Youíre sophomore release and follow up to Four One Five Two is We Chase the Waves.
Yes, it is. Indeed, man.
Tell me about it.
Itís kind of a long time coming. I worked on it for a long time. Between writing it and actually making it, itís been several years. I guess itís been three years since the first one came out. So, I donít know. It seems about right. We made it in this neighborhood [Logan Square], Neil and I, partially in my apartment and at his apartment over like eight months, something like that. It was kind of a differentÖdifferent style of recording then Iíve done. The first one was super studio, just very planned out. This just, I donít know, we were working a couple days a week for a long time. We just made it a really different way. And I think its turned out different because of that.
Good unintended outcome, would you say?
Yeah, I mean, intended outcome. But, I never thought it would take that long. The idea was just make a record at home that sounds like songs could be played kind of in a room- we were going for more like the production being just kind of natural. Every month weíd be like, ďOh yeah, man, weíll have this done in like four weeks.Ē Then like another month would go by. It was like December, and we started in July, then, itís fucking March, and Iím like, ďDamn, we got to get this thing done.Ē Then I get really frustrated,. Then it would go away and Iíd forget about it. But then we finished it, so Iím just happy- really what Iím saying is Iím just happy itís done and that itís coming out [laughs]. Thatís awesome.
Itís interesting you say you were going for the homey feeling. One of the things I noticed quite quickly was how stripped down it is in comparison to Four One Five Two. It reminded me of those early demos from 2006, when it was just you, a guitar and your name.
I mean, I donít know if I was going for that specifically, but I was really conscious of tryingÖjust be conscious of the form a little more. The first record we had more workÖ [waitress enters] Do you want something to drink, man?
Nah, Iím good. Thanks though.
[waitress walks away without taking order; confused looks] She doesnít want to serve us. Thatís okay [laughs]. Uh, but this oneÖItís like that in that itís more stripped down, but thereís a certain deliberateness in the way it was done. Neil and I both felt we could get something recorded that sounded natural but also sounded like it could be made in the studio.
So, Neil helped on this record as he did for the last one.
Yeah, even more so. He played the same role, but he was moreÖ
A facilitator this time. [Chris nods in agreement]. So, did you feel obligated to go to him for this sound?
No, it was more just likeÖhe started helping develop this whole thing from a more practical perspective. In the sense of, well, weíll get some time at Atlas [Studios] and [he would] love to help out. Thatís how the first record came together. And I was like, ďWell, maybe you could play bass, and maybe you could engineer it.Ē But things were a lot more mapped out for the first record. Like I had specific guitar parts, and like Jenny was on it, and she had all this stuff arranged and written on her time. This was really more just like a couple dudes hanging out with guitars, like, ďAlright, man. We need a part here.Ē It was more creative, I think, for me and Neil to work in that element. Heís got great ideas. Heís got a really interesting angle on melody and stuff like that. And he didnít write the songs so he has a fresh ear on it. Whereas Iíve been writing this record, so you kind of go through ups and downs of what you think is strong and just how you feel about everything.
So you mentioned Jenny, is she not on this record?
Yeah, this is really just me and Neil. The only other thing is my friend Ryan played lap steal on one song. Other then that, Neil played bass and I played everything else. Neil really just helped me develop my ideas. But as far as the playing, I think that is why it sounds a lot more stripped down. Also, most of the songs just arenít as compact, not quite so dense.
You have a penchant for using metaphors and descriptive language that often reflects nature or natural elements. For example, on this record you constantly reference the oceans and waves, marine imagery, introduced initially by the title of the record. Obviously that was intentional.
Yes, intentional. Yeah. I mean, I named the record after the line of the first song [ďIn The FlickerĒ], which it wasnít initially going to be the first song. But, kind of as it got closer and I had to make a final decision and sort of talk to some people and talk it out, it was like, ďOkay, this should be the first song.Ē So yeah, right away it establishes all that.
As far as the ocean being a common theme, itís not like totally conscious, but it makes sense to me. My dad grew up in Hawaii, so I spent a lot of time there over like the last ten years. I spent- for like five winters I went out to Molokai, which is the old leaper colony on the island in Hawaii, and I was working on plant restoration projects with some friends out there I kind of met through my family. So yeah, I spent a lot of time out there and thatís where all that stuff comes from.
When I was writing songs, I was consciously trying to write in animals and different natural things. I guess that is part of my life angle or whatever. But it was more like I was following themes when I was writing. Nothing too specific that I wanted to convey, just- [waitress returns] May I have aÖ Bohemia? So yeah, itís just the things I write about. Not to many specific ideas.
Oh, well itís very Chris-like. Thereís no doubt about that. I guess just the text there is more specific and focused than other things youíve done.
Yeah, I mean, I did write a song specifically about the ocean, for this record. So, thereís also the very deliberate reference. [laughs]
Some of your most melancholy material youíve ever written is prominently featured on this record.
I know, right? Some artists I have spoken to say their writing reflects their emotions, but it often presents a more skewed picture. They only feel compelled to write when they are feeling certain emotions, and itís not necessarily a certain mindset. Could this be said about you?
That I only write when Iím bumming? [laughs]. Well, I donít know, man. I wouldnít say I only write when Iím not going through a good phase of life because thatís not true. But, I write when I feel compelled to write and I have something to work on. Thatís when I work best. I have been in my life, at one point, the kind of guy who could write every day. But I find myself more in need of some direction, and some kind of project to work on. Thatís kind of what keeps me going, a little. So, I wasnít really depressed or bummed out when I wrote this record. There is some melancholy shit on there, butÖ I actually think, from my perspective, its got, likeÖ some real gleams of hope. [laughs]. But I can see how people would hear it and be like, ďDamn.Ē Thereís a lot of death on this record-
Soliloquies regarding funeral attendance, low self-worth. [laughs]
Yeah, yeah. That really came from a specific, specific place. I wasnít just sitting around thinking of my own death. Iím a big fan of the Wire, the television show. And thereís this one scene where [Detective James] McNulty is talking to [Officer Beatrice] Beadie [Russell], and theyíre talking about this funeral- she basically says, ďYouíre an idiot if you think all these guys that you waste your time hanging out with are all going to come show up to your funeral.Ē So it was about a conversation I had about that scene.
Well, with that said, that actually makes a lot of sense.
ButÖI mean, I also donít think a song is about just one thingÖ That would be a bit short sighted, too. Donít get me wrong; Iíve contemplated my own funeral, like most people. [laughs].
UmmÖ Because of the nature of Sundowner, you donít really tour full time for it. The only chance you did seemed a bit serendipitous.
Right, right, right. That was definitely serendipitous.
But you havenít really done any big stretches.
No. The only one I really did was when me and Mike Park went to England. We did like three weeks. That was, like, an awesome tour. But it was totally different than any tour experience Iíve ever had. We did it all by train. There was no real kind of van tour bullshit, which Iíve sort of done endlessly. So that was really cool. But no, Sundowner isÖ is kind of about trying to keep it fairly minimal. And maybe Iím just not so into- Iím just a guy, one guy, driving around in a car all over the US playing shows. Iím just not sure Iíve got it in me.
But every time youíve played shows you almost always have a backing band. So do you ever think about doing something like that?
I donít know man, for now itís kind of like Iím just going to keep it minimal, do little clumps of shows here and there. I mean thatís what Iím going to try to do for this. You know, I also kind of have a job Iím trying to keep down. It seems to make sense to me since Iím so used to be playing on my own for this project. And its really easy to fly out and do weekends or drive and do a couple shows, you know, not too far away.
So is that what youíre going to do?
Thatís kind of what the plan is. I just kind of want to get out and do little clumps of shows when I can.
Yeah. I mean, I donít know. I certainly wouldnít rule out figuring something out. But at the time being thatís what I haveÖ Thatís sort of what I have to work with at the moment. If I were to brainstorm something a little larger in terms of touring, butÖ You know, man, I like being home. I think itís cool to make a record and go out and do some shows, and not feel like you have to be out there touring. I mean, I know thatís what itís about. Thatís what music is now. Like, ninety percent touring. You write some good songs, you could do your best to get out there in other ways, but thatís- [extremely loud and obnoxious grinding noise in restaurant]. JesusÖThatís the way to do it. So I guess maybe IímÖ trying to ride the fence again. I donít want to fully commit to being out for long periods of time but I like to play, and I like the songs and I want to get a chance to play them for people. I worked really long and hard on a record, Iíd hate to sell myself short by just putting it out and then not doing anything. That would be pretty stupid, too.
I mean, I donít need to tell you anything about touring. Iíve never done it, and youíve done a shit ton of it, but-
I mean, itís like one of the greatest things Iíve ever done in my life. It just gets a little- at least for me, personally, as I get older, it gets harder to be out for long periods of time.
Itís like you said, you have to tour. You canít just sell records anymore. But itís totally fun just to pick up, play a show. Look at you, youíre going to be playing the Subterranean in August. You can just pick up a show and its cool for you.
Yeah, itís super cool. And Iím really excited about the show.
Are you playing by yourself for that?
No, noÖI mean, Iím playing some stuff by myself and then hopefully Iíll have a couple others join me here and there. But I am also going out to the west coast to play at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, andÖyou know, pick up some other showsÖ
So I have to say, personally, I love the track ďBaseballĒ from the new record. I love the Cubs, and when I was a little kid thatís what I would talk about, like that line, ďTinkers to Evers To Chance,Ē and that era of baseball.
I love baseball, too. I mean, the Cubs are having a rough season.
Are you a Cubs fan?
Yeah, I am. I grew up like four blocks north of Wrigley. But yeah man, itís brutal. There were a couple years where- this is also when I didnít have a job, so I had all the time in the world to watch baseball. But you know, I think itís the end of an era for the Cubs a little. Maybe its time to tinker and move onÖ
Oh, definitely. All my friends are super bummed and shit with how theyíre playing, but Iím just like, ďThis kind of feels comfortable. I remember this happening.Ē
Well, thatís definitely true. Totally. Theyíve always played like shit.
Alright, now: in reference to your other band, do you think Sundowner allows you to put less pressure or focus on the Lawrence Arms, or is it the other way around? Or neither?
Well, I definitely think this record is a collection of songs that arenít Lawrence Arms songs. The first record, everyone raised a lot of questions of how, you knowÖwere these originally Lawrence Armsí songs? Because the lines were just- everything was so smeared and blurred. And I definitely can see how Four One Five Two had songs that were much more Lawrence Arms sounding. I can still certainlyÖ I think it still sounds like the type of songs Iíd write and it may also have a lot in common with the Lawrence Arms. But I think these songs are much moreÖ I donít know, exist a bit more on their own.
And the Lawrence Arms havenít made a full length in a long time. You know, over the last couple years Iíve sort of had some time to put together this record. I donít know if they take pressure off each other. Itís always cool to have a different project. Thatís something else to work on. I mean, thatís what this record did for me, personally. I took a long time writing cause I didnít feel any kind of self-imposed deadline. I wasnít like, ď[I] gotta get this down, I want to get it out, got to get the cycle going. Get a tour.Ē I really made this moreÖ I say casually not because- not to diminish itís quality but I wasnít in any rush to get it down and it kind of gave me just a little bit of a different momentum. So once we started making it, I got used to the fact that we were just making it. It was kind of sad when we finished it cause I felt like I didnít have anything to do anymore. You know, weíve been working on it a couple days a week for afternoons and it kind of just got built in my schedule and then suddenly it was gone.
Thatís actually really depressing when you think about it. [laughs]. Here you are kicking it with Neil every day and then youíre like, ďdamn it.Ē
It was fun, you know? Just me and Neil, hanging out, making a record. It was super cool and a really different kind of feel to it. There were times where I was like, ďFuck man we have to finish this thing, this is getting ridiculous. Itís been six months; we donít even have a mix of it. What are we doing? Weíre never going to get this done.Itís going to be one of those things we shelve and blow dust off the hard drive in some electronic landfill somewhere.Ē So, thankfully that wasnít the outcome this time [laughs].
So, spending so much time with NeilÖ does that put a rife between you and Brendan; some sort of waning friendship? All of a sudden you and Neil are great friends, and Brendanís off with his wife. [laughs]
Well, you know, Brendan and my friendship started very early on in like fifth gradeÖit was love at first sight. In fifth grade. [laughs].
No, but seriously: do you foresee a monumental change in the condition of the Lawrence Arms. LikeÖ I asked Neil this once: what with Brendan getting married and other peopleís various interests, would the Lawrence Arms ever break up. And he said, ďNo. Things may change, the Lawrence Arms may tour less, but [we] wouldnít break up.Ē So are the Lawrence Arms ready to enter that phase? Are you ready to enter that phase?
No, noÖsee, I canít answer that honestly because the Lawrence ArmsÖthe Lawrence Arms are like my family. Itís the only- like, Iíve been in a couple other bands, but thatís the band Iíve been in for a third of my life. Iíve spent close to a third of my life traveling around with those guys playing those songs. So, I donít think the Lawrence Arms- it would be really, really strange to me, and I couldnít imagine what the feeling would be like to have the Lawrence Arms break up as a band. That just doesnít reallyÖthat just doesnít really make sense. Itís just- weíre not that kind of band. Weíll always be the Lawrence Arms, and Iíll always be in a band with those guys. And as far as our relative activities, itís like lifeís busy and people have other projects and trying to keep the Lawrence Arms, I donít know, still relevant for us, itís certainly a challenge, butÖ I still see those guys maybe not as much as I would like but a lot. Those guys are still like my family. SoÖ I donít know what Iím saying. Iím just sayingÖ playing those songs with those guys, thatís the defining experience I have with music.