by Hope Claydon
You guys are coming towards the end of a huge tour – how’s it all been going? Kelcey: We’ve been working on this record since late 2014, and to see us doing our own shows, and playing all those songs feels amazing. It’s been 11 weeks now.
The first time I listened to your new album the whole way through I was struck by how every single song would sound so good live – there’s such an energy and vigour to this new album. Is there a different atmosphere on this tour given the nature of these songs, in comparison with the Hummingbird tour? Nik: Yeah, completely different. We thought a little bit about what it would be like playing them live when we were recording them. I think coming off the last album we were looking at the set we played, and what songs we want where, and what we could improve…we were mindful of all that. We wanted to have a great time when we were playing them.
The first line of Sunlit Youth is “I want to start again” and there does seem to be a shift sonically from what you’ve done before. Was that something you did consciously or a result of new musical influences…? Kelcey: I think over the last few years we listened to a lot more electronic music, more hip-hop music – just more produced stuff, less “band” stuff. To make a calculated change wouldn’t do justice to what happened, we were just trying to express what we were into musically currently, and update everybody. The fun thing about the record was this feeling of “if it makes you feel good, just chase it”; to just roll with the momentum. In the past we never thought we could write a song like Villainy, because we always write as five people in a room but this time around, Taylor and Ryan and myself would just be on computers producing our own ideas and our own songs. From that we ended up with around 50 songs for this record to choose from, whereas on the other two, there was a batch of around 15 each. Ryan showed us what the basis of Villainy was in about late 2014 and blew everybody away. We were all thinking “this could really work, this could be something.”
How do you begin to decide which songs will make it onto the album when you have so much material? Kelcey: A lot of talking… Nik: Or fight. For months. That was why there was a delay in the album, it was just us fighting about songs. Kelcey: [laughing] Yeah, we were just fighting for two years. We built a wrestling ring…
You can finally just about talk to each other now… Nik: The thing is, with piecing together an album it comes down to what songs fit together well, what songs compliment each other; if we have this type of song on the album, then we’ll need this other song to be a counter-layer. Kelcey: That’s a thing that we learned later on, now that we’re three records in and everyone feels a little bit more comfortable I think we know now to trust that if an idea is good, it’ll bloom and show itself and not to stress out too much about it, just roll with whatever’s going well. You know, I say we had 50 songs, 30 of them were shit! I feel like we only were really arguing about a couple of songs to be on or off the record. But for the most part, they get to the place that they’re at because everyone’s really excited about them.
There’s a fantastic line in Fountains Of Youth – “I have waited so long, Mrs. President”. Music is such a great way to start conversations going, and I haven’t noticed you guys being so political before. Do you feel you have a responsibility to talk to your fans about these topics, encouraging these conversations – especially considering everything that’s happening politically at the moment? Kelcey: We all just hit 30 in the last year, year and a half and there was maybe a realisation that we had this megaphone – and whatever size that that megaphone is – that it could be good to shine a light on things we care about. We started feeling more comfortable talking about politics, it’s pretty high stakes right now. The “Mrs. President” line Taylor wrote even before Hillary was the nominee; we talk a lot on this record about feminism and gender equality, and that line was kind of more of an angle of pro-matriarchy – saying a woman can be president of anything, a CEO or anything, and that shouldn’t be a stretch. With Hillary becoming a nominee it’s taken on a life of its own. Nik: And to apply it to the election - it’s kind of ridiculous that in America we’ve had to wait over 250 years for a candidate that could become President that isn’t a man – and 240 years for a non-white male to step forward.
So is there a particular song on this album that you have a soft spot for? Kelcey: When we were putting together this album I fought really hard for Everything All At Once; that song was another lesson in if something’s good, it’ll rear its head at the right moment, because we worked on that song and it kind of fell by the wayside when other songs came into the mix. We were working on it in the summer of last yea and then right before we started mixing earlier this year, I think Matt came into the studio and was like, “guys, this is a good song, it’s really sweet” – and everyone started listening to it again, and was like, “oh, this is really awesome,” and it kind of showed itself up again. And if you’ve had some time away from a song, when you come back to it – you have this perspective.
I’m glad you did, it’s a great song! Kelcey: And when we put out the record, we saw some tweets and that was one of the songs that people were talking about so that was really nice to see. Nik: I think just my favourite song on the album is Jellyfish. Talking about if our influences were calculated earlier – this felt like the album we wanted to make. We were excited to put it together on a computer, just to go crazy with weird sounds and synths – but even then, there’s still very our-specific harmonies on it, a cool rhythm so as far and as weird and as different as we got, it still really feels like it’s us.
You travelled to loads of amazing places whilst putting the album together – why was that? Kelcey: Well towards the end of 2014, we got offered to play a show in Malaysia. We weren’t going to do it, because we thought it would be crazy, we needed to start working on the record. But we remembered our label boss, Infectious, knows this dude that has this studio in Thailand and we got a really good rate so we decided to do the Malaysia show, it’s only an hour’s plane ride from Malaysia to Thailand, and hop over and do some studio time there. From there we went on to record in a bunch of different places around LA, took some writing trips to Ojai, Joshua Tree – Joshua Tree is where Jellyfish kind of started, when everyone was a bit stoned one night, like, “let’s do a song from scratch, out of nowhere.” Then Ryan had a friend of a friend who had a place in Nicaragua, who had this tiny little studio, who were offering really awesome rates to go and do that. We got there and wrote about 10 songs in 10 days, which was a huge deal for us and Masters made it onto the record from that session, we wrote that there.
I’m writing from a university magazine, and there’s so many very talented student musicians kicking around right now, dreaming of the success you guys have had – what advice would you give to musicians who are just starting out? Nik: Get out now. Kelcey: [laughing] I think playing live is an invaluable skill – to be comfortable on stage, to be comfortable getting your show together… that’s a thing that’s becoming rarer and rarer.
So if I said to you that you could either only play songs live forever or only write them – which one would lean towards? Nik: Having said all of that… Kelcey: I mean, writing I think. Writing is pretty fun and awesome. We tour because we really enjoy playing live and we’re so comfortable because we’ve been playing with each other for so long, but the feeling you get when you create something – I’d definitely be doing that forever.