Thursday, June 12, 2008

Interview - The Forms

The Forms are one of those bands that have ducked and weaved through the music scene over the past five years. In the heart of Brooklyn, where ground-making music is perpetually being made, it seems, The Forms (frontman/guitarist Alex Tweeen, guitarist Brendan Kenny, bassist Jackson Kenny and drummer Matt Walsh) continue to trudge along making a primitive rendition of indie rock, without stealing the headlines.

To simplify it, their second self-titled album is a great listen. An easy listen, but again, it's difficult to define. After their 2003 debut opus, Icarus, many knew we had a good indie band on our hands and this time around this notion still swirls with conviction.

I first came across The Forms back in the Anemic Magazine days. Since then, the band have evolved onto a wider scale, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Battles, The National, and Nick Cave at the recent New York Plug awards, while an appearance at South By Southwest shortly followed. A European tour is also being mooted for Brooklyn's best kept secret. Frontman, Tween, was kind enough to agree in answering some questions that centre around the band's latest album.

Lullaby Magazine: Hey Alex, it’s good to talk to you again?

Alex Tween: Likewise, Simon.

LM: It’s been a while, but I’m really glad it’s under the circumstances of a new album. Tell me, how’s life with The Forms?

AT: Very good. A lot of projects going on. It took a long time for us to put out new music, but that is going to change.

LM: A lot’s been happening, too. You just played The Plug Awards, playing along side the likes of Nick Cave, Battles, Dizzee Rascal. How was that experience?

AT: It's really strange to go from working on a song in your bedroom where you're just by yourself and no one's around, to suddenly playing the same song as part of a show such as that where you're in a massive venue all day with 100 crew and lights and camera people milling about, and then eventually thousands of people watching you. we've played a few shows like that and tend to feel a little like a fish out of water, but that said i think we all had a good time.

LM: Did you meet any of the bands afterwards?

AT: We met St. Vincent; they're super nice and a great band. Also The National, though we had known them from before. Nick Cave had an entourage and an entire floor of his own dressing rooms so we didn't meet him.

LM: You’re also off to South By Southwest. Is this your first time at the showcase event?

AT: It was our second time.

LM: What would you say an average day at SXSW involves?

AT: The first time I went, I had a list of five to six bands to see every day, and I think you get so caught up in seeing bands that it's difficult to actually have any fun. This past year, I just more or less did what I felt like doing at the moment. I ended up seeing fewer bands, but having more fun.

LM: The new album’s been out in the States for a while now, how’s the response been towards it, thus far?

AT: We felt we had a lot to live up to after our first album Icarus, and since our new record is pretty different, we didn't really know what people would think. But most people seem to like it better than our first one, which is cool.

LM: I see you’ve dropped the alias’ and now are using your real names. Any reason behind that?

AT: We did it because we wanted to de-emphasize our personalities and place the focus on the music. But we would do radio interviews and it was so awkward when we'd say our names using those names. It just works better on paper I guess. Also, I think our new record is more up front and in the light, so it fit in that respect, too.

LM: It’s longer than ‘Icarus’, it’s also self-titled. In terms of sound it’s a lot more straight forward then the first album. Do you ever get asked the question that this album is something that bands usually make first time around as apposed to the second, given the way your first record, Icarus, was recorded?

AT: Well I agree that bands usually make the self-titled earlier, with some exceptions (the Liars' last album, The Beatles' white album, etc.). In our case, anytime we tried to append some sort of concept to the album, it felt really contrived. It was best left open. As for getting more straightforward later, I think the new record is more straightforward in some ways (song structures, louder vocals) but less in others. For example, I felt a lot of people thought of our first record as emo, whereas i think the new one is a lot tougher to pin down.

LM: You recorded it Steven Albini again. He’s gone on record as saying he’s never seen a band take on a particular part so many times. It seems that you guys took a lot of time perfecting this effort?

AT: Yeah, and he said that about Icarus, which we spent significantly less time on. We spent about 50 days in the studio this time around. We worked from morning until night every day, with scarcely any time off. It was grueling and I nearly had a breakdown towards the end, but I think it was definitely worth it considering how everything turned out.

LM: On Steve Albini, he requested that artists acknowledge him as a “recorder” and not a “producer”. I guess that’s a case of you guys having free reign with no influence from him, would this be right in saying?

AT: I think so. Steve has the utmost respect for the artist, and would never try to impose his will on a band, as some producers do. That said, I think he does put his aesthetic stamp on recordings whether he wants to admit it or not, for it's always easy to tell when a recording is done by Steve. But that stamp happens to sound pretty damn good, which kind of makes it OK.

LM: Your music is so hard to pin point, it’s like you’re adding elements to what is deemed as “indie rock”. You must really find it fitting that people find it hard to pigeon hole your music?

AT: We aren't really a band that hears something and tries to emulate it. I think we probably do have "influences" but I'm not really sure what they are. They're probably as much life experiences, fiction, or whatever, as they are music. We don't really think about it, and I think because of that, the end result comes out sounding different from other things.

LM: I find the opening track, ‘Knowledge In Hand’ quite interesting. It’s like the band’s epic track, so to speak. Your vocals seem at the height of everything. Was it important to choose this track as the opener?

AT: At least for me personally, if a listener were to hear only one song from the album, I'd want it to be that one. It captures a lot of ideas that the the album has throughout well: the jarring transitions, the focus on melodies, the hard-to-pin-down emotion.

LM: How big an influence does living in Brooklyn have on the band?

AT: I'm reminded of Michelle Obama's statement "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country." I feel that way about Brooklyn right now. There are really some great great bands here at the moment: The National, Battles, Dirty Projectors, High Places, Apes and Androids, etc. It's inspiring and exciting to be around.

LM: Last time we chatted it was bands like Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that were taking New York by storm. Now it’s transformed and things are a lot different. Do you see the kind of music that bands like Animal Collective and Battles make as the future of music itself?

AT: I'd say yes in both cases. Both of those bands are fusing technology and rock music in very progressive ways that will be influential. That said, I think Animal Collective takes a lot from the Beach Boys/60s and that Battles takes from 90s Chicago bands like Don Caballero (unsurprising since Battles' Ian Williams played guitar in Don Cab'). But then again, borrowing from the past will probably always be a part of the future of music as well.

LM: You run Threespheres (record label) while Matt plays in The Desert Fathers. How do you guys prioritize from different projects so things down run into each other?

AT: The Desert Fathers are on indefinite hiatus, though Matt is working on a new project called First Nature with Keith from Desert Fathers that should be out in a few months. Threespheres' label activity has lessened in recent years. Labels don't really make much money anymore. Just ask Clive Davis.

LM: Finally, do you guys plan to tour abroad anytime soon?

AT: There are tentative plans for a European tour in the fall.

LM: Thanks for your time, Alex. Good luck with The Forms for the rest of the year and beyond.

AT: Thank you, Simon. Take care.

For more information about the band please visit the following.

The new album The Forms is out now on Threespheres

Interview by Simon K

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