Tonight at the Lakeshore Theatre, Solon Bixler and Rachel Stolte-- collaboratively known as Great Northern-- rock steady with the Dears. The L.A.-based group recently released their second album "Remind Me Where the Light Is," and ambitious sophomore-slump defying effort produced by Nic Jodoin and Michael Patterson (who was also behind the likes of Beck, Ladytron, and BRMC). I sat down yesterday with Solon to chew the fat about the wonders of dirty socks, of working maps, and of how to stay sane in the music industry.
So, just where are the two of you calling from?
Uh, I just got off the Blue Line in Wicker Park. I love Chicago— me and Rachel were talking about how it’s really a little better than New York, good pockets and areas. And public transport! There’s nothing like that in LA.
How’s the tour coming along? You’re right smack in the middle of it, yes?
Yeah, it’s been good… I love touring. It can be very irresponsible. You don’t have any bills sent to your hotel, there are none of the little realities of home life. Though there are still plenty of dirty socks.
Is it fair to say you’re treading some darker waters in Remind Me... than Trading Twighlight? Or if not darker, than certainly different?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. This is the first time we’d ever tried to let the songs be the forefront, the true forefront. The first record was still personal, but we were busy figuring out what we wanted to do. We used to have a bad connotation for the phrase “working with a producer” …I thought that meant people couldn’t write their own music. Ugh—naïve. If you get with the right person, they can find what you’re good at.
I was going to ask, how did you hook up with Michael Patterson? He’s a beast!
It was through our manager! Our manager manages Ladytron, and he—Michael—mixed them. Initially we were looking at smaller indie rock producers, but then our manager showed us Michael and Nic. And I guess he’d already showed us off to them and, y’know, really liked us. Which is crazy. Look at his roster—and then Rachel was singing in the studio, and was like “You’ve recorded Beyonce! How should I sing?!”
It’s gotta at least be an ego boost.
In the beginning it was terrifying. Rachel and I had thirty songs, all the way from the most elaborated song idea to little acoustic 3am “I’m drunk” ditties, and when we first met them we all sat through every song. And one by one: this is good, this is good, five seconds of that’s good so you might wanna work on it. We knew how we wanted it to sound as an overall piece—but having a producer there is kind of like an editor. I wish I could have an editor walking around with me correcting what I say.
You’re a duo. Is there a clear break between what you do and what Rachel does? Are there songs that are just yours or just hers or is everything a hybrid?
Uh—kind of depends. We do almost everything together. For sure, Rachel—on this record anyway—did about 75% of the lyric. I personally innately love to layer things, run multiple tracks. But Rach is a little the opposite, she likes things really simple. She can sometimes be my editor and vice versa, I get her to add stuff.
How did you meet each other?
(laughs) I think… about ten years ago? I don’t remember the exact place—we would meet every so often at random rock shows and be like “hi!” I was on tour at the time and writing songs, recording them on a four-track and I called her cuz I knew she was a singer. Sent her tapes, she got a four track, recorded stuff, sent it back. And then… we turned into Fleetwood Mac. (laughs)
Minus the angst and the personal drama?
Oh yeah. But of course. Fleetwood at their lightest, the happy times. But yeah: musically, I might come up with stuff or she might, but the end result we go through together.
Is that hard? Always working with another person?
I wouldn’t say “easy.” (laughs) I mean, it’s not that difficult either. We were lucky to find each other. I’ve been in other bands over the years where writing was much harder, much more—much more stress involved.
And how many bands have you been in?
Well, okay, a couple. But this is kinda the real—maybe a lot of people say it, I don’t know—but this is the First Band. It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve done before. Anything! I’ve done side work where I played in someone else’s band—and its fun, you learn a lot, but it’s never yours. This, this is much more personal. I’m writing lyric, figuring the way things sound… figuring what route we take when we drive.
Is it harder to have that much responsibility over what you put out there?
Sometimes, for sure. I think—not to sound like a jaded idiot—but a lot of people before they have bands don’t know how much work goes into it. Most of it is disheartening. You get shot down quite a lot. I mean, you’re putting something you created out to be examined under a microscope and people either like it, hate it, or don’t care. It’s the same for any artist; journalist, writer, painter, whatever. If you don’t have a thick skin and know who you are, it can crush you in a second. It’s only rock ‘n roll. I just have to keep telling myself—it’s only rock ‘n roll.
Great Northern play with the Dears and Eulogies tonight (5/13) @ Lakeshore at 8:00 PM. Tickets are $15 and it is all ages.