Meet Jared Bell of the Lymbyc Systym
Lymbyc Systym: Michael and Jared Bell I Photo by Amanda Longtain
I have a crackpot theory that instrumental bands are all lumped together because the listener is given no written instructions on how to feel. There is part of us who wants to be explicitly told what the song is saying. Whether it's that this is a love song or a breakup song or that he is the Walrus, we want to understand concretely what it is that's going on and the story behind it. Which is why we're at a loss for words on how to describe to our friends how instrumental acts like Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky or the Lymbyc Systym make us feel. We use words like "cinematic" and "lush" but what we really mean is "Can you believe how those synths just exploded into horns and a banjo? That was amazing! It made me feel like I could conquer the world!" Or more succinctly, "Dude, like...woah."
What is truly impressive is that Lymbyc Systym manages to do all of this with just two guys. Hailing from Arizona these brothers, Michael and Jared Bell, have been putting together these giant soundscapes since 2001. With one brother living in Austin and the other in Brooklyn, Lymbyc Systym's formative process was mostly done by sending each other music files. Now, while that doesn't sound like an exciting live show, the Lymbyc Systym becomes an entirely different beast on the road with guest violinists and trumpeters in tow. We called up Jared Bell on the road somewhere near Seattle to talk about their sophomore album, Shutter Release. Here is some of what was said.
Lymbyc Systym - "Bedroom Anthem"
How old were you when you first picked up an instrument?
When I first picked up an instrument? Do shakers count? Becuase if they do, probably around one. (laughs) The first instrument I had lessons for was the piano. I had a Casio keyboard when I was eleven. I had lessons for a month.
I didn't like the lessons I was getting. They were boring. I mean, in hindsight I probably should have continued with that, but I was always more interested in writing songs and playing really fast. Mike and I started making our first songs together when I was fifteen or something. Oh wait, no, we did actually have a rap group before that when I was ten maybe he was thirteen.
Were you any good?
God, no. Maybe one day we'll find the tapes and launch a comeback, but I doubt it..
Why did you choose to name yourselves after the lymbic system and not another part of your brain? Is it because that's the part that controls pleasure?
(laughs) Yes. Well that and I think it's just a name that that fit our band well. It's the emotional center of the brain and I think people relate to our music in a very emotional way. I think it's one of the most primitive parts of your brain. The parts you can't really control.
Lymbyc System I Photo by Amanda Longtain
Where did you write the "Bedroom Anthem"?
I wrote it in Mike's house when he used to live in Austin. He had this little apartment that had a tiny room that I think was supposed to be part of the home office, but we turned it into a music room. It was just packed with instruments. So technically I guess you could say that it was written in a bedroom.
Do the titles of the songs reflect what the songs are about? Or do you just slap a name on there that seems to fit?
Mostly the latter. We just pick a title and go, "This will stick." I mean, there is always something going on within each song that has a personal story. We always write with a certain thing in mind, but the title doesn't necessarily reflect what we're writing the song about. I mean, most of the titles reflect an element of the song, but nothing too specific. We like to leave that up to be interpreted by the listener.
In that case, what was "Narita" written about?
We wrote that about the city, Narita, in Japan. I wrote the beginnings of that song in the airport when we were leaving. We had just finished our Japanese tour and I wanted to write a song that invoked memories of Japan.
What is your writing process like? Do you write on the road or do you hole yourself up in a cabin for three weeks and don't shower?
(laughs) We don't shower anyways. We don't write on the road. There is way too much going on. We ususually are either driving or navigating or setting up gear or sleeping. There is no real down time. We usually write by ourselves after the tour is over and send each other the songs back and forth.
How do you manage to perform all of your elaborate songs on the road with just two guys?
Well we have a violinist with us, but you're right the new record is very orchestrated. Musically we try and play as much live as possible. Before we go on tour we strip down songs to their essential meat and then go from there.
Do you ever get sick of each other?
Of course! We used to live in separate cities, so after the tour we wouldn't see each other for months at a time. But now Mike just moved to New York a couple months ago, so we'll probably see each other more often. It's nice though, because we actually get to practice before a tour.
You didn't practice before?
(laughs) Well, not really. We would get together two days before the tour started and practice a little, but now we get to practice for a couple weeks. We're much more like a normal band now.
How did you end up with Mush Records?
I'm not entirely sure. From what I understand, Robert's friend or something saw a show of ours and really liked it. He just called us out of the blue. Initially we had made a first album, a demo thing, and sent it out to a bunch of record labels including Mush, but I don't think they even opened that package.
Why is your album titled Shutter Release?
As cliche as it sounds, we think of the songs on this album as snapshots of memories. I think you can hear the nostalgic elements in each song. And the shutter release is that moment on the camera when that memory is captured.
What is the weirdest thing you ever seen in the audience?
We've interacted with a lot very odd people on tour, but in Kansas City we met this girl who was insane. Like mentally insane. She had been stalking us online and emailing us like twenty times before the show. I guess when she got there she asked to get in for free and it didn't happen so she flipped out. She was on a different astral plane, a different universe. After the show she started sending us hate mail saying things like, "I thought you were cool, now I hate you guys." It was totally weird.
Okay last question, would you rather be a vampire or a werewolf?
Werewolf, definitely. I think vampires live more interesting lives, but I don't know if I would want to rely on human blood every day to eat. And the werewolf thing is just once a month, so you could just lock yourself up once a month. But I think I would really rather be just a big furry monster.
Any old furry monster?
Yeah, because then you can make up your own rules.
Good point. Well thank you for talking with us.