The Light Footwork were one of my favorite discoveries of 2005. Their debut album, One State, Two State, positively blew me away with the Malkmus-like wordplay and some quirky pop songwriting that rivals Beulah or The Unicorns. Now that their album has been the #11 most added on CMJ’s charts for last week, Jay and Becca have had some time to sit down and answer a couple questions.
First thing’s first: what’s your take on always being compared to Beulah?
JAY: I can think of a lot worse people to get compared to. Just the other day some Irish girl in a bar told me I looked like Anthony Kiedis–that was a first (hopefully a last). But it was dark. No, Beulah is a great band, and have influenced me greatly. They worked hard to get their sound out there and I think they deserve more recognition–though I think once we have some more material out there, people will feel less compelled to make such comparisons.
Jay, when you went on tour with Beulah, did you know you would be starting a band? Were you writing songs at the time? Was there anything you picked up on that trip in terms of things to do/not do that you’ve carried over to TLF?
JAY: Avoid the Clap. I wrote some of the songs on OSTS before I went on the Beulah tour. I wasn’t really planning on starting a band, partially because I had no idea where I would be living. It was during that tour that I decided to move to CA. The band forming happened later, but I kind of write songs in really small pieces sometimes, so I was working on material for a lot of my transition phase.
If you could, please describe The Light Footwork in its infancy. Also, where’d the name come from?
JAY: Well, if I didn’t say that Gordon Lightfoot didn’t play a role, I wouldn’t not be lying. The name came from a friend of mine from Japan. Evidently there is a character in the Japanese language that means “The Light Footwork.” At least, that’s how she translated it. I thought that was pretty neat sounding. It was between that and Bloodspray. We had to go to rock, paper, scissors for the tiebreak. I had recorded some of the songs for a demo with the Beulah guys and was actively looking for someone else who would be willing to sweat it out with me and put in the effort to make the songs good. I sent out a lot of demos to various people who were friends of friends or who had posts on craigslist. I eventually met Becca, and we pretty much instantly connected. I think we wrote “Art of Everyday Communication” in the first week we knew each other. I lived about a block from a taco bell so we used to come home from work and write tunes and then get some bean burritos. This little guy was the cashier, I forget his name, he was cool. We should have named our band after him. Let’s see, funny stories. Becca probably remembers them better than me.
BECCA: The cashier’s name is Noe. He always asks me if I’ve been drinking a bunch of Coronas. As for funny stories, I thought it was funny that Jay was hacking up green mucous by the mouthful the whole time we were recording vocals. And it was funny that Eli got the flu when we were recording his bass tracks. He was so sick that Jay and I had to play a couple of the tracks.
Let’s be honest here, for a band with no publicity agent or record label, The Light Footwork kinda exploded in terms of popularity (internet at least). Did this surprise you or did you kinda see it coming?
JAY: Yeah it was surprising, I mean, we liked the way the record turned out, but we were surprised to see everyone embrace it so much. Personally it has really motivated me to write and record more songs. I want to have at least one release in 2006, and be well on the way to the next one after that. The songs are all there, we just need to spend the time to develop them. I think it’s great that you can really reach a wide audience without having to have a huge corporate backbone pushing your music out there. The internet is good for cutting out the middleperson. They don’t really serve a purpose anyway.
BECCA: We’ve been able to spread the word with a minimal dollar investment, and this wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago. It’s great being a do-it-yourself band with all the technology and information that’s so easily available now.
The title ‘One State, Two State’ carries all sorts of political connotations, but besides a couple sideways references (‘Strom Thurmond has finally died’ comes to mind) the album seems to be a pretty standard indie-pop album. Am I missing out on something more subtle?
JAY: Actually there’s only one sort of political connotation: my advocacy for the glorious return of the Bull Moose party. I think you’ll find that pretty clearly spelled out in the lyrics. No No, I don’t think you’re missing out. Becca and I are very tuned-in (or at least try to be) to what’s going on in the world so the lyrics are going to have some references to current events, but we didn’t really approach the album as a concept of any sort. The title was thought up during the election when we were in our most intense songwriting phase.
If you all had been on a label, or otherwise had access to more funds, do you think OSTS would have been any different?
BECCA: Jay might have a different idea (he’d probably have a whole orchestra on every song if funds were unlimited), but the songs that are on OSTS would be almost exactly the same. We’re both of the opinion that if it isn’t nearly identical to the way that we envisioned it, we don’t put it out. So, the difference would be in the number of songs on the album. Originally, we’d planned on having 14 songs, but the recording sessions only got through 12. Then the mixing session only got through 11, so 11 it was. But, now we’ve got one song all recorded and mixed for the next album.
JAY: A label would probably have forced me to tone down the extreme profanity. Yeah, I had some grandiose ideas about auxilliary percussion and background singers, but those are usually the first thing to go when the time gets tight. I promise that the next studio record will be big. It’s funny, I always end up thinking in terms of how much more studio time we can have. We sell 30 albums, that’s another day in the studio. That’s how it should be. The money going right back into making more music.
Describe your standard songwriting process, if you would. Is there a Lennon/McCartney duo thing going on, or is it mostly independent? Are most of the songs on OSTS autobiographical, or somewhat fictional (ex: Jay, did you really hit on that girl in the bus?)
JAY: Becca usually comes up with the melodies, and I tend to kind of put together the structures and arrangements. Becca is such a better musician than I that I usually leave the real musical parts up to her. I have to get her to tell me which notes to sing and all that stuff. It’s quite funny sometimes. People would laugh at the process I think. I really don’t write lyrics all at once, I usually write a verse and then put it down for a while and then write another one at a later date. That’s why our songs change so much, they are kind of like smaller fragments with a similar feel. No comment on the bus incident.
BECCA: Usually, one of us would throw down a little ditty that we’d been working on, and an hour later, we’d pretty much have a full fledged song. Of course, it was rarely that productive, as we usually would spend an hour getting food, then an hour having a PBR and watching a Chapelle show episode, and then an hour arguing about the harpsichord’s place in rock music, but when we finally got around to pulling the gear out, it’s like we’ve got explosive diarrhea of song parts. It’s great writing songs with Jay – I’ll bring some weird thing I’d been toying with for years that never materialized, and by the end of the day we’ve got a song. Which is perfect because I’ve got a billion little clippies that I’ve never been able to make anything out of. And as for the lyrics, we keep things half real and half the way it should have happened.
Lyrically, who are some of your musical heros?
JAY: Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil. Malkmus of course. Doug Martsch. I think Elvis Costello has good lyrical content.
BECCA: Jay and I agree on everything Malkmus. I also admire Fiona Apple and Isaac Brock because their lyrics are never cliché.
So am I correct in saying that you two have never really performed a show as ‘The Light Footwork?’ If so, are you more worried or excited about starting down that road? Also, there are a lot of instruments on OSTS – what’s your live show going to be like? I take it you’ll recruit a couple people?
JAY: If I have my way (Becca is going to refute this in her response) we’re going to have a huge band. I want to have people playing everything that is on the records and more. I want to have back-up singers, horn players, extra percussion–indie rock parliament style. Becca wants the more stripped-down version, so we’ll probably end up with some kind of compromise. I picture a five-piece.
BECCA: Yep, Jay knows my touring preferences. I definitely would prefer to do a four-piece. If we had any more people, I’d have to give up some of my guitar and keyboard parts, and I’m really possessive about that. I still want a really full sound, but I think it’d be much more fun to try to get that with the least amount of people.
Speaking of tours, any concrete plans at the moment?
JAY: Well, I have a semester left in my masters, and Becca is making spaceships, so we’re probably going to hitting the road this fall, but if something good comes along we’d definitely be open to doing some touring sooner.
So what’s it like having one member [Jay] in Ireland, and the other still here in America?
JAY: Everything runs relatively smoothly, considering that we are 8 time zones apart. I have been pleased with the way the pressing and distro of the album has been going, and I hope it continues to get even easier. I’d love to always put out our own records. It’s easier, and the money goes back to making more music. Sometimes, it seems like it would be nice to have a label though. We’ve been lucky to have my good friend Adam doing our PR and management. He’s amazing. Always on top of things, always saying things better than I could say them myself. He’s probably the reason people have heard our music. And he’ll most likely be playing bass for us when we get ready to play.
Now that you’ve released OSTS, what’s next? Do you all have any new album, tour, video or other plans?
BECCA: Yeah, we have plans for all of those. We have many lofty plans. One of our loftiest as of late is to start a music collective when Jay gets back to CA. I envision a big commune of musicians in the mountains, where we can practice and record at all hours of the night.
JAY: We’re working on a video, and we’re making tour plans for the fall–so anyone who is reading this let us know if you want us to play your town or city, or hamlet.