Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups is shocked by his band’s success.
“It’s just crazy,” he says. “In this tour already, we’re stepping into cities we’ve never been to and shows are sold out and people are just going nuts and we’re just amazed. It’s really strange.”
Who would have thought that a band that started almost as a whim could be selling out cities, appearing on MTV and in Rolling Stone magazine?
“We didn’t know they still covered music — either of them,” jokes Aubert.
Pretty strange for music that Aubert lovingly refers to as “schizophrenic.”
“We really like loud hard-driven guitar sort of music, but we also really love soft things. So every time we venture into one, like if we have song that’s just really pretty we get nervous and throw something ugly on it. And every time we do something really, really heavy, we’re like, ‘Oh, my god, that’s too heavy. We’re like a metal band.’ So we put something really dreamy on it. We’re just confused. And we’re really lucky anyone’s listening to it.”
Luck definitely seems to have played a role in the band’s beginnings. Sick of playing bass in a friend’s band, Aubert quit and began noodling around in the band’s practice space when his roommate Nikki Monninger asked him to teach her to play bass. His former girlfriend then wanted to learn drums and the two of them convinced him to send in a tape to New York’s CMJ music festival.
“They put like a boombox — a full-on Alfonso Ribeiro-style one — in the middle of the room and just hit record,” Aubert explains. “It was just three songs; two went on for like 20 minutes and one went for barely two seconds.”
To Aubert’s shock, the Silversun Pickups made it into the festival and they headed to New York — primarily to see other bands.
Aubert says he’s blocked out their New York debut. But it did lead to gigs in their own L.A. neighborhood of Silverlake. And then things began to change. New drummer Christopher Guanlao and keyboardist Joe Lester joined up and the band began accepting every gig they got offered because they loved playing and were panicked it wouldn’t last. They had so little time that they actually ended up writing songs on stage.
“Basically I would have some kind of idea and I wouldn’t have much time to tell them so I would say, ‘Hey there’s this sort of thing and we’ll do that.’ So [for the] first couple shows [there were] five or six ideas that would stretch out to 10 minutes each. I don’t know how those people stood for it. I mean, they did, and I’m glad they did because it honed us into this tight missile that we are now,” he jokes.
He credits Lester with adding a lot to the band’s sound. Yet you won’t find piano or keyboard solos in the band’s music. “Most of the stuff that Joe will play hasn’t been created by the pre-sets of the keyboard,” Aubert explains. “We create it using voice or guitar. So stuff that he plays is actually me playing the guitar and him using those sounds on the keyboards as notes.”
The effect is to create a richer sound, so that it’s almost impossible to tell where one instrument ends and another begins. And that’s exactly how the band likes it.
They also don’t mind that their lyrics can be a bit on the undecipherable side. “There’s no way,” says Aubert, “unless you were me — or hanging around me drunk on a balcony — that you would know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Which is comforting when you encounter the lyrics to “Well Thought Out Twinkles” which contain the lines: “Come join in the last hurrah with open sores and open jaw / find one last flaw and keep it safe and free from harm.” Our summer intern’s best guess on this song was that was about a leper colony. Aubert laughs when I tell him.
“A lot of people thought that song was about the apocalypse,” says Aubert. “They really, really did. What they were talking about was true; it just was not about the apocalypse. It’s basically the only love song on the record.”
But strangely, just because the lyrics can be a bit obscure doesn’t make the songs any less enjoyable. You’ll still sing along. You just end up giving the songs their own meanings, which Aubert says is the point. “They listen to it, it’s their song.”
Of course, it’s hard not to notice how dark some of their lyrics are. Aubert admits that when it came time to actually record, the songs surprised him. “I do sometimes of feel like, ‘Whoa, what was I doing? I really felt pretty crappy about that.’ I’m almost tempted to change things, but I don’t because I think it’s dangerous to kind of tweak it. That could get really false.” So he reads the lyrics over and over until he gets back to the feelings he had when he wrote the song. It’s not a fun process, but it’s one he finds necessary.
“Cry me a river, right?” he says laughing about it, “Waaah. Waaah, you don’t understand, Dad.”
The studio was also tougher this time around for the Silversun Pickups; their previous EP, “Pikul,” was basically recordings of how they played live. On “Carnavas” they worked with producer Dave Cooley and friend Tim Biller to hone their sound.
“We learned to do things in different ways,” says Aubert. “Instead of hitting a pedal and screaming live, [which] sounds pretty stupid on the record, there was just different ways to attack it through sounds and through a different way I would sing it that would be the same kind of intensity that it would be live.”
Aubert is quick to mention anyone who played a part in the band’s success. Of their label Dangerbird Records, he whispers, “Check it out, this is going to blow your mind. They like music. They really, really, really like it.”
He also credits Seattle’s public indie station KEXP for their good fortune. “They got the EP rolling, I will absolutely say it there. John in the Morning, Cheryl, they liked it and because they liked, it other people liked it too.”
The band even makes a point of answering every e-mail they’re sent — though Aubert admits they’re way behind. “If you ask me, ‘What time do you play tonight?’ I will answer three months later,” he says.
The band is touring now and selling out shows everywhere. Aubert was thrilled that the band sold out the Trabadour in Los Angeles. “We are so over it,” he jokingly bragged. But it seems like only bigger things are to come from this confused, lucky band.
“It would be funny to have, like, 10 people see your band and play in the Staples Center,” Aubert says laughing. “Ten people who all have their seats scattered around. That would be so fun. I can dream.”
For more information on the Silversun Pickups, visit: http://silversunpickups.com/.