Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ex Cops Interview - Shamanistic Sound Design

Creativity in both songwriting and sound design are the first things you notice about Brooklyn ’s Ex Cops.  With the release of their debut album “True Hallucinations,” the tandem of Brian Harding and Amalie Bruun present an eclectic collection of diverse pop styles.  Capably assisted by band members Sam Bair (drums), Leif Huckman (bass) and Kai Kennedy (guitar), the groups sound is also molded by producers Dan Shapiro and John Siket . The album opens with an under two minute percussion-and-bass-heavy, mostly instrumental piece mysteriously called “S&HSSX.”  First single “James” employs an appealing blend of keyboard pads and background vocals, set off against twangy western guitars. The lyrics reference imagery like a “broken bottle in a plastic tomb inside a darkend room,” how “there’s nothing left to steal” and “going insane on a subway train,” suggest themes about internal struggles with addiction. The album is being released by New York’s Other Music label.

 Q: You’ve chosen to title your album “True Hallucinations.” The definition of a hallucination is to see or experience something that isn’t really there, or that exists only in your mind. Yet pairing the word “true” with it implies some kind of factual basis. Is this the impression you want to convey with this title? To present these songs as a reality that appears like a dream?
A: I lifted the title from a book by Terence Mckenna . He goes on a bunch of shamanistic trips where he experiences visions of the future and past. Some of these things were drug induced but in his mind's eye they were completely real. I always liked the title and wanted to use it for something and this record made total sense.


Q:  The opening  track “S&HSSX” appears to include some foreign language spoken word narration. The title initials surely stand for something. Can you reveal what they are? The clacking percussive force is reminiscent of Brian Eno ’s “In Dark Trees” Have you found any influence in, or are you a fan of Mr. Eno ’s work?
A: If I told you what it stands for, I'd have to kill you, so no, I can't reveal what that stands for. The foreign narration is Roman Polanski who has been a big influence on me. He can't tell you what he says either.  I love Brian Eno . Here Come the Warm Jets scared the shit out of me when i was a teenager, and it still sort of does. I just saw a performance of Apollo at the WFC Wintergarden with Mike Gordon and some others and it was beautiful.

Q: An early release of yours (now included on the album) is the song "The Millionaire." The lyrics to it are cryptic, making one curious as to their meaning. Somehow children being a "reaction" lead to "sympathetic crimes" among other things, ultimately coming back to "remembering" the individual referenced in the song title. Though lyrics often fit together due to their rhyming qualities (and these certainly do) can you shed any light on who or what this song actually refers to?
A: This is something that's new to me because I wrote the lyrics in about 5 minutes, and usually when I do this they don't really mean anything, or maybe they do and I just don't care about knowing, sorta like a dream that's really fucked up but it's better just to go back to sleep and forget about it. But I'm still trying to figure this one out. I just always see a dark forest and gnomes when I hear this song. I dunno.

Q: One deeper album tracks like " Billy Pressly " come off as enthusiastic sweet pop that drives along a rolling drum pattern. With the lyrical hook expressing a sentiment to "dry your eyes," the tandem male and female vocals are processed to a television show ready sheen. Do you envision songs like this one potentially being shopped to a medium like that?
A: If they pay me enough, they can put it on Honey Boo Boo. But no, it wasn't the intent. This was a tough song that went back and forth between sounds, but we decided to make it pretty polished. I basically asked John (Siket) to make it sound like Dick Dale playing the Vaselines.

Q: "Nico Beast" is also built around an energetic drum pattern, that slowly melts back into playful vocals and other instruments moving up in the mix. While much of the track features studio enhanced, cleverly placed vocals, the song ends on a loose jammy feel, revealing the basis of what the track was initially structured on. Is this song title referencing the Velvet Underground chanteuse? As one of the least commercially pop songs on the record, do you feel it's important to show this other side to your sound, especially with the many straight pop songs included?
A: This was one of the first songs I ever recorded in that little room in Bushwick with Dan Shapiro . I don't remember recording this song for a number of reasons, but it was something that happened organically and I wanted to include that aspect on a record of mostly pop songs. I like that it's 2nd to last, sort of like a credits for a film and a bit of "Hey we can also do this" wink. I wasn't really thinking of Nico at the time, but I guess she was kind of a beast.

Q: Other songs on the album like “ Ken ” (driving pop with lots of vocal hooks layered in and around each other), “Seperator” (clearly defined four chord guitar progression and distinctive tambourine stroke. Rising harmonics on the chorus is powered by quickly strummed guitar shimmers) and “Spring Break (Birthday Song)” evoke the joyous innocence of early British Invasion pop, that initially took the world by storm in the early 1960’s. While another deep track “Jazz and Information” moves away from the sweeter pop, showing a more mature outlook both musically and lyrically. The addition of saxophone to the sonic mix underscores this point. Do feel all of these diverse styles can be presented to a listening audience without any confusion as to what the Ex Cops sound actually is?

A: This is something that is always a thing with me, for better or worse. I'm the dude who thinks the White Album is the best Beatles record. I have a really short attention span and I love a lot of music. I would love to be able to go in an make a Can record using the same 4 instruments and creating a totally controlled sound, but it's not me. I like to jump around and get into trouble. This album moves along in waves but it's still in the Atlantic.


This interview appears in an edited form in The Deli Magazine, Print Issue No. 33, which can be found here:

What you should know:

Preferred band Website

Origins: Kai and Sam are from Madison, WI . Leif is from CA.  Amalie is from Copenhagen . Brian is from Charlotte, North Carolina.

What it is: Devotional Tropical Goth.

For those who like: Vaselines, Beatles , Raveonettes

Relevant info: Ex Cops release their debut album “True Hallucinations” in January on Other Music Records

Equipment/Recording interview for Delicious Audio (featuring Brian Harding, Dan Shapiro and John Siket)

- How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?

Brian: I usually start out recording a rough track of me playing shitty drums in our practice space and layering it on Garage Band, something I've gotten a cursory grasp on. Or I'll find someone whose good at it. Our first EP was totally home recorded and I do love that warmth and weirdness, but I love combining both, which can be a rocky road, but I love records like Odelay which sounds like a bedroom recording but is like a million dollar record done by the Dust Brothers.

- If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?

Brian: I've been in an out of studios a lot in the past 5 or 6 years, and I love recording in them. I feel totally at home in a studio and I love every single aspect of it. From playback, to smoke breaks outside, to ordering food, to staying up late doing overdubs, everything about it makes sense to me. On the other hand, recording in your room with a friend is also greatly satisfying. I guess I just like pressing the button.

- What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?

Brian: I like to collect percussion stuff. I think that stuff can make a song. Like half the songs on Exile are so cool and that's because of all the weird shakers and drums they had lying around. Same for Remain in Light and a lot of Spoon records. As far as gear goes, I'll pass this to Dan and John:

John S: I'm really fond of my UREI LA3's, my API 3124 and my Lexicon 300L. Brian has a penchant for reverb, and I used the Lexicon extensively. I think you can really hear it on " James." I really like percussion as well, and I can get a bit obsessive about parts and sounds. I did a lot of tambourine and shaker overdubs with my buddy, Patrick "Taps" Guden. We used a 70's Neumann U87 for that. That mic worked well for that application. In a couple of places I used a Copperphone as a randomish drum mic--you can hear that in the breakdown of " James ." That sound was exactly what the mic picked up--no processing. It was serendipitous.

Dan: My favorite pieces of gear are my MacBook Pro and my Apogee Duet. They really allow me to keep up with Brian and get some great sounds quickly, when the songs are still coming together. This way, we spend more time creating songs, and less time trying to find the perfect snare tone.

- What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup (cost not an issue)? Why?

Dan and John: I had a conversation with John about how he used to have a Fairchild 670. I would love to add that to my setup and run everything from vocals to 12-string guitar solos through it.

- Do you expect your next record to be self-produced, or would you like to work with a producer? If it’s the latter, who would you most like to produce your band, and why?

Brian: I like both. I'm a control freak and I don't love the idea of a producer deciding EVERYTHING in a little room. That being said, working with John was so rad because I could do both, and also listen to his ideas which were cool. I'd like to bust Phil Spector out though. Hope he makes it to 88.

- Do you use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.

Brian: I'm pretty happy with the guitar pedals on garage band. We did 100 percent of the EP "White Women" on GarageBand pedals. I like the blue delay, the chorus, and a few others I can't think of. For the album I use Boss Delay, Boss Chorus, Holy Grail reverb, and a modified Ibanez TS-9 overdrive.

- Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for? What techniques do you employ to recreate it?

Brian: I just want it to sound as organic as possible. The moment it starts to sound to slick I have a panic attack and instantly want to fuck it up somehow.

Dan: Definitely the more organic, the better. I like to think on my feet, and adapt to whatever sound we are going for.

- Who determines the direction and style of your recordings?

  Brian: I like to think that I'm the captain, but I'm always (sort of) open to new ideas. I can get a little bombastic about it being a certain way, and I realize I have demo-itis because I've been listening to it in my head for so long in that way. But I definitely always have an idea of who or what I want it to sound like and will fight to the end to keep it.

- Is there a person outside the band that's been important in perfecting your recorded or live sound?

Brian: I mean Dan and John have obviously been super important. We still have room for live sound improvement, having only been playing for like a year, and we are looking to get a permanent sound guy for local and tour support. I can't fuck with some of these sound guys!

-What other artists would you say have had the biggest influence in your approach to recording?

Brian: I'm obsessed with the 33 1/3 books. I love Dylan 's approach and wish I could bottle up that laissez faire attitude that he had. You hear 10 different versions of Visions of Johanna and they're all good and it feels like he just picked one out of a hat. It's incredible to me. Then I'll watch the making of Rumours or Aja and it's like, oh shit, that's cool too! To be that mathematic about the process while still retaining a soul.

- Would you say that your live show informs your recording process or that your recording process informs your live show? Both? Neither?

Brian: I think, with us, the recording informs the live show. I love bands that can capture the recording in a live show. I saw Neil Young a couple years ago and was shocked at how much Old Man sounded EXACTLY like the recording. For the longest time in past projects I was lazy about live shows and I just can't do that anymore. I want it to sound great, and we have an amazing band that can do that.

- Is there a piece of equipment that you find particularly useful on stage?

Brian: I'm happiest using Fender amps. You can't go wrong with a Deluxe. And oddly enough I'm super into Roland JC-120's.

- With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band - fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.? Do you do these things yourself or is there someone that the band works with?

Brian: We have PR of course, Solid Gold who are amazing. I do Twitter and Facebook. We come from backgrounds of art and fashion, so yeah, we can't not be involved with that. You look at Factory records and the amount of thought they put into visuals and aesthetics are crazy and admirable and we don't take that lightly. We have an in house photographer, Annelise Howard Phillips . We like clothes. You will never see us in cargo shorts.

- What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?

Brian: Everything is a challenge, or we wouldn't be doing it. But hearing the playback on the ride home is pretty rewarding.


Misty said...

great interview! I love it when bands know exactly what they want and can express it. there certainly is a lot of 'technical' info here, but ultimately this is the work of creative artists.

Ivanka said...

Cool interview Dave!
Interesting band with interesting sound .. Definitely .something new for my ears :) I mean I'm always glad to hear some new, fresh and good sound so....
Thanks for sharing.

DaveCromwell said...

I agree that they are presenting a 'fresh' take on what has come before, here. All the songs featured here have a way of creeping up on you with repeated listens. They sound great live, too!

William said...

Love these guys- Brian's old band Hymns were really good and so I sort of followed him from there- super nice guy too and love their tracks- the millionaire is my fav atm but ive not heard the album yet

DaveCromwell said...

Yeah, I knew you had a relationship with their previous works, Will. I think you are going to love the new album. I believe the release date is the 22nd.

Mirror said...

here's another good live clip of one of the album tracks, from a recent live show

Mr Smork said...

nice interview.
seems like they know where they going with their sound, and it gives impression that they are open to new grounds.

this is cool. and they know technical side as well. cool.

though i am not a fan of that apple app they use.... :P
but it is more of my problem though. :D

all in all nic piece. i enjoyed videos as well. :)

DaveCromwell said...

Good to see that the "technical side" of this interview is getting some notice as well. As someone who I know to be a web developer in your own right, Mr. Smork - I'll take your word at the moment regarding the merits of their ap.

I'm happy for all the ways we listen to music these days.

The Midnite Rambler said...

Dave, this is another new release that without your article I may never have had the opportunity to hear about- not that they don't deserve broader attention. I don't know how the mainstream music media works but I can deduce that they generally all report on the same artists and a lot of great artists don't get the attention they deserve. It's a good thing people like you are there to write about them otherwise I would have missed out on a lot. I like what little Ex Cops I've heard here and will be coming back for more listens and look for them on Spotify to add them to my playlist. I think you you've really got down a great format going here with text, photos, video and helpful links. keep it coming!

DaveCromwell said...

Nice to read this kind of feedback, Midnite Rambler. I agree that there are far too many outlets simply repeating what the other one has just said. Good to know I'm helping to spread the word about equally deserving artists like Ex Cops.

Anonymous said...

Great interview Dave. They're intresting and I quite liked the music in that youtube vid.

DaveCromwell said...

Good to know, Anouk! I'm sure the band appreciates hearing this as well.

Patricia Mena said...

Great interview Dave, it's a nice band, as Ivanka said, "fresh sound", gives that sensation, to feel free and fine. I like the song "Ken", a lovely one. :)