Bishop Allen

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Bishop Allen

It’s been a few years since we’ve talked to Bishop Allen. It’s been a few years since Bishop Allen has talked to anyone. Five years since their last album and run of shows, Justin Rice is ready to gain the momentum he might have lost in the space between albums. But life has its demands, and the members of Bishop Allen had other matters to attend to. One year becomes five, as he explains, and now he hopes the fans are still there.

Not to worry, however, as the band’s new album, Lights Out, picks right up where Grrr left off, as a straightforward, stellar rock album that warrants repeated listens. Here’s the story of where the veteran band went and where they hope they’re going. The trajectory seems right on point to us.

Stereo Subversion: There’s been considerable time away for the band. I’d love to hear how you guys have been filling your time between then and now?

Justin Rice: Sure. It’s been five years since we’ve released a record and five years since we’ve really played a show. It took us a while when we started the band to get momentum. Then once we had it, it became this inevitable logic to every step. It dictated what came next. You play a show and you know tomorrow is another show. You finish a tour and then you book another. That tour ends, then you hit the studio to make the next record. It’s a perpetual cycle of activity. That’s great and it keeps you motivated and going and that’s definitely how you move forward.

But that doesn’t leave a lot of time when you’re in that cycle to do other things. There was a point where we decided for various reasons that we needed to take a break, that there was other stuff that we had to attend to. Darby and I got married. We moved from Brooklyn to upstate New York. Christian [Rudder] sold a company that he started, got a book deal, started writing, and had a daughter. There were a lot of things to take care of outside of the music cycle.

I think we only intended to take a year off, but once you pause and these other things start to happen, and it takes a long time to get back up and running. Part of it is that other things start to intervene. I was working on soundtracks for a couple movies and a TV show. Christian was writing that book. Basically, instead of taking a year off, you lose momentum and until maybe a year or so ago. I finally realized that in order to get back to Bishop Allen, which is the thing I most want to do, I’m going to have to make a concentrated and determined effort. I’m going to have to do the opposite, and start doing other things and focus on this.

So that’s what happened. Once you make that decision, then it takes a while to get things back into gear. What was supposed to be a year turned into five.

SSv: How much writing were you doing in that time? Are you writing the whole time?

Justin: I was working the whole time. In fact, in the middle of that, Darby and I wrote and released an album as The Last Names. We also recorded and put out 40 covers on the Internet, so there was a lot of recording and writing. There was also other stuff. I always try to write songs, but starting a song or getting an idea going is the first step. But the part where you sit down, refine them, and turn them into a completed song, there wasn’t as much of that going on. There was a lot of building fragments and not as much polishing and tying a ribbon around them all.

SSv: Was the space away from Bishop Allen good for the band? Is there a refreshment to the cycle that you mentioned before?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I wish it hadn’t been quite as long away as it has been. I think everyone is antsy to get going again. I can’t wait to play shows. I can’t wait to be on tour. That feeling of really wanting it and really enjoying making the record and anticipating shows is a great feeling to have. Because we’d been putting one foot in front of the other for a while, we got a little exhausted toward the end. So definitely coming back now means we’re coming back revived.

SSv: Let me ask about the fan base. There’s a pressure to stay in front of fans for most bands. Are you worried about that?

Justin: I feel like there is a constant pressure to constantly put something out into the world or put something out for your fans. There’s a lot of noise and chatter that vie for people’s attention. It’s easy for people to forget about you if you’re not in front of them. I don’t know what is going to happen. We haven’t been on tour yet. The album hasn’t even come out yet. So I don’t know how many people will remember us when we go out into the world.

On the one hand, I am definitely nervous that we’d lost ground, that people have forgotten. At the same time. I’m also optimistic. I’m also just excited for this thing in and of itself. Even if nobody comes to the shows, I’ll be thrilled to play with people that I love from the stage.

SSv: Are you at least getting at least some initial feedback?

Justin: Oh, yeah. Even between the last record and now, social media has really evolved and grown and become a part of everyone’s lives in a way it wasn’t five years ago. The response is immediate in those spheres. Posting things on Facebook or Twitter provides a great and immediate response. We put up a video and people watch it. I’m not sure how to quantify that. The quality is good, but I don’t know how many people it represents.

SSv: How symbolic is the new single’s title, “Start Again”?

Justin: Yeah, I think it’s pretty literal. It’s almost too on the nose. The song wasn’t written to be the first single. By the time we’d finished making the record, I don’t think I knew what was the best song on the record anymore. I was just too close to it. When we turned in the record, we played it for a lot of people and got this consensus that it was the first single. It was the one that people thought should be the reintroduction of the band to the world.

The fact that it’s so literal is a coincidence, but it does feel on the nose. And you know, I like it. I feel like with this record, I want it to be very forthright and direct. So to be that forthright in a way is in keeping with what I was hoping to do.

SSv: Do the song span the last five years?

Justin: No, they do not. Most of the songs were written in the past two years. A few of them come a bit earlier. Writing this album, I think we had 22 or 23 demos for songs that we finished. In the course of recording, the weaker songs would fall by the wayside. It turns out the songs written much earlier did not make the cut. I don’t necessarily know if it’s because they were worse in some platonic sense. I just think that if you write a song a really long time ago, it’s hard to position yourself in the state that you were in when you actually thought about it or wrote it. The process to complete it just doesn’t happen as naturally.

SSv: By the way, your first show is around the corner. How are you guys feeling with that?

Justin: We’ve been rehearsing for a while now. We just want to be as prepared as possible. We want to be better. You don’t want to come back after five years and be worse. You don’t even want to be as good as you were when you left. You want to come back after some woodshedding so you emerge from the cocoon as a butterfly, basically. There’s a certain amount of internal pressure because of that. However, the process of rehearsing is really fun and the prospect of playing shows is very exciting. We’re just ready to go. It’s been a long time coming.

The crazy thing is that Darby and I moved from Brooklyn to Kingston, which is a town 100 miles north of New York City. Since we moved here, we met all of these amazing people up here but none of them have ever seen us play music. They say, “Oh, you’re in a band?”

The very first show of our tour is here in Kingston. I see a lot of bands come through Kingston and they play it as their warm up show before New York, like Man Man or The War on Drugs. They both did that this year. It’s great because it’s a no pressure environment to warm up and play for fans. But we’re playing a giant block party in the middle of Kingston in front of all of our friends who have never seen us play before. It’s this inverse bizarre world where the first show feels like it has this pressure there. That’s great. I take it as a challenge. I just hope we don’t suck in front of our friends. [Laughs]

*Photo: Mike Petricone


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