This interview first appeared in Psych Magazine, published 12/09/2011.
How would you describe the Strange Boys?
Phillip Sambol: Far flung.
Further flung than most bands?
Ryan Sambol: Unfortunately, no. PS: I meant that in a geographical sense. By the time this is published Ryan will be in SF, Greg in Montreal, Mike in LA and I will be in Olympia..
To me, Be Brave sounds like it came from the lifestyle you lead when you’re touring. There are bursts of adrenaline, like Friday in Paris, then there are really reflective, introverted songs that feel sort of like hangovers, like All You Can Hide Inside. The Strange Boys are a band that tour hard. Has this been a defining influence?
PS: Yes. RS: For a long time they’ve been one in the same thing; the lives we lead and the music we make. Be Brave and Live Music both reflect that.
So this is where the name Live Music came from? Do you think it’s possible to separate the music you make from the lifestyle you lead?
RS: Maybe, we haven’t tried it yet.
The line-up has been quite fluid over the last few years. Tim Presley played guitar for a while, then there was Jenna DeWitt on vocals and saxophone. Who could the Strange Boys not function without?
PS: I don’t think any of us could function without each other. RS: It’s tough to say because when someone’s around and in the group, you can’t imagine it without them. It seems whomever is there is completely necessary at the time.
Coming from an Englishman, your music sounds distinctly American. Are there many English bands that you take inspiration from?
PS: The Stones. RS: The Beatles, The Fall, (Van Morrison, does that count as English?) Radiohead, Jarvis Cocker.
PS: Oh, and Joe Cocker too.
Have you played with any English bands while you’ve been over here that have caught your eye?
PS: We always try to play with Sex Beet when we come over to your side. We also played with Spectrals last time we were there and they were quite good.
Kate Moss launched a collection for Topshop with a video of her dancing to Be Brave. Do you mind your music being used for commercial purposes?
PS: No. RS: Depends on how it pays, but never for evil.
A lot of the interviews we’ve read with you don’t seem to go too well. The questions are usually longer than your answers (ahem). Is there something that annoys you about interviews or interviewers?
PS: Expectations. RS: It’s the subject matter. We like thinking, but it’s hard to think of an answer to meaningless questions.
Do you think there is much point to an interview?
RS: It would depend on the questions and answers, but it’s good to try.
Do you think you can explain your music in words? If so, how would you explain The Strange Boys?
RS: You could, but what’s the point.
There’s a video of a pretty rowdy show White Fence played with you on your last tour. Do you find the way you’re being received live is changing? Are crowds receiving you more energetically now than a few years back?
RS: Yes, but I think knowing a song helps, and that only comes with time. Also, the craziest show you can play is an all ages LA show.
Do you think the Strange Boys sound best live or in the studio?
RS: They’re just different things. The studio for us is always an early version of a song, the stage is the succeeding versions mixed with the way we feel at the time.
Does it get ugly on stage if you’re feeling bad?
RS: Only if you want it to. Sometimes you can make the easy mistake of wanting it to. Other times it can heal you. PS: I would say only if you let it. At the beginning of a tour or a studio session you are excited and try to make the most of everyday, but by the end of either you are only focused on the performance and everything else sort of falls by the wayside.
Which contemporary American bands do you like that you think we should check out across the pond?
PS: White Fence, Natural Child, King Tuff, Denney and the Jets.
These bands come from a traditional rock and roll blueprint. Do you think this is the best way for young people to express themselves in America?
RS: No, it’s just contemporary personal taste. PS: As Willie Dixon said, “Blues are the roots, all the other musics are the fruits.”
The American Radio recording you did for AV Scion hints at a few different directions that he Strange Boys could go in, but some of the sounds, like reggae and salsa, are radical departures from the records you’ve put out in the past. Does the new record incorporate any of these sounds?
RS: Not in such an extreme way like on American radio, but some new things show up.
What sort of sounds can we expect? I have the expectation that the new record will sound a lot more country, it seems like a natural progression from some of the sounds on Be Brave.
RS: If you want to fully enjoy it, lose your expectations. PS: We never felt like a “garage” band, which is how we’ve been perceived because we are on In The Red, I think Live Music will put that to rest.
What have been the main influences, musically or otherwise, for the new record?
RS: Friends mostly, the Grateful Dead and Nashville..
Have you spent much time in Nashville? The name conjures images of Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Townes Van Zandt: quintessential American musicians that fully lived their music. Do you see yourselves in this tradition?
RS: I see myself in a suit and a hat, but haven’t found ones that fit.
What has been the recording process for the new album?
PS: We did a session with Mike McHugh in California last December, and a session with Jim Eno in Texas this April, took the best tracks from each, put them together and that’s the album.
Do you prefer analogue equipment to digital? What equipment do you record with?
RS: This one was mostly tape and some digital. All analog at the distillery with Mike, and a mix of analog and digital with Jim at public hi-fi. We try to use what’s easiest and what sounds the best.
Do you have any preference for how the album should be listened to?
RS: In or on the AM.
Photography Coley Brown
Words Joe Stevens