Jun 9, 2008

A Conversation With Cameron

Last week I sat down for a conversation with Cameron Potts, from Dead Letter Chorus. We spoke on a range of topics. From the recording of the band's debut album to the song writing process to the joy of playing live. I edited slight parts of the conversation, but this is the vast majority of it. This is my first interview on my blog, so I hope you enjoy.

Oceans Never Listen: Recently you sent out a note to your fans that you have built a studio in Yowie Bay and are recording your debut album. How is the recording going?
Cameron Potts: It's actually been pretty good. We have demoed a lot, probably over the last two months and figured out how to use the gear properly. Tomorrow morning (last Thursday) is when we start seriously going for it. We're gonna track as much as we can and see what happens over the weekend. That's where we're at the moment.
ONL: How many songs would you have written?
CP: We've got 22 brand new songs that we haven't recorded. Well, a couple of those we have played in the last year, but haven't been released yet. We're probably a bit hopeful in trying to record all of them. So we have 15 core tracks that we are definitely gonna get serious about and the other 7 will be recorded if we have time, but mightn't make the album.
ONL: Any of the 6 songs on the EP, will they be re-recorded for the new album?
CP:No, we're leaving them where they are. We're pretty much of the view that something is recorded once and that's it. It's a record of where the band is at that moment in time. So, those songs were what we wrote when we first started as a band a year and a half ago. That's what we sounded like at that time.
ONL: You still like to play those songs live?
CP: Yeah, we still like to play them. They're still interesting to play. We just don't feel any need to revisit them recording wise. We just like to move on and keep trying to improve on what we're doing.
ONL: Is there a time frame on when the album may get a release?
CP: That's the hard question. We don't to rush it, obviously. We want to get to right. But if you don't set a deadline, you kinda procrastinate. So, we're hopeful that the tracking and everything will be finished by the end of June and then we can give it the people that know and they will take it from there.
ONL: So in 2008?
CP: Definitely. What we would like is a single to be out in August and then an album to be out in October. That's what we're hoping for.
ONL: Any idea on the single?
CP: Yeah, we've got a couple in mind. But it's kinda dependent on how the they turn out, really. We have a few, yeah, but no decision yet.
ONL: And will it be a self release or are you looking for a label?
CP: It's a little complicated. We have spoken to a few different people, but we haven't made a decision on that as yet.
ONL: You're letting your management look after that?
CP: Yeah, we figure it's our job is to write and record the songs and it's their job to look after the rest. But saying that, we want to be involved in the process and make sure that we're not giving the music to someone who's not going to represent the band in the proper way. But there's a few people who we have been talking to who are excited about letting them hear the record. But it's probably going to be on our terms, rather then someone coming to us and saying "I've got this vision for the band. I want to do it this way". It'll come from us, whether it's put out by ourselves or a label.
ONL: Saw you play at the Vanguard. Loved the new songs. Have you played
the new songs live much?
CP: Most of those songs were only the first or second time we have played them live. We did a gig the night before down in Wollongong, where we tested out a couple of things. But playing the Vanguard, that was an amazing show for us. We came off stage feeling really excited about the songs. It felt like everything stepped up a level, the songs just sounded a lot fuller. There were a lot of songs we were still nervous about playing live. I guess, there's two elements to performing a new song. There's learning the chords, the notes and the lyrics, then there's the actual performance. After playing the Vanguard, we felt that we really performed them the way they should sound.
ONL: Well, they sounded great.
CP:Thanks, we were stoked. It was an amazing night.
ONL: How did the Unguarded Moment idea come about?
CP: The tour was booked. We had seen Wagons before and they had seen us and we kinda fell in love with each other's music. We decided to do a tour together, then we asked Ned Collette to come along, which was great. I think the idea actually came from Henry (Wagons). To try and record a song together. We tossed around a few ideas. And then we ended up with Unguarded Moment. We had other ideas, but we wanted to do an Australian song. But one that wasn't being smashed to bits by the Idol contingent. It has a great melody and really interesting lyrics. It also has that really deeper level, there's that underlying darker tone.
ONL: And you're touring together in July. That should be fun.
CP: Yeah, they're all lovely people. It's a cute little tour, not a lot of shows, about 7 shows in 2 weeks.
ONL: Will the song be available to buy?
CP: It will be available at shows. As part of an EP. The song, plus one song from each band.
ONL: Will you play the song live?
CP: Yeah, it's gonna be the last song that everyone will get up and play. It's gonna be great. There's gonna be thirteen musicians on stage, but we'll figure something out.
ONL: Now, your Vanguard show. You had five members. Is that the size that you will keep?
CP: Five is the core of the band. With the recording of the album we will probably ask a few friends to play with us. Andrew Webb, an amazing guitarist, used to play with us. But he's doing his own solo stuff now, but he will be playing with us on the album. But for the live shows we would probably like to keep it to five.
ONL: Are there any other instruments you would add to the band?
CP: Probably on stage it would be the same. But for the record, there's a lotta things we're gonna try. Strings, horns, whatever we've got lying around. I've written a bunch of parts that we're gonna try.
ONL: How does the song writing process work for the band?
CP: I would probably write a large amount of the song and Gabrielle would write a part, maybe 70/30. There's a few we would straight out collaborate on, 50/50. Then we would take it the band. Two or three songs we've written as a band or had ideas and pieced them together as a band. But all the lyrical writing would come from me or Gabrielle. All the songs that I sing are ones that I have written, basically. Although we also write some together.
ONL: Do the lyrics or the music come first? How does that happen?
CP: Well, a song like "11th Dream About Aeroplanes" was written after I woke up after a crazy dream and the lyrics just flowed out of that and the music came after. Sometimes it will be just sitting down with a guitar and working out a melody and the lyrics will follow after that. There's no particular method.
ONL: What appeals to you most about writing a song?
CP: The most appealing thing for me about writing a song is the impact of the song as a whole. The lyrics have to be strong and meaningful and then the music has to represent that idea in the strongest possible way that it can. Sometimes that can be a really simple melody, as long as that has an impact on the listener and myself.
ONL: How would you describe your sound?
CP: I think when we started we wanted to be a kinda Alt-Country band, but the natural progression has flowed to a more Rock sound. But, whatever the song needs, it needs. We don't want to say 'We're a Country band, let's get a slide guitar in here, because that's what we do'. So I guess we're some kinda Rock band. But we just want to write good songs and make sure all the parts contribute to make it a good song.
ONL: Do you listen to a lot of music in your spare time?
CP: Yeah, first thing I do when I wake up. I always just put on record after record. Even if I go for a two minute walk, I grab the iPod.
ONL: What sort of music would you listen to?
CP: The staple would be Dylan. And Johnny Cash, and probably Springsteen. The three great songwriters. Recently, I can't get enough of Annuals and Bon Iver and Band of Horses. I was really impressed with Okkervil River's The Stage Names. It's really grown on me. I also love The Gin Club's Junk, it's brilliant. Really mind blowing.
ONL: Who would be a dream band to support? Maybe one from the past and the present.
CP: Probably The Band or The Grateful Dead. Current day, there's so many. Hard to say, we are supporting Whitley soon again which will be great. I guess someone like Arcade Fire or Sufjan Stevens. A band that would challenge us to be better.
ONL: Your live shows seem like so much fun and you play with a lot passion. Are live shows fun for you?
CP: Definitely, it's great. Probably stressful as well as fun.
ONL: Any nerves?
CP: No, not really. The only time I got nervous was playing with Andrew Bird, because he's such a consummate musician. But it's really great to play with the band, there a great bunch of people. Also I think you can never recapture that moment you play a song. It's that fact that you're playing something live and that playing that song with five other people is a moment in time. To me, every time should be different and enjoyable. I always try something different every night. And I think the whole band feels the same way.
ONL: What would be the favourite venue that you have played at?
CP: We liked the Enmore. We only played one song, for an awards show. But we had a good time there. The Vanguard's great. But probably the Metro would be the best one we have played at. The onstage sound is really great. It was really good. The Tivoli in Brisbane is really amazing as well.
ONL: What other states have you played?
CP: Victoria. Queensland, three times. South Australia, twice. That would be it, I think. We're going back to Victoria in July and we are definitely going to get around Australia more this year. WA, Tasmania. Hopefully we can even get to Darwin, our EP has done well up there.
ONL: And major plans for the future?
CP: There's a plan to head overseas in 2009. Maybe North America early in the year. There's a few opportunities with bands that we have supported here. But we want to make it worthwhile if we do. You just can't go for a week, so it would be for a month or so, if we do go. I guess it depends on how the album is received.
ONL: Any five year plan?
CP: Well, we're just gonna try to keep writing good songs. We're all committed to the band for as long as we can physically do it. I feel like we have the ability and passion to keep making interesting music, as long as people want to hear it. We'll see what happens. We really enjoying playing with each other. We're not gonna try and over think it, just try to keep writing good music. We love playing festivals, traveling and meeting people. I like to meet people. Music's a great tool for that, just hang out and see what other people's stories are.

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