New Brunswick, New Jersey-based post/indie-rock outfit Gates are releasing their sophomore album, Parallel Lives, next month. We talked with vocalist, lyricist, and songwriter Kevin Dye about the importance of change and trying new things creatively, how he moving from Michigan to New York did affect him creatively and the new album itself, and about the monumental scope and importance of his personal message for the entire world.
Roughly one month before your “new baby” sees the light of day. How do you feel, man?
I feel good. I feel really, really good. Everything is coming together… we’ve had the album done for a while now so, we’ve had some time with it and we just got the vinyl delivered to us. I got to listen to it on vinyl yesterday and I feel that’s really the moment when you feel like you actually finished the record. It feels good, man. Just listen back to it and still feeling really good about it and really proud of what we made.
I remember of reading you saying about Bloom & Breathe [Gates’ debut album], “(…) we felt like we had a lot more room that we haven’t had in the last two records.” How did you feel going to this second album?
I feel like we might had taken that idea with Bloom & Breathe and gone a little too far. I don’t know, I wanted to make something concise, but at the same time I wanted to explore more influences and sonic pallets that we hadn’t touched base on. And certainly I wanted to focus on a theme, really focusing on writing songs, playing the instruments, and making sounds to complement those rather than coming up with guitar riffs or parts and trying to string them together. I think all those things having followed through made for a more enjoyable and easy writing process of bouncing ideas off each other, because the song was already there and reworking songs, and making them different, and changing the pacing… it was just a much more fluid process this time around and I think all those things we wanted to try we did and we succeeded at them from my point of view.
Funny hearing you saying that because if Parallel Lives is a work where you guys wanted to experiment with new sounds and ideas and ignore certain boundaries, it also feels that is the most focused Gates’ work to date.
It does sound like when we gave ourselves no rules that it would be harder to do, but I think that, honestly, it was freer. I think we access songs like “House & Home”, for instances, which was a demo I already had written and I was feeling that it would never be a Gates’ song, but then I played it to Dan King [guitarist] and he said, “This has to be on the record. I really love this song.” Something like that whereas it seems like it’s kind of random and crazy but at the same time we don’t have these rules and we can introduce all these ideas we might have had that were sitting around before, that we were ignoring, and we can play these instruments that we were ignoring. So, all of these additional ideas were popping up left and right. We just had so many ideas. We probably worked on at least 30 songs/ideas for the record and not all of them got completed.
The title of the album, Parallel Lives, suggests a kind of concept or at least a connecting thread. What did you want to convey with the title?
The title was developed early on in the process. The final and title track was written early on and I talked to the band about it and I said something like, “I think this is a really cool album title and it would be a really cool topic to kind of weave into the entire album.” They agreed and Dan [King] and Mike [Maroney, bassist] doing artwork too, we had cool ideas for the art… we decided to do it and we focused on that and it really gave me an opportunity to write a lot more focused lyrics from kind of having this theme from the get go. It is inspired by me growing up in the Midwest, moving to New York and experience life here where everything is moving so fast and you’re surrounded by many, many people living their own lives and yet we are sitting right next to them on the train, and we are walking by them every day, and looking at them from our windows in our apartments, and yet none of us know each other, none of us know how our lives are, how we are affecting other people and… I find it fascinating. I tried to cover a lot of ideas that I ended up having for that concept and create these stories that are things that I’ve experienced or developed out of things that I’ve experienced just from living here and meeting different people.
How did this change of environment – from Michigan but now living in New York – change you and affect you as a person and consequently as an artist/songwriter?
I think it’s cool because me being from Michigan and Ethan [Koozer, guitarist] being from Nebraska, there’s this interesting background and we grew up listening to different kinds of music or having different surroundings have kind of given us a different point of view on things and me specifically being the person who writes the lyrics I think that… me being from the Midwest and now living in New York I think it gave me a different perspective from maybe somebody who has lived here their whole life. I met people who are New Yorkers through and through and never lived anywhere else and… I don’t think this topic is crazy to them because that’s just how they lived. I grew up in suburbia, it wasn’t like this there. You don’t see people from all different walks of life, you don’t live right next door to someone who makes so much money than you and then there’s a homeless guy on the street right in front of you… Where I grew up you all are living the same life, you live in the same kind of house, you go to the same school, you work the same kind of jobs, and you know everyone in the community. Here there’s so many people and so many different things going on. I think it overwhelmed me when I first moved here. It was kind of emotionally disturbing for a couple of years because it wasn’t something I was used to. I remember that we moved to New York with a couple of people from Michigan that ended up moving back home because it just wasn’t for them, and they live back in Michigan now… It’s just interesting and just so much different from what I’m used to and every day I have like a love/hate relationship with city. It’s like, I get to experience all these things now but at the same time. Sometimes I just want to go home and sit in my backyard, [laughs] Go back to the community that I knew growing up. But the thing about Michigan is they’re not there anymore. Everyone moved out ‘cause of the financial crisis in 2008. None of my friends live there anymore, pretty much only a few people do. My parents and my brother do so, it is awesome going back and visit them. I think that definitely had an influence in my perspective of living here. It’s obviously something that I thought very heavily about and that’s why I wanted to kind of talk about it on this record. I think that… growing up in Michigan you’re kind of naïve to the way the world works. A lot of me has changed drastically since moving here. My worldviews, the way I treat other people, the kind of… the context is there now. I can see why certain things happen whereas when you’re sitting at home and when you’re looking on Facebook, or whatever, and you see these things you can’t possibly understand them because you don’t see these people face to face. And when you do now, and you’re living here, it’s like your entire worldview changes. It’s completely life-shattering in a way. I think now that I’ve been here for 6 years a lot of these different steps of the way of like having conversations with people and changing my mind about things that have occurred, and I think some of that is touch base here and I think a lot of it is not necessarily things nice to talk about. I mean, there’s probably more positive stuff on this album than the past two, for sure, but in a way I still like to touch base on stuff that maybe isn’t so easy to talk about. Because these people are your friends, they’re your loved ones, they’re your neighbors, they’re walking by you every day, and they have life struggles that we all have, at the end of the day. When it comes down to it, we all have things that we have to work through. Do you really want to hate other people because of a misunderstanding? Or you want to reach out your hand and help them up when they’re down? I think that’s really what I’m trying to ask here. Do we really want to be strangers just standing next to each other all the time? Or we want to try to be something more than that?
“’Do you really want to hate other people because of a misunderstanding? Or you want to reach out your hand and help them up when they’re down?’ I think that’s really what I’m trying to ask here.”
You were saying that being from the Midwest you were kind of naïve to certain things, but I think it would also be fair to say that people from New York are also naïve to certain things that perhaps people from the Midwest are not.
Absolutely! You live in the city and you don’t experience life in the Midwest. I think most people here envision everything pass New Jersey to be a cornfield and a bunch of absolute morons who have no clue and do nothing with their lives. I think there is this misconception of that where I don’t think they give people, from the Midwest, an opportunity to actually speak their minds. Because you have to realize that a lot – and not to get like hyper-political or anything – of the ideologies that come out of the Midwest are based on the type of life that’s lived out there. You have to understand that you live in a big city and you see things one way and you see things one way. They live out in the suburbs, they’re farming, or they’re working those type of jobs, and they’re going to see things in a different way than you. You’re not going to agree because it’s two completely different lifestyles. It’s been interesting to see both point of views.
It’s funny, you’re talking about the Midwest and New York, and the differences between the two and even the misconceptions that are created between the two, but that specific example, your example, is a representation of the entire world. I mean, people all around the world often misunderstand each other because of that lack of empathy and the lack of curiosity to understand what’s happening to others and why it’s happening – there’s often no or very little connection. I believe that some of the most critical social problems of the world come from that and that to me seems to be what you’re talking about on the album.
Yeah, absolutely! It might be covered on a personal level of me living here, but on the grand scheme the whole album is about everybody on the entire planet. It’s essentially we all are here together and life is most precious thing we have. Why are we doing so much to make it miserable to each other? Why don’t we try it to make it better? Why don’t we try to understand each other more and, like I said, put out a helping hand and stop letting fear and misunderstanding guide our choices, and try to learn from other people, and how they live, and why they make the decisions they make? Instead of being afraid of them, and afraid that they are going to somehow change you. I mean, they should change you. You should be changed, you should change throughout the course of your life. You should grow, evolve, and become better.
Talking about your process of writing the lyrics you’ve once said, “It’s painstaking, it’s horrible and it takes way too long. It’s frustrating. I’m just super picky, super intense about the words I choose to write.” Did it become easier with this album?
[laughs] Absolutely. 100%! I had an absolute joy writing this album as opposed to the last one, which I found very difficult and frustrating. A huge part of that is that I wrote a lot of these songs on the acoustic guitar – more than half of them were kind of, “Hey, here’s the demo of me singing the first verse and the chorus over just an acoustic guitar.” Or a demo I would set up in Pro-Tools with some electronic drums or whatever. Having started with that… the lyrics are already one. We’re writing the music around a song I wrote as opposed to a song that we crafted out of guitar parts that I have to then sit down and focus on melody and lyrics to fit that. If I had a melody and lyrics that I didn’t really like I never showed the song. I have plenty of voice memos in my phone of ideas that I’ve had at 3am or whatever. The ones that stuck with me, songs like “Shiver” which was recorded as exactly that… that one stuck with me so the idea of the song, the general theme of it, and essentially the main lyrics, are already done. So, that’s hardest part. Hardest part is done and… even that song, I went through and I tried to hyper-edit it and make it kind of like songs I’ve done in the past and I ended up keeping 90% of what I just kind of sang into the microphone off the cuff because I think that… it’s better, at the end of the day. It’s more honest and what I was trying to get across and not as systematic. I’ve been trying to learn from songwriters and kind of going down that road of listening to people I really admire, their lyrics, and songs, as opposed to the music aspect of it and really trying to figure out what their process is, and how they go about writing. I think I managed to succeed at that and feel a lot better about it. Even moving forward it’s far more enjoyable for me to have that – “This is really good. Let’s write this song” – as opposed to, “I don’t know what to write about.” None of this was forced in any way, shape, or form. It was just the most natural and organic stuff we’ve come up with. We’re just learning things and trying different things. Not to say we’ll never go back to doing it that way. There’s something to be said about the product when you do something that way, but also we just want to try something else. That’s what being musicians is about to us. It’s about pushing ourselves forward.
Even if you fail, because sometimes is more important to fail to be able to really move forward.
For sure. I think I’ve always… Funny enough – I hate saying this because I don’t think is a good way to look at it and I think I might be wrong – I’ve looked at everything we’ve done in the past as a failure. It’s not what I wanted to be and when I listen to it I think, “I could have done all of these things better.” And I think because we went into this album with specific goals but also those goals being, “Let’s write the album we want to write and just have a good time doing it.” Because we went in with that I feel like we succeed. For the first time in my musical career I feel like we made something that I don’t feel is a failure. I feel like it’s a massive success for us. That just makes me feel awesome and I know everyone feels the same way. We really love what we made here and I don’t think anything else could possibly matter.
Would it be fair to say that at the end Gate’s music and lyrics are hopeful and always look for the light in darkness, sort of speak?
I would say that it’s fair to say that that’s my goal. Whether I succeed on that or not… [laughs] I think there’s been times where I felt hopeless and there are songs that match that. I think that with this record I wanted to cover an all spectrum. I mean, just as you meet people and bad things happen, you meet people and good things happen too. At least I did my best to cover those two on this record and those become some of my favorite tracks and I’d love to explore that more in the future as opposed to kind of having a pessimistic outlook. I think having that balance creates more interest in the story as a whole. I think that when you have songs that are all about the same thing it gets redundant and they’re not as powerful, you know? Focusing on different stories and different elements of the same theme not only helped to be unified, but also create variance, and I think it even matches the tone of the songs. It’s a dynamic record. There are songs like “Left Behind” that have kind of classic Gates/Sigur Rós- explosion ending and then we have a song like “Shiver”, which is like nothing we’ve ever made. Having those different themes right off the bat and working towards making songs that play to those lyrics and ideas helps form those things and make a more diverse record.
I heard that Foxing’s Ricky Samspon challenged you to try different instruments for this album. With the band changing lineup depending on the song, how did you feel it affect the dynamic between you guys and the music itself?
Essentially we toured with Foxing right after Bloom & Breathe and Ricky and I were in the parking lot in Anaheim, California just kind of shooting the shit and talking back and forth, and he was like, “Tell me one thing that you think we should do differently on our next album,” and I mentioned something about songwriting, focusing up and trying to really work on that because what they do it’s quite incredible – some of the best songs I’ve heard come out of any band. And he was like, “I think you guys should play something other than guitar.” It was just like a “whatever” interaction. We were just talking and hanging out but… I think is kind of hilarious that we ended up kind of taking those two pieces of advice home from that tour and working on in that regard. It just kind of sparked in me to go back to the beginning of the band where I suggested playing piano, because I’ve been self-teaching myself for about 3 or 4 years at that point, but the guys wanted to just stick to the guitar for the time being. After talking with Ricky, I asked what they thought about resurrecting that idea and everyone was receptive to see if it worked. We set up every piece of gear we had in the practice space and just started trying it out. Our drummer Dan [Crapanzano] has a beautiful piano and we brought it in and I started playing “Color Worn”, just kind of messing around with it seeing how it sounded. And it ended up being a song. I knew that it was awesome. The same goes with the sampler that we ended up using, it was something that I wanted to challenge myself to think outside the box. Mike [Watts, producer] has always been into synthesizers and creating tones and soundscapes. It just kind of seems natural to add these things in. When we already know how to do them and we play them all the time, and I sit at home and probably play piano stuff even though… I’m not great. I’m self-taught but I think that helps creativity because it’s easy to come up with weird ideas when you don’t know really well the instrument. When I’m playing on a piano maybe somebody who’s well-versed in piano will say, “That’s just a whatever-chord,” but to me it seems I’m discovering something new. At least for me, personally, is a new discovery. I think those kind of feelings were all over writing this album. We had tones of gear in the basement, half of it didn’t even make the cut. We just had a bunch of weird instruments and we were trying them all just to see if they worked because… why not?