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Now It's Overhead

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Andy LeMaster, am: 29.06.2004 ]

Das wunderbare erste Album hatte schon angedeutet, wozu Mastermind Andy LeMaster und seine Gefolgschaft fähig sind. Auf dem ebenfalls fabelhaften neuen Werk "Fall Back Open" konkretisiert sich nun das Ganze. Die Melodiebögen sind noch breiter und ausladender geworden, die Harmonien noch gezielter und berührender und die Songs in sich geschlossener. Über allem schwebt der gezogene und sehr charismatische Gesang von LeMaster, der den Songs einen ganz eigenen und unverkennbaren Charakter verleiht. Angesichts des tollen neuen Albums traf ich mich zu einem Gespräch mit dem sehr sympathischen und zurückhaltenden Andy. Wir sprachen unter anderem über Studioarbeit, Athens und den großen Popsong.


Musicscan: So I was wondering if you noticed any differences concerning the audiences in Europe from the ones in the States.

Now It's Overhead: Yeah. I would say that for a first time tour of a band, the audiences are much more receptive and open to just paying attention. I feel like there's a little bit of an overkill in the States sometimes and it's a little less special to just go and see a band you've never heard of. So I like the audiences more here for a first time tour.

Musicscan: Did you notice any differences concerning the different countries?

Now It's Overhead: Yes, there are definitely differences. I think there is general consensus that the UK is the toughest nut to crack and Germany has been really good, all the rest have been pretty equally just surprisingly into it. Not that the UK was bad, we had good shows there.

Musicscan: Any favorite shows so far?

Now It's Overhead: Yeah, but a lot of them have tied for my favorite. Like there weren't that many people in Amsterdam but the people that were there and the way the show went was really good. And then there were loads of people at the festival we played in Brussels and that was really good also. They're really different scenarios, but I'm just pleased with all of it.

Musicscan: I've read that the making and the studiowork for your new album was pretty strenuous, pretty exhausting for you. Where did you draw the energy from during that time?

Now It's Overhead: I don't know, I think I'm a hummingbird and my energy level is always kind of that way. It just comes from the energy of feeling that I want to make an album and write songs, which is what a lot of artists have. The only thing that I kind of had to regiment myself to do was to stay up all night to make the record, which I actually liked because I'm a night person and it's more focusing in the night because I don't feel like I'm missing anything in the outside world. Since I run the studio as a business where I have to make the record, it makes more sense to do it at night, so that other bands can still come in during the day. That was probably the most strenuous part of it, because after a couple of months - you know, people aren't necessarily made to go without daylight - it freaks you out a little bit.

Musicscan: Do you think that atmosphere influenced the album?

Now It's Overhead: For sure. And I like the way it influences the music because generally what I'm going for is a kind of cloudy, kind of mysterious, hazy thing. My favorite time to listen to records is at night too. So yeah, it puts me more into the mindframe to make music and make the music like I want it to.

Musicscan: Was the first album made like that too?

Now It's Overhead: Yep, it was.

Musicscan: What is the biggest difference for you personally between "Fall Back Open" and the first album?

Now It's Overhead: The biggest difference is that when I started recording the first album, the band didn't exist; it was just me recording my songs and only half way through it did I realize that I wanted to put it together as a record and I met Clay and Maria and the band fell in place and they added their parts and all that. And with this record from the start the band was established, the sound was established. It was more of a challenge and I prepared a lot more before I really dug in and started. I did more experimenting in terms of the production value I wanted the whole thing to have. I feel like this one is more cohesive production-wise and tone-wise and thematic-wise. I mean I feel good about the cohesiveness of the first one thematically, but production-wise this one is a little more solid. The songs definitely go together more in their tone or whatever.

Musicscan: You mentioned that on the first record there wasn't really any band, that it was just you. On the second album it seems to me it was pretty much the same way. I mean, how much of an impact do you get from the other band members, who are all really accomplished musicians too?

Now It's Overhead: Right, I get a lot but I could expect noone else to spend the amount of time because I spend a lot of time working by myself. They definitely put a lot into it and I value their musical personalities that they inject into it; it makes it a lot more dense and layered to me in a good way. Clay, the drummer, is all over both records a lot because I feel like all the songs on both records are pretty beat-oriented. That's the first thing that has to happen and then from that I tend to elaborate on that for a while until other people come in and do more musical things. And then each time someone comes in other than me, it's like something to react to and sometimes songs take a different direction based on what someone else plays, but I guess you are right, if you wrote out the amount of time each person spent on it, mine would be disgustingly more.

Musicscan: Do you pretty much write and play all the instruments or are you pretty open like "I imagined it like this, but you can play whatever you want"?

Now It's Overhead: It depends. Ususally at least when we start with someone else's input on a song, I like to say nothing. And there's also the option of computer editing and stuff, and that comes into play a lot.

Musicscan: Would you say you're a perfectionist?

Now It's Overhead: Yeah, well I don't think that's necessarily a positive attribute, at least definitely not in all aspects of life, so I try to just focus it on music. Because that's kind of a healthy outlet for it.

Musicscan: Isn't it really complicated in the studio? When you have your own studio, I imagine it to be totally disastrous because you have so much time, you can spend as much time in the studio as you want. Is there an end to it? Or where is that point where you say Okay, I'll stop now, even if it's not perfect?

Now It's Overhead: Well, I have to restrain myself from the beginning, or I did on this record and I think it was a wise decision. What I mean by that is that I made sure I had a solid complete song that I could play on one instrument before I started recording it. Otherwise there's the tendency to go in there and just spiral on and on and on with production things when really my dissatisfaction could just be from the fact that the song isn't quite together yet. When I'm in there by myself the lines are hazy. So it worked really well for me to get the song like I wanted it, start recording it, then from there the way that I judge when something's finished is just listening to it in many different environments over a long period of time. I have to let a song rest for at least a couple of weeks and try it out in different environments with different people in the room. Until nothing bothers me about the way it sounds, it's not finished. On a listening of a song which is not finished, there will be a specific list of things that need to be changed and then I go and change them.

Musicscan: Are you a planned out person? Do you have certain goals in life that you want to accomplish?

Now It's Overhead: No. I guess I wouldn't be a musician if I were. Well I did when I was in school, I guess. Well yeah, I do have goals that just come up, but when you say that, for some reason I think of it as being so organized or something, but I guess goals for me just kind of sneak up. I mean it was a goal to finish that record, it's a goal to do another record and tour, but there's nothing beyond that.

Musicscan: How far ahead do you plan with the band?

Now It's Overhead: I have to plan ahead pretty far now. Let's see... at least 6 months as far as who's going to go on tour, who's going to be in the studio.

Musicscan: Have you always lived in Athens?

Now It's Overhead: I've always lived in Georgia. I grew up in a town like an hour away from Athens and moved there for school and stayed there. So I've been there for not quite ten years.

Musicscan: Have you ever thought of moving somewhere else, like a bigger city, say NYC, LA or Chicago?

Now It's Overhead: New York is my favorite. The only thing keeping me from it is just the studio. I wouldn't want to leave that. But I spend so little time at home anyway. It's like a home base and I'm happy to be there when I'm there. I'm able to go so many other places. I thought about moving to Omaha for a while, just because the label and everybody's there, but...it's cold (laughs).

Musicscan: Now that you mention it, how did you get in touch with Saddle Creek and how is the relationship with the guys?

Now It's Overhead: It's good. I met them about 8 or 9 years ago when my band played together at kind of a random show in Florida with Commander Venus, which was a band that had a lot of the people that are in various Saddle Creek bands now. We were on a compilation together and we liked this one band that not a lot of people have heard of... Anyway, so we kind of bonded in a lot of ways, always played each others' cities. That's about when Conor was starting Bright Eyes as a side project thing and I was a recording guy already, so I just kind of got involved with that and started going on tour with them.

Musicscan: Why do you think the whole Saddle Creek scene is so popular and so good? Why are there so many good bands from Omaha?

Now It's Overhead: It's been such a slow-growing process, it doesn't seem like a sudden thing to me at all. Because these are people that I've known for years that have always done this and it just seems like it's about time. I would just assume that things would continue to grow. But you're right, I mean the whole thing about the label is definitely an anomaly and something special. Not only does there happen to be a bunch of bands that are good from Omaha, it's people who have been friends for at least ten years. You know, they grew up together in the same damn school and stuff. And the fact that it's a great indie label, it has all the values of all other indie labels. It is something very special that everybody influences each other a lot and keeps each other in check and focused on important things and supports each other. It's a big family and it's great.

Musicscan: Have you ever experienced Georgia as being too conservative a place artistically and politically?

Now It's Overhead: For sure. Athens is quite different and Atlanta probably is too but it's such a big city, everything is deluded there, no offence to Atlanta people. But well yes, the south is definitely that way, Athens is a total exception. Although it's a small town, it's totally forward thinking and liberal-minded and it's kind of an oasis in the south. I wouldn't live anywhere but there in the south, that's for sure.

Musicscan: You're a person that is pretty much dealing with music 24/7. Are there times when you need to take a break and get some distance from it?

Now It's Overhead: I might say that and then when I try it lasts about a day and I'm like what am I doing? I'm watching TV... So no, I guess I don't really need to do that because it's the worst feeling in the world usually if I take more than 2 days away from music.

Musicscan: Do you have any hobbies or passions other than music?

Now It's Overhead: I went to school for visual art and like painting a lot, but I kind of made a conscious decision to not put any time into that. It's one or the other. I was doing both of them half-assed. But if I weren't doing music, I would certainly be doing that.

Musicscan: Are you still doing something like that? Do you do the artwork for the releases?

Now It's Overhead: Yeah, that is the extent of my visual art stuff.

Musicscan: So I probably don't have to ask you if you can imagine doing something other than music 20 years down the road?

Now It's Overhead: Yes.

Musicscan: As a producer and engineer do you only work with bands that you like and appreciate or do you not have that privilege?

Now It's Overhead: Nowadays I am able to only work with bands I like, but there were years and years of "take whatever happens." Everything is a learning experience. I am not saying that all the bands I recorded before sucked by any means, because there has been a lot of good stuff that I got to work on. I have gotten past the point of "even though I don't like the music, I will try to get that drum sound." Now I need it all.

Musicscan: Are there any positive, worthwhile aspects of producing such bands?

Now It's Overhead: Yes, how not to write a song. No, I'm kidding. You can salvage it by trying new things with sound and learn little tricks which happens every time, you learn something new. So yes, there are, but it is hard when you genuinely don't like the band. You just have to turn off the part of you that likes music and that is hard. I can't do it.

Musicscan: When you produce something, do you really get involved in the songwriting and the core processes of the band or do you remain and outsider to some extent?

Now It's Overhead: I prefer when I am in a position where the band wants me to do whatever comes to my mind. Sometimes the songs will be totally together. I just like to have the freedom to suggest anything. Sometimes that's just song structures, sometimes that is just keyboard sounds, sometimes it is suggesting a string section. Generally, though, with the bands I like there aren't any massive songwriting things that I bring to the table.

Musicscan: Are there any producers or engineers that you really admire?

Now It's Overhead: There are loads of them. I went through a big Steve Albini phase when I first started to get into recording. I am not very good with names sometimes, but Nigel Godrich, of course, is great and whatever the guy's name is who records the Coldplay records. Those sound really good, they have a personality about them. Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine does pretty mind-blowing stuff, too. I like unique sound environments. I like purists and people who hack shit apart like Glenn Johns who recorded Stones records all live. He was so in tune with the feel of the songs. Anybody who knows how to feature songs well and creates a unique spatial sound environment.

Musicscan: Do you think you were able to establish your own trademark of sound or do you stay flexible on purpose and not try to leave your imprint on every band?

Now It's Overhead: I don't think I could do that, to stay completely out of the picture. I feel like I almost have to pick a band that wants me to be a part of it, because I feel like the best sounds that I can get are the sounds that I have learned from my own recording. And that means that I am in the sound and that it's not completely hands off. But when I think of the variety of bands that I have recorded I don't think that I smother their personality. I feel best when they think of me as a temporary additional member.

Musicscan: Do you think there could ever be a conflict between Now It's Overhead and your producing and engineering work? Do you feel like you can spend enough time on the band?

Now It's Overhead: I don't know. For now and the foreseeable future the priority is going to be Now It's Overhead and we'll see how much the recording work suffers. There are fewer projects, but the projects that I do are a little longer so that you have time to really finish it and see it through until everybody feels that it is finished. So in the foreseeable future it is going to be a little more band and a little less recording.

  Now It's Overhead
  Saddle Creek
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