“Music is an ever-evolving wave of creativity, when you can catch the crest at the right time is when the real magic happens.”
A Great Big Pile Of Leaves has been a rather great big deal here on UTG as of late. As they’ve grown to be one of our favorite bands, we’ve been stalking their every move like we were being featured in a wildlife documentary…or something more disturbing that could get you into a great big deal of trouble. We’ll go with the former and carry on naturally as we present you with this exclusive interview with the Brooklyn four-piece.
After giving them a perfect 10/10 score on their newest album, You’re Always On My Mind, we got the chance to speak with the band about the release, their formula for creating great music, and nostalgia; Goosebumps, boomboxes, and more. Read through to enjoy our conversation with AGBPOL and make sure to pick up their new album on July 2 via Topshelf Records.
Do you feel like you guys are still a great big pile of leaves, or a completely different type or sized pile of leaves at this point in your career?
Pete: Same pile, new people jumping in.
Tyler: I like to think the pile gets a little bigger every year. Maybe someday we can release a Great Big Greatest Biggest Hits record.
Tucker: Definitely growing! The last few months of promotion for the record have been so exciting!
When you began working on You’re Always On My Mind, what was the band’s focus for how you wanted to improve upon Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex? and your other works?
Pete: There was never really a discussion of how we wanted anything to turn out. It was a very natural process. The biggest difference in the process this time was that we were very separated physically and our roles were much more concentrated on a personal level. The songs were mostly completed this time before being passed along to the other guys to write their parts. Although we conducted our work somewhat separately, I think the cohesion of the final product grew substantially. It was very exciting to see the transformation from fairly stripped down acoustic songs into full band ensembles. They took on a new, fuller life of their own. It helps also because I feel like we all have a solid respect and appreciation for each other and what each brings to the mix in terms of knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality as well.
Tyler: I don’t think we discussed a direction very much, we all have grown at the same pace and have learned a lot since making the first LP. Luckily we were all on the same page and these new songs came about very naturally.
Tucker: Our process started identically, a mixture of little jams and riffs that we discovered at practice, and acoustic frames and basic structures that came from Pete that we all fleshed out together. As Tyler said, we never discussed what we wanted, but instead just followed our feelings of what sounded right for each song and section. “That sounds cool!” is our guiding phrase when composing. If it sounds intense or heady or combative, we usually drop the part. Our process is very natural and instinctive, never a struggle.
Now that the album is completed, if you can possibly look at it or listen to it from an “outside” perspective, how do you feel about it? Is it your best release to date? Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
Tyler: That’s always been the hardest part for me. I love the record and I think it’s definitely one of our most focused and composed releases, but I’m also completely biased. I just hope that people really enjoy it [laughs].
Tucker: It’s a snapshot of what we created over two weeks with Ed Ackerson — we didn’t change anything about it after our return to New York. I think it stands on its own against our catalog as the most focused effort.
Matt: For me, with every album I’ve ever made in any band I’ve played in, I’ve always felt it’s never quite finished. There’s always more in retrospect that I wish I would have added or a performance I wish I could have changed in some way. Music is an ever-evolving wave of creativity, when you can catch the crest at the right time is when the real magic happens.
How does the album title relate to its content? Is it aimed at someone in particular?
Tyler: To me, the album title plays a lot on the artwork and Pete’s lyrical content. You never really know if he’s talking about a girl, a personal experience, or Swedish Fish.
Pete: It’s true.
Matt: I really like that the title is open to your own personal interpretation. For me, it’s reflective of the simple things that truly make you happy in life. That’s where I find my connection to Pete’s lyrics.
A lot of your lyrics are ostensibly playful and straightforward but definitely seem like they may have some metaphors weaved throughout (“Pet Mouse” / “Slumber Party” for example) – maybe with more esoteric, inside jokes. How would you describe the writing process when it comes to the lyrical content, and would you say there’s more meaning to the words than there may initially appear to be?
Tucker: Pete LOVES to be vague about this. Even I know virtually nothing about the real meaning of the lyrics, and I’m totally happy with that. Lyrics need to be taken for what they are. Like all communication, filled with references and metaphors, different levels of meaning and intention. If there are inside jokes, I’m on the outside with everybody else. I have my own relationship with the lyrics.
Pete: Also true.
So to follow up with that – pizza, skateboarding, hamburgers, slumber parties, summer fun. While based on your name, it’s always kind of been your thing, but this album in particular seems like a very nostalgic release for you guys. Can you explain the themes of the album and why you decided to take a more lighthearted approach to this one?
Tucker: It’s funny you should put it that way, because I was just explaining to someone the other day that this album feels a little more serious lyrically than previous releases. So who knows? You create a piece or an album and it means different things to everyone who hears it. I think as we get older we are seeing things from different perspectives, but summer fun will always be awesome, so I think we should just keep focusing on that.
I’ve been watching a lot of Goosebumps on Netflix and playing Nintendo 64 lately. What are some things you miss the most from your childhood that have maybe dwindled in quality since then or just don’t exist anymore?
Tyler: [Laughs] I just started re-watching Goosebumps as well. I’m not sure they’re specific things that I miss from my childhood, but I definitely miss the feeling I would get when I was younger from simpler things. I think that’s why nostalgia is so strong and important for a lot of people.
Tucker: There is always the temptation to look back at your past with a feeling of loss. But I think it’s a slippery slope! Nostalgia should be tempered with an obligation to approach your present with unbiased optimism for new situations and experiences.
Matt: Wow, Tucker, very well put. Ninja Turtles has definitely changed for the worse.
Pete: Including but not limited to walkmen, boom boxes, slam dunking, little league, collecting change on the roadside while skateboarding to extra-mart to buy beef jerky, and dance contests to “Tootsie Roll.” There are also things I very much enjoy in the present though, that I look forward to feeling nostalgic about in the future.
I feel like there aren’t a lot of relaxing, fun, and carefree albums like this in the genre, or related genres, as of late. Do you feel like this album is something fans need right now? You mentioned that you feel that this album is more serious and I can see that now in a sense but I personally feel like you’re providing us with something more helpful by allowing us to just have fun with it as well, in regards to the lyrics at least.
Tyler: I’ve always thought of our music as being a good balance between musicianship and light-heartedness. As people, we don’t take ourselves very seriously, but we do take our craft very seriously, so when you combine the two, you get this new record. I appreciate the fact that people like to listen to music to compliment certain moods, but I’ve always been more attracted to music that would put me in a good mood, and I’m excited at the thought that we could possibly do that for other people.
You’ve always had this kind of unique production on your albums which adds to your signature sound. Is this something that is planned out or does this just happen organically in the studio with the producer?
Tyler: We taught ourselves how to use protools and how to record. Not to say that we ever did it the “right way,” but we all have sounds and equipment that is unique to each member, so no matter where we record we like to use our own equipment for the most part, which I think has helped give us a certain sound. Ed Ackerson (producer) definitely helped bring our sound to a new place and he pushed us to experiment with some new textures.
Tucker: I was so pleased how Ed really latched on to our own wacky production ideas. In fact he insisted on keeping many of our homegrown production techniques and sounds, but stepped in and influenced us in a few key moments that I have really grown to love.
Matt: I can’t sing Ed Ackerson’s praises enough. He was such a pleasure and so easy to work with and like Tucker mentioned, Ed was great about understanding the sonic textures that are unique to us, he really got the sound of the band and wanted to help enhance it. He has an unmatched knowledge of all genres of music and a very keen ear for harmony and melody and sounds so it really helped the band take big steps forward and shed some old habits along the way as well.
While still unique, the production sounds even better on YAOMM — and the songwriting seems more focused. How would you say you’ve evolved as a group and individually as musicians? Anything specific that have led to these things?
Tyler: I think you pretty much nailed it for this record. It’s a more cohesive and focused record, and it’s our first studio album so the production has taken a step up. If I can attribute anything to how we’ve grown, it’s probably the bands we’ve toured with, which has been a pretty eclectic group. You go out with bands like Hellogoodbye, The Appleseed Cast, Motion City Soundtrack, and Saves the Day, and you watch them every single night. You start to pick up certain tricks along the way, or come up with things you could improve upon. Touring with those guys definitely pushed us to become a much more professional and focused group when it comes to a lot of the aspects of our band.
Pete: I think this record was created with a lot more focus. Back to the writing process, I wanted to have songs as completed as possible before sending to the other guys, and in turn I think there was more of an overall picture established beforehand. Sometimes when the guys would create their parts, the songs were solidly complimented, and others turned into totally new pieces. Either way, they were always enhanced in my eyes and constantly improving until completion. I think the focus was high during the whole process and allowed a greater possibility for a more cohesive final product.
I feel like you guys have progressed almost in the same way Minus The Bear has over the years with production and such from release to release. Like from Highly Refined Pirates to Menos El Oso, with EPs in between. Could you see yourself getting a YAOMM remix album compiled with various producers/artists?
Tyler: Thank you, I love that band, [laughs]. I would love to get some remixes of the record at some point–we’ve discussed possibly doing another Live From the Living Room type record down the road. But, it would definitely be awesome to get some other people on board to remix the songs.
Topshelf seems to be a pretty perfect home for you guys and they appear to really be appreciating and backing this album wholeheartedly. Can you see you guys staying there for awhile? What’s your relationship like with the label?
Tyler: They’re simply the best dudes. Seth and Kevin work so hard every day, and I honestly don’t know how they did it. We’ve been friends with them for a few years now, and they’ve always been our biggest supporters and are always down with whatever ideas we have. This record is just a one-off deal with them, but we can definitely see working with them continuously in the future.
Matt: Completing a record and finding the right home for it is never an easy task, but we feel like working with TopShelf has been a great marriage of passion and business. Kevin and Seth have passion for what they are doing and it shows in their work ethic. They are doing it right. I’m looking forward to reaching the next frontier of the band working with them for this album.
What bands have you been listening to the most lately? Any specific 2013 releases that you think will be in your top 10 for the year?
Tyler: I’ve been listening to The Dawn Sang Along by The Little Ones a lot, and I’m really looking forward to the new Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin record that comes out this fall.
Matt: Many, many different things. I’m really enjoying the new Daft Punk album, new Thundercat, a group called Haim, the new Kanye West album. I try to keep it mixed up.
Besides your current tour and releasing this album soon, what plans does AGBPOL have this year and beyond? Any more tours or special surprises you can reveal? Any plans for a music video?
Tyler: We have two more tours lined up for late summer / early fall that we can’t announce yet, but I’m definitely super excited about both of those. Hopefully we’ll line up something for the end of the year and get back out west as well.
Tucker: We have been kicking around a few ideas for a music video, that looks like it will definitely happen in the near future around this release.
What experience do you hope we gain from listening through You’re Always On My Mind? And can we have a pizza party?
Pete: I just hope that we can affect people in a positive way.
Tyler: I hope that we can put smiles on some faces, create a soundtrack for some of those awesome summer moments, and get some people to come hang out with us at shows. And yes to the pizza party.
Matt: Make sure to have a veggie pizza for me!