Currently celebrating their third full-length release and touring their asses off throughout the west coast on their way to Fun Fun Fun Fest and The Fest, Lemuria is blowing up. To the point that even NPR listeners have all been won over by their charm. As world travelers with sights set on the Eastern Hemisphere, Lemuria are dedicated musicians. Interviewer Stephanie Thornton spoke with vocalist and drummer Alex Kerns to discuss their success, his progression as a musician from trombone to drums, how awesome the Magnetic Fields are, and what it means if you catch bassist Max Gregor singing Rod Stewart songs at karaoke.
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You are in Nevada right now?
Yeah weâre in Las Vegas. We just played some KISS mini golf – like the band KISS.
What the hell?
Yeah. At the final 18th hole I had to hit the ball up Gene Simmons tongue into his mouth and then it blew smoke out his mouth.
That sounds really cool. What more could you ask for?
Who are you guys playing with tonight?
Let me have a lookâ¦ A band called Red Oblivion.
So youâre playing with someone different every night?
Yeah weâre not on tour with any band, weâre just playing with local bands every night.
Thatâs cool. How has it been out there so far?
Itâs been good. We havenât gone to California yet. Weâll be there tomorrow; weâre playing San Diego. So far weâve played Dallas, Las Cruces New Mexico, and a couple shows in Arizona. Itâs been really good. Definitely some of the best shows weâve played out this way yet.
Is it different touring on your own rather than having tour-mates?
It definitely is. I kind of enjoy both for different reasons. When you tour with a package tour every night itâs a little more relaxing in the sense that you know what to expect. And itâs not that big of a deal if you miss a bandâs set because you know youâre going to see them 30 other times. When you tour and youâre playing with different bands every night you gotta stick around and watch the other bands, which is awesome because you find out about a lot of cool bands, but you donât know what to expect every night. Sometimes you play with two bands and sometimes you get there and thereâs seven bands playing the show and youâre like – ah itâs like a fest.
Any new bands youâd like to give a shout out to?
We just got off the UK tour and we played with this band Color Me Wednesday who I thought were really cool, this band Rumsey Girls who I thought were cool. Theyâre both from England. And then I was really bummed because we played Las Cruces, NM a couple nights ago and that band Low Culture was supposed to play but one of the guys couldnât get off workâ¦they cancelled but I really like their records a lot.
I heard you typically get a good response in the UK. How was it this time around?
It was really awesome. UK is really – we go back there every year. Always really good shows. And thereâs so many good bands from there like Bangers and every time we play Iâm always really excited about the lineup.
Yeah I saw you guys in Glasgow with Cheap Girls a couple years ago and that was awesome.
Oh, nice! Yeah we played Glasgow on this tour, it was fun.
Yeah, so you guys seem to tour quite a lot so I was wondering if Lemuria is a full-time gig for you guys?
It kind of is but we all have other jobs that complement the band. I run a screen printing job out of my garage and we screen print for other bands and even landscaping companies in Buffalo and stuff like that. And that also gives me the freedom to pretty much do the band whenever I want. And also we do our own T-shirts and stickers and posters and stuff like that. Sometimes we do record covers. And that kind of compliments that. Matt lives in Austin, Texas and he works for a production company that helps put together festivals and stuff like that. A lot of his work is done on his computer so heâll just be locked into his computer in the van all day long while weâre on the road but itâs cool because he can tour and still do the band. Sheena was working at a bakery but she quit the bakery to do the tour this summer. Itâs a vegan bakery called Sticky Fingers in Washington, D.C. When sheâs home sheâll pick up dog walking shifts and stuff like that because thatâs kind of a big industry in Washington, D.C. Where Iâm from thereâs not really dog walkers.
I live right outside DC right now. I love Sticky Fingers! How does that work for you guys since youâre all based in different cities? How does it affect your creative process?
Weâll just have to fly to one of our cities to practice, and we recorded our new album in Baltimore. I spent maybe two months straight in DC staying with Sheena and we would just commute up to Baltimore. And we have a good friend who lets us stay there, our good friend Dan Bress who plays in the band Dead Mechanical from Baltimore. Heâs super super helpful. He has a guest bed and heâll let us stay there. It kind of works out better that we all live in three different places, for some reason it just makes sense. When we get together we are really focused and we get a lot more done than when we all lived in Buffalo and kind of took it for granted.
Do you guys write lyrics together or do you do that on your own?
Well I write a lot of lyrics and then Iâll present them to the band. And Sheena will write lyrics and kind of just show them to the band. There are three or four songs that Sheena and I collaborated on but it was more so like we just wrote our own part and figured out how to combine them later. Itâs not like we sit down and go word-for-word and try to collaborate that way.
I think your lyrics are really clever as well as really heartbreaking sometimes. Is there any particular theme that you strive for in your lyrical content?
I mean, itâs all very journal-like in a way. Each album will document a time in our lives. With our first album Get Better, there are a bunch of songs about my dad who had passed away. And then the second album, Pebble, was a little more dark and it was kind of in the middle of an unhealthy relationship that I was in at the time. And the new album, The Distance is so Big, is kind of like a breakup album. Itâs kind of an unchained feel to it. A little more colorful, I feel, than the other stuff. Itâs all just kind ofâ¦ when I look back on it, Itâs like âoh yeah, yeah. I wrote that in 2008. That makes senseâ
So is it kind of therapeutic for you?
Yeah. For sure. Kind of almost feels like it finishes the problem or the emotion. Itâs like "yeah, just put that on the table. Thatâs done"
Cool. When you listen to music what do you admire in other lyricists or creative writers?
Well what I like as far as lyrics go, I like when someone says something simple. It could be the most simple line, but if the way they sing it, and the voice inflection they give it makes it way more believable then you probably truly believe that they mean it. That really captures me. Recently Iâve been listening to this band the Jayhawks, theyâre kind of like an alt-country band. They also kind of remind me of David Bowie, and they have this song, one really good song called "Blue," and thereâs this line where he simply says "I canât believe I miss you so much." Obviously thatâs not a clever line at all, but the way he says it is just like – like dude, itâs so powerful. The way he says it that it doesnât even matter. It just, you just really believe it. Iâve been really into artists that can convey a message that way. Obviously musically I like bands that can perform and play really tightly but also Iâm more interested in – Iâd rather see a band play sloppy and create something really original and new than see a band that plays perfectly and flawlessly but is not really like doing anything brave or stepping out of their comfort zone.
I know what you mean. So Iâm not sure who writes what exactly. I think I heard that you write more of the lyrics, but it seems like you switch vocal duties and sing each otherâs lyrics. How does it feel hearing your lyrics sung by Sheena or vice versa?
Iâm pretty used to it. Sometimes I write things and I think of melodies with her voice in mind, you know. I make like little video demos sometimes where I sing really embarrassingly, if I watch back or if anyone saw them, itâs me just making words that arenât words and Iâll be trying to sing high laughs but I canât really sing too high. So I dunno, Iâm used to it. Thereâs some songs that, you can tell from the gender specifics of the lyrics that it was written by me but she sings it, so itâs – I donât know. Itâs just how itâs been since the beginning,
Is it true that youâre too embarrassed to do karaoke?
[Laughs] Who said Iâm too embarrassed to do karaoke?
It was on an interview I read recently – I donâtâ remember who it was with now!
I mean Iâve done karaoke a few times, and it definitely involves a handful of margaritas or whiskey gingers to get me to do it, but Max is more so the karaoke man. He always does the same song. He always does Rod Stewartâs "Maggie Mae." And when you see Max in a bar doing "Maggie Mae," you know that you gotta go grab him and take him home.
[Laughs] Awesome. So it was cool to hear that The Distance is So Big was streaming on NPR because itâs probably my favorite news source. How did you set that up and how has it been a good means of promotion for you all?
Yeah it was really good. A lot of people have come up to us at shows and will say I found you guys on NPR. And thatâs just the people who bother to say it but I assume there are a lot more that heard about us just through that. It just kind of came about. The album was coming out and we just wanted to do a lot ofâ¦anything everywhere. They first released the song "Oahu, Hawaii" off of it and then did a full stream. We were kind of stoked. It was really neat for me, for my family, to be like, I feel like it was the first time they were like "oh wow youâre in a band!" Other times Iâd show them, "Oh look Iâm in Razorcake or Maximum RocknRoll" or something. That was really awesome for me because I love those magazines but my mom was just like "Oh cool, honeyâ¦"
[Laughs] Thatâs nice, honey. Yeah, I read that you got into music kind of to impress my family. So how have they enjoyed Lemuriaâs discography so far?
Theyâve been very supportive. My brother just came out the first time ever, Iâm 30 now and Iâve been playing and touring in bands since I was 14, and he came out to The Distance is So Big record release show in Buffalo. That was the first time he had ever seen me play music besides from when I played trombone in the high school band which doesnât really count because I was playing the Star Wars theme and I didnât write that. [laughs]
How do you feel about the response to the new album?
I think itâs been really really good. Iâm really excited. Weâve been playing shows and people have been requesting new songs over old songs, and Iâm really stoked on that. And people sing along to the new songs as much as they do the old songs so Iâm really happy about that.
This is your third time working w J. Robbins, do you think youâll keep working with him from now on?
I wouldnât be opposed to going back. When we do the fourth album we might try to maybe go to someone different. My dream is to go to Dave Fridmann, who is actually from my neck of the woods. His studio is in Fredonia which is only a half an hour from where I live. He did Weezerâs Pinkerton and he does a lot of interesting stuff. He creates a different world for bands when they go in to record something. Itâs really neat, and I would also be into Phil X who did a lot of Built to Spill and a lot of post-grunge from the northwest, I really like his recordings a lot. But yeah, J. Robbins is incredible, I love recording with him. I donât want to get set into only doing one thing. Iâd like to move on and try new things.
You guys were kind of switching up your bassist for a while, but Max has been with you for a while. Do you think youâve found the perfect match?
Yeah, definitely. Max is like a member. We put out several – it was mainly Sheena and I and our friend Kyle for just a year – it wasnât really permanent. He actually ended up getting somewhat deported, not deported but banned from the States. He lived north of Buffalo, he lives in St Catherines. And they found out that he was coming over and working illegally and it was a big – well, that happened. Max had been traveling with us before. Max was somebody we met on the first out of town weekend we ever played outside of Buffalo when he was living in Burlington, Vermont. So heâs been around since the beginning of the band which was cool. When we asked him to be in the band and he said yeah, we were like âAwesomeâ. This guy we know, we trust, we love being with him. Weâve taken him on tour a couple times and heâs always been great.
So the majority of your label-mates on B9 have kind of a different style from you guys. How do you think youâd describe your connection with the hardcore scene these days?
Well we both played in hardcore bands. I used to play in a band called Still Ill that was just fast hardcore. I donât think that had anything to do with us being signed to Bridge Nine. But for some reason our tours always got booked – weâd always play hardcore festivals. We played a couple years down in Florida, This is for You Festival, which is a lot of power violence and we would just be thrown in the middle almost like an intermission band. It just seemed appropriate. We heard that they were listening to our first album, Get Better, in their offices and stuff and we just asked them if theyâd do our next record and they were like âSure, weâll do your next record, thatâd be coolâ. It didnât really matter to us that they were a hardcore label. Before them we were on Asian man which is primarily a ska label. Weâre not anything like ska. Mostly we were just interested in how they treated bands and the effort they put into putting out new releases. Both Bridge Nine and Asian Man are both really passionate labels. They are always forward thinking and always looking for fun ways to promote their bands.
Did you say you were on vocals in your old band?
Yeah, I played in Still Ill and I was a standalone singer. I also played guitar in a band called Lieutenant, we put out an LP thatâs kind of like Gordon Sulley Motherfuckers, itâs like an old Cleveland hardcore band, just fast hardcore and burly vocals
I was just wondering what the transition is like between just vocals, to vocals and guitar, to vocals behind a drum kit.
Yeah itâs completely different. Also in one band I was screaming and in the others Iâm singing. So I just kind of learned to play drums to do Lemuria. It was just like learning guitar, so the first few years were just feeling things out. I was just stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit. I had always played guitar and then I was like "I wanna play drums". People would always leave their drum kits at my house so I would practice. And I would mess around on those and it just escalated to being in a band and that being my primary instrument.
Is it easier to sing behind a drum kit or behind a guitar?
Definitely behind a guitar. The thing that makes it easier is not even the rhythm, but more so when youâre playing the guitar, something about it, even though you can hear it just as well behind a drum kit, is being able to attach your voice to a note that youâre playing. Because when youâre playing drums youâre not playing notes youâre justâ¦hitting things [laughs]. So I have to depend on Sheena and Max to attach my voice to what theyâre doing.
Interesting. So I saw that you recently did a cover of the Muffâs "From your Girl," and this was actually the first time Iâd heard of that band. And you all actually also introduced me to the Magnetic Fields a couple years ago when you covered "Grand Canyon" and now theyâre one of my favorite bands.
Oh nice! Were you at an Atlanta showâ¦we only played that a few times.
Well it was DC, actually Silver Spring, Maryland.
Oh okay, nice. I think we only played it there and Atlanta and maybe North Carolina, only four shows. I love that!
Well yeah, I mean thank you for introducing me to the Magnetic Fields because they are awesome. I was wondering what types of songs do you most enjoy covering?
Well I really loved playing that Magnetic Fields song. Iâm glad you reminded me of it. We just kind of forgot about it after a few days. It was a song where we didnât really have the proper instrumentation to really represent what it originally sounded like. The only thing that was the same was the vocal melody and lyrics and we just put our own music behind it. The original version is all keyboard and stuff and really washed out guitar sounds. But, the Muffs song was a little thing we were asked to do. I more enjoyed doing the Magnetic Fields song because it is more interesting to do a cover where you put your own spin on it instead of just playing it as it was. I think in the future when we do more covers it will be along the lines of like trying to recreate something or put our own spin on it.
Right. Well I know youâre on tour and youâre still celebrating your new release, but any idea whatâs next for Lemuria?
I really want to go to Australia and Japan because weâve never been there before. I think weâre going to try to go in the winter. It would be a nice break for us because when itâs winter for us itâs summer for them. That would be a nice little break in like January. And I imagine in a couple years weâll start recording a new album. Iâm not really thinking about that yet because weâre still excited about playing all these songs off of The Distance is So Big.