Saturday, April 4, 2009

An evening with Bishop Allen


On Thursday April 2nd,  Bishop Allen brought their unique and upbeat pop rock to the fine people of Northampton. With warmer weather on the way, it seemed the perfect timing for this group of fun-loving twenty somethings to leave us feeling warm and fuzzy after caressing our eardrums with the perfect dose of energetic and accessibly catchy tunes. Before the show, I got a chance to chat with founders and front-men Christian Rudder and Justin Rice who shared their enthusiasm for crafting the perfect pop song, thoughts on embracing the label of DIY, and spoke about their past and present film projects. 

How would you describe your sound?

Justin Rice: I don’t know. I think that we tend to really focus on songs and in my heart I believe that songs tend to be succinct. I think that a lot of our songs try to move quickly, cover a lot of ground and complete their task in a short amount of time and to contain as much energy and enthusiasm as they can possibly can. I mean, that being said, I think we're a pop band. The things that I think we [sound like are what we] listen to most—like 60's pop records. You know, like The Kinks or The Rolling Stones and things like that. But I mean it doesn’t sound dated, I hope. [We sound] sort of like new interpretations or like the attempt to craft a perfect set of pop songs.

Do you guys consider yourself a part of DIY culture?

Christian Rudder: Um yeah. I mean in a lot of ways we are. Definitely Justin and I grew up that way, for sure. I think we're a lot more DIY than lots of bands that are our size—not that we're very big. Yeah we are, but at the same time there’s things that when I was 18 I would have thought are just hopelessly not DIY, like having songs in commercials and stuff like that. But by and large, I'd have to say that we are pretty DIY. We're about as DIY as a band can get these days and still do it as your job— it's too much to do all on your own at a certain point.

I really like the artwork for your new album, Grrr.... Who did it?
CR: Darby [Nowatka, the newest addition to the band] does all of the artwork.

What have you been listening to lately?

JR: We just went on tour with a band that I really like called The Miniature Tigers, they're really good. These guys too—Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band [the evening's opening act]. I've been enjoying listening to their songs every single night and I've started to really get it which always takes me a little bit of time to understand songs. We've just listened to the new Grizzly Bear record a bunch and it's really good.

I haven’t heard it yet.

JR: I mean- It's something else. It's like really well crafted and is evidence of great ability, and I don’t always like that but I do like it on that record. A lot of the bands that we end up listening to are the bands that we go on tour with and can see every night and sort of understand what they're going for and get their energy—and get to see them live a lot.

CR: We've also been listening to the new Yeah Yeah Yeah's album a lot.

If you could collaborate with any musician dead or alive who would it be?

JR: I don't know. Like there are people that I wish I had written songs like. Probably Ray Davies from The Kinks. But I don't know if he'd actually be good to collaborate with. I’ve never seen him collaborate with anyone. I get the feeling he'd be a steamroller, not in a bad way. So, David Byrne. He seems like he can collaborate.

What are you favorite and least favorite aspects of being on tour?

JR: Playing music is definitely the best. There's actually a really small fraction of time in a given day when you're actually playing and you have to love that. And I do. That’s the most exciting moment- when you actually get up there and its time to play. The worst part is just like all the down time, you know. We've gotten way better at using it and being able to not just turn dead from down time. Most of the time you're carrying stuff or parking or waiting around or driving and that stuff can be really rough until you figure out how to not let it just deaden you.

What do when you're not making music?

CR: I mean this really pretty much takes up almost all my time but, I kind of work at a website sometimes that I started with some friends from school a long time ago—it’s like a dating website, its called OkCupid.

JR: I read a shit ton.

Oh what do you read?

JR: Well, I just finished this newly translated book by Roberto Bolano called 2666. He's this Chilean writer—he wrote The Savage Detectives. He's kind of the hot shit right now but this new book is really, really good. Then I got this science fiction book that I don’t really like called Consider Phlebas.


Yeah. [pauses & laughs] I don’t know. But I continue to read it. It's like I’m compulsively reading it even though I don’t really like it. And then I just got this book, The 39 Steps, that I'm reading now. Right before I left I finished this book called Son of the Morning Star which is a history of Little Big Horn but really, really compelling. So it's kind of like whatever I can get my hands on. I feel like there are so many books that are really good that I haven’t gotten around to that I keep meaning to. When i'm home I read like five books a week. When I'm not doing anything else, I like sit down in the morning and read all day. [pauses] Like a college student.

So I'm a fan of both of your movies—Funny Haha and Mutual Appreciation. Do you have any plans to do any more film work or acting?

CR: Oh cool, thank you. I don’t. I just did Funny Haha just because, you know, Andrew [Bujalski, the director] was one of the people we lived with on Bishop Allen Drive. He wrote this movie while we were living there and was like, "hey I want to shoot it, why don’t you guys be in it?" And so we were all like "ok fine," you know. So, yeah, a lot of that was shot at my apartment and it was kind of just a coincidence of being around. But Andrew lives in Austin now and is working with other people and it's just nothing i've ever pursued. Justin has been in a few commercials and has like two movies coming out in New York next week. He shot like five movies last year that are all just kind of coming out now. So I know he does that kind of stuff all the time. That’s kind of what he does [when he’s not playing in the band]. But me—no.

JR: Awesome, thanks. There are several that I shot last year that are just starting to come out. the first is called Alexander the Last which just premiered at SXSW and is now available on demand. [It] iis also having a limited theatrical release at the same time—like they’re trying something new where they can press all of the windows into one moment so its like: on demand, festivals, and theatres at the same time. It just premired in New York, Chicago and at SXSW. And then there's another one called Harmony & Me, which also our bass player's in, which is how I met him, [and it's] showing at the MoMA tomorrow and later this week and it's starting to play at festivals. So Harmony & Me and Alexander the Last—those are the two that I did last year that are starting to come out.

Did you just act in them?

I mean they were both pretty collaborative and they involved a lot of like working out scenes and lines on the fly. And so while I did not direct them, it wasn’t like a strict act-out-this-scene-that-already-exists type of movie. It wasn’t quite normal acting, it was more improvised.

What advice do you have for college students who also want to make music?

JR: Do it. I mean for us it really is that simple. If you want to make music, just make music and don’t stop. Just keep recording and writing songs. And that’s the most important thing, you know. Anything else you hear or anything else you can figure out, that’s okay. The most important thing is to just keep making new songs.

CR: Um, I don’t know. It's pretty tough. I never really thought I would end up being a musician. It was not really ever a goal so its hard for me to say what you need to do get there, but I really wouldn’t take it very seriously—and don’t take college very seriously either because college as it turns out is really just pretty bunk. I guess just try to learn as much about life as you can.

Bishop Allen's newest album Grrr... is out now. You can purchase the album or download select songs for free from their website:

Also, check out the trailers for Justin's new films below: 


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