Oregon Bike Trails’ Zach Yudin // the YANP interview

MP3: Oregon Bike Trails – High School Lover

Oregon Bike Trails is the reason I started doing interviews again. It’d been months since I did one, but as soon as I heard these songs I knew I had to talk to the guy. So even though Zach doesn’t have a record label or any physical releases yet, I had to interview the guy.

Zach Yudin of Oregon Bike Trail :: the You Ain’t No Picasso interview

Let’s get the basics out of the way early on: can you tell us a little about yourself? Who you are and where you currently live.

I’m Zach Yudin, I am a college graduate who lives and works in Santa Monica, Ca. I like to surf, ride my bike, eat Mexican food.

Even though there must be a dozen bands out there with places in their names that have no relation to where the group is based (of Montreal, Architecture in Helsinki, etc), I was still fooled into assuming you were from Oregon. What made a California resident who writes beach-and-sun pop songs to get his band name from bike paths of the Pacific Northwest?

When I was a kid my family and I went on a summer vacation to Sun River, Oregon. My brother and I biked everywhere on these really cool intricate bike trails that went all through the town. I think those images have sort of stuck with me. When I was thinking of a band name Oregon Bike Trails sort of popped into my head, and I liked it.

Is Oregon Bike Trails your first band? How long have you been writing/recording music? Have you performed live as OBT?

I’ve been writing and recording music for about 5 years, and have had quite a few different bands/ musical projects. OBT was just another one of those projects. Officially starting on Jan. 18 2011, that was the day I posted my first song online through ‘BandCamp. I have performed live, although, I am still trying to piece together a band for future shows.

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Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf // the YANP interview

So far 2011 has been a great year for discovering bands. My first new love of the year was Yellow Ostrich’s The Mistress, which combines percussion and melody in a union better than any I’ve heard since Local Natives burst on the scene. So after a lot of foot-dragging, I finally go around to asking Alex Schaaf to do an interview.

MP3: Yellow Ostrich – Hold On

Alex Schaaf of Yellow Ostrich // the You Ain’t No Picasso Interview

I love the vocal layering on this record. You’ve got everything from the simple (“Hate Me Soon”) to the wildly complex (“Libraries”). How did you get started using that so heavily in your arrangements? How do you approach the backing vocals for a song you’ve just begun?

I’ve always been a big fan of vocal harmonies, in all the music I’ve ever made vocals are usually a big part. And for the Mistress stuff, I thought about taking that even further, to use vocals as more of a rhythmic non-lyrical element, just as a kind of experiment. I had done an EP a month before I started working on the Mistress called Fade Cave that I did with almost all vocals, just a little drum machine here and there but it was mostly 100% vocals. Just a kind of experiment to see what i could come up with. And I liked using a looping pedal for my voice, and so I knew I could do the Mistress songs live that way, so I just wanted to see where I could take it.

Many songs on the Mistress started with a vocal riff, like “Hahahaohhoho” or “Campaign” or “Libraries,” then I built the rest of the song around that vocal riff. Some of them I added the vocals later, like “Hate Me Soon” or “Whale.” I had recorded a different version of “Whale” a few months prior that was mostly electronic, and “WHALE” was the first one i came up with for the Mistress, experimenting with that kind of vocal riff.

I’ve read that you have a background in vocal jazz and choral groups as well as training from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. What’s it like bringing that basis into pop music? Did you have any classical teachers along the way who directly or indirectly helped you translate that teaching into a pop format?

I think I’ve always come from a pop standpoint first, rather than being a classical musician who decided to venture into the pop world. I studied classical music in school, mostly because it was the only kind of music I could study. But I did learn a lot about song structures and harmony, etc., and the effect that using different chords/chord changes can have on a song.

I took jazz guitar lessons the last two years of school from Steve Peplin, who does a lot of his own solo guitar stuff. He helped me think of different ways to approach the guitar, and to kind of think outside the box. He even played on one song — on “I’ll Run,” the intro is him. We put his amp facing into an upright piano, and then depressed the strings so that it rang through the piano and made the strings vibrate, giving it a kind of natural reverb. Then we mic’ed the top of the piano for that guitar sound. Kind of cool ways of thinking about guitar that I got out of studying at a Conservatory.

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Richie Follin of Guards, Willowz & Cults // the YANP Interview

Photo by Karly Grawin

I didn’t put it together until this year, but I admired Richie Follin’s work years before Cults or Guards put Bandcamp on the map. When I went to CMJ in 2006, his band Willowz opened for the Mooney Suzuki and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately for me I didn’t follow up, otherwise the greatness of Cults might not have been such a shot from left field in early 2010.

MP3: Guards – Sail It Slow (feat. Madeline Follin)
MP3: Cults – Most Wanted

In the past 13 months, Cults have shot into major label orbit, Guards went from bedroom project to critically-acclaimed effort and Willowz quietly prepared to tour and record again. Yet when it’s time for Richie to chat, he makes it seem like he’s got all the time in the world — the true sign of a great guy.

Richie Follin of Guards, Willowz and Cults :: the YANP Interview

Guards and Cults both went from zero to sixty thanks to internet exposure. What’s that sudden lift like? Do you remember how you found out or realized that your EP was being posted all over the internet?

It’s really weird for me to see how it all works now just compared to just 10 years ago…It’s amazing how fast from the time you record something to posting it up on the internet people get to hear your music. It eliminates the need for touring every city to bring people something. I guess the internet has done that with everything…no more door to door salesmen. My step father has a saying now that goes, “everyone will be famous in 15 minutes”.

When your bandcamp page really got a lot of attention, there wasn’t much info to go on. Did any over eager writers or new fans get anything hilariously wrong?

The bandcamp format just has no “bio” section so I think a lot of people thought Cults and Guards were trying to be a lot more mysterious than we really were. People are still getting stuff wrong haha…a lot of the live reviews we get the writers seem to think Madeline is in Guards , but she isn’t…When Cults first posted that bandcamp page a lot of people were emailing the manager asking if it was me…So there has been a lot of confusion, but that seems to happen even when you post a bio. hehe.

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Portugal. The Man :: the YANP interview

Toward the end of last year, I picked up the album The Satanic Satanist by Portugal. The Man and fell in love with it. Now, a few short months later, they’ve released their follow-up record American Ghetto online and are almost done writing the next album (as well as a pair of EPs). Lead singer John Gourley was nice enough to take some time two days after the release of American Ghetto to chat with me about following your passion, keeping up their prolific pace and being afraid to write in the major key.

MP3: Portugal. The Man – Dead Dog (from American Ghetto)

Portugal. The Man :: the You Ain’t No Picasso Interview

YANP: So, I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while and trying to keep up with American Ghetto, but I think I didn’t start following and keeping up with the band until you guys were already done with this album, so I sorta missed out on the story of how it was recorded and the time line and everything. When exactly did you start recording American Ghetto and where was it recorded?

PTM: Well American Ghetto was basically born out of how we put together the Satanic Satanist disc. … We had really done pre-production for the first time ever when we made that album. We had never sat down and done demos or anything like that. So, I guess we had Satanic Satanist pretty much rounded out by the time we went into the studio; we’d had it for about a month, a month and a half. So, anytime we’re getting ready for the studio, there’s just a lot of excitement, a lot of inspiration comes out of that excitement. So, I guess for lack of a better word it just got me really excited to work on the new material and try new things…I just start kinda piling up ideas, and started working on what became American Ghetto. There was no pre-drafting to it; I didn’t really do any demos, but our manager Rich just sent me out there for 10 days and we started tracking some things with our friend Anthony Safry, who did production on Satanic Satanist as well.

YANP: Now, I’ve not really read about you guys having any ties to Boston, so what brought you there?

PTM: It was just mainly Paul. But actually when we finished the album about two years ago now, we decided that we really wanted to do this mix for it. And it obviously never went to that finished stage, but we started sending the album out to different producers– we wanted to let them produce the record without having us around, just to see what they would do. I’m a big fan of collaboration and just seeing what new people would do with our music. That’s why we have guests on our album and have guests musicians live from time to time. I just like to hear the way that people interpret it. So we sent Censored Colors out to a bunch of producers with the idea that they would mix and do a final production. But Paul Kolderie is just so cool and so laid back and really positive about everything and he just understood that we weren’t too precious with the band. Once the songs have gotten your – our contributions– to the art it’s kind of done and it’s fun from that point on. You know we get to mess around with delays and reverbs and song structure and things like that. Paul was just “the guy.”

YANP: Nice. And then he was the one that you worked on Satanic Satanist with, right?

PTM: Yeah, so we went up to Boston made Satanic Satanist with him. We had talked to other producers…

YANP: Oh ok, sorry, I didn’t catch that he was in Boston.

PTM: Oh yeah, so sorry. his studio is out in Boston.

YANP: Awesome! So you went back there to work on American Ghetto as well?

PTM: Yeah. That was pretty much a few weeks after Satanic Satanist was completed that we went back up to Boston.

YANP: And now I’m missing my reference points. So when was Satanic Satanist completed– when would you have been back in Boston?

PTM: Satanic Satanist was, I think, January 14th until somewhere around February 20th. And then I came back out on the 28th maybe?

YANP: Wow!

PTM: So, that was at the beginning of March, and we were there for ten days. It’s one of those really great things– something really special that’s born out of those spontaneous moments. Jumping into it and putting deadlines on things and just seeing what you can do in that amount of time. There were a lot of ideas– just being inspired by all the different instruments and there was a lot of experience being built up … just no real demos. It was very fun for us, just to dive in headfirst to see what we could do. I think there’s also something to be said for practice, preparation and pre-production; time that I think is probably necessary to albums like Satanic Satanist. But American Ghetto was just born off that freedom to just do what we wanted.

YANP: So how much relief did you feel finally getting to release it almost a year after it was finished?

PTM: I felt like this album needed to be released in this way, from the very beginning I think we knew what Satanic Satanist was– it’s definitely our most focused album and it’s more of a band record. It was all of us in the studio together, jamming. And I’ve really obsessed over songwriting lately, in the last three years I’ve just really been obsessing over songwriting and trying to have a lot of fun with it. And Satanic Satanist, it was obvious to me while on tour for it that I didn’t want to throw anything out there that would stop what that record was doing. You know, we were playing Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and we didn’t want to confuse everybody by throwing out multiple records out of nowhere.

But yeah, I guess it just happened the way it needed to. I’m not to precious to those things. The main thing that I love to do is just make music. I love to be able to go into the studio and get it all out of my mind and move onto the next thing. So at my favorite thing is sorting out in a business sense and to actually understand why and when everything should come out. And we have a really, really great manager who handles a lot of that– or pretty much all of that. I just kind of trust him with all of that and I just kind of make music.

YANP: Yeah, I just love that you guys couldn’t wait until the next day– you put it up at like 10:00 at night, the night before…[laughs]

PTM: [laughs] Yeah. We were talking about it and we said, “we could just do it. Can’t we just put it out? And we’re putting it out ourselves, who cares?” You know, we’re not relying on some SoundScan sheet to tell us where our band sits in the list of 5 million bands playing today. We weren’t even thinking about that. It’s a limited edition CD — at least it’s gonna be limited to the amount of copies that we put out there. It’s supposed to be fun– its for people to give out to people who helped support the band. All of last year was such a great year that it just felt right to just give it to people.

And it wasn’t a shot at– I know Satanic Satanist leaked a month and a half in advance or whatever, and it wasn’t necessarily because of that. But looking at it now, it is pretty amazing that it didn’t leak because friends of ours had it, we just didn’t send it out to the amount of people that we normally would. And we won’t do every record like this, but seeing how well it’s done like this, the fun that we had with it, I would imagine that we would do more releases like it in the future.

YANP: Awesome! You said something a little bit ago and I didn’t want to stop you, but you said you were getting really focused on song writing in the past three years, is that something that you would say almost that you would study when you listen to other peoples’ music or is it something that you just work on with yourself?

PTM: Uh, you pick it up everywhere. I think that it’s one of those things. I always get so caught up, just so scared of major chords, for whatever reason. Any time you start working in major chords with really tight song structures, everything becomings really obvious. I just got used to avoiding it, and I think that with Censored Colors we would jump in and see what we could do– see how we could change up songs. It got me thinking about bands like the Beatles, obviously my favorite band, anyway and bands like Pink Floyd and really great songwriting, really great musicians, really great atmospheric pop.

Yeah, I guess I would say that I study it to an extent, but mainly it’s something that you would have to find for yourself. And there are a million bands that do throwback rock n’ roll, I mean you can probably name 50 right off the top of your head that you’ve heard before. So, it’s something that you have to get to know yourself. You can study it all day long but until you put yourself into it, it’s pretty hard to find.

Continue reading the rest of the interview after the break.

Continue reading Portugal. The Man :: the YANP interview