- Posted on Mar 3rd 2011 6:00PM by Arielle Castillo
You recorded the band's last album in Delaware, where your parents have a house. Did you grow up there? What are your earliest musical memories?
My parents are actually from Argentina, and they live there now. I grew up in Argentina and then D.C. I've been living in New York since 2001, when I went to school here but I had an older sister and a brother, and my brother was a DJ in the '80s. He would have these crates and crates of records that were all '80s club hits, as well as more obscure stuff -- everything from Taylor Dane to Human League and Tears for Fears and Depeche Mode and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Growing up in D.C., I was into the post-punk stuff like Fugazi and Minor Threat, and there was a big kind of music in D.C. called go-go, which never really made it out of D.C. I started playing guitar and I was playing punk, but I was also playing more hip-hop, go-go kind of stuff, too. I think a lot of that stuff plays in well with the Small Black, which kind of has a hip-hop influence, but also a punk influence and also, like, and '80s kind of shoegaze-electro-dance-pop-ness.
After you moved to New York to attend school, when did you start playing around the city and eventually join Small Black?
I played in a bunch of bands with Jeff [Curtin], who is the drummer in Small Black, in college. When we graduated, me and him were working on a bunch of stuff, and then Ryan [Hener] and Josh [Kolenik, vocalist] were working on a bunch of stuff , and we got together on a band called Slowlands. It was folky with dance beats, but it was a rock band with actual guitar and bass and drums.
Then Slowlands broke up, and we all started trying new kind of sounds. We were getting sick of guitars, and then, I'd say a year or two after Slowlands broke up, we got back together and starting sharing demos again.
Why did you get fatigued with a guitar-based sound?
Personally, I've been playing since forever, so I was glad to stop. I'm also kind of a producer; I do other productions than Small Black. I always wanted to play bass, because I think as a producer, it's one of the most important things to understand bass and how it moves around in a song. I was really excited to not play guitar, finally, after 10 to 15 years of playing guitar. We were all just sick of it. Ryan played in a hardcore band in Long Island for years and years, called Silent Majority, and it was one of the big punk bands there.
Why do you think Small Black resonated so much with people from the beginning?
It just was the right sounds at the right time -- a lo-fi, DIY bedroom project sounded good to people. Then there was the twist of it being kind of electro. People would say it had a homespun New Order kind of thing going, and that seemed to really resonate with people. They wanted dance-y, electro stuff, but they didn't want it to be all polished.
When we started playing live, it seemed like we had this energy that people like. We've gotten cleaner in our sound, and some of the new stuff we're working on is a bit more mature-sounding. But there's something romantic about emotional dance music that not a lot of people do, I guess. When you think of dance music, you think of four-to-the-floor disco or '80s cokey stuff. We kind of tried to do dance music with a personal twist.
You mentioned that it was the right sound and the right time, and since you guys have come out, you've been lumped in with bands like Washed Out. But you don't sound like Washed Out. How do you feel about being lumped into this "chillwave" tag?"
We got lumped in there because at that time, anything that was a lo-fi dance beat seemed to be "chillwave." If it was at a reasonably slow tempo, between 80 and 110 BPM, and it was a little lo-fi and kind of swirly-sounding, it would just be chillwave. We're actually really good friends with Washed Out. We did a tour with them and played with them and remixed each other. We love them, but we all think it's funny how we get lumped together, because we don't see that much resemblance.
How has your newest material that you've written since your last album, 'New Chain,' evolved?
For one, we've been gravitating towards sort of more danceable, uptempo stuff. Also, we're really expanding the production on this new record. I felt like 'New Chain' was sort of trailing off our EP and was a little bit different but still had a lot of the same techniques. Now we're trying some new guitar, and I would say the new sound is faster, tighter, more minimal, more pop. Instead of having 40 keyboard tracks whirling into a swirling kind of haze, we toned it down a bit and brought the vocals up a bit. We still try to focus on the songwriting but let a more minimal production tell the story.
Catch Small Black's SXSW Set on Wednesday, March 1 at Red 7 (611 E 7th St.) 12AM.
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