Bad Veins live show is a very interesting thing. The two person band from Cincinnati, Ohio manage to recreate the lush, orchestrated sound from their album on stage. Captivating and energetic, it's hard to know who to look at as an audience member of a Bad Veins show as both drummer Sebastien Schultz and singer/guitarist Benjamin Davis demand your attention, albeit in very different ways.
Schultz drums with the energy of at least three enthused punk drummers while Davis's mannerisms imply that he truly does believe the words he's singing as his guitar cuts and his voice remains lackadaisically seductive, no matter the amount of energy he seems to be expelling on stage. The fact that Bad Veins brand of sexy, hip indie pop is easy to digest and very appealing makes not only their just-released self titled debut a must to pick up but it also makes the Bad Veins fellows (and their reel to reel, lovingly named Irene, which produces all the wonderful sounds you hear that aren't made by Benjamin and Sebastien) a worthwhile show to check out. Conveniently, it just so happens that Bad Veins is coming back to Chicago this Friday, the 31st, with Now Now Every Children at the Abbey.
First off, I had really wondered how your sound would transcend to a live venue because, obviously, Bad Veins is a two person project but I can just about guarantee anyone who’s heard your album without knowing that already wouldn’t guess it. Your sound is very lush but given the fact that there's two of you, I was really interested to hear what would come from your concert. What struck me most about seeing you live is that it sounded remarkably similar to the album in a really good way. I've heard your first Daytrotter session which was awesome but it was so stripped down and what I expected from the show was something in between the two.
Benjamin Davis : Nope.
Obviously, that’s not what happened at all. So I imagine you probably get an overwhelming positive response from your live shows.
Benjamin: Well, basically, you said we get an overwhelming response for out live show. I think that it’s hit or miss. I think there are people that freak out and love it. There are people that walk out in the middle of a set.
Well, that’s awful.
Benjamin : I actually don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone walk out in the middle of a set. But I’m sure it happens.
For people who haven't got the chance to see you live, could you give me a very quick synopsis of how you guys create such an orchestrated sound with just a guitarist and drummer?
Sebastien : We cheat.
Benjamin : Well, we have an old vintage reel to reel deck that plays backing tracks center stage. When we get to a point where we have better lighting, we’ll have a spotlight right on it.
Sebastien : Maybe for certain parts, it will be just it and not even us. Just Irene. You know, it’s a more honest approach. Between all of us at this table, there’s probably a handful of our favorite bands that have always and will always use backing tracks. You go to these shows and you hear all of these songs that are just massive and gigantic and lush. For the most part, people are savvy enough these days to realize that’s because of backing tracks being played. That used to not be the case but now people realize a lot of the time, it’s backing tracks and for us, as opposed to hiding an iPod behind a drum kit as many bands do, in fact, we just put front and center our tape machine that plays the backing tracks. We’re being forthright and we’re letting the audience know that we do what we do and this is where those backing tracks come from and we’ve kind of taken it on as a third member rather than pretend that it’s just these two guys that magically make this sound.
Benjamin : It’s kind of like making fun of yourself before anyone else has a chance.
The buzz surrounding you guys is pretty big and I think it’s within good reason. I got an advanced copy of your album to review and totally fell in love with it, I’ve been listening to it like crazy.
Benjamin : Oh, thank you.
Sebastien : You know, we made that.
So lots of blogs and sites are hailing you guys as the next big indie breakthrough act. How are you dealing with hype at this point?
Benjamin : I don’t think there’s anything to deal with.
Sebastien : I don’t think we’re really at the point where we’re wrestling with anything.
Benjamin : How are you dealing with the fact that there’s only one more season of Lost?
It doesn’t affect my life at all, I don’t own a television.
Sebastien : Although I’d argue that might be harder to deal with than what we’re dealing with. It’s not as though we don’t appreciate the good reviews of the buzz or anything, we certainly appreciate it. At no point do we just sluff this off but we don’t read too much into it because it’s one of those things that can go either way. We don’t read too much into the bad reviews because they are what they are and we don’t read too much into the good reviews because they’re just another person’s opinion. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re gonna be our own worst critics. The buzz that you’re speaking of, we appreciate it and if it turns into something, great, but there’s no fear of us getting big heads. If anything else, we’re gonna be much more self-deprecating.
That’s a good way to deal with it.
Ben : You kind of answered your question. I brought up Lost because of a joke and you said ‘I don’t have a tv.’
Ben : Lost is one of the buzziest shows of our generation but you’re not affected by it. I kind of feel like that’s how I am with Bad Veins. I don’t feel like I’m affected by it. I don’t pay attention it and it only affects you when you pay attention to it.
So you’ve all this crazy instrumentalization on your album. How long did it take you to craft the songs?
Benjamin : It’s kind of a long process.
I imagine it’s a lot more lengthy than just someone with an acoustic guitar, sitting down and writing a song.
Benjamin : Well, it’s really funny. I’ll sit down, one day, maybe a 12 hour chunk of time. The melody, the song for the most part - I’ll flesh it out in one sitting and I will probably listen to it over and over. I’ll dump it on to my iPod and listen to it for weeks just sitting where I left it after one session and then I’ll come back and add twice as many things as were there before. And I have a habit of leaving things unfinished for a long time and going back to them later, that’s even before Sebastien and percussion even enter and when he comes in, it goes through more changes and more shifts. It’s kind of like one day of work that you just keep going back to for months until you’re done with it or you decide to abandon it.
A lot of musicians have this fully realized idea of how they'd ideally want their music to sound but then once they actually get to record, things like budget and time constraints and production values come into play and things do get changed. To me, Bad Veins sounds like it has an incredibly strong point of view and correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like it’s the sound you want to make. How did you guys go from two guys in Cincinnati to making this?
Benjamin : I don’t think we ever had a goal as to what we wanted to sound like. It’s kind of like, you hear the melody and the structure of the song in your head and you just kind of throw stuff at it and see what works. I have no idea what’s going to work. At a certain point, it gets obvious but there’s never been a goal to make a record. Like Found, the first song on the record with the military march. It’s not like there was ever a point where we were like ‘We’re gonna make a military march and we’re gonna have trombones.’ We just sort of let it happen.
Sebastien : Yeah, it just sort of just evolves. And definitely going into Black Iris, the studios we recorded with, we definitely had a little bit of an opportunity to experiment and the song sort of develops on it’s own a little bit in an environment that’s very conducive to trying new things and capturing great sounds, the guitar, bass, drums sounds or vocal sounds as well. Going into a professional studio, we’re the type of band that enjoy having solid production behind us.
Benjamin : Well, we both really like pop music. I think pop production has a very closed sound, everything is very panned and there’s a lot of attention made to details of clarity and you might play something and it’s right up front, not sank into the back of a mix. Just the way that pop music is produced. I think we take are indie rock, which are pop songs, and we apply this little indie pop production and I think that people who like pop music end up liking it. For some people it might be too poppy but we’re just fans of pop.
Sebastien : Very much so.
Okay, so, obligatory interview questions: What are your formative musical influences and what contemporary musicians and bands inspire you?
Sebastien : One of my big ones was a band called Sunny Day Real Estate. U2, Michael Jackson- Everyone’s talking about him recently but actually my first piece of music ever was a cassette tape of Michael Jackson. Ben I think had much more classical influences, he’ll have to tell you himself but I grew up listening to all sorts of bands. Nirvana, late ‘90's Modest Mouse was something I really latched on to, Built To Spill got me into that as well. A lot of that indie music and a lot of punk rock as well growing up, everything from Rocket from the Crypt and bands like Snapcase and bands that were really energetic. My playing is a result of, as a kid, going to their shows and feeling so close to the drummers and the musicians. Those sorts of bands were important to me.
Benjamin : I took piano lessons for like fifteen years and all that time you study stuff that, as a child, you’re not necessarily interested in. I’ve definitely lost of my edge because I don’t play piano anymore but there was a time when I could play a few Bach numbers from start to finish by ear. I never really got good at sight reading but I don’t play much anymore so all that’s pretty much gone. So I was this kid with like 6 or 7 years of piano experience at the age of 12 when I discovered my dad’s Led Zepplin tape collection. It was Led Zepplin 2 I believe. I memorized every last note, moan and groan and drum hit, guitar lick, everything. I memorized every last note of that record then I went to 1, 3, 4, House of the Holy, I learned all of that stuff. I think when I was a freshman in high school, I was watching the Doors movie and Oliver Stone had Velvet Underground on the soundtrack and I’m 13 and I hear this song and I was like ‘What is it?’ It’s just so simple and washing and gorgeous and I never heard anything like it and I looked it up and this wasn’t even 1993 and I bought The Best of Velvet Underground CD. I loved that. I did the same thing, every single note I memorized and Velvet Underground branched off, I got really into Pavement, Tom Waits. Velvet Underground was my gateway into indie music. I could name a million bands but if I try to think of the key bands that really, really shook my musical vision, Pavement did that, the Pixies, Velvet Underground, the whole David Friedman collection, all the stuff he produced with the Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse, Delgados. All those things kind of blew my mind with their production. I’m like anybody else, I listen to everything. I guess I skipped the Beatles, an obvious one. That was probably a few years post-Led Zepplin for me. My dad had a book of the first seven Beatles records, chords books, lyrics, melodies, guitar chords. There was a book that had the first four and a second book that had the next three but I didn’t even know these songs, I’d never really heard them but I would sit down in my basement with a guitar and go through and play all the chords. My dad came down and saw what I was doing and sang it and I’d never heard the song before. He was like ‘It sounds like this.’ He did and I was like ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ Looking back, I guess that’s what I did. I just sat there and practiced all these chord changes and all the while my pop sensibility was being formed to where now when I sit down to write, the way that I think something should go is probably because of all the stuff I listened to. The Beatles would have taken this particular thing this way and I go with it without thinking about it. I think that’s how people get influenced. Everything they consume becomes a part of their mind when they recreate it without even trying. All that stuff’s blended in.
So you've been already touring quite a bit and doing a ton of press but now, with the impending release of your album, that's gonna be thrown into hyperdrive. What do you guys have planned in the next few months?
Sebastien : I think the next year of our lives is just gonna be a lot of touring, being on the road. We’re definitely booked through October at this point, just being out on the road, the northeast then swinging down south to Texas and going across to the southwest and going up to the pacific northwest. I think we’ll just be really, really consumed with interviews and shows and traveling. Hopefully a lot of pools and hot tubs.
Benjamin : Doing all our touring is going to take up a lot of time and writing. I want to write as much as I can. It’s funny to think that sometimes your life reminds you of art and that art only exists because of other peoples lives. To say that something feels like the game the Sims, it’s like Sims was designed to be like life and when you play the Sims, there are different categories, you have to have their hunger and they can’t be lonely and there’s work and all this stuff and my particular Sim has a bar that is being creative and writing songs and if I don’t do that for a while, that bar goes down and I stand around with my arms raised and go “Ay, ay, ay!” up at the sky. I have to be writing. I get miserable if I’m not writing, it’s one of my Sim bars.