From AFRAID’S basement-studio universe, populated by everything from Ed Sanders’s The Family to Marvin Gaye, comes dark layers of noise and soul. On Tuesday they complete a bill of Falls of Rauros and Father Murphy in celebration of their new record Sinister Vibes. They recently chatted with me by email, touching on writing songs, their ideal show situation and American Psycho.
What’s your writing process like? Does the whole band contribute? What generally comes first, lyrics/sounds/rhythms/etc.
Ryan: The process varies from song to song. Some songs from Sinister Vibes were ideas Jakob had sketched out and brought to the band to develop, but some come from practicing in our basement. James improvised the title track and the bass part was written from there, for example. There’s always a certain atmosphere we’re aiming for that the songs are born out of naturally.
Jakob: For Sinister Vibes, I wrote most of it in about three weeks last summer, alone in our basement. We’re talking bright, beautiful sunny days, and I’m down there writing and re-writing endlessly at an old organ in the dark.
What were you listening to while recording Sinister Vibes? Do you think it influenced the album’s sounds?
James: It’s not really relevant, but Chic and Bob James. I think it was less derivative of music and more about making something dark that could be rich in a way most dark things can’t be.
Jakob: Yes, it wasn’t so much about drawing influence as it was trying to get lost in the sound locked up in our own heads. We were talking a lot about hypnosis, endlessness. James is right, too, we always try to write from the hips and the heart first and foremost, and to put the brain away as best we can. The Stooges’ Funhouse is always a big one. Spacemen 3’s Perfect Prescription, Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers.
Ryan: Spiritualized, the Stooges, Sabbath, these were the records we were channeling while writing the album. But each of us have our individual tastes that guide our writing and playing.
What influences your lyrics? Seems like they’re more central to the sound on Sinister Vibes than previous releases.
Jakob: Somehow I got ahold of a copy of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho when I was thirteen or fourteen. I think that’s colored a lot of my obsessions ever since, and I re-read it just before writing these songs. I was also living with my friend and past AFRAID member Matt Lajoie at the time, he lent me Ed Sanders’ The Family. That sent me reeling. For some reason, I spent a lot more time on the lyrics with this album than ever before…I have terrible dreams all the time, I get paranoid, I’ve got a worried mind. The words just seem to help.
James: Personally I don’t think they’re any more central than on early AFRAID or Pink Life. They’re easy to fixate on with Sinister Vibes because Jakob can write these very rich and elegant lines from a scum-of-the-Earth perspective, and that vibe is totally responsible for the sound. Ricky Kasso. John Holmes.
You’re going on tour soon. Describe your ideal show situation. Fantastical answers totally acceptable (i.e. private function on Elvis’s yacht with Powerpuff Girls as your opening act).
Ryan: The best situation, no matter what venue we play, is when I look out and see people transfixed, either dancing or staring. As long as they’re engaged I’m happy.
James: The best would actually be a room full of people, someone drops their beer, and then everyone else starts dropping their beer glasses so they shatter in time with the music.
Jakob: Yes. That and not having to see motherfuckers on their iPhones.
What’s the one question you wish every interviewer would ask but no one ever has?
Ryan: If you could have the salad pit of your dreams what would be in it?
Jakob: My salad pit would be about fifteen by fifteen, sunk into the concrete foundation of my ideal mansion’s backyard patio. It’d be full of romaine lettuce, looking like your average salad pit of your dreams, but just below the surface it’d be brimming with tick eggs and hobo spiders. A party crasher’s worst nightmare.
James: Is that slang? If it’s just food then it would be bottomless Totino’s, Bagel Bites and a Rum Runner in a fish bowl.
Guest question from Peter, SPACE music programmer: How do you juggle work and family?
Ryan: I try to check in on everyone every other week but work and music are foremost.
Jakob: Ah, I let the kids come to work with me. Candy sits on my lap while I’m down in the basement writing, purring when the songs are going alright. Casper kind of sits at the top of the stairs, whining for no reason, and Sylvia just sort of squats in the dirt in the corner, watching my every decision. A lot of times we’re down there, down in the song mines kicking out the jams, and the kids are crawlin’ around the ceiling pipes having a ball.
(Photo: Marley Ingram)