FFF Fest Interviews: Bishop Allen
Justin Rice of Brooklyn based Bishop Allen recently took the time to chat with ATH about their upcoming stop in Austin for Fun Fun Fun Fest. Topics covered include their upcoming album, their roles in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the 12 EP’s they released in 2006. We offer up the full interview and a little something to take with you after the jump.
ATH: With the 12 EPs, your movie star status, the new album and all the other stuff, how in the world do you guys find time to come play for us in Austin?
JR: Once we finish one thing, it’s on to the next. Always forward! Now that we’re done in the studio and through with movie sets, it’s time to hit the road. Austin: it’s a town we like to play.
ATH: Speaking of the 12 EP’s, we think it was one of the most creative ways that a band has embraced the digital revolution in the recent past (in our humble opinion). Did that factor into your decision – trying to think of new ways to adapt to how music is consumed nowadays?
JR: We talked ourselves into the EPs because we thought it would be challenging. It was like a double-dog dare. At first, we were afraid to let anyone know the plan. We didn’t want to fail publicly. We put ourselves up to it after all, and who wouldn’t give us grief for proposing a harebrained scheme, agreeing to it, and then giving up before finishing? Once we got to April, we knew we could pull it off. And so we started telling people about it. It started as a project to get our blood flowing, but ended up making sense given the world of the famous internet.
ATH: You and Christian started out as a punk band. How did that turn into the pop-y goodness of Bishop Allen?
JR: Our first band, The Pissed-Officers, played 17 songs in 7 minutes. To our ears, they were catchy songs with oddly funny lyrics. We didn’t realize we were playing as fast as we were. Fastest band ever? We were up there. At some point, our ears synched up with some kind of external clock, and our music caught up. Or rather: slowed down. In many ways, the music is similar. And we still listen to a lot of the same records we listened to then. We’ve written a lot of new songs lately, and I’ve started to believe the following: while writing a song is about making a million minute decisions, the overall nature of the song you write is entirely out of your control.
ATH: We jumped up and down when we heard “Things Are What You Make of Them” on Saved!. Now we notice that “Middle Management” is featured on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. How did that come about, and how do you feel about all the exposure?
JR: These things seem to happen out of the blue. Peter Sollett, who directed Nick and Norah’s, called us to see if we’d be interested in meeting up to talk about a project. We were fans of his first movie, Raising Victor Vargas, and we were thrilled to be involved in anything he was working on. We found out later that it was a Michael Cera movie. Unexpected. It was fun to go to set, the whole cast and crew running amok. We set up and played like it was a regular show, but there were more lights than usual. Saved was the same: a phone call from a music supervisor, and our song was in the movie. I love movies, even bad ones, so I’m usually happy to hear our songs put to picture. And those movies are good.
ATH: We hear you guys were also in Nick and Norah’s? Can we expect more crossover with films in the future from you two? Anything new planned, or is it all touring/new album for now?
JR: Our new record comes out early next year, and after that we’ll be on tour. I acted in a few movies earlier this year, which will likely begin to play festivals next year. One was shot in Austin. Bob Byington, who lives there, directed it. It’s called Harmony and Me, after the Elton John song. It’s odd and funny. Strangely compelling? Hopefully, since all my favorite things are.
ATH: Justin, you grew up in Texas. Any fond memories of the Lone Star State growing up? Or are you glad to be in NY?
JR: I miss green storm light and torrential downpours, the swaying sound of cicadas in the summer, the smell of azaleas in the spring, mesquite barbeque, migas, Shiner Bock, and everything spicy, wide streets, giant pecan trees, and the smell of grass clippings. I wish I could swim in Barton Springs tomorrow. But I’m never anywhere for very long, not even New York, and I visit Texas often. So I’m there, all told, a month or two every year.
ATH: Tell us what we can expect with the follow up to The Broken Spring due out next February.
JR: The new album clips along. It’s upbeat. You can dance to it. It has a sense of humor. It’s like a party. A good party. There are a surprising number of animals in the lyrics.
ATH: You guys were major DIY’s for the longest time. Has it been a tough transition working with a record label?
JR: We were careful to pick a good label. They help us get our work done, and they never interfere in any way. They help us cover recording costs, but they don’t look over our shoulder as we record. They help us figure out ways to tour better, but they don’t force us to take to the road. They listen and respond, and come up with good ideas on their own. It’s made our lives much, much easier. Phil Waldorf, who runs our label, lives in Austin.
ATH: You guys collaborated with quite a few musicians over the past few years, especially for the EP project. Is there anyone in particular that stood out that you’d like us to know about?
JR: Austin’s own Cully Symington played drums on a lot of the EPs, on The Broken String, and on all of our tours last year. He can play drums and glockenspiel at the same time, no problem. Trust me: it’s amazing. We started setting him up at the front of the stage by popular request. Giorgio Angelini, also a sometime Austin resident, is a wonderful bass and guitar player. Also Jon Natchez, who can play anything brass or woodwind, and who will keep you rolling in laughter with story after story, Daniel Hart, who can capture any mood or image on the strings (“Make it sound like your teeth are falling out of your head”), and Andy Herod who can sing like nobody’s business. We’ve learned a tremendous amount from all the people we’ve worked with over the past few years. That’s how we get better.
ATH: Bishop Allen has been around our town several times. We remember seeing you at the small venues like Red Eye Fly and the bigger stages such as SXSW. What’s your opinion of Austin? Any favorite venues or places to go while you’re here?
JR: Austin is one of my favorite places in the world. We talk about moving there sometimes. I’ve actually looked at houses. The Alamo Drafthouse. Medici. Spider House. Club DeVille. Deep Eddy Cabaret. The aforementioned Barton Springs. El Chilito. Polvo’s. The Salt Lick. Stubb’s. And on and on.
ATH: We like to offer our listeners an MP3 to take with them whenever we can. Because, what’s the point of talking about a band on the web if you can’t listen to them at the same time? Is there a song that we can play for our readers, and if so would you like to “introduce” it for us?
JR: “Rain” is a song off our last record, The Broken String. Long ago, it was called “Rocking Chair,” and it was a very different song. It took a while to find its way. I wanted it to be about a strange dream of and endless storm. It’s nice and fast, but not Pissed-Officers fast. Not even close.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/rain.mp3]
Download: Bishop Allen – Rain [MP3]
We’d like to thank Justin for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us, and we hope he finds that house he may or may not be looking for here in our hometown. You’d be a welcome addition. Justin and the rest of the Bishop Allen crew will be taking the stage at 3:20 on Stage 1 this Saturday.
Photo credit for the cover image goes to Aubrey Edwards.