Bands don't just find their signature sound overnight. In fact, it's usually a process that can take years to finally figure out. Such is the case with Prawn, who have released two LPs, two EPs and a plethora of splits and singles. Their latest full-length, Kingfisher, is a carefully constructed album that courses through twists and turns, yet seems methodically laid out. Garnering rave reviews and a spot on "Billboard," Kingfisher is the band's push into the spotlight. But the record didn't come easily. When writing the record, Prawn considered their past releases. They realized that while sonically unique, charming and creative, they weren't cohesive, nor did that have an initial hook that pulled listeners in. They were records that grew on you with time. In an era where music flows freely, the attention span of listeners is short at best. To compensate, Prawn had to rework their sound to have a more instantaneous appeal. They kept that idea with them during while writing Kingfisher. That attention worked, as the record is undoubtedly the band's strongest effort to date, and will most likely be the ticket into success the band has been looking for.
Prawn sat down with contributing editor Xan Mandell as they passed through Chicago on the Topshelf Records tour. They went over various aspects of the writing process, the relief that came with Kingfisher's critical acclaim and how it has helped solidify Prawn as being the main focus for the lives of each member.
You guys charted on "Billboard."
Tony Clark (Guitar/Vocals): It wasn't one of our goals, but a lot of our friends' bands have done it. We weren't sure the process of how it worked, but Topshelf Records took care of it, and we were pretty blown away.
How did you find out?
Jamie Houghton (Drums): They sent us an email… And then we were like, "Mommy and daddy look! We've made it!"
There was 4-5 months between finishing the recording process and when it was released. How anxious were you during that period?
Clark: I don't think we were anxious writing the record. That was more a free-flowing, take you time kind of thing. We didn't have a time frame for it. The first few days of recording, you're always anxious because you don't want to fuck up. Then after that it was just getting mixes back and forth. Sitting on it is when the anxiety came around. We all really liked the record, but we were like, "Oh boy… Is everyone going to like it?"
It was a an evolution of the sound, Were you thinking about that aspect while you were sitting on it?
Houghton: We ran into the issue of having too many songs, and the all of them wouldn't fit on the actual vinyl. So it was big pain in the ass trying to figure out which two songs to cut from the record, and that took up a lot of the time while we were sitting on it. Once that finally happened is when it was able to go into production, and that's when we finally started thinking about it all. I really wanted to put it out by that point.
Clark: We originally had the whole order of the record set up, and having to cut two songs meant that we had to shuffle around the order of the songs.
What was the conversation like between you guys when you had to decide which songs to cut?
Clark: Basically, if we wanted the two songs, we'd have to do a double LP, and Topshelf wasn't too into the idea. I don't think they've ever done one, maybe A Great Big Pile of Leaves was the first band where they did a double LP. Also, it's more money to do a double LP, and costs more to buy a double LP, and especially with the idea that this was going to be our big "push" record, we both reluctantly came to the conclusion that we had to put it on one LP. It was a headache. We went into the studio with 12 songs front to back, and that was what Kingfisher was, and we had to cut two of them it was like, "Aw, crap…"
Since the record has done so well, do you hope or foresee that when it comes time to re-issue the record it could be the double LP.
Clark: Probably not. It isn't announced, but I've been telling interviewers that we're doing a Record Store Day 7-inch with the two songs.
You have a tendency to put out small releases/splits in between records, is that a trend you're looking to continue?
Houghton: Now that the record is out, we're really trying to tour as much as possible and push Kingfisher, but that was crazy for us, to put that much music out in a year. It was humbling too, because we've never put out records that close together. We are always trying to write music, but currently touring is our main focus.
What does the tour schedule look like now? You all graduated college recently.
Clark: The three of us have graduated, and we've been swapping bassists. Cory, our touring bassist right now, has a full-time career in coffee. Ryan [Mckenna], the guy who wrote the record, is still in school. He's going to graduate this May, but we've had to do some swapping for this tour. We're doing a month tour in Europe in November, and Ryan will be coming with us for that.
Is he the main bassist?
Clark: We haven't really figured it out. Two years ago, our original guitarist quit. Kyle used to play bass, but then he switched to guitar, and since that we've just had three bassists coming in and out, but Ryan wrote the bass parts for Kingfisher, so I guess he's probably the main bassist.
Did you talk to your various bassists about this?
Clark: They're all cool with it. They all have lives and careers. I think they're pretty comfortable with where we're sitting now. It's really fly by the seat of your pants. It's working out.
There is a contrast between Kingfisher and Ships, where Ships is much more of a "grower" record, and Kingfisher grabs you instantly. Was it a conscious decision to shift like that?
Kyle Burns (guitar): I don't know if it was a conscious thing. Kingfisher was the first record I played guitar on, so I didn't really know what I was going to do or how it was going to come out, I don't think it was a conscious thing for me to do something different. Obviously we didn't want to come out with the same record again, so I guess there was a bit of a push to do something different. For me, it just kind of happened.
Houghton: I think a lot of it came out of when we went into the studio with an order in mind, and we had a sound/genre in mind, whereas with our previous stuff we kind of jumped around with different types of music mixed into one song.
Were those two songs you took off of Kingfisher a large element to the order?
Clark: They were tracks 5 and 11…
So they were right in the mix of it all.
Clark: It really screwed us up. We had to do some swapping. But, going back to the original question. With Ships, we didn't rush writing it, but we didn't put nearly as much effort into those songs as we did with Kingfisher.
Burns: We've been a band for seven years now, so every time you go in to write, you don't want to repeat the same mistakes you already made. We also noticed that with Ships, those songs didn't grab you right away. So with this record, it was a conscious effort to write songs that would have something to pull the listener in immediately, and then they could discover more stuff if they want.
Is there a specific song you saw that in the most?
Clark: I would probably say "Old Souls."
Burns: I'd agree with that
Kingfisher has a signature and distinct sound, but it has it's own little ebb and flow and rhythm to it. Was it written sort of along the lines of the tracks which were intentionally ordered a certain way.
Clark: Kind of. We wrote the first chunk of it last summer. We had 7-8 songs/skeletons. Then we took a month or two of a break writing, and then went back and revisited them. We fleshed those songs out, and said, "These are 7-8 pretty good songs, but how do we make it a cohesive album?" So the last 4-5 songs we wrote were trying to link the other songs. Some of them were super post-rock slow songs, and some were, more punk, like "Glass, Irony," which is what we were going for. So in that sense it was a conscious effort to link the whole record, and then once we had the order, it was refining parts and cutting out the fat.
Burns: The nice part about it too was that we demoed more on this record than we have on the past two, so it was really easy for us to go back and listen and re-work the songs if necessary.
Did the record sonically unfold itself to you or did you guide it so to speak?
Houghton: I think it unfolded itself to us. Greg Dunn, who's from Moving Mountains and engineered/produced the record, was awesome with us in the studio. He had the demos before we went in, and once we were sitting there in the studio, he was really clicking with Tony and bouncing around ideas. He really seemed to hone in on what we were going for and nailed it.
The lyrics are very poetic. What was the process for writing them?
Clark: I wrote most of the lyrics on a boat in Greece. I went on a sailing trip for a month, which is where a lot of the sea metaphors are. I pushed myself to not write lyrics that are every day experiences. I think those types of lyrics have a charm in themselves, but I think with this I tried to make it more ambiguous for the listener, so it wasn't like they were listening to lyrics from me, but that they could be from anybody.
I find it interesting that you were a philosophy major, but you don't really incorporate those themes are in your lyrics.
Clark: I've thought about it, but every time I've sat down to write lyrics, if it's about a sociopolitical issue, I end up just writing a paper, and it's like, "Well, this didn't work." The only way I'd try to draw it in is with song title names really.
Was there a lyrical concept for this record?
Clark: The only concept I could say would be a metaphor for sailing and life on the sea, which has a very primal aspect of living. I think of Greek fishermen who have a routine every day, and translating that to modern life.
This seems like the first time the band will be doing full-time touring. You did the summer tour, now this, then Europe. Are you getting a little road-worn or is the exact opposite?
Houghton: We've tried to tour as much as possible since we've been a band, and that always came about in summers, because we were all at school, then we'd try and write on breaks, and we'd only be able to go out during summer, and as things kept going, and we started to become more of a real band, we realized we had to get out more than once a summer. When we go out, we've gone out for a month at a time, so we're pretty used to touring, but with the back to back to back ones, it's getting pretty intense.
Clark: It's pretty new.
Jamie: We pile us and our equipment into a tiny little van, but it's awesome for us, and now that we've put out the record we're trying to tour as much as possible. As hard as it can get being on the road, we love it.
Clark: We try to have fun on the road. When you play shows back to back to back, it can get pretty stale, especially if there are six hours drives. It's really routine. Every time we have a day off we try to do something fun. We all like golfing, so we'll go golfing or camping.
Houghton: We used to bring a soccer ball out, now we've got a football.
Clark: This tour is probably the smoothest it's gone band-fight-wise, we haven't had any.
It seems like this is your band's moment. There is a lot of hype, everyone is stoked on the record. What does that do to you guys as people overall? What does it mean to you?
Houghton: We work really hard at this. We've been at this for a long time. It's awesome to be in this situation. It's really great to see hard work pay off. I'm not saying we're in an amazing situation, but actually having people pay attention to your band, and we're playing in venues every night, whereas we grew up playing basements and whatever we could get out hands on, so it's crazy to have all this happen after years of doing this DIY, punk style. We're having a lot of fun with it.
Clark: With the record doing well, I think this is somewhat of a natural progression. We've been doing this a long time, and there chunks of building blocks, and this record in our mind is kind of another chunk to getting to the next level slowly, but surely, which is all we're really used to. It's really rewarding in that aspect, but I don't think it's changed us as people. We're just appreciative of being able to play music every night.
But it solidifies Prawn being the big thing in your lives, and the main focus?
Clark: It's funny you say that. When we were 18-19 in this band, we always had this idea where we were like, "alright, we'll do college, and music," when we were that age we were touring and partying really hard. And I was like, "I don't think I could do this when I'm 25," but now that I'm 25 I'm like, "I could do this another 5-10 years." It's always going to be in our life. If we break up tomorrow, I'm always going to think of my young 20s as being in a band and touring.