Acrylics

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Acrylics

While 2010 saw the continual rise of lo-fi, basement-pop bands like Abe Vigoda, Ariel Pink, Wavves, Weekend, etc., there was also an uprising of bands who unashamedly set their pop tunes behind shiny, pristine, “hi-fi” landscapes. Were bands like Girls, The Morning Benders, Surfer Blood, Happy Birthday and Magic Kids engaging in some strange form of sonic pop warfare with their muffled peers? We can only hope that such music-media B.S. speculation could be true.

At any rate, you can add another hi-fi warrior to the list: Brooklyn-based band Acrylics.

A band with obvious credentials (an EP produced by Grizzly Bear Chris Taylor, tours with blog faves A Sunny Day in Glasgow and The Morning Benders, for starters), Molly Shea and Jason Klauber are the two vocalists, songwriters and strummers-in-arms responsible for Lives and Treasure, the band’s debut full-length. If you like your pop heavy on ’70s and ’80s earnest ambition, Johnny Marr-chord voicings, Cyndi Lauper-style ballads, and, well, pop that ain’t afraid to show it, Acrylics could be your band in ’11.

But let’s put all the cards on the table. Due to a miscommunication regarding phone numbers, my initial conversation with Shea, began as a top contender for one of the most brutally awkward interviews I’ve ever conducted. If “pulling teeth” is a fitting expression for such moments, I never felt like such an unsuccessful dentist. As it turned out, however, Shea was gracious enough to take each question in stride and, surprisingly, the conversation livened up to touch on a few engaging moments regarding music school, Oberlin, The Zombies, and the healthy use of smoke-machines.

SSv: I’d recently been getting into Kate Bush and I saw this really cool video of her and Dave Gilmour playing “Running Up That Hill.”

What sound would serve these songs best? That was our main goal. To serve the songs and the songwriting.

What sound would serve these songs best? That was our main goal. To serve the songs and the songwriting.

Molly Shea: Yeah, I’ve seen that, I think. Is it a live performance?

SSv: Yeah. It’s pretty great. Then I’d recently checked out some of your stuff and because vocals are such a big part of what you guys do, are there any female vocalists past or present that you look up to or are inspired by?

Molly: It’s funny because I feel like I was mostly inspired by and identified awith male vocalists. To be honest with you, I’ve never really had too many female rock and rollers that I look up to that much, growing up at least. When I was younger, I really liked Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick and Shocking Blue. Marise Devaris is the lead singer of Shocking Blue.

Definitely, later on, Kate Bush is amazing. I definitely love her music. I don’t know if it’s that relevant to my band, in particular, but I definitely admire her a lot. I think Joni Mitchell is amazing. I’ve definitely gotten into more bands lately, fronted by women, but growing up I was definitely more inspired by male singers. That’s just how it was. A lot of British Invasion bands — of course, The Beatles, The Stones, The Zombies as well as Colin Blunstone’s voice. He’s definitely a big influence for me. He’s so smooth and silky.

SSv: Who was the last person you mentioned? Colin?

Molly: Colin Blunstone, he’s the lead singer of The Zombies.

SSv: Right.

Molly: Odessey and Oracle is an amazing record.

SSv: Yeah, I’ve actually only heard a little bit of The Zombies. “Time of the Season” and that. I need to delve into that catalog a bit. That’s a good influence. I understand you went to school at Oberlin.

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: I grew up in Ohio, actually. I visited that school a couple times because I knew some people who went there for music.

Molly: Oh, really?

SSv: It always seemed like a little oasis as far as Ohio goes.

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: What was your experience like? What did you study?

Molly: Yeah, it’s definitely a little haven in a pretty conservative state which is kind of strange. But a lot of people who went to Oberlin are from the east and west coast. There might be a little bit of conflict between the college and the surrounding community in that type of situation. But for me, it was a really fun place to go to school. I studied Literature as an English major at Oberlin.

There’s a conservatory at Oberlin which Jason [Klauber] was in for Jazz Guitar. But, unfortunately, I didn’t take in any classes at the conservatory. But there’s such a vibrant musical community there — I play a lot of music with friends, just not in the conservatory. But that’s where we got to playing together: in college basements.

SSv: Actually, that’s what I went to school for — I went to Michigan for English and Jazz Guitar.

Molly: Oh, cool.

SSv: In Ann Arbor, which is sort of a little haven in a way. Not that Michigan is as conservative as Ohio is when I was growing up there.

Molly: What part of Ohio are you from?

SSv: A really small town called Mansfield, Ohio. It’s right between Cleveland and Columbus. Super-tiny.

Molly: Cool.

SSv: I’d be surprised if you’ve heard of it.

Molly: I haven’t, but…

SSv: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly. Not a lot going on there but we had a carousel.

Molly: Ann Arbor seems really cool. We drove through Ann Arbor on our last tour. We didn’t get to play there but I spent a little bit of time there. I really like it.

SSv: It’s nice. I live in Berkeley now and it does remind me a little bit of Ann Arbor. Berkeley’s just a lot bigger and a little bit grungier. But it still has that college town thing going on. It’s crazy, like 50% of my class from music school have moved out here to the east bay.

Molly: Oh, Berkeley, yeah.

SSv: After school, you moved to New York. A lot of people talk about Chris Taylor recording your first EP, how did that relationship come about? How did you meet him? Would you ever work with him again?

Molly: Really, we just had some mutual friends. He came and saw us play at one of our first shows and he was just starting up this label with this guy Ethan [Silverman], Terrible Records. He wanted to start recording some bands and he just asked us if we wanted to do an EP with them and we were super-excited and wanted to do it. So, we spent about a week recording with a full band in Chris’s church studio where he works. It was very quick. It was very different from our record that is coming it. It was a very different process. It was really cool to work with Chris and it was an amazing space in this church. He knows how to get really cool sounds from the gear in there. It was a fun, quick EP we did.

SSv: He’s responsible for a lot of really great recordings, too — Rise Above, that Dirty Projectors album. Ever heard Nat Baldwin’s stuff by any chance? He’s the bass player from that group. He lives in Brooklyn, too.

Molly: What’s his name?

SSv: His name’s Nat Baldwin. He’s the bass player for Dirty Projectors.

Molly: Yes, I’ve heard them and I know who they are but I don’t know him, in particular.

SSv: Yeah, the reason I mention it is because Chris Taylor recorded his album Most Valuable Player. It’s really, really good.

Molly: Yeah, he did that. He did Twin Shadows’s record which is really good. I think he produced The Morning Benders’s last record. Yeah, he’s a busy guy. [Laughs].

SSv: If the time comes, would you ever wanna do another release with him?

Molly: Um, possibly. Maybe sometime down the line. But, we’ll see. Have you heard our full-length record?

SSv: I’ve heard several songs off of it but I wasn’t sent the whole thing for some reason. The songs I’d heard I really liked. That’s the one coming out on Hot Sand, right?

Molly: Yeah, that’s our own label.

SSv: This is the first release on the label, right?

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: Are there any other bands you’re hoping to put records out?

Molly: Probably not. We started it to release our music. So, maybe in the future, we’ll develop it into something else but it’s really hard. We’ll have to have the funds. Writing and recording is hard enough to get the logistics enough together to put out our own music. [Laughs]. So, I don’t know if we’ll be finding other bands. But you never know what could happen.

SSv: Yeah, it seems like a lot of bands that start labels, they do it for that exact reason: to put their music out. But sometimes, it’s different. Like the guys from the Woodsist label. They put out a lot of their own stuff as well as a bunch of other bands. But I hope it goes well for you.

Molly: Thank you.

SSv: As far as the shared duties between you and Jason (Klauber), for vocals and stuff, when you guys sing a song like “Asian Pear,” there’s a really distinct quality as far as the sound of the band goes. It’s almost like two different groups but not necessarily in a bad way. Do you see yourself as sharing that lead-singer role? Was that discussed at the start of the group?

Molly: Yeah, we definitely think of ourselves as co-lead vocalists. I’d say, on our record, it felt like half and half. I sing lead half the time and he sings lead half the time. We both sing a lot on each other’s songs. So, our vocals are [doubled] on mostly all the songs because we love to add backing harmonies. So, we trade off [a lot]. I think it works pretty well. Our voices blend nicely.

SSv: There’s a video for the song “Lil Ivy” that was a French video.

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: It’s pretty creative. How did that come about? Were you touring in Europe?

Molly: Well, it was actually this really awesome French collective called AB/CB/CB. They approached us, they were in town in New York for a little while. They wanted to make a video for us. It was really exciting and fun. They came up with the whole concept. It was a three-day shoot that was in five different locations. They were really funny, cool guys. They wanted a lot of smoke, so there were lots of smoke machines involved. They kept saying, “More smoke! More smoke!” [Laughs].

SSv: [Laughs] There was a lot of smoke in that video.

Molly: [Laughs]

SSv: There’s a shot where it comes out of someone’s chest.

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: Is that straight footage? Is that edited in any way?

Molly: No, that’s footage. We had it rigged so the smoke is coming through our shirts. [Laughs].

SSv: It’s pretty cool. I didn’t know how it was done at first. There’s a lot of shots like that, where you’re passing the guitar around. It reminds me of those ’90s videos that Spike Jonze and Gondry did.

Molly: Yeah, they’re a really great collective of directors. They’re going to be making a lot of great stuff in the future.

SSv: It’s kind of a typical music-critic thing to ask, to quantify everything, but there seems to be a lot of talk about lo-fi bands and people using those kinds of sounds. But, for me, some of my favorite pop groups right now aren’t really afraid to use these really pristine recording sounds.

Molly: Yeah.

SSv: Like Girls, Morning Benders, and some others. As far as your group goes, do you feel some kind of kinship with these groups? At least aesthetically?

Molly: With the lo-fi groups or the other?

SSv: I guess the more pristine, crisp sounding groups. As far as recording goes.

Molly: Yeah, I think there’s probably more of a similarity between those groups you mentioned and our sound than the lo-fi, dirty sounding recordings of other bands. But it wasn’t really a conscious choice we made. We just try to make our own sound. I don’t think we even knew what we wanted it to sound like before we went in the studio. We just knew that we wanted to highlight the vocals and have it be a less aggressive sound than the previous bands we’d had played in as teens. I wouldn’t rule it out in the future, doing something completely different. That’s sort of what ended coming out of our work.

SSv: Sometimes you just have to let it happen naturally. It’s best to not over-think things which is easy to do.

Molly: Over the course of making the record, we did want things to be a bit crisp. As we worked, it did become more of a decision. But when we started out, I don’t think we were thinking that at all. What sound would serve these songs best? That was our main goal. To serve the songs and the songwriting.

SSv: Before you go, I just wanted to see if there’s any music you’re really excited about. Doesn’t have to be current, but I was just curious as to what you’re listening to.

Molly: Yeah, I listen to all kinds of things. We just played a show with this group Blood Orange. It’s actually just one guy. He’s incredible. I actually haven’t heard his record yet, but his show was amazing. I’m excited to get his new record. I’m always listening to older music. I’ve been listening to some old reggae stuff. Jason deejay’s a lot. He plays a lot of older dance music, so it’s fun to hear that stuff.

SSv: My roommate is playing a lot of older reggae music lately. She says she has “reggae fever.” I’ve only tapped into a little bit of that world. It’s so expansive.

Molly: Yeah. We just got our record player set up and my dad gave me a bunch of records. I’ve lately been listening to a lot of his old records. Recently, he gave me this James Gang record. He gave me this Rolling Stones record I’d never heard before. So, I’m always going through my record collection and picking up stuff I haven’t heard in a while.


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