Interview: Little Joy, Part 2

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Videos by American Songwriter

This is the second installment of Kyle Williams’ interview with Little Joy. If you haven’t checked out Part 1, click here. Enjoy!

This is the second installment of Kyle William’s interview with Little Joy. If you haven’t checked out Part 1, click here. Enjoy!

Once you had the album finished, did you shop it around? How did Rough Trade come into the picture?
F: We thought we were going to shop it around, but they [Rough Trade] have first dibs on anything that I do. With our experience with RCA, we thought they were just going pass it, but Jeff Travis, I love the guy, God bless him. I woke up one morning and Ryan our manager called and said, “Jeff Travis loves the record and he wants to put it out” and we were like [makes high five-ing motions].

R: It was really good news because it was very dark for us after we did the album, because we did it all ourselves. You know how it is, you almost have no idea who’s going to like it.

B: We were all so curious because in the end we were like, “What have we done?”

F: I remember playing it to Matt actually (motions to Matt their drummer at the other side of the room) at my apartment in New York and staring at his face and being like, “Check this part out” and he was like, “Cool. Want to go get a beer?” He stonewalled me.

I know you all have experience with critiques and reviews in the past. Do you try to avoid those, or do you learn anything from them?
F: I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t care, but it ends at that. It ends at approval. For me in particular, I speak for myself when I say this: When I see people saying, “Ah f@#$ the critic. Whatever.” No, that’s a barometer for what people are thinking. The work that you did for so long and put your whole heart into it-just like Jeff Travis giving it the thumbs up. If someone gives you a thumbs up you’re happy, if someone gives you a thumbs down, you’re a little upset. I don’t think I would take advice from anybody. I don’t think that I would read an article that said, “Fab has got to stick to the drums” and be like, “OK, I’m going to go stick to the drums.”

B: But I think that, if there’s a good review or a bad review it means something but at the same time, a lot of the time music critics, they’re critiquing music, and those aren’t necessarily the kind of people that would be at our shows. A friend of mine that’s in another band said, “Every time you get a bad review your like, ‘Ah f@#$ them’ and every time you get a good one you’re like, ‘We did it!'”

When thinking critically of the album, what are your main concerns or critiques?
F: That is a long, long list.

R: Yeah, I don’t know if I want to go into that.

F: Binki came back from a show and Rodrigo was in the middle of recording a guitar part, told us that she met this guy who told her this George Martin quote, “You never finish an album, you only quit it.” Did I say George Harrison?

B: No.

F: There are lyrical things that I’d like to change. There are sonic things I’d like to change. One of my favorite songs on the record happens to be the dullest sounding song, and it always bothers me.

R: A mix is that to the extreme. You can sit there and tweak buttons for the rest of your life.

B: We mixed the album twice.

Did you finish mixing and decide you had to go back and do it again?
F: No

R: It was like the first mix was rushed and we were doing extreme, 18-hour shifts at the studio recording and mixing at the same time. We thought we could do it because back then, we didn’t have any idea of whether we were going to put it out or anything.

F: Also we were working against the clock because the future for all of us was very blurred.

R: And also we had someone working at the mixing who wasn’t very good. Not Noah of course but the first mix was a mess.

There seems to be a dialogue between regret and hope, this might sound cheesy but has playing these songs been therapeutic at all?
F: Oh God yeah. It doesn’t sound cheesy at all. Are you kidding me? I’m going to be very honest with you-regardless of whether we’ve done something good for people, we’ve done something good for us. I feel like a different person, be it through my friendship with him [Rodrigo] or my love for her, or my love for him, just making this music was almost like a trophy for the next step in my life.

R: That’s where we go with Vonnegut right? When he says that everyone should express themselves in some form, just for the sake of putting some part of yourself out and looking at it. That’s not cheesy. I can understand how people can perceive it as something cheesy, but it’s right.

I really liked the alternating pan of guitars in “Keep Me In Mind,” whose idea was that?
R: That was Fab’s.

F: It was originally supposed to be one guitar part, and he was the one that said, “Let’s split it.” And we decided to pan them hard.

B: It was hilarious too, watching them.

R: We recorded that live! We recorded bass and drums live, and then the two guitars. There were two amps in the same room, one microphone in each amp, and a microphone in the middle.

B: I was sitting there with the video camera trying so hard not to laugh, watching their faces.

F: We had our first fight then.

R: Yeah, yeah. It was the best thing we could do because those are very tight [guitar parts] and we didn’t want to cut it up so we did the whole song. It didn’t take us too many takes, maybe the fifth take when we did it, it was like . . . [Fab and Rodrigo give each other high fives].

Did you record to tape?
R: Yeah to 16-track, two inch tape. You know the band The Bees?

Yeah I love The Bees.
R: We love them too! Paul Butler was showing me a demo the other day, of their new stuff, and I was like, “This is the best demo I’ve ever heard. How can you get that space? There are so many instruments!” and he said, [in his British accent] “Oh it was easy, I put a microphone in the middle of the room and I had all the instruments lying around, and I would sit on the drums and play the drums, then I went to the bass and played the bass, then I went to the organ on the other side of the room and played it right there.” So he basically didn’t move the microphone and played the instruments around the room, and you hear it. It sounds like a band playing [live].
Today, because we can record everything separately, we tend to think that’s better, and in fact we are just trying to emulate what would happen naturally. If you do it naturally you don’t stack up the sounds and you’re going to fight. The microphone is going to hear what it’s going to hear. It’s so cool when you hear an old recording and you know that the drums are there, but you don’t really hear it. You don’t have to hear everything.

F: Motown drummers are the best drummers, they where, those two guys. I don’t know, one of them is still alive but another passed away. The guys played for everybody. Their bass drums where always suggested bass drums.

R: If you hear everything, it means that you have a piece of paper, and everything is in the same plane. It’s more natural for the sounds to find their own space.

The lyrics Binki sings in “Don’t Watch Me Dancing” really seem to stick out in my mind. Is Margherita a sort of lyrical straw man or is it someone you know?
F: It was a fun exercise to make up a story. Most of those songs were so personal for us. She only told me “Unattainable” was about me months into the first recording process.

Where you ever wondering if it was about you?
F: Yeah. She played it to me before we could express ourselves to each other, and I always kind of new but anyway … In “Don’t Watch Me Dancing” it went something like this, we had no lyrics but I had “Don’t Watch Me Dancing.” I always liked the idea that it was an imperative, to someone that you where going to goof off in front of, and you’re saying, “I want to be myself in front of you, but I don’t want you to see it happening.” We had that idea, and then I think jokingly, Binki said, “Margherita has a strange appeal, walks around toothless on a broken heel” and we laughed, and we laughed, and we laughed. Then I took a plane to New York and I remember thinking, what if this song was about this girl who is so beautiful that it’s a detriment to her. It’s kind of like “The Most Beautiful Woman In Town,” the Charles Bukowski short story. I wanted to run with it. Finally we don’t have to write about ourselves.

Sometimes the greatest truths come out of those kind of stories.
R: Yeah, you try to separate yourself from it and then your like, “Whoa.”

B: The funny thing though about that was that it started out not even about a person. We were talking about alcohol. It started as, “Whiskey has a strange appeal,” or something like that, and then I said, “Margherita has a strange appeal”

R: It was still about trying to be yourself..

B: But then in saying “Margherita” it was like a drink and a name, and then it turned into a persona and a character.

If you had to pick a favorite album from 2008, what would you pick?
F: I would definitely say Vampire Weekend. It was kind of point of conversation for all of us. That guys melodies…goddammit. They make me jealous.

When that record first came out it there was a lot of hype surrounding it, and after while it became sort of un-cool or over-hyped.
R: Well I don’t give a s@#$. I think it’s a good record.
The album that Adam Green [Sixes and Sevens] was inspiring. I knew Adam’s music a little bit, but I heard the whole album even with tracks that didn’t make the album, and I was like, “Wow this is really f@#$ing good.”

B: I know this was the year before, but Devendra’s last record, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.

R: If it wasn’t for that album we wouldn’t even-

F: He is a f@#$ing shaman if I’ve ever met one.

How do you mean?
F: You know how shamans are supposed to guide you to find yourself-pretty much. I used to be a very religious kid but I…changed perspectives. When I read and hear about shamans, it’s almost like Buddhism in that it’s not about believing in anything but yourself, to get yourself to a better place. Devendra for all of us, I think, was able to make us look at ourselves in the right light to be able to move forward. Super positive, very encouraging. He’s a sweetheart.

B: He admires people and people’s insecurities and tries to make people comfortable with who they are.

F: That’s the thing. It’s not that he encourages you blindly. He finds what’s good in and you and says, “That’s good man.”

I recently watched the documentary Kill Your Idols and a lot of the artists from the No Wave movement in the ‘70s had some harsh criticisms of today’s independent musicians. What’s your opinion on the state of independent music today?
R: What we call independent music here in America is a huge industry.

F: We have the tools now, at a very low price…If you think about how exciting it was for a singer in Detroit, to go in and have a f@#$ing record in the ‘60s-you made it. It doesn’t matter what kind of records sales you had, you made it. That was the established trophy. Nowadays, you can make a record in your bedroom at a very cheap price. It’s a good thing, it’s almost a communist thing. Everybody can try, which is a great thing. Now, the sift has to have smaller holes. This answer doesn’t have anything to do with money, living out on the streets, privilege, or motivation. I feel like the motivation to make music is the same as the motivation to make art and some people think it’s to make money, some people think it’s to express themselves-that’s the way it will always be. If you can match the two together-if you can make art honestly and make money doing it, it means that you are-in this time when everybody can do it-one of the people that are succeeding.

R: In the ‘80s in Brazil, people started playing more rock on the radio. There was a guy that died from this band called Legião Urbana. He said one thing that’s not very complicated but it meant a lot to me when I heard it. He said that he felt like most people where doing music to take something from people: money or status or something. He thought that it only worked when they did it to give something to people. It might sound cheesy or whatever but I don’t care. When I heard that, I’m like, you’re right. If you’re writing a song and you try and give something then you’re being yourself, and you might actually make some money doing it. When you have a strategy or plan to get or to sound new, because there’s this scene or whatever, then chances are, you’re going to be behind someone else.

If you have something that will resound with someone else, then all these other things will fall in place.
F: This isn’t a tag for Little Joy or anything like that but what was cool about this project was that it was meant for pure, unadulterated fun. It was supposed to be a catharsis for us who had these shadowy futures ahead of us. Every step we made was like, “I can’t believe that we got this far,” on the basis of being friends and sharing s@#$ with each other.
She is the prime example of it. She’s a girl who has no musical background except for a genuine interest in music and a genuine talent. She’s now in a f@#$ing touring band because we happened to fall into this, because of this honest fun that we’ve had together. Right Bink?

B: That’s right Fab.

R: I remember the day when I heard her for the first time. There was a little part of me that was like, “Goddammit” because I’ve been playing for ten years now, and I know how it is to write a song. I sit there, there’s this rock, I have a hammer and I hammer the s@#$ out of that stone until it looks like an ugly dog or something, and then she’s like, “I wrote a song” and plays it and I’m like, “Wow.”
Then there’s another thing, and this is another one of the inspirational lessons I learned with this, like I said before I was writing songs about myself dealing with all my insecurities with all these rituals. “No, I got to have this, no, the dog can’t bark, no, it’s got to be three in the morning for me to have a f@#$ing lyric” or whatever. Then with this, it was like working is the atmosphere for inspiration.
She had never played the keyboard before right? Then we were doing the arrangements and were like, “Oh we have the keyboard part, I bet Binki can play it. Let’s see” In ten minutes she was playing it and then a week after that she was coming up with organ parts for the songs. So, we are stilled amazed. It’s been amazing.


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