Thursday, April 12, 2007
Modlins concert preview/Q&A
You might think a band that dresses in suits and sounds more suited for a malt shop than the Ken Club would be nothing more than a gimmick.
Think again. The Modlins are a San Diego band with a tight, 60-influenced pop sound to back up the look. The band's debut album, "Here's to Being Happy," has been a Baby Heisman favorite since it came out earlier this year.
Before playing a Friday the 13th show at the Whistlestop tomorrow, songwriters Eric Killian and Matt Sheridan discussed being mistaken for a Beatles cover band, selling hats, and what's missing in the San Diego music scene (Hint: It's big and red).
Baby Heisman: Which came first, the sound of your band or the look of your band?
Matt: The sound has evolved more than the look has. The look was pretty much two phases: it was ties and then suits. So we kind of always had that in mind but obviously we didn’t really have any opportunity to do that until we played a show. For a long, long time, he (Eric) and I were playing just acoustically ... and then it was like, let’s add a drummer and electric guitars, and then, let’s get a bassist. So there were more steps in the evolution of the sound in fine-tuning and arrangements. I don’t know which came first, but I would say the sound was more gradual.
Eric: I would say that due to the fact that we got the suits after we had played shows ...
M: But we had ties in our acoustic shows, which is not our current sound. So the look came first.
BH: There are so many facets to your sound. How would you describe the sound of your band?
M: There’s always a four-word description with two hyphens in it: Oldies-influenced indie-pop. (Laughs) Whatever that means.
E: It’s indie because nobody knows who we are. And pop would definitely apply. We always liked, obviously, the harmonies and stuff; especially Matt’s big focus was doing the harmonies.
M: Yeah, I’m definitely a Beatle-maniac, so I kind of gauge an embarrassing amount of what we do off that. So that’s part of the oldies. And then, just generally anything from that era, the early 60s ... up to, like, ‘65. I like stuff after, too, but I’m really into almost anything before that. The kitschy factor, you know. So that’s where the oldies thing comes from.
E: And I just like ripping people off, so anything that sounds like other bands works for me.
BH: Between the suits and the photos on your Myspace page and your show fliers, there’s definitely a creative, fun element to the band. How much of that is intentional, and how much of it is just your guys’ personality?
E: To play the music and to play that part of entertaining and setting a little scene, that’s definitely something we like to do. I mean, we don’t sit at home in our suits or anything like that. But Matt does wear ties all the time.
M: Yeah, I probably do that more than anybody.
E: As far as the fun-loving and the creative, we are writing songs all the time. ... All of our artwork, our friend Patrick did. He’s the one who did all of our posters and stuff like that.
M: I feel like it’s equal parts intentional and equal parts natural because I think the intention comes in in being aware of it, being aware that we love bands that have that quality. But I think the reason we love bands that have that quality is because we’re kind of like that. So it’s sort of both at the same time.
BH: Do you worry about it becoming too kitschy?
M: I guess I’m aware that can be an interpretation, but I don’t really worry about it because I don’t feel it is gimmicky. I just feel like it’s just the style that I like. But I’m definitely aware that people could dismiss it as that.
E: Even now, I think some of it gets perceived as pretty gimmicky. I know that a lot of people are, like, “Oh, because you guys are poppy and you wear suits, therefore you must be the Beatles or a Beatles cover band.”
M: Yeah, we get asked that a lot, if we’re a Beatles cover band.
E: But a lot of bands of that era wore suits, too.
M: Yeah, it’s more an era to represent then just them (the Beatles).
BH: How do you guys stay motivated to keep writing songs? You guys are roommates now, right? Has that helped you write?
E: Actually, oddly enough, we’ve written less songs since we’ve lived together (for the past two years). ... When we first met it was right at the end of college and so, during that time, before he (Matt) moved up to L.A. we were starting to write a bunch of songs; he moved for a year, and then I was coming up and he was coming down all the time and we were just writing, writing, writing.
M: It’s very much like a relationship in the sense that when it’s long distance you’re going to make the time that you spend together really count. So when we would get together on weekends we would just crank out. Every weekend we’d write three songs. Usually what we’d do is he’d bring something he started, I’d bring something I’d started and then we’d finish those and then, on the last day, we’d start something from scratch. So we were doing that every time we got together. And then, it’s almost like, once we lived together and we can do it more often, I don’t know if it seems like we did it less because less percentage of our time has been taken up with that, or also the fact that, that was before there was a band and we were getting together on weekends and now it has to be filtered through ... a four-piece arrangement.
E: I think definitely living together has helped in that, like, now that we interact so much together we know each other’s situations and stuff. When we start to embark on writing another song, it’s like “Oh, I’m going to go at it from this perspective,” and it’s like, I’ve seen you go through that perspective, so it really helps for like, “OK, what metaphor do we want to use for this horrible situation?”
BH: How far back does the music on the album date?
M: A couple of those (songs) date back to before we were writing together. But I never really was one to finish songs, which is part of why it was important to meet him (Eric). I had basic elements of “It’s All Your Fault” probably like...
E: That was probably the first or second weekend we were writing together.
M: It seems like every time we do a release, we do about half of it with stuff we just wrote and half stuff that’s been sitting around that we feel like we should be getting out.
E: I’m usually one to quickly go, “Oh, we just wrote a new song; bump this old guy.” And then he’s like, actually, let’s get all the old ones first. ...
M: I’m like “let’s save them all. Let’s get them all out.”
E: We have this ridiculous backlog of songs that half of them probably won’t get released ever. A new song will pop up and I’ll be, like, “Oh this better than anything I’ve written before, let’s do this — three albums from now.”
M: It’s funny. We’ve had more than one conversation about “album three” already and we haven’t even started recording “album two” yet. ... It’s strange, though, because it feels like a lot of modern bands, they’ll release an album every couple of years maybe, and it’s like, if you do one every 18 months, that’s so quick. But, and that’s another thing I personally take from the oldies era: they had albums out every six months. So we’re kind of the middle ground between the two.
BH: Are you guys working on a second album at all yet?
E: We definitely plan to start doing a second one. We have a big group of songs. We were thinking about doing an EP just after this because we have this group of seven or so songs we wanted to get out, and then we were just, like, why put only seven on the recording when we can put a lot more on?
BH: Is the band a full-time job for anybody in the band, or does everybody have a day job?
M: We all work full-time now. I was the only guy working part-time before just because I was lazy and irresponsible, and now I started working full-time about two months ago.
BH: What kind of jobs do you guys do?
E: Computer programmer.
M: I work at the Village Hat Shop. And then Stoph (the drummer) does finance and Al (the bassist) does computer stuff, too.
E: Web design
M: So I’m the only schmuck with a nonprofessional job; I only make, like $8 an hour. ... It’s kind of a surreal day for me, actually, because we started off this morning — for some reason, there must be no actual news going on in San Diego — because some of the employees had to do a TV spot at KUSI for the hat shop today. And we did one on Monday for Fox news where we had to model hats and they had someone talk about the hats while we stood there. So I started the day at a TV studio, which I’ve never been to in my life, at 7 in the morning, and then I worked a full day and then came right here. So it’s like, TV, work, interview, like, what is it?
BH: What do you think is the strongest part of the music scene in San Diego, and where do you think it can improve?
E: It could love us.
M: With me, I don’t really see a scene in the classic sense. I don’t see any one clear genre. But you (Eric) were kind of saying the other night that some of the bands that were playing the show (Last Friday at the Ken Club)...
E: Yeah, before it would seem like, at least going through college and seeing a lot of punk bands ...
M: Beach-ey kind of stuff.
E: Yeah, Beach-ey kind of stuff. And at least as far as what I’ve been tuned to now it seems like the direction has gone a lot more to songwriting, and not necessarily as much pop as we are harmony-wise, but, like, bands ... the Muslims and the Sundels, and seeing them, and, like, The Prayers, I really like them. And I was like, oh, there’s a lot of these bands that are doing this kind of throwback to the 60s and the Kinks and stuff like that. ... Not that I’m saying the music before was trying to be abrasive, but it was just naturally a more abrasive style.
M: A little less light, maybe. ... Shorter songwriting.
E: Yeah, shorter songwriting, more danceable songs, stuff like that.
M: I guess maybe a pop scene is emerging to some extent. For me, I know a lot of the bands I have liked up to now, they don’t have a lot in common. It’s like Swim Party, Secret Apollo, Donkeys, I don’t know what you’d call that. It’s like not a genre, but maybe one’s emerging, I hope.
E: And what can improve? I guess, and it’s just in the nature of a big city that’s more spread out — it’s like, a city like New York, everything so packed in and so easy to get to — where as here, apathy sets in and no one wants to get up from “Must See TV” to go check out a show. And even like last night I almost didn’t go to the Ken Club show because I was just sitting on my couch watching “Invader Zim,” and it was kind of like, “oh, man, the Ken Club, that’s like a 10 minute drive away.”
M: It is weird. If it were a matter of getting on a subway, it would seem like nothing. It’s that thing about opening the car door and sitting down. I hate that feeling.
E: And it’s not even any fault of the music scene; it’s just the fault of the city’s construction. So really I’d say the way to improve the city’s music scene is to improve the Trolley system.
BH: Because you guys do have a retro vibe, if you could bring back one thing, what would it be?
E: I think I know what yours would be.
M: Oh yeah?
E: I think you’d want people to dress nicer.
M: Yeah, I think that’s a good one; like the formality of everybody wearing ties. I mean, I try to do it and, like, today, this is my casual day with jeans and a tie, but usually I have the slacks-ey tie look but, like, I don’t like just doing it myself; I kind of wish it was everywhere, because any time you see a period piece film, it just looks so great. I don’t know if things really look that great or if it’s just the cinematography and filmmaking, but I don’t know. I would feel better about the world if that were the case. And it would sell hats.
E: Well, I think if I could bring back the nonexistence of computers, that would be nice because then I wouldn’t have to be working my job anymore. So oddly enough, between us two, I would work less and you would work more.
M: That’s true, actually. Well, I wear ties and have a typewriter, so I’m living the dream right now.
The Modlins — Dragging My Feet (MP3)
The Modlins — I Wouldn't Know What To Do (MP3)
The Modlins band page
The Modlins on Myspace