Thursday, August 14, 2014

Hopscotch Highlight: Landlady

It's crazy to think that we're under a month away from Hopscotch, the multi-day music marathon that annuals takes over downtown Raleigh. Now into its fifth year as a festival, the event has grown to unimaginable expanses, combining a wide breadth of genres to create a surprisingly cohesive lineup with unparalleled character. For the past few years I've been providing weekly run-downs of the artists I'm most looking forward to from the festival, combining local and nationally touring acts to give a nice snapshot of some of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. When I first saw Landlady on the Hopscotch lineup I didn't bat an eye, but as I went through my annual lineup run through I was immediately entranced. "Dying Day" was the first song I heard from this New York based outfit and it's a song that's as upbeat and rambunctious as it is somber and morose, Adam Schatz brilliantly tackles the topic of mortality with a sleek aural approach.

I recently reviewed Landlady's album for Paste Magazine, and in case you've yet to check out the write-up I'm basically in love with it. So I took that as an opportunity to dig into the mind of Adam Schatz, the mastermind behind Landlady. Schatz is a member of Man Man among a slew of other acts that range from loosely constructed improvisational jazz to funky Afropop and more. I e-mailed a few questions over to Adam (as my recorder conveniently decided to "shit the bed" the same day as our interview) about his musical beginnings and life as a musician with your hands in umpteen thousand pots.

1. When did you first get seriously involved with music and what was your first project like sonically?
Adam Schatz: In 8th grade me and a few of my best friends talked about starting a band. It seemed like the appropriate next step for us, living in the suburbs. We had two guitars, bass and me on piano, and met our first drummer the next year. We went through a number of names and settled on the name One Eyed Stanley after our guitarist's one eyed basset hound. The band lasted throughout high school and we took the year after high school off before college to keep playing in the band and not just following the school path without any break. The music had a pop core always but also had a difference to them. Even from that early of an age I had a real interest in using dynamics and arrangements as a way to shape songs, rather than pick influences and try to imitate other songs. It helps that I had a basic understanding of music theory and knew my way around the piano, so subconsciously things were at work when I sat down and tried to write a song, tried to see what came out when my hands messed around and I let my voice go.

2. How have your musical tastes evolved over the years and how has that been displayed throughout your music.
Adam Schatz: My tastes evolve every day, and I try to maintain an openness. There are always the albums and songs you liked when you were younger that are embarrassing now, but for the most part I just like to pile it on.

When I was a sophomore in the high school concert band one of the older saxophonists passed me a DVD. It was Slow Century, the story of Pavement, and he told me to listen to the song Summer Babe. Around that same time I was listening to the Pixies and the Flaming Lips and all sorts of goodness that had been around but was just then landing on my head. They all dealt with personal weirdness in an open way, never afraid to get aggressive or beautiful. From then on I've always embraced thinking of music in human terms, what it does to you and what you can convey with it, rather than approaching the making or listening of it with too much technique at the forefront. Technique is essential and technique is the best when it's subconscious. When the people making it are the heart of the music.

So with every lesson I've taken or every new person I've met who's turned me onto something new I've tried to keep stretching my ears. I'm often very late to the bandwagon on any artist. Charlie Haden just passed away and the attention brought upon him and his music from so many people I know egged me into digging in and there's this live album with him, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell in Montreal that's just magical to listen to. Nina Simone was a recent personal discovery. It makes you feel like a big idiot to wait so long, but also so satisfied to get to experience something new and great even now. It's essential to never think you've heard it all or know everything that you like.

In 8th grade I was super into the Three Six Mafia.

3. How did Landlady come together? Where does it fit in time-wise with the starting of the rest of your myriad of musical projects.
I've always done a lot of things because I have a lot of ideas, and rather than pour everything I've got into just one project that may or may not catch with people and possibly burn that out in the process, I've planted a bunch of seeds and tried to work with as many great folks as I can.

But that's not to say that right now Landlady isn't the biggest focus. I'm writing this from the back of my minivan cruising through Montana. This is happiness for me and it's what I'm doing all of the time right now. (Not to say many other things aren't being cooked up).

I started the band in 2010, I had taken a break from writing "real songs" to do a project with my buddy Jeff Curtin called Previously On Lost where we wrote about television and made a lotta folks happy along the way. But I was ready to try personal songwriting again and wanted a crack team of expert musicians and singers who could make it the best it could possibly be. I wrote the songs with these friends in mind, and that became the first album Keeping To Yourself. Since then the lineup's evolved a bit and grown to where there's an extended family of Landlady musicians who could be on a show. But the new record, Upright Behavior, is the core band as it stands now, a 5 piece. We hammered out a bunch of live takes in a studio in Woodstock in April of last year, and did overdubs in our homes in Brooklyn. Not long after that I met the folks who run the Hometapes record label and we really hit it off. I sent them everything I'd ever recorded and even rough mixes of the new album. I believed in what they were doing and it turned out they were quick to believe in us as well. I'd been waiting and working to find people to support this music for years and years and it ended up being a right time right place situation. I'm terribly okay with how long it took, though don't ask me 2 years ago how I was feeling.

4. How did you get together with Man Man and how has being a part of the band shaped your musical output?
Adam Schatz: All of these answers start with a childhood story, which is okay, and maybe good. In 2006 my friend Kevin took me to see Man Man at PA's Lounge in Somerville. They were just starting to get attention and I was just starting to not feel out of place standing in a rock show around people a lot cooler and older than me. Without exes on their hands.

I could barely see the band in the dark room and the music was unbelievable. The energy destroyed me and the songs were great and I became an instant fan, seeing them at least six times after that when I moved to New York for school. As I went on with my life, a mutual friend of the drummer knew that I was a fan and doing a lot of improvised music, so he introduced us knowing that Chris (Man Man drummer) was also into making spontaneous stuff. We emailed a bit, and not long after that a few of the guys had left Man Man and I played a show with Those Darlins in Philly where Ryan (Man Man singer) saw me play and asked what I was up to. I joined the band not long after that and recorded on the newest album On Oni Pond almost immediately.

Musically, seeing that show happen at age 18 did pleasantly irrevocable damage. The creative drumming and tweaked song structures piled onto a sea of driving new music that was already spreading in my head fueled by the likes of Deerhoof, Wilco and Grizzly Bear. It all helped and that plus all of the jazz and other sounds that steamrolled me when I got to New York has certainly affected the music I make. But I'd say those musical influences are maybe 30% of what affects the music I write. You gotta account for all the other experiences you have being a person walking around on earth. I think there's a misconception about how people write songs or how bands make it happen, where they decide what the influences are and write in those styles. Maybe some people do do it that way. We do not.

5. When writing songs for Landlady do you take hold and orchestrate the entire piece or do individual members compose their own parts?
Adam Schatz: It's different for every song. Sometimes I have a complete vision. Other times I have just the smallest ideas and know I can trust the band for us to make it a finished piece. Sometimes I'll record a demo that has lots of improvisations on it and band members will transcribe those improvised melodies and those become the parts. That's how "Dying Day" was made. It was a piano improvisation that came out very quickly, then took me hours and hours to transcribe it and we rehearsed the hell out of that song to get it to sound as good as it does now.

6. What do you feel are the overarching themes of Upright Behavior? It feels like a very cathartic record, was it difficult to write or did it come together easily?
Adam Schatz: It came together over time, some of these songs are 4 years old, so I never sat down to "write a record." But because of that approach + the big picture themes of many of these songs (life, death, growth, plants, food) it seems to be outlooks from my brain, what I think other brains see, what I think my heart and other hearts feel. There's a lot of humor in the album, because there's a lot of humor in me and in the band. It's something I value so so much. When you analyze all the parts, it just becomes an honest portrayal, and probably how I'll keep trying to write until it stops working.

7. So do you try to tailor these older musical ideas to a newer sound or did these song snippets just not fit in for previous projects/releases?
Adam Schatz: There really is no talking of a "newer" sound. It's amazing when everyone gets along and is incredible at their instruments, we can just go for it. Sometimes we set different musical rules for different songs, based around unisons or textures or anything. But it really is a case by case basis. The recording and mixing process of the album gives it an overall connective sonic tissue, but that stuff isn't thought about in the writing or even arranging process necessarily. Maybe that will change for the next album.

8. Being in such a diverse array of acts, do you feel like Landlady is a project that has all of these separate influences/sounds funneled through it or is it separate of your other work?
Adam Schatz: This is the most whole presentation of myself. Combined with the people I like the most playing music with me. I think it's the most sincere, honest and creative thing I've been able to do so far. Where any of the projects go or grow from here is anyone's guess.

9. Did you set out with a particular sound in mind for Landlady or was this just the music that felt right for your creative output?
 Adam Schatz: It's the music that came out when I was 23. 24. 25. 26. It's all time-dependent more than "sound" dependent. I wrote many of the songs for the first album on Casios and my Farfisa organ which gave a different result than when I started with piano, but at this point each song comes from a new place. I really just wanted to be able to do anything. Landlady is not a band that does everything at once. But we could do anything. We'll surprise you. It's a guarantee. That energy, that attitude, is so awesome. It feels so good.

Landlady performs at Tir Na Nog on Thursday, Sept. 4 at 12:00 am and at the Trekky Records/Hometapes "Friend Island" Day Party at The Pour House on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 3:25 pm.

Lineup Recommendations: De La Soul, Reigning Sound, and Ed Scrader's Music Beat

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