Archive for 'Interviews'

Times New Viking

Is it too early to pine for the glory days of 2006? We were right on the cusp of free music-recording software making its way into every dorm room and basement across the globe, Soulseek was expanding the iPods of nearly every web-savvy twenty-something and stores still sold CDs, or at least tried to. Oh, and Times New Viking were initially making waves with their humble, back-to-roots form of indie-rock, back when the genre was an actual alternative to the mainstream and didn’t just signify an ever-growing slice of the mainstream. They kept putting out great records up through and including their last one, which may or may not be their last, and I was delighted to pick the brain of keyboardist/vocalist Beth Murphy, who clearly has thought a lot about everything, often with hilariously insightful and poignant results.

Are Times New Viking officially over? I don’t believe there was ever any official announcement. Perhaps Times New Viking isn’t a “formal press release announcement” sort of band?
You nailed it. That, and the notion of a band “breaking up” is a kind of received idea that no band stands by anyway.

Do you ever think about the dozens (hundreds?) of “lo-fi” bands that came about in the wake of Times New Viking, and thought, “God, what have we done?”?
We didn’t do that; Pitchfork and the rest circa 2008 did that. The only culture event we’re responsible for is resurrecting Siltbreeze Records by making a CD-R for our friends and family to listen to that made its way to Tom Lax in 2005.
I do agree with your making the term alleged by putting it in quotation marks. In fact, that should be the genre’s official written presentation: “lo-fi.”
As far as what music genre terms are made of, there is nothing like ​it. It’s a genre named after a description of the audio sound, but that audio sound is also not exclusive to the genre. It’s similar to electronic music in this way. Meaning, there is electronic music, and then there’s one-man melodic black metal made by electronic means. There is lo-fi, and then there’s Crossed Out or Burzum who never had to answer these questions.
​But e​lectronic music is further legitimized ​by​ instruments ​specific​ to the genre. “Lo-fi” doesn’t have that. Further, “lo-fi” only refers to recorded audio sound. (Lugging a PA system on tour to run vocals through is a conceit to be ignored.)
So! The origin story of “lo-fi” is wholly in the recorded artifact, rather than the live and recorded composite. And this is where it gets interesting; because if you trace music back to when the recorded version emerged as the ideal over the live version, you’ll find yourself at the birth of rock-and-roll as we know it.

It’s almost impossible to read about Times New Viking without the “lo-fi” thing coming up (as proven by this interview too, I suppose). Do you feel as though other great things the band has done, like specific lyrics or hooks that you’ve written, or memorable live performances, just kind of get ignored in favor of the buzz word? Or are we hopefully past all that in 2015 (the downside being that everyone has moved on to other indie “trends” to think about)?
When our music gets boxed in that way, it’s at a level that has no business discussing it the first place. With enough publicity, everything gets typecast. How much it takes for this to happen varies, but it always felt unprecedentedly minimal for us. Our music was certainly covered on a scale in which it was never intended. This was a confluence of us getting signed to Matador at the same time music media was expanding online to the scope we know today. I first heard of “Best New Music” when Adam’s brother told me we got it. Folks needed content, and these luddites from Ohio — now endorsed by a respectable major indie — had just released a record with a fidelity fit to mirror the economic collapse. Shit writes itself.
The best writing about our band comes from Internet-generated English translations of reviews written in a foreign language. That illiterate poetic slippage captures us perfectly.
Conversely, the fact that Shazaam will recognize a song as Times New Viking, but get the song wrong every time, is a perfect analogy for the particular brand of shitty music writing we’ve inspired.

What do you miss more: the swank European festivals or the random Midwestern basements?
The fondest memories are in random basements. That’s where the evidence of what we did having any meaning is stored. Shit felt pure. In-the-momentness happened. One thing I miss about playing live is being 100% present in a moment. It doesn’t happen in real life.
That said, at this moment, I’d take a fat European-festival paycheck before I’d agree to all that woo-woo alone. Just me being practical and in my thirties. And basement shows are ​an inevitability​.

If all of Times New Viking’s material was permanently destroyed but for one song, which song would you want to survive?
On the Friday you sent this question, my first thought was “Teenage Lust.” To be sure, (or more accurately, because I had the house to myself, my band is my “guilty pleasure,” and it had been awhile) I pulled all the Times New Viking records from the shelf, made a small stack on the coffee table, and started listening at high volume. It was during “Teenage Lust” that I suddenly did not have the house to myself anymore. So I shut it down — this kind of behavior is obnoxious, even to a life partner I won the lottery with, and I already knew this song was the answer. What I didn’t know was that it would be the last song we heard in our house before it was broken into that weekend, the thief making off with: our receiver, television, record player, a fan, video camera, and all of the records that were still on the shelf. Because we were out of town when it happened, and only had the house-sitter as first responder to relay the scene, I didn’t realize until I got home that the Times New Viking stack I set on the coffee table, an act triggered by your question, had been spared.
Correct me if this is reductive, but your hypothetical could have been anything eliciting my favorite Times New Viking song; it may as well have been some variation of what played out.
Before I got home and realized the Times New Viking records were left, I reflected on the question as a spooky prologue to its own manifestation-somewhat. Then, and now, its some kind of precognitive firefighter.
(There is actually a third layer to this, that’s a little hairy to get into now. Let’s just say the Times New Viking record stack may have offered a clue…)
So yeah. Magical thinking reaches an all-time high whenever shit hits the fan.

After the success of Times New Viking, would you be willing and able to start a new band that does a CD-r to pass around to friends, play house parties for donations, sleep on a stranger’s floor, or are you spoiled by the success you’ve had? What I’m wondering is, is it possible to get a taste of fat European paychecks and hotel rooms with separate beds and then go back to starting from scratch?
Look, success is relative, but I’m afraid you’re overstating ours. Let’s just say Pomplamoose would have had a problem. And sleeping on the floor was always probable. Sure, from 2008 to 2011, we eked out a living touring six to eight months out of the year and bartending / working record store jobs back in “cheap beer, cheap rent, Indian mounds” Columbus, Ohio the remaining four to eight.
Unless you mean successful for a band like us; that, I’d understand. But then, that’s not really success, is it? “Success” implies hotel rooms and tickets to Europe were ever goals. Certainly not. As my friend Bobcat Goldthwait says, success is for creeps. We were blessed or lucky hard workers who just ran with it. We were shepherded toward each of our opportunities by people whose opinion we counted.
But to answer your question: It’s naive and transparent to take money as granted in the pursuit of music. Nobody is going to pay you to be yourself. Even in low Heatseeker degrees of popularity, it’s going to be uncomfortable. For professional artists to business professionals alike, to make it, you’ve got to be willing to play the game. A person decides what game they have the capacity for: what they are willing to mitigate, risk, etc.
For us, the trappings of eking out a living in that way began to discourage creativity, something we didn’t want to risk. It wasn’t that it was all that gross. If you’re philosophically intuitive these signature sell-out moments have their appeal. (A Kia Soul show in Cincinnati played to about 25 folks who were all optioned free packs of Camel Lights stands out.) It was the ennui of it: Twenty too many attempts to capture our image (why aren’t you guys more photogenic?); lip service, broken record, college credit press, canned response (only twice were we interviewed by someone older than us, one was John Norris); seeing bands like No Age and Wavves soar past us, seeing bands like No Age and Wavves on tour, only seeing bands like No Age and Wavves on tour.
Turns out I’d rather play someone else’s game than have someone play mine.
Get a job. Make art. Maybe in the next economy it will be different. I kinda buy into the whole “future of no work” thing.

How integral was Columbus, both its musical scene and general style of living, to Times New Viking? It always seemed like Columbus was mentioned in conjunction with Times New Viking, almost as if you were its musical representatives.
Columbus was super integral. Because it has no national identity, the artists and musicians living there feel no weight of influence, allowing for ad hoc gangs of meaning.
But we are hardly its musical representatives. That belongs to a clutch of ‘80s – ‘90s bands: V-3, Scrawl, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Gaunt, Mike Rep and the Quotas, New Bomb Turks, Gibson Brothers, the list goes on.
Many members of these bands, or even the bands themselves, were still active in Columbus music when we started playing. If not active, any dormancy was slight enough to be disrupted when a small scene emerged post-Y2K. Not old enough to be our parents, but with established legacies to behold, the sounds and stylings of this music was in our DNA. It was not for nostalgia’s sake that we recorded on four tracks and liked loud and fuzzy rock music, it was the only we would ever be.
Keep in mind, we all graduated high school in 2000; it was 2003 when the band formed. Our adult sensibilities were established before the internet began its sociocultural effect.
We were on the last bus of organic influence.

Who did your cover art? The sort of collage-y, hand-written notes with scribbling and whatnot seems inseparable from your music – like I don’t think I’d process it the same way if your records came out looking like Klaus Schulze’s or something.
As part of our 300% creative control business model, we all did. We met in art school, so it could be said that our visual aesthetic was agreed on before anything else.

What were the best aspects of working with Matador and Merge? Were they vastly different labels to work with, in how they operated, or was it kinda the same thing?
Aside from the fact that we were with Matador for two albums and an EP, and with Merge for one album, operations were pretty much the same. We could email Mac or Gerard respectively, tell the same jokes around them.

Do you feel bad for bands starting today, that they can’t exist in any sort of anonymity thanks to the overwhelming presence of the internet? Would you want to start a new band soon, or does it seem exhausting?
Any degree of online anonymity can be managed if desired (False, His Hero is Gone, Tragedy). Some bands only use Bandcamp, a lot of obscure stuff can be found on Soundcloud. The internet doesn’t look good on bands that go all-in with it from the get-go, but a band with a marketing strategy is nothing new.
The internet is neither good nor bad, it’s the ebb and flow of applications that affect certain culture industries, and in real time. Twitter has been great for comedians; podcasts are a new option for journalists. From 2003–2006, we worked MySpace. A group without much technological interest or knowledge could create what was essentially a networked website. You had complete control of the content: songs, tour dates, photos (and ours were only ever album art and flyers), videos, you could even change the page colors and backgrounds by editing the HTML (Fun fact: the open code feature was an oversight which became one of the platform’s main attractions). If you found a band that you liked, check out their “Top Friends”! This was the networked part.
Anyway, I hope the fact that I’m waxing nostalgic about MySpace speaks to the absurdity of valuing the state of anything by the technologies that exist. I’m not saying, “back in the day, everything was different, because MySpace.” Technology is fleeting, good music is forever, and the internet isn’t going away either. \
I’d start a new band.

Would you feel comfortable going on record at confirming or denying the possibility of a Times New Viking reunion, say in 2020 or so?
I feel comfortable denying it. That way, if it ever happened it’ll be all the more unexpected and special.
We might record soon. I aspire to be one of those non-touring bands that just make records.


Institute have been kicking around Texas and the rest of the United States for a couple years now, but it was their debut album Catharsis that really threw me for a loop. Who knew classic early post-punk tribute could sound so fresh, vital and, well, unique? With lyrics as abstract and poetic as they are unabashedly punk in spirit (more than enough nihilism to go around), Institute spin classic Crass Records punk into two-chord tapestries that blend psychedelia with the mundane. I was able to get some words out of vocalist Moses Brown, although not too many, as he seemed to instantly sniff out my standing as an old-guy punk interloper rather than a glue-sniffing Toxic State intern (and he’s the only artist I’ve interviewed thus far who asked that I take one question and answer off the record for the final print). Fair enough!

Where does the name “Institute” come from? An acquaintance of mine thinks it’s a horrible name, but I think he’s crazy, that it perfectly captures the sort of mundane outlook / generic drudgery that your music seems to spotlight. Or am I crazy?
Institute came from a list of band names Adam had. We were working with Morale at the start, but thought it sounded like a screamo band so we dropped it and went with Institute. Can’t say it was chosen for its mood, but it ended up reflecting the music well.

Am I wrong in feeling despair/negativity from your songs? Does getting that sort of stuff out in your music help you mentally in your daily life from going crazy?
Oh yeah, definitely. I get to vocalize all the negative baggage inside my head. It’s a pretty great tool; it also makes playing good shows that much more enjoyable. I was in a slump. This record paired with love helped me pull out. I thought you were talking about our day to day personalities… We’re nice and happy people.

How did you come upon your vocal style? Was it a matter of finding a vocal approach that fits the music, or is this the only way you could ever see yourself singing? Is this your first time singing in a band?
Yeah this was the first band. Pretty much just wanted to sound like Steve Ignorant and PiL-era Johnny Rotten, haha. Just kinda played shows until I figured it out.

Is there some bit of British inflection I hear in your voice? Why don’t more ‘punk’ vocalists try to develop their own style these days? I appreciate that I can easily pick your voice out of a lineup.
I just try and do what sounds cool. You see hardcore bands recycling the same front-man character, but I would say there’s a lot of punk bands out there today with interesting front-people.

Who are some of your punk front-persons today? What do you look for in a vocalist?
Like Mary-Jane from Vexx, Kevin from Big Zit, Emil from Dawn of Humans. I love confidence. Doing whatever the hell you want, not sticking to any sort of trend… that is always going to make things exciting.

Institute seems to be lumped into hardcore-punk, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a sonic match. Are you used to playing hardcore shows? Should people mosh to Institute?
People don’t really mosh, I’d say they dance around and occasionally fall over. We get lumped into that punk scene because all of us are a part of that scene; this band just happened to sound different.

Photo by Renate Winter

Catharsis really jams out toward the end, meandering around further into something I’d consider closer to kraut-rock / improvisation than punk rock. Is that just a small part of your musical equation, or is that something you think you’ll be pursuing into the future, the sort of looser, open-ended tunes?
It could be called a nod to the roots of punk. I love when I hear psych-rock songs that sound like punk songs or vice versa. Maybe we’ll do another one… We’ve been playing an abridged version of “Christian Right” live recently – that’s probably the version we should be talking about.

How does the live version differ – is it just abridged, or do you change it up in other ways?
It’s shorter and harder with the punk-knob dialed up. I don’t really know what it sounds like. It’s a Can rip with anarcho vocals thrown on top.

Are you not afraid of blatantly ripping off previous musical ideas? I feel like there is this notion that ripping something else off is inherently bad in punk/hardcore, but I don’t think that’s the case. Attempting to rip something off can often yield unexpected results.
Punk is folk music. It’s a formula, a set of guidelines proven to make exciting music. As long as what you’re making has real heart to it or is pushing boundaries you can rip-off as much as you’d like. If you’re in punk today and worried about originality, maybe find something else to do.

You’ve got some pretty good moans and groans on Catharsis. Where do those come from? Are they just something that happens?
The moans? A moan is just another lyric.

What was the rationale behind signing with Sacred Bones? What were they able to offer you that, say, self-releasing your album wouldn’t?
We decided we’d go with any sort of opportunity thrown at us. They hit us up on our first tour, so we went with it. They’re super sick, genuinely nice people who care a lot about what we do. They make our shows bigger and give us cool opportunities. Pretty much we thought it would be fun, and so far we’ve been right.

Is Institute something you’d hope to live off of one day? Is that preposterous?
Nah. Touring should be fun, not a job. If you can do both, more power to you, but I don’t think we have the means to do that. We’re not interested in pursuing a “successful” music career as a punk band in 2015. We’ve seen what it would look like and decided we’d rather play basements.

Why did you decide basements are preferable to pro clubs for Institute?
Pretty much because your friends are booking the show, you get paid about the same, and it’s much more fun.