The Sour Notes kicks off 2010 with a new album and tour, which brings the group back to Houston this Friday night (1.1.10) for a show with Spain Colored Orange at Rudyard’s. You can pre-order It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty from the band’s MySpace page or get it at the show.
The Sour Notes’ frontman Jared Boulanger recently answered a few questions for Houston Calling.
Houston Calling: You’re about to kick off a tour in support of the new album. Are you excited about the chance to get your new music exposed outside Texas?
Jared Boulanger: Absolutely! When we started The Sour Notes, we knew that because of the state that the “music world” was in, we would have to tour at least once a year if we wanted to keep progressing as a band. It’s just something that indie bands have to do nowadays. There are so many great bands all over the place that I think could reach a larger audience and success if they just went for it so to speak. So many of them burn out or break up, because it’s really hard to feel like all your time and effort is worth it when you don’t see an end result or the smallest of success. Even if you have to book and fund a tour all by yourself, I think it must be done. That being said, once you’re actually out there on the road, getting the chance to infect other cities and people with your ideas, the fun and reward is right there in your face, everyday.
HC: What can you tell me about the new record? You recorded it in Houston, correct?
JB: We did! Three of four of us are from Houston, so we have lots of friends and memories there, that we like to revisit often. This will also be three of four releases that we’ve “released” in Houston. What can I say? It just feels right. As far as the new album is concerned–it is the best work we have ever done. Since our debut EP, we’ve quickly gravitated towards the sounds and styles we are currently presenting on It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty little by little. Our heaviest and most delicate songs are all here, arranged in a way that I know we’ll never top. This album was very well planned out and was written quite some time before it was actually recorded. I think it shows what we’ve been going for the whole time and will bring together what fans and listeners got a taste of previously in a climactic sort of way.
HC: You’ve worked with producer Steve Christensen on your recordings–he has to be riding high from his work on the new Tody Castillo album [Windhorse] and Steve Earle’s latest [the Grammy-nominated Townes]. You also were featured on one of the Live at SugarHill episodes this year–were you excited to be working with Steve again?
JB: Steve has been a close friend of mine for over a decade and mark my words, I will never record or mix with anyone else… Ever! He has a vast knowledge of “what’s good” and “why it’s good” that in my opinion can’t be duplicated. We share a similar interest in what we listen to as well and I think that helps.
We usually track the initial recordings with Steve at his studio and do the over-dubs in our home studio and that seems to be working out fine. I’ve learned everything I know from the guy and I think any musician who reads this should call him up right now and give him all of their money to record them. He won’t just record your band and get good sounds–you’ll feel violated to the extent of sharing anything with him, because he’s been thinking of you and been you’ve been his “dream girl,” forever.
HC: The Sour Notes play a good bit in Houston–what is your take on the music scene in Houston as opposed to other cities? Being from Austin, Texas’ “music city,” did you have any preconceived notions about Houston?
JB: Having the chance to experience both cities in a musical way, equally, I’d have to say that I honestly like Houston a lot more for many reasons. To me, Houston music fans seem to have much more of their own musical tastes that they’re willing to reach out for and support. The Sour Notes have always been received much better in Houston, whether that’s because we’re from there or not, I dunno. To the outside world, I feel like Austin is considered to be this “hip,” music-driven-city–but actually, I think that appeal is mostly made up for the people who live in Austin, which makes it hard for unknown bands to really make a mark here. Yes, there are a lot of pro-active music organizations and festivals, but overall you get the feeling that unless you’re on the tip of every college radio DJ’s tongue or opening for a show booked by one of the monopolizing booking collectives, it sways opinions and it makes a difference in the “coolness-appeal” of your band and that makes a difference in the opportunities you may or may not get in a place that is as “who you know” as this.
HC: How did you approach the songwriting process on It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty as opposed to The Meat Of The Fruit? Do you see your latest songs as a natural progression for the band?
JB: If you were to listen to all of our releases in a row, you would definitely hear the sound getting heavier and more adventurous with every album. That’s been primarily because of our conscious effort to do something new and different every time. To approach generally “dreary” subject matter and present it in the most “pop-sensible” way has never changed for us and I think as long as we remain within the “pop-song” guidelines, we are free to write and experiment in whatever musical genre that fits the song and make it still sound like a Sour Notes song.
HC: You’ve steadily released new music since the band began, which is great. Why do you think some bands’ releases are so few and far between? How do you approach the songwriting process?
JB: Though some might disagree, I’ve always felt the most important thing to do when you’re in a band is to record your music and set a new reference point to continue on with. I know I was stressing the importance of touring earlier, but that’s only important if you’re constantly putting out new material in addition to that. Nobody wants to hear the same set you’ve been playing for over a year–at least I don’t. I don’t even like the sound of my own songs after too long. We have a song off our last album called “Holy Terror”–it kind of talks about our thoughts on the stagnation of bands and music today. For a lot of bands, the sheer enjoyment of playing for an audience is good enough to keep on going, which I’ve never been able to relate to. The only reason I get up on stage at all is because I know I have at least a set-list full of “recorded” songs to choose from. When I started The Sour Notes in 2008, I had many albums’ worth of material to work towards new albums with and the writing process for The Sour Notes has always been a communal one, but usually starts out with me presenting a rough sketch of the song and us flushing it out in practice as a band. Sometime we’ll come up with a little riff or piece of a song and a new song will come out of nowhere all of a sudden, but that hasn’t happened much, because we always have something we’ve already started on, to catch up with.
HC: Elaine Greer is now a full-time member of the band–how did that come about?
JB: I’d known Elaine for a while before she moved to Austin from Houston and we have mutual friends here and there, and that might have been how we were first introduced. We’ve always been fans of each others’ music and when I asked her to record some vocals for our new album, her ideas and harmonies we’re just too good for me to not ask her to join the band. She also records with Steve Christensen as a solo artist and I think he might have said something along the lines of “You should just join their band” or something–it was that simple. I think she really enjoys working in a ‘band environment’ after so much of her solo work and I know it’s a real treat for her to play different instruments and focus on new material that isn’t “Elaine Greer”…
HC: Your music has been compared to Death Cab For Cutie and other similar indie rock bands. I don’t hear it, other than your songwriting leans toward the emotional at times. Do you agree with the comparison or is it something you even pay attention to?
JB: This is the question I’ve been waiting for David! Hehe… I’m glad you don’t hear it… cuz I don’t either. I’m assuming those comparisons are on a vocal level, because I don’t hear any similarities in the music other than we both play guitars and have our moments of dreamyness. It always confused me before, how many comparisons in reviews on The Sour Notes that people would make to Ben Gibbard’s voice, but in actuality, I don’t draw from their influence, nor do I own any Death Cab records, but maybe that’s because I don’t own any CDs at all.
I would say that the primary influence for my songwriting are the films of Ingmar Bergman. Specifically, Winter Light, even though I’m not questionably spiritual. I’m okay with saying that the ideas presented in our lyrics and the music you hear are directly stolen from his films. Specifically, that one. Watch it. It has a 6-minute or so close-up of Ingrid Thulin that breaks all the rules. The last song on our new album, “The Distant Knell,” is about his film The Seventh Seal… and we’ve also been known to draw from Godard from time to time–i.e., the song “Your Pretty Sphinx Voice” from our last album.
HC: After the short tour, what are your plans for spreading the word about the new album?
JB: We applied to SXSW and CMJ this year and hopefully we’ll get in and that will give it some recognition. Other than this interview and playing songs from It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty at shows now and in the future, we don’t have any “plans” for spreading the word by any other means. We have to start preparing and recording our next album shortly after we get back from tour, so there won’t be alot of time to multi-task.
HC: What are some of the albums you’ve been listening to lately? Anything to recommend?
JB: Lately it’s been a lot of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. I would recommend watching the Ziggy Stardust concert film. It’s a great performance.
Thanks to Jared of The Sour Notes for taking the time out from the holidays to answer these questions.
The Sour Notes released a video for “Psychological Thriller” from their 2009 release, Received in Bitterness. Watch it here.
Purchase It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty here.