April 13, 2010

Even When You're Bent Like A Swan: The A Weather Interview

Portland, Ore.-based A Weather are presently waist-deep into their second U.S. tour, which is supporting the release of the slow-core revivalists superlative sophomore set Everyday Balloons [review here]. Everyday Balloons seems mildly obsessed with sleep, and the narratives all seem as if they could have been written solely about what can be seen from a bed by a window. The new collection is lusher, denser and even relatively kaleidoscopic compared to the stunning, quieter debut album Cove, which we named one of the best of the last decade right here. A Weather plays P.A.'s Lounge this coming Monday, and so we thought we'd check in with fronter Aaron Gerber for insight into the new record and the band's prior experience touring. Mr. Gerber very graciously met our cascade of questions, and our exchange appears in lightly edited form below.
CC: You mentioned that growing up as a young person in Maine you'd travel down to Boston for rock shows. What was the first show you saw here? See any heroes?

AG: I believe the first show I saw in Boston was Ida and Low playing at the Middle East. I was probably 16 or so at the time and there was some difficulty in actually getting into the show as it was 18 and over. The owner drew huge x's on my hands with permanent marker and made me stand by the door the whole performance. After the show we took a big group picture with both the bands. Somewhere there still exists a black and white photo of myself as a 16 year old posing with the members of Low and Ida. Other memorable [shows] include: Sunny Day Real Estate, Arab Strap, Wheat and of course Bedhead.

CC: You must have been terribly excited to do those 2008 tour dates with The New Year after having been a fan of Bedhead. As I think that was the first A Weather tour, did you learn anything from the Kadanes about life on the road?

AG: Yeah, that was our first tour outside of the Northwest. We were so fortunate to be asked to join them. It was a little surreal at first. We quickly discovered that, aside from making really great music, they were also really great people. You're always hoping that your heros will be decent people and it makes everything that much nicer when they are. All of the guys in that band were unbelievably supportive of A Weather and actually seemed to be legitimately into our songs as well. I remember after one particularly difficult show we had in Arizona Matt Kadane gave Sarah and I an encouraging back stage pep talk. They all kind of took us under their collective wing. As you are probably aware, in one song off of Cove we mention Bedhead. On Everyday Balloons I managed to sneak "the new year" into a lyric. The Kadane brothers better start another band before we record our third album.

CC: Moreso than with Cove, we continue to grapple with what certain of the new songs are communicating. Compositionally and musically, Everyday Balloons is a little more accessible and less stylistically restricted than the quiet music of Cove. But lyrically things seem even more open to interpretation. When you were writing these songs, did you think you were taking a new or different approach to the lyrics than you had previously?

AG: As a songwriter I'm never quite sure what will stick and what will sort of slide down the wall. One of the more interesting aspects of reading reviews of the record is seeing how listeners interpret the lyrics and attempt to summarize a given song. A lot of people think I'm writing exclusively relationship or break-up songs, and though I can see why they might say that, I do think Everyday Balloons covers more diverse thematic ground. I don't intentionally try to obscure my lyrics; if they are perceived as cryptic it might be due to my disinterest in linear narrative and my inability to stay with one idea or theme for more than a few lines. My favorite writing always hints at rather than completely reveals. I find it more fun to leave some of the work to the listener to draw his or her own connections between images and statements. That said, I do strangely feel like Everyday Balloons is more coherent and planned in terms of themes and motifs than Cove was.

CC: So what about all the guitars on Everyday Balloons, anyway? Not that it is like a Metallica record, or anything (far from it!). But was there a specific revelation or occurrence that made you think, "this next record is going to have more guitars, it's going to be louder."

AG: I made the switch from electric to acoustic a couple years ago before our tour with The New Year. Since our other guitar player Aaron Krenkel wasn't able to accompany us on most of the trip, we adapted the arrangements to play as a three piece. It made sense to play an electric guitar if there was only to be one guitar in the band (a bit fuller sounding with more dynamic possibilities). I also never had a really good pick-up for the acoustic and it was always a pain to get it loud enough without feeding back. It just seemed easier to play through an amp and have more control of the sound. When we started working on the songs for Everyday Balloons it was a progression of how we'd been performing live for the past six months or so. A lot of the songs came out of that slightly dirty guitar tone (that spot between clean and distorted) where there is the potential to go both quiet and loud. I've always been a fan of melodic feedback and ebows too, so playing electric allowed me to indulge in those sounds and explore some new textures that aren't on Cove. But also a lot of the songs on Everyday Balloons are based around the piano, too.

CC: So what is the touring line-up for A Weather this go-around? Will Mr. Krenkel be making all the dates?

AG: Unfortunately not. Aaron K. has some real life commitments to attend to, namely a new baby. It will just be Sarah, Lou and I again on this tour.

CC: What was the process like writing arrangements for this tour? Was it frustrating to have less at your disposal, or perhaps liberating because of the opportunities few moving parts may present? Were there some things that you tried to make work that just wouldn't?

AG: It has been fun to reinterpret these songs for a more minimal set up. The songs on Everyday Balloons have more layers to them than then ones on Cove, so it's been interesting to strip away the layers and see how little we can get away with while still maintaining the essence of the songs. At some points I'm trying to approximate the parts of two guitars with one and that has been challenging, trying to play both the chords and the melody simultaneously, but at other points you just have to embrace the limitations, go with the sparseness and not worry about trying to fill in all the negative space. Often the negative space is pretty useful as a gradation of the dynamics.

CC: What can we expect to hear in your live set? Will you will be doing material from Cove as well as Everyday Balloons? Are you hauling around a piano so Sarah can do "Midday Moon?"

AG: We are playing mostly songs from Everyday Balloons, but maybe one or two from Cove. No piano and not even bringing the Rhodes this time around. It's just electric guitar, bass and drums. It's funny you mention "Midday Moon," as earlier today we worked out an arrangement for guitar and bass. Though it would be cool to ride into a city with an upright piano strapped to the roof of our mini-van we decided to travel light this tour. A toy piano will make some appearances as well.

A Weather play P.A.'s Lounge in Somerville, Mass. Monday April 19; they are joined by Drew O'Doherty, The Acre and Bell And The Bees. All remaining tour dates are listed below.

A Weather -- "Giant Stairs" -- Everyday Balloons
A Weather -- "Third Of Life" -- Everyday Balloons
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[buy Everyday Balloons from Team Love right here]

04.15 -- Vaudeville Mews -- Des Moines, IA
04.16 -- 400 Bar -- Minneapolis, MN
04.19 -- P.A.'s Lounge -- Somerville, MA
04.20 -- Apohadion -- Portland, ME
04.21 -- The Lamb Abbey -- Montpelier, VT
04.22 -- AS220 -- Providence, RI
04.23 -- Union Hall -- Brooklyn, NY
04.25 -- Galaxy Hut -- Washington DC
04.26 -- Joe Squared -- Baltimore, MD
04.28 -- Off Broadway -- St. Louis, MO
04.29 -- The Czar Bar -- Kansas City, MO
04.30 -- Jackpot -- Lawrence, KS

A Weather: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

Previous A Weather Coverage:
Today's Hotness: Calories, William, Lali Puna, A Weather
Be Prepared: A Weather | Everyday Balloons | 2 March
Clicky Clicky Music Blog's Top Albums 2000-2009
Clicky Clicky's Top Albums Of 2008
Review: A Weather | Cove [MP3]

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