NS: How long have you been a band?
Aaron: It’s hard to calculate… Because… It never initially started as an idea to be a “band” in the traditional sense. It wasn’t like, “Let’s start a band!” It was like: “Cool, he’s got songs, I got songs. Let’s see if we can write songs together and what happens.” It was never like: “Aw, we have to get another guitar player, and we gotta start rehearsing to play live, and we need a band name…” There was no band name. On our last tour that we did in January ‘08, until like, a few weeks before we left, we still didn’t have a band name yet… Because it wasn’t important to us. It didn’t matter. I know the first time that me and Mike sat down, and even started discussing writing some songs together was… After Nails did that tour with Bauhaus? And then me, Troy, and Mike started putting the songs together at Shabbey Road in between those Nails tours. But at first, yeah, it was… Summer? Like, two years ago?
Aaron: DAMN, that was two years ago already? Whoa. Time flies when yer not havin’ fun, huh? So yeah, it was two years ago that we first sat down and we were kinda just tinkering, kicking the idea around. And then it kinda just slowly… Damn! Two years ago?
NS: So, musically, has it changed a lot from what you did at the beginning?
Aaron: Yes. It’s changed a lot from what the initial idea of the “band” or “project” or whatever it was intended to be. It’s obviously not a “project” anymore. When we first started, It was just trying to write these simple, melodic songs. Maybe drums, maybe not…
But there was definitely no heavy, hard hitting stuff… And a lot of ideas based more around sparser instrumentation. More acoustic guitars, harmonica, piano, organ… That sort of vibe. Also a big emphasis on vocal harmonies… I specifically wanted Mike and I to be able to do some Simon & Garfunkel type melodies…
And initially, the main reason to even add a second guitar player or whatever, wasn’t for the extra guitar, but because I wanted to do more three part harmony stuff. Like Crosby, Stills, and Nash. That initial idea for the band’s sound will be represented when the album comes out. Some of the songs we’ve played live, you know, just because in a live setting things just sound more aggressive or whatever when you plug in… But on the record they’ll sound pretty different than how they do live.
NS: You seemed to play around a bit more with that initial idea on some of the songs on the first tour, no?
Aaron: Yeah. The first tour was more about… Kind of drawing a line in the sand. Because people didn’t know what to expect from us. I mean, we didn’t really have any, or much music out at all, besides a couple songs on myspace. So people were just showing up based on whoever was in the band or whatever. So, by doing the acoustic songs… Even if it lost people’s attention, or even bummed them out, that was great. At that point, in those initial stages, it was more about the statement it made than anything. If it made the dude in the fucking Marilyn Manson or Nitzer Ebb shirt with dreadlocks or whatever to walk out of the room because he wasn’t expecting us to be playing “pussy shit”, then it served it’s purpose.
NS: Did that happen?
Aaron: Sure. And I LOVED that. It’s like: “Awwwww, did we help you figure out that you don’t really like MUSIC, you just like playing dress-up for the ‘Hot Topic Prom’, and were hoping that other people like you would show up with really shitty ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ tattoos too? Were you hoping there would be a lazer light show, fog machines, and dudes running around in circles with shaved eyebrows on stage? Well, that’s not what this band is doing here, but thanks for the gas money! And careful down those stairs on your way out. It’s easy to slip and hurt yourself with those frankenstein boots on.” But ya know, that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. It wasn’t ever a large percentage of the crowd. They’d be mad at us for some reason for not playing music like that… Like they’d been ripped off or something. But it’s not like WE were mad at THEM. It’s like: “Sorry this wasn’t your thing bro. You don’t get it now, but ya probably will when the zits go away. And I’m sure Rob Zombie, or something like that is coming to town real soon, so you can find all those other super individualistic people… That happen to all look exactly like you… At that show instead.”
NS: You’re changing the setlist around on this tour a lot more than the first one.
Aaron: Yeah. Mainly because we’re trying to figure out how to play songs that we’ve never played as this band before. Sound checks are really long, because they’re basically practices for us.Because a lot of the songs for example… We wrote like, a year ago. We’d write it and record it in like, a day or two… And then be like: “Done”, and put it aside.
Now it’s a year later and, I have no idea what the fuck I played, what the words were, what the arrangement was, etc. We’re like: “Wait a minute! Does it go like this?” We’re aiming that by the end of this tour to have another four songs in the set that haven’t been played live before. There’s 20 songs after that when we get home to fuck around with.
NS: It was sort of interesting what you did on the second to last song tonight…
Aaron: Interesting? Haha. Is that another way to say “shitty”?
Aaron: That song is called “Those Poor Devils”, and that one we actually recorded very recently. Tonight was the first time we’d ever played it in front of anybody before. It still has a ways to go, and we probably should have waited a few more soundchecks until playing it. But we were bored, so we said, “Fuck it”, and wanted to see what would happen.
Speaking for myself, I’m definitely not afraid of looking stupid in front of people. Haha. We look stupid all the fucking time. Looking stupid is good. Falling on your face is good. Because you learn from your mistakes. There’s nothing better than making a huge mistake in front of a lot of people. Because after that, you know you’ll never do it again. It’s like: “I will never again accidentally hit that wrong note, or accidentally sing that, or go into that wrong part, ever.” It’s like when you’re a little kid, and your mom will be like: “Don’t put your hand into the fire, or you’ll get burned.” Now, she can tell you that a number of times. But once you actually put your hand into the fire and burn yourself, you’ll say: “Damn, I’m never doing THAT again.” In that sense… It’s literally more effective with trial by fire.
NS: Setting up your own tour like this, what is the most difficult part?
Aaron: It isn’t difficult at all. I mean, I was in a band for nine years where we played over and over and over to fifteen people every night. I did an eleven or twelve week European tour in 2001 where we were in a converted UK mail truck, and you had to sit with your knees pressed against your chest the entire time, cos it was so cramped, and the exhaust would come inside and make you pass out, and the clutch would fall out from the bottom every 20 minutes, so the driver would have to stop to get underneath the truck and push it back up in.
NS: Wow. Didn’t you have trouble with the police?
Aaron: Yeah. We’d get pulled over and stuff. And that was in the winter. In Europe. That was like where… Three of the weeks were in Germany. THAT’S hard. That’s when we were just basically on my label with little or no help. Small, small, small time booking agent. This is like… We have a very, very, good booking agency here… And home. We have proper management, etc. etc. So, THIS is not rough. To me, rough is touring for years and years, and being so poor that you have to scam for food. Going into fast food places and lying… Giving some sort of fake story you’ve given a million times before, it’s still etched into my brain… Like: “I came in here last night on my way home from work over there at the Pep Boys down the street, and I ordered the chicken sandwich, and you gave me a hamburger, and I can’t eat red meat, so could I please talk to the manager about getting my chicken sandwich?” And they either give you your sandwich…
NS: So that works, usually?
Aaron: Yeah. Or, they can just tell that you’re lying and see that you’re so fucking broke that they feel sorry for you, and they give you the food anyway. That’s rough. Not to mention that there would be no people at the shows for the first few years, because no one gave a shit or had heard about the band. This is like, a cake-walk compared to that. This tour has had it’s share of weak turnouts, but considering we only have one single in stores over here right now… And not in many at that… And that in many ways, the lack of promotion is a bit “self-inflicted”… Such as setting up many shows a couple days before without really announcing them, etc…
NS: Yeah. Such as the Portsmouth show. So your idea of the tour is not to get maximum exposure?
Aaron: Like I’ve said… The main purpose of this tour, is to learn how to be a BAND. NOT cos we’re trying to get rich and famous overnight or something. A lot of the people in our camp and management… The booking agents, PR people, etc. etc., think we’re fucking NUTS for doing this tour. Ha. Maybe we are? I dunno. I’m just not in a hurry to play to thousands of people as soon as possible. Starting the tour with the Reading and Leeds Festivals… I was even hesitant about even doing that at first. And we’ve turned down opening / main support slots on some really big tours to do this one on our own instead. I told our agent when he was about to book this tour: “I want to play every last town there is in the UK… and I want to play SHIT-HOLES. Places with no stages, crappy PA’s, etc.” Obviously, it hasn’t all turned out that bad… But that’s what I wanted to do, and feel is right for the band at this time. We’re not in any hurry to become some huge band, or even a moderately successful band. There’s plenty of time to flirt with that kinda sillyness when the album comes out. It’s not like the opportunities to open for the huge bands in the enorma-domes are going to go away. But if it were me, and I was an outsider at some huge show, watching some band on some huge stage that only had one single out, I’d be like: “Fuck Off.”
NS: So, what do you think about people – like me – who travel really far to see you?
Aaron: It’s cool! It’s very flattering. I kind of hope we’re not disappointing people severely. Because like I said, our idea of this tour isn’t playing to massive crowds and to even be playing amazingly well! Ha. We only even started rehearsing for this tour about a week before leaving. Seriously! But that’s just more interesting to me. Because it keeps you on your toes, adds a little more adrenalin into the mix, and makes you come together as a band at “crunch time”. And being on a tour like this where we’re even DRIVING ourselves over here, which may not seem weird to a lot of people… But for a bunch of guys who have never driven on this side of the road before… Let alone a huge van that weighs two tons… It’s a bit hectic sometimes. But these are the kinds of things you need to go through so that it’s not just four people on stage playing the same songs, but where it becomes one unit playing together. That’s where we’re trying to get to. And I feel bad sometimes when a lot of people come up to us after the show telling us they’ve flown in from Japan, Italy, Holland, and the States… And they’ve come to see shows where we’re in the middle of this “growing pains” process. Because maybe they expected us to have it together more, but when we were at home, we weren’t concerned about rehearsing for putting on this huge, technically amazing, perfect show. We were more concerned about working on the record and that kind of stuff.
NS: But it’s sort of interesting to see you grow too as the tour progresses.
Aaron: OK… I don’t feel as bad then! Haha. But yeah, That’s one thing I didn’t anticipate when this band started, and especially started playing shows. When I knew I was done with Nails, it was like: “OK, now I’m gonna do this new thing, and and we’ll do a tour or whatever, put out a record, and then, who knows? Maybe the band will stay together, maybe not. At least I’ll be able to say ‘We did it’, and not have any regrets.”
But… What I didn’t expect… Before we left on that tour in January, it was like: “When we come home, we have a meeting with one record label and a couple of different managers.” Then we got home, and all of the sudden it was twelve managers and ten record labels… It freaked me out… A LOT. Ha. Because from the very beginning, I kept saying that I’d only do this if it was fun… And once it wasn’t, I’d stop. So when all this stress from having to deal with all these labels, and meetings, and decisions with long-term contracts etc., quickly escalated… And all these different people are PUSHING you to make these decisions right away… I just had to put the brakes on. And I’m STILL having to put the brakes on a lot of stuff with this band, cos it just doesn’t feel right for this to be moving that fast.
Sure, on one hand, it’s very flattering that people might be interested in the band in one form or another, but it’s also frightening… Especially when it wasn’t what you had in mind AT ALL. All of the sudden it’s all these people saying: “You’ve got a record here that’s really good, and you have all these names on the record that can really create a big ‘buzz’.” And: “Let’s do this, and this thisthisthisthisthis…” So yeah, I’ve had to hit the brakes on this a little bit because it was just like: “No! We haven’t even ever played in the United States. We haven’t even played more shows than I can count on my two fucking hands! This is too fast, slow down!”
That’s something I think was kind of fucked up on that very first tour. Not like we were playing to thousands of people every night. But for a band who had never even played ANY shows before, it was too big. To me. Maybe I was a bit naïve, thinking it was going to be what those first Icarus Line tours were… And then you’re meeting two separate groups of these kids from Japan before a show who’d flown out to see you play songs that you wrote lyrics for on the plane ride over. Blahhh. I don’t know. Anyway, I just wanted that tour to be more what this tour is like. So this one is kind of an attempt to move things in the right direction. Plus, we didn’t really even hit our stride on that tour until the very end… So that’s why I wanted this tour to be LONNNG. And people also seem to think that we’re touring over here in the UK again as an attempt to get into the UK music magazines, and get that “hype” or “buzz” started over here like many bands often do. But it’s like: “No… The reason we’re touring the UK again, is because you just can’t play night after night for this long, and only drive 45 minutes in between each gig in the States.” You can only do that over here. Soooo… Here we are. Again.
NS: With Troy this time…
Aaron: Yeah! And now, luckily, Troy Boy has come back into the fold and along for the ride this time. The first time I ever played where you call home, Troy and I played the Accelerator Festival in the summer of 2002 in Sweden… And we just DESTROYED the stage. Literally. This was back when we both thought it would be “funny”, or “cute” to smash all the rented gear we were playing to bits every night. I remember before that show, we had played the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and just broke EVERYTHING we possibly could on the stage. Microphones, monitors, anything that wasn’t ours. DUMB. But that night in Stockholm was funny. Karen from the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs was in front of the stage screaming, and pouring beer over her head and all over my pedals… And it’s funny, this was before I knew her, and became friends. Cos at the time, I didn’t know she was even in a band or anything. I was just like: “Who is this Swedish BITCH fucking up my equipment!” Haha… So then I started just squirting water bottles, and throwing cups of beer back at the audience, out of frustration… And I remember one of the cups just like… Exploding like a water balloon or something on this other girl’s shirt. Then somebody told me after the show, it was one of the girls from that band Sahara Hotnights. I don’t think I ever met them, or even got the chance to apologize for that. Ahhhh… Good times.
NS: So there was like a history of destroying stages…
Aaron: We just thought it was funny. We were just young and stupid. We did an Australia / Japan tour right after that, and at the end of EVERY show we destroyed everything on stage. Like, splitting kick drums in half with guitars, crushing guitar heads until the glass from the tubes inside just poured out of the back. I can’t remember where exactly, But some place in Australia, the club was on the second story of the building, and Troy managed to throw his kick drum through a glass window, and onto the street below. And there are only a handful of promotors in Australia, and the same guy who promoted those Icarus Line shows was the guy who did the Nine Inch Nails show when I went back down there with them. And I remember just getting off the plane, and him meeting us at the airport terminal, and just giving me the dirtiest look. When I finally attempted to apologize for what I’d done a couple years earlier, he was like: “Don’t worry, water under the bridge now. But just so you know, all that equipment you broke on that tour, cost about 17,000 dollars to replace.” But we had fun. It’s still fun to break stuff. Not as much fun, though.
All pictures by Anne Tai