Photo by STEVE GULLICK
The Silversun Pickups have achieved more than most rock bands, let alone alternative-rock bands, can even hope for. Not only have the Southern California-based band been featured on popular television shows, movies and even video games, they have also released two extremely well received full-length albums. They were also nominated for the Best New Artist Grammy this past year. All in all, they’ve accomplished a lot as a band. Yet this group isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
In an interview with The Eagle, keyboardist Joe Lester talked about the nomination experience, the blessing and curse of social networking, and the band’s love of playing live.
For a band as down-to-earth as the Silversun Pickups, a Grammy nomination was a bit “surreal.”
“It was one of those things that was just not even remotely on our radar I guess,” Lester said. “When it came up, we were all in Europe on tour at the time. Everyone was asleep, it was like four o’clock in the morning and we all kind of woke up and heard everybody else’s phones vibrating in their bunk, but nobody answered it. And so then we all woke up, like five hours later, and were like ‘Oh shit, we got nominated for a Grammy, that’s good.’”
What was surprising to the band wasn’t just the fact that they were nominated, but rather the timing of it all.
“It’s kinda strange to be nominated for Best New Artist when you’ve been around as a band for, you know, eight years, but we kind of understand that it’s not like actual new artists,” Lester said. “It’s not like the Grammy nominating committee is like hanging out at, like, the 9:30 club. So, I don’t know, it’s cool; the whole actual ceremony was just a blur of weirdness and the whole red carpet thing is sort of baffling to me, but it was entertaining.”
Over those eight years, each member of the band has evolved, maturing musically.
“I think we’ve all definitely gotten better as musicians,” Lester said. “I think we’re sharper critics of ourselves and we sort of had an overarching concept for the new record. We were much better at getting to the heart of that rather than dancing around it and throwing too much stuff at it.”
“Swoon,” the band’s second full-length album released in April 2009, exemplifies their newfound editing skills while still leaving room for creativity.
“Strangely, we knew better, but in a much more sort of wide-open sense, what we wanted to do,” Lester explained. “And so I think the albums have gotten more focused. I don’t know, man, I think we’re all really happy with that; we feel like they’re all a growth from the last one.”
“Swoon” has a dark, mellow and distinct sound that is the band’s own. From tracks that are soft yet powerful to the louder, faster-paced numbers, the album shows great range while sounding strikingly unified from song to song. “Substitution” is one of the catchiest and easiest to access songs on the CD, but the upbeat nature of many of the songs is eclipsed by the melodic vocals that seem to slow everything down. The first single off the album “Panic Switch,” is almost six minutes of guitar-distortion and the most excitement found on the album.
To Lester, “Growing Old Is Getting Old” best defines the Silversun Pickups’ sound.
“It sort of encompasses a little of everything,” he said. “It’s quiet, pretty, and mellow at the beginning and then it just sort of gets loud and freaks out at the end — it’s got a little bit of all of the stuff that we like in it. And that’s a really fun song to play.”
What makes “Swoon” and all of Silversun Pickup’s music so fascinating is the collaboration and effort behind it.
“One of the things that makes us who we are is the fact that we really are a band,” Lester said. “All of those songs are the collective output of four people. It’s not like one person writes everything and then everybody else just comes in and plays it. It’s really all four of us, it’s everyone’s input; it’s not done until everyone’s happy with the results.”
But while other bands and singers have fully embraced social networking, the Silversun Pickups are a little wary when it comes to the World Wide Web.
“Honestly, I don’t know anything about Facebook - that Web site scares the crap out of me,” Lester said. “But the Twitter thing is more fun. We were all sort of skeptical about that even in the beginning until we realized you could post pictures and stuff. So then it became more like a postcard, and we kinda all got really into that idea. Especially when we’re on tour, it’s just taking a picture of something that interests you, wherever you are, and you can send that out and the people that care, are following you or whatever, can see what you’re doing.”
There is, however, a fine line when it comes to sharing information on the Internet, one the band is careful not to cross.
“It’s just a different world now, you know. There’s not a lot of mystery left when it comes to bands or fucking anything really. Everything is sort of documented down to like an infinitesimal level. There are definitely the tools to share way too much fucking information. There’s a blurry line when it comes to the delineation of what’s fair game and what’s your own private life. But I think we’re pretty happy with where it is right now. We do share stuff, but it’s not like you know what I’m having for dinner every night, ‘cause like who cares anyway?”
After two months on break, “everybody’s batteries are recharged,” and the band are heading out on tour again, leaving later this month to open for Muse.
Being an opening act has definite advantages, according to Lester.
“For me it’s sort of fun ‘cause there’s not as much pressure on you ‘cause it’s not really your show,” he said. “You’re kind of starting from a zero point and if you win over a few people, awesome. I’m personally excited just to see Muse. It’s always interesting to see what bands that are like way bigger than you, how they do stuff and whatever and all the sort of technical aspects of it.”
Catch the Silversun Pickups opening for Muse March 1 at GMU’s Patriot Center, or March 3 at the 1st Mariner Arena in Baltimore.