Interview: Ravens & Chimes (Part 2)

Ravens & ChimesReichenbach Falls is the kind of album that grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’ve been shaken to your core. The emotions are so raw and the songs so strong that the connection can’t help but be immediate, though its spare narratives leave one with plenty of lingering resonance. As a New York resident this summer, the album’s evocative portrait of the city as lonely subways and empty houses went even deeper for me. It was with nostalgia for the East Village and excitement about the album – Ravens & Chimes’ debut – that I called frontman Asher Lack last October. Our conversation ranged from the city to recording in Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s studio to following Radiohead’s album-leaking footsteps. Here, in part two of two, we discuss entering the Montreal scene, making a dusty-sounding album and the future of the record industry post-In Rainbows

David Greenwald (DG): We’ve talked a lot about New York’s influence on the album. Why did you record it in Montreal?
Asher Lack (AL): Five years ago when I was a sophomore in college, my old band Paris Grey and I played up in Montreal with a band called Le Sang Le Morte (which had) like half the members of the Arcade Fire at the time. The scene there was ridiculous. Every band was amazing and the demos they were making were unreal. Rent is like $200 Canadian a month there and food is super-cheap. You can really get by quite easily. It was very conducive to forming a community. There was a studio up there that they had all recorded at which was run by the guys from Godspeed You! Black Emperor and this other gentleman named Howard Bilerman, who used to drum in the Arcade Fire. And so when it looked like we had enough material to do something, I went up there and booked our record with Howard and that was where we did it.

DG: How did the community react to you being there, as a New York band?
AL: I don’t want to flatter myself and be like everyone in the scene was aware that we were there, but it’s a small town – when a band from New York shows up, people know that you’re there, which is really a strange and great feeling when it’s musicians that you’re blown away by. We met the guys in Wolf Parade and they were very, very nice and cool to us. [Continue reading…]

DG: You’ve been compared to Wolf Parade and the Arcade Fire a lot – do you think that comes more from your sound or having spent a little time in that scene?
AL: I think it has a lot to do with the level of education that we all have. There’s a lot of young people who grew up taking music lessons and I think that’s really coming through in pop records and in rock ‘n’ roll records now. I’m a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, my folks are both Canadian and I grew up here in (New York) but I spent a lot of time commuting. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with that aesthetic, but maybe it does.

DG: Who are some of your influences as a songwriter and musician?
AL: I always say Leonard Cohen. He gets like (called) out very often for having these corny arrangements on his later records, but I think that his first two albums and his third album too, in some degree, are produced in this old, dusty way. I feel like I can hear wind on the tracks. Howard, the guy who did our record, has recorded a lot of records which I absolutely adore. He did a good amount of recording on Funeral, on all the A Silver Mt. Zion records… he just did this singer/songwriter Basia Bulat, who is on Rough Trade. When I emailed him about doing a record together, he was lik,e how do you want it to sound? And I said, Oh I would love it to sound clean and yet old, like the first couple of Leonard Cohen albums. And he said, oh, Bob Johnson, my favorite record producer. And then I went back and realized, wow all my favorite records with that sound are done by the same guy. He did John Wesley Harding, if you know that Dylan record. I feel like it was recorded in a house and I can hear the floorboards creaking.

DG: Are there any contemporary records that have that sense? Things that Howard’s done, like Funeral?
AL: Yeah. And also, Howard who isn’t the only one who works in that studio. The guys from Godspeed, their first record was recorded there and that album has that. It’s a little bit apocalyptic, it’s very grim, but hearing that kind of darkness scaled down into one person’s music, something really simple like a guitar and a voice, is also incredible. Anything Howard touches.

DG: I discovered you guys on Said the Gramophone. What do you think of blogs? Are you excited to see your songs there?
AL: Yeah. Howard actually was the one that hooked us up with Sean (from StG). Howard is a magic guy, where he’ll facilitate stuff but he’ll never tell you that he’s secretly facilitating it. So we’ll be in the middle of a session and he’ll be like, I can’t come to the session tomorrow, I have some personal things that have come up and my friend is going to help do your record because I have to miss a few days. And it turns out his friend was Brian Paulson, who recorded Spiderland and did a few of the tracks on Odelay! So one day we’re in the studio and Howard was like, I want you guys to be cool for my friend who’s coming by tonight, he writes a rather good blog. And then Sean showed up and was like, wow, this is a good band. Definitely we all love the blog thing. I get up in the morning and I check Pitchfork and I check Brooklyn Vegan the way that a producer would check Variety because you gotta stay in the loop. I used to work for a film director and that was one of the big things at his office, you read the trades every fucking day.

DG: Yeah, I did that all summer.
AL: Yeah, exactly, so you know the scene is like that. They move so much faster than magazines like Rolling Stone. I think Rolling Stone is cool – my favorite stuff in there is probably when they write about certain eras that they were privy too and connecting them with what’s going on now. I think they have a good base of knowledge to make statements about culture movements. I love Vice magazine, I think they’re really special. That’s an ongoing debate within the band. We have a love/hate relationship with Vice, I think they’re absolutely brilliant, they can do no wrong, but other members of the band are afraid of them because they really play by their own rules.

DG: They seem like they could be sketchy guys. I’ve heard some stories.
AL: Me too. My cousin had to write a story on them for the Toronto Globe and Mail about their business model and how they started out. He interviewed Gavin McGuinness. They started out as like a welfare scam. They bought a Haitian newspaper and were like, yeah we’ll turn it into a magazine so we can get grants to buy drugs.

DG: That’s amazing.
AL: They’ve turned it into a ridiculously profitable business. Their business model is amazing. They don’t mortgage other parts of their empire to do certain things, they’ll say, we have these dividends and we’re going to use them to start a record company and that’s our sunk cost and if the record company doesn’t work, then we don’t put any more money into it and it ceases to exist. It’s wild. There’s a side of me that loves business stuff. But yeah, the blogs are really special because they have speed and that’s really vital in the modern world, because now everybody – you can make recordings on your home computer and put them up on your MySpace page. A song that you dreamed up yesterday, you can give it to the world tomorrow.

DG: What do you think about what Radiohead’s doing with their album release? It comes out tomorrow.
AL: I am so stoked on it – I wish I had the clout to have done it first. I was thinking about this when Neon Bible got leaked and when the new Fallout Boy record got leaked and when My Chemical Romance got leaked, because these are records where potentially, getting leaked literally costs people their entire years’ salary and costs people their jobs. Which sucks. I don’t really – I don’t download records but at the same time I will say that because of blogs, because of the Internet, because of all that, I really don’t buy records the way I used to, y’know?

DG: I don’t think anybody does.
AL: Yeah. It’s unfortunate because now that we have people who – I really genuinely care about all the people at our label because they paid to make this happen. And so as a result you have people like us who will be silenced because there isn’t the money to make them exist. You can say that it’s an egalitarian thing but you have to be able to have a computer to be able to have Pro Tools. These things cost a lot more money than people will admit.

DG: But piracy and free downloads seem to be the norm these days. Do you think smaller bands could learn from Radiohead’s example?
AL: I was wondering why bands even bother sending out copies of their records to press. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have the clout to say, oh by the way, our new record comes out today and it’s in stores and you can buy it. Now, for them, they have the money where they can release it and not charge anything and that’s awesome. They’ll make their money back some other way. I strongly doubt that any company will make a move to go in that direction, but ultimately artists will find a way to do all these kinds of things. This is just the beginning of a big paradigm shift. But at the same time, I’m always wary of the idea that it’s going to be like this forever. My father is a very alarmist person, that’s a big mantra of his, nothing is going to sustain itself like this forever, we’re in constant flux. So I think that if there’s art that people are making and there’s an audience that wants to consume this art, invariably somebody will step in between whoever’s making it and whoever’s getting it to “facilitate” it and find a way to profit on that. And it has its benefits and it has its downsides. But I think Radiohead is fucking brilliant, like, way to go guys.

Related: Interview: Ravens & Chimes (Part 1)
Previously: First Look: Ravens & Chimes – Reichenbach Falls

Ravens & Chimes – “January”: mp3
Ravens & Chimes – “11th Street” (acoustic): mp3
Ravens & Chimes – “So Long, Marianne” (Leonard Cohen cover): mp3


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