Die nächsten, die wir in unserer Interview-Reihe begrüßen dürfen, sind die Pica Beats aus Seattle, die im September dieses Jahres mit „Beating Back The Claws Of The Cold“ ein wunderschönes, warmes und zeitloses Werk vorlegten. So verwundert es keineswegs, dass die Platte auch ihren Weg in unsere Jahresliste gefunden hat. Sänger und „Mastermind“ Ryan Barrett hat sich nun die Zeit genommen, uns einige interessante, aufschlussreiche Details zu verraten.
AufTouren: The Pica Beats started as a solo project. Can you tell us about becoming a „real band“ and do you still write the songs on your own or does songwriting have become a more democratic process since Colin and the others joined the band?
Ryan: Well, a majority of the time so far has been spent just learning the songs on the current and previous records. We only really solidified our current lineup of musicians in the past couple months, so we’ve been busy trying to work out live arrangements for as many of the old songs as possible. For ‚Beating Back‘, I did a majority of the songwriting ahead of time, then laid down the initial tracking, with Colin coming in and recording the drum tracks after a majority of the song was worked out. Often we would record his drum tracks just a few minutes after he had heard the song for the first time-sometimes this would lead to him ‚learning‘ the song by re-recording the drums over and over until we had what we wanted, or in some situations -Cognac and Rum for instance- He nailed the entire song in just one or two takes, with me pointing at him to give him cues on changes. I met Adam McCollom right around the time we were signing and (I thought) the record was just about completed. He felt inspired to record a few parts which ended up really making the songs they are on, namely all the organ/synth stuff on the title track, as well as the keyboard parts all over Hikikomori and those strange ‚chinese opera‘ sort of sections on Cognac and Rum. I’m just finishing up laying down the basic tracks for the next record- for the most part just the basic song structure, with guitar/vocals and a rudimentary rythm track. My plan is to pass this stuff off to the rest of the band to add-to or deconstruct at will, and see what we end up with by the time we ‚officially‘ record the songs for the next album. It’ll be nice to finally get Alice (Sandahl-the newest member) finally recorded as well, since so far her killer voice can only be heard in the live show.
AufTouren: You released your first album „All Mysteries Solve Themselves“ on your own, „Beating Back The Claws Of The Cold“ now was released via Hardly Art, a spin-off of Sub Pop. Do you know anything about the reasons why this new label was established and what do the different artists like The Moondoggies, Le Loup and of course The Pica Beats all have in common?
Ryan: I’m not really sure. My basic impression was that the Sub Pop folks wanted to get back into the small label game, now that SP is such a massive entity, and I think the only thing all the bands on Hardly Art have in common is that we are well liked by the people that work there. It’s nice having people on your side that want to promote your music, despite the seeming odds against it being a profitable enterprise.
AufTouren: Hardly Art was named after a Thermals-Song. I know that it’s a great passion of music-journalists to create a new scene every week, but it seems obvious that for longer than just the last few years, there were lots of bands coming from the american North-West around Seattle and Portland like the Decemberists or the actually very successful Fleet Foxes. Do you feel being part of something and is there anything special about this region of America?
Ryan: I think that most of what journalists and everyone assumes is probably correct. The northwest is relatively small, and once you get involved in the music scene, it gets smaller still. Every musician here either knows one another directly, or at the most is separated by just a few degrees. On top of that, I think a lot of musicians move here because they like a lot of the music from this region. In that type of environment it’s inevitable that bands will influence eachother and a regionally identifiable sound will crop up.
AufTouren: Ok, let’s talk about your lyrics, to me they often seem to be kind of mysterious, sad stories about characters, who don’t really fit in our present times. In which way are these stories influenced by your own life or is it all just fiction?
Ryan: It’s hard to say. I think I try to write happier songs, but they always end up being a bit on the dark side. I think also that bleak stories tend to be much more interesting subject matter then happy stories, I’ve always been fascinated with the hidden reality behind more superficial positivity. I like mysterious, but I am trying to get past the sad part. I find it’s generally easier to write about your own life buried under layers of exaggerated fiction and sometimes I lose track of where the lines began to blur
AufTouren: Your lyrics often seem to be influenced by literature and mythology, there are characters like Poor Old Ra or Hikikomori. Can you tell us anything about such influences or from where else you get the ideas for your characters and stories?
Ryan: I’ve always been into mythology, and the Ra stories seemed particularly fit for a song- death, battles of good an evil, treachery, lovers turning into lions. Good stuff. Hikikomori came from an article I read about the phenomena in Japan of young men never leaving home. I think it was originally going be a song specifically about that, but ended up more of a song about loneliness in general.
AufTouren: When I first heard your music, I thought of bands like The Smiths and Belle & Sebastian because there was this certain „Twee“-Feeling in it. To me this is a very special british kind of music. Are you influenced by british bands like the two I noted or do you listen to completely different music?
Ryan: I definitely listened to a lot of Belle And Sebastion over the years, so I’m not surprised if that influence shows. Right now I’m listening to a lot of os mutantes, tom waits and egyptian jazz, and I’m getting into the Liars and more noisy experimental stuff, so I imagine all of that will come out in some way on the next record.
AufTouren: In the last years it has become a trend for Indie-bands to integrate traditional and sometimes exotic instruments far beyond the classical Rock’n’Roll-Set Up into their songs. Probably this trend was triggered by Neutral Milk Hotel and the great success of bands like Arcade Fire. A very special element of your music is the sitar, do you see yourself in a certain tradition of using exotic instruments?
Ryan: I suppose. Mostly I just get bored with standard instruments and don’t want to feel limited in anyway. With that said, I try to always write songs that can sound good being played on one basic instrument before trying to toss on the stranger things.
AufTouren: You played many instruments including the sitar on your record by yourself and even did the recording and mixing. Did you get a special musical education in your childhood, so that you now have become kind of a multitalent or was it all self-education?
Ryan: It was all self-education. I have a really short attention span for being ‚taught‘ something, so for better or for worse, I usually just figure it out myself. I think once you learn a few instruments though, it gets easier and easier to learn new ones.
AufTouren: The last question is naturally fronting the future. What are your plans? Will there be an European release of „Beating Back Back The Claws Of The Cold“ and even more important, do you have any touring-plans for Europe and especially for Germany? Some guys here would be very happy about that.
Ryan: Oh, how we hope we’ll get to do that….Right now any touring is contingent on getting the album released over there, and so far I don’t know of any interest from any labels to do that, so I guess we just have to cross our fingers. In the meantime, I’m just working out the new set of songs and trying to stay optimistic.