Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Death To Palaces" director's commentary

When I sat down with Ryan and Wesley from Young Sportsmen to interview them (see last two posts), I decided it would also be fun to run the CD and have them provide commentary on the songs, a la the "director's commentary" on DVDs.

What follows is my own thoughts on the record with their comments following my own

Don't forget that "Death To Palaces," which I predict will be one of the best records released by a Seattle band in 2007, is being officially released at a show on Saturday, August 18 at the Sunset Tavern.

Young Sportsmen, Death to Palaces

Track 1 - Unnecessary

SBP: This song typifies the Young Sportsmen's approach to powerpop - driving, deliberate, relentless, powerful, but still very melodic. But, the song goes back further than Young Sportsmen.

Wesley: This was always a favorite song of mine in Ryan’s band The Fongs, and they would open their set with this and I would just feel this sense of elation.

Track 2 - Her Independent Feature

SPB: Her Independent Feature is a head-bopping anthem, churning greater than the pace of the human heart, rushing adrenalin and joy.

Wesley: I always get nervous bringing new stuff for practice, and I brought this one and everyone seemed to respond really positively right away. It was nice to get a sense that everyone was jazzed about it.

I liked it because I was able to play (imitates his guitar). I copped like three different players. Guy Lyons from the Figgs with the double stops, and then put the little acoustic thing like in (The Cult’s) “Love Removal Machine.”

Track 3 - Shake the Shakers

SPB: The opening strains reference the might and chest-puffed indignity of The Who. Wesley's strained and emotionally drained vocal delivery in the verses draw you into the comparatively whispered bridge, climaxing with a triumphant chant of "feet don't fail me now." And the song's moral-of-the-story is "they're always behind you" indicates YS is a band who is happy with their place in the world and ready to give advice.

Ryan: I wrote the opening riff to this when we were in between bass players, and that’s all I had.

Wesley: That was one of the songs where Ryan had a couple of lines, like “velvet gloves with the fingers torn out,” and he was like I was this line in there.

Ryan: It was kind of about.. I won’t say which band. But, it was about a band and a particular look that was happening several years ago. Sort of the younger kids copping a Nikki Sixx/new wave/punk look.

It’s kind of a song to the kids, saying one day you’ll be older than dirt too, so don’t forget the songs. I know I look back at the shit I was wearing ten years ago and go “oh my god.”

Track 4 - Love or Monsters

SPB: Track four starts with a somewhat menacing, spacious and dynamic intro before launching into their trademark dual-guitar blast.

Ryan: I had this idea of doing a mid-tempo kind of Interpol riff, and all of a sudden I thought of the riff and in the kitchen I wrote this riff. (pause) And that’s all there is to that one (laughs). I love the lyrics, though.

Wesley: I went on a three day trip with my girlfriend up to Victoria, and brought my notepad along. I had some stuff left to write for the record, and I love being there. There’s something about that town. It’s gorgeous and peaceful and serene. I couldn’t seem to write here.

Ryan: I like the lyrics, because they’re vague.

Wesley: The ambiguity wasn’t intentional. But, I wanted it to be more evocative than direct. So, something more vague or open to whatever you bring to it.

Track 5 - Planetary Gears

SPB: I love watching them performing this song live, because the intro is very driving and inviting, but the odd-meter makes it somewhat difficult for people to figure out how to tap their feet, and just when they figure it out, the band is off and running with the verse. Brilliant.

Wesley: This was a pretty good song to represent my style and Ryan’s style meshing. I had the majority of it written, and Ryan came to practice and said “I have this thing”

Ryan: ..that I ripped off from the Who
Ryan: But, then I realized I ripped it off of the Futureheads.
(more laughter)

Wesley: I had some bits and most of it was there. But, the song is much more interesting with the melding of the riffs. When it works like that, it’s a really cool thing, and it’s something that he and I share just from knowing each other from high school. We may not always communicate verbally but you know... (character voice) but he gets me.

Track 6 - Under the Rocks and the Stars

SPB: A good test of whether or not a song is a hit is how my wife responds to it. She's not a music fan, but this is by far her favorite song by any local band ever. This song, like the majority of this record, is instantly likable while not being disposable or losing its luster after a few listens.

Ryan: When I was writing that, I was thinking of a Ted Leo song. I mean, I didn’t steal the chords or anything, just trying to pick up the vibe.

Wesley: You know what you can do with three chords is limitless. Someone like Elvis Costello can take three of four chords and wind them up into this really complex thing that’s really interesting.

Ryan: I just love those double time beats. I could play those all night.

Wesley: They’re definitely the most fun to play. That’s a beat that everyone can get.

Track 7 - Death to Palaces

SPB: This song has always been enjoyable in their live set. But, in the recorded setting, it really grooves (I know, I hate that word generally, but it's apt here) and pushes and pulls in all the right ways. The tune is a perfect case study in tension and release in rock music.

Ryan: This one’s cool because we were tracking the record and Wes was playing this thing in the living room, just that intro part, and I could just hear it and said, “what’s that?” And he said, “I don’t know I just made it up,” and I said “well do something with it.” (laughter) And I’m glad he did.

Wesley: I’m glad I did, too. There was, again, this instant sort of response. Whenever that happens to me when we’re dicking around in practice or whatever, it’s cool.

Ryan: That instant gratification. That riff reminds me of a mix between New Pornographers and You Am I.

Wesley: I’ll take that. That’s a wedding I’d go to.

Ryan: It’s also the title track, because I think lyrically it’s relevant. You know we’re not a political band. But, I think, in my mind in speaks to things that, maybe not directly, but speaks to things happening now.

Wesley: Whoa.

(the air fills with a very random, out of nowhere, strong smell of marijuana)

All three of us: Whoa!

SPB: ...and it was at this point that the interview slowed down. This is the best scone I’ve ever had.


Track 8 - Chavez

SPB: This song is interesting in that it has a very different vocal approach than the others, and that makes it stand out from the others. It also has a completely undeniable bass line that, as a bass player myself, I envy.

Ryan: This one for a while I didn’t like because people kept saying it sounded like the Foo Fighters. But, Dave Grohl didn’t invent the droney guitar! I don’t dislike them, but I think the comparison made me feel a bit dated. But, what I was trying to do was almost that new wave/punk/angular thing

Wesley: Ryan came up with that killer bass line, too. I remember when he came up with it, and I thought that’s a really cool take on this riff.

Track 9 - Sorry Sorry

SPB: When I first heard this track, it seemed like a perfect breath of air after the rush that the first eight tracks of this disc provide. It's got a different texture than the others, and has a more lamenting tone. It tugs at me emotionally, and some of that is simply Wesley's vocal delivery. He's always very believable and honest in his delivery.

Wesley: This is actually a song I wrote for Ruston Mire, and I didn’t write any songs for that band. I loved playing in that band. But, part of the reason was that I didn’t have to write any of the songs for that band. I got to play with good players, and I was really happy just playing guitar.

The exceptionally skilled and terribly handsome Brian Naubert said, "it’s okay. You can write songs for this band." I said, I don’t want to do that, because he had such a cool sound, and I felt really strange about it.

Finally I said, well I have this one thing, and we worked on it and actually put it on their last record. It turned out really great, and people really liked it. It was one that the guys in this band thought it was strong enough to bring over and give a new treatment.

Ryan: We had to twist his arm. We have to twist his arm to get it into the live set.

Wesley: There’s a resistance in my because it deals with something really specific in my life that is a time and a place that deals with the past, and I’m like I don’t know if I was to….

Ryan: It’s okay to cry.

Wesley: It’s not that it’s bad in anyway, it was just hard to get me to want to do it, because it feels like it belongs then and not now. We had to twist it around for me to feel comfortable doing it again.

Wesley: This is one of those songs that if not played right live, it can really go off the rails. We can get away with a certain amount of mess in some of the songs we play. But, that one is unforgiving.

Track 10 - Try

SPB: This track manages to be epic without being over-wrought. It's sweeping and serious without unnecessarily dramatic. I love the keyboard line, it's the perfect icing to the cake.

Ryan: As I am wont to do, I was sitting on my deck just totally baked, and I thought what if we played it as a slow song. We were already tracking, and I brought it to the band and everyone was like “we’ve got to put this on the record.” So, we worked it out to get it on the record. This was the only one that we tracked lived.

Wesley: It made me sad in a way, because we had a really good time and it was ending. You know we had a lot of limitations in how we tracked.

Ryan: Let’s put it this way, Jeff tracked 17 songs in two days.

Wesley: So, it was a pleasure with this one to get in there and just spend a day doing pretty much everything. The only thing left to do after that day was some guitar and the vocals. But, it was just nice. You know that was the ideal – you’re looking at your brothers, and you’re playing the song, and that’s it.

(it was at this point that we got kicked out by the Starbucks guy)

After I stopped recording we talked about how they decided to put the songs in the order in which they land on the disc, and Ryan talked about how they couldn’t see Try as anything other than the last song, since it’s got such a feeling of “closing up shop,” which was a perfect ending to our conversation, since they were literally closing up shop as we wound down the interview.

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