I talked with Pete from the band Wax Fingers a while back about a range of subjects: musical influences, the difficulties of collaborative song writing, and making a name for themselves in the Portland music scene. Refer to the original post on them for more info and links.
Matt: So how long have you guys been at it?
Pete: About five years... Our first EP with a bassist was in 2008. He left immediately after, and this was after we had sort of been searching for a long time… after he left we kind of said “fuck it, we’re done looking for bassists” and that was when I started incorporating electronics into the show. We incorporated more looping and more samples and then bass tracks and things like that and it’s really dramatically shifted the sound to what you hear on the new album.
Matt: You guys actually did pretty good without a bassist. I didn’t really notice…
Pete: Our bassist is a computer or one of us on guitar using a pitch shifter, or playing bass lines on synth. There's definitely a low end on that album… Some of it is triggered samples. Sometimes live we have to play the pre-recorded tracks.
Matt: Ok, so how did you guys all meet originally?
Pete: We are a craigslist band… Tommy, the drummer, and I were both putting up craigslist ads looking for people. He was finishing up school down in Eugene and he was putting up ads for when he moved back to portland and the two of us kept answering each others' ads. It was like: “oh it’s you again…” and the two of us played. It was great. Then I played with Zac, the other guitar player, and just hit it off. It was kind of like, effortless…
Matt: Are you guys all from Portland or surrounding areas?
Pete: Tommy is a Portland native, I grew up in Ohio and then spent some time in Chicago, I was in Chicago about four years and then moved to Portland. Zac is from Florida, grew up there. So, both Zac and I are transplants.
Matt: It seems like the idea that Portland is like this indie rock haven or whatever is growing in popularity. Did you move there for that reason or….?
Pete: I moved out here, 7 years ago, I guess, now… I had just always wanted to move to the west coast. Chicago was not turning out to be what I wanted it to be as far as music anyways. I was busting my ass and looking for people to play with and nothing was coming together really and Portland, there’s the music scene, it's one of the cheaper cities that you can live in on the west coast… and I got here and within a year I was playing with these guys I’m still playing with… Its been exponentially better than my time in Chicago. Zac would probably say the same thing… So, we moved here looking for something.
Matt: How have you guys faired in that music scene, because I feel like you guys have more of a progressive, almost experimental edge. How does that go over up there?
Pete: How does it go over in Portland? Uuh… (laughs), not as well as we’d like it to. We bitch about the scene here. We love Portland but I’d say there's a lot of regurgitation of the same sort of material over and over again. The same music with different cued instruments, you could say, (laughs). I don’t want to bad mouth the scene too much, but we have definitely run into a hard time, even with the newspapers and media here… They celebrate a lot of bands, and its been hard to get them to grab on to our stuff… Actually, recently, we’ve heard, there’s been a lot of rock bands and bands that are doing some more experimental stuff and it’s been kind of exciting. Not all of it is necessarily experimental but it’s just bigger and louder… We need more of that I think.
Matt: You guys seem pretty eclectic to me. What are your various influences?
Pete: We all like a lot of different stuff but Animal Collective definitely had a big influence on all of us, with Sung Tongs and Feels… combined with stuff like Don Caballero and Battles. We’re definitely big fans of Battles. In my mind, I think a lot of what I hoped to do is sort of combine some of the new pop elements that have been introduced by bands like Animal Collective with some of the more math rock, experimental, rhythmically jagged stuff, from stuff like battles. We’re big fans of Tortoise and Radiohead, and Tom Waits too. We like Raunchy stuff as well.
Matt: Interesting, I don’t think your style is easily pinned down, but if you had to think of a weird genre name, what would it be?
Pete: Uum, (laughs), we get called all sorts of weird stuff, psychedelic math rock I guess… experimental math pop, (laughs) I don’t know! It’s becoming less weird as far as time signature is going. So we’re, in a lot of ways, leaving the math rock thing behind.
Matt: Talk about your creative process a little bit. Do you guys share the song writing responsibility?
Pete: It’s pretty collaborative. I’ll often bring an idea or Zac will bring an idea and we tend to sort of tear it apart and put it back together again… I tend to be the one that sort of comes with a full song idea, and then Zach will tell me what sucks about it. (laughs), We’ll arrange and move it around at practice. Inevitably, it just turns into something completely different than what it starts as, because Tommy is such an aggressive, crazy drummer, that sometimes the beat just changes the mood in such a way that you’ve got to adjust the way that your going about playing what your playing ya know? And the same thing goes for Zac’s parts. He does a lot of the weird pedal and effected guitar stuff that you hear. And sometimes… it’s like well “fuck, this is a completely different thing,” and now the song needs to go to this place instead. It’s really unpredictable in that way and it definitely ends up being more than any of us can pull off on our own.
Matt: Right. It sounds like you guys use a lot of effects. Do one of you guys have a discount at Guitar Center or something?
Pete: (laughs)… I try to avoid Guitar Center as much as I can, but we buy and sell gear. Most of what we buy is used just because shit is so expensive these days. Zac and I both recently got two new crazy effects pedals, Eventide effects pedals. I got the Pitch Factor and he got the Time Factor. I imagine that they are going to have a pretty big impact on our sound for the next year or two.
Matt: How long did it take you guys to finish recording the album? That’s a big accomplishment: recording a whole album.
Pete: About 9 months. We recorded the first batch of songs, and overdubbed and built the whole thing and then scrapped, I think, two songs, and recorded two or three more. So, the whole process took about nine months, with shit being recorded and mixed and built up on top of it for most of that time. A lot of it… changed in the recording process. There’s stuff that we do a lot differently now, live, because we didn’t know exactly what it sounded like or how it was supposed to be until we recorded it.
Matt: Did you guys record yourselves or work with someone in a studio?
Pete: I recorded all of it, pretty much. We did it in basements and living rooms around Portland Oregon, (laughs). I would love to be able to go into a studio and have a producer but so much time gets put into it, so much time screwing around with different sounds, different melodies, different things… this album didn’t become what it is until we got to build on these songs and make them all into what they are, and none of that would have happened if we had been working in a studio, because, ya know, $300 a day…
Matt: Got it. What was the biggest hurdle, or thing you had to overcome to get this album done?
Pete: … There were a few tunes on the album that just weren’t working… Because it is so collaborative… we need to wrestle with each one of these tunes, for two or three months sometimes before they really feel complete… We didn’t have a huge batch of songs and so I think the challenge was getting the last two or three of them up to par. Abacus was a big to do. (laughs) We fucked around with that song forever to get it to where it finally went.
Matt: So that one took forever huh? I like that one.
Pete: Yeah (laughs), we can barely pull that one off live because it took so much work after the fact.
Matt: Interesting. I always find it amazing that a band is even able to come together and agree creatively on what it is (laughs) that they are trying to do… To me that’s the hardest thing: the politics of art or music… trying to agree on your vision. How do you think you were able to do that, or do you think you were able to do that?
Pete: Yeah, we bicker and stuff. I think I tend to be the most sensitive (laughs), about the music I make, its like I bring this thing to the band and I think they are supposed to fucking love it or something, and half the time it just gets torn apart. Zac is the one that kind of digs in… And I go home and stu on it a bit and figure something else out and it ends up getting better. I think we’ve found a good Balance. I don’t think it is very common. I think all three of us in this band have more creative input than most bands do. In other bands, it’s usually just one person calling the shots and everyone just kind of agrees that this is the person calling the shots, so everyone else does what they’re told. And our band is not at all like that, and we were just sort of lucky enough to have found each other… We all have the same feeling about what is good and what isn’t… We still bitch about stuff and get on each other’s nerves, but it’s also why we can’t find a fuckin bass player (laughs). We always talk about: “aww man if we just had one other person to hit those notes on the synth or shake that thing or beat on this drum pad or play this bass line…” We always talk about how we want this auxilary person… and every time a fourth person walks in the room its fuckin akward (laughs). Its like someone watching you have sex with your girlfriend or something (laughs).
Matt: (Laughs)… Any recent commercial successes to talk about?
Pete: Well, there’s this guy who writes for this blog called Caliper Music who really took a liking to our music (laughs).
Matt: (laughing) ok…
Pete: ... We got asked to play a music fest North West, which we were really fuckin excited about. We had to, very sadly, turn it down because of a wedding… we got picked up by this small booking and management agency called Octopus Entertainment. They really took a liking to us and have helped make some of our more recent gigs be more successful… We’ve been shopping around, sending this thing out and doing our best to get people to care. We’ve made some fans but as far as commercial success goes, we’re still waiting.
Matt: Are you guys planning any tours or anything like that?
Pete: We’re gonna do a short little northwest thing here in the next few months but it will just be Seattle, Olympia, Bellingham, Vancouver, maybe Boise or something like that. Just a small little thing and then probably next spring we’ll head out and do a bigger west coast thing.