SU: You guys just got back from playing SXSW. How was that for you? Did you go see any other bands while you were there?
Casey: Yeah, the SXSW show was the most attended show we've done. Packed house and photographers.
SU: Did you talk to people afterwards? What was the overall response you got?
Finn: We actually got out of there as fast as possible.
Casey: It's just chaos. But a lot of people told me later they thought it was good. Luckily i was there long enough to get some feedback. Some friends of mine were there, so I got to talk to them.
SU: (To Casey) Now you did a poster show while you were there too, right?
Casey: Yeah, so did Dale.
SU: How did that turn out for you?
Dale: Just about right.
SU: Enough for the trip out?
Casey: Well, i mean it didn't cost me much to get me there this time cause it was band gas that got me there. And I got to stay with a friend so I didn't have to pay for a hotel.
SU: So you left the club, but did you get to see anyone else there?
Casey: I saw The Immortals, Lee County Killers, Dj Jester.
Finn: It's kind of exhausting. I mean you go to a club, and they give you free beer at noon.
SU: And you're hosed for the rest of the day.
SU: So you guys didn't just start out. I mean you got together in 2003, so for people who aren't local and who don't know who you are, give my your best patented description of what kind of music you play.
Finn: Noisy rock. I mean, it's pretty noisy, but it's definitely got pretty normal structure, catchy but loud and noisy.
SU: Do you hate that question more than anything else?
Finn: No, that's just about as succinct of an answer as I've been able to come up with.
SU: Well it's actually pretty damn succinct so there you have it. Now, I went online and checked out “War Is On the Stereo.” And in that, you play pretty much what I've heard it described as “adult music for adults.”
Casey: That's something a friend of ours put in a jokey bio for us, and it's all over the press now.
Finn: We learned that you can't be humourous in your bio because no one will get the joke.
Dale: Don't joke with the press.
Finn: So do you have the new record [Wrath of Circuits] or what?
SU: Yeah, the new one. It's really good.
SU: I'm always impressed with the quality of music in this area. What do you guys think is so special about the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area?
Casey: The people. I mean, for the most part it's college basketball. There are just a lot of good bands. A lot of people who liked the area that they stuck around long enough and either went from being in bands to working in clubs and creating a really nice network of approachable people. People who are fun to play with and it's fun to play at their clubs. It's better than a lot of cities where there are little cliques. Everybody just seems to be patting each other on the back more than in a lot of towns.
SU: I was talking to a guy who plays for another local band, and he was telling me that he has heard nothing but glowing things about you guys – your music and you as people.
Finn: It's really flattering. I mean I know the three of us (Finn, Casey & Robert) grew up in North Carolina, going to high school and being able to see these amazing local bands playing shows, and they you see them eating dinner and they're still normal guys in great bands.
SU: So Dale, where are you from?
Dale: I grew up in Montana. I came here via Seattle and San Francisco.
SU: What made you land in North Carolina?
Dale: A long, complicated boring story.
Casey: He had to move out of the van he'd been living in.
SU: Right – down by the river eating government cheese?
Dale: Drinking a lot of beer. Making a lot of noise.
Casey: Dale toured extensively in his old band before he got here.
Dale: Like basically the last year we were actively touring, I didn't really have an address. I would come here between tours, and then when we stopped touring, all my stuff was here.
Finn: So you were here while Steel Pole Bath Tub was still around?
Finn: I didn't know that...now I know that.
SU: See? This interview was good for something. Now I hear that you guys do a mean Elvis Costello impression. [A local venue, Kings Barcade] hosts an annual 3-day event in December called The Great Cover-up featuring local bands and members of local bands in a variety of configurations covering major groups and playing a set of that group's songs dressed as those artists – it's a damn good time.]
Casey: That's Finn.
Finn: Yeah, that was just me. Me and members of Jett Rink.
Casey: It was pretty phenomenal. I saw it.
SU: Do you like doing things like that? Do you think it's cool to be involved in stuff like that in the local music community?
Casey: I got asked to be in a Jesus Lizard cover band, and I really wanted to do that, but I just didn't. I really wanted to do that. I love the Jesus Lizard. And yeah, that would have been a lot of fun.
SU: So what about the rest of you? Do you like being involved in stuff like that?
Finn: I did it four years in a row, and Robert and I did the first three. The thing that's awesome about it is that you get to learn a new skill. I mean like when we did Thin Lizzy, I had to learn how to play guitar solos. When we did The Replacements, I had to learn how to get really drunk and play. Elvis Costello was probably the best because those things are really hard to sing. And actually we recorded the CD that came out in October (2004) the week after that show, so my voice was really shot. It made me realize how people really do, I mean, that it's an instrument. Like you have to take care of it and think about it in certain ways. But it's cool cause you get to play with friends and goof around.
SU: Do you think it's more fun to do shows like that or is it more fun to play your own music?
Finn: I mean, it's a totally different thing. Playing music in a serious band is fun, but it's also sometimes really stressful. Whereas sometimes for just like a month and practicing and having fun can be more relaxing. I mean, it's work, but it's rewarding too.
SU: So you guys are on a Canadian label. What do you think that they bring to the table that maybe a domestic label wouldn't be able to offer you?
Casey: Well, the main thing was that they were more than willing to master our demo as an EP, which we wanted to do. We didn't want to re-record those songs and stick them on an album, and they were ready to do that almost immediately. Like, very immediately. I mean, I had to finish laying out the artwork while we were in a van traveling and got that out really quick.
Robert: I'm not sure we chose them over anyone else.
Finn: Well, there were offers – loose offers. But we realized that they need us because they don't have any American bands, and so from my perspective, we could be on an American label and be just another band or we could be on this label with people who are trying to establish this presence and will give us what we need and enable us to things.
Casey: They're really supportive.
Finn: And they really like the band.
SU: That's definitely what you want.
Finn: When we finally met them last December, it was really validating because the two guys who championed us are just really, really cool. And they're our peers basically.
SU: I have a friend who wanted me to ask you specifically why [local favorite] “Paid In the Escalade” was not on the full-length. And have you talked to Cadillac about licensing that song because I think you've got a pretty good opportunity there.
Casey: I'd like to know that as well, but Finn decided he was through with that song. But I wanted to record it.
Finn: I was done with it. I just thought it was...
Robert: The guitar solo was roaring.
Finn: Yeah, I just didn't want to have to replicate that guitar solo.
Robert: The growler.
Finn: I think it was a sarcastic thing. I got tired of seeing these gigantic vehicles. And it was suppose to be “ironical” (laughs) but after a while I was just like, this isn't gonna work.
SU: But actually, having Cadillac license it would be pretty “ironical.”
Finn: That would be diabolical.
Casey: And lucrative.
Finn: If we could just have four of them.
SU: But then I'd have to throw eggs at them cause they're too fuckin big.
Dale: They have a coating and lasers that shoot anything that fires at them.
SU: They're always thinking man.
SU: So I know you guys have opened for Ted Leo and this show you're opening for French Kicks, which is like, the other end of the spectrum. Who would be your ideal touring mates.
SU: Go with reality man.
Robert: Eric B. & Rakim.
Dale: David Lynch.
SU: How about a basketball question, since that's what this area is known for. Who do you all pull for?
Casey: Carolina [UNC-Chapel Hill]
Dale: I don't watch it. Which one's the Wolfpack?
All: State [NCSU]
Dale: See, I used to work in the library at State, so I pulled for them.
Casey: I like to see Duke get smashed.
SU: So what's the coolest show you've ever played?
Robert: Maybe the coolest place we played was this place in Montreal called Casa del Popolo. There was nobody there, but it was just a really cool place, and the people were really nice.
Casey: Oh I remember a really good show. It was at in Connecticut.
Finn: It was last July, and we didn't have anything out. In hindsight, it was a really bad idea.
Casey: This was, like, our second tour for our demo.
Finn: We just went to do it, and we played in all these clubs, and it was kind of miserable. No baths, not getting paid. Them making more money off us than we were getting paid. But we did this free show in Waterbury, Connecticut. So we were like, “Great, a free show.” And they hadn't had any shows in a really long time. And the room was really small and cramped and hot. We all drank a gallon of water during the show. But the guy who runs it is just this old guy who loved our demo.
Casey: He was totally into it, and he rattled off, like, every record we were into. He was like, “Oh, I hear a little of this and this and this.” And we were like, “Yeah, we've got all those records!” So it was really cool. And they passed the hat at the end of the show.
Finn: We made more there than anywhere else.
SU: That's very cool.
Dale: Plus the place in Toronto.
Casey: Oh, the Wavelength show at Sneaky D's. They have a booking collective called Wavelength, and they put on the hipper, indie touring bands or whatever. Yeah, that was a really enthusiastic crowd.
Finn: We were told that we were privileged. There's this guy who's a hairdresser, and he's writhing in front of me and slapping the stage. And I turned to the sound guy and said, “Could we get this guy to stop?” And he was like, “Oh man, you guys are really privileged to have him out.” Apparently, he's this hairdresser who used to come to shows on a regular basis, and he does this sort of ballet dancing, and he hadn't been seen in a year, but he came to our show.
Casey: He came up to me as I was plugging in and said, “What is music to you?” And I was like, uh, fun? And he said, “No – it is the gift of life!”
SU: Those Canadians can be freakin weird!
Dale: And we got to play with this band of 13-yr-olds whose parents had to come with them. We opened for them.
SU: Ooooooo. Ok, explain the line “I am a man of the people, and people are food.”
Finn: Man, talk about cutting to the chase!
Robert: I've been waiting for someone to ask about lyrics!
SU: Ok, so go for it.
Finn: There's no literal specific meaning. The song is called “Foreign Friendster.” I was the only person I know who wasn't on Friendster, and I found the whole thing a little creepy. You know, it's like during the time, the war, I just thought it would be funny to think about Saddam Hussein having a Friendster profile. Or Osama Bin Laden. So I thought it was a fairly negative comment on the state of humanity.
SU: You guys write a lot of pretty heavy-duty criticism. Do you think that's just the nature of the beast right now? Are you setting out to say those things or is it a result of things just going to hell in a handbag?
Finn: Lyrically, yeah.
Casey: But it's not a mission of the band.
Finn: It's just an expression of or reaction. I mean, I don't see any reason to write songs about girls.
Casey: Because men are the only people interesting enough to write about really.
Finn: No, I mean about relationships. Or bands who write songs about writing songs. It just seems like a waste of energy. But there really is no clear intent.
SU: It's fun to watch the smiles pass between you cause I have no idea what's going through your minds.
Casey: Dale looks at Casey; Casey looks at Robert...and so on.
SU: Ok, so tell me about your complex arrangements in the studio.
Robert: We record a song, and it sounds kinda boring, and I have an idea. Ok, well maybe it doesn't sound boring, but I have an idea of the way it might or should sound. I have billions of ideas, and some of them pan out or are accepted.
SU: But seriously, how does that work?
Casey: Robert conducted woodwinds on our record.
Robert: I have a keyboard part, and we have friends who play woodwinds, and it was kinda cool for them to play my keyboard part on woodwinds. So we did that, and it worked. If you give someone more time, the more you try to squeeze out of them, so that became problematic at times.
Finn: Robert is our secret weapon. Well, these two [Robert & Dale].
SU: Yeah, now at what point do you come in Dale?
Dale: I'm kind of the icing, the decoration. I come in at the very end.
SU: So you literally come in at the end? Because if you listen to the record, it does sound like the three parts [drums, bass, guitar] are already laid down and finished, and then you're layered on top of it.
Finn: It kind of fills in some gaps when things get boring. But he doesn't just throw stuff out.
Dale: How I go about writing my parts is kind of different from how what it's like conventionally as a band writing songs. A lot of times, they'll give me a cd, and I'll put it on auto-repeat in my house and clean or something. And I'll hear something and go “Oh,” at stuff that sounded really good there and put a little post-it note on that tape. Then I feed that into a sampler.
SU: Now, you're all big thinkers and write some serious songs, so if you were a boy band, who would be the cute.
Robert: Aren't we a boy band?
Casey: We are a boy band. We all have our own t-shirts.
SU: I'm just gonna stop that question right there cause you've taken all of the fun out of it.
Casey: Yeah, we can derail that.
Finn: Maybe we could come up with a name for our boy band.
Casey: Like N.E.I.N.?
SU: Now was that true that you came up with the name of your band because you thought that the ring wraiths from Lord of the Rings was spelled differently?
Finn: Who told you that?
SU: It was online, from another interview. I believe you were the one doing the talking.
Casey: It was suggested, and we just left it. Cause it looks like a number, and it's two languages – it's too much!
SU: Yeah, I took six years of German, and I have people saying “Oh yeah, cool, The Neen [long “e”].
Finn: Yeah, we also get The Nane [long “a”].
Casey: We were pulling up for a show in Virginia, and someone came up and said, “I love the Nane.” The what?
SU: So we'll close with this. What's the hardest part of getting your name out there right now.
Finn: One of the things that frustrates me the most is playing live and just going on tour and showing up somewhere where you've got a sound man who's got a ponytail and probably a stoner, who just wants to drink some beers and hang out with his boys. And he doesn't understand, and doesn't even really want to understand what Dale's doing. I mean I've ended up telling people, “Just think of it as another guitar.” Because people will just kind of bury it in the mix.
SU: And it's pretty integral.
Finn: Well I think it is. It's so good. And if they spend some time. It just sucks ...
Casey: ...basically that we don't have enough money to have our own sound man.
Casey: But I guess the hardest part is still playing little shows where only a couple of people show up, and you don't get any money for gas. That's when you feel the struggle.
Finn: Like Rodney Dangerfield said – no respect.
Dale: And then he died.
SU: Well I'd say that's a good place to end this. Thanks guys.