Silversun Pickups have a better nature
Los Angeles four-piece, Silversun Pickups have just released their much-anticipated fourth studio album, ‘Better Nature’. Zach Conde talks to bassist/vocalist Nikki Monninger about it:
Hi Nikki, thanks for taking the time to chat with us at somethingyousaid.com, how are you doing?
I’m good. I just put my twins down to sleep and I’m excited to talk to you. We are really looking forward to going back to Australia so we’re just trying to figure out our touring schedule. As a band we collectively agreed that we needed to get back to Australia soon.
Oh that’s hopeful, I was curious if Australia was going to be on the current tour.
As far as I know yes. Like I said we just had a band meeting with our management and we let everyone know that Australia is a big priority for us, so hopefully it will be in the cards.
Do you guys enjoy touring?
Yeah, very much so. We pretty much started as a live band and we didn’t put anything out for really the first four or five years, we were just always playing live and the thrill hasn’t gone away. We especially love playing in Australia, we’ve had three great tours. Actually I was gone for one of them because I was about to have my twins but first we toured in 2007 with Snow Patrol and then 2010 with Birds of Tokyo. But we just love coming to Australia, so we’d love to get back there soon.
Ah well it’s a pretty cruisy place to be, especially playing with people like Birds of Tokyo and Snow Patrol. Do you ever find yourself playing with former heroes to you or musicians that you looked up to?
Yeah you know when we play at festivals there’s always some excitement in the air. I remember we played a couple of shows with the Foo Fighters, actually we’ve played many shows with them but it is pretty great to play shows with bands you admire and yeah we’re just looking forward to getting back on the road and doing that again.
Speaking of former musicians that you guys have played with, I noticed that you had played shows with Elliott Smith, did you guys get to meet with him very personally at all?
He was an acquaintance, we all had the same group of friends and we would see him on occasion. We weren’t super close with him but I remember that was one of our favourite shows. We played with him at a place called the Henry Fonda and I feel like that was when we started taking the band more seriously. It started to all come together about that time, you know? We were playing clubs for years and all of a sudden we’re playing at the Henry Fonda and just playing with him. It was just such a special night. And I think that’s sort of what solidified us into believing that we had something to seriously pursue as opposed to something we just did for fun. But he’s an amazing artist and we were all huge fans and it was pretty devastating when we heard what happened to him.
Sure, it’s just not often you get to talk with someone who met him, so it’s really cool to hear what that experience was like for you guys. I did just want to talk to you about the current release that’s coming up and how that ended up forming, because this is your first album on your new record label, New Machine Recordings. I was just curious what it was like putting an album together under your own label, compared to your previous work with Dangerbird Records.
Dangerbird had always been great about being very hands-off in their recording process, so it didn’t feel all that different, but maybe in some respects there’s more pride in it that it’s our own thing and, as a band, we’ve matured. It’s interesting because we’re all really happy with this album… and we’re not used to being happy. We’re used to thinking “oh people aren’t going to like this,” but this time it feels different, we’re really proud of what we did and we’re looking forward to coming out and being a part of the world. But yeah, our keyboardist, Joe, his wife took the photos for the album artwork and I feel like we kept things all in the family. It feels like a nice community that we’ve built over the years. We’re really looking forward to having it come out, because we finished recording in January and we’ve just been waiting for it to come out. It’s just nice that the dates finally arriving.
Oh I’m sure the anticipation’s just been growing all year. What encouraged you to start your own label and part with Dangerbird after ten years with them?
Well it just happened that our contract was up and at that point we needed to make the decision about what we would do in the future. Our management talked to us about starting a label together and it just sounded like the right thing to do. So it wasn’t so much we broke off from Dangerbird, things just quietly ended and I think we decided to give it a shot on our own. We’re just so happy to feel like we’ve accomplished this, first starting a label, this album, and it just feels good. I feel like we’re at a good spot right now and we’re just happy to start touring.
I’m sure the stability is nice after having so much experience in the music industry and the ups and downs of it. I was just wondering, how does this album fit in comparison with your last album, Neck of the Woods?
I feel like Neck of the Woods might have been a little bit darker-themed, and this just feels less dark or heavy. It just seems like we were in a better place and I think the music comes off that way.
Was there a specific goal or a specific direction you were shooting for with Better Nature?
I don’t think when we started, we thought about goals or getting things across, but things always just seem to start guiding itself once we get into the recording process. I don’t think we set out with certain goals, we just see where things take us when we start recording.
What role did LA play in your start-up and your original sound and does it still play a role in how you sound today?
We started our band in Silverlake in East LA. It’s a small pocket of LA that sort of nurtured musicians at the time. Now it’s hard because Silverlake is a bit different, it’s become a really expensive place to live, but when we were starting it was artists and musicians and people looking for cheaper rent all came to the East Side. But there were a couple of clubs like the Silverlake Lounge and the Echo that would have free music nights and local band residency. I think they really nurtured bands that were starting off. Also our friend had a store in Echo Park called Sealevel Records. Things like that were so important because when we didn’t have a place to put our music, he would sell it for us.
Actually before we had our EP Pikul, we had a split 7 inch with a band our keyboard player, Joe, used to be in, and you know, where are you going to sell a split 7 inch? You know major music stores wouldn’t and we needed the local community to help. We appreciate how much support we had in the beginning and having all those local clubs embrace us and our sound. It really helped establish us here in LA so that we could finally grow. We started touring 4-5 years into our existence, so we were just playing live in these clubs all the time and then finally we spread our wings and went across the country to play music. I think it was important that those clubs existed and the small record stores so that new bands like us can get a foothold.
Better Nature is out now via the band’s own New Machine Recordings.
Interview by Zach Conde.