Engine Down

Silent Uproar: I've been reading your tour journal off and on and it seems like it's been a good tour so far.

All: Yeah.

SU: Though it's been over a month now; is the day after day schedule wearing you down?

Jason: The good thing about this trip is we actually did three weeks and then we were in DC and Richmond for two nights. So, it was kind of like being at home.

SU: Sleeping in your own beds…

Jason: Yeah! And now we only have 8 shows left. So, it was actually like a nice little break.

SU: You played a couple shows with Cursive last year on the Plea For Peace: Take Action Tour…

Jason: We actually played 10 shows…

SU: Oh really? Well, don't they rock?

Keeley: Last night was the first time we played with them since that tour. Now they're touring on The Ugly Organ, and it's like a theater experience. They definitely owe us some PR money, because we pushed that album to everyone.

SU: So, I know that your album came out in April of last year, but we've never been able to ask you questions about it, and I've got a few:

"Demure" seems like a good word to describe your last record, what made your choose the title for this set of songs?

Keeley: Yeah, it is kind of an odd twist. This record is our confidence stage as a band. And it's almost our coming out as musicians, being confident with what we're doing in the band. Whether it's the kind of music we're making together, and just working together. So, Demure is called that to kind of set it off from the last records.

SU: While the songwriting is there on To Bury The Sound Within, sonically, I feel it doesn't compare to Demure. Do you credit that to Brian McTernin or just Engine Down growing as a band? Or both?

Jason: I think it was pretty much… both. We started writing the songs and we thought we needed someone who was going to be able to catch all the subtly. Brian had done a bunch of records for bands we were friends with, like Milemarker. And just hearing those records - the drums sounds were phenomenal.

Keeley: It takes a little more pushing in that environment. The thing about going to the studio is that you will have a tendency to set yourself back. Someone would say, "You should probably turn your amps down, because we're in the studio environment." And then live it's like a totally different thing - like full force all the time. So we've let people tell us that before and we'd say, "Oh, that sounds nice." Then, every record people would come up to us saying live it was so much better. So, Brian said, "let's make this big!"

Jason: That was the game plan: to try to capture what we do live on a record. Obviously we can't get 100%, but we tried to get as close as possible…

Keeley: You can trick yourself into thinking it is (laughs)…

Jason: Instead of doing guitar overdubs, it was like here's the band, here's the songs, now play. We actually recorded it all live, instead doing it separately.

SU: Exactly. I felt Demure as being more basic, featuring less backing vocals and layered instrumentation. Was it a conscious decision to strip down the sound to those inherent elements of the band?

Jason: No one in this band makes conscious decisions. When we went in to write Demure, it wasn't like "wait, I'm not singing any songs." There was no point in writing those songs where I was like, "I want to sing here." It was just the record got written and that's how it came out.

Keeley: Didn't seem like it needed any extra. We didn't just put it on because we hadn't yet. Just 'cause we have the opportunity to put cello on doesn't mean that we should. Once we listened and it sound good we said, "let's keep it!"

SU: Not to be overly critical, because no one would ever want to hear me sing, but it's evident that Keeley's vocals are stronger on Demure. What did you do during those two years between the albums?

Keeley: It's just been experience. We're all really learning after going along and being in a band, with the constant touring. I've never been trained vocally, so it's me learning at a slow pace. Throughout playing at shitty places with no PA and compensating for the studio, it's just been taking a while and I've just building a bit of confidence each time.

SU: "Pantomime" was the first song I heard from the album, and it still stands out to me - it and "Second Of February" hit a little bit harder than the rest. Do you imagine that more aggressive songs will creep into the next album?

Keeley: I think so…

Jason: Yeah, I think new record's going to be [a little like that]. The thing about those songs is that they're tuned down, and we like the way that that sounds. So, I would imagine we would still be writing a Demure record, but with a little more…

SU: Umph?

Jason: Yeah, exactly. You took the words out my mouth…

Cornbread: And I think in the band we've been listening to things have a bit more rock to them…

Keeley: We were discussing this today: nothing has really compared since the early 90's to bands like Drive Like Jehu, Barkmarket and Jesus Lizard - rock bands that are unique. Now the rock bands just all sort of sound generic. They call it rock, but it's not really getting the juices flowing in that it's inspiring and aggressive.

Jason: It's weird. We all listen to those bands anyways. And we did that tour with Shiner, even though that's a little different. But, we were playing a show in Richmond and they started playing the Jesus Lizard over the PA, and it was the first time I had heard that in a live, club atmosphere. And, of course, in Chicago it was on the jukebox. It just seems like everyone of people are longing for those times - there's nothing really rocking like that now. And I hope I'm being an idiot to say that there are bands out there that I haven't heard of yet. But, we're also in the closet a lot of the times…

Keeley: Jason works at a record store, he's definitely more knowledgeable than any of us. But I don't think really know what's going on today…

SU: Well, I see Engine Down songs as kind of taking the opposite approaching towards angst and aggression anyways, as you kind of channel it out through you. Instead of screaming and yelling, you ball it up and fuse it into these somewhat sinister sounding songs…

Keeley: People have short attentions spans and if you throw everything out there [in that aggressive way] - and I could say so many sexual terms right now to explain that - then nothing affects you because it's just a bombardment. So, we like to create music that's kind of on the edge. Some people say they would enjoy it a little more if we would explode and let loose…

Cornbread: We kind of make something where you can absorb it and then work with it from there…

Jason: Back to the sexual (laughs): that's the blue ball part of it. It's like you feel it almost gets to that point and then we just cut it off… it's like a cliffhanger of sorts.

SU: Well, there are so many bands that do the other that it would take away from what Engine Down is doing for you to do that too.

Jason: There are people that want that, but they don't get it. So, it almost turns them off in a way.

Keeley: Yeah, there are those people who are like, "I wish you would explode!" But, then they keep coming back. It's kind of like where someone might wish the ending to a movie were happier, but they might also say "man, that really got me, that's a disturbing ending to a movie."

Jason: That's what I like about "Brushes," [from Under The Pretense Of Present Tense]. It's really tame all the way through and just explodes the last 2 measures or so. That's what I really like about that song. So, we have a song that does that, we don't need to do it anymore.

Keeley: So, who knows? When this comes out, we could flip 180 degrees. But, right now this is good. We're always changing. We do have one new song finished and it's controlled yet kind of going in a more fuzzy way.

SU: You said you were playing a new song on this tour on your website. Is that the only new song you've written or have you had time to come up with others?

Jason: We have some ideas…

Keeley: We've been, how you say, "jamming" (laughs)…

Cornbread: We actually haven't really had a lot time, so we have to schedule it in…

Jason: We have time set aside in the future, but we could only get one done before we left.

Keeley: During the biggest chunk of time we had off between touring, Jonathan was in Europe with his girlfriend, now fiancée. So, Cornbread and I would go out and play for a while, and then Jason would come in. We have a lot of sketches.

Cornbread: We have conceptual ideas of what we want to do…

Keeley: We kind of know who we want to record with; we need the paint, we got to the canvas!

Cornbread: We got the bottle we need the water (laughs)…

SU: Also, your live shows are pretty entertaining. I know you won the Thursday/Poison The Well crowd over when you played here last year. Do you pride yourselves on making the live experience as energetic as possible?

Cornbread: The Poison The Well crowd... that was crazy!

Keeley: I had never seen that band ever, and that night I was like, "Ooh…"

Jason: Those kids were going ape-shit.

Keeley: We were like, "whoa, what's going on?"

Jason: We just try and have as much fun playing as we can…

SU: There's nothing worse than seeing a band playing this crazy music and just standing there.

Jason: Well, there's something to be said about that too. There's something about a band whose music is crazy as hell and they've changed it up by not moving. It's like "gosh, this is so intense."

Keeley: Depends on how you're doing it…

Jason: If you're doing it just to do it… you know?

Cornbread: I don't think we feel very intimidated by playing those shows, because it just gives a variety of tastes. And people don't want the same thing all the time.

Jason: We always kind of play in front of diverse crowds anyways…

Keeley: It's funny that you say "entertaining." Because we're just playing with as much feeling as we can, just as it's moving us and as [the song is] going along. The weird thing, especially on this tour, is that there have been nights where it's been so on, I felt so good, and people enjoyed - [they'd say] "it was so entertaining to watch you guys, you were really into it." And then, there were nights when we probably had the most mechanical errors of all time; guitars were blowing up on us. It was worst performance we've ever had, it sounded so bad, and we were giving our all to make it work. People still came up to us saying that it was the best they'd ever seen us. We played the songs so wrong, but even though things went wrong it still worked out.

Jason: It's just being in a band for so long. You've done the shows where everything goes wrong and you know you have to do something else to make them exciting. Like, Jonathan was messing up in DC and I had to give him a new battery. I said, "you notice Cornbread and I haven't messed up at all." So he threw a battery at me (laughs)…

Cornbread: And then I looked down and my snare head was broken…

Jason: And so the one person who went into the show with a broken bass amp… made it out alive.

Keeley: Scott free, right!

Jason: So, I shouldn't say that, 'cause I'll pay for it tonight.

SU: I read something about a DVD last year, and I saw on your site it was coming in late spring. Is that still in the works?

Cornbread: Yeah we just saw footage of the Sleepytime Trio. It's definitely all there it just has to be edited together.

Jason: And they have to get a plot for it, so it's just not thrown together…

Keeley: Hopefully there's going to be a big premiere show. There are talks about it, and it's going to be fun. We actually sat down for 7 hours straight and had to do all of our extra footage on our own. It was the longest day of out lives (laughs).

Jason: And we ended up not getting any show footage. It was all just dorking around.

SU: Not that I see you morphing into some pre-packaged, corporate-backed group…

Jason: Maybe we'll do that, because that's what no one would expect (laughs)…

SU: But, is a moderate amount of mainstream success something you strive for in the future?

Jason: Well, we're moving labels. Our new record is going to be a on a new label. It has a little bit more to do with what publicity they can do, and distribution. It's the problem that we're dealing with now, and Lovitt understands. They were the first person we told before we started looking. So, I think this new record is going to get more of a push that way. But, we're just going to continue to tour as much as we're touring. We just need a little bit more of that extra push. I think on this tour we're kind of playing in front of the same people. We want the world to hear Engine Down, without having to put on the side of a Coke can.

Keeley: The loyal fans that keep coming, it means a lot to us that we mean so much to them. We can tell it's more of a personal thing. It's not we're the hip band and we're pulling a hip person and then all their hip friends. If just more people could hear it, people would be communicating and spreading the word…

Jason: We're not going to be one of those bands on the radio and be accepted by the general populous. We're going to pick up more of those fans that are looking for something a little new.

SU: Since you guys have quite a reputation in the Virginia scene and there seem to be a lot of great bands in the area, have you ever thought about bringing any acts out with you and using your name to break new Richmond bands?

Jason: We brought Gregor Samsa out for six shows of our tour and we did DC and Richmond with them.

Keeley: They're phenomenal…

Jason: It had been a long time since we've haven't been on a support tour, and that we could actually bring someone [with us]. The thing is that with Richmond there are 30,000 bands all sharing the same people. Bands last for a little while, some last longer. So, it just happened to pan out where we could take Gregor Samsa.

Keeley: Richmond has a good music scene, but they don't tour. That's the problem: they aren't out there as much as we are.

Jason: Our first couple tours were with other Lovitt bands, played with Four Hundred Years a lot and bunch of shows with The Rah Bras.

Keeley: Not a lot of people are willing to gamble their job and everything. Richmond will be Seattle soon… just kidding (laughs).

SU: Well, a few days after the tour is over, Keeley and Jonathan jump over to do the Denali tour and work on the new album. What's the future for Engine Down look like? And what will Jason and Cornbread be up to?

Jason: Denali is recording. And then when they're done recording, we start writing.

Cornbread: Well, I'm playing in Zetamale and we're actually playing a lot of the shows with Denali. So, throughout April and some of May… Then after that, I don't know… take time to become a master magician or some shit (laughs).

Keeley: And they're going to be writing, because that's their homework…

Cornbread: Exactly, I'm going to come with drum ideas…

Keeley: The stuff he's been doing in the van on his laptop is crazy!

Jason: I'm just going to work. And I'm in a band with a friend of mine called The Catholic Church, which is just keyboard and bass. It's going to be interesting. He's a good friend of mine…

SU: A crazy duo like Hella or Lightning Bolt?

Jason: Kind of like Suicide… it's not going to be crazy. We're going to have drums on some of it. It's definitely in that - and I'm going to bite my tongue for saying this - vermiform realm, where it's quirky. People are going to really like it, or hate it.

Keeley: Yeah. Imagine two guys that work at a record store together all the time… and they have a band!

Jason: Yeah, exactly. Jaded as shit (laughs)…

Keeley: Only a couple people can like them - "No, you can't like us!"

Jason: Marty, the other guy, did a split with Catholic Church on one side and Gravity is re-releasing it. So, it's that kind of stuff… but it's going to be fun.

SU: And the last question is for Cornbread: does your Mom call you Cornbread?

Cornbread: She doesn't. But, my Mom is actually going to be here tonight too, and my grandfather and my father…

Jason: We're actually really lucky to a very supportive family. Keeley's Mom was at the show in Richmond. Cornbread's parent's tonight…

Keeley: My Mom brought us a dolly to use - "don't hurt your backs!"

SU: Well, that's all I've got… thanks.

All: Right on! Awesome…

Mar 29 2003