Thrushes Interview (w/ Casey, Rachel, Ryan & Anna)

This past Monday night I had the distinct pleasure of going up to visit the residence of and chat with Baltimore’s most elite, sorta-shoegaze-but-really-not-so-much, songbirds in Thrushes.

Situated between Hamilton and Lauraville, the only house on the block with the porch light on makes everything feel like family and home before I even step inside. And that continued as the door opened to the guys and gals lounging in their living room around a box of brownies, with their feisty and adorable dog Heidi and a bottle of red wine.

You can tell Thrushes love what they do and love doing it together. They are a band that functions like a family-unit of the closest friends. And that bodes really well for listeners and their music.

Full interview after the jump. And enjoy this demo of their song “Trees”, courtesy of Casey and crew!

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MP3: Thrushes – Trees (Demo 5-3-07)

AS: So let’s start easy, you guys are all Baltimore-bred, correct?

Casey: You guys are. I’m not. I’m from Jersey.

AS: What are your musical backgrounds like?

Rachel: I just did the regular band kind of stuff, played the flute.

I just listened to a lot of punk rock. That’s pretty much what I did when I was a kid. Nothing like what we sound like now.

Anna: I started playing guitar when I was 14.

Ryan: I started playing drums in the 4th or 5th grade. My first band played a bunch of old Cure covers. It was the easiest stuff we could find to learn. Like Three Imaginary Boys, I think I played that song about 3000 times when I was 14.

AS: That was the easiest stuff you could find?

Ryan: Easiest stuff we could find that we liked.

Casey: We played the Ramones and Sex Pistols. They were probably a little bit easier.

Ryan: Yeah, you were badass hahah.

AS: So nothing like what you’ve developed into?

Casey: I think the closest thing is Sonic Youth. I’ve always loved them since I was 13, 14. That was pretty much it. I think all of us missed the first kind of shoegaze stuff.

AS: Do you think your early experiences helped inform your current sound?

Rachel: Definitely, all the music I’ve listened to since high school is kind of revisited when I play.

AS: How did the band form?

Rachel: Casey and I first started trying to put something together…we were dating. We really wanted to put a band together for a long time. We started playing together, then Anna joined, then Ryan. Around 2005, I think, maybe the fall.

AS: Did you guys go all in when you formed the band, buying tons of equipment that kind of thing?

Anna: Well we had most of our own stuff. Casey actually buys most of it. He bought my pedal for me!

AS: One of my friends recently went all in to a band, dropped his whole savings into recording and a new set of equipment only to see the band fold a few months after he dropped out of college to join.

Casey: No, it didn’t really happen like that for us. We are all like 20-something so we’ve all been through college and have full-time jobs and careers right now.

AS: Where did the name come from?

Rachel: Casey thought of it.

Anna: Casey came up with a list of names and we picked it off the list.

AS: Kind of like a baby?

Anna: Just like a baby.

Casey: We just thought it fit what we were doing best and went with it.

AS: How did you come into your sound if you weren’t really into the whole shoegaze thing?
Casey: It really just came natural. That was just the way we sounded. None of us were really big shoegaze or noise-rock fans…

AS: So you kind of just fell into the sound and now the shoegaze thing has been foisted on you?

Casey: Yea, exactly.

AS: What do you think each of you brings to the sound of the band overall and how you influence it?

Casey: I can talk a little about the guitars. Anna writes mainly the melodies, real clean, crisp, good melodies. I kind of just beef it up, add some atmosphere. That’s kind of what I do. I think both of us really play well off each other. On our own, neither of us would be nearly as good. It’s really nice, really lucky to find someone like that.

Rachel: I think going along with that, Ryan and I are right underneath that. Keeping it grounded, giving something you can tap your foot to.

Ryan: I try to play a lot of textural beats to add a little more than just a regular drum beat. Like I use maraca sticks as drum sticks just to make it a little bit fuller and more layered sounding.

Anna: I feel like when writing melodies, I rely a lot on Rachel because I feel like I get a lot of ideas from what you are playing. So I can write words. It just all goes together really well. We definitely could not do it without someone. I think we’ve tried it before when one person was sick and we were just like “fuck this” it didn’t work out at all.

AS: In shopping up a new song, how does the process start? “Where are the songs born,” if you’ll let me be a little cliched.

Anna: Usually we just start jamming around at practice. Casey or I will just play something…Ryan will come in and play a drum beat to it and then it sounds awesome. And that’s how it just works.

Ryan: But not until then. Right?

Anna: *laughs* Not until Ryan comes in. If Ryan’s not there, you might as well call it a day.

Rachel: The best part is when Anna just starts singing.

Ryan: Some songs take like 4 practices, but some songs immediately she’ll just start singing something.

Rachel: That was the best part about when the band got together, the 3 of us were hanging out in this basement on Guilford Ave. Anna said “Who’s gonna sing?” I said “Uhhh I dunno,” then she says “Well maybe I’ll sing” and then we all thought whoa you’re so good!

AS: So who writes the lyrics? How do you typically go about it?

Anna: I write the lyrics. I just get an idea of what we are playing. Sometimes it’s just like homework. I just go home and write something before the next practice with my acoustic. But sometimes it all gets written at practice. It’s pretty organic…but I never bring words to practice.

AS: Which song did you really struggle with? Was there one you didn’t want to put words to but felt like you had to?

Anna: One of our brand new songs, “Push and Pull,” that was hard. It took maybe 4 or 5 practices. The songs on “Sun Come Undone” don’t have that many words on them anyway. They actually happened pretty quickly.

AS: For each of you, what inspires you and what makes this enjoyable to you?

Anna: It’s just something I have to do. If I don’t practice at least once a week, I feel crazy and depressed. Plus, I get to hang out with 3 of my best friends…people I trust most that I know. It’s always fun.

Casey: For me, especially with this band, I’ve always liked to play live. That’s what I enjoy doing. And for us, going into the studio is strong and good, but live is what I really enjoy doing. I think we’re a pretty good live band.

Ryan: A lot of musicians always say they are either into playing live or into recording, choosing one over the other. I personally love to get buried in the studio and love to play live equally. It’s a totally different level of satisfaction to both.

Rachel: I think it’s really fun being in practice and just somebody walks in, plays something, somebody else plays something and all of a sudden…

Ryan: You’re like WOW where’d that come from! That is probably the most satifsfying part of being in a band, when a song just kinda happens. This band is the only band I’ve been in that could write a song in a practice and it’s just as good as another band I might have been in that takes a month to write a song. That’s the best feeling.

Casey: We definitely work pretty quick, which is good.

Anna: I feel that we know each other so well at this point, I can anticipate what Casey’s going to do…I love what we do.

Casey: We very rarely have to tell anyone what to play, at all. Exactly what Anna just said, I know what Rachel’s gonna play and it’s usually right on with what I’m thinking.

Ryan: If I’m lost on a part, I don’t mind asking these guys “do you like this,” “what do you think I should do with this part”…that’s the thing too. You learn from experience. When you’re younger and in all these bands, there’s all this arguing and bullshit you get tired of dealing with. We’ve all been through that, and now we’ve ended up in this band, at the right time and it works really well.

AS: How did “Sun Come Undone” materialize?

Casey: For that record, we were only really together for about 7 or 8 months before we went into the studio. Our first show was in Feb 06, we went into the studio in October of 06. We had been really starting writing songs maybe around December. We originally went in to do a 5 or 6 song EP. We got in there, went through the first few songs really really quick. So we figured let’s just record everything we know and pick out what we like later. We recorded everything and it all came out how we wanted it to be…so that was the record. About 2 and a half days, in and done. It was pretty cool.

AS: That’s phenomenal. How long did mixing take?

Casey: Mixing was actually longer than recording, it took about 30 hours. We had a lot going on. We were just making sure we still had the powerful element of the live show while at the same time being able to have everything sound polished. You can hear the different instruments, melodies, vocals just right. A lot of it was really just tweaking around…because of the dynamics of the record and our sound…it was a lot of tiny little stuff here and there.

AS: I’ve seen you live multiple times, and compared to the record, there are definitely details that get lost if the sound guy isn’t right on, or the system is bad.

Casey: Yeah I mean, you are kinda stuck . What are you gonna do? Having a decent vocal monitor and PA system are really really important. That’s key, because once the vocals get lost, everything else kind of goes down.

AS: Are there any themes for the album for you personally or the band as a whole?

Casey: I think we wanna have an emotional connection to the audience and the song. It can be pretty and everything else but it has to have that emotional weight to it. That is the benchmark for songs that we write…whether they continue on and we work on them or not. For me that’s musically, lyrically that comes a little later with Anna. It has to be, I don’t wanna say a serious song, but it has to have some kind of relevance and deeper meaning for me.

AS: A lot of the songs are very personal and deal with emotions largely of heartbreak; what other parts of the emotional spectrum have you been exploring?

Anna: I think some of our new songs are probably a little…angrierrr. This is about angry heartbreak.

Rachel: But still pretty!

Anna: You know, we’re angsty in different ways. I guess largely they are autobiographical.

AS: So you won’t be tackling say politics any time soon?

Anna: Ohhh noooo, that doesn’t interest me. If it’s not about me, then, you know, whatevs. *laughs*

Rachel: I think the new songs go along really well with “Sun Come Undone.” They complement each other really nicely and shows a nice progression of where we came from.

Ryan: Definitely. Half the first album was slower songs. We’ve probably written 8 or 9 new songs and only one of them is kind of slow. The new ones are faster, a lot of energy, but still consistent with the old stuff.

AS: Is your newer material straying farther from the “shoegaze” label you seem to have been stuck with?

Casey: I always thought that was kind of weird. I don’t think we’re a shoegaze band.

Anna: I don’t think we ever tried to be…

AS: So where did that come from?

Anna: I think somebody just told us we were. *laughs*

Casey: Loud guitars, a lot of distortion, a lot of effects…

AS: People just thought “Oh hey, there’s some fuzz…”

Anna: Fuzz and echoes!

Ryan: My favorite thing was…I joined the band after it was recorded and I was reading all these reviews. It was the funniest thing because every review starts out being surprised that we’re not a shoegaze band. So what are you saying we sound like? People always think of shoegaze for some reason when they hear our name but nobody seems to think we have that sound.

Anna: I can see where it came from…

Casey: Definitely, I mean we definitely have elements of it. But a better comparison, with our more traditional pop song background, Jesus and Mary Chain is a better comparison than My Bloody Valentine. We don’t do stuff like that really.

AS: You mentioned Sonic Youth too. Is that the angrier direction you’re heading towards?

Casey: I think so. We’ve got a couple songs that could be off the Sister record or EVOL. Definitely more rhythmic and propulsive which I don’t think you have in a lot of older shoegaze bands. Lots of that is real stately…

Ryan: Lots of reverb

Casey: Yeah, like a big statement.

AS: Agreed. It often feels very impersonal and cold. Like looking at a landscape rather than experiencing something directly.

Ryan: Lyrics are real muddy…

Casey: It’s just kinda real dour. Like me, I come from listening to Jawbreaker and punk rock. We have more of that, we’re definitely a live band, we enjoy what we’re doing, we have fun. I think we have good stage presence. And it’s definitely different than going and seeing footage of like Chapterhouse or something like that.

Rachel: I saw something on somebody’s Myspace the other day that talked about “nu-gaze.”

*collective groan*

AS: Hahah, ok going around, what’s everyone’s favorite song to play live?

Rachel: Ooh I know, I’ve got mine. It’s the new song “Night Falls” it’ll be on the next record. It’s got everything that we do…the quiet and the loud…pretty emotional lyrics…the textured kind of drums…it’s got a little bit of everything.

Casey: For me, from the old record, “Ghost Train” and “Heartbeats” are my favorites to play live. The new stuff is just really really fricking good.

Anna: Awesome. Awesome.

Ryan: I wish we could just put an album out right now…I just want it out there.

AS: What’s your time table for that?

Casey: Probably May/June. We’ve got about ¾ of the songs written so…

Anna: We just finished a new song tonight, we’ll get a couple more new ones down and we’ll shoot for May.

Ryan: My favorite song is probably “As much to lose” which is another new one. The drums are probably my all-time favorite thing I’ve ever written in my life.

Anna: I’m with Ryan on “As much to lose.” But from the old album, I kind of like “Loyalty.”

Ryan: “Flying” is my favorite from the old album!

Rachel: Nobody said “Aidan Quinn” though!

AS: I actually like “Ghost Train” and “Loyalty.”

Rachel: “Ghost Train” is a song that we’ve played at every show EVER.

Ryan: Every once in a while I get Casey to play “Flying.”

Casey: *ugh*

Ryan: I always have to find an excuse like “It’s my birthday, let’s play ‘Flying’”

Casey: That’s just my least favorite song…it’s just one of those things. My guitar part is just the same the whole song so it’s kind of boring for me to play.

Anna: Whose choice was that?

Casey: Whatever it worked. Everyone loves it except for me.

AS: Let’s shift gears onto Baltimore, the scene, the environment, what’s good, bad, changed.

Ryan: You know I actually just read an article in Rolling Stone that Beach House was their band of the month and they talked about the burgeoning Baltimore music scene. And I couldn’t believe they were talking about Baltimore’s music scene, does it even exist, what is that?

AS: Back when Dan Deacon released Spiderman of the Rings, I think I saw him featured in Spin as album of the day or something.

Ryan: Yeah, they mentioned him in there too! And I was like name 4 bands out of Baltimore that are really big…you can’t!

Casey: I mean, nowadays a lot of it is the Wham City scene. There’s good…and then there’s stuff that’s…interesting.

Ryan: I remember back when I was younger Candy Machine was the big Baltimore band. And the coolest thing about them was they didn’t sound like anybody else. But if you’re from Baltimore, they sounded like a Baltimore band and they were doing it just perfect. They didn’t compromise. A lot of the good Baltimore bands they’re like “fuck a record label.” They’ve got an attitude. But every once in a while a gem like Candy Machine will come along, they’re doing their own thing and it just sticks. And those guys can do whatever they want, they’re in all kinds of bands now.

Casey: When I came down here 10, 12 years ago. Dischord records was it. And being outside the DC scene and not being able to play these DC shows. DC was a tight scene, if you were from Baltimore you couldn’t play there. Same with Philly. So Baltimore really had a chip on its shoulder saying “Fuck DC, fuck New York, fuck Philly.” We’re playing here, this is what we’re gonna be. It definitely led to a lot of different styles of music. It’s cheap to live and record here.

I think it’s a weird scene. There’s a lot of bands, a lot of publicity and press around Baltimore. But it’s not as good on the inside as it seems from the outside. I think it’s not as cohesive a scene as it’s portrayed. There’s a lot of small cliques and groups.

AS: Sometimes it seems like there’s Wham City, City Paper and then just kinda…other.

Anna: If you’re not in, you’re out.

Casey: That’s the way it goes. Especially for a band like us…there’s nobody that sounds like is in or near Baltimore. We’re not arty enough to play Wham City, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But we also don’t sound like the typical Baltimore indie rock band either.

AS: Has this led to any major problems?

Casey: No, we haven’t had issue playing shows, getting people to come out. We play on weird bills with different bands and styles.

AS: I’ve seen you play with Squaaks before. Who else have you done shows with in the area?

Casey: We played with Monarch/Wye Oak a lot when they first started out. Locally, they are probably the closest to what we do. They’re good people. Squaaks like you said. Hymnen, we used to play with them a lot. They’ve got a new band coming out. And then we just kinda play with whoever’s around.

AS: How’d you get hooked onto the Raveonettes bill?

Anna: We’re just that good.

Ryan: Luck.

Casey: We’ve been really lucky. That’s the best thing about being in Baltimore. We’ve gotten the chance to play with bands here that if we were in NYC, DC, Philly, we would’ve never had a chance to play with. The Ottobar has been great for us. I’ve been bugging Todd to get us to play with the Raveonettes for almost 3 years. And this is the only stop on their tour that they have a local band opening for them. We met the Raveonettes last winter, Rachel and I…

Rachel: It was the best thing ever.

Casey: We’re both huge fans and they’re super super nice people so we’re really psyched about the show.

Ryan: And the other band, Glasvegas is…

Casey: Glasvegas…they are un-fucking-believeable.

AS: Glas Vegas?

Ryan: From Glasgow

Casey: G-L-A-S, Vegas they are like darlings of the European press right now. It should be a really good show.

***Editorial note: Unfortunately, Glasvegas just pulled out of their support slot for Raveonettes due to recording commitments.

AS: What about your Alternadads gig? How did that happen?

Casey: We got asked to do the show. None of us knew what it was. We looked it up, it’s a good event. It’s a good chance for people our age, 20-30, with kids, to come out on a Saturday morning/afternoon, see good music and let your kids run around. It’s been real successful in DC and on the West Coast so it should be a pretty interesting event.

AS: So will you be playing a normal set?

Casey: Volume-wise it’ll be turned down for the kids, Ryan’s gotta play with quiet sticks. Other than that, it’s gonna be a pretty normal show. We’re breaking it up into two 20-25minute sets. In between Neal is gonna be reading from his book.

Anna: It’ll be fun. I teach lots of kids…Ryan’s got a kid so…bring it on.

AS: What kind of audience are you expecting?

Casey: You know, it’s 10 in the morning so I don’t really know. I know you don’t have to have kids to goto the show. I think it’s gonna be parents our age bonding over bullshit kid stuff, sneaking in bloody marys in sippy cups. I really don’t think any of us have any idea what to expect though. Other than some little kids better not come up and mess with my pedals because then there’s gonna be some problems.

Rachel: But we’ll be able to hear Anna a lot better, probably.

AS: How do you feel about the venues that have been popping up in the past few months/year? Lo-Fi, Metro Gallery, Talking Head reopening…

Casey: Metro’s great, absolutely beautiful place to see shows, people like going there. Great atmosphere, clean. The owner Sarah is a total sweetheart.

Anna: Sarah’s the best. She’s so reliable and professional all the time. I can’t say enough good stuff about her.

Casey: Lo-Fi…we haven’t had an opportunity to play there yet. Talking Head’s open again, excited about that. Great space, sound system is phenomenal. Ottobar is great. We played that Joe Squared pizza place, they’re really supportive of local artists.

AS: It really seems like them and Load of Fun are really building up something on North Ave.

Ryan: I’ve never even been in that place…Load of Fun…what is that?

Casey: It’s that place across from Joe Squared…seen some quality art there.

Anna: It’s got all the cats in there and Russian people…

Ryan: Russian people and cats…great…my two favorite things.

Casey: I think starting from the last year and the prior year, there was a good year to 18 months that there was the Ottobar and the Sidebar and that was really it…it’s good there’s places to play now. I don’t know if the Baltimore scene can support a lot of shows. We’ve kind of seen that, having 2-3 shows on the same night…really splits the draw.

AS: Have you played anywhere in DC?

Casey: We’ve actually only played once in DC actually. It’s been really tough to book there. We’ve all got day jobs so we try to only play out of town shows Fridays or Saturdays. We played DC9 in December. Decent turnout, good show. It’s been tough with promoters trying to give us like Tuesday night shows and for us to go down there and play a show to like 13 people…it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Ryan: It’s also the only major city where when we try to book shows they ask “Well where else have you played in DC?” Nobody else ever asks that question.

Casey: Yeah, we get shows in NYC, Boston, Philly no problem. But DC is just kinda weird.

AS: Have you thought about Fort Reno before?

Casey: We applied last year. But they won’t let us play because we’re Baltimore. It’s all DC bands. It’s a great spot…but it’s for DC bands…but it is what it is.

Ryan: One of my favorite moments ever, I saw Fugazi at Ft Reno in the middle of a thunderstorm and they played right through.

Anna: It was magical. It blew his mind.

Ryan: Hey man, you know what it was magical! Lemme tell you why it was magical. You know how Fugazi has these breaks in their songs, this nahhh, then they stop on a dime. Then right behind the stage the whole sky lit up with lightning.

Anna: It was like God came down…

Ryan: And then it went away and they went right back into the song. You could not…

Anna: …and blessed Fugazi with lightning.

Ryan: …everybody just lost their minds. You could not have planned this moment any better. It was amazing. One of my favorite all-time concert moments…

Anna: …and then magic happened.

Ryan: Hey! Are you talkin over me this whole conversation?

AS: This is why I have this recorder…because there is no way I could possibly write what both of you are saying unless I had some extra hands. And now, I have both! So what’s the deal with the remix CD?

Casey: It just got the whole track-list today. We were actually listening to it before you came in. We’re playing May 10th at the Metro Gallery. That’ll be our release for it. It’s all “Heartbeats,” and hopefully there’ll be a new video we filmed at Metro and a live version of the song too.

AS: So the remix will be out on Birdnote as well? What about the new album?

Casey: Remix is out on Birdnote. We hope to have the album done by July. We’ll shop it around and see if we find a label that fits.

AS: What else do you have planned for the year?

Casey: A few weekend road trips, we may do a summer tour again depending on how the recording process goes.

AS: Last thing, coolest, favorite, most interesting thing you’ve come across or done recently?

Anna: My favorite most recent thing, is Rogue Wave’s newest album that came out in September.

Rachel: Personally I like Lust Lust Lust, the Raveonettes new record.

Ryan: That’s a good record. I never liked them so much until I heard that one.

Rachel: Did you know there aren’t any cymbals on that record?

Ryan: What? I’m done with them. Screw that band.

Rachel: *laughs* Now you don’t like it. I read it in an interview or else I would’ve never noticed.

Ryan: I saw the Super Furry Animals recently in DC. That was a good show.

Anna: Did they have the percussion celery?

AS: …?

Ryan: They actually got Paul McCartney in the studio for a guest spot on their new album. They just got him to come in , sit in a chair and recorded him chewing on celery. Can you believe that? I would’ve had him sing, pick up a guitar, anything. They’re just a weird band.

Casey: No I don’t like the Beatles. I wouldn’t really care.

*collective gasp*

Casey: Hey, to each his own. I got this CD the other day, it’s really good. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Great new band from Brooklyn. Awesome, it’s like Black Tambourine, Velocity Girl, early Jesus and Mary Chain…noise-pop…really really really good. I enjoy the shit out of it.

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