We sat down to a wildly entertaining gchat with Brooklyn garage-pop trio Total Slacker, whose debut LP Thrashin' is out September 30 via Marshall Teller records in London (official US release date isn't until January 2012). Read on for discussions about religion, sketchy people in Coney Island, and how to make a cross symbol on a macbook computer.
So you have your debut LP coming out really soon?
Tucker Roundtree: Yeah it's exciting, very exciting.
What was the recording process like?
T: Well we recorded in Ava Luna's basement studio in Coney Island-- those guys are the best... Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader engineered it and had this great idea to run all the tracks through an old 1960's mixer that's all analogue and had really warm pre amps, and for the most part we recorded that album live, as far as all the rhythm section is concerned you know -- like the bass and drums were all tracked live!
That sounds really cool! Did you do really fun things at Coney Island?
T: Hahaha yeah, kinda fun things, more like scary things.
Scary in what capacity?
T: We stayed at the studio for like 5 or 6 days and slept on the floor. We had the brilliant idea of walking around at 3am to get some treats.. there were people following us back to the studio wanting to "hang out". Yikes!!
Did you hang out with them?
T: More like we couldn't get away from them and they wanted to see Carlo's secret studio. it was mega sketchy!
I remember watching an interview where you talk about drinking a lot of 4 Loko and falling asleep in a gutter, so you're not really unfamiliar with sketchy situations
Emily: True...although that was a one time thing! Really!
I'm sure that's not the one thing you will be remembered for. What are your tour plans? Do you have anything coming up? You've played like a million shows in New York I know, and some in Austin, but other than that would this be your first tour experience or no?
E: We did a short tour at the beginning of last spring through the West Coast up to Portland and back through Denver... it got us hooked on touring and now it's all we want to do, so we're trying to make plans now...but we have to spend some time working before we'll be able to afford to. We really want to make it over to Europe, where it seems a lot of our demand is. For now we're trying to hit the east coast college circuit.
What's your favorite part about touring? And what is the craziest thing you've witnessed? The east coast college circuit seems like it might yield a lot of weird situations
E: Making new friends in every city and seeing the countryside! And getting to play all the time. Nothing TOO crazy yet...I don't know, a semi on fire? That was pretty crazy. So far college shows have been fun, filled with really drunk kids who don't have enough to do on campus, haha.
Apparently you guys have really wild antics in concert? Is it true that you have smashed guitars on stage or is that just hearsay?
T: The legend is true, but we try and do it when it really feels right with the audience and crowd, etc. It can be an amazing release.
They have to earn it!
T: TRUE. In a way. But its also about connecting to the people that are in your circumference, but things get out of hand!!! It's the best when the energy gets to that level. Can't happen every show though, or we would DIEE!
Do you think that's the point of playing music? Or do you not think about it in terms like that?
T: Hmmmm... yeah we try not to think about it at all. It's a beautiful release that can only happen naturally, and we lucked out with a very unique chemistry I feel. We burned some instruments once at Shea Stadium. I wanna do that again, but it has to be right, you know.
Hahahaha! Was anyone angry?
T: Surprisingly not.. I thought we were gonna get in trouble for sure. But alas.
Which instruments did you burn?
T: A crappy $40 squire guitar that I pieced together.
How did you set it on fire? Just with a lighter?
T: Samantha from Friends had the lighter fluid .. She sprayed it and I lit up a blaze! My foot caught on fire for a sec. That was interesting.
Do you have "lighter fluid" on your rider now just in case?
T: Hahahah right!? I think any venue that would see that on a contract would freAKK!
Let's talk about the genesis of the band.
T: Emily and I met here in Brooklyn, then we started writing a lot in the summer of 2009.
And then you added Ross a few months later?
T: Yeah, it was the greatest of times. We found Ross a few months later at Monster Island.. Box Elders and Woven Bones, I think, were playing one of Todd P's shows. That was October of 2009.
How have you evolved stylistically since then? Would you say you've evolved a lot?
T: Yeah, I hope we have evolved. I think people equate a lot of our sound to the early demos that got circulated a lot on tons of blogs, but those demos were never meant to represent our band sound, you know. So when we recorded the album, we took all the things we liked about our songs the past year being a band but left out all the things we didn't like and went for a precise concept tonally. I think it will sound different but also the same, if that makes sense.
How would you describe that concept?
T: Hmmm.. well, we knew we wanted to keep this "back of the beat" idea on drums and bass, where Emily and Ross play almost outside the beat, on the very back of it, but we wanted the vocals and guitars to be more clear and definable. So we tried mixing both of those sounds and I think it came out really musical.
That sounds really cool.
T: Yeah and plus we just got sick of all the superfluous echo and reverb and wanted to use it more tastefully and minimally.
It seems to me that even though you're serious musicians -- you studied jazz, right? -- you don't take yourselves too seriously at all. Like a sense of humor is really central to a lot of things you do.
T: Ahhh thanks for hearing that! We try and not take anything too serious.
The lyrics to "Thyme Traveling High Schoool Drop Out" are genius.
T: Ahh, thank you. I really like that one; I think its my fav on the record. That song was added right before we actually went into the studio.
I watched the video you sent me. What inspired you to make that?
T: Well, I grew up in a heavy heavy christian enviroment.
How involved were you in that environment?
T: Well, it wasnt until I moved away from Utah that I realized how much of a bubble I grew up in ..... it was a small community made up of 40 or so people.. they were all old hippies from the 60's that started a semi-communal space where all the children were home schooled and we ate dinner together and went to church like 3, sometimes 4 days a week.
And I learned how to play guitar in that time, cause I played in the church worship band too. It was really fun, cause I'm an only child, so I liked the feeling of having some brothers and sisters, you know. But I'm glad im out of that world finally.
That's a big change from worship band to brooklyn 'garage pop lo-fi outfit' or whatever people are saying these days...
T: True, true. It wasn't the kind you see in those videos though, it was more of a home church situation. There were three main houses we all congregated at.
Do you try to reconcile the two ever or do you just see it as completely separate?
T: I guess I just see it as like, you know how there are really wealthy people in NYC born into that situation, right?.. Well, they think thats normal. They think that the rest of America might be that way too until they get outside for the first time. So maybe thats how I feel but the opposite. And I love New Yorkers, you know. It's just a really different world of "career" ... "money" .. things that are really temporal and don't last. I guess thats why Brooklyn is so much more chiller.
--- Later Chat With Drummer Ross Condon ---
We were just talking earlier about your upcoming LP! Are you excited for it?
Ross: Hell yeah!
I hear you recorded it in a secret studio in Coney Island.
R: Ha, I feel like I should get my story straight with Tuck and Emily so I don't ruin any of their carefully edited versions of things. so yes, "secret" if that's what they said.
Ok, I might have added the secret part...
R: It was in the basement of a Korean Catholic church.
They said it sounds a lot less lo-fi.
R: Yup, it's got some kick to it now. Fuller I guess, better range of bass, mid and trebles.
How did you find each other?
R: I went to highschool with Emily but didn't know her. She was in my Spanish class. Anyways, I moved to NY and I was at a show at Monster Island with a bud and Tuck just came right up to me and said, "hey, you know my girlfriend" and Emily was kinda shyly hangin next to him and I said "hey! wasssup, you were in my class".
You guys play so many shows! Do you ever get tired of it?
R: For sure sometimes. It's nice to be able to go to a show and just chill and know you don't have to play at any point.
Are you looking forward to touring?
R: Yes, I love traveling so I think it would be way fun to cruise around for awhile as long as we get chances to hang out in places as well.
Any plans for immolating things in the near future?
R: Hopefully at some point at some climatic moment in a jam one of us will just disappear with a loud pop and leave behind some smoldering pair of shoes only to later turn up naked on a beach somewhere in Indonesia. Other than that, I'd like to play a fiery bass drum maybe. Total blackmetal.
Have you been in any other bands prior to Total Slacker?
R: I was in a band with my good friend Davor called Ghost Bitch in college in Washington. We played a ton of basement shows and deserted parking lots.
If you had to describe the sound of your new album via one mystical creature, which would you pick?
R: Hmmmmmmm mystical? like cryptozoology ?
R: The chupacabra! Psychedelic bat/dog/human creature haunting the deserts of Mexico and the Southwestern states. Jim Morrison probably had one as a pet.
I have an irrational fear of them even though they only live in Mexico and only eat goats.
R: They are terifying! Probably make scary banshee noises.
Are scary banshee noises something you would consider incorporating into you sound?
I feel like I should try to make good use of emoticons since this is my first gchat interview.
R: I don't know how to use them :-|
You learned so quickly.
R: Ahh it moves! Wow, wish we had that in 9th grade on AOL chat, I spent so many late nights without this technology!
I really miss AOL chat. Life would be so much better if people still had AIM profiles.
R: No one has it anymore! i honestly think my name was superninjaraa.
If Total Slacker were a girl in 9th grade, what would her AIM profile look like?
R: Oh total would be... ah, ask Tuck -- he goes wild with ridiculous font changes and stuff. maybe ... LoCaChiCa666.
That's really good.
R: ////><<>< some of those too
††††† ? Or too cliche?
R: Too witch gaze! How do you make those btw?
It's alt + t.
What is your favorite thing you've been called as a band? Do you have one?
R: Shit gaze! Also this old burn out in Austin when we played a backyard show told us he saw AC/DC in the 70's and I swear he said we came close to them. I was like, no fuckin wayyyyyyyyyy †††††. You should not have taught me that trick.
No way! were you flattered by the AC/DC comparison??
R: Hell yeah! youve been, THUNDERSTRUCK!!!! What a song.
"Shit gaze" sounds like a horrible activity. Like knowing the etymology of 'shoe gaze' and then hearing 'shit gaze' is gross.
R: Wow I have never thought of that.
You're welcome? or I'm sorry maybe.
R: Barf. Ha! It's also a tough one to explain to the parents: "so I'm in a shit gaze band". "oh?" "Sorry, mom. And we are called Total Slacker."
Hahaha they don't get it?
R: No they love it, my mom has a great sense of humor.
That's good! And your brother is in Beirut, right? So they are familiar with the idea of their son being in a band.
Only his is not shit gaze.
R: No its much more NPR.
j = triangles
Tucker, Emily, and I spoke about putting "lighter fluid" on your band rider.
R: Lighter fluid, a tie dye Pink Floyd shirt, one hundred balloons, a razor scooter and seven Pepsi's. I can't wait to make some good riders.
Those are very good and reasonable demands. Any specific color of balloon?
R: Rainbow or did you ever get the grenade shaped water balloons? So rad ∆
Yes! Those were really the best.
R: God, I haven't seen those in forever, did they run out of grenade textured rubber or somethin?
I'm sure they still make them. They have to. Otherwise what is this world coming to?
R: The doldrums have begun! Beware of squares™ Am I allowed to trademark generic sentences?
Is there anything else you would like to say?
R: Naw just that Ghost Bitch will have a re-union tour as soon as Davor comes back from the Balkans. †