Was there really once a musical sub-genre called ‘Shitgaze’? I mean, somebody actually sat around, coined that term and hoisted it on a few unsuspecting bands who by fate or ill-fortune found themselves trapped under its audiophile repelling umbrella? Think about it, shitgaze. Would you buy into that? Thankfully it’s only a memory, but some of those bands still remain, including Columbus, Ohio’s Times New Viking.
On the eve of their first Australian tour Chris Berkley of Static spoke to Jared and Adam of Times New Viking, fresh off the plane from New Zealand promoting their most recent album, the discordant but progressively tuneful, Dancer Equired!. Since both Jared and Adam tend to speak over the top of each other, finishing each other’s sentences and generally agreeing with what the other says, we’re just gonna make things easier and attribute all responses to JaredandAdam.
It’s a bit of mission to get here, especially from Ohio. Is it a roundabout route to get to the other side of the world?
You just have to go through LA and then it’s another 12 hours. 6 hours to get to LA. It took a day.
I’m guessing where you are in Ohio is probably good for touring though. You’re half-way to the mid-west…
It is. It is the crossroads of America.
Does that make picking and choosing the route of how to get home a little easier?
Yeah, it does. It’s easier just to do little one-off shows and weekends. It’s harder to get out west though, because there’s a big expanse of nothing to play, so you have to drive 24 hours to get through a wasteland of Montana and all that stuff.
I’m guess when the band started you were just happy to get out of Columbus?
Yeah, that’s an amazing thing for Columbus bands to go to Cleveland. We really didn’t get out of Columbus till the record came out. We only did one show out of town. When the first record came out we finally went to New York and all that, you know, big time stuff.
Did you kinda feel like you were on your own when you started out?
Yeah there were but it was mostly either just bar bands or noise bands. I don’t think there was much in-between. At first starting out it was easy to get art spaces and basements and stuff like that, which was normal to us, but when we finally went places and they gave us free beer that was pretty awesome.
That was the real yardstick…
That was before we sold out and couldn’t go back to the basements.
Have the show trajectories been at a similar rate to the recorded material trajectories? I guess so much always gets made about the lo-fi history of your band, but I’m guessing it must be the same as you get better studios, you get better gigs, as a band goes on.
We get better gigs. We get to open up for some amazing people. That’s usually the cushier ones, because you’re sorta riding on someone’s coattails and play places we’ll never ever play. We’ll still do the bar that fits 50 people. We’ve sorta plateaued. We sound better in those places anyway.
Have you deliberately been keeping the recorded side of Times New Viking sort of on that lo-fi tip? Or was it something that you didn’t necessarily do out of choice?
It was both, but it just sorta happened. It was natural for us to sound like that, and a lot of the bands we liked recorded on their own and sounded like that. We really liked the idea of recording ourselves and being able to do it in our practice space and having no outside people to affect us in any way.
I’m guessing when you come from Columbus, Ohio, there’s not a lot of those people around anyway? It’s not like coming from Brooklyn where there’s some hip producer around the corner that wants to work with you.
Yeah. All the studios there are pretty-much really bad studios for really polished stuff. All the legends of Columbus, Ohio that we knew pioneered home recording and DIY stuff like that.
How much of an aesthetic thing was it for you when you were recording yourselves on those first few records?
It wasn’t like what we purposely wanted to sound, and for people to think it’s lo-fi, so we’re gonna record this way.
I think it’s really a deliberate thing, right?
Our first record was demos. It was just things we could record on the 4 track in the basement. We were excited to make them. We thought they sounded good, and they do sound good. We were sorta cajoled by other people that it’ll work. There’s this idea we could’ve record on Pro-Tools, but no, we would’ve had to have a computer to do that. It was a lot easier to get a 4 track. It was more to do that people were actually amazed that we would say ‘yes’ to the way it sounded. That’s where I think the deliberacy is. We just do something we say ‘that sounds good’ and print it, you know?
Lo-Fi gets held up so much it’s almost like a punk movement where I think people do that to want not to be accessible. Because you guys at heart are a pop band in Times New Viking.
Yeah. We just have elements that aren’t accessible I guess. When it comes down to it, it’s still pop music. The bottom line is that isn’t necessarily lo-fi people hear, especially on the new record, but more being somewhat inept or being able to go with mistakes and not worrying about auto-tuning your vocals.
I like the fact that when you went hi-fi on the last album it meant that you guys recorded on VHS.
VHS is just 4-track on steroids, pretty much.
As you were saying Jared, it’s not a new argument either, and especially for you guys coming from Ohio, a band like Guided By Voices went through these same trials and errors 20 years ago.
That’s what we always tell people, it’s not some new idea. I don’t know, ask Lou Barlow. Oh wait, I thought Lou Barlow was the King of lo-fi… isn’t he the one who has to answer all these questions about lo-fi?
He’s got a plaque.
Yeah, he’s like The Godfather. People ask us about the stuff that happened in New York and LA, I don’t know, I’m not speaking for them, but they’re totally coming from a different place from us. For us, it’s ‘You’re in a band, here’s a 4 track. Go see what you guys got’. We weren’t recording to be millionaires. We just have nothing better to do on a Friday night.
You’re even a few albums and even a few labels in now, do you see a progression in not only the gigs you’re getting and the way you record but also in your song craft? Was there a song on Dancer Equired! that you really thought that we crossed another boundary here?
I think we’ve given up on the idea that we’re ever going to be very popular, y’know. If people don’t get it, they’re never going to get it. So we just did it to please ourselves. It’s more of a challenge for us. I’ll admit I’m not the greatest singer in the world and our old records we’re like “yeah, maybe lower the vocals, make’m fuzzier!“. That was more because of my insecurities. On this one, it was kinda let it be a little more naked, you know? And we’ve all grown up a little bit.
A song like “No Room To Live” is this proper jangle anthem, right? Would the Times New Viking of 7 or 8 years ago found it impossible to write a song like that?
I think so. Just to be that quiet, maybe. (disagreement breaks out) We didn’t know what we were doing then, so I don’t think so.
I guess you guys being at Ocean Way (Famous Hollywood recording studio) is a long way off from the way you’ve been talking. There’s no big plans yet?
No, not really. We try to stick to doing things locally.
You keep the industry within Ohio. There’s no reason to move to Brooklyn or LA.
No, there’s absolutely no reason. There’s many reasons not to.
That’s higher on the cons list than the pros list.
Oh, that’s not even close, yeah.
Interview broadcast on Static on 25/08/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).