Last week at the ever-glorious Freebutt, I sat down with Times New Viking’s drummer Adam Elliot and keyboardist Beth Murphy (who together provide the band’s distinctive vocals) to ask them about their current tour, their new album and what goes into making one of the best bands around today.
So, you’ve just started your first real international tour, how’s it all going so far?
A: Yeah, it’s going very good. Every time we come back here [to the UK], it gets better. We’ve played the Great Escape twice now, but we’ve never had our own show before, so that’s cool. And we’ve never done Europe proper before, we’re about to do it right now, so I’m really curious to see how it’s going to be when we don’t speak the languages well.
The kind of sound you have has been variously described as lo-fi, punk, shoegaze, shitgaze. How would you classify yourselves?
A: I call it Ohio folk music. Lo-fi has become a really weird term. We’re just DIY, I guess.
B: Yeah, cause lo-fi’s not really a genre, but people talk about it like it is.
A: And then some people are really confused because they’re like, “Oh, you guys and Deerhunter and Jay Reatard are lo-fi” and actually, no, if you listen to those bands, they’re pretty high fidelity.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the interview that Matt Whitehurst from Psychadelic Horseshit did with the Washington Post [where he laid into “poseur” ‘new lo-fi’ bands like Wavves, Vivian Girls and Nodzzz, while holding TNV up as an example of a good lo-fi band]. Do you like to distance yourselves from the whole lo-fi thing because of what it’s become?
A: No, it’ll distance itself anyways. We’re on our fourth record and a lot of those bands, if they can put out their own four records, then they can join the club, I guess. But I think there’ll always be someone doing what we sound like in Columbus, it’s really natural to the surroundings to sound like that, even if in New York in two years they’re back into disco-core. Or African hardcore, that’s going to be what’s big next.
So would you say you were influenced by [fellow Columbus band] Guided by Voices and their whole DIY thing?
A: The one thing I think is similar is kind of the romantic aspect of being in a band and not really worrying about the rest of the world, making your own record art and song titles. [Guided by Voices frontman] Robert Pollard used to take people’s photos from his yearbooks and put them together like “they would look cool, these guys would be awesome as a band” and give them a fake name and all that. You know, creating your own universe.
How did you get started playing, being a band? Did you go to music school?
A: We all went to art school, and I always thought I wanted to start a band before that. After we got trained four years, being in a band was something where you could take all that knowledge and learning and ways of channelling creativity, and do something different. The only reason we actually put together demo CDs in the first place was to be able to make art for it.
Would you give any advice to people who wanted to start a band?
B: Get drunk and high first, before you start playing.
A: Don’t read too many blogs, don’t read about yourself. You have to understand that someone who wrote that bad review also gave a band you don’t like a rave review. It’s like in art school, some teachers that don’t like your art are into still-lifes. I remember this one teacher gave me a C, and I was like, “Barbara Streisand’s your favourite musician, how the hell are you going to give what I’m doing here a chance.” And your mom’s not supposed to like your band. My mom knows everywhere we’re going, all the shit we’re doing, but she doesn’t get what our music is supposed to sound like.
B: My grandma read all our lyrics.
Are there any other bands that influenced you?
A: In different ways – like, there was a band called Sword Heaven that really influenced me. They sound nothing like us, except that they played really Swans-style heavy industrial noise, but they still had repetition and song structure. I think we kind of went the other way round: growing up, I was really into pop music like Guided by Voices, that sort of stuff, but then I liked noise. And we’d play with a bunch of noise bands and we’d be the only ones with drums and guitars, but they all liked us alright. We played with all these hardcore bands and stayed at this weird fest where the guys were all drunk, and this hardcore sledge-metal guy comes up and goes “Hey, I really liked your band. Don’t tell my bandmates but I love pop music, I wish I could be in that kind of band but all my friends would make fun of me.”
Is your process for putting records together quite spontaneous? Do you all write the tracks?
A: We just do whatever. Someone will have a riff and then it just organically drifts. Everyone has a hundred percent say…that’s three hundred percent. This one we wrote really quick. We didn’t set aside two or three months to write songs, we toured a lot and then we came in and wrote the songs and recorded all of them in, like, two months. All of our records have been recorded the third or fourth time we play the song, but on this record I think we’re better at playing our instruments, we often had it down by the second time. And we’re a hands-on kind of people, so recording-wise we really like working with tapes and stuff like that. Our buddy, this crazy stoner dude, has all these crazy ideas. You know, 4-track’s like smaller tape, so we’d use 4-track and we’d dump it onto VHS which is a thicker tape, so the sound’s bigger. And then we would dump that onto the 8-track reel and then do overdubs to that. And then put that into the computer. And then make a CD and send it off. So it’s a pretty long process, probably too much, so by the end it just sounds like shit.
How do you see your music developing in the future?
A: We all have a handshake agreement that when we’re thirty, we can no longer be Times New Viking. I really can’t try to play youthful for much longer now. I would not like to be fifty years old and playing a song about when I’m twenty years old. When we hit thirty, we’ll be a Credence Clearwater Revival cover band; we’re actually just working out so we can be John Logan’s backing band. And I hear two-year-olds really like us, which means in about twenty years, there’ll be a whole generation of kids who think you’re supposed to sound like this. And they’ll hear all this Grizzly Bear stuff and they’ll look back at that like “Man, my dad listens to that.” It’s like how we made fun of our parents for listening to those old bands, it’ll be the dad rock of the future. Nothing against Grizzly Bear, of course.