The second full-length release is traditionally a milestone for bands. It’s not only the “show us what you’ve learned” moment, but also a key moment in any band’s PR narrative. Fans and critics struggle with balancing the desire to hear something familiar, with the expectation to be surprised by a band’s elevated reinterpretation of their own art. Pure X’s Crawling Up The Stairs, was no exception, and comparisons to their first summer sunshine friendly LP, Pleasure, followed hot on the heels of any mention of Crawling's beefed up, often aggressive sound.
I was able to catch up with Nate Grace and Jesse Jenkins of Pure X a few weeks after the dust had settled: the album was out there, the first leg of touring was completed, the calls from press had died down, and ideas about what a release like Crawling Up The Stairs means to the band aftertheir fan had started to solidify. I was on a train barreling up the East Coast. They were at their houses in Austin, TX. Here’s what we talked about:
One thing that everyone wants to talk about how Crawling Up The Stairs is different from Pleasure. We’ll get to that, but I was wondering how you think they might be the same?
NG: To me, that’s what’s interesting. We make it and then you hear everyone else’s thoughts and opinions on it. To me, Crawling Up The Stairs is a total continuation in vibe and style, really. It’s just the next level; the next step up. The record starts off sounding like the other record and then it goes [BOOM] into this new zone, a new dream. To me it’s the same style, but just coming from a new angle. Pleasure was a live album, [Crawling Up The Stairs] is such a studio album.
In a lot of ways, I felt like what you guys were doing in terms of your sound, even down to the guitar effects and things, really got blown out on the new album. I’m also hearing plenty of country music references, even with the heavy reverb acting like a slide guitar on some tracks. Is that something that was intentional, or just me?
NG: As far as production goes, there was definitely an intention to use early 90s country aesthetics. That really clear high end, you know? And the lows kind of chopped off. It makes it sound crispy. As far as the songwriting goes though, that wasn’t too intentional. If it comes through there, it’s just because we jam country and we always have. I think now it’s just more evident, because you can hear everything more clearly. On the last album, it was more “under the blanket” or whatever the fuck.
Pleasure was pretty universally hailed as a sexy time album. If that was an album to have sex to, what should people do along to Crawling Up the Stairs?
Jesse Jenkins: [Laughs] I don’t know, man. I feel like this album is even sexier than the last album.
NG: I think it’d be harder to have sex to because the lyrics are so upfront, but people probably still will.
JJ: [Laughs] People don’t care.
NG: Especially teenagers, dude.
Now that you’ve gone on tour with the new album and gotten to play it alongside with the older material night after night, has it changed the way that y’all think about or approach this music change?
JJ: Yeah, it definitely has. We didn’t know how we were going to play this album live. When we started thinking about touring again, we had to reimagine the whole thing in a live show setting. In that sense, it’s a lot more fun that the old record was. We got to build something new. The shows are more fun and more like engaging.
NG: Yeah, we had to learn a lot of the songs for the first time because they were written and recorded in the studio.
Wow, so you weren’t kidding about this really being a studio album.
NG: We had some songs that were written prior, and then we’d go in and lay down the bass and the drums and build them up. The last album was everything recorded at once, but yeah. A lot of songs [on Crawling Up the Stairs] were written off the cuff and then manipulated and changed and chopped all up in the studio and made into the songs we wanted. There was a lot of variety in that regard.
JJ: Even the songs that were written when we went in though, we still hadn’t ever really played them as a band, live in a room. We had to reform everything and figure out how to play them.
NG: “Things in My Head” wasn’t really jammed much at all, then we went in and recorded acoustic guitar, drums, and electric guitar all at once. Me playing electric guitar on that was the first time I’d ever played it, but it turned out really good.
Now that y’all have a live album and a full-fledged studio album under your belts, how do you think you’ll be approaching the next batch of recordings?
JJ: I want to do a hybrid of the two this time. I just want to rent a house somewhere and go knock out a record in a month or two, rather than analyze it in the studio for two years.
NG: Yeah, we just need to figure out ways to entertain ourselves after awhile. [Laughs] Like he said, I think that’s the plan: to get a house somewhere and just knock out a record pretty quick. I think it will end up with a lot of stuff being recorded live. The last record was 20% live. The next one might be 70% live.
Well that’s kind of an unfair question. Y’all haven’t even finished touring to support this album yet. You still have a lot of time and space to take, if you need it.
JJ: Well I dunno about that, I wrote a new song today!
NG: Hell yeah! That’s awesome. I’d rather just keep recording all the time.
JJ: Yeah, let’s do it!
Do you guys see what everyone is calling out as this “darker” theme continuing in the new music?
JJ: With this one, the dark theme just emerged on its own, because of the circumstances of the time. We’re just trying to make records in an honest way. They’ll come out however they come out. We’re not trying to create a theme; we’re trying to let a theme create itself.
NG: The songs are always going to reflect what’s happening, so it all just depends on what’s happening on planet Earth in these weird bodies.
JJ: Feeling pretty good right now, though. The new stuff might end up sounding like Elton John, man. You know never know.
NG: [Laughs] I don’t know, this shit might sound like fuckin’ Bootsy Collins. Acoustic funk jams, man.
JJ: [Laughs] Finally!
Well you guys do seem to enjoy exploring new sounds. When I saw you guys play at the Holodeck Records showcase and then at 285 Kent, a lot of people commented on how including synths impacted the live show. People seem to have pigeonholed you guys as a laidback guitar band before.
NG: I think that just came to be naturally.
JJ: Yeah, we had synths on Pleasure too, but nobody seemed to really comment on that then. All of us are into synthesizers and have been for a while. It’s tied to the sound of the record, too. We’re trying to reproduce that live, so we have to have a little more stuff going on.
NG: The whole idea of Pleasure was to have us 3 playing the instruments live, so we’d have had to be playing synth while we played other instruments. Whereas, with this one, we threw that out the window like, “We can put anything we want on here. Fuck it.”
Well there’s a lot going on with the sound this time around. It’s one of those records where you’re torn between wanting to play it loud and wanting to put on a nice pair of headphones and just pick it apart. If you were going to suggest an ideal context for experiencing Crawling Up The Stairs for the first time, what would be your ideal context?
JJ: I’d say listen to it loud and out in a room on the nicest stereo you can find, but the best place I’ve ever heard was when we mixed it, which was on these giant 70s speakers. It sounded awesome. So I’d say the nicest, loudest speakers and the nicest turntable and amp you can find.
NG: We did intentionally put tons of little nuances in there that you can really only hear on headphones, so it’d be cool to do both.
Y’all are obviously big fans of releasing on vinyl. Have y’all thought of doing releases in other formats?
NG: Yeah, we did a few tapes before. I actually wouldn’t mind having this one on cassette. People really love to buy cassettes at shows, because they’re the cheapest thing.
JJ: [Laughs] Yeah, I’d love to have a really nice, high quality tape release of this album.
NG: Yeah, I could play it in in my car. That’d be pretty sweet.
Pure X's Crawling Up The Stairs is out now on Acéphale.