Silversun Pickups talk up Better Nature

By Robert Frezza, Contributing Writer

Alternative rock act Silversun Pickups formed in 2000 in and around Los Angeles and the Silver Lake area. The quartet consists of Brian Aubert, Nikki Monninger, Christopher Guanlao and Joe Lester. “Christopher and I joined sometime in late 2001 or early 2002. The rest of the band are Los Angeles natives. I grew up in Seattle, WA and then Indio, CA. But yes, we’d all moved to Silver Lake post college and had been playing music in various bands by the time we got together,” states keyboardist Joe Lester.

The first project the band released was the “Pikul EP.” The band’s sound has built upon that ever since, but the rock quartet has been pushing the envelope at the same time. Lester mentions every record they put out leads to the next experience. “We have matured, as people, and as musicians, since that EP. Pikul was essentially a document of the first four or five years of the band and our first attempt to put down on tape the swirl of ideas that we had about making music. With each successive record, I think our taste and interests have expanded, and our desire to experiment and push the band and the music in different directions is evident,” says Lester.

Critics and fans alike immediately compared Silversun Pickups to the Smashing Pumpkins in their early stages of their career due to the bands’ similar sounds. It is something the band never gets tired of hearing though.

“It never bothered us; we were flattered to be compared to a successful band. It was an easy (if somewhat lazy) comparison. I think our identity as a band has developed to the point that comparisons like that have fallen by the wayside,” Lester admits.

By the time the band was ready to record their new LP, Better Nature, in 2014, the only pressure they were feeling from was from themselves.

“We approach every new album with the question of whether we have something new to say. We have never thought in terms of whether new songs will be as popular as older songs, or whether a certain song is a single, or anything like that. I feel like if we approached things in that way, it would be creatively paralyzing. It may work for other artists, but thinking that way is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive for us,” states Lester.

The writing and recording process comes to the band in many different ways throughout the years—whether it be in the studio or on tour while at sound check.

“Most often, Brian will have a riff idea, or a basic verse/chorus structure, and we’ll take that and try to build it out and tweak it until it feels like a song. He’ll usually have “hummable” version of a vocal melody, but the lyrics are almost always the last thing finalized, usually right before we record them,” Lester says.

The band is one of the few last standing American bred rock bands from the early 2000s that did not fall into any trendy cliché, but helped build rock’s credibility from the ground up again and did so organically. Lester reinforces that rock is not dead and there are pockets of it that prove it is alive and well.

“I think if you take a long view of music, you see that everything moves in cycles. Every few years, people are excited to declare that rock (or pop, or hip-hop, or whatever) is dead, because maybe it feels, in the moment, that something else is ascendant. I think that rock, like most forms of popular music, is incredibly resilient, and always shifting. From Radiohead and Arcade Fire to Courtney Barnett and The War on Drugs, to Angel Olsen and Carseat Headrest… I could go on for paragraphs about how many new, vital, important rock artist there are. Rock is never dead; if you think it is, you’re just looking for it in the wrong places.”

Lester also says that the music industry is constantly evolving and being ahead of the curve is key since it is always morphing and changing.

“Honestly, the music industry has basically been the Wild West for most of our career as a band. It has changed so drastically, and so quickly, that anything I predict would probably be miles off. The internet and streaming have changed the industry in such a profound way that I think everyone is still trying figure out what the way forward looks like. I think you will see a lot more artists deciding to self-release their work and keep control of their touring, publishing, and merchandising. Since things are changing so quickly, being self-contained and nimble just makes more sense.”

Before Silversun Pickups go into the studio again, they have a Puerto Rico benefit to play in Los Angeles and their first time playing Brooklyn Steel.

“I’m really looking forward to Brooklyn Steel because we’ve never been there. We have heard good things about it, and we have only played a handful of shows in Brooklyn over the years. Honestly, playing shows in New York is always awesome; we’d be happy to play on the sidewalk or in someone’s basement,” Lester laughs.

Silversun Pickups play Terminal 5 November 15 and Brooklyn Steel on November 17.

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