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The Silversun Pickups

Written by Daniel Clarke on April 17, 2009

Music Feeds has always been focused on getting the word out about independent music. That’s the main reason I enjoy writing for them.

Case in point: two days ago I’d never heard of the Silversun Pickups. Today, as I wait to talk with Joe Lester, keyboard player for the Silver Lake locals, I’m one of their biggest fans.

For the uninitiated, the Silversun Pickups sound like a sublime mix of early Smashing Pumpkins and Washing Machine-era Sonic Youth. I’ll admit that’s a fairly narrow description, but it fits. Think shoe-gazing grunge.

I endure a whole minute of infuriating muzak before the Telstra lady finally connects our call. I greet Joe by asking what he’s been doing lately.
“We just got back from Texas” he says. “We did the South by Southwest music festival and played a couple of our first shows with the new songs so that was nice. It was good to test them out.”

Those new songs are from their second album, Swoon, due to be released 17th April. It’s been three years since their first release, Carnavas. Joe explains that the band isn’t used to playing new songs live.

“We’d been around for years when the first record came out, so about two thirds of the songs had definitely been played in front of people and they’d been played in front of people in a multitude of versions.

“I think the first version of Lazy Eye was really slow and about twelve minutes long. You just sort of edit things as you go along.”

“This is new, to have a whole batch of songs that we’ve never played in front of anyone is definitely a new and interesting thing.”

Three years is a long time between releases, especially for an indie band. “Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined that we would spend that much time promoting [our first] record” Joe tells me.

It seems the band just couldn’t turn down the touring offers that came their way. They’ve opened for big name acts like The Foo Fighters,

Snow Patrol and Australia’s own Wolfmother. They weren’t really intimidated to be playing such big shows.

“The first time it was like ‘oh shit’ but I think just by virtue of the fact that we had been playing for a really long time at that point we knew who we were and so it was basically the opportunity to try and play in front of more people.”

“We’ve just always approached it that way, regardless of who we’re playing with.”

Joe reveals that experience has been integral to the band. Starting out in the Silver Lake region of LA, the scene was receptive to musicians willing to put in the time.

“WE DIDN’T WANT TO JUST SLAP A BUNCH OF SHIT TOGETHER AND THROW IT OUT. WE WANTED TO MAKE SURE THERE WAS A REASON TO PUT A RECORD OUT.”

“It’s definitely its own place. There are a lot of smaller clubs in our neighbourhood, we all still live here, that are really supportive and the promoters of those clubs are really in to music. You can literally just go up to them with a demo and chances are they’ll let you play. That was really how the band started.”

“There were a lot of promoters at the clubs in this neighbourhood that were always down to let the band play, sometimes it was one o’clock in the morning on a Tuesday, but that was really how the band formed, by playing

live and learning what it was that we were and wanted to do. It’s a great community and amazing bands just keep popping up.”

Silversun “literally didn’t stop touring until the end of December 2007” on their last album before taking some time off. They “didn’t even think about anything music related” for a month.

Having refreshed the creative juices, the band “started writing, right up until the time we went into the studio.” Joe maintains that the time spent developing the new album was important.

“We didn’t want to just slap a bunch of shit together and throw it out. We wanted to make sure there was a reason to put a record out. We weren’t going to do it unless we felt like we had songs that were worth people listening to.”

“We wrote twenty two songs altogether and scrapped four of them immediately. The rest of them we just chipped away at until we thought we had an album’s worth of material.”

“I’ve always been baffled by the bands who are like ‘Yeah, you know, we came back and wrote seventy songs and these are the best fifteen.’ How does someone even write seventy songs? We just wanted to really make sure that the stuff we had was worthwhile and worth spending the time on.”
The line suddenly goes dead. All I can hear is that annoying muzak again. Just as I’m about to abandon the call, the muzak stops and I hear Joe laughing.

Sensing our time is close to over, I’ve got to play new-found fanboy before I hang up.

I ask if the Silversun Pickups plan on heading down under in support of their new album.
“We’re only just now starting. The whole touring universe is starting to take shape. If it’s at all within our power we definitely want to come back. We had a really great time the last time we were there. The crowds were totally fuckin’ awesome. Hopefully we can make it happen sooner rather than later.”

If history is anything to go by, we can expect a Silversun tour sometime in the next three years then. Hopefully we won’t have to wait that long.

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