interview by Michael McCarthy
Yesterday’s #albumoftheday was Unsaved Progress by Double Experience: http://www.loveispop.com/reviews/albumoftheday-review-double-experience-unsaved-progress/ It’s one of my favorite albums of 2016 thus far and I’m sure it will be in my top 20 when I write my best of 2016 list at the end of the year. The way they mix elements of everything from Panic! At The Disco to Silverchair to Weezer to Queens of the Stone Age is nothing shy of brilliant and if you like any of those bands then you’d be wise to listen to their new album and, of course, read this interview, which was completed by the ban’ds songwriters, guitarist Brock Tinsley and vocalist/bassist Ian Nichols.
What is the story behind your new album’s title, Unsaved Progress? Did you lose some of what you recorded at some point when you were making it?
BT: We lost something much worse, which was time. Being in an up-and-coming band means you’re operating at a level where it’s impossible to separate young professionals or complete fly-by-night amateurs. So even though today we can chart our exponential growth from our last album, making that climb from moment-to-moment involved starting over every day with contacts we made, fans we made, and so on. We chose to persevere and now we are able to look back on everything as a positive, so the title “Unsaved Progress” is a beautiful oxymoron that means “you’re still making progress, even if nobody can look back and actually witness the trials and challenges that stood in the way”.
IN: The exact title is of course present in 99% of video game warnings, something to the effect of “Are you sure you want to quit? You will lose any unsaved progress.”
What software and/or equipment did you use to produce it?
IN: Pro Tools.
BT: We also experimented with amp modelers like the Kemper too. We’re not too fussy about how we get our music recorded.
You co-produced the album with Al Jacob. How did you connect with him? Has he produced any of your previous work? Was there a particular element to the production that you need him for, such as producing the vocals, for example?
BT: We give Al full credit for being the voice of reason in a lot of decisions we make in studio. He always wanted our songs to be shorter than the songs off of 72135, which he and Mitch Marlow worked on together. Al has a great ear for tone which ensures that whatever he ultimately lets us record, it sounds amazing.
Your last album was called 721835. Was it just a random number or is there a story behind it?
IN: It was 1337-speak for the word “tribes”.
BT: Originally, Ian and I talked about a concept album where a space adventurer found a planet full of cyborgs and it was going to be a commentary on “rock music vs. electronic music” but there just wasn’t enough foresight to actually follow through with it. The cyborgs were all going to be from various tribes or genres which is why that record is kind of all over the map, for better or worse. We’re always thinking of how we can incorporate more storytelling into our music.
I think all of your albums are fantastic, but I’m especially fond of Unsaved Progress, which I think has a somewhat more pop vibe, reminding me of Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy, whereas your previous work makes me think of bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal. Did you challenge yourself to write an album that was more in the pop vein this time around or did it just wind up sounding that way by chance?
IN: We definitely didn’t sit down and say “lets write a pop record”. Ever since 721835 we’ve just looking inward as artists and really figuring our what kind of band we wanted to be. During the 721835 cycle we would get tags like “metal” or “pop-punk” but all of us felt that our band is a rock band, so when we started working on this record we wanted our music to reflect that. I think we tried harder to have more hooks and simplified chorus’ but I believe those are just tricks to good songwriting period, as opposed to just belonging in the “pop” world.
The cover of your new album is like an old Atari video game box, which begs the question: how old are you guys? You look young, but I’m thinking that you can’t be that young if you remember what those covers looked like…
BT: We’re 90’s kids. We saw the artwork for Unsaved Progress as a chance to call back to the visual style of the first home console games. Consider the Atari artists had to look at the pixels on the screen and interpret it into something that would capture the attention or imagination of the buyer or player. With most modern video games, you get what you see on the cover; all of your wonder or personal perspective is eliminated. I feel that the average album art for the average band does the same thing. If we can do anything to get somebody’s imagination running, that’s gotta be worth attempting.
I know you both write lyrics. On the new album Brock wrote some alone and then others you worked on together. On the ones you wrote together, how does the process usually work? Do you start songs separately and then sit down and finish them together or do you just get together and write them together from the start or…?
IN: There’s no one way to answer this I guess. With the songs that Brock tackled he had a really clear view of what he wanted to do and he ran with them, he had probably gone through five or six drafts before finally showing me what it was he wanted to work on, whereas I like to start from the concept and pitch the idea fresh and we’ll both sit together going through the music, if there is any, and figure out how to best get that message across. I think my biggest struggle as a lyricist is that I know what I want to say but I can’t always translate that notion to paper and I think as a lyrical writing partner, Brock is really good at getting those mega conceptual ideas out of me and reinforcing what it is I want to say in a way that is clear and concise.
Do you usually start with the lyrics or music or a title or…?
BT: Typically every song starts out as instrumentals that are 90 seconds or less consisting of only a few sections that we can repeat as many times as needed. We make sure everything sounds satisfying musically before we consider what we actually want to say.
Do all three of you write the music together? How does that process usually happen? For example, do you start with a guitar riff or…?
IN: As much as we can. I think we’re a better band when we work together because we all have pretty diverse musical backgrounds both in theory terms and influences. Brock, Dafydd, and myself all have something different to bring to the table, especially when you get to a crossroads in a song about where to take it.. Traditionally it’s music first – a riff or set of chords act as the starting point. I think that’s really where our diversity comes into play because there will be three different avenues to take the song and through experimenting with each one we’ll either find the one that fits or it’ll lead us in a better direction.
On Spotify it just says that your single/opening track is called “So Fine” but you write it as “SOFINe.” Is there a story or explanation behind that?
BT: Each line of the chorus represents sodium, oxygen, fluorine, iodine and neon. So the title we use represents the chemical theme to the whole song. However, many of the digital outlets refused to let us title the song with any inconsistent capitals or lower case letters,so we had to make a compromise. In reality, anybody who looks up the song is going to spell the title as two separate words so we didn’t feel like it was a battle worth starting.
I’ve only listened to your older music twice so far, but I don’t recall there being many songs about women, yet you open the new album with two songs about them. Is this a change for you? If you didn’t have songs like those in the past, were you deliberately avoiding them so as not to be cheesy or something?
BT: “Wolf in the Ewe” from our last record was overtly about lust and women, but you’re right, it’s not a very common topic in our music. The risk of sounding cheesy is valid – just how many ways can straight men sing about women in rock and roll? I made a conscious decision to keep gender out of “So Fine” because it was more about the metaphor of romance and chemistry than about a specific relationship in mind. No matter who you are or who you love, I wanted that song to address somebody’s inner geek first and foremost. As for “AAA”, I had the image in my mind of a girl alone at the pinball machine in the zone and watching as some guy across the room is about to make his way over to start chatting her up. The lyrics are almost like an intervention that says “she’ll kick your ass to the curb with one hand still on the paddles, man. Move along.” I might not know what women want, but nobody wants to be disturbed when they are playing their favorite video game.
I know you’re from Ottawa or thereabouts. How popular are you there? Are you a band that the average person in Canada would have heard of?
BT: Being a working class band in 2016 and touring internationally is still not enough to gain widespread notoriety. So our choice is to either make time to create and play locally or create and cast as wide of a net as possible. The balance is extremely difficult and based on our previous tour experience, we’ve only been able to play Ottawa once or twice a year at most.
IN: Canada is a different market than a lot of places because of the vast wilderness we have across the majority of country. Consider too that we’re the second largest country yet we have a fairly small population in the grand scheme of things. Playing the entirety of Canada is a huge undertaking and it’s one we’ve done a few times but to truly satiate all the markets, touring coast to coast several times a year is difficult.
What other countries are you guys the most popular in? I read that you’ve played The UK four times already and you’re going on a pretty extensive tour there soon. That’s pretty impressive.
IN: We’re actually going back to the UK for our 6th trip, which still doesn’t feel real when you say it out loud. I think we’ve been really hammering hard on the UK because the connection there is almost as strong as it is to Canada. Brock’s entire family is from England and our drummer Dafydd is from Wales so in a way the UK has a “homelike” feeling to us. So it just made sense for us to tour there.
Where else do you plan to tour behind the new album?
IN: The world isn’t enough for our band, can we play on Mars? We’ve played across 15 countries and we’d like to expand to even more markets as the record cycle grinds on.
BT: We dipped our toes into mainland Europe for the first time last summer. It will be nice to start including it in our regular tour regime.
Will you be coming to the States at all? If so, are you going to tour the whole country or just do major cities or…?
IN: It’s on the list. We recorded the guitars and vocals of Unsaved Progress in Chapel Hill, North Carolina so there’s a tie to that area that’s important to us to continue to foster. We do really like touring down there so we will make our turn at some point.
BT: We’ve only gone as far as Texas. We might not go that far again for a while until we can at least make one given region a safe bet first.
I’ve read who your publicist and some other critics are comparing the new album to, but what artists or albums would you guys compare it to? In other words, who, if any, other artists were your influences this time around?
BT: I listened to Muse and Green Day more than I ever did before we rehearsed our songs. Those two bands feature really simple riffs in comparison to other trios like Rush or The Police. I made an effort to use second guitar parts sparingly as opposed to writing simple rhythm parts to eventually layer in a more involved second guitar part.
“The Glimmer Shot” sounds like a synopsis for a sci-fi movie. Are you guys big sci-fi fans? If so, what are some of your favorite movies and/or books?
BT: It was actually all about the video game Destiny, from the perspective of us as the player. The lore in that game fascinates both Ian and I. Aside from sci-fi video games, I do love horror movies which are all all fairly straight-forward as opposed to sprawling sci-fi epics. The Thing and Alien would be the closest I get to the sci-fi movie genre.
Do either of you do any type of writing aside from songwriting?
IN: I’ve dabbled in reviewing records but that’s the extent of my writing outside of our music. I believe that all of us keep a kind of journal to remember the experiences we have but nothing really public..
BT: I’m constantly writing poems and short stories whenever I get the chance. My writing teacher in high school once told me that writing a book was like raising a child, except it was easier to sell your child.
Brock, “Impasse” strikes me as being a song about depression. Is that something you personally struggle with? If it’s not about depression, what is it about?
BT: First of all, that song was only made possible because Ian had figured out the main arrangement as well as the entire vocal melody without any lyrics. At first, we couldn’t figure out a concept and Ian kept coming back to the one requirement which was that the lyrics had to be important. I tried to put as much effort into the lyrics as he did into the rest of the song. It’s absolutely about mental health – not just the struggle with feeling depressed but the struggle of wanting somebody who is suffering to feel better. There’s an impasse between both people coping with one’s depression but also my own cognitive dissonance as a result of having been on both sides.
Is “Exposure Exposure” about touring? What’s the worst touring mishap that you’ve had to put up with thus far? What was your best touring experience?
IN: Yeah it totally is. I love the idea that touring is one big exercise of “hurry up to wait”: you speed as fast as you can to make some super early load in time like 3:00 only to sit around for 4 hours after load in because the sound guy doesn’t get there till 7:00 and so on. As for the worst mishap, we had to drive to Lisbon, Portugal from Barcelona, Spain across the Spanish desert in the height of summer where it was over 40 Celsius / 104 Fahrenheit with an angry sun. Our van only had two windows, no fans, or anything so it was reaching dangerous heat levels in the van. We wound up driving something like 16 hours due to a mistake in navigation. It was possibly the longest day of our lives.
BT: Picking the best touring experience is impossible. Playing the sold out show on Thursday might not have happened if you didn’t play the show the sound guy didn’t even show up to on Wednesday.
Brock, what inspired “Death of Lucidity”? Is there a story behind that one?
BT: “Death of Lucidity” is one of those rare songs that contains the answer to it’s own “why?”. The deeper anybody looks into the lyrics, the more they’ll lose the message.
You cover Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” on the new album. Is it a song you’d been covering live for a while and you just decided to finally do it on an album or was the album the first time you covered it? Either way, it sounds great to me.
IN: We started by covering it on tours and it just found it’s way on to our record. We really like that it’s as nerdy as the rest of our material so the song just fit. Plus, it’s a huge sludgy riff that is fun to play as the bassist.
BT: So many legendary rock bands featured covers on their records all the time. We’re aware that we aren’t even the first band to cover it on a record, but that is a testament to how great of a song it is.
What do you guys think about streaming services like Spotify? Have you ever received a check from any of them? Seems like most artists I talk to have not. Are you happy to have your music on them or is it just a necessary evil?
IN: Streaming is the future of music consumption. I think the issue is too many artists see it as a direct replacement to radio which couldn’t be further from the truth. Radio is a launch pad for top-40 label artists a lot of the time, whereas with streaming, someone needs to know you’re there before they can pull you out of the database. The artists who are affected by the difference in payment from royalties on streaming vs record sales vs radio are in an entirely other ballgame than the majority of us musicians. I think something like Spotify actually allows small artists an opportunity to gain revenue from sources that would previously be cut off from them.
BT: It doesn’t matter how you monetize your music if you aren’t instantly accessible to potential new fans.
While many people are into streaming and downloading, more and more people are getting into vinyl every year. Are either of you into vinyl?
IN: I think vinyl is a cool collectible but it’s not practical. I consume music while I work on other projects, travel, work out, and so on. Music is a medium of concentration for me whereas with vinyl you really need to have time to sit down and appreciate the majesty that is “superior” sound quality.
BT: Which, considering how many kids buy their record player at Urban Outfitters to play some Warped Tour band’s vinyl, is ludicrous.
Will your new album be pressed on vinyl? (Hope so.)
IN: I’ll never say never but for the foreseeable future I don’t see it happening. So many artists take their digital mix and just throw it to vinyl which doesn’t really lead to superior sound quality, it becomes just another thing at the merch table. If someone wanted a really well done Unsaved Progress vinyl we wouldn’t want to press one until we could get a proper mix for it.
What scared you when you were a kid?
IN: I was always scared of the dark as kid. I’d have like three lamps, I’d double and triple check under my bed or in the closet before going to sleep.
BT: Same here – I slept with the room lights on until I was almost double digits.
What scares you now?
IN: The inevitable receding of my hairline.
Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
IN: It’s a really hard call. As a kid I really liked Luke, and Han… In this new trilogy though I actually think that Kylo Ren has the opportunity to become my new favourite.
What is your all-time favorite videogame?
BT: Diablo 2
IN: The Mass Effect trilogy
What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
IN: “Californication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
BT: I think it was Smash Mouth, which is more embarrassing than sleeping with the light on for my whole childhood.
Special thanks to Brock and Ian for taking the time to do this and to Jon Asher for making it happen!