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LAist Interview: Justin Rice of Bishop Allen
No one could accuse Bishop Allen of being a slothful band. In 2006 these New Yorkers pumped out 12 EPs, one for every month of the year. They're in Los Angeles tonight at the Echo in support of their latest album The Broken String. Their brainy pop (or as I like to call it brop) has been drawing admiration from far and wide. With their catchy hooks and thoughtful lyrics they're a pop band that you can embrace without the slightest twinge of guilt. These guys are going places. Founding member, Justin Rice was kind enough to talk to us yesterday.
I was looking at your press photos. How did they get you into those pigeon costumes?
Justin: We convinced ourselves. We had these pigeons suits lying around and we wanted to use ‘em.
Where the heck did you get them?
Justin: I was in a movie one time that called for giant pigeons. It was a dream sequence. After the shoot was done, we got to keep them.
Wow, you’re set for Halloween for life.
What would Bishop Allen’s spirit animal be?
Justin: Oh probably pigeons, actually. We’re city dwellers. We’re urban sophicates like the pigeons.
I hear you guys met in school in Boston. What made you did you decide to form a band?
Justin: Oh, I dunno.
Was it the chicks? Or the drugs?
Justin: (laughs) It was the chicks! Definitely the chicks. No, really we just have lots of nervous energy and need some sort of release. So we just pick up a lot of instruments and hit stuff. If you make a habit out of it you usually wind up in a band. .
Is your band a democracy or a dictatorship?
Justin:It can be both. Sometimes there is a dictator and then usually there is a coup and then it’s a democracy.
Who is the dictator most often?
Justin:Um, probably me or Christian, but we’re almost always overwhelmed by democracy.
What is the song, Click Click Click Click, about? Is it about a wedding you attended?
Justin: Well, it wasn’t about an actual wedding that I attended. It was about one I wanted to attend. I was out walking in New York and I passed by a Puerto Rican wedding. They looked like they were having so much fun that I wanted to crash. But you know that would probably have been inappropriate. So I went home and wrote a song instead.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but what was it like releasing an EP every month for a year? Where did that idea come from?
Justin:We were sitting around on the couch and we realized that we had failed to put out any music for 2005. Which was so lame. So we decided that we would put an EP out every season. And then we upped it to one every month. It was a sort of double dog dare conversation. You know, the kind where once you make a deal you have to follow through. It ended up being really fun.
Wasn’t it exhausting?
Justin: Yeah sometimes, but you are constantly rewarded by finishing songs, which is the best thing ever.
What was it like being in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist? It was a surprise to see you guys in the movie, although you’re only in it for a second. How did you get that gig?
Justin:The director, Peter Sollett, emailed us out of the blue one day and said he wanted to meet us. He was making this new movie and wanted to use local New York bands in it. We knew him from Raising Victor Vargas and really liked his work. So we had a drink and things just went from there. It was never really weird. It still had the feeling like we’re working on our friend’s movie. Filming it was totally normal. What was really weird was it in the theater and knowing it was playing on thousands of screens around the country.
Do you prefer playing live or recording?
Justin:I think it’s really, really important to do both. I like recording better because you make new songs. Creating a new record is the most exciting thing in the world. We just finished a record a week ago. To make it right you put everything you have in the world in that record. At the end you’re really happy but exhausted.
What is your writing process like?
Justin:A lot of the germs for songs will come from traveling or wandering around New York. Christian and I split time at our rehearsal space. Christian goes in in the morning, and then I join him in the afternoon and play at night. It’s great. Our studio is like a mad scientist laboratory.
If you weren’t musicians what would you do?
Justin: I don’t even know. Probably invent gadgets in a garage?
Hey, I read that Christian Rudder used to work at thespark.com and he wrote a lot of those personality tests. Is that true?
Justin:Yeah, yeah, that was his job for awhile.
Those are brilliant.
Justin:I will tell him you said so.
Where did you come up with Middle Management? Have you guys ever worked office jobs?
Justin: Oh, yes. There was a time period where I was working tons of temp jobs. Every few months I would work the same job while looking for a better one.
Office work is soul sucking.
Justin:Yeah totally."Click Click Click Click"
You guys have done a lot of touring…what was the weirdest thing you saw on the road?
Justin:We played a show in Ashland, Oregon. There were fire jugglers in the crowd. Just hanging out, juggling fire.
Justin:It’s a hippie college town. I guess it’s a hippie college town thing to do.
If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
Justin:(laughs) I think everything should be free. Everything would be free. All music, all shows, all merchandise, it would be a socialist utopia where everyone shared. Realistically? It would be better if radio were more diverse. There are too many radio stations owned by the same people, with the exception of college radio. We’ve really lost all the local DJs and all the local shows. You know in the old days like in the ‘50s when DJs could discover cool bands. But right now everything is made from the same machine. We should go back to the original format.
What was the worst show you ever played?
Justin:Oh man, there have been so many bad ones. Once in Providence, RI our opening band shut off the power half way through our show. Then they bum rushed the stage. They were really thuggish and itching for a fight. It was really weird. I don’t know what we did. We’re not really a a fighting kind of band . But they were.
What sparked this confrontation? Were you hitting on their women?
Justin: No, no nothing like that. All we did was ask, “Are you guys done?” when they were putting stuff away. They took this as a confrontational question, but it wasn’t. It was just an information gathering session.
Do you have an album you can’t live without?
Justin: The Kinks’ The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.
Good choice! Would you rather be burned alive or frozen to death?
Justin:Frozen to death.
Justin: I think you’d go numb and sort of drift off. Also, the idea of watching your flesh burn is just horrible.
Photos by the very talented Aubrey Edwards