||Copeland Ė 06.19.09
by Jonathan Bautts on 2009-06-28
The following is a phone interview with Copeland vocalist Aaron Marsh.
So are you excited for this tour coming up?
Yeah. Weíve been home for a little while, so Iím about ready to get back out.
I have to give you guys props because I think itís one of the best lineups of the year. You did a great job putting it together.
Thanks, man. Weíre pumped.
Youíre going to be playing a special acoustic show at Hotel Cafť. How did that one come about?
I think we had a day off with nothing around there and our manager saw the night was available and asked. They usually donít have many nights available. He asked if we could do a show and they said yes. Thereís no particularly interesting story there. We were just filling a day off.
You donít play acoustic shows too often, right?
We hardly ever do ticketed acoustic shows like that. If we do one, itís usually like an in store or something like that.
Do you have any plans to do an acoustic tour or unplugged EP at some point?
Yeah. We actually did do half of a tour acoustic just because we ran out of money and couldnít afford to have everybody out anymore. We ended up finishing the tour of like a month of shows acoustic with just me, the guy who was playing bass with us at the time and a violin player. I think we played L.A. like that with The Rentals. It was about two years ago now.
But, yeah, weíve talked about since then doing an acoustic tour. Maybe one day itíll happen. Weíd want to do it more than super stripped down. Weíd want to take out a couple string players or something. Make it kind of special.
Your new albumís been out for about eight months now. Howís that been going and been received?
Reception wise I think itís pretty good. I donít think we could ask for much better. We donít really hear too many people saying many bad things about it. Weíre real proud of it still. Itís always weird to work on a record for up to a year, including writing process, recording, doing all the artwork and getting all the marketing together, and see if you still like it after all that. We still really like the record.
You titled it after the song ďYou Are My Sunshine,Ē which you covered as a b-side. What struck you about that song to make you want to name a record after it?
That song is really interesting to me. Everyone kind of remembers it very fondly. You hear about that being a romantic song for a couple or having nostalgia from peopleís childhood attached to it, but itís actually a really creepy song. Itís kind of odd, with like ďif I canít have you, no one canĒ lyrics. It doesnít take that turn until the last couple verses of the song, which no one ever hears.
I really like art that has multiple layers like that. It might seem very lovely and sweet on the surface, but then it has a darker layer. I feel like a lot of times love is like that. It has kind of this darker underbelly to it. Iím always fascinated with stuff like that. We always try to bring a little bit of that haunting quality into our music as well.
Your record previous to this, Eat, Sleep, Repeat, was a bit of a departure for the band, being both a little more experimental and darker. How much of You Are My Sunshine do you think was a response to that and how much a continuation?
I feel like it was mostly a continuation. I feel like those records are pretty similar. I think we did it a little better on You Are My Sunshine, just because I feel like the songs themselves were better. It was a really similar approach writing wise and recording wise, but obviously it was a different producer and a different studio and two years later. It isnít exactly the same record, but I feel like theyíre pretty similar.
Iíd definitely say theyíre the two most similar sounding records youíve done so far.
For sure, thatís true.
You close the album out with your first 10-minute long song, ďNot So Tough Found Out.Ē How did that one come into being?
Thatís the only song that has a really interesting story behind the writing because that song wasnít even written to be a Copeland song. I wrote and recorded that song to be a soundtrack for an art show that I was going to put on with a friend of mine. I was going to record like two hours of music that was going to be played in surround sound in this art gallery.
Like background music type stuff?
Yeah, kind of. It was going to be mixed in super surround sound so that you could never really hear the whole song. You could only just wander around the gallery and hear a part of the song, depending on what part you were in. It would kind of have a different mood depending on what piece of artwork you were looking at. So that was the point of the song. Itís really abstract lyrically. The lyrics are like snapshots of the motions in life. Itís not real cohesive. That was all to set a mood for an art show.
The other guys in the band wound up liking that song and bugged me to put it on the record. I liked it a lot, too, so it wasnít a hard decision. So thatís how that one came about. It wasnít even really meant to be an album track.
One of the lines that really struck me from the record is from ďThe Day I Lost My VoiceĒ where you say, ďIíve got my life in a suitcase/Ready to run, run, run away.Ē That seemed to be a very fitting thing from a traveling musicianís perspective. Whatís the story behind that?
Thatís pretty right on. For the last 10 years, Iíve lived out of a suitcase. Being here and gone all the time has a way of glossing over all of your problems. Itís like, ďI canít deal with this. Iím going away in a week.Ē That kind of thing. Itís interesting the way all of our family relationships and all of our friendships here at home have been affected by the fact that weíre always just here and gone all the time.
Iíve noticed a lot of your songs are relational and like to deal with that aspect. How much of that is autobiographical?
Oh, I donít know. Itís hard to say because itís so abstract. Some songs might be completely about me, and then other ones might only be half about me and half about something else that Iíve observed, like my friends or family or a movie or something else. Itís hard to say. Sometimes I donít even know when Iím writing about myself. Iím just kind of grabbing from my unconscious, you know?
Your writing style kind of reminds me of something I remember Ben Gibbard saying once. He said that a lot of his songs are based on fictitious characters and that sometimes when the fans find out they get a little upset because itís not actually real.
Yeah. Thereís kind of an ungenuine feeling about that as a listener, but I think my songs would be really boring if I didnít pull from other stuff.
While Copeland isnít a Christian band, it seems that faith plays an important part in your lives. How much of that would you say impacts the music?
Christianity isnít really a huge part of my life. For some of the other guys in the band it is. Itís not something Iím really into, so I donít think it affects our music at all. Some of the other guys in the band are Christians, but we try to keep everything real separate. Thereís nothing particularly spiritual from a Christian standpoint about our music, at least not anymore. I think maybe when I was younger I would try to weave it in, but thatís not something that I really try to do anymore at all.
As far as your writing process goes, do you usually start out on a piano or a guitar, and then how does it take shape from there?
Usually a piano is where it starts. I mean it could be anything. A lot of times itís sitting down at a new instrument. Sitting down at a piano that Iíve never played before, or picking up someone elseís guitar and just kind of hearing the instrument in a slightly different way. Something like that can spark a song idea, but itís weird. Itís always different. It never really happens the same way every time. People ask how I write songs and I donít even really know (laughs). They just somehow get written.
Do you write a lot while youíre out on the road?
No. Writing on the road is hard because itís pretty uninspiring. Itís the same thing day in and day out. You ride in the van all day and then play the same show we played the night before. The faces change, the city changes, but it all feels the same after a while. Usually I have to wait until I get home to really get some good writing done.
So this last week you released a new video/song thing for ďTears Of A Child,Ē which apparently is part of the indie film The Mother Of Invention. Whatís the story behind that?
Itís a comedy film. Itís kind of a joke song. The song was ďwrittenĒ by the character in the movie, so itís ridiculous and has all this sci-fi language because heís kind of a dorky adventure guy. The songís a complete joke and the video is meant to be silly.
Like a parody?
Yeah. Itís kind of poking fun at us and poking fun at the fact that we would be moved by this ridiculous character enough to record this ridiculous song.
Is that the only song you did for the film?
Actually, I recorded a little scene that got used in some of the trailers. That song is on the end credits.
You worked with Aaron Sprinkle for the first time on this record. How was he different than working with Matt Goldman, who did all of your previous albums, and what did you learn from the experience?
Aaron was awesome. Heís one of the most positive people ever. Heís always encouraging, always excited to be doing what he was doing, always just loving music and always had good ideas. We really liked working with him a whole lot. Goldman is like family to us. We did three full-length records, two EPs and a bunch of other little one-off songs. Heís been part of our lives for years. I think he always will be a part of our lives, but we were really ready to get a change of scenery and push ourselves to not do exactly the same thing over and over again. Iím glad we did since Eat, Sleep, Repeat and You Are My Sunshine have real similar vibes. If we had gone with the same producer and the same studio, it probably would have been way too similar. So it ended up working out really well.
What did we learn? I learn something with every recording. Probably the biggest thing I learned with this record is that a record doesnít have to be exactly the way I had it in my head for it to be good. Not everything turned out exactly the way I thought it would turn out. I was able to let go of my original vision and let the song take on whatever it was going to be and trust the producer, trust the people in the band and trust the mixer. The specific idea I had in my head Ė just because it didnít hit that mark doesnít mean itís not as good or better than what I had in my head. I think this is the first record that I was really able to relax a little bit about the way it was going to turn out and just let it be what it was going to be. Thatís probably the biggest thing I learned.
In your spare time you do a lot of producing yourself. How do you like that aspect of things and how did you first become interested in it?
Thatís where I really feel most comfortable Ė in the studio recording. Iíve been doing that since I was about 13 or 14. I recorded a bunch of the high school bands when I was in high school, so I started real young with recording. Back before anyone was using computers, I started out bouncing tracks from one boom box to another to multitrack, then got a four track, then got a reel-to-reel eight track, and so on and so on. Then eventually computer recording came along.
I feel really fortunate that I got my start doing tape. Pretty much anyone younger than me wasnít even really around when people were recording on tape, so it was definitely a really great way to get into it.
You were involved with making the Anchor & Braille record, which has been done for a while now. How did that come about?
Stephen and I are good friends and he used to live in the next town over. He grew up right next to me. We were always playing the same shows and same house parties and community center shows back when we were in high school. The way the record came about was he would bring a song to the studio. He would record this scratch guitar and the vocal, and then I would get rid of the guitar and just have the vocal. Then I would build the song around just his raw vocal track.
It was kind of a really unconventional way to make a record. We didnít even know that we were making a record at the time (laughs). We were just playing around with some songs and before we knew it we had 11 songs. We were like, ďOh, I guess weíre making a record now.Ē
When did that process start?
That started in Ė oh geez, Iím really bad with time. It had to have beenÖ What year are we in now? 2008? 2009? (Laughs) So it had be 2004ish or 2003. It was a long time ago. Itís been a good five years since we started it. The thing is itís not like we spent five years making the record. We werenít working on it steady. Either he was out of town or I was out of town, or Iíd be home but Iíd have other things to do. There was no deadline. Who knows when it will ever come out?
Then it got caught up in some label politics. Different labels thinking they had the rights to it because it took so long to make. Our respective bands were involved in different labels during those times. It was like no one really had the definite right to release it, so no one did. I would just kind of fiddle with it for five years (laughs). Itís going to come out now, so I had to really actually finish it. Itís been kind of a pain in the butt but a huge five-year chapter of my life working on that record. Itís exciting to see it come out.
What else have you been producing lately?
I just did the new Person L record, which is Kenny from The Starting Lineís new band. I did their new record and itís coming out pretty soon as well. Itís all done and I think being mastered right now. Then thereís some bands here in Central Florida. Iíve been working with a band called Fairground, a band called Woodale and an artist named MRENC. So thereís a bunch of random stuff from around here.
Youíve also sung on quite a few of other peopleís songs, like Stacy Clark, Lydia and Underoath. Do you have any more collaborations lined up?
No, not at the moment. I feel like I started to do a little too much because there was a bunch I sang on. A band called Denison Marrs. I sang on their record. A band called Handcrafted, which the record never came out. The band broke up before it came out (laughs). That was actually my favorite little bit that Iíve done on someoneís record. Itís a shame that itís not going to come out. I kind of feel like I started to do too many of them, so Iíve been trying to back off of it a little bit. I donít want to be like the Timbaland of indie rock, getting my voice on everything.
How do you like being on Tooth & Nail?
Itís great. Weíve known people at Tooth & Nail for seven years. We really like them a lot. They treat us real nice.
When I first heard about you signing there I was like, ďThat move sounds so natural. Itís such a perfect fit.Ē
(Laughs) Yeah, most people thought we were on the label anyway. We toured with their bands so much. But yeah, no, itís good. Weíre pumped.
So are you glad that the whole Columbia fiasco is behind you now?
Yeah. I mean it was a good learning experience. It kind of put us in a weird spot. It made us reevaluate why we do music and why weíve been pushing for this for so long. It made us reevaluate our goals and everything. It made us really appreciate just being able to make music and not have to worry about people interfering but getting to make music the way we want to make it. Really doing it for us, which is why we did it in the first place.
We really love music and we want to express ourselves the way we want to be heard. Tooth & Nailís going to let us do that a lot more than Columbia. Certain bands blossom under that major label microscope and then other ones donít do as well. I feel like weíre one that doesnít do as well.
I got to say that I think your voice is just incredible and out of this world. How did you develop as a singer and when did you start singing?
Well, thank you. I was in like church choirs and stuff when I was a little kid, which was probably my first bout with it, but I started writing songs really young. When I was maybe six or seven, I was actually writing songs. It was helpful to at least be able to carry a tune back then.
I think the first time I actually sang in public in a band situation was with one of my bands in high school. We had a gig booked. It was like our second gig ever and was going to be a pretty big show in the park. The local radio station was there. Our singer just didnít show up. He called the bass player like an hour before the show and was like, ďUh, I think Iím not really that into this anymore.Ē We were like, ďUh, OK.Ē I was like, ďWell, I guess Iíll sing instead, you know?Ē (Laughs) It was spur of the moment. That was how I got forced to actually get on stage and sing was at last minute, getting ditched by our singer.
But, yeah, I think I developed my voice by just listening to singers that I really liked and trying to emulate them. The fact that I have such a high range is maybe because I listened to a lot of female singers. Thatís just where I practiced a lot. I grew up being a big fan of The Sundays, The Cardigans and Sixpence None The Richer, a bunch of these airy, female vocals. That kind of gave me a lot of practice singing like a girl.
As someone with a really strong voice, what are your thoughts on Auto-Tune and how itís become so abused in todayís music?
The fact of the matter is that people are like, ďOh, The Beatles didnít have Auto-Tune.Ē But they did have all the latest technology for their time and they used that. They used whatever technology they had in their music, so Iím not opposed to Auto-Tune in and of itself. I think that you use whatever technology to make the best sounding music you can. If a singer needs a little bit of help, I think itís a good tool. But, yeah, itís totally overused. Itís totally sucking the life out of music (laughs). It is being used too much. The human voice just naturally has some pitch dips and scoops and stuff, some pitch imperfections that make the human voice what it is. If you completely take those out than you might as well just have a keyboard that can form syllables.
So itís a pretty big bummer that itís gotten to the point that it is, but Iíve used Auto-Tune on records. Iíve used Auto-Tune on my own voice. I think when itís used as an effect, like the Kanye West and the T-Pain kind of effect, itís a cool trick, but it certainly shouldnít be something that you base a whole record around. For sure itís a cool sound, but I think it should just be used like any other cool sound. The pianoís a nice sound, but it gets a little boring if all youíre hearing is piano all the time.
I remember you used a lot of Auto-Tune on that one Christmas song a couple years back, but thatís really the only one I can recall where you did something like that.
Yeah. As a tool for just bumping some harmonies in or whatever, if itís used really subtlety, it can be really nice and can save you a lot of time. It can save the singerís voice so you can get more done in that day. If you spend two hours trying to get a singer to sing one harmony in tune when all of them have been good sounding but just a little bit under pitch, if Auto-Tune could subtlety bring it in without anyone ever really hearing the effect, then why not? Itís a waste of time and money to not bump it in, but for sure the overuse of it is training everyoneís ears to not hear the subtleties of the voice.
One of the things I admire about Copeland is how you donít really follow the trends in music and just kind of do what it is you want to do. Do you think thatís going to help add to the timelessness of your music and do you think people are still going to be listening to you guys come 20 years down the line?
Aw, man. Well, thatís an artistís goal is to make something that will enjoyed years after. I have no idea. I appreciate that you say we donít follow the trends because we donít even really pay attention to the trends for the most part. I feel like I still listen to the same music that I listened to 10 years ago. Not completely, but my favorite artists from back then are still some of my favorite artists now. To some extent Iím a little bit out of touch with a lot of whatís going on musically. Thatís a little bit deliberate because I donít want to be influenced by 3OH!3 when Iím making my next record or whatever (laughs).
I donít think anyone wants to be influenced by 3OH!3.
(Laughs) But, you know, from time to time I will do the Helen Keller. But, no, I donít know. My only answer to that is that time will tell if people will still like the music 20 years from now. I would love to tell you that, yeah, our music will be around for a long time, but I donít really know.
Do you have any closing thought youíd like to share?
Weíre just excited to get back out to California. My girlfriend is from California. We met in L.A. and now she lives in Florida, but I used to go out there to see her all the time. Thereís a bunch of favorite restaurants that I canít wait to hit up because I havenít been back in a while.
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