[Photo Cred: Literature]
Paisley skies, twee as fuck, Indie Pop until the hit parade is over, Shoegazing until the sun hits. I sit down with Kevin Attics and Nathaniel Cardaci, Philadelphia’s Literature. We discuss Chorus, Slumberland Records, Indie Pop, their origins, and a broad range of topics on the decadence of music.
So, let’s just jump right in. Indie pop. I read somewhere that indie pop isn’t noisy, and is a less angsty version of what was coming out alongside it. I don’t think that’s true at all. You guys have a good grasp of what Indie Pop is. What do you think of that statement?
Kevin: I agree with you. I don’t think Indie Pop is confined to a narrow definition of “less noisy than” or “Collegiate”. When punk came around, there was a lot of aggression and they channeled it into this thing that was ripping on pure pop from the early 60s, late 50s, making it brattier and in your face. Whereas, Indie Pop was an appreciation of pop, all around. These people were in love with hooks and choruses, and they used those to convey just as much angst, just as much caustic wit. It was channeled through a different layer.
Nathaniel: It’s really hard to say. I feel that all the Punk and DIY starting from ‘78, or some point onward, to the Indie Pop of the 80s and 90s is sort of intertwined together. It seems more like, the people who aren’t playing in the bands but going to the shows see them [the two genres] as more separate than they actually are. We go to a hardcore shows, we go to punk shows, we go to hip hop shows, we go to all the shows, and we see tons of different types of people out. It seems like something [genre defining] to pigeonhole a band, any genre that’s defined can do that. People are trying to narrow it down.
* A nice waitress then asked us for our food orders, we did not order.*
Chorus has an amalgamation of differences in itself, and you’ve changed the sound of Literature. In the perspective of Indie Pop, how did you morph that stylistic sound and how did you approach writing the orchestration?
Kevin: I think that Arab Spring, our first record, was a love letter to power pop. Whereas Chorus became a love letter to jangly Indie Pop ranging from the 60 to the 80s.
Nathaniel: Basically, transitioning. We naturally went forward, and got into jangly indie pop. Back when I was working at a record store I discovered this [indie pop] stuff: The Cleaners From Venus, Robyn Hitchcock. Kevin was discovering this stuff on his own, we would come together and play all these songs, and hangout.
K: It’s almost like our journey of self discovery with music mimed the way music progressed from the 70s to the 80s, like the kids that transitioned over from power pop to jangly 80 guitar music. We were playing this music, and we were much younger, and we found this thing called Power Pop. We got really into it. We kind of hit a wall with it. Which is why it phased out of popularity for a while. But, a lot of those bands went on to make jangly Indie Pop. We were really getting into The Wake and Hit Parade.
N: And Cherry Red Records started re releasing a lot of stuff too. The Monochrome Set, years ago, Sinceros as well, which is a good bridge between Power Pop and Jangly Pop, and just bridging into mainstream Pop really. When it comes down to it, we are record nerds. We just went into this direction with the band because these are the records we were into at the time. Obviously they hold a very special place for us but, I don’t know, it’s just fun to get in there [putting the records on] and play stuff that’s been lost for a while. Putting it on the turntable again makes it feel brand new for us.
K: When you first get into music, it doesn’t all catch your ear immediately. I think there was one time, a few years ago, where we were on the tail end of listening to all the power pop stuff, and then Nate brought in a Robyn Hitchcock record. I love Robyn Hitchcock. But, all of a sudden, bam, this was the best thing I had heard in such a long time. We became obsessed with Soft Boys and Robyn Hitchcock and The Egyptians.
N: And Fegmania.
While, I was listening to your record I revisited Felt and St. Christopher, and a lot of Sarah Records groups.
N: I have heard Sarah Records bands and want to get into them. Herbie Schellenberger still owes me a Sarah Records Mixtape, waiting for it…
K: We like Sarah Records, we have this friend who could write a book on it. He was in the band Brown Recluse and Pet Milk. He still owes Nate that tape. Herbie needs to send us this tape.
*Note: Herbie, you have to give them the tape.*
N: I only recently got into Felt, in the past two years. It was one of those bands that you [Kevin] were talking about, where I had heard them in them background, but didn’t dislike it.
K: I was telling him that he had to listen to Felt. For us, we find out about music, we get into the same music, it seems like a lot of the time. One of us will get into something earlier sometimes.
One who has a good ear I think can hear and distinguish that the songs are very well thought out, they aren’t spur of the moment and thrown together like some Indie Pop.
K: We definitely are fans of pop music. As such, we definitely want to keep the same approach we had from the last record. But, we didn’t keep that same approach on this record and now we are moving back toward our warts and all approach. However, things like composition are incredibly important to us because for some people you go up and play harder towards the end and that’s how you get off. But, for us, to maximize our enjoyment of a song and feel like we can say everything we need to is if we can create an arch within it, a dynamic shift. Like, I’m not going to feel as good playing this if I don’t put a chorus behind it. We write the songs 50/50.
N: And on that note, I feel like Kevin and I have been playing in the band for a long time but, we’ve been hanging out, playing guitar, and listening to music since I was 20. I’m 28 now.
K: We’ve been friends for a long time.
N: Yeah. We would always talk about the craft of songwriting. It was a sort of headspace. For me, it feels like we’ve found the door, cleared the weeds away, but I don’t feel like we’ve gotten in and perfected it. Personally.
K: We are working towards something quite bigger. We like Chorus a lot but I feel like the stuff we are doing now is a better expression of us, from better learning the craft of songwriting.
And how do you feel with that pinnacle, knowing that is there and that you want to achieve it. Is there some sense of hesitancy achieving it? Or, do you want to go hit the peak and challenge it?
K: Yeah, exactly. It’s more about if you are in love with songwriting you will always to try harder to express yourself in a wholly individual way. There is no peak. We are going to be able to learn more about ourselves and the craft, and enjoy ourselves more and more with every song we write and the shows we play.
So this is the first release you’ve done on Slumberland. From what I read Mike backed you guys heavily.
K: We recorded the record not knowing Mike was going to put it out. But throughout the process we would send him mixes, and he would write back. To preface this, the album was recorded during an extremely brutal winter in New York. We were traveling between Philadelphia and New York to record the Chorus. That can tax you emotionally. Knowing that you might only have two days to record what’s in your head can wear you down. When Mike would write back, “These sound great!”, I was like, okay, man, Mike think these sound great. Somebody outside our group of four people thinks these are really good. Somebody whose opinion we really trust.
N: And on that note too, we recorded everything else with Michael Landon, the first record and the first two 7 inch, even in our other bands. We only had one sort of view, so to have someone else say it was awesome, we went, alright let’s keep working on it. But, it’s definitely hard sometimes, when you are stuck in the middle of a project.
K: I think took me about two months after the record was finished to go back and listen to it and say, alright, I’m happy with this. We were living inside that record for seven months.
How does it feel to play the songs live then?
K: Liberating, now.
How about when the record was first completed?
K: The thing about Chorus, compared to Arab Spring, is that we recorded it after playing those songs for years and years. In this record, we were much more production minded. A lot of it was written in the studio, so it was exciting and scary to have these songs that were supposed to use the studio as a primary instrument. Then asking, how are we going to play this live now? Sometimes there are things [orchestrations] that you can’t do live but, then there are ways to make it sound like it wouldn’t be as cool on record. There are ways to make it take off. It was about finding the balance between the two. I think that it has been a process, and that we have really enjoyed learning how to take things and recontextualize them.
N: We pushed the record a lot harder in the studio. Then we came back to the band, and we weren’t going to add any new members to it so, how are we going to make this work? I thought it was very fun, reworking the songs again.
K: With the next record, we are going to definitely strike a balance. We are going to use a lot of production in the studio because we don’t want to step back in a sense. We know a lot more of what we want to do now.
N: A lot of the stuff worked out well.
K: There was definitely a lot of stuff that didn’t make it on there. There is enough for a whole other record.
How do you feel being, from what I hear, the only Indie Pop band, on a sort of island that is original but, at the same time retrospective?
K: I disagree with that, because I think one of the reason the record was made was due to us falling in love with a community of people up there who are all musicians in fantastic bands. There is almost a salon sort of happening up on the East Coast, where there are bands like Expert Alterations and bands like Wild Honey, Gingerlys, Catnaps, and Sapphire Mansions. We would go to their shows and they would come to ours, and everyone was excited about what was happening with the music. It feels like, without that community, this record wouldn’t have happened in the same way at all.
N: I felt, not to contradict him, as the record came together we sort of started to meet more people in the scene. It wasn’t until the record was mostly completed that we met people.
So this is then just my own ignorance.
N: No, no, it’s just that most these bands, you go back and look them up, most of them are done. They aren’t bands anymore.
K: There was a dry spell of Indie Pop, I feel like. Now it sort of coming back.
N: But half those bands, a good amount of those bands you listen don’t exist anymore.
K: Catnaps doesn’t exist anymore.
N: I think there’s one more in there.
So it is a thriving community.
K: Absolutely. I feel like it is. I feel like there a bands throughout the US, we met the member of a band called Summer Rays in Clevland. They are fantastic. If you are in a good Indie Pop band and you are putting yourself out there, I feel like there is definitely a social network in which you will get passed along. There is an audience for you.
Coming back to Slumberland, how did you guys come in contact with them?
N: I was at a show, maybe around 2006?, when I was living in New York. Mike was also at that show, it was the The Lodger. Their first two records had a huge impact in how I thought about writing songs, before we ever contacted Slumberland. I was definitely influenced by the bands on the label. But, we were found through Skatterbrain!.
K: Our friend Matthew Edwards, who runs the Skatterbrain! blog from Philadelphia, also a great resource for Indie Pop.
N: That is an excellent way to find Indie Pop bands that are still around and that are brand new. Through that and through Herbie, we were found. Our record was passed through the community and Mike emailed us.
K: Because Kip heard it, and Kip tweeted about our 7 inch, which nobody really heard. When we released our first record Kip heard it and Mike bought a copy, and from then we kept in touch with Mike for the next two years, while we were recording. Mike was enthusiastic during the process and in putting out Chorus.
Any pressure with being on such a legendary and iconic label?
N: I felt awesome about it.
K: There was definitely a moment of, you work your whole life up to this idea. It was like, okay man, this is one of my favorite labels and I got signed to it. I work as a teacher when I’m not doing this and I remember, I was on a schoolbus, I felt like, alright my life is alright now, everything is going to be okay. Never going to be hurt again.
N: It was very validating. The first Pains album was super influential, and now we were being recognized by the same person who recognized them. We were super excited.
*We then began to discuss Pitchfork scores in depth. Fun fact: Kevin was once a Pitchfork Writer!*
That Pitchfork article, “Twee as Fuck”… The journalist who wrote that said Indie Pop had a particular aesthetic.
K: That was completely contradictory, because she says it fits a particular aesthetic but, the music she puts on the playlist to go along with the article ranges drastically. The TV Personalities was on the playlist, and she puts them with Tiger Trap. Right there, they are so stylistically different. TV Personalities are so caustic and bohemian-decadent.
Wow, you really did write for P4K.
N: Yeah, you see how many buzz words he threw out there. New ones, bohemian-decadent.
K: Put a hyphen between bohemian-decadent.
This interview is definitely an 8.5.
K: This interview is an 8.5. But, Tiger Trap have a soft power and are heartbreaking. You put those two bands back to back, they are completely different, it would be hard to tell that they came from the same genre.
The beauty of Indie Pop is that it is diverse and versatile, you guys are a testament to that.
K: I think that Indie Pop is Independent Pop Music. What Pop Music is, is variegated.
N: It doesn’t mean that everyone has to sound like Belle and Sebastian and stick to a particular style. We love Belle and Sebastian but Kevin put it perfectly. We love Pop Music from Duran Duran to the Spice Girls.
K: Pop Music One-Hit- Wonders from the 1950s to La Roux. It’s as wildly diverse as what pop music is, it just has independent tacked on to it.
I’m going to ask you a cliche question.
K: Can we guess?
N: Is it where the band name comes from?
No, that’s been answered.
K: We should change that answer every time we are asked.
Okay, let’s do that question then. What’s the answer going to be?
N: I channeled something from the Netherworld.
K: What’s the actual cliche question?
When did you guys start playing music and writing music by yourselves, and how did that cultivate into becoming Literature?
K: We started playing music really young. Before Nate turned 20, he already released a 7 inch.
N: Two tapes and a 7 inch.
K: I grew up in Austin, Texas. I was playing terrible, terrible shows. But, I was playing them around town when I was 16 or 15. We wanted to play music, whether or not that music was good. We wanted to do it. As our tastes refined, we fell deeper and deeper into the art form. We got better at channeling what is effective to us. It was whatever allowed us to express ourselves and was inspiring. We obviously had these wildly diverse interests in music, we all liked stuff outside of poop music. But, we drew a lot of inspiration from there. We were all close friends and we wanted to start a band.
*We discussed the X Files in between this answer and the final question*
What’s next and where is Chorus for you in your repertoire? How do you feel Indie Pop is shaping now, and how are you revolving and evolving around that?
K: Well, we are writing the songs right now.
N: I feel like with meeting some of the bigger figureheads in the Indie Pop community, playing with some of the smaller bands, it seems as if it is very open to whatever creative whims comes. It’s not constricting.
K: We are definitely going to try to make this next record a lot more of a statement.
N: Something punctuated.
There’s a buzz word.
K: For us, it’s going to be refining our abilities to write, more and more and more. With the next record we feel like we are getting to a point where the influences are taking a back seat, and we are now writing songs that fully come from us. It’ll be us flying our own flag a little bit more. Treading on uncharted waters. We’ll see what happens. We could fall on our face, we could drown. That’ll be the sound Literature is known for, four kids in Paisley drowning.
Literature’s Sophomore album, Chorus, is out now via Slumberland Records.