lifestyle change, being vegan doesn’t mean like “Oh, I can’t eat meat.” It just means “Oh, I need to cook more” or “I need to take care of myself more often or better.” For me, for instances, I’ll just look up for a recipe online and make a big bash of something for the week and that’s really nice and it makes it easy. I think it’s just a matter of learning how to cook and how to take care of yourself. If you can do that, you can eat any diet and so I think that’s the biggest step and I don’t think you think what you’re missing necessarily, because I can definitely tell you that you stop missing things and you don’t think about it. I’m a vegan for probably 12 years now and I can’t imagine what meat tastes like and I don’t have the desire to eat it really. You’re just filling your life with things that you do like and not thinking about what you’re missing on. I think that’s the easiest way to do it.