"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Universe in a Night: 10 Questions with Last Nighters

Every night is last night. (Photo by Michael David Garcia)

If you're like me, you sometimes like your indie rock with a little intimation of the dusty distance... A little woozy cowboy saunter... A little of what country songwriting icon Jerry Jeff Walker is getting at when he sings about old men and Texas bars and the blurry neon of a man's desire to hang on all night. Sound about right? Enter Last Nighters.

I've said quite a bit about this San Antonio indie rock quintet for the SA Current HERE and HERE. They have a debut record out called Animal Room, which you can download/stream HERE or below. It's an album that's more than worth your while- loaded with youthful urge and tight pop-rock arrangements with a Texas tint. Last Nighters melding of familiar styles and explorations of heady yet simple harmonics are refreshing and leave us wanting more than this short (8 songs) album has to offer. Rest assured, Last Nighters are a band beginning... A band that got born and now comes looking for the universe inside your head. I asked them a few questions recently, to find out how they came to sound so youthfully exuberant yet so wise- below are those questions and their collective answers. Download the album, read up and be on the look out for Last Nighters at a venue near you. If you aren't sold after a few listens to Animal Room, you will be after you catch their enchanting live set.

1. Animal Room, your debut album, is a short yet richly populated piece... The kind of concise and careful product one might expect from a 'seasoned' outfit. What's the Last Nighters story? And, generally speaking, how does the collaborative process work for y'all?
Well first of all I'd like to say thanks! Those are very awesome compliments.

The story of Last Nighters begins in the summer of 2010. It started out as a recording project between Niem, Kendall, and I (Rob). Kendall and I had been recording, and touring nationally with a band called Trainwreck for three years previous. I was playing drums in Trainwreck, and Kendall was playing guitar, as he does now in Last Nighters. The Trainwreck sound could be described as a southern/country rock band. It was a great experience and we thoroughly enjoyed being a part of it, but creatively, Kendall and I didn't feel like it was the style of music we wanted to be playing. So we gathered up our recording gear and started writing compositions and jams, if you will. The ability to be able to multitrack record as a writing tool helped us write more thoughtful, and carefully placed arrangements, and is such a key element to how the collaborative process works for us. We were able to write together without having to be playing at the same time. We could sit back, and discerningly decide what we should play and how to fit parts together. Structurally, it started out as just ideas and then as time progressed the songs would start to take shape, have dynamic, and would of course, have lyrics. All this preliminary writing would take place at night, so the next day we could say "Hey! look what I wrote last night". So the initial compositions would be the result of a series of "Last Nighters" if you will. That's where the name came from. Niem, Kendall, and myself are responsible for writing and arranging Animal Room. Once we decided to start playing live shows, we picked up a bass player, Nick Federico and Last Nighters' first drummer, Jeremy Morales. Although Niem, Kendall, and I wrote and arranged the album, Nick and Jeremy did record all of the drum and bass parts on it. We wanted their style and flavor to be on the album, rather than it being just a product of the three founding members. Nick and Jeremy were very quick to learn the songs and put their own personality into them, which was great. Bringing our current drummer, Alex Alarcon, on board was great too. He picked up where Jeremy left off and has kept things perfectly consistent, without a hitch. We're very happy to have him on board, he's a great friend and a great musician

2. Following up on the previous question, what can you tell me about the tracks on this album? What was the writing, recording and production like for Animal Room?
Well, as I mentioned before, the songs all started out as one or two ideas before being completely constructed into songs. Sometimes we'd write a little part with one instrument, and then completely compose just that one little section with all of the active instruments and we'd say "ok, that sounds like it could be the verse of a song". So from there we'd see what that could lead into and we'd start writing and composing the next little section of the song, which for the sake of example I'd say would be either a pre-chorus or a chorus section. So for the most part, our songs were carefully composed and arranged section by section. It sounds tedious and time consuming, which it is. But we are just very keen on writing thoughtful arrangements. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we were all in band (marching, jazz, orchestral, symphonic) for a great percentage of our lives. We've seen some good arrangements in our time.

As far as recording and producing the final album that everyone gets to hear, myself and Kendall engineered the whole thing, and we all collectively produced it. Some bands enjoy an outside opinion, but for this record, we really just wanted to test our production chops. I've payed a great deal of attention to all of the elements and nuances of a lot of great albums, past and present. I always have done that, even before I knew I would be making an album. So taking note of what the things are that make those albums sound great, as well as what I didn't find great, helped on the production end of things. Ultimately, we wanted it to sound like a band was actually playing the songs for you. The room warmth and the space really had a lot to do with that. But we also definitely wanted a lot of carefully placed nuances and layers of different colors and textures to be in there as well, which is something I expect from an album listening experience. For a listener, the album experience has to be different from the live experience.

3. Your band bio begins with the proclamation that "Last Nighters are one with the universe"... Please put your music in the context of that statement. What inspires and underpins the creative efforts and directions of the collective (and or individuals in the band)?
Being one with the Universe for us means that we're tapped into everything and appreciate all of it. I suppose in that sense, empathy is a huge thing for us. Being able to relate to everything and everyone in the universe is very important to us, just as people who are part of it. We want to work with everything, not against it. That goes with people, nature, the cosmos, etc. It's all very important, and everything moves in rhythm. I suppose in conjunction with our music, being one with everything is important because a little bit of everything is in our music. It's not just one thing, you know? So I think (I hope) everyone can find at least a little bit of themselves, or things they are familiar with or have experienced in our songs.

4. In the realm of music, what do y'all listen to? Who are the Last Nighters biggest influences and in what ways do you feel those influences are manifest in your songs?
Well, we definitely listen to everything under the sun, that's for sure. Alternative, chillwave, witch house, acid jazz, latin jazz, classic jazz, folk, bluegrass, indie rock, house, hip-hop, french house, psychedelic, surf music, etc. It's hard to really break things down into genres like that. More specifically, a lot of the bands we listen to and are influenced by are: Radiohead, Yeasayer, Real Estate, Air, Animal Collective, Wu Lyf, Phoenix, MGMT, Tapes n' Tapes, The Walkmen, Supertramp, MF Doom, Air, The Raconteurs, Maynard Ferguson, The Postal Service, The French Kicks, Victor Wooten, Gardens & Villa, Kings of Leon, Jaco Pastorius, A Tribe Called Quest, Toro Y Moi, Wild Nothing, Washed Out, Wilco, Fabulous/Arabia, Barrington Levy, The Shins, My Morning Jacket, The Cure, The Arctic Monkeys, The Moon Invaders, The Black Keys, Neil Young, Caveman, Deerhunter/Atlas Sound, Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, Local Natives, LCD Soundsystem, The Strokes, TV On The Radio, Modest Mouse, Vampire Weekend, The XX….Ok, I can, and already have gotten a little carried away.

I think one of the bigger manifestations of our music, is all the music that we've made in the past. Niem, Nick, and I are all classically trained trombone players. Kendall is a classically trained saxophonist, and our past drummer (Jeremy), as well as our current drummer (Alex Alarcon) are classically trained percussionists. We've played all types of different arrangements in our time, on instruments other people may not choose to play. I think that adds to the diversity of our music and to our ability to mesh well together in an ensemble.

5. What is the importance of lyrics in what you're trying to do with your music? Any literary artists in the band?
Lyrics are very important to u. I'd say that they are equally as important as the music itself. Niem and I are the lyric writers for Last Nighters. We want to be empathetic with our lyrics, as if we're speaking to someone that we've never met before, but are really happy to talk to them. In a way, that's kind of a true statement, that is, we want our listeners to not ever feel alienated by our lyrics because they're too complex, or because the vernacular is too extensive.

6. In my review of Animal Room, for the SA Current, I mentioned that the album has a distinctly southern feel to it... A little properly executed twang, if you will... What are your feelings about place in your music and in music generally?
You know, interestingly enough, our stance on "place" in our music has always been somewhat of a "we're all from the same place" approach. As in we're all from Earth, or to go back to a previous question, we're all from the Universe. Personally, I've spent time in many different places all over the world and so have the other guys. So I definitely draw from all of that. But at the same time, we've all got some Southern roots and maybe that has a little bit to do with that twang you hear. Or maybe it's because Kendall and I used to be in a Southern Country/Rock band. That was our scene for a few years. I guess what I'm saying is that the twang isn't necessarily intentional, but I'm definitely happy with it being an organic product of the music that we make. It's like, I enjoy the sound we've created, and if that's part of it, then that's great! Even if I've never really noticed it before or didn't put it there on purpose. It's really cool when people notice things like that, things that I wasn't even aware of. That's why I love hearing outside feedback.

7. As you know, I found out about Last Nighters because I was lucky enough to find you playing during Monkeyfest. The live show is full of energy and a fairly infectiously good-natured confidence... What do you consider your strengths as a performing band and what would you like to improve? Also, especially for those that haven't seen Last Nighters play yet, what's the relationship between what we hear on record and what we can expect live?
I'd say that one of our biggest strengths is that we're all best friends, you know? We all live together and see each other every day. Music is just one of the languages we all speak fluently to each other, and that really helps our stage performance. Also, practice has never really been a bad thing for anyone! I suppose that's really easy to do when we all live together as well. But really, we're all just so genuinely happy to be up there, performing for people, and sharing something with them- I feel like that's a really positive thing.

As far as improvements go, I'd say our segues could be cooler. They're not bad, a little stage banter here and there. But I'd like to be able to play 2 or 3 songs, with some sort of musical arrangement leading from one song to the next. Then I'll stop, talk to everyone in the audience, do a little banter, and then group the next 2 songs together with that musical segue, and so on. It's not even an issue of me not wanting to talk to the audience, or that I feel like I'm bad at it, I just think that musical segues are awesome! Also, I'd like to start running our own vocal effects live (delay, reverb, chorus). That's not a hard thing to do and we have all the necessary equipment, we just need to practice with that thoroughly so we have all of our settings figured out exactly for each song and it's not a nightmare for the sound guys.

What you hear on our album is pretty similar to what we play live, although not too much so. Our album is constructed to have a lot of sonic detail, colors, textures, and nuances. Our live show still has all of those things, but I think the main point of the live show, is to accent the energy, the musicianship, and synergy that we have as a band. To show listeners that we really ARE the band that you listened to on that record. It's loud, it's live, and it makes you want to move your body (It makes us do that, anyway).

8. What can we expect over the next few years for the Last Nighters? Tell me a little bit about your ambitions as a band and as individuals.
Short term, Last Nighters will be doing 2 tours in the US. 15 days on the West Coast in December, and 25 days on the East Coast in March. We want to prove how hard we are willing to work and just how professional/serious we are about what we do. That will really make a good impression on the various agencies and record labels that we're communicating with. Last Nighters definitely want to be a career band. That is to say, we would like that to be our career and not just something we do on top of having day jobs. Having representation is a big thing for us. I went to school and studied the music business. I also have a lot of experience as a previous career musician. So, over time, I've learned a lot about the industry and I definitely don't want to be the sole entity that represents us. It's crazy to think that the 5 of us could do all of the work that a management agency, booking agency, PR firm, publishing company, and marketing company (record label) could do for us. Those entities can help us make Last Nighters a career band. And, you know, a lot of people cut that sort of thing down, saying that it's not real, or genuine. But honestly, I think it's great that there are companies and agencies that make it possible for musicians to just be able to play music and do what they love without all the stress work of having to manage themselves as a business and make a sustainable living.

9. To partially revisit the idea of influences and musical taste, what are some local bands that y'all are into? Anybody y'all would love to play with or collaborate with?
We love our local music scene! Some of our favorites (and friends) include: White Elefant, Cartographers, The Lost Project, Deer Vibes, Lonely Horse, Disco Wasteland, The Hawks, Sugar Skulls, Pop Pistol, HGP, Cure for The Radio, Deep In The Heart, Hacienda, Blowing Trees/Tiago Splitters, The Offbeats, The Way The World Ends, etc… I'd honestly love to play with any of them, really, and already have played with most of them except for one or two. We'll eventually play with them all though, I'm confident.

Collaborations are great, and I'd love to/currently am collaborating with Mikey and Devin from Deer Vibes, Nick Long from Lonely Horse, and Kyle Cooper from Cure for the Radio. But yeah, honestly I'd enjoy collaborating with anyone really! Speaking the language of music with other really cool musicians is just awesome.

10. Is it true your mind is an aeroplane?

LAST NIGHTERS: facebook, bandcamp, website

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