14 July 2011

interview: Mountains for Clouds

They are typically the kind of band you'll be reluctant to admit they are geniuses. You may also pretend that they don't bring anything new to the game, you're so blasé, and honestly that's how I reacted when American Football released their EP or when I first discovered the Player Piano album or during my first weeks with the Seam discography, ...., but don't get too excited, "Some People Buy Scenery Like This" is like a slap, a familiar feeling but done with a dexterity and a simplicity which cannot be reduced, a mystery. They are a young band, with a lot to prove now for their debut LP. Listening to their music makes me smile and it's priceless.

 A few questions to Andrew :

- How Mountains for Clouds has been created? You were playing in other bands before?
Ed and I grew up together in Michigan. I moved down to Chicago to go to school, as did he, and we instinctively started playing music together. We formed a band called CoachHouse with our friend from back home and his co-worker, Dusten, who fit perfectly into our playing style. After two years and a full-length album nearly completed, we unfortunately parted with the vocalist, while Ed, Dusten and I continued to play music together. Not really knowing what direction we wanted to take our newly reformed group, we wrote and recorded the songs for our EP shortly after the formation.

- You are on Count Your Lucky Stars, a label which focus on a resurgence of the Midwest emo scene, how did you join them and what’s your relation and appreciation of this label?

Well, I actually have known Keith and Cathy (from Empire! Empire! and the owners of CYLS) for quite a while. I actually met Keith while playing bass in one of his old bands, which he would kill me if I named. We instantly became good friends. And the rest of the guys all met him shortly after from Empire! sleeping on our floor for their tours through Chicago. But friendships aside, Mountains for Clouds came to be on CYLS after playing a show with Empire! and our good friends Joie De Vivre (RIP) at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago. Later that night, Keith, at McDonald's (a traditional after show feast) asked if we wanted to be on the label. Besides being their friends we love and support what they are doing. It’s great to be on a label that we listen to all the bands on it almost on a daily basis. All the bands have this amazing friendship from the first day, it’s like a huge family where everyone supports each other, which is awesome, and what we feel CYLS is about.

 - Your band seems to be at crossroads between different styles, would it be emocore, post-rock, slowcore or even math-rock, but without losing a strong coherence, how do you deal with (each of) these different directions, how have you found your identity in this large spectrum?

Yeah I think it is safe to say we wear our influences on our sleeves, hopefully not too much. But we all love so many different musical genres and bands that it is really hard for us to pick one. I have always thought of bands as a melting pot of the member’s influences. We have very drastically different influences, Dusten loves metal, I always loved post rock, and Ed is really into the technical based stuff. Granted we all love most of those things but I feel like those are the kind of influences we each really feel off of. Also our influences are constantly changing. Within a two years we have really changed influence wise just by the bands we play with and listen to. It’s really hard to stay on one style for us. But really, we just kind of write whatever comes and inspires us.

- Which bands made you want to have a band and write music? I guess Appleseed Cast must be one of these...

Personally, I like to say Radiohead really got me into music, but more accurately speaking it was Sigur Ros that made me want to play music indefinitely. The ( ) album was a record I remember listening to and thinking “If I could write something even half as beautiful and meaningful as this music is to me, I would be the happiest person ever.” That was when I knew I wanted to play music. But I could go on and on about Sigur Ros and that album so I wont.  Actually I wasn’t introduced to Appleseed Cast until later on. I wouldn’t necessarily say they made me want to be in a band and play music, but has definitely influenced me as a guitarist for sure.  For Ed, it would probably be DMB and these huge, jam bands that really got him into drumming. But now what really keeps us going is making so many friends with all these bands that are doing the same thing that we are and it really drives us to progress as a band too.  

- What’s the role and place devoted to vocals in Mountains for Clouds, they are almost absent of the EP but seem more present during the shows (if I believe youtube), and they look much more like an externalization of emotions and tensions than to a personal introspective perspective?

Vocals for us have always been a weird thing. I was in an instrumental band for a long time and never really saw myself as a “singer.” Our previous band, CoachHouse, focused more on vocals than any other band I had been in. This is where I started playing around with vocals.
In writing “Some People Buy Scenery Like This,” we wanted all the songs to have vocals, but when it came time to record we had never practiced the songs with vocals and so we stuck with a predominantly instrumental EP (that was what the three of us were used to). “Gumption” was the only song written and practiced with vocals from the start, while the others were written instrumentally first thinking that we would figure out vocals once the songs were recorded. By then they just sounded better instrumental, so it stuck. On our new stuff, however, I swallowed my apprehension about singing and just did it; I just feel there is more we can do by adding a vocal element. I would have to say that our songs tend to be more fast-paced so I think the vocals translate more externally. I don’t know if that makes sense. We are always looking to write slower, more intimate songs (where they fit) but I feel those are the songs that tend to be more introspective.

- How do you write the songs? There seem to be a strong interplay between guitar and bass, you seem highly concentrated on every detail, making it fluid and dynamic, while keeping a constant tension.

Usually when we write songs it is a collaborative process. Someone will usually come to the table with a riff to work off of and we would just elaborate and kind of play through it. Then we break it apart to find transitions and then we kind of focus on layers that would go on top of everything else. That’s whats really fun about having loops is that I can look at a song in a more in depth manor. But since there are only three of us we try and make sure we aren’t loosing any depth or intricacies that come with having more members.

- Mountains for Clouds never fall into noisy for noisy music and avoid pop melodies too, there is something obsessional, everything dedicated to a single goal, a precise state of mind, like running, is it an endorphin-like dimension when you are playing together, like when you are swimming or cycling long distances?

In all honesty there is nothing like it to me. The feeling you get when playing in front of people can’t be matched. I do still get nervous before every show, but it’s a mixture of anxiousness infused with excitement. I hate waiting to play. It’s like torture to me; I just want to be up there. I think the perfect example is a show we played in May for Joie De Vivre’s last show. That, to me, was the epitome of what I love about rock shows. Everyone was into it and it gave me such a good feeling that night. I can feel bummed about anything or everything, but once I play a show I instantaneously get in a good mood no matter what.

- What’s the short-term future of the band? What are your projects?

Well we have quite a few plans. Right now we are in the studio recording a full length, which will hopefully come out by the end of the year. We also just finished a song that will be going on a four way split with Empire! Empire!, Driving on City Sidewalks, and Two Knights. A tour around the release of our album or the split would be awesome but we are about to relocate back down to Chicago come the end of the summer so a tour might be hard. But we are constantly writing and playing music, so hopefully it all works out.

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