INTERVIEW: Stay Outside

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When I caught Stay Outside’s live act for the first time, the Marion, Ind.-based band was in the finals of the Birdy’s Battle Royale early this year, two weeks away from its record release for six-track EP OK, For Now. The band, playing last of the night, nearly tore the roof of Birdy’s down with an incendiary performance of pure raw energy few in the audience saw coming.

And though they didn’t win, they did win over a significant portion of the audience who, like myself, were impressed with the lyrical quality of their deeply questioning, introspective take on Thrice-inspired post-hardcore. “Aaron Becker wrung every drop of energy out of that room for his standout vocal performance,” I wrote in Nuvo the day after seeing their performance. And when the album came out weeks later I was equally stunned by the band’s ability to transform the songs I’d heard live into deeply realized sonic paintings, rising and falling like the tides of emotions in Becker’s lyrics. This wasn’t what I’d come to expect from rushed local albums. It sounded like something recorded for months in a New York Studio with major label funding.

I sat down with Becker to talk about the album and the band’s songwriting in the week prior to that album release show. Due to unforseen circumstances that interview sat unpublished since June of this year. There’s no reason, however, that you shouldn’t see it now, because Stay Outside remains one of central Indiana’s best kept secrets, and there’s no reason except that those of us who have heard them haven’t spoken loudly enough to change it. OK, For Now easily stands with the upper echelon of albums I’ve heard this year from anywhere in the country, major label or not. And it’s about time you hear it.

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14117850_637582809744338_6096366644922508032_nLt Dan” got me really focusing on your lyrics because of the line “Are you there God? They say I can walk beside you but my legs are gone.” And when I got to “Broke,” and you had that chorus: “My home is written in my bones, I take you with me everywhere I go. I make mistakes along the road but I don’t care. Seeing your heart-strings tear and autumn turn to death and now it’s gone and I’m just stuck here blaming God for all that’s left.” That’s a lot deeper theologically than you usually get in this genre of music. Can you explain a little about your writing process?

I have a lot of things to say and a lot of things to express, and the lyrics especially on this album mean a lot, just being in a place where … that song is called “Broke,” so being at a point in my life where I was feeling super broken and the only thing I really had was my home and the friends that were around me. And it was easy to blame God, but I just wanted to find a way to express how I was feeling. Sometimes you write for yourself and sometimes you write for other people. That song is definitely a song that I wrote for myself. And writing that song helped me find a lighter part of my life and find more hope.

Do you write the songs primarily and bring them to the band or do you guys write as a group?

Garrett [Johnston], our guitar player, he always writes guitar riffs, so sometimes we’ll start with a riff and add on to that, but most of the time I would say that the base of the song is really me with an acoustic guitar and lyrics and then we build from there. There have been times where Garrett and I have have built the structure of a song together and then I went into the lab by myself and wrote the lyrics for it, and then rewrote the lyrics for it and rewrote them again because I want to say exactly what I’m feeling.

It came out in your live performance. By the time you got to “Lt Dan” at the end of your Birdy’s performance, the song started out as calm as you can say any of your songs ever start. But by the end you were tossing your guitar in the air and I was concerned because it’s the end of the night and I was sure there’d been drinking going on. I was sure someone was going to get hurt!

[Laughs] I didn’t think about that. You’ve got to give a hundred percent no matter what you’re playing. And playing last too, we’re always going to leave it all on the line. I want people to leave at the end of the show and say “I didn’t know that band but holy crap! They gave it a hundred and ten and they’re so passionate! Now I’m gonna go listen to the album and hear the songs.”

These songs on the EP, you guys got some really strong recordings. Did you do it yourself, or did you work with somebody?

We went to Varsity Recordings in Anderson, and recorded with Jonathan Class, he plays keyboards with Josh Garrels. He’s a really good friend of ours, he made Joshua Powell and the Great Train Robbery’s record, and a bunch of people around the area. I think he’s the best producer in Indiana, to be honest. I think he knows exactly what he wants and he can take any artist and whatever the artist says they want he’ll make it happen. We’d never met him before we worked with him on some previous projects before Stay Outside, but we knew no matter what we’d do, he was going to be a part of it. So yeah, it wasn’t cheap, but it was definitely worth doing it right.

How long did you work with him to get those six songs?

We recorded the album in seven days. We would start recording in the morning and work until we went to bed at night. The cool thing is that John was part of our creative process, so we gave him control in that he’d say “that part isn’t quite what it should be, rewrite it,” and we’d go in and say “awesome!” and come out with a fix. So it’s really good to have that. And in the studio Garrett, the guitar player, and I did all the recording. So I did the drums, the vocals and the rhythm guitar and Garrett did the lead guitar and the bass. Sean [West], the bass player, wasn’t in the band yet but is now and we just hire touring drummers to play live with us.

I could tell the two of you up front, you seemed to have the most experience together. You were playing off each other the whole show.

We’ve been working on this album for ten months from the beginning, working and planning, and we’ve been in bands since we were thirteen. And we haven’t stopped being in bands We both decided not to go to college so we could make this our full-time thing. Sean was in Nashville. And we grew up with Sean but he went to Nashville and came back last year and started living with Garrett and I and just a few months later he was like “OK I want to be in this band.” So he’s new to being in the band but he’s always been a part of the backbone of it, you could say.

What was it like showcasing the new EP in the Birdy’s Battle format?

So yeah, battles are weird because everyone’s judging art, which is a weird thing to be a part of. But it is kind of like if you’re in a battle at least people are usually listening because that’s what they’re doing, they’re judging the band. It was cool to have people pay attention, everyone was really intently listening. And that made me want to be even more passionate with the songs and really express how I felt as I was writing those songs. And Ben Cannon was really helpful, he was the one who really came out and asked us if we wanted to be part of the Battle format. At first I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it, but if anything we figured it was a chance to gain fans and that was a really cool aspect of it. And at the same time you get paranoid because you don’t want to invite too many people out to the Battle weeks, because our release show was scheduled for two weeks after the finals. [Laughs] Which one should people go to? It’s hard to say come to both of them.

As for the album, it’s fitting that you called it OK, For Now, because at the end of every song there’s always at least the element of hope in there, after you strip everything down and try to build it back up.

That wasn’t on purpose, but that’s true the more we looked at it. I don’t want to call it a concept album but the theme of hopelessness is there, and especially in “Braveheart,” it all goes out and then you find hope at the peak of the song. So not only does our live show turn no hope into hope, but kind of every song has its point where you can let go [of the hopelessness].

Spark Joy Music and Musical Family Tree unite for benefit for Tennessee fire victims

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“As many of you know, wildfires are still spreading through eastern Tennessee, a place that is dear to me… and home to so many families, small businesses, and wildlife. Yesterday I reached out to Benjamin Cannon and Spark Joy Music for help, and in true Cannon fashion, a venue and bands were booked within a few short hours. We’re still gathering information on the disaster and where the most help is needed, but 100% of the proceeds will being going to those impacted by these fires. Please join us at Musical Family Tree in Fountain Square on December 17th for a wonderful cause to raise funds for wildfire relief. There will be live music, drinks, a raffle, and stay tuned for more.” – Chris Burch, via Facebook

Indianapolis musicians have come together before to raise money for a good cause in times of crisis, but this benefit has developed with more speed and organization than I’ve seen, bringing together some big names in local alternative folk and rock for an all-ages show where all money raised will benefit the Tennessee fire victims.

The benefit will feature, among others still to be announced, Chris Burch, It’s Just Craig, Jeff Kelly and the Graveyard Shift, Bobbie Morrone Trio and the always incredible Coup D’etat, and will be hosted by MP Cavalier, Music Editor and Co-Host of the DoItIndy Radio Hour. For more information about the show, or for how you can donate items for a raffle which will take place at the event, feel free to check out their Facebook event page.

SLAP-HAPPY: Rockümockery delivers full unhinged Slappies experience in album form

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The Slappies may seem like they’ve been rocking their way around Indianapolis forever, but that’s only because the various members of the band have played their parts in all manner of other local punk mainstays, including Smash and Grab, Gay Black Republican, and God only knows how many others. I’ve been in the city since late 2014, and I kept hearing people say I should seek them out live, and though I haven’t yet that’s soon to be rectified after hearing this album.

Though I don’t have the official first-hand evidence to back the claim, even a cursory listen to Rockümockery makes it clear these guys all know their element, and they’re comfortable in the studio as well, laying down thirteen tracks that showcase what I can only imagine is a blisteringly fun experience. “Beer Time,” “Social Retard,” “Monster Truck” and “”My Own Way” open the album on blitz of raw energy that plays fast and loose with melody and turns of phrase, daring you to look away. You won’t. Even the choice of cover material is inspired, particularly the cover of Ellen Foley’s “Torchlight,” featuring memorable guest vocals by Toni Bennett, which had me hitting repeat as I researched her contribution to the album.

Catch yourselves a Slapplies show and then grab this from the merch table afterwards, you’re sure to be looking quickly for the follow-up. The real disappointment is that this gem has been available all year and no one’s been spreading the word … well, hop on the “Hear! Hear!” bandwagon: The Slappies rock, and this album’s a keeper!

The band’s album currently can be purchased at shows  in person
and at Indy CD and Vinyl, as well as select Karma locations in central Indiana.
If out of state, hound Rich on Facebook to build a website, already!

ALBUM REVIEW: Tracksuit Lyfestile – “E=MC Hammered”

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When I covered the finals of this year’s Battle Royale at Birdy’s, I was impressed to see that the much-vaunted Tracksuit Lyfestile lived up to all the musical hype. “An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX pedals, the band brought a hard rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound,” I wrote at the time in NUVO. Combining tight metal guitar riffs with adventurous experiments in instrumental looping built upon, among other things, live trombone, makes a Tracksuit Lyfestile show something to behold.

The same holds true when listening to the band’s debut E=MC Hammered, though listeners should certainly knock their expectations up a notch as the level of musicianship is impeccable. Headphone listening at its best, Tracksuit Lyfestile encourages you to rock the fuck out at a live show, and then sit back and pick the music down to its bare elements at home, reveling in how they build these acid soundscapes.

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Tracksuit Lyfestile live at Birdy’s during the Battle Royale Finals (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

 

From the opening build of “Hurricane” the music grabs your attention, and then the band holds it through the little things; the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” choruses of “90/10,” the thundering wall-of-sound that is “Lunar Lounge,” and the crowd-pleasing “Beat It” cover being stand-outs. By the time they place us back gently on the ground with the staccato crunch and intricately melodic “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” a return visit is a foregone conclusion. Just as soon as one can get online to find the band’s ‘Band In Town’ page, that is, because once you’re hooked you’ll want to see them live just to know for sure it isn’t just a bunch of studio trickery.

I assure you, it isn’t. Tracksuit Lyfestile is the most original band I’ve heard come out of the Indianpolis scene since I’ve moved here — call them the Cake of Naptown; they’ll inspire many, but few will be able to outright copy them. And that’s a very good thing!

The band will release the brand new album E=MC Hammered at the Melody Inn on july 15th with support from Moxxie, Coup d’Etat and Midwest State of Mind! Not many better spots to catch a live band in any city …. and for only $5!

THE LIVE WIRE: Perro Planetario at the Melody Inn

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Perro Planetario’s lead singer Luk at Melody Inn in Indianapolis (Photo: Jonathan Sanders)

Independent rockers Perro Planetario popped through Indianapolis this week amid their first American tour in the band’s eight-year existence. And I’m glad I made it a point to attend, because when a band from Buenos Aires decides to make an appearance, it’s always good that it’s at a place as storied as the Melody Inn, the one spot in Indy where you can all but get up on the stage with the band — you and a hundred or so of your closest drunken friends. Once you’re there, you get to experience the best music out there, with no genre limits. And Perro Planetario, even with the language barrier of performing their songs entirely in Spanish, easily will win you over with their hooks.

Growing up in the home of a Spanish teacher, I learned at a young age to appreciate songs in their original contest, so I appreciate it when bands refuse to cater to lazy American audiences by translating their songs into our language. Expand your horizons and there’s a global music experience out there! And thanks to the Melody Inn I don’t have to rely just on YouTube clips … though you’re certainly welcome to enjoy the song I caught at the show (“Sin Novedad”) and enjoy the photos, all below.

If you missed it, Indianapolis, the band has ONE MORE SHOW in town before they head to their next city. Tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. at EL VOLKAN Mexican Restaurant, at 2701 W Washington St. Trust me, they’re worth the drive!

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Ghost takes Indianapolis by storm with sold-out Egyptian Room show

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One of Ghost’s Nameless Ghouls onstage at the Egyptian Room in Indianapolis (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

“Do we believe in Satan? The only thing that really matters is that he believes in us!” – Nameless Ghoul, via an interview with Noisey

Fresh off their Grammy win in the Metal category earlier this year for their album Meliora, it’s tough to imagine there’s a band more in-demand in the genre. Such was shown to be true when the progressive Swedish band took the stage at Old National Center’s Egyptian Room on April 20th, leaving some 2,000 fans speechless in the process, a sold-out performance in the heart of the Bible Belt. It is one thing to hear the band’s ironic take on Satanism on CD or Spotify and imagine the beasts creating such music behind the scenes. It is another entirely to witness the Nameless Ghouls in all their glory as they provide their full support for Papa Emeritus III, as you’re surrounded by an animated crowd of like-minded music fans.

If you’re among the uninitiated, this is perhaps the most adventurous, often beautiful, progressive rock you’ll hear outside of a Wax Fang show, and their performance never lets up. This was the band’s first time in the Circle City. Here’s hoping it isn’t long before they return to preach again soon. Religious Freedom, right, Governor Pence?

 


More photos below, all taken by yours truly, Jonathan Sanders, as I stood inches from the band, praying my camera — and my legs — wouldn’t die on me!


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Doug Gillard talks songwriting, collaborations in wake of work with Indianapolis’ Easthills

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Doug Gillard, soon to be touring nationally again with Nada Surf

Songwriters write.

It sounds simple, but that’s the name of the game, and unless they’re lying to you, most songwriters working on an indie level would love to have the opportunity to work with the writers who influenced their initial musical explorations. Most won’t get that opportunity, and some don’t wind up having the experience they’d hoped for, introductions at times serve to dash the image built up over years. But when a collaboration clicks, the result can be golden.

In the case of the Easthills, working with legendary guitarist Doug Gillard proved to be the perfect example, as I profiled this week in NUVO Newsweekly in advance of the Indianapolis band’s sold-out album release party this Saturday night at White Rabbit Cabaret. A chance encounter on social media introduced songwriter Hank Campbell to his longtime musical hero, and the resulting six-song collaboration looks to bolster the band’s continued sonic expansions.

But what about the idol? What is it like to work with songwriters who have respected you for years, built you up so high you aren’t sure you can live up to their imaginations of what you are? I had the opportunity to talk back and forth with Gillard on that very subject, but was only able to use a small portion of it in print. And while I certainly look forward to speaking with him in the future regarding his work with Guided By Voices, Nada Surf and myriad other projects, I really think his thoughts on this particular subject were noteworthy.

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Hank told me he reached out to you via social media, that you were a friend of a friend and everything just fell into place. But I’d love to get the story from your perspective. Does that happen often, with people reaching out hoping to work with you? What was it about the Easthills’ music that made you want to collaborate in such a big way?

It doesn’t happen much at all in that medium. Hank was very gracious, and approached as someone intimately familiar with my work and particular style. He sent two or three initial tracks, with lots of room in each to do things and add textures. I listened and got some ideas immediately. I loved the Easthills’ playing and they have a knack for melody, which is pretty key in my digging something to work on.

They were generous in a carte blanche way as to how much i could add, so I went for it; they[‘d] purposely left abundant space in the songs they sent me so I’d have room. I did most of the parts at home, and later they flew me out to add some finishing touches and be in the room with them for feedback, both figuratively and literally. The songs were very fun to work on, which is also a key factor — I enjoy playing parts that enhance a song’s ability to build.

I’m always interested in the process behind songwriting, something which often gets ignored. When you collaborate on songs in this way, do you vary your writing process? Is it easier in situations where you can work with the artist in person to flesh out a song, or do you prefer hearing their take on a song and adding your work to it? How did this work when you were recording with the Easthills on their latest project?

I enjoy both processes. Obviously it’s very helpful to have the immediate in-person feedback, but in this case, I would send Hank the tracks and they seemed to like what I added right away, so we were lucky in that respect. Bear in mind I didn’t write any of these songs structurally, only my parts within the songs, so it’s different than a songwriting collaboration per se. I love adding structural parts such as bridges where needed or asked for, but they already had them in place. Its always fun to just play on top of existing progressions, so they were generous in allowing me to do that.

When I made up my parts for GbV albums, I would work up a 4-track demo utilizing Bob’s own demos in that mix, and he miraculously almost always approved of things I came up with! By that same token, I love the in-person collaborating process as well.  In Nada Surf, I’ll try some ideas with the advantage of immediate feedback, so I have the opportunity to contour parts to fit just right.

As far as personal songwriting processes, I’ve seen firsthand that no one has a consistent formula. Sometimes you’ll wake up with a fully formed chorus — chords, lyrics and all. Sometimes the music is first, then melody and lyrics follow. Some people have a set of lyrics first, then write music around them to fit.  Sometimes the same person with that approach will have other songs wherein the former formula applies. In my own writing, music is first. I’ve had the wake-up thing a few times, but that’s rare, and an incredible gift when it does happen.

I’ve talked to several songwriters who had the opportunity to work with someone they respected as a musician, an idol so to speak … and everyone has different takes on the experience. But I’ve never gotten to ask what it’s like from the other side. As a writer and performer, what has your experience been interacting with long-time fans who are also musicians? Is it rewarding to be able to work with the next generation of songwriters in a collaborative fashion? Do their expectations of what it’s like to work with you get in the way of actually working with you?

I find it rewarding to work with any skilled writers/players, though I have to like the music first to be able to get into contributing. I mean, I don’t have that much experience working with folks who are longtime “fans” of mine, but if they’ve been slogging it out trying to put their material out there for some years, I consider we’re all on equal footing here.

What, in your experience, makes for a perfect song? Is that even something that’s possible … perfection in songwriting?

That’s a heady question! I do think there are perfect songs, and I realize this is subjective, but I tend to gravitate towards what would be “perfect pop songs”. I just noticed this within the last couple years, but to me a song like “Tears Of A Clown” is a perfect pop song. It’s catchy, there are changes, and it has a horn and woodwind arrangement. It boils down to whatever it is that’s created that grabs someone.

I’ve maintained that songs should go somewhere and have changes and bridges and whatnot, but I grew up on post-punk as well and love some repetitious trance-like music and noise things too, so I guess I can’t really say. As a writer, you think you have certain criteria, but when you consider all you love, it’s so varied in approach that it’s impossible to have a box-tick system. Sometimes things just emerge and when the piece is all said and done, maybe it’s one or two chords and you love it, so there goes your multi-part theory, you know?

Is there anything you wish someone would ask you but they never do?

In general I guess it would be questions aimed at the songwriting process as opposed to guitar solos or guitar playing. I’m really into chord progressions and chord voicings, bringing subtle things into songs, tunings etc. Hey, we all want people to ask about the minutia but they never do! Like every songwriter, I just want people to enjoy whatever results.