Over a crackly delayed phone line to Montreal, JP O Malley managed to catch up with Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown), the most prolific indie musician since Mark E Smith. Krug’s band Sunset Rubdown have two Irish dates this weekend.
How do you manage your time to write, record and tour with two bands as well as other side projects?
I just plan way ahead. I only tour with two bands Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade and I suppose it’s just a matter of picking in advance what band is going to tour when and making sure there is downtime for me to rest and for the band to rest. As far as writing music for these different projects, they are all collaborations, it’s not just all me, you know? I’m actually terrible at time management, you know when you put it like that, it makes it all sound so clinical and like a job or something, but it’s the way it’s always existed. Sunset Rubdown existed before Wolf Parade did, so I don’t see a problem anywhere with making the time.
What’s your approach to writing for two different bands? Do you usually write on your own or do you collaborate on the writing with the two bands?
Well first of all, the band practice at my house. I play music every day, but not with the band, usually just by myself. For both bands, I’ll have an idea where a song is gonna go and how it sounds, the skeleton structures etc. The end product is usually something completely different. It comes in waves, sometimes it comes naturally, other times everything you do is like really shitty and you can’t figure out why. When that happens I tend to change instruments. For a while I was writing all my songs on guitar, but those ideas weren’t flowing very nicely. Lately, I just started playing piano for fun and ideas started flowing from that, so I guess it’s whatever works really. I don’t necessarily say “Okay I’m going to sit down and write a song now”. I suppose it just sort of happens when it happens.
When you are writing, do you have a particular band in mind for a certain song, what way does that work?
At the moment Wolf Parade aren’t getting back together till November, so until then I’ll just have Sunset Rubdown in mind for a song at the back of my head – and it will work the same way a few months down the line when I’m jamming with Wolf Parade. I’m the only songwriter in Sunset Rubdown, so I guess I have a little bit more room to experiment than I would with Wolf Parade. Pretty early on in Wolf Parade we realised what we were good at was just playing rock music: tight, steady tunes with drums and bass. Dan (from Wolf Parade), for example, loves really big chords, he’s not like a subtle guitar player, so Wolf Parade, just through our personalities is more sort of just a rock band, so it comes out a little straighter. So if I have an idea that is a little quirky or quiet, there is not much point in me bringing it to Wolf Parade, because it will just end up as a loud rock song. I never really think about any of this stuff your asking me, as in what song to write for which band etc. It’s sort of just easy, and comes naturally. I don’t really like analysing it, and it seems kinda weird when I hear my self talk about it like this.
Do you find any time to write when you are on tour?
The only thing I really ever write on tour is lyrics, because you don’t really have time to play music and you’re not really in the right head space to be trying to write songs. Tours aren’t exactly very inspiring for your creative soul. In Wolf Parade we never wanted to be one of these work horse bands that like, tours for six months then takes a break and tours for another five months. We usually don’t tour for more than a month at a time. Sometimes it can be emotionally exhausting and you turn yourself into this dream state, where you literally just turn your emotions off. On my last Sunset Rubdown tour I tried to write a short story and it turned out really shitty. I am interested in writing literature to some level, but at the moment it’s just a hobby.
Do you find that a lot of time you get praise or indeed criticism for putting out a lot of records with your various projects? Is there a reason for it – or does writing tunes just come very easy to you?
Every band is different I guess. In my perfect world there would be no delay between recording a song and releasing it onto people’s record players. I find there is a huge lag in this space and sometimes you feel you are in a different place a year later hearing that song, but hopefully you just try and write music that stands the test of time. Sometimes I get criticized for putting out too much stuff, but I try not to let that bother me. I have been putting out a lot of records the last few years, it’s not like I’m trying to win a contest or anything, but maybe the bands that I am in, and the fact that I have the time to do this stuff allows me to. There was never an agenda to put out a lot of records. I also think when I’m done with making a record, if a label wants to put it out, then that’s fine. Whatever the label wants to do with it, you know what I mean? I’m in this weird spot at the moment where there is a couple of labels saying -if you have a record we will put it out’ and I’m not sure a lot of the time if that record is any good, because a lot of the time we’re just making this music for fun. Obviously, if I was just in Wolf Parade I would not be putting out half as many records. If people don’t want to hear another record from me, that fine, then don’t put it on.
Do the critics, notably music journalists, get on your nerves and do you read much reviews of your music?
I try to ignore negative criticism. I actually don’t read a lot of it most of the time. Music journalism when it is good can be really good, but I think the good stuff at the minute is very rare, it doesn’t take itself very seriously. Its all like one liners and weird shitty metaphors and stuff, and there is so much stuff on line now and blogs etc, and if you start going into that world and googling your own name you are going to get a weird lot of information about yourself, so I guess you just have to ignore it.
What’s your opinion of downloading music for free? As an artist is it frustrating that people can download a song for free that may have taken you time and money to record?
I would love to live in a world where I could live off just making records, but having said that I love playing live. I guess there was a time when artists could make a living from just making records. The music world I’ve always been a part of is where you can make a little bit of money selling records and then the rest of the time you pay rent from going on tour. There is a big shift going on right now, and you can either fight it or embrace it. The internet is kinda like the Wild West right now, where there are no rules. Maybe a system will develop whereby artists can make money off their records, and hopefully it won’t be the artists who do this, but a global community who realise that’s the way it should be. I think constantly downloading shit music could eventually lead to devaluing music, and I mean not in a commercial sense, but in a spiritual sense. There is a serious amount of shit music on the internet right now and some good stuff of course.
What kind of music influenced you growing up, and do what kind of stuff are you listening to right now?
I grew up listening to mixtapes that my older sister gave me. She was three years older than me, so she had all the older, cooler friends and would have dragged me to various shows and stuff. I would have listened to bands like The Pixies, Fugazi, The Violent Femmes and The Ramones or whatever. In my twenties I went through a weird phase of listening to a lot of classical and world music, more out there music. So I guess now I’m catching up on classic bands now that I have missed out on in them years like The Smiths, Fleetwood Mac and The Cure etc.
If you weren’t in a band, what else could you see yourself doing for a living?
Maybe I could have worked at something to do with literature or something, I don’t know, I have no idea, what you want me to say!
The forty minute interview gets cut short by Krug who says he has another interview on the line. After several long pauses and awkward silences Krug apologises just before he hangs up:
I just want to apologise for being really vague and not making a lot of sense in this interview.
[Ed: Ah, you’re grand, Spencer.]
Sunset Rubdown plays Crawdaddy, Dublin this Saturday September 12th (tickets) and Spring and Airbrake, this Friday September 11th.