This is quite a big tour for your guys. How is it going so far?
Peter Simonelli: It’s going really well. I mean, there have been a couple of duds but that’s to be expected. For the most part it’s been really good.
And this is starting off a little leg in the UK for you as well. You’ve played here in the past – how has it been for you previously?
P.S: It’s been very good, actually. London has always treated us very well.
Kevin Thomson: I’d say that the UK has been really favourable for us from the get-go.
Could you pin that down to a particular reason?
K.T: I don’t know if I could pinpoint anything about why one band is liked and another is disliked – it’s really hard to do that. It’s just…for some reason, we’re agreeable. As you know, the UK has a reputation for being a hard place to tour compared to say, Spain or France, so in light of that I feel that we do pretty well here and have a good time too. We’ve met a really solid network of friends here that we’ve been working with for years now, and they care about music over money. And that’s where it’s at.
I’ve read in your previous interviews that the U.S. isn’t as receptive. Is that still the case?
K.T: To be honest with you I wouldn’t know, as we haven’t really tried. We’ve concentrated our efforts here [Europe] from the very start; mainly because we’d all toured the States for many years previous. The way I looked at it was: okay, if I wanted to start out at square one with touring again, I’d rather start out at square one in Europe – go see something different, do something different and have a good time – than start out at square one in the US; being handed fifty dollars, a kick in the ass and a can of beer every night. I’ve done it way too much and I wasn’t up for it anymore.
So is that now it for you guys, in terms of playing in the States?
K.T: We have no idea what it would be like now. We have drips and drabs of people coming in from Bandcamp saying, “Please come here”. We recently a got one from a guy in Kentucky… there were good vibes from the very first email and it turned out to be true – he’s part of a really good network of like-minded people. Kind of like the people we’d met in Spain and France, where it’s either collective or quasi-collective groups of people that make shows happen via hard work and volunteerism. So some of the venues won’t be a proper bar – it won’t be a commercial concern. It’ll be some funky room under a building on the outskirts of town, where they sell beer for two Euros, bottled water and that’s it: you’re there for a show. And the rooms are usually on the smaller side, which I think is really good for underground bands – or under-the-radar bands like ourselves – as you can put 150 people in the room and it’s extremely exciting to be there, for both the musicians and the fans. Everybody walks out with a big smile and has a great time.
You say under the radar; is that still where you see yourselves being?
K.T: A bit. This record [Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions] has got more press than we’ve ever had before, and it’s also been received real favourably. What I mean by under the radar is that we’re not “press chasers” – it’s just not in our make up to do that. God bless people who can. Sometimes I wish I could, but I’m terrible at it. I mean I don’t mind doing an interview here and there – I think it’s really fun actually – but I don’t go chasing it down. And we’re working Lauren Barley [Rarely Unable] and Andreas Kohl [Exile on Mainstream] – we’re not talking about budgets that are terribly big, and I think we’ve had really good results with what we’ve got.
So how has your sound progressed with Blown Realms…?
K.T: Well we have new drummer in the band – Doug Scharin – and he’s very pro-active in both the writing and recording process. Those two virtues alone have changed things quite a bit for us. His style is different from Joey Byrnes’ [former Enablers drummer], so there you have yet another factor that makes it different. And while we weren’t all striving for something different, I think we all felt that something different was happening, so perhaps we were chasing that down a bit – trying to push ourselves to play better and play differently. From the guitar tone standpoint, we changed a lot in how we recorded the guitars, and what kind of amplification we used. We also wrote in the studio for the first time – previously we’d done the traditional thing of like…when a band gets together twice or three times a week, downs a twelve-pack, does bong hits and seven months later you’ve got three songs written. We went into the studio after touring, and we had six songs solid. We knew that we had to get something cracking fast.
Doug Scharin: We wrote half the record in three hours.
K.T: I would disappear into another room and try to whip out riffs, and then I’d run back and be like: “What do you think? No, that sucks? Okay – back!” And it was the same thing for Joe [Goldring].
So the writing process is shared between all of you?
K.T: Pretty much. Joe and I come up with our individual bits and bring them in to the band. Let’s say Joe brings in a song and shows us the parts A, B, C and D. They’ll get hacked up – perhaps one of my parts would sound better with his than it would with the parts I’ve written, so that’ll get thrown in there and I’ll throw away all my other stuff. By writing in the studio, I also mean that we actually arranged in the studio as well. We’d hear the playback and be like: “Okay, we have to change this arrangement, so let’s do it now and get it done.” So that process has definitely changed.
I notice that it has certain “studio inflections” – backing vocals, synthesizers etc. – that won’t be possible live. The other records sound more live-centric, but this sounds like you’ve branched out.
K.T: We wanted to really badly. I would have done even more if we’d had the time. We definitely laid a couple of bass tracks in there…there’s some keyboard in there too; Doug played the Wurlitzer, and Joe played the ARP String Ensemble; and there’s some percussive stuff in there as well. And we definitely wanted some lady voice. So Claire Brown was introduced to us via a friend named Sean Casement, and she came down and sang with us, and Dana Schechter and Christian Dautresme sang too.
So does that hint as to where you plan to go next? Will future material be more studio-based?
K.T: Well we recorded straight-up live. Pete’s looking through the glass at us, pressing tape buttons and singing. So he’s tape op and singer while the band plays live with room mics. And it’s a take, you know? And you know when it’s good and when it’s bad – some songs take five, others take one or two.
P.S: Blown Realms… is a continuation of what we started with Tundra, in the sense that we wanted to create more of a live feel. On Tundra I was just using a standard 58 microphone for most of the vocals, and it made me feel a lot more comfortable. When you come in from doing a record after a tour, you have that feeling that you’re obviously firing as a band, and so you bring that into the studio. I think that culminates in some ideas that wouldn’t normally come round if you were just jumping into the studio “cold”. We record live 80% of the time, and so I think that’s translated into the feel of a live show – I think we approach it as if there was an audience.
K.T: Having said that, it is quite different from the live show, as we have all of this added instrumentation on the record.
P.S: But the process is live.
K.T: Yeah. But I see the studio as a tool to be used, and if there’s something that one of us is hearing in the song, then there’s no reason why we can’t put it in there. Just because we can’t do it live…it doesn’t mean anything. The live show is itself, and it’s a satisfying experience I think. At least it is for me – I lose about two litres every night.
Joe Goldring: I think the records have got less and less live as they’ve gone on. The first two were pretty much live records – there’s not a vocal punch or overdub – there’s nothing. Well, perhaps there are a couple of bits where we went back…because we fucked up probably. But the last two have definitely been a lot more constructed.
Thinking about the bass on the record in particular, was it ever an issue to restructure these songs for the live environment?
K.T: No, not really. We try to make as much bass as possible on stage, and we’ve talked about the “illusion” of bass in the past…the only reason we’d add a bit of bass on record is that I think it just sounds richer in the home listening environment. Plus I just love the sound of finger-plucked bass; especially when it’s quite low in the mix and just quite round and smooth.
It’s very buried on Blown Realms…
K.T: Yeah, quite. It’s almost subsonic.
And there’s no attack on it at all.
K.T: No attack, for sure. When I do my bass overdubs, it’s on a Danelectro bass with the tone knob completely off. I mean Jah Wobble’s my hero – no fucking attack whatsoever!
And as for your vocals, Peter: I know you’ve been writing specifically for the records for a while now, as opposed to just adapting your poems. Was it the same this time round?
P.S: Well actually there are a few poems on this record that have appeared in magazines. On Blown Realms… more so than on any other record, there’s a very particular case of having both the “poem” and the “song”. And when the poem is involved in the song, it has to fit it musically. And vice versa – sometimes the music has to fit the poem, whatever the case may be. So there’s a kind of surrender involved between the music and the words. Some stanzas had to be taken out for the sake of the song, just because it sounded better musically.
Do words come before music, or vice versa?
P.S: Well it’s hand in hand really. These guys are always working on something, and I’m always writing, so what we do is collectively bring our roles to the table, and mix and match them to try and get them to coalesce as best as possible.
Would you say that your words try to reflect dips and peaks in the intensity in the music?
J.G: More the other way around actually. The music starts to reflect what’s going on emotionally or thematically in the poems.
As musicians, do you think about creating space for the words?
J.G, P.S, K.T: Yes.
J.G: Everything is very worked out.
P.S: And they’re arranged. There are verses and choruses to the songs.
J.G: They’re just not necessarily in your standard song structure.
P.S: Which I think is what creates the best tension about it – the words affect the changes in the music, and the music affects the changes in the tone of the poem. And that’s what we try and do: make it work together cohesively.
Would you say you’re quite malleable as a writer, Peter? If the others think of a way in which your poems can be altered to enhance the song as a whole, are you happy for your material to be changed?
Yeah, definitely. In the case of “Morandi”: the whole poem was in the song originally, and then I got a call from Joe saying, “you’ve got to listen to this.” He’d basically cut out half of it – I was furious! So we talked about it, and he said to me: “I want you to listen to this musically.” And so I listened through it a couple of times, and I had to agree – the anger just dissipated, and gave over to a kind of pleasure. And it has to be done that way. But this has always been the case with Enablers: I always have the poems as they exist on their own, but they also exist as part of the music too. But the fact that we can bring those two together is what makes us as a band.
Enablers’ BandCamp: http://enablerssf.com/