After releasing Swoon, one of the most astonishing albums of 2009, Silversun Pickups are finally returning to Australian soil. Nick Milligan spoke to the singer and songwriter of the Los Angeles-based rock band, Brian Aubert.
You're returning to Australia!
I know, I can't believe it's happening. We're so excited.
What are your strongest memories of your previous tour here supporting Snow Patrol?
Oh, man. The logistics of touring in Australia means you have to fly a lot - the cities are so far away from each other. That gave us opportunities to have days off. When we went to Australia, we actually got to hang out in Australia - hold koalas and all the tourist-y shit, but it was still fun. I remember with our Snow Patrol shows, we were friends with them from a previous tour and it was a very family experience. But there was a time when we broke away and did three of our own shows, in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and I just remember them being completely mad. Absolutely insane.
Brisbane was interesting because it was a sort of outdoor, Chinatown night time thing. When we arrived there it looked kind of mellow and we thought, "Oh well, we'll play these songs then go and look around." But then when we got on (stage) it was just chaos. There were people hanging from the roofs.
The heat in the Ding Dong (Melbourne) and the Annandale (Sydney) was insane - my guitars were detuning because of the insanity that was going on.
The scope of your second record, Swoon, is quite massive. Was it always a goal to make it a bigger sounding record than your debut Carnavas?
Yeah, absolutely. When people say they want something bigger, they really mean harder or something like that. Our idea was to be more grand. Carnavas was designed a certain way to bounce off an EP we had called Pikul, which was sizzly and futuristic. There was all of these organic sounds that for Carnavas we wanted to strip away. With Swoon we wanted to put all that back in - we knew Swoon was going to be a more emotional record and more filmic. We also wanted it to be almost like the mids were cut out of it and you have a lot of highs and lows - not necessarily one song doing that, but the album doing that. So if you have one song that's very schizophrenic and crazy, that will allow us to have a song that's just really delicate and creepy. We used the songs to colour the record. We wrote more than we needed of course - if it just didn't play well in the record, we got rid of it.
What have been the biggest challenges in translating Swoon to the stage?
The first challenge really was rehearsing. We didn't have much time, because when Swoon went to radio here in Los Angeles, it started up really fast. It was kind of alarming. I think people forgot that we needed to rehearse! For us, when you play live and then you start recording, it's hard to get your head into the recording space. Because it's a different animal, completely. What you do live sounds kind of goofy on the record. When you record it you've almost got to find a different way to put that same feeling in it. Our biggest challenge was when we first started rehearsing for Swoon we were all depressed. It was sounding fine - it sounded like the record. It just didn't feel like the record. It's just because our live hats weren't on. It took us so much time to play live again that our muscle memory wasn't there. We didn't remember how to be live and translate live. Once we were working through it and not necessarily paying attention to the little details of the album, and making the songs flesh out live, they felt like the record. I know it sounds weird.
Lyrically, do you see any recurring themes on the album?
Yeah, Swoon is a definite cathartic experience for me personally. When you say, 'We're a little moodier at the moment. We're a little emotional,' you set yourself up to make a record like that. I don't know why. Life gets involved. It's like you've doomed yourself a little bit - you're definitely going to make that record, you know? At the end of the day, it's a time capsule of who you are at the time. I remember telling Nikki, our bass player, that I felt like it was so embarrassing. There's so much introspective writing. It's almost like shining a mirror on yourself and you're looking through things that you'd sometimes rather not. It felt so naked that I was nervous. I gave Nikki my lyrics first and she said, 'Oh don't worry, no one's going to know who you're talking about.' (laughs)
Has anyone figured out that you're talking about them?
Maybe one or two... but not really. You're really not even talking about a person. A person can make you react a certain way, but you're almost talking about that reaction. You're using these little details of your life to paint a more broad, general picture of what everyone goes through. Hopefully. That's what makes it surreal and a little esoteric, which is something I really like. It's nice when people have their own connection to a song and they put their own details into it. It's a little hard to tell them what the song is exactly about, because I think it's wrong of me to do so. If you have a collection of words and it means something to someone else, then that's correct. But the one thing that's amazing is that everyone gets the mood right. No one has a 180 degree flip on the song - "Oh, I love that song, it's so NICE!" (laughs)
There's a sense of urgency and danger in many of the songs on Swoon - is that something you've noticed?
I see that too. Near the ending of the writing process, I got a weird nervous breakdown feeling from it. From playing all those songs and seeing the scope of where the album was actually going. Like a ticking down to something. I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly why that was. That caused me to write the song 'Panic Switch'. I thought, 'If I'm really feeling this from the raw materials of this album now, then there should be something on the album that hits that in the most fundamental way.'
Silversun Pickups play Coaster Festival, Gosford on Saturday September 25. They also support Birds Of Tokyo at the Hordern Pavillion on Thursday September 30, 2010. Swoon is out now through Warner.