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LAist Band Interview: Birdmonster
In a landscape of copycats and safe bets, Birdmonster pride themselves on taking as many musical twists and turns as possible. Their self-titled EP reveals a sound that is simultaneously raw, edgy and original. One of the standout tracks "All the Holes In the Walls," moves from country to rock to alternative, without losing integrity. Though it was made on a shoestring budget, and consists of only three songs, the EP showcases the band's diversity and appreciation for pared-down production. (Scroll to the end of the article for a free MP3, courtesy of Birdmonster)
The Northern California-based band frequents many Southland venues, and recently wrapped-up a gig at Spaceland. On Tuesday we spoke to two of the four members of Birdmonster: Peter Arcuni (Vocals, Guitar) and David Klein (Guitar, Backing Vocals). The remaining two bandmates are Zach Winter (Drums) and Justin Tenuto (Bass).
If their sound is hard to classify, the band is not—they're hard-working and down-to-earth. They share a common intensity when it comes to crafting songs. Birdmonster truly want to enjoy the music-making process, and doubly hope that their fans share in that endeavor. The quartet also hope to escape the gimmicks that often overshadow many of their peer's albums. Like negative space in design, the band believes that less is more when it comes to production—the breathing room gives emphasis to the heavier parts.
Continue reading to discover the band's biggest pet peeve about LA clubs, to see which bandmate is reading Faulkner and to find out how they came up with their band name.
LAist: How long have you been performing together as Birdmonster?
Band: Our first live show was last summer. So we're still pretty new to the scene.
LAist: How did you pick the band name?
Band: It's dear to our heart. Basically it just kind of surfaced because it captured the cuddliness and ferociousness of what we're trying to do.
LAist: Your band meshes several genres, rock, country, punk... How would you define your sound?
David: We just like rocking really hard. The EP is not exactly reflective of what our overall sound is. We really want to have a timeless sound. Our main goal is to rock so hard live that one of us faints.
Peter: The most important thing is that it's not rooted in something that's explicitly modern, or it's not so derivative that it sounds like a band trying to do one thing. The idea was to really let it come naturally. We don't actually do a lot of talking about, stylistically, how we want a song to sound. We talk a lot about dynamics and layering. But we try to let a song almost figure themselves out. Whatever makes the most sense is what bleeds through.
LAist: Describe your creative process for writing and composing the music?
David: Someone starts playing something and we'll just sort of write the song... The Resurrection Song was written in about 20 minutes.... whereas All The Holes In The Walls took about 5 months.
Peter: We approach each song very differently. We don't like to stick in a comfortable zone or process. We sort of like to have each song evolve... Whether that starts like "All The Holes In The Walls" with me having some parts and then sitting down with these guys and really trying to breathe some life into the song, or "The Resurrection Song" where we all sort of just go at once... or some of our newer stuff where Justin has a great bass line or Dave has a great guitar rift... we [just] want it all to come from a different spot.
LAist: How does the LA music scene compare to other cities?
David: We love Spaceland. LA and San Francisco are kind of similar because the crowds don't really get involved in the show. What was really cool about our Spaceland show is that people were really screaming and getting crazy... A really strong crowd reaction is awesome, because that can be hard [to get] sometimes, especially in big cities.
LAist: What's your take on the music venues in LA? How would you improve them?
Peter: I think the problem for me with LA is that they're notorious for "Pay to Play Venues." We've never payed to play. That would be one of my biggest recommendations to a new band. Never pay to play. It's outrageous. A lot of venues in LA will have mandatory ticket sales (which are tough for out of town bands).
David: For example, you'll buy something like 100 tickets upfront and then you'll sort of have to peddle them to your friends, or whomever... and if you don't sell them, you're sort of stuck.
Peter: I'd rather spend 4 hours and try to book a show then pay someone $100 to play. It's morally wrong to me. It drives me crazy to think about it.
LAist: What's the biggest challenge for a new band in the music scene?
David: That's a really good question, and a hard one to answer. With [technology] it becomes easier for a band to sort of do the "DYI" thing with things like ProTools or GarageBand which comes with their Macintosh. On one level it makes things a lot easier. But on another level it sort of dilutes the indie market... There are so many things going on that finding your own identity is more difficult.
It's good to know you can explore it for yourself because you can figure it out on your own. That's how you can make something unique and special.
LAist: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring musician, what would it be?
David: The most important thing is to just stick with it and keep your intuition in tact. Treat it with a level of dedication and just stick with it... because eventually it can happen.
LAist: What's in your iPod?
Peter: The Swedish band Dungan, a lot of Dylan, The Revelons (incredible punk/velvet underground/television...exept more fun and gritty.) It's from the late 70's and apparently didn't get much notice at the time. But they released an anthology last year and basically every song sounds like it should have been a hit. I've also been getting sucked into the Stones lately. Aways liked them, but: "Beggars Banquet," "Let it Bleed," "Sticky Fingers," "Exile on Main Street"...man! That has to be one of the most jaw-dropping set of back to back records from any band ever.
David: I've been listening to The National a lot lately. We played with them as well as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah... I'd never heard The National before and they blew mind mind. Also, Paul Simon "Graceland."
LAist: Do you have a dream collaborator?
Band: Nigel Godrich
LAist: Name one thing your fans probably don't know about the band?
David: I've known the bassist (Justin) for 16 years. We met in elementary school... I also used to do stand-up comedy when the band first started. Comedy is way harder.
LAist: When you're not performing, what do you do to relax?
Peter: Sadly, I book shows. And the whole band is full of avid readers.
LAist: What are you reading right now?
Peter: I'm reading "Mansion on the Hill." It's a sort of biography on the music business--how over the years the rock industry emerged and how managers and labels ended up fucking over people... In a way, it's good to be aware of this... and just say we're going to keep the bullshit as far away from us as possible.
David: I'm reading "As I Lay Dying."
LAist: When can fans expect another CD or EP?
Peter: We're going straight to LP. A lot of bands do a lot of EPs, but we have so many songs that we'll go crazy if we don't record them soon. Our goal is to record in January. We don't know if we'll be backed by a label, but the goal is to record in January.
Also, we don't want a "produced" sound on the new LP. We'll probably record in analog.
David: Our philosophy... is that the best distortion you get is a natural thing... I think bands that are ambitious with melodic layering should know it's okay to record aesthetically rough as well.
Peter: Giving space makes the parts that are really full mean more.
LAist: What was the first album you purchased (or a song that made you realize you wanted to be a musician)?
David: I'll speak for Zach, Justin and myself: none of us intended on being a band... we were all just in the studio and at some point we realized we were a band.
Peter: When I moved out here [to California] it seemed like my approach was more inspired.
David: To answer your question, one of the Bad Religion albums really got me into rock music in general. But the band that got me to play guitar was Black Sabbath.
Peter: I'm proud to say I had a Whitesnake poster over my bed when I was in the third grade. I also had a Guns and Roses black light poster near my bed... even though I didn't have a black light.
LAist: When will you be back in LA?
Band: Hopefully in a couple of months. We want to finish the record first.