July 27, 2012

Forever Now: The Infinity Girl Interview

Infinity Girl

It's that they make it look so easy, that's what initially enticed us to approach the chaps in upstart Boston shoegaze unit Infinity Girl for an interview. With almost zero warning, the foursome issued in May a very impressive full-length debut, Stop Being On My Side, which we reviewed here last month. There were no singles and very few shows to serve as harbingers for the set, making the band's sudden leap into the vanguard of the city's expanding shoegaze scene all the more surprising. With its remarkable debut out, a personnel change brought on by the departure of founding bassist Ransom for Los Angeles, and some great live bills facing Infinity Girl in August, we thought it was high time to check in with the band, which is certainly among the most promising of Boston's current crop of startlingly good young bands. Fronter and guitarist Nolan Eley and drummer Sebastian Modak were very gracious with their time, and while we ultimately didn't learn why it is the songs seem to come so easily, we did get a feel for how the band did what it did and does what it does.

Clicky Clicky: You've just released a very good record. If you could choose another, released by anyone ever, that you wish Infinity Girl could have made itself, what would it be? And you're not allowed to say Loveless.

Nolan Eley: If I was answering this for myself I might say Emergency And I by Dismemberment Plan, but as a band we'd probably go with Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth.

Sebastian Modak: I think it would have been pretty nice to have made Yuck's recent record. Personally, I would be content with life if I had played drums on Fugazi's 13 Songs (yeah, it's a compilation, but whatever). I can't even imagine what it would feel like to play those songs live.

CC: There were very few shows and no singles leading up to the release of the record. And that's one of the things that made a big impression on me: no single, no fucking around, just a handful of shows and then BOOM, a wonderful, fully formed full-length. It reminds me of the genesis story of the Greek goddess Athena. Did Infinity Girl feel like it was important to make such a strong statement right out of the starting gate?

NE: Thank you, to be honest, it was kind of surprising how easily it happened. I think we just wanted to record the songs we had and at first we were thinking it was probably going to be a 6-track EP when we initially went into the studio. We had just learned "Void" at that point and decided trying to record it. We did a few takes that weren't that great, but listening back, the energy was so good we decided to include that on the record. Shortly after those sessions happened Seb and I wrote "By Now" and we were all like 'we have to put this on the record.' So we went into the studio and recorded that. So at this point we were sitting on 8 songs and thinking 'is this an EP or a full length?' Then "Pulling A Smile From A Drawer" happened almost on accident, I was messing around with this piano at The Record Company, it's an acoustic piano but it has electric pickups on it, so I was running it through a bunch of guitar pedals, just messing around. Thank God somebody hit the record button. Anyways, after that I got the idea to record some instrumental tracks. Those, I think, helped the record really flow together as a full length and brought it up to 11 tracks.

CC: Who does the bulk of Infinity Girl's songwriting?

NE: I've done most of the songwriting so far, but the songwriting process is evolving as we play more.

SM: [When t]he band started [it was] based around songs Nolan had already written. We were already friends and I heard him playing at a weekly songwriter's circle that some close friends of mine used to run at All Asia [in Cambridge, Mass.]. I immediately started fantasizing about how great the songs would sound, louder and with a full band. What you hear on the record is mostly from Nolan's existing songs. But as the band has evolved, so has the songwriting process. I wrote the lyrics to "By Now," while I was in Spain and sent them to Nolan while he was in China... So, it's not always just Nolan. But most of the time he'll be the one that turns our ideas into something that sounds kind of like a song.

CC: The reason I ask about songwriters is that, from a songwriting standpoint, there seems to be a tension in your music between the more pure shoegaze stuff and something like "Cellophane And Gold," which is more uptempo and has almost a punk edge, or the lyrics to the chorus of "Cannons," which is surprisingly up top of the mix and pretty emo?

NE: I think the reason for this is that most of the songs on the record did not start out as a band writing them together. I have always just written and recorded music for fun. Sometimes I would keep the songs hidden on my computer, sometimes I would put them online for my friends to hear. Creating an album with a consistent aesthetic was not my priority. I just wrote the songs how I felt that day or that week. Some of them were straight-up shoegaze, some of them with complex orchestral arrangments, some folky, some electronic. I guess the songs that made it onto the record and into the Infinity Girl catalog were the ones that translated over to a four-piece rock band the easiest.

SM: It's also a product of what we're listening to. Sure, a lot of what has influenced us comes from the same time period, but when you're (subconsciously or otherwise) thinking about "Big Day Coming" by Yo La Tengo and "The Leper" by Dinosaur the result can be all over the place. And I think that's a good thing.

CC: Did you heavily demo Stop Being On My Side? I'm just curious to know how hard you had to work to get the sounds on the record? Did you bring a record to the producer and say "make it sound like this?"

NE: About half the songs I had recorded beforehand, for my own personal enjoyment, so this gave the producer and the band a pretty strong idea of what certain songs were going to sound like. Also we recorded some live demos in our practice space so we could all listen to the songs and share ideas about them. From experience I gained recording my own music, I already had a lot of ideas as far as the sounds for the record. I just had to get these ideas across to the other people involved in making it.

SM: Once we got the idea in our heads to make a record, we reached out to our friend (and new bassist) Mitch Stewart to produce. He and Pat McCusker engineered it at The Record Company -- they're both close friends of ours (I went to high school with Mitch and play in another band with both of them called Friendly People). We did a couple of demos in our practice space as well and I think both Mitch and Pat knew what we wanted in terms of sounds by the time we spent two insane nights at The Record Company. It was a really open, not to mention surreal, experience, considering the time of night we were able to get recording time, and the sounds kind of shaped themselves along the way.

CC: Shoegaze, or at least shoegaze influences, certainly seems to be having a moment in the Boston music scene right now. Does that sort of external influence, what you are seeing out in clubs and basements, factor into what you do at all?

NE: I've been mostly unaware of the local shoegaze scene until recently, and I'm pretty excited about it. I would say that the music we make mostly just comes from us liking the music we like and being friends enough to share a few hours a week together playing what we like playing.

SM: It helps that people are into it right now, but we're just a band that is doing what we individually and collectively love to do. If it turns out that people are into it, then that's fantastic and we really appreciate it. But we'd be doing it anyway if we were the only noisy band in town. It's just that ALL our shows would be at the Elks Lodge, if that was the case.

CC: The common conception is that a band in the early part of its career focuses in and settles on a style in time. Do you guys step back and think about where you are heading, about where you might be stylistically two years from now?

NE: We don't really think about this too much, I know I'll always keep writing music that reflects the music I'm currently listening to, and what's happening in my life, and we will always want to play music, so wherever that takes us is where we'll end up. As long as everyone else in the band doesn't hate me and I don't hate them we'll keep on doing this thing.

CC: Assuming people can agree on what the term shoegaze really means anymore, it's hard to think of a lot of examples of shoegaze bands that have had long, continuous careers -- much to my own disappointent, I'll say. This is sort of a loaded question, but as songwriters and music fans, do you think shoegaze is too limiting a style to sustain a band creatively over the course of, say, a ten-year career?

NE: Shoegaze is such a niche genre. Loveless simultaneously created and destroyed it. Everything that can be said in that language has been pretty much said on that album. I think the only way shoegaze bands can survive is if they have something else to offer along with it. It's not really straight-up shoegaze bands that are surviving but mostly bands with shoegaze influences; bands like Deerhunter or Yo La Tengo that have these undoubtedly shoegaze moments but are diverse enough in their arrangements to avoid being pigeonholed as just a shoegaze band.

SM: Whenever I'm describing Infinity Girl to people, I'll use the word "shoegazey," and immediately feel like an idiot. But it kind of makes sense. It's true that the term "shoegaze" has lost a lot of its significance over time, but I don't think bands like ours are making shoegaze music, in the most traditional sense of the word. Sure, we're inspired by bands like MBV and JAMC but we'll never be them or even sound like contemporaries. That music came out of a very specific time and place, both literally and culturally. What's happening now is its own beast and I think it will develop in its own way, independent of nostalgia. I think we're part of that and that will definitely sustain us creatively. The risk comes only if we box ourselves in, and I don't think that has happened or will happen any time soon.

CC: You've got two shows coming up next month. Will these be the first with Mitch Stewart playing bass live for you?

SM: Yes. Having spent so much time with the songs -- producing, engineering and mixing the record -- it was very easy having him take over on bass. I think he knows the parts better than the rest of us do at this point. Surprised he's not too sick of them at this point. That being said, Ransom is a big part of what has made Infinity Girl what it is and I hope he hates LA (joking... sort of).

CC: What's next for Infinity Girl after the shows in August? What do the next six months look like for you guys?

NE: We are just trying to play as many shows as we can around the area, and get people listening to our record. We've got an EP (probably) still in the demo stage, we haven't started recording anything yet. The songs sound summery and less dark than Stop Being On My Side does, so it would be nice if we could get it done while it's still warm out. Obviously though we're not going to compromise anything just so we can rush it out before the next equinox.

CC: Thanks so much for giving this interview, guys.

SM: Thank YOU. It's fantastic what you are doing for the Boston music scene with your blog. Far too few people are pointing people towards good music with the consistency and eloquence that you do. It's humbling to be included in all of that.

NE: Thank you for taking an interest in us! Seriously, we've all been fans of this blog for a while now and it's so cool to be included in it.

See Infinity Girl live at Precinct in Somerville Aug. 4 [Facebook event page] and at TT The Bear's Aug. 30 with the mighty Soccer Mom and serial face-melters Young Adults [tickets].

Infinity Girl: Internerds | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

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