Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Year's Up-and-Comers: Last Year's Men

Next month will mark the arrival of the Hopscotch Music Festival, a three-day musical buffet featuring artists ranging from Public Enemy to Animal Collective's Panda Bear. If you can't make some of the evening festivities, don't worry. There are already several promising Hopscotch-centric parties scheduled during the day.

Durham-based Churchkey Records will host Churchkey III in honor of their third birthday. It's a free event on Saturday, September 11, at Tir na nOg and will (naturally) feature some of the label's fantastic artists.

Included in this great line-up is Churchkey's newest addition, Last Year's Men. They're Churchkey's youngest band—drummer Ian Rose is only 17, and guitarists Ben Carr and Geoff Schilling are 18 and 21, respectively. Ben and Geoff recently took a break from their full-time work schedules to talk to Triangle Music about just a few of the many things they have going on right now.

How did you end up with Churchkey Records?

Ben Carr (BC): Steve [Jones], who runs it with Kyle [Miller], was at a show, I guess it was at BCHQ, with some really lovely bands. He heard it and he liked it apparently, and we were unloading all of our shit from the stage--“stage,” quote, unquote—and he was like, “Well, you guys want to meet up for coffee some time, or we''ll sit down and have a meal and we'll talk about this,” and we were like, “All right, awesome! That's great, because we need a hand,” so...yeah. They've been great.
As it came time to begin work on their first record, the question of who to produce it came up. The guys got lucky, and landed in the hands of Spider Bags' Dan McGee.

How did you get started working with Dan?

BC: That also came from Churchkey. I had a meeting with Steve and Kyle right when we first got signed, and we were talking about different ways to actually record the album, actually get the music onto a piece of something, y'know, like a piece of media. They were trying to send us to various places, and I was like, “Well I don't really want to do them because of blah blah blah, I don't want to record the full album with blah blah blah,” and they were like, “Well we just signed Spider Bags for a seven inch, do you want to work with Dan?” And I was like, “Well, yeah.” I've been listening to Spider Bags for years. I was in the car with Geoff right right after I bought my first Spider Bags record and I was super-stoked on it for like a year. So, yeah, we hooked up with Dan for that, and we ended up recording with Andy...

Ben whispers to Geoff for help, struggling to remember the name. He means Andy Magowan, leader of Durham jazz group D-Town Brass.

BC: But yeah, he's this really amazing big band leader, but he also does some recording on the side, and he had a tape reel. So we recorded all of our tracks onto two inch tape, so we got a really cool tape hiss throughout the record. But Dan then got really into it and totally signed on as being the producer, as in like setting up all of our recording dates for us, and calling me at whatever time at night being like, “Dude, I was listening to this song, and I think you need to add this here and take away this here, it's gonna be awesome, just trust me.”

You recorded most of your album in an empty storefront, what is the story behind that?

Geoff Schilling (GS): Andy had some deal worked out with the people who owned the building, so he could rent it out real cheap until they found an actual person to do something with it, and so, yeah, it was like an old diner.
BC: Yeah, yeah, it was like an old diner, and a bunch of bands have been using it like for practice space GS: Red Collar...
BC: Yeah, Red Collar and Spider Bags have been using it for practice Hammer [No More the Fingers] using it as a practice space?
GS: I dunno, maybe.
BC: I feel like that was brought up at some point...but anyway, they were like “Yeah, we've got this cool space, you're gonna get a lot of, like, natural reverb, it's gonna be pretty live.” And we were like, “All right, cool, let's go for it,” and we did. An amazing thing was when we were doing the vocal tracks there, we put one mic and then I stood back like five or six feet from that mic and it was just like this huge empty room that I'm like just screaming into the mic from, so you got this really amazing like natural reverb, natural distortion type things, so, yeah.

The two joke that the room even added natural AutoTuning, and the result would be a “BoyzIILastYear'sMen” record. Ben isn't joking when he's talking about how much their recording space affects their sound. If the band's goal is to keep Sunny Down Snuff as raw as possible, the unmastered cut shows that they're doing an excellent job so far.

Where do you hope to go with your music? Not really just on tour, but is this something you want to become a full-time thing?

BC: That would be amazing. The problem with that is that even the best musicians, it's all luck.
GS: It's being the right person at the right time.
BC: Yeah, exactly. It's such a gamble. So even if you get, like, a great Pitchfork review, or you get a really great write-up in some papers, you get write-ups in papers that you never even talked to anybody from before. Y'know, you could still be working your coffee shop job and be playing this as what you want to be doing, but still, it's your side income, because you're not going to be making enough money to do it [music]. But, preferably, we could say, “Fuck all of our jobs right now. We're gonna go out on the road, and that'll be our lives.” That would be amazing, y'know, to be able to work for a month and then come back and work on a record for a month and then go back out. That would be amazing. But, who knows.

Is there anything else that that people should know about Last Year's Men?

BC: We're a few blowhards.
GS: We have winning smiles.
BC: We need to make business cards. That's one thing we need to do. We're just three goofy dudes.
GS: We need better haircuts.
BC: Yeah, oh man. I think I'm gonna do the Shy Guy...

Geoff and Ben discuss the merit of different haircuts for a few moments. Geoff thinks he wants a flat top, while Ben is torn between a beehive or the “shy guy.” I suggest bringing back the Flock of Seagulls look, and they are delighted.

BC: Awww, totally, you're so smart! You need to be, like, our PR person...

TM: Yeah, I'll be your stylist, or your image consultant. BC: Yeah! Amazing, amazing! THAT's how we get to the top. That answers your previous question! No, but we're just goofy dudes. With bummer songs. And that's about it.

The band plans to release Sunny Down Snuff some time this fall, but both Geoff and Ben suggest that it may be mid- to late November before it's done. Before then, catch them at the Churchkey III bash downtown—did we mention it's free?


Churchkey III Interview Series:
July 28: Diversions (The Daily Tar Heel) talks with The Dirty Little Heaters 
August 4: WNnG (Bull City Records) talks with Hammer No More The Fingers 
August 11: Mann’s World talks with The Loners 
August 18: Triangle Music talks with Last Year’s Men 
August 25: Recess (The Chronicle) talks with Spider Bags 
September 1: The Independent Weekly talks with The Dry Heathens 
September 8: On The Beat (The News & Observer) talks with Free Electric State

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