Troubadour Dali have a lot going on these days. Their new record Let's Make It Right was just released on the local Euclid Records imprint last month. They are going to start playing some tour dates around the Midwest, plus they had to cram for their set as Sonic Youth for An Under Cover Weekend.
Last Wednesday, I met with a few members of the band – Ben Hinn, Kevin Bachmann and Casey Bazzell - at an apartment in Dogtown neighborhood of St. Louis just south of Highway 40. We sat outside on their small upstairs patio enjoying the late summer evening. As we enjoyed a few lukewarm beverages, we talked about how Sonic Youth has influenced the band's music.
Interested in hearing their original music too? The band invites you to come hear their new album in person. They are having a listening party for their new album at The Royale on Sunday, September 11. The vinyl has just hit the shelves.
Please tell me a bit about the decision to choose Sonic Youth for An Under Cover Weekend
Kevin Bachmann: We just really enjoy their music and really enjoy making really loud sounds from our guitar amps. Basically, it really just boils down to that -- a pretty easy choice.
Ben Hinn : It's interesting because half the band is not really that familiar with the material, but it completely makes sense. We like crazy sounds and everyone is singing and playing instruments. They are just like a pinnacle noise, pop band.
Kevin: It's a really abstract, beautiful art form. Nobody sounds like that band. I spent a lot of time listening to them growing up and I just really like offset guitars, as do we all. It just made sense. Plus, if we make mistakes it's not as easy to detect.
You mentioned the familiarity with the band. Who's the most familiar with the band?
Ben: I think Kevin is the most familiar while Benjamin and Andy are familiar with it too. For me, I'm moderately familiar. [To Casey] How are you?
Casey Bazell: Actually, I was somewhat familiar, but I never got into them as much until now. I never realized that it was so fitting for what I feel as far as playing with these guys. I think it was a really good choice. Once I started sitting with the music it really starts to grow on you. I enjoy exactly what he said about the guitars – going crazy a little bit – but staying in this melodic realm.
For me, I got into them in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Daydream Nation and Goo. Yet, as someone who collects records I still don't have every single one of their albums. Plus, they have EPs and side projects in between.
Kevin: It's a really big collection of music. Just their studio albums… it's nuts. It's ridiculous the amount of music and artwork they've put out.
Ben: I don't think I got into them growing up until after listening to Nirvana and then bridging it that way.
The whole 'The Year Punk Broke' thing?
Ben: I have that [movie] on VHS actually. We need to bust that out and put in another hour of practice to watch that. In fact, I think just now they are about to release that on DVD.
I'd like to talk a little about the tunings. Obviously their music does not use standard guitar tuning and you don't go to the music store or the internet and get the song book for $15.99. You're not gonna find that. You mentioned before we started that you used their website. What have you gleaned from the website?
Ben: On their website they dissect all their songs and show you how to play them and have all their tunings for ever album.
Kevin: Probably so they can remember too. Because they used 50 different tunings. So, I would say mostly the tuning.
Ben: It's not like Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have the same tunings for each song. They each have a different tuning for each song. It's a huge difference!
Kevin: The website was helpful for the tunings. It's amazing. Last year we did Queens of the Stone Age and I wondered how do you get a bass to sound like that? Then you tune a Fender Precision Bass down a whole step and crank it through an Ampeg and you're like, "Oh there it is!" It's not really that hard. The same thing with this – you tune the guitars to those tunings and then you turn your amp up where it's almost to the point where it's going to blow up and catch on fire and again you're like, "Oh there it is!" Why weren't we doing this all along?
You add a few pedals and you're good to go?
Kevin: It's less the pedals and more just the sonic texture of tuning your guitars to those droning tunings and blowing up an amp. We all have a pretty good ear too so there's nothing tabbed out. This guitar is tuned this way. It really feels natural too. We got down to the basement the first time and we immediately started playing with the two guitar set up and we didn't assign roles. Everyone just figured out where they would go.
How do you think that this sort of set up is going to affect your original output in the future?
Kevin: They've always been an inspiration on me. I feel like whatever you listen to is going to be throw into what you write. We listen to such a vast array of things. We are all influenced by so many different things. You might get a little Sonic Youth in there…
Ben: [To Kevin] You're already influenced by them massively. I think that I'll definitely pick up some new techniques on tuning and being more percussive with my guitar in certain ways in regards to how Thurston plays.
Kevin: This is definitely inspirational to play this music --
Ben: It is. It's a great learning experience. It's making me think outside the box more because they don't play within it.
Few bands have made their own rules along the way. As far as the music that they've played, who they've played with and who they've promoted along the way. Thurston and I'm sure the rest of them are huge record collectors. They know more about underground music than a lot of people.
Ben: Right, they are actively involved and still seeking out new music and supporting it.
Kevin: I feel there are certain bands that are a cut above. I feel like Sonic Youth has always approached making music in a bigger picture. They approach making music with guitars like paint in their palette.
Casey: That's what I noticed -- without using keyboards they layer so well. It's like their own style of symphony. People that listen to more mainstream music might not follow it, but with someone like me with a musical ear it's quite a ride. So, I'm very excited to play it.
Your new record has some more pop elements. There are obviously keyboards, but there are psychedelic with pop undertones. However, Sonic Youth is non-pop oriented and those structures are not there in their music. Is that hard to get used to or is it easy?
Ben: Our live shows tend to get a bit loose around the edges, crazy at certain points. We do more noise freak-outs. Our record is a lot more constrained.
Kevin: I feel like at a live show you're always allowed to stretch and paint that canvas. It's a live element where you're performing it on the spot. When you're make a record you're making a painting to display. I feel like what we write comes out and there's going to be some noise in there and there's going to be some pop. That's a direct result of the fact that we don't always listen to Sonic Youth, but we listen to a lot of different stuff. We like to make loud noises, but we like to dial in some silky melodies.
I always liken it to Genesis. They put out a record and they go an play it live and it sounds exactly the same. It's great that you can reproduce it that well. At the same time it's also a little boring.
Kevin: It goes a couple different ways. They are band you go see and it sounds exactly like the record. So, your reaction is, "Okay, that's cool. That's good." However, I don't like it when bands get so far out there that you want them to just play your songs. There's two hours. You don't have to play just five or six songs. I know how it is -- it's fun to stretch it and explore the space. But there has to be a fine balance there. I think having focused songs it good and being able to stretch where needed is good.
This leads into how you are going to approach the Sonic Youth material. Straight up? A dab of your own paint from your palette? Or a mixture or both?
Ben: Well, we haven't really figured that out. [Laughs] We're still in the preliminary stages on that. We're trying to stay true to their sound and recordings as possible. We're all trading off singing so in terms of one person being Thurston Moore or one person being Lee Ranaldo we'll be trading off a bit on that. In terms of the sound we'll be doing a pretty good recreation of their live show. There's no way of escaping your own personality and character.
Casey: I think we'll embody both us and them. You can't get around it. I guess we'll all find out in the end.
So, has this been more of an ongoing process of preparation or a cram session?
All: A cram session!
Casey: Totally a cram session, but I think our band is up for that.
Kevin: I was talking to Benjamin the other day that Sonic Youth is a band that he and I both grew up loving and adoring and listening to their music. But, it's not one of those bands that we grew up playing their songs because we only had one guitar as kids. We also didn't have the luxury of websites. We had 'Oregon Trail' at that point. Billy got dysentery so I can't look up Thurston Moore's guitar tuning. The best was writing what you wanted on the tombstone for the character's epitaph when he or she died.
Casey: I didn't play that game that much. [Laughs]
The format of An Under Cover Weekend is that you get a half hour.
Ben: We're shooting for 30-40 minutes and whatever we get.
Kevin: We'll be there on time. [Laughs]
Is there certain era of the band's music that you're looking to highlight or going for the greatest hits overview?
Kevin: It's really hard with a band like that as we were discussing earlier. They have so much great music from a career that spans from the early 1980s up to now…
Ben: I think we'll please the general Sonic Youth fan, but the die hard fans might be kind of angry that we might be omitting some obscurities that might be underground hits.
Kevin: There are a lot of songs that we feel would be awesome to play, but we feel like for Under Cover Weekend you have to make a time capsule of a performance. You kind of have to give the people what they want. It's an honor to be invited to play this weekend. I don't want to do a set full of deep cuts. You have a whole night of a handful of bands representing all these different artists and the fans might come to see one certain set and they don’t want to hear us doing a set of Sonic Youth b-sides. We're not going to play the whole Confusion Is Sex LP, but there will be some people that say, "Why don't you do that?"
You have to placate the people that don't have intimate knowledge of the material, but you throw in a rarity that you really want to play. That said, you can play only songs from Goo and Dirty and everyone would be happy.
Kevin: You can play a rarity and 50 people will say, "That was rad!" and then 50 other people will say, "That was stupid. I went to get a beer."
Ben: A lot of people probably saw Sonic Youth for the first time last year for free under the Arch. I know that was my first time to see them live. I only knew the hits.
Kevin: With as many songs as they have it's really difficult to condense into a half hour…
Casey: …and get the message across.
Kevin: An Under Cover Weekend comes very close to destroying bands because there are so many set list fights. "I want to play this song!"
So Casey are you going to be taking the Kim Gordon role since you're the only female playing with the band?
Casey: Yeah, I think so. We haven't really gotten to that point yet, but it seems like I'm going to be singing a lot of that. I really like her style. I've really been watching her. She's a cutie. She has so much fun. I'd like to embody her in some way. I'm excited to see what's going to happen and get a little crazy with it.
Personally, I come from the camp of staying true to yourself to not come across as mocking the band or playing Halloween.
Ben: It's still Troubadour Dali, but covering Sonic Youth.
Kevin: This year I’m playing bass and I'm not going to wear blonde wig like Kim Gordon. Besides, Sonic Youth wears jeans and Chuck Taylors just like everybody else. It's not like we're playing Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.
Ben: Well, we are playing offset guitars so we're staying true to the tone.
Kevin: But we had them to begin with so it's not much of a stretch.
Casey: I think we're just having fun with it in general. I think we're going to have a blast with it and it's not something we'll do often. I think we'll let loose with it however we naturally do.
Kevin: No one has to go out and buy gold pants.
Casey: Right, I bought some big giant shoes. I'm trying to look '90s a little bit.
While the rest of the conversation devolved into music store geeks talking about gear – me included – and pop culture references, I'm sure you can tell these guys are having fun with this project. See them close out the show tonight at The Firebird.