LGB:The album release date was pushed back to August 7th. Why?
BOB NANNA: Well, originally it was late August, but when we got added to the Vagrant tour, we all decided to push up the date to July 23 - the Tuesday before our first show of the tour. But then some timeframe issues came up, for instance, having enough time to properly promote it, and distancing it a little bit more from the early July Saves the Day release, and we decided to move it back to August 7th. Confusing, I know, but we think this will work out best. We try hard as a band never to rush anything, and scrambling to get the album out by the 23rd would have been a mess.
- Four songs you recorded will not be on the new album. Do you have plans to release them?
Yes, eventually. Two songs, "Everybody's Working for the Weak" and "Save a Life" will be added to the Japanese release of the album, and all four will most likely be a part of an EP we plan on doing next spring to coincide with our international tours. By the way, the other two songs are "Wearing a Wire" and "That's Right, I Said it".
- After hearing some of the songs to be on the new album and seeing the amazing artwork, I think that you could not have made this album on a smaller label, such as Polyvinyl. I definitely don't think you could have ever made this album with Braid. Would you agree?
You're correct in saying that we couldn't have made this album on Polyvinyl. Bless em, but they just wouldn't have been able to handle all of the recording and photography issues. We basically said to Vagrant - We want to record two weeks at Pachyderm with J, we want to mix 2 weeks at Smart with Mark, we want Hydrafuse to do the artwork, and we want Chris Strong to do all the photography - and they said OK. I think it's by far the best looking / best sounding recording i/we have ever done and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that... As for Braid doing an album of this stature, I believe it could have been done on another label, but i don't think we were ready and willing to invest the time and energy into it anymore.
- The album seems a bit more epic and grand than anything you have ever done. Was there any conscious decisions to make it that way?
Not really. We just wanted to make a great sounding rock record and this is what happened. I think our songs have gotten a lot more mature, given what we've all been through, so that has a lot to do with it. Also, after the breakup of Braid, i had a pretty horrible 3 months or so of downtime living alone. I know the other guys had similar issues, so this album is the culmination of all of that pent up frustration. The breaking point.
- Is there any running theme or loose concept throughout the album?
There is a constant playful undercurrent through the whole album that is very intended. The songs are pretty serious, but we wanted to try and capture more of the fun energy of the live shows as opposed to the rigor and monotony of the recording process. And speaking of rigor and monotony, I think the entire album is a direct result and retalliation to meaningless jobs. I think if you have a goal or a vision and succumb to some pointless 9 to 5, then it's all just a big waste, isn't it? I mean, sure there are some people that have a goal to work in an office, and bless em, because we need people to do that, but if you want to be an actor or a writer, then channel your most powerful energies to that and don't fall into the grooves of the day-to-day grind just because it's easier...
- How was it working with J. Robbins this time around?
Better than ever. He's such an amazing person to work with. He got the best performances out of us without getting bossy or angry or frustrated. And we responded. You have to take into consideration the surroundings, too. We were in a mansion in the middle of a forest, with an indoor pool and a ton of amenities... So when things were getting rough in the studio, we took a break and J did some flips off of the diving board.
- Did you break out any new or unusual equipment recording the new album? Any experimentation?
Nothing too extreme. There was a handheld amplifier built into a pack of Camel cigarettes that we actually tracked some guitar through. I also sang through it on a couple of songs. We had talked about tracking some stuff from the pool area, but we thought that might be too distracting.
- Hey Mercedes is obviously getting bigger. One of the things you said you regretted not being able to do in Braid was a music video. It seems now would be a good time, especially with the unbelieveable visuals with this new album. Do you plan on making a video?
Yes, we do. A friend of ours in Los Angeles is probably going to do the video. As of right now, we haven't decided on a song or a concept. Even though we have some budget for it, we want to keep it low key.
- The Hey Mercedes sound seems to me to be more mature and laid back than your former band. How much did the progression towards that have to do with the breakup? Do you ever make any conscious decisions as to the "Hey Mercedes sound" or does it just happen?
I think a lot of our sound stems from the frustration we all felt towards the end of Braid (Chris included). It was the culmination of 6 years of non-stop touring and working. So much so that we just grew apart as people. The last hurrah of Braid was a Japan / Hawaii tour. Everyone had told us that bands do very very well in Japan and that we'd come out way ahead once the plane tickets were paid off. So after Japan we scheduled 3 shows in Hawaii and planned on being there for 9 days. We even planned on flying our girlfriends over... Fast forward to the end of the Japan tour and we barely broke even, which meant that we would personally have to cover all expenses in Hawaii, and we had all booked hotel rooms for 9 days in Waikiki! What were we thinking? So like Mauna Loa, things got a little explosive and we all knew the end was approaching. But when the end finally came, it was like a brick wall, and we weren't really prepared for what was next... So for this band, we mutually agreed to not jump into anything blindly, to be open about what we wanted and what we didn't so that we could concentrate more on making music as opposed to trying to avoid confrontations.
- Hey Mercedes music is very sophisticated, yet still usually falls back on the "verse-chorus-verse" pop formula. Do you ever think that structure will get old? Do you ever think about messing around with structures?
Well, the verse-chorus-verse thing has been around for a long long time, so i don't think it's in danger of getting old. If we ever get sick of writing songs like that, then we'll stop. But for now, it's just so natural and it makes songs catchy and memorable. That's what I love about music, so that's how I write. I'm not a fan of too much repitition, though, cause that seems like a sneaky subconscious trick, so I mix it up a little.
- Also HM songs usually fall within the friendly indie-rock 3 to 5 minute length...But I think that your music is interesting enough to hold attention for a longer piece. Have you ever thought about fleshing it out a bit?- Like busting out with a 10 minute song or something?
I'm not sure how, but our songs have naturally gotten a little longer. We just have much more to say. Most of the songs on the album are about 4 minutes long. One is 2:15. One is 5:30... I don't see us recording any 10 minute numbers any time soon. We're laid back, sure, but we tend to get impatient. Plus, we've been opening 80% of our shows, so there's just no time to fuss about.
- How is a Hey Mercedes song written? I have heard you write the songs literally from start to finish. Have there been any songs that were started that just didn't get anywhere?
One of us will come to practice with a part or two. We'll all play along with it for a little while to see if it's working. Then we'll stop and arrange it linearly and come up with ideas on where to go... We'll mess around with the beginning a little, but the bulk of the song is written from start to finish. Musically, songs are just big structures. You get the framework done, you add as you build up, and at the very top you put your ornaments... Once the music is done, I'll find some appropriate lyrics from the piles of notebooks i have and put them in. Often, the music will then be tweaked to fit the vocal melody. It sounds complicated, but really it's the most natural thing in the world for us... There have been many songs that get trashed after the first stage. Often I'll write a song start to finish at home that i'm happy with, bring it to practice, and it just doesn't click. We work much better when we're working together.
- You have said in the past that your lyrics are like little cinematic stories. Do you still write like that? Are there any lyrical themes that you find yourself coming back to?
I definitely still write like that. There is a plot, a setting, characters, and a storyline with a climax and a resolution. It's the only way i can do it. I absolutely love bands like The Weakerthans and Jets to Brazil that write that way. I tend to get so much more out of a song when the lyrics are down to earth and I can put myself in the shoes of the narrator... Work is a common lyrical theme of mine way back to Friction... and it's very present in Hey Mercedes. Being out on the road and seeing new sites and meeting people is unbelievably inspiring, but you don't tend to write much about it until you're sitting at work bored and wishing you were there.
- Are your lyrics specifically personal and autobiographical, or do you write more in the Steely Dan style (made up characters and situations with little bits of autobiography thrown in.).
They are very personal and tend to be autobiographical, as they always have been, but there are certain times where I'll throw in situations or feelings that are completely fictional. I just like to keep things interesting, and as luck would have it, my life isn't constantly interesting.
- Most lyricists sometimes write to get things off their chest. Has there ever been a time that you have addressed subjects that were difficult to write about?
No. It's weird to think that my life is pretty public, with the band, and the blog and all, but there are still many things that I will forever keep private. If i feel very uncomfortable writing something personal then I erase it. There's that great line in a Pedro the Lion song that goes something like, "I can write it in a song but i can't tell it to your face." I mean, if i have a problem with someone or something personally, i like to deal with it personally as opposed to inviting everyone in... And then maybe write a song about it later, when i'm not so bitter, using words i wrote at the time! ... On the other hand, if i'm upset at work, you immediately get a song like "Everybody's Working for the Weak."
- Are there any things (subjects, themes) that you absolutely stay away from when you are writing?
See above. And add bowling, bowhunting, and casseroles.
- I know you hate talking about what lyrics are about- most songwriters do. Your songs are a little more deep and signifigant sounding than, say, the Promise Ring's lyrics. I want to ask about the song "The House Shook".... The lyrics seem dark to me. The music isn't very dark sounding, but the more I hear the song it seems somewhat lyrically dark...Is this just me?
No, you're right. I wrote the lyrics to The House Shook when i was living alone a month or two after Braid broke up. And there's more to come... There are a lot of lyrically dark songs on the new album.
- In some ways the new album cover art makes me think of Pink Floyd's album art. Who came up with that? Is there a story behind it? Were you influenced by anything in particular?
Pink Floyd? Well, their album covers tend to be very visually interesting, but I never really thought of that. Hmm. Basically we told Gregg what the album title was, we gave him a demo, gave him a few instructions, and that is what he did. Usually, after he shows us artwork we have him alter a thing or two, but with this album, he brought it in - and we all agreed it was perfect right away.
- What's happening with the City on Film? Has that project been abandoned?
Since it's just me, the project won't ever be abandoned, just temporarily put on hold. We're just so busy now with touring and writing, there hasn't been any time. I'll still do it on and off.
- You obviously base your whole life around your music, which means you sacrifice some of the stability that I'm sure some friends and peers have at this point in their life (such as marriage, family, steady well paying jobs, etc.). You are obviously passionate about this. What drives you? Is there a pivotal moment you can remember where it hit you that this is what you were going to do?
I've known forever that music is what i wanted to do. There were times in my life when i felt like I needed to do something else or felt pressured to do something else, but i've always wanted it. It was after the first tour i did (with Friction), when i realized that it was very possible to do music as a full time thing... And it still really isn't, i mean, i'm writing from work right now, but if i could be home writing songs or walking around or whatever, i'd be much more musically productive and i'd be a lot happier.
- How much musical traning do you have? Are you totally self taught on guitar?
I took a year or two of piano lessons when I was 10 or 11 and i took some chorus classes in high school but that was it. I started playing drums when i was 14 and switched to guitar when i went to college... because a girlfriend's dad had given me a guitar and i couldn't bring the drums into the dorms. So, on the guitar i am self-taught, although the piano lessons from way back when helped with learning all the notes and chords.
- How would you describe your technique?
Sloppy. To be honest, I care leagues more about singing than I do the guitar.
- Do you ever use different tunings or do you stick to standard tuning?
It's "Even Anarchists Don't Get Bombs Easily" all the way for me. We tuned down to D for our cover of a Guided By Voices song and also for a City on Film song called "All the Wrong Notes", but I'm just not that skilled at it yet.
- What have you been listening to lately?
Mark Kozelek's AC/DC cover album "What's Next to the Moon", Dave Brubeck Quartet "Take Five", Alkaline Trio "From Here to Infirmary", and hip-hop radio stations.
- What do you think about current popular music and where indie rock fits into that? Do you even pay attention to it?
I try desperately not to pay attention to it. It's ready for a complete overhaul. There's no room for indie rock in it because most indie singers don't sing like Eddie Vedder or try and rap.
- I'm curious- what do you think of the Firebird (or Firebird Band, whatever)? Personally, I like it.
I like it, too. There was a chunk of time where he was trying a bunch of different styles and i wasn't so sure, but now that he's settled in, it's great.
- Do you still plan on covering some of your last 100 songs on your 365 list? I ask because I really want to hear you cover "Deacon Blues," which I would bet money is in your top 10.
Yes, definitely. All of them. I mean, they are my 100 favorite songs, i should at least be able to play them, right? And "Deacon Blues" is one of them. I can't wait. But how am i going to pull off that wonderful sax solo?
- How was the last tour through Florida? I heard you got wet...
Florida is always amazing. And the Sapphire Supper Club needs to patch up their ceilings.
- Things for Hey Mercdes seem to be getting better and better. Where do you see things going in the next year or so?
Well, we're going to be touring like mad and our album will finally be out, so hopefully people will be into it. By this time next year, i'd also like to have a good amount of new songs written.
- Bob, thanks so much. Any last words- advice maybe to aspiring musicians?
Do your best and don't worry. I always say that.
Interview by Nick Daly
June 8, 2001
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