Friday, August 3, 2012

Memory Boys Send it Across to You From the Pacific Northwest

I first had the pleasure of hearing Memory Boys at a show we shared at a coffeehouse on Whidbey Island. What struck me immediately about the group, who were performing that night as a trio of Grant, Marit, and Eli, was the strength of their songwriting, their instrumentation (an electric saz!) and the call and response between Grant's playful, off-the-cuff vocals and Marit's haunting alto. If you can imagine Grace Slick and Jeff Mangum fronting Pavement, alternating leads in a playful (and sometimes dark) game of badminton, you'll have a glimmer of what it's like to listen to Memory Boys in the lush overgrowth of pines on Whidbey Island.

The band took some time to answer a few questions about their LP, "Send it Across to Me," which they self-recorded and self-released. (And which is so catchy, it's a sure sonic addition. Check it out, it should be your feel-good record of the summer.)

Interview Formula / Key:
Memory Boys = Grant + Marit + Kevin + Jesse + Ashley + Eli
FA/FS = For Arbors / For Satellites

FA/FS: Tell me a bit about Memory Boys. If you had colors and superpowers, what would they be?

Grant: Memory Boys is Marit, Grant, Kevin, Jesse, Ashley and Eli. We're split between Portland, Oregon and Whidbey Island, Washington. Marit and I recorded an album, "Send it across to me," with Eli and Ashley (along with invaluable contributions from Andrew Dorsett) up on Whidbey Island. Now we're playing those songs live with Jesse and Kevin in and around Portland. A few months back, Marit and I did a tour, which was a lot of fun, with Eli and Ashley and one of their other bands, Baby Island.

Memory Boys started just about the time Marit and I started dating. I had just moved to Seattle from a year's stay in New York City and Marit was living in Olympia. We were mostly communicating with cryptic emails steeped with read between the lines style romantic tension and this was great fodder for songwriting. I finally asked Eli, a good friend of mine from our Olympia days, if he would record a song with me and eventually along with Ashley we recorded all the songs that make up our first album, "On Whidbey Island."

Marit: I am Marit and I’m from Seattle. My colors are red and blue and my superpowers would be either flying or to be fluent in all forms of language and communication or the power to change people's minds.

Eli: I'm from Whidbey Island, but have spent many of the last 10 years also living in Olympia. My color would be florescent green. I would love to fly, of course.

Jesse: I'm Jesse. I'm originally from Westchester County, NY. If I had colors, they would change depending on my mood. My superpower would be the ability to clear people's minds at will, so that their problems didn't seem to so overwhelming.

Kevin: Milwaukee, WI. I would either want invisibility or mind-reading ability. I think it would help to understand people better. And I'll take some sweet neon colors for my outfit, thank you!

FA/FS: You've released this awesome record called "Send it across to me." Could you tell me a bit about your experience recording and releasing it yourself?

Grant: Recording it ourselves was a fun and slow process. We did most of the basic tracks really quickly but spent a ton of time mixing and a fair amount overdubbing. Eli most was the most fastidious and hard working member in that process. Releasing it ourselves really seemed like the only option. Early in the process, I made a mental commitment to take it a bit more seriously and make it more than just some songs burned on a CD-R. But we didn't shop it around to labels at all. We just got a few different quotes from vinyl manufacturers and went with the best one. Now we're just trying to promote the record and it's going well. Little by little. It's fun doing it all yourself and it's a lot of responsibility too.

Eli: Recording was fun because we were arranging the songs as we were recording. The lyrics, guitar parts, and many of the keyboard parts were already written, but the drums and bass were open, so it was fun to turn a "demo" into a song. Being in a neutral place together for the first time with ambiance was awesome, too. The Bayview Hall lends itself to a certain sounding recording. I don't know much about self-releasing music since Grant and Marit handled that, but it sounds hard!

Marit: Some memories of recording: walking between cabins on a path in the dark woods to do vocal overdubs, watching the sun on the wooden floor of Bayview Hall move slowly, watching a hummingbird die on the windowsill, hot tubs. I wasn’t around for all the mixing and overdubs but once we pressed it to vinyl Grant, Kevin, and I spent many long nights silk screening the LP covers. Self-releasing "Send it across to me" made it a very personal mode of direct expression. We took part in every step of the process, from writing to recording to finding a vinyl manufacturer, to creating the LP art and hand screening it.

FA/FS: Why music? What is the gift that music gives you?

Grant: Music is everything. It makes me so happy, to play music and write songs. It's a feeling like none other. And to do it with other people is an amazing gift. All of you tied into this same composite sound, organizing it all, it's so intimate. Songwriting has the potential for such pleasure and fulfillment. Carving a song out of life, out of the sounds and ideas in the world is what I've always wanted to do.

Eli: Music is cool because it creates a space, without taking up space. If you close your eyes and listen to music, you are transported into a space. It's very evocative. It's mysterious, and sometimes strange synchronicities occur when you are making music which makes it seem to have a spiritual connection to our lives and the world. It feels very good to listen to music you've made that you are proud of. This feeling is a beautiful gift, and to think that other people experience a similar gift from listening to the music you make is also wonderful.

Kevin: I have no idea why, ultimately. Not that I'm religious, but in a way I feel called to do music. I mean, rationally, it seems like there are a number of other things I should be doing with my time to make the world a less shitty place (activism, volunteering, learning), but for what ever reason music is just important to me. The gift of music for me is that it can be the ultimate in connecting to other humans.

Marit: Music, to me, is the gift of comfort and powerful metaphor. It’s the non-thing that always knows how I am feeling and how to challenge, change, move, or understand me. It's the best!

Jesse: Music has really, truly, altered my life in a huge, obvious, beautiful way. And the people and ideas I've connected with through it are the real inspiration for and embodiment of liberation. I just feel like it's for me to do, too.

FA/FS: How do you write the music you write? How do you know if a song is a keeper?

Grant: I used to be much more critical. These days it seems the songs that are keepers are the ones that float to the surface and are remembered sooner. Sometimes, after a long time of forgetting, it'll resurface, like, "Oh, wow that's it, that's the keeper."

The initial burst of a song, in the period of time when I'm not actively thinking about anything, just drifts into melody. This is usually when I'm going somewhere, like on a bike or starting to do the dishes, or walking. But if I'm too aware of it, I jinx it. Lately as a band we've been playing a lot of shows and have done a little bit of jammy kind stuff and recorded some of it. In the future, I could see us writing as a group. Everyone usually writes their own parts for the songs.

Eli: Takes time to decide if a song is a keeper. Sometimes it takes playing it with other people. The songs that the writer might think are clunkers could be the biggest hits if they're played with other musicians that hear something special in the song.

Ashley: Songs are all keepers in their own way. I can't help but look back and think that there was some important discovery in every creation, even when the discovery is "what not to do."

Jesse: When you write a song and you realize that you knew the whole thing, completely, before you even wrote it, it's like 'Eureka!' Gives you a full body sense, a knowing shake.

Kevin: You know a song's a keeper when you keep revisiting it in your head. Not in an annoying earworm kind of way, but in an intrigue sort of way. Like there's something buried under layers that you're trying to get to the bottom of.

FA/FS: So this is the situation, Memory Boys are playing a sweet show in a city far, far away. Someone calls out a big hello from across the street. They've mistaken you for someone else. Who have they mistaken you for?

Grant: What's uncanny is there's this National Geographic from the 60's that we have at our house and I look a lot like this Hasidic Jew in one of the pictures. He is leaning over getting his shoes shinned. It's really weird. Also there is a picture of Ezra Pound, where I look a lot like him.

Eli: Charles Bukowski.

Kevin: Guy Pierce.

Jesse: Beethoven. Or my sister.

Marit: A friend with long brown hair and bangs. It's really, really common. I wanna have a doppelgänger party where I meet all my lookalikes someday.

FA/FS: Tell me about some new bands in Portland, Olympia, and Whidbey that the world should be listening to, like right now, in the car, on the radio, on their cassette decks and stereos, or, you know, their iPhones.

Grant: On Whidbey, Ashley Eriksson has a new 7-inch on Funkytonk Records which is really good. And you should check out her full length "Colors." Baby Island of course. They are the premier bad boys of South Whidbey and their self-titled album is awesome. Some Olympia stalwarts that everyone should be listening to are: Vradiazei, Lake, Skrill Meadow, Gun Outfit, Broken Water, Wisdom Teeth, Letters and Malaikat Dan Singa. In Portland, I've heard great music from: Nucular Aminals, Mikah Sykes, Jesse Carsten Band, Woolen Men, Formica Men, Swimming, Jared Holsinger, Old Wars, Psychic Feline and Son Cats.

Also watch Experimental Half Hour, it's something I need to do more of too, it's a super cool show online.

Eli: I have a new side project called Baby Island. Shameless self promotion!

Kevin: Unknown Mortal Orchestra from Portland. Never seen them live, but the self-titled album they put out last year had a great lo-fi sound!

Jesse: Like A Villain, Unkle Funkle, Sad Horse, Tom Blood & Jordan Dykstra's band. Margy Pepper! But, I'm a recent transplant, so I gotta shout out to my inspirational NY & Chicago buddies No One and the Somebodies, Old Table, Cave Cricket, Porches., Pool Holograph, IAN, & Videotape.

FA/FS: Plans for the future?

Grant: We want to play some good shows. Keep getting out there. I feel like we're still searching for how to present our music live. Honesty is the best policy and that's what I feel most prone to at least think I'm doing - even if I'm possibly deceiving myself. And by that I mean sometimes there's tricks to presenting your music live and I don't think we're using those tricks yet. Of course, we want to do another record. Bottom line, writing songs and playing them, I feel lucky to be doing both.

Eli: Make more music with more people, make money from music! Help the poor, sick, injured, homeless and starving people of the world.

Kevin: Keep on keepin' on with the music while becoming more financially independent. I like keeping the living and the music separate for now.

Jesse: To keep up with the ways I change, and to encourage those changes – so that I can be more aware of life happening. To become a committed artist and dreamer.

Bright Beam from MemoryBoys on Vimeo.
Memory Boys on Bandcamp, Facebook, and Vimeo.