DIY whachamacallit rock and rollers, SeepeopleS are fronted by auteur and lead visionary, Will Bradford. Actually, that’s a pretty heady and pretentious title for one of the scenes more inventivewell, what does one call Bradford and his Asheville band? Originally, a jamband called Cosmic Dilemma, the band would metamorphosize into SeepeopleS, move from Massachusetts to North Carolina and release three studio albums that would progressively distance themselves from their origins but build a solid, timeless foundation of incredible ear candy music. The band is also an incendiary live unit with an incredibly complicated sound-and-sample-and-loop system that would rival the early Pink Floyd or Radiohead during its early 21st Century pop rock mayhem experimentations. The band’s new release, appropriately titled Apocalypse Cow Volume I, is another huge step forward for a band that is on the road towards mastering intimate atmospheres within a very large sonic canvas. Jambands.com caught up with songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist, sampler, synth/piano/sound effect head guru, Will Bradford near the end of their spring tour run in Colorado in a diverse discussion about former Pixie and current SeepeopleS producer Will Holland, Morphine, Flaming Lips, soundchecks and soundbites, evil corporations and subversive children’s records.
RR: How did Cosmic Dilemma evolve into SeepeopleS?
WB: We started as Cosmic Dilemma in 1997 and toured the Northeast. It was definitely more of a jamband, improvisationally based. There were five membersthree including Tim [Haney, drums], Dan [Ingenthron, bass, vocals] and myself, I guess kind of musically were feeling a different direction than what we were playing. I don’t know. I think we might have accidentally had some rehearsals where just us three might have showed up and we really, really liked what we heard. It took off from there. We also didn’t sign what was the greatest of recording contracts with Naked Ear Records. There was a sort of legal impetus towards running away from that sort of legal commitment by changing the name of the band but that’s what we did. It was a combination of legal and musical interests that ended up being the foundation of the beginning [of SeepeopleS] and it took off from there.
RR: What was the origin of the first album, For the Good of the Nation?
WB: “For the Good of the Nation” is actually a slang term me and my friends used to use forI don’t know if that’s even printablewhen somebody takes it upon themselves to provide for the party, for the good of the nation. It sort of fits and a lot of people think it’s a political thing. On the album, there are definitely some sociopolitical lyrics so it fit well with our little private joke and what we were trying to say with that record.
RR: You were able to get Morphine sax player, Dana Colley to guest on the record.
WB: Yeah. Our manager, at the time, bumped into him at a club and gave him our music. At the time, we were recording and we really wanted to get some baritone sax on there. We’d actually been looking for some numbers and somebody gave us his number and, geez that would be the most ideal person to have putting baritone sax on our record. Our manager went into a club, gave him our music and a couple of weeks later, he invited us over to his house and said he had been working on some parts. When we got there, he had demoed his own versions of what he was going to do on the album. We’ve definitely met our fair share of famous people, people who were major influences on us but, for me, I had never been more star struck. Morphine had a huge influence on my songwriting and listened to them from almost 14 to this day. I absolutely love every one of their records. Having him in the studio was a religious experience, I suppose. (laughs) It was a special moment for us, for sure.
RR: You had a bit of a leap forward on The Corn Syrup Conspiracy with your studio mastery and guest musicians including Colley, Tim Reynolds and Dave Shuls.
WB: It’s pretty complicated. The original lineup took a hiatus for a couple of years [late 2002 to late 2004]. I guess you could call it a tumultuous periodpersonally, I suppose. (laughs) To be totally frank and honest with you, I don’t remember that much from recording it. The main shift was that Corn Syrup was Will Holland [SeepeopleS, Pixies, Devo producer] and my creation. It had a lot of different players on it. It was very much entirely a studio creation, definitely something that was conceived in the studio and built in the studio. A lot of the songs, nowespecially with the new record and the first recordwere ones that were translated from the stage.
RR: Dan Ingenthron and Tim Haney returned to SeepeopleS and also contributed to the Apocalypse Cow sessions. How did that go?
WB: Will Holland and I have been working in the studio for so long that he’s become like a fifth member of the band. Very little changed with our relationship; it was just having [Ingenthron and Haney] back, having a band and people who really understood their own instruments (laughs) instead of a combination of different people playing different things. It’s a slightly more live record with having the guys back. On the same token, Will and I and the rest of the guys have certainly gotten pretty used to the studio. We like to take advantage of the difference between the studio and the stage.
RR: How has the April spring tour gone for the band?
WB: It’s going good. I’m a little tired. (laughs) The weather’s been pretty nutty but nothing newa pretty typical tour. It takes a lot of gear. I would safely say that we are probably dragging along some of the most production for a band our size. It’s a lot gearsamplers, keyboardsand it takes a lot with early load-ins and a lot of setup time but we always figure out a way to kind of work. I would say that we do as much teching as we do playing. (laughs)
RR: There is definitely a well-crafted, meticulous sound on Apocalypse Cow. How difficult is it to translate that material to the stage?
WB: You knownot at all. The way we look at the stage, we approach it that we’re there to not only play music that we love and that we think is good but to share in an energy and really give a lot of energy. With the amount of energy that we bring to the stage, it actually isn’t too hard. Like I said, taking a lot time in soundchecks and soundchecks tend to be pretty long and headphones and loops and all that sort of stuff. Everybody in the band feels pretty darn comfortable on stage so other than a few songs, a couple songs that we haven’t quite tried yet on stage, we’re pretty close. “Say Goodbye” would be onesome of them are pretty difficult. It’ll make its debut on the next tour. We’re close but I’m kind of a perfectionist. It needs to be perfect before we leave it there. Obviously, we can’t bring a string duo. (laughs)
RR: What about something like “The Sun is With You” from Apocalypse Cow where you’ve got a Brian Wilson thing going on with the multi-tracked harmonies?
WB: That one, too. That actually is going to make its debut live but there are certain songs that we’ve rearranged, I guess, in the tradition of Ween. It’s just not possible. We rearrange it and it’s in a different way. Off the last record Corn Syrup Conspiracy, “Nothing Left to Pawn” would be the most obvious example. Our live version is completely and utterly different than the studio version. As long as it gets the message across and it works.
RR: What about Last Sane Man” and “Once a Dream,” which have an intimate sound but a large ambient atmosphere? How would those two translate to the stage?
WB: “Once a Dream” probably won’t see the stage. Maybe at a certain level of the band but there are certain songs that are so intimate and just not the kind of things that fit live. Unfortunately, when our band plays at our level, it would be a lot to think that everyone there is really listening as closely as it needs to beespecially, a song like “Once a Dream.” That’s a pretty mellow tune. “Last Sane Man”we pretty much do as is; that is in the regular rotation.
RR: How has the new material been received?
WB: Great, so far. It makes you feel good to know that people still like rock and roll, good ol’ rock and rollcertain songs maybe a little more than others. It’s different for each town, different audiences. We’re one of those bands that play to so many different audiences; we don’t really fit into any sort of market or genre. One night, we’ll be playing to a very hippie/jambandy crowd and another night, we’ll be playing to 14-year-old kidsangry, disillusioned children, indie rock kids so it’s all over the place. It all depends on where we are and what kind of audience that we’re playing and certain tunes definitely go over better.
RR: How do you feel about that audience diversity? Do you feel there will be a time when you’ll really have to focus on a certain market?
WB: No. Even if there was, I won’t do it. (laughs) No, it’s the one thing that makes us interesting and I would never sacrifice that. We’ve had people in the past who’ve been interested in signing the band, working with the band and that is what turned them off. Hopefully, someday we’ll find a label that sees that as a strength.
RR: I hear a lot of Flaming Lips in your sound and do-it-yourself attitude.
WB: Of course. I’ll admit my love for the Flaming Lips.
RR: Do you think you’ll be able to forge an entire career without any compromises?
WB: I really hope so. (laughter) I will say that it’ll be that way or nothing. Everyone in this band has been doing it a long time and we’re getting a little older. It’s just one of those things where it wouldn’t be worth it if we had to do that. That’s not why we do it. We’ve been told that. There’s been many times when we realize it would be a little easier if we did that ourselves but you know, it’s totally not us. We’re one of those bands that learned every lesson the hard way so having done this so long there’s just no way. If I knew that’s how it had to be, I just don’t think I could do it.
RR: What is the advantage of having your own Razcalz Records?
WB: One, it’s out of necessity. At the same token, we’re the only onesthe people in our organization, our familywho truly understand the band and what’s important to it and don’t have to answer to anyone. And like you saidwe don’t need to compromise but can still make records and can still get the music out there. The need for a record label is just not as important. I think where record labels serve a purpose is really just paying bucks for advertising. If there was a label that would let us do what we wanted to do, paid money to get our message out there and pay us so that we’re not starving musicians, (laughs) then we’d be more than happy. Am I counting on that? Definitely not. With Razcalz Records, we don’t really need any of those people. Things can get better and sometimes, opportunities present themselves but it’s just best to make those opportunities yourself and not worry about it. I think a lot of bands spend so much time stressing on how they’re going to get somebody to do this for them. You just get tired of waiting so just do it yourself. The Flaming Lips are a pretty lucky band considering they’ve got a wide-open contract with one of the most notoriously vicious record labels of all timeWarner Brothers. I’m not quite sure how many times that can happen. (laughs) I’m not counting on Warner Brothers calling us any time soon.
RR: You include intriguing little interludes on your records. Where do you find those brief bits of material like the two excerpts included on Apocalypse Cow where the little kid is being told that “words are all old-fashioned?”
WB: I could never tell you because that would ruin it. (laughs) I used to live in Brookline so I used to frequent the Brookline Public Library and it has one of the most fantastic audio sound bite libraries in the world, actually. I think it might be the biggest. I’m one of those weird people that find and frequent a lot of thrift stores and stuff like that. You tend to find some of the more twisted stuff; you tend to find children’s educational records. Some of the scariest things you could have ever imagined being created are aimed towards the most innocent and youngest of our population but it makes for good sound bites. (laughs)
RR: Why did the band move from Massachusetts to Asheville a few years back?
WB: I love Boston forever. It’s a great city but it’s a hard city to stay focused in. There’s a lot going on, there’s good and bad influences and it can be tough just to keep your head above water. It’s a tough place to be a band. Once the band got on the road, it really became extremely difficult to live in Boston. It was a natural decision. Also, I’m half Thai so I have a solid amount of equatorial blood in me and New England is (laughs) not so conducive for the need for warmth.
RR: How would you describe the Asheville music scene?
WB: It’s fantastic. For a town the size that it is, it is unbelievableso many great venues, so many great bands and every kind of band that I can think of, really. It reminds me of Burlington back in the day. Asheville has a lot of different bands doing a lot of different things. It’s really cool; all the bands know each other; people come out to each other’s shows; it’s a really interesting vibe. You don’t have any one set thing that’s the popular thing there. There are all different kinds of bands that are doing pretty well there. It’s a hot spot and I think people know it, too. Hopefully, it’ll last. Hopefully, that sort of innocent stage before it getswhateverI hope it stays that way.
RR: They aren’t from AshevilleGeorgia, actuallybut I see you’re co-headlining a gig in Huntsville, Alabama on May 19 with Perpetual Groove. That’ll be an interesting night. How did you form a relationship with that band?
WB: Yeah. We’re good friends. I can’t even remember how we ended up getting hooked up with them. I think their manager might have bought our CD at one point. We played with them years and years ago in Athens. I think they’ve really liked the music and we started opening up for them here and there. We did a tour with them up the East Coast. They’re really open-minded guys, a blast to hang out with and a great banda very forward-thinking band so I think that’s two bands that get along pretty darn well. It’s just funfunfun in that old school kind of way.
RR: Where do you see your band in a couple of years?
WB: I have no idea. I don’t even think I can think about that stuff, anymore, to be honest. It would be nice to have the band gain some more fans, play some bigger shows but if it doesn’t happen, I think we’re still going to slug it out and keep doing it. I think we’re pretty happy playing the music that we’re playing right now. It’s certainly more fun to play to bigger crowds but that’s assuming that people get and like our music. I stopped banking on that years ago. When people do like the music, I’m just pleasantly surprised which is better. (laughs)
RR: A philosophy that is near-and-dear to me is also important to SeepeopleS. How important is crafting a complete album in a singles-oriented download world?
WB: It still blows my mind. I’m all for the technology of downloadingit has nothing to do with that. It bums me out that it has become that way. Some of the most revelatory, beautiful experiences that I’ve ever had personally with music were discovering _Abbey Road, Dark Side of the Moon, In the Court of the Crimson King_any great rock album. There’s just that feeling. It’s the same feeling I get when I read a fantastic novelan overall feeling of revelation and inspiration and all of those things that are really important. I think if I read those books in chapters, I might get it but I think, at a certain point, I’d probably put those chapters together and read it as a whole. It kind of bums me out. I see where it comes from and I also see that sometimes bands just don’t really focus on albums so I don’t blame people for downloading a couple of songs. It will always be a philosophy that we have that we’re going to go into a studio and make something that is a whole body of musiceven though, it’s broken into chapters or songs, it’s still one composition. All my favorite bands put out great records. I think it’s important.
RR: Volume I hit in late March. When can we expect Volume II of Apocalypse Cow?
WB: Volume II is already in pre-production. I think that when it hits shelves, it probably has less to do with when it’s actually finished and more to do with when management deems it the right time to release the record. I don’t know when it’ll actually see the light of day. We’ll definitely be paying off our debts for Apocalypse Cow Volume I, I assume, for a little while so I can’t say when it’ll come out. It should be ready to come out within a year; it’s all written; it’s already started so, generally, when we start things, we get pretty obsessive and compulsive about it. It’s funny. Most of the time, we finish 90% of the record within the first month to two months and the last 10% of the record takes around a year and a half. (laughter) I don’t know why that is.
_Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com