One night last week, all four members of the indie band Silversun Pickups were in Savannah. Driving between gigs in Tennessee and Florida, they had a free night and pulled off I–95 to check things out.
“We just walked around, did a bunch of stuff and ended up at this club called the Jinx,” singer/guitarist Brian Aubert says. “What a beautiful town. Savannah’s gorgeous.”
A Los Angeles export, Silversun Pickups play fast, heavy and melodic rock, heavy with Aubert’s buzzsaw guitars. It’s an electric dreamscape, part Smashing Pumpkins and part My Bloody Valentine, elevated by an exploratory keyboard sound, and by Aubert’s knack for finding a melody in a sonic haystack.
Silversun Pickups perform Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the Shoreline Ballroom in Hilton Head.
I begin our interview by telling Aubert that my introduction to the band was the video for “Substitution,” from their most recent album, Swoon. The Pickups are onstage in a Moose Lodge somewhere, with no audience. But a half dozen stunningly beautiful young women, wearing "f––– me" pumps and sexy short dresses, are playing musical chairs in the center of the room. Whenever the band stops playing, the girls plop down in the chairs, one less each go–round. The loser takes a chair away before the music starts again.
The video certainly got my attention (although it took me a minute to actually notice the musicians were in it ...). Welcome, I tell Aubert, to the awesome power of marketing!
“It’s good to know somebody’s actually watching the videos,” the guitarist says, when he stops laughing
“The girls, they really played as hard as they could. It was scary because they were pretty intense about it. When they started knocking each other off chairs, we were just ‘Oh, my God.’
“They actually were playing for a prize, but I don’t remember what it was.”
Then we get down to business:
I’ve heard you say it took you a while to play as loud and unfettered as you do now. Why?
Brian Aubert: I think you just get comfortable. When we started, we were just figuring it out. For us, there was something about being too timid to be loud. That sounds strange, but we were almost too afraid to really let it out. All our songs were much quieter and slower.
I remember the first time we played “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” which is a song off our album Carnavas. It was the first song we had like that, ever, and we were quite nervous about performing it – “Have we gone too far?” You tend to think about silly shit.
We played it for the first time at a party at our house. And I tell ya, the best focus group to have, if you want to try anything out, is just a bunch of drunk people who don’t care. They love everything!
Does that change the way you write? Do you write an introspective song and then go, “Now let’s loud this up”?
Brian Aubert: No, not really. Sonics are important to us, you know? We think about them first. We almost think about those things more than we think about chords. Everything is sort of movement oriented, and how it’s going to work, and what it’s going to sound like. That’s usually the basis for a song.
We get real schizophrenic, meaning if we’re too quiet we feel like we’re just too pretty or something. Then we’ll go write something really loud, and we feel like a metal band.
I like the use of orchestra on some of the Swoon songs. Where did that come from?
Brian Aubert: We wanted to bring a little warmth back on this record. What I mean by that is, on our EP, there was organic sounds, acoustic sounds, things like that. And when we made Carnavas, we wanted to strip it completely from all that. We wanted it to sound futuristic and sort of sting-y.
With Swoon, we were just feeling very grand and moody and romantic, and wanted to pull in more warmth. That was pretty much the orchestra. We thought it was going to be a string quartet, but it ended up being a 16-piece, which is crazy. We didn't want to dominate the record with it, so we peppered it in, on four songs. It's just a good mood enhancer.
Coming from L.A., where there's literally a band in every garage, do you have to have an incredible drive throw yourself into that big competition pit?
Brian Aubert: I think you have to have incredible drive to do this. It's not worth it if you don't, because then you kind of plateau, and it's just not as fun or challenging. But the reality is, Los Angeles is so large, and there's so many different bands and such a strong, crazy culture. And the counterculture, which is sort of the area we live in, really sticks together.
Through meeting people and becoming friends, and seeing your friends start all these interesting bands - you like the music, you go see them play and sometimes play with them - it destroyed the myth. It took it off the pedestal and made it tangible.
You don't have to be some goofball egomaniac asshole who plays these stupid games, you can be this guy right here who's barbecuing right in your backyard ... and make that beautiful music. That gave us confidence to strike this thing up.
Where: Shoreline Ballroom, 40 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head
When: 8 p.m. Wenesday, Oct. 7
Opening: An Horse, Cage the Elephant
Tickets: $25 advance, $25 day of show
Artist's Web site: www.silversunpickups.com