Subways on the Sun recently released their fantastic debut album, The Honeymoon Stagecoach, which we reviewed earlier in August (TFN Review). The Seattle-based band plays catchy alternative rock and is influenced by a wide range of artists from The Beatles and Blur to Sonic Youth and Catherine Wheel. We recently caught up with the band to ask them about their new album, how they got started, what it’s like to work independently, and various other music-related topics.
TFN: What has been the best, and conversely worst, part of producing and releasing your album independently? How does the process differ from working with a label (even a relatively “small” one like T&N)?
Lars Katz (Guitar): The worst part is definitely the amount of time it takes to do everything yourself. At the same time it’s the best. Because we produced the record ourselves, everything you hear is something we intentionally spent time on — every tambourine hit, every guitar tone, every late night edit, every riff we rewrote ten times. It’s definitely a double-edged sword having that degree of creative control and no real deadline. You also gain perspective on why record labels were started in the first place — there are a lot of unmusical things that need to happen in order to get a record released.
Nick Barber (Bass): The last few albums I’ve been a part of have been self-produced for the most part, so the major difference for me is the scheduled/dedicated time for recording in the studio with a label. Like Lars said, it can be good and bad. Being able to work around everyone’s schedules, having the freedom to write when you are feeling inspired and not under the gun is great. Conversely being pushed by a timeline can really help keep you focused.
TFN: I know Erick and Nick played together in Fair, and Lars had a hand in some of those tracks—when did you guys decide to form your own band, how did you connect with Andy, and what was the motivation? How do you see Subways as being different from what you’ve all worked on before?
Erick (Lead vocals, guitar): The motivation for me was the need to keep pushing ahead musically. Our other projects weren’t active and it is hard as a musician to do nothing. I had a batch of initial songs, most of which are on the scrap heap now, that I wanted to get in a room with other people that I loved and respected and play.
We’ve known Andy for a number of years, but originally came in contact through our mutual friend Jesse Sprinkle. They both lived in New York at the time and Andy’s old band was touring with Jesse through Seattle. It was a number of years later that Andy moved to the Seattle area and we became better friends and eventually band mates.
Every band or project feels different just because of the different people involved, the place in life you happen to be in, and who knows what else. There is a new dynamic every time. I don’t know that we’ve entirely figured out what sets this band apart from our other projects but I also don’t know that we’re focusing on trying to figure it out.
TFN: How does your songwriting process work? Do individual members bring in songs or do you all write together?
Lars: Our songwriting process is different with almost every song. Usually it starts by someone having an idea for a riff, a chorus, or even a drumbeat. It’s crazy how small of an idea can spark an entire song. Usually one of us will record the idea with our phone, email it out, and then we’ll either get together at our practice space to play through it, or if we can’t all get together some of us will start demoing it on the computer at Lars or Erick’s house. The process is definitely the most natural and at its best when all four of us can get together and play through something new over and over again and keep piling on ideas as they come to us. In a Dead Room was like that.
TFN: Would you say there is a theme to the album? It seems like a lot of the tracks (such as “In a Dead Room” and “Softer Light”) tend to deal with the uncertainty of “growing up,” or realizing you can’t control everything in life, but becoming ok with that fact—is that a plausible interpretation or am I way off base? What are some of your other lyrical inspirations?
Erick: I think those themes make sense and are valid, yeah. I wouldn’t say I’m an uncertain person but I do like to write lyrics that deal with uncertainty, doubt, and uncomfortable situations. For me much of the beauty in life lies in identifying with the varying levels of pain that so many people are in on a daily basis, and how that leads us all to do great and not-so-great things. When I sit down to write songs those are the stories that come out the majority of the time.
I am totally inspired by Charles Thompson (Frank Black/Black Francis). There is just something about the way he puts words together. I probably listen to the Pixies more than any other band when I feel like I won’t ever write another song and need to come out of a rut. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Rob Dickinson (Catherine Wheel).
TFN: Tracks like “Electric Eyes” have some experimental qualities that expand your musical palette beyond straightforward pop-rock. Who’s responsible for those musical left turns, and are there plans to incorporate that kind of thing into your sound any further?
Erick: Ultimately all four of us are responsible for how the songs turned out. Even if some of the songs were more one person’s idea at the start, we all played a role in shaping the final album version. We did spend a lot of time in the studio at least trying to entertain ourselves and make things a bit different than what we’ve been used to doing.
For “Electric Eyes” specifically, I remember telling Lars that I had an idea for the end and to just try and play around with it in ProTools. Apparently he knew what I meant because it sounded exactly like I imagined when he emailed me a sample later that week!
TFN: I touched on what I thought some of your musical influences might be in my review, but I’d like to hear from you guys: what acts do you look up to and which ones influence you the most?
Nick: Influences for me are pretty well established at this point. Beatles, The Cure, Smiths, Ride, New Order, … ha, those are all the English ones anyway! Also love bands like Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, Sonic Youth. There are many, many more of course.
Erick: I wouldn’t even want to play music if it weren’t for Blur and Catherine Wheel.
TFN: Beyond the influences that showed up on the album, who are you guys listening to these days?
Andy King (Drums): The Fire Theft and Fiona Apple.
Lars: Anamanaguchi, Hopes Die Last, Oceanlab, Sucre.
Erick: I’ve been attempting to put my iPod on random a bit more lately, but that never works. I’m a whole album guy. I’ve been listening to a ton of Metric and Frank Black, and somehow got the memo late about how awesome Silversun Pickups are, but their new record floors me.
Nick: I usually pick 2—3 records and listen to them A LOT and then throw in my standard “go-to” bands in the playlist. Wilco – The Whole Love, Nada Surf – The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy, Band of Horses – Cease to Begin are three that I’ve been playing start to finish pretty often lately.
TFN: What is your favorite song on the record and why? (One each from everybody if possible.)
Erick: “The Night We Fell Down” is my favorite. It had an earlier version that was passable, but the version on the album really came together the first time we played with Andy as our drummer. New parts and arrangements came easily that night and I remember feeling like “ok, this is the band!” And then that feeling translated right into the recording, and I love playing it live.
Andy: “My Split Mind”… I just like it!
Lars: “Stop My Running,” because we devoted an entire long weekend at our friend’s cabin just to demo it out and spent time on every out-of-the-box idea we had. They didn’t all make it into the final version but the process on this one was the most fun for me.
Nick: For me it would be “In a Dead Room.” I was probably most involved in the writing process on this one. I really loved seeing it come together from just a little riff to what it is on the record.
TFN: You guys released the album independently as a download and as a physical CD—any plans to do a vinyl release? What are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl in general?
Erick: At this point we need to see how the CD and digital formats do before we commit to vinyl. It would be fun to release on vinyl for a lot of reasons, particularly because the artwork would look awesome big! I don’t necessarily see vinyl as being in resurgence… It’s been around forever and has just been more or less relevant to different types of people at different times. It’s going to outlast the CD! I think what boutique vinyl labels like Spartan Records (http://www.facebook.com/spartanrecords) are doing is really cool. Limited runs of great records. It feels special and gives people a reason to truly seek out vinyl over other formats.
TFN: What are your plans going forward? Tour? Another album? Side projects?
Nick: Plans? We need plans? Play some shows! That’s the short-term plan anyway. Start writing more songs. Who knows, I would love to tour but that can get pretty tricky these days.
TFN: If you were going to do a national tour, who would be your dream tour-mates and why (either your opening act or who you’d like to open for)?
Lars: Probably someone like Jimmy Eat World or Mew. Both big influences for me and people I’d love to meet someday. We all have a lot of respect for bands that have been at it relentlessly for years like these guys and somehow keep writing songs that you can’t stop listening to.
Erick: For some reason Foo Fighters pop right into my mind as a band that would be a lot of fun to share the road with. Maybe it was that documentary of theirs!?
Nick: I think touring with Oasis would be incredible. I know, not a band anymore. You said dream right?! Amazing band and would be great entertainment to watch them interact from behind the scenes.
Andy: Foo Fighters . . . I think playing with them would be a good time.
TFN: One last question: I have to ask, where did the band name come from? What about the album title?
Erick: I came up with the band name a long time before we ever played a note. However cliché, I had gone on a trip to Europe and become pretty obsessed with the London Underground and Paris Metro systems. I thought it would be cool someday to name a band “Subway to the Moon”. Then some band called “Rocket to the Moon” came onto the scene so I changed the name to “Subways on the Sun”. It had the same feeling to me, and I actually like it more now.
Keeping somewhat with the theme of travel, I thought “The Honeymoon Stagecoach” was a bit of fun wordplay that fit our lyrical themes and somehow tied the songs together. It helped that the other guys liked the name when I brought it up too!
TFN: Thank you guys for taking the time to talk to us!
Subways On The Sun Website
Subways On The Sun Facebook
-Interview by Simon Workman
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