Department of Eagles began in 2000, when New York University assigned freshmen Fred Nicolaus and Daniel Rossen to share a room. This budding friendship spurned a musical collaboration which would come to fruition as The Whitey On The Moon UK EP (now known as The Cold Nose) in 2004, a collection of songs comprised of mostly samples, singing and some live instruments. It was one of those under the radar albums that your way cool friend had and burned for you. Its most recognized track, "Forty Dollar Rug," featured a comical and unfettered mimicry of The Streets vocal stylings ("Bettah watch out for ya biscuit lad cos I got sticky fingas"). Well in four years a lot can happen, and what was once a joke has evolved into something more mature, something more melancholy, and orchestral. The result of this spanse of time is their luscious sophomore album In Ear Park. RFC recently chatted with un-ursine half Fred Nicolaus to discuss pessimism, their upcoming record and ...R.Kelly?
RFC: So what's going on in the Department of Eagles nest then presently?
Fred Nicolaus: We're rehearsing for our first ever live show and possibly last ever*.
RFC: That breaks my heart a little to hear.
FN: Well you know, we're a pessimistic band, we assume the worst. And that way we're always pleasantly surprised if things go well.
RFC: Well I suppose it's better than assuming you'll go on a world dominating tour after your first live show ever. And then completely bombing the show. Which, may happen (being a pessimist).
FN: Exactly, that's a very real possibility.
RFC: What's the set up going to be then for the live show?
FN: It's going to be Dan playing guitar and singing, me playing guitar, and the two Chrises (Bear and Taylor) from Grizzly Bear playing bass and drums we might also get our friend Angel (Deradoorian), who plays in the Dirty Projectors, to play keyboards... Department of Grizzly Projectors.
RFC: I much prefer that to Department of Dirty Bears.
FN: Haha, I don't know, that's got a ring to it.
RFC: So then this is obviously a record release for In Ear Park then, yes? And your previous record, you didn't really have a release for that because it sort of spread virally.
FN: Yeah, it's to celebrate the release of the record. Also, it would have been very difficult to do a live show based around that album because so much of it was based around samples.
RFC: Definitely. In Ear Park is quite a departure from Whitey on the Moon UK EP/Cold Nose.
FN: Yeah, it is a lot of people have commented on how drastically different it is. It's kind of weird for me and Dan though, because that record (Whitey on the Moon UK EP/Cold Nose) is five years old for us. Some of the songs are from when we were 18 years old so we've slowly been moving away from that style of music ever since. We just haven't released anything. It's kinda like seeing your cousin when he's 12 and then seeing him when he's 21.
RFC: So this latest album is at least of legal drinking age. It's voice has changed etc.
FN: Exactly, this album is a lot drunker.The last album was like the annoying teenage cousin at the family reunion who was always making smart remarks. The new album is like the pretentious 21 year old cousin who only wants to talk about Kafka.
RFC: And it is quite literally a metamorphosis.
RFC: What kinds of different instrumentations are on In Ear Park, you don't have a melodica anywhere in there do you? If you ever need one, I've got one. Can't say I'm real great at it, but it's fun to try.
FN: No, I wish we did, that would be cool. Guitar, piano, bass, banjo, drums mainly, really standard. Although we had our friend Nat Baldwin come in and play double bass on a lot of songs
RFC: Ooh double bass, meaty. Very nice. Which can you be held accountable for?
FN: Nice meaty slabs of double bass slathered in hot reverb. I actually played very little on the record. I sang a bit, played percussion, some piano mostly my role was songwriting.
RFC: The penman. Or do you mean composition?
FN: That would be an awesomely pretentious way to put it. I played the pen, the quill. I did write all of my songs on parchment paper.
RFC: Ye olde ink and quill. Are the edges curled properly? What color are the ribbons that tie them?
FN: Gold, the color of a hit record.
RFC: Brilliant and fitting. How long did it take to get this latest record done with Dan being a Bear about town ? Was it just a "do what you can when you can" sort of scenario or were there plans?
FN: It took a long time we wrote the songs over the course of that time. It was very much in the margins of other stuff, the writing anyway. We recorded it all in one go but the writing was done very much in a "do what we can when we can" type of way.
RFC: And some Grizzlies helped get the album together yes? Where was it recorded?
FN: Yeah - Chris Taylor recorded it and played bass and horns and Chris Bear played drums.We recorded it in the choir loft of a church.
RFC: Was it a religious experience? Does a choir of angels make a cameo appearance on this album?
FN: In the afternoon there was a thirty minute stretch where the sun was shining right through the big stained glass rose window and the whole place had a very cool light. It was the magic hour and it felt kinda religious but no angels except our beautiful angelic voices.
RFC: So Dan is to Grizzly Bear as Fred is to _____
FN: uh...Department of Eagles?
RFC: Sure! Any answer would've been acceptable, really. Even if it was something like The Hadron Collider.
FN: I did sing lead vocals for the Hadron Collider so it would work.
RFC: So what if it is your first and last show then? What's a Fred to do?
FN: The cool thing about Department of Eagles is that we can kinda play it by ear. We may write more songs together and we may do another album, maybe it'll sound like this one, maybe it'll be a complete left turn but anyway, I don't feel like there's a lot of stress, we can kinda take it as it comes
RFC: I think that's a good way to go about it. If I were in a band, I'd probably go that route. No sense in stressing if you don't have to. I was pleased to see that "No One Does it Like" you made it onto In Ear Park. But whatever happened to "Deadly Disclosure"? And where did the Jojo cover come from that will be on the 7"? That's hilarious to me.
FN: Somehow it (Deadly Disclosure) didn't quite fit but I'm sure it'll be released in the future in one format or another. Daniel actually did it (Jojo cover) for Ed of Grizzly Bear Fame's birthday. I like it a lot, especially when Dan says like "playas like you, you only love the game" or something like that. It sounds pretty great coming from him. I want to write more lyrics like that for Dan to sing, specifically the word "playa." Underused in contemporary songcraft.
RFC: Absolutely. R. Kelly seems to have a lockdown on the use of the word (playa). Someone needs to take the reigns and utilize it in an unsuspecting way.
FN: It's gonna be hard. My favorite thing about R. Kelly is his use of his own name as an element of percussion just throwing out a cry of "Kells!" in a very percussive way. A lot of people do it, but he does it a lot and he does it better.
In Ear Park comes out on October 7th on 4AD, just in time to keep you company during the cold and lonely autumn and winter months.
*You can catch them tonight, October 1st, on Conan O'Brien and October 6th and 7th in NY for their record release show and a spot in Revenge of the Book Eaters.