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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ethereal Beasts: 10 Questions with Pop Pistol

Dreaming shifting prisms: George Garza, Alex Scheel, Jorge Gonzalez. Photo: Alvin Alderete

Humble, thoughtful, and active in the community- San Antonio's Pop Pistol represent the ideal of the citizen-artist... An aspiration sadly absent from your average ambitious indie band's to do list. This particularly refreshing quality is present in all that Pop Pistol does- from the music and its accompanying visuals to their tireless work promoting and organizing in the SA art/music scene. They released their sophomore LP Animal Prisms on October 26th, on their own imprint Mitote Records, and are now touring the Midwest in support of that lush and meticulous piece of mesmerizing electro-tinged indie rock (see my full review for SA Current HERE). Amid a storm of local fanfare and events, and as they prepared for said tour, the guys were kind enough to humor some questions I had about their work and motivations/inspirations. Read their earnest, heartening and (in some cases) shaman-like responses below. Also... Stream the luminous and voluminous album, dig some of the mind expanding visuals for it and (since you'll definitely want to) buy it from them at their Bandcamp... 

You deserve the listening adventures and they deserve your support!

1. In addition to being something important for your droves of dedicated fans, I hope this interview will be a chance for many others to fall in love with Pop Pistol: the entity and the music. For those readers especially, tell me about the history of the band.
George: Alex and I are cousins, and we met Jorge in high school. We were in a band named Roma for a few years before starting Pop Pistol in 2005. We started out in an old motorcycle shop owned by a friend's grandparents. We helped convert the space into a short-lived DIY live music venue called Black Lion. We recorded an EP there, which barely saw the light of day, though there are some copies living in Monterrey, Mexico where we had our first out-of-town show. We released Angelus in 2008, but were not yet really aware how to properly promote a new album, so it went seemingly unnoticed until a review in 2009 which was one of our first important pieces of earned media. Since then we have released two more EPs, Shadow (2009) and Disappearing Edges (2010), and we re-released Angelus on vinyl earlier this year in a limited 300 run. We began touring in 2010 and since have spent our trips in the Midwest, occasionally traveling to perform in New York. In these last four years, we've really established ourselves locally, not just by playing shows, but we're also involved in community organizing and are part of a local music coalition called Local 782. Our involvement in grassroots organizing has opened our eyes in a lot of ways and we see our role developing. Our music may not be political, but it continues to evolve and revolve around themes of both spirituality and humanity, which is definitely influenced by the work we do. 

2. Pop Pistol has a reputation for being one of the hardest working bands around. Talk a bit about where this insatiable drive comes from and the different manifestations of it in the daily life of each band member.
George: Our drive is based on our relationship with each other. We are brothers and we are committed to this project. Also, we are energized by performing and connecting with people. We're excited by our own adventure and we work hard to make the ride enjoyable. In a deeper sense, we believe that there is power in music and art to transform society and we live in a world that needs a lot of change. These ideas keep us moving forward. As a band, perhaps the work we do is pretty typical. We write music, we record, we perform, and we promote. Aside from that, we also have day jobs, side gigs, and volunteer with several non-profits.

Jorge: As an independent artist, especially a musician, there’s a heavy emphasis on self promotion. Long gone are the days of getting “discovered” by a music scout and signing a major recording contract. As music listeners and creators we try to be adaptable as we feel it promotes growth. We are working class musicians that hold day jobs with the goal of eventually having our music sustain our living. There isn't much room in our budget to hire outside help like a publicist, booking agent, promoter, etc. So we took it upon ourselves to be students of the different aspects of the “music business”. After enough practice and guidance from those we work with, the band duties become second nature and flow with our daily life activity. In turn, I feel we've benefited greatly from this type of  direct work ethic. We've been able to establish incredible relationships with our local media, venue owners, fellow musicians, fans, and collaborators. The productivity also helps greatly in adding to the sense of worth you have for your art and the role you play in your band. Our intentions become stronger and shine in the art we create and promote.

Alex: I work to make things better...

3. As a follow up to the previous question, what does success look like for Pop Pistol? If there is any one of our wonderful SA bands poised to go the route of Girl In A Coma, it would seem to be you guys... What does that mean to you?
George: For me, the goal is simple: to travel and play music with my best friends, hoping to capture audiences and connect with people. Just being able to live life to the fullest in that sense, with the band as my vehicle, self-sustaining; that is success. We're already successful. The mainstream rock star dream is not appealing. Celebrity is not desirable nor do I care to be rich. I can see our recognition on the rise, and I feel that it comes because people respect what we do and how hard we work. Girl in a Coma sets the standard around here for dedication and hard work, and we admire them and take notes on how to be pros. Still, I feel that we will obviously have our own paths, but I think I understand what people are trying to say when they make comparisons. 

Jorge: Success for me means to have sustained happiness that can be shared with those around you. Our music is our vehicle and has given us incredible life experiences that have shaped me into a better person. We set attainable goals for ourselves and continue to reach them. As long as we stay on that roll, goals such as paying rent, traveling, and reaching broader audiences with our music will come to fruition. We continue to learn so much and are inspired by our peers everyday. Girl in a Coma definitely helped in lighting that fire for us and we hope our influence does the same for the next great act to rep San Antonio to the rest of the world.   


4. Released October 26th, Animal Prisms is your second LP and follows up 2011's superb Disappearing Edges EP... What have you learned, recording and songwriting wise, from earlier efforts that helped you in making this new record? What's the same and what's changed?
George: One of the main reasons we were able to record this album ourselves was because of the accumulated studio experience we have. Mostly we were confident that we could do a good job mixing the record and bringing out textures the way we wanted to. The process was humbling because even though we had an idea of what we were doing, making that reality took a lot of trial and error in the studio and many more hours than we had imagined. 

Jorge: We applied all the knowledge and experience gained from past recordings into Animal Prisms. Our rehearsal space (laundry room) was converted into our personal hub for recording with mattresses and blankets hung on the walls. Alex fortunately had collected and invested into recording equipment over the years and with the help from friends who lent their gear, we were fairly well prepared. Though many of the songs were solid once we started, the rough edges were worked out and we were able to complete each thought. With the benefit of having the tracks accessible and mobile, Alex was able to work on each song at his leisure. Soon his leisure turned into countless hours editing, experimenting, and mixing. At times we’d run into hurdles- but in the end the hours of attention and love shows in the final product. 

5. Speaking of Animal Prisms- it is a wonderfully intricate album full of psychological ruminations and explored fears, drowned in a sound that’s both crunchy and ethereal, accessible and complex... Please discuss the musical and lyrical themes of the album. And what is the significance of the album’s title in relation to these themes?
Alex: When each song is made, its places and ideas and connections to any other outside song are not yet formed. They just grow from a word or rhythm or bassline into something with leaves and flowers. The words come out in tongues in the beginning but don’t string out into ideas until the last moments of creation. That being said, I feel like making songs in this way is like a magic ritual. They bring to the surface shadow or unconscious ideas that I can sense people around me are or will go through soon. You can make a song and 8 months later all the ideas in the song are singing to what is taking place and you realize what the song was created for. In many ways that's how all the songs are and how the art is. The main themes I would imagine are death and all the characters that inhabit that world as well as growth and all the reaching out that happens in that world. But there are things that come at you in angles like trying to connect to another person through Love or empathy. Trying to connect to yourself in the same way, but feeling like a very isolated creature in the process. There are a lot of underground feelings in the record I try to convey with sub-frequencies and there are a lot of infinite celestial spaces I try to shine to with ultrasonic animal sounds and synths. The album was created to put in front of the mind the experience of being inside this world and feeling it all with the distractions of the buzzing world around. The name is an idea that came from watching people at a party. Everyone was talking in small circles and looking around the room. I felt everyone as two people one talking and the other wandering around their thoughts and fears. Everyone seemed isolated from each other and hard to truly see, like a bunch of spinning prisms that are blurring the light they put into the world with the chatter they must produce to be interesting in this world. The animals are the changing personalities we inhabit throughout our lives and days. We change our entire physiology according to the emotions and environment we are in and if you focus on those things you can see how vast the changes are in the people around and in yourself. So I guess the idea is, we are all fuzzy little chameleons.

Alex and the Universe. Photo Courtesy of Daniela Riojas

6. Pop Pistol has always been a positively magnetic live experience. How do you incorporate the best elements of your recorded sound into the live show and vice-versa? Is that process more or less difficult with the new material?
George: We've used a sample pad that Jorge uses to trigger loops or specific sound bytes to try and recreate the recording as much as possible. The dual side to this approach with our style gives us room to breathe and we can make the live performance more captivating. We were definitely striving for more layers in this recording and it's exciting to introduce these new samples live. 

Jorge: Many of the song ideas begin on Alex’s computer with sounds and samples he creates. After we jam them live during practice, some of those sounds become vital for the integrity of the song. All the “keeper” samples are added to my drum pad and we rehearse performing them live. For this album there are more of those triggered sounds than past releases. The live performance, experience, and audience is the icing on the cake. 

Alex: I think this time around we were able to produce the sounds we wanted without too much studio glossing or manipulation of things. The drums were recorded with 4 mics so they sound like Jorge vs a “perfect drum sound”. We used our own guitars and really pushed the levels of the the core instruments to get "our" sound which does have a lot of soft hanging cloudy things but mostly gets its momentum from the power of rock instruments.

7. Album and show artwork seem to be very important to Pop Pistol. What role does album art play in the process of making a record for you and how would you compare your view with the current trends towards irony or ease? Additionally, can you elaborate on what you see as the connection between the visuals and the music.
Alex: Making the album art started before making the album. On this record I started drawing again and wanted the hand to be a very strong part of the work. In the past I created much of the art using only the computer, which does give a very powerful clean look to things but it seemed limited in its chaos. I started drawing these creatures in surreal quantum environments and it gave me an immediate sense of pleasure and I knew I found something that could be very Pop and also very spiritual. The album art is a wonderful design process because it starts with a square canvas, which gives it the potential of great balance and power. I must have gone through 30  different designs before I found one that felt like an album cover. It took a few months of drawing and putting together and scrapping and starting over, but I think in the end I found what I was looking for. The Deer was one of the first drawings I made so I felt like it led me to the forest of all this creation. The gold has many meanings to me. I see it as quantum light that you absorb and store till the end...

I’m not too aware of the album cover trends. I do see a lot of doodles and handwritten covers with cute mountains and animals and old pictures with white letters on them and a bunch of recurring themes that seem to box in artists. If you are an indie band you must have teenage doodles as your artwork and you must have a crazy death logo for your band if you want to be a metal band. Or you have to be clean if you use any electronics. I guess that's just the way it is. We are a part of that too. Our album covers do the same things as everyone else's... Describe sound. Indie music is irony laden and sometimes it fits, but I think people should stop using preset looks and sounds and instruments. You don’t have to be a replica of what you like. I’ll love you anyways...

The visuals give you dream material you can swim in while you hear the music. They paint an environment for the music and put you in the right headspace... For me visuals expand what we are doing into another dimension and hopefully fuel people's imagination and describe many ideas which we ponder. I sense an evolution of thought occurring and use this band to reflect it with every flyer hand tour poster and video and album art. I hope to fan the fire.

Sheel's Art for Animal Prisms track "Coyote"

8. I’m genuinely interested in how artists and thinkers influence other artists and thinkers... As such, I’d like to know what Pop Pistol reads and/or listens to. What artists of any type do you guys take inspiration from and in what ways do you see them affecting your unique musical output?
George: Just started reading King of Trees, but some books that stick with me are The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten, The Four Agreements, 1984, Farrenheit 451, Brave New World. How those affect my music other than The Music Lesson is hard to say, but they must shape me as a person. Musically I am pretty open minded as far as listening goes. Recently I've been listening to ReadNex and Third Root. Tonally, I want to capture the feel of Rock, R&B, Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, and all types of dance music. If I had to name actual players having an influence on me today, I'd say Simon Gallup, Colin Greenwood, and Chris Wolstenholm. 

Jorge: About the same time we had our group moment of committing to this band and music, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Both left me with an energized sense of self-empowerment and outlook on daily life. My musical listenings fluctuate but always seem to lean to the groove heavy styles of funk, soul, disco, trip hop, latin, etc. But I credit my Hispanic upbringing, which included a heavy dose of cumbia, conjunto, and Mexican traditional songs, for my desire to make people move with music; both physically and emotionally. Most recently Pandora has been a great resource while local radio keeps me on my toes on what’s coming out of our community.   

Alex: I’ve been into Allen Watts and Krishnamurti and Bruce Lee and James Dean and Bjork and Jean Michel Basquiat as personal thought-heroes. I look up everything they do and try to find out all I can about their methods. I feel connected to their thoughts and try to continue the work that they were into. I don’t read much, but I do listen well. Musically I’ve found some great things and try to capture what they are presenting me. Artists like Mulatu Astatke and Tricky give me many great lessons on beats and scales. James Blake, Flying Lotus, and Dntel show me how much the environment of sound matters. Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke show me how avantguard can still be extremely catchy and Philip Glass and Brian Eno show me how to slow it all down,while Hendrix and Buddy Guy show me that Guitars are beautiful ways to convey your heart. And Nina Simone, Kate Bush, Jeff Buckley, and Bjork show me the power of the voice and how to stretch and cooh it. Mostly I’m into occult ideas and try to thread them through pop culture and see what comes out on the other side of that rabbit hole.

9. I always feel like the things artists could see themselves doing if they weren't artists are very telling with regard to how they approach their art. If each of you weren't busy making Pop Pistol into the force of nature that is has become, what do you think you might be doing with yourselves? 
George: I like to think I'd be more involved in community organizing, creating videos, continuing my education, studying linguistics. 

Jorge: Haven’t asked myself that question much in recent years. I’ve been having way too much fun chasing dreams! I work independently in landscaping/gardening and would enjoy continuing on that path. I’d also like to explore a field that facilitates the sharing of useful knowledge.

Alex: I DON’T know. I wouldn't be thinking of things in the same way. I would try to create art but I don’t think there is a universe that I wouldn't be making music in . If I had more days within my day I would be studying ancient history and plants and doing architecture and studying ancient medicine and looking for extra-solar planets- but who knows...

10. For mostly ineffable reasons, y'all seem like the right folks to ask this question: what is the meaning of life?
Jorge: Be rich in happiness and share the knowledge with others!

Alex: I don’t know yet. I got close once but I had to slap myself for being so naive to think I was close to knowing. I just try to work all I can and learn every day and try to stay busy being born...

POP PISTOL: facebook, website, youtube, bandcamp, twitter

No comments: