Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Five: 5 Questions with I Was Totally Destroying It

First it was this. Then the review of the Done Waiting/Beached Margin album. Now it's an interview with the band. Next week it will be a review of their new album, Horror Vacui. What else do I have to do to convince you that I Was Totally Destroying It (IWTDI) is worth your devotion?

The band plays an album release party tomorrow, Oct. 10th at the Cradle in Chapel Hill, NC with Lonnie Walker, Des Ark, Rat Jackson and Lake Inferior.

IWTDI is made up of Curtis Armstead on guitar, Joe Mazzitelli on bass, Rachel Hirsh on keyboard and vocals, along with drummer James Hepler and vocalist/guitarist John Booker who were nice enough to answer a few questions.

And for a completely different type interview with the band, check out this feature in IndyWeek.

1) I dont' usually ask about band names, but "I Was Totally Destroying It" has this weird existential vibe to it, because multiple members (usually a 'we") actually equal an "I." So where did it come from?

JOHN: Existential would be nice, wouldn’t it? It’s a stupid story: I was in a band a long time ago, full of philosophy majors, so every van discussion turned into some deep, “meaningful” debate. One time we were discussing the “cathartic nature of destruction”- and I referenced a time when I was doing some renovation work- breaking up a slate walkway with a pickaxe- the description of my actions came out of my mouth as “I Was Totally Destroying It”. Somehow, it elicited a laugh, a “write that down”, and it stuck. When starting IWTDI, I wanted a band name that no one else would have (too many problems with that in the past), and that wouldn’t take itself too seriously. What I love about the name is the juxtaposition of it, the irony: if we were a metal band I would HATE it- but because we’re a pop band, I love it. As far as everyone else is concerned, it’s quite polarizing-although I’ve had a large amount of people tell me it’s the “best band name” they’ve ever heard…

2) I know you guys had some label problems (with local label Neckbeard Records) before getting on Greyday. Not to really rehash a difficult time, but what did that experience teach you (if anything) about this thing called music business?

JAMES: Whew. It's a really hard question to answer without the full story being out there, you know? I think first it's important to note that we approached the previous label situation with a good amount of caution, primarily because of the whole friendship/business thing. So rather than saying we learned anything, maybe it's better to say that what we already knew served us fairly well, and the situation reinforced our belief that we had a handle on our business. People on both sides had reservations about how it would all work out, and it became clear pretty early that it wasn't the right thing for either us OR the label.

JOHN: I’d like to think it taught the OTHER parties involved something about the music business- ours wasn’t so much “learned” as it was “why didn’t we just admit/realize this was going to happen?” I’ve been doing this a really long time, and sometimes that can mean a little and sometimes it can mean a lot. I’ve seen every side of the business- I’ve worked at labels, I’ve obviously been in the bands. I’ve been a frontman, I’ve been a sideman, I’ve been a hired gun. I’ve played to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, I’ve played Kirby’s Beer Store in Kansas. I’ve been in cover bands, I’ve been in math rock bands. I’ve seen friends go on to sell 100,000+ records, I’ve seen friends that were poised to sell 100,000 records get absolutely fucked by a major(or an indie!) and break up. And that doesn’t even touch on Hepler’s years of experience (or the rest of the band for that matter). There wasn’t a lot left that this could teach me, other than to always bet on yourself. And trust your gut.

By the way, Greyday has been AWESOME for us so far- we don’t ask anything unreasonable of them, nor they of us, and I’d like to think THAT sheds the most light on the former situation than anything else. Wink wink.

I Was Totally Destroying It from Mann's World on Vimeo.

3) For Horror Vacui, is this the first time you're touring beyond the home state as a band? What's been some of the feedback you've heard in other parts of the country? What things is the band most looking forward to on a larger tour?

JOHN: This will actually be our second full-on tour with this band. We’ve done a lot of 2 or 3 day trips taking us places like Ohio and New York- but we also did a 3 week US tour in summer ’08. All the way to the west coast and back- it was a whirlwind trip- lots of 10+ hour drives, etc. This October tour will be a lot easier- covering a lot less mileage in about the same amount of time, although we plan to get back out to the west coast as soon as possible.

We’re really looking forward to sharing this tour with Ohio’s The Story Changes. A lot of the time, two smaller indie bands touring together can actually work against putting the whole thing together, but we’ve got some really cool shows lined up, and The Story Changes are super organized like us and they are absolutely inspiring live- so I think we’re all looking forward to the challenge of sharing the stage with them every night.

I’d say the feedback we get when we head outside of The Triangle is often MORE positive than what we receive at home. We’re lucky to have been embraced by many who support us here and enjoy the music, but Durham and Chapel Hill are scenes that were built on a very different sound than what we are currently after. All our old bands were very much a part of that musical mentality, but our pop leanings are not always a perfect fit in the Indie Mecca. Brooklyn probably hates us, Omaha probably hates us, San Francisco probably hates us- the more scarves and v-necks and skinny jeans you see, the less we are probably welcome. So yes, we love branching out into the other territories-often it can be very welcoming and rewarding and reaffirming. We’ve also been told Spain would love us.

4) I've been impressed with all your releases with how much of a sensibility you guys have for melody, arrangement and overall pop excellence (that sounds like an award category). How was that sense honed or does it just kind of come naturally?

JAMES: We all have our individual strengths and weaknesses, but each of us has a sense of songcraft. We pay very close attention to every detail of every song. The main vision comes from John and Rachel, but when we really get into the arrangements, the sounds, the minutiae of the songs, I think it's when we're at our best. I would hesitate to say it's honed, necessarily, because to me that's something you strive for and only achieve in degrees, but our songcraft is definitely conscious or intentional, and while much of it comes naturally, we don't rely on natural ability to get by.

JOHN: Melody is certainly my focal point, and my favorite part of the writing process, and I think my best contribution to IWTDI. Melodies seem to come to me very quickly, and usually I kind of just know I’ve got something if it’s instantly satisfying. I had been in a lot of riffy, guitar heavy bands, and really strove to focus on vocals much more this time around, and I somehow just got lucky in that respect, I’d like to think. However, to a certain degree, I feel I’ve exhausted my go-to tricks for writing the basic concepts/structures of IWTDI songs, so for whatever we do next, I’m really excited to open the band up more to musical ideas Curtis or Joe or James might have, and see if that pushes my melodies into new territory. It’s very exciting to write outside those comfort zones- every songwriter has go-to concepts, and it’ll be nice to try to experiment with our formulas more soon. It’ll still be IWTDI, but I’d like to think we haven’t written the same song twice YET, so I’d like to keep pushing that mentality even further.

5) Looking at your body of work so far, what are some of the changes that you've noticed over that time?

JOHN: Just the other day, Curtis and I jumped in my car and the first thing that came on the radio was a song off our first album. We both remarked that we hadn’t listened to that stuff in a while and how the track really sounded like a completely different band- a past project that we had moved on from (although we both stated that we still love it in many ways). That first album was a glorified solo record for me, for the most part. Inter-band workings changed a lot as soon as that was done, specifically, Rachel and I became a songwriting team.

Early on I’d say the music was pretty unabashed- nothing and everything to prove at the same time. Then about 2 years ago we hit a brief moment of self-consciousness: unsure how to proceed into “Horror Vacui”, I think we tried to do a few things for someone other than ourselves, which you should never do. We bounced back, really started improving in the later half of 2008, and after a year or so of neuroses and second-guessing (pretty much all on my part), we ended up with “Horror Vacui”. It might not be EXACTLY the album I envisioned, which will probably always frustrate me, but I’m learning (at the behest of my bandmates who assure me it’s DONE and AWESOME) to let it go. I’ve made a lot of albums at this point, but this one has been
the hardest for me to detach myself from- I’m HOPING that means I’ve done something right, and I’m TELLING myself it might just mean that this is the best I’ve done, so far.

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