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interview: Daniel Perlaky
images: Nick Hurt

The moments where one is truly silenced by music are too rare — so welcome them wholeheartedly, whether in the midst of writing, harmonizing, hurdling through space, or listening to the entire track on a player select screen.

We caught your acoustic set at The North Door right before your CD Release for I Believe In Everything – what was your thought in putting together that special pre-show?

We really enjoy singing with the Marmalakes and wanted to make a bit more of a public showing out of it. Thankfully they were game and attacked the project with vigorous dedication. I think the performance went pretty darn well... maybe we'll record something for posterity now that we have all these complicated vocal arrangements!

To be honest, it was a pretty arresting experience for many in the audience, how did it feel for you guys?

It felt good... it's a totally different experience to do a show where the audience is still and silent — normally that would be a sign of failure at a club show.  There's certainly an element of risk when you're doing something with such sparse instrumentation; the vocals have to be pretty spot-on and instrumental screw-ups are more noticeable.  The reward is a greater percentage of "spine-tingling" moments, as one audience member put it.  That's pretty rare and exciting for us.

How does the songwriting process work for you guys?  Do you just walk among vintage cars in wide open fields and spontaneously erupt into harmonies?

We keep a few vintage cars on hand in the studio to liven things up a bit, but otherwise we write in pretty tame locales.  We all do a lot of demoing and recording then settle in for the long finessing process on tunes we feel are close to being ready — both live and in the studio.  It's pretty time consuming but we're always immeasurably proud when we feel like we've truly finished a song.

Now that you're on Modern Art Records, rather than your own label, are you concerned about how your music will be presented?  It seems there's no end to artists losing control so how do you safeguard your art?

We actually have an incredible amount of control over our presentation -- we created about 98% of our CD and vinyl packaging ourselves using a bunch of photos we had taken.  Nick has become a pro in Photoshop so he was able to make some really great designs from the band's initial concepts.  Having so much control wasn't actually our original intent, but we're happy it worked out that way since it enabled us to stay close to our vision for the artwork.  We've been recording and editing our own videos as well, so we have a hand in just about everything that comes out of the SPEAK camp at the moment.

Speak band photo

I LOVE the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks and I absolutely think Nakamura and I are both inspired by early Funk and Synthpop, especially Prince.

You have a plan to put out a video every week – is this sheer lunacy or a fun exercise?

Once a week would be total lunacy. Our plan is more like once every two weeks, with some less-time-intensive videos thrown in for flavor.  The process is mostly just really fun for us although we hope people appreciate the videos.  I wish I could reveal future plans but we haven't thought that far ahead.  Fingers crossed that we come up with something before next week!

You seem to be involved with a lot of aspects of making music like silk-screening your EP covers.  Why is this hand-made feel important to you?

It's so easy to get music digitally at this point... we want the physical product to feel truly special so people feel like it's worth the time and money.  We included all the chords with the lyrics in our CD booklet — which ended up being a huge time investment — so that people get a little something extra when they grab the physical CD.

You're influenced by video game music but you don't sound like blip bands or chip music — how do you make your sound human and are you consciously trying to find a more organic connection in that electronic influence?

Beck is my favorite artist when it comes to blending the organic and inorganic.  You're always struggling to find something truly "real" and unadulterated to grasp on to in his music, but somehow it's liberating rather than frustrating.  And I think he's done a great job incorporating chiptunes ("Girl") without it coming off as cheesy or forced, which is a pretty tough line to straddle.  You can tell he has a lot of respect for the art, and hopefully that comes across in our music as well.  I grew up with electronic music, computers, and synthesizers, so incorporating digital sounds into our music is as natural for me as it is for most people to work with guitars.

Do you think legendary video game music composers like Yuzo Koshiro or Masato Nakamura would find a connection with your music, and if so, what?

I LOVE the Sonic the Hedgehog soundtracks and I absolutely think Nakamura and I are both inspired by early Funk and Synthpop, especially Prince.  However, I have to give a shoutout to Yasunori Mitsuda as my all-time favorite video game composer.  A lot of the chord changes and orchestrations I use are culled directly from his work on the Chrono Trigger and Xenogears soundtracks and Japanese RPG music in general. There's a sense of grandeur in his themes that I can't get enough of.

Hurdling ever farther towards infinity, Carl Sagan's gold record, part of the historic 1977 Voyager space mission, is humanity's most complete attempt at describing ourselves for any lifeforms outside Earth that can decipher it. Name some content (in whatever forms) that you'd want to include on such a fantastic archive?

Heavy... I won't even try to list any non-musical content since I'm pretty sure Sagan and his team did that side of things justice. If I were trying to represent a variety of the kinds of music humans make, I'd probably include Bach's Mass in B Minor, some Gamelan, Aphex Twin, the Princess Mononoke Soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi, The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff, D'Gary, Toxic by Britney Spears, Hips Don't Lie, OK Computer, and Dueling Banjos.

Interesting. Sagan did actually include three Bach pieces, though Hips Don't Lie was a serious omission (especially since he can probably time travel).

+ SPEAK website
+ Voyager Golden Record playlist