Interview Extra: RX Bandits
In less than 24 hours, 4th of July celebrations will officially be in full swing. But if you're an RX Bandits fan, you're probably busy thinking about July 8th. Only five days until the band takes the stage in front of their rabid hometown crowd at The House of Blues in Anaheim along side Dredg on the first date of their co headlining U.S. tour. The article about them (penned by yours truly) in this week's paper is still quite fresh, and if you haven't glanced at it yet, I suggest you click off this post and do so HERE.
For the rest of you, there maybe a little curiosity about the parts of my fun-filled conversation with Matt Embree and Steve Choi that didn't make it into the interview. Touching on topics ranging from their work with producer Chris Fudurich on their new album Mandala (out July 21), pictured, to insight to Embree's travels to Central and South America, there is plenty of worth-while bits that couldn't be condensed into 750 words. Though slightly edited for length and short attention spans, I'm sure you will walk away from this a little wiser, at least in regard to the band.
OC Weekly: What are some of the things you've both done inside and outside of music since your last album that may have helped you write the new one?
Matt Embree: Since we recorded "...And the Battle Begun", I went to Central America twice and went to
And at least more Latin rhythms definitely seeped into my writing out of left field. But having you ask that question made me realize it wasn't as obscure as I might have thought. Just having spent that time, it wasn't like I stayed at resorts or anything like that. The first time I was just hanging out with a friend hitchhiking and traveling. And a lot of times when we'd hear the music we'd be hitchhiking in peoples cars and they'd have the radio on. And a lot of times when they turn it on it's classical, like traditional music and it's a lot of Sambas and like Cumbia and Meregue and the percussion and constant beats and the polyrhythms, for me that definitely is found on the new album from the parts that I put into it.
Steve Choi: I've just experience life. I guess I've had some changes in the philosophy in how I view creativity. I've been looking into other music too. I didn't spend too much time traveling in
We've both experienced that a lot where we've watched people either change their ways or solidify who they're gonna become for the rest of their lives and that's kind of effected us and the way we wanted to work. I feel like what we wanted to accomplish and do with the band had a lot to do with that.
ME: I'd totally have to agree with that. We're at this age in our late 20s where with a lot of our friends it's like you either commit and go big and handle your business and get what you gotta get or people just get stuck in the rut and just fall off. And in a strange way that has been inspiring.
SC: It's really put things into perspective for us and made us appreciate what we have going for us and everything that we still have yet to attain for ourselves.
ME: This particular recording was a rather surprising deluge of creativity. Besides the actual album, we also have about seven more hours of music that we recorded, all improvised where we'd go and just sit together in a quiet zone outside the studio or something and make up an idea for a landscape, like a visual concept and just try to create it musically. So the amount of stuff that came out that was usable, that was good is surprising. Because a lot of times in that situation it can get really chaotic and maybe full on extreme people would love it, maybe the avant garde people. But for the average listener, maybe not so much. But I'd say this time through, at least three hours of it, like we kinda made four records. And given the fact that we only really spent a month and a half writing all the stuff, I think what Choi was saying about all the stuff in our lives really inspired us.
SC: Over the course of this year while we were writing and trying to deal with our personnel and ourselves, by the time we finally got into the studio and looking at each other, we were like "we're here, we didn't think this day would come". And it actually sparked something in us for sure. We've been living and breathing and thinking about this record every day since September, hell even before that when Matt wrote Chorizo, which we won't divulge which title that is on the record, some people know but he wrote that before we even went on the tour last summer. And there are other grooves on the record that have been chilling for days.
So conceptually the record has existed for us well over a year. So to finally kind of like free ourselves of that was just huge. It wasn't even all just happiness it was just a huge slurry of emotion. So I think the creative philosophy that me and Matt share is that you gotta get things out of your head. If you come up with an idea, you've got to get it out and go on to the next thing. We're not the type to incubate and sculpt things. You gotta move on to the next thing. You're only as good as what you're doing at that time.
OCW: This is your first record as a four piece. Did the dynamics of writing a song change much for this record?
ME: Not really that much, not as much as some people who are fans of our music might think. Because a lot of the time, the other couple records since The Resignation, where [Chris] Sheets and [Steven] Borth were both on, we'd write the songs and they weren't really active participants in the song writing. They would come in and we'd have some parts where maybe horns would work better and they'd come in and write them or there are some songs that just don't even have horns in the resignation and Battle Begun. Where we didn't think it sounded good, we never tried to force it.
And now that's it's just a four piece, it didn't feel much different but I just think our chemistry was better because there was a lot of emotions and other unsaid things. And once we got our communication all straightened out, everything came easily. But as far as the song writing process changing, not much. We don't go by it in a really calculated way. Usually Choi or I will bring in a part and then we just try to make the song work off that part. Or sometimes it's almost a completed song and then we as a band just work on transitions, intros and outros.
SC: Our desire to keep up that vibe like there was equality there was more of just like a respect and a political thing. To their credit, there were some things that they really took the helm on. But in general, of our whole sound and aesthetic, they were really more like players.
OCW: How do you feel that this record is a progressive step from the last one?
SC: One thing that I was mentioning to the other guys at a recent photo shoot was that I was stoked on this record because specifically it sounds more mature to me because we locked ourselves in. We were much more in tune with what our strengths are and we weren't necessarily trying to run ourselves across the board we were just trying to focus on what our strengths are while comfortably pushing new bounds for us. We're just more grown and more mature and all that means to me at the moment is that we're more familiar with our own boundaries and who we are as players and what we do creatively. We're just way more intuitive with it.
OCW: As a producer, what are some things about Chris Fudurich that enticed you to work with him again on this album?
ME: Well, first of all, he's know us since he worked with us on Progress. I was 20 years old, and I'm 28 now. That's a lot of growing up. At that point, we were barely starting to make money with the band, I was still living with my mom. Now we've been making a living playing music for six years, maybe even more. And so ultimately he knows the sound of the band and he's watched me grow as a musician, he watched us all grow as musicians. For The Resignation, we did the record live just like this one with two inch tape and we used ProTools a little bit just to do some over dubs.
To me, his greatest strong point is his ear. He's really good at getting basic sounds. And we wanted to have a third party. The last record, we did ourselves and it was really difficult at time for example if I was playing the role of producer and I was recording someone's part and maybe they were getting a little frustrated because they keep playing sharp or not playing the rhythm correctly and it was really difficult to tell them over and over that we gotta do it again, we gotta do it again. Because then you take it personally because it's coming from someone in the band.
Whereas if it's coming from a third party whose not inside the band, does not share your creative views, is looking at the piece as a whole and what would sound better for the entire song, for the whole composition, rather than you in your head are just stoked on this [guitar] part just because of how long it took you to come up with it, whether it was good or not. Sometimes I'll write something and be like "It has to be good because I spent so much time on it". But it's terrible, just totally lame. So we brought Chris in again and it's been really good. There were definitely times when we had disagreements, but every good producer and every good band has disagreements.
SC: Having disagreements is an honesty that you can only hope to achieve when you're working with someone on a collaborative effort. Like Matt said, it was the perfect objective thing, but with one very important detail and that is he has an objective view for us but that only works because he actually gets what we're doing not just musically but creatively. He knows enough of bands and he knows a broad enough spectrum of music to understand what might have been our influences, what kind of styles of music we're trying to take. Maybe not for every song, but for the most part he gets it. He gets where the funk comes in, he gets where the reggae and the R&B and the soul and the aggressive modern rock stuff that we're trying to do comes in. He get's it and that is crucial.
ME: One thing I have to sing his praises for one more time is that a lot of producers have a formula and in order to get their sound, they have to stick to their formula. So they have to have the drummer play to a click and it's gotta be beat detected and everything has to be on the grid and the guitar player has to play out of a specific amp and a specific guitar and everything and he's not like that. And you have to look at the other stuff he does, he does a lot of pop stuff. He's done Britany Spears and he's done Nada Surf and he's done Jimmy Eat World. That Jimmy Eat World EP is one of the best things they have put out in a while and each project he just comes to it and says okay, I'm gonna do it like this. And for us, nothing was played to a click and we would just do takes, all in the same room together, all looking at each other. And he understood something which I think is something important.
I believe in the old recordings, there is something more captured there than just the sound. In a lot of my old favorite recordings its because all of the musicians were in the same room together and whatever kind of emotion or vibe, the unexplainable and the intangible is also captured in the recording. And that feeling is somehow transmitted through the speakers, so its more than the sound. And he totally understood that, he didn't try to steer it anyway. We were like "look Chris we want to do it live, we want to do it to tape," and he said let's figure out the best way to make it sound the best. It was awesome, it was a great experience.
SC: While we were tracking it was either good vibe or bad vibe, it was either play well or not play well.
ME: It was either good tone or not so good tone. It was like "Matt your guitar tone sucks on this song, change it".
OCW: Could you give me a little insight into the title "Mandala"?
ME: For me personally, that's not something that I wish to steer in any direction and it's kinda of like the meaning of the lyrics to songs and things like that. I don't really like to tell people how they should think about it. All I can say is that it's a word in Sanskrit and it has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different cultures. Different cultures adapted it, its not Buddhist, it's not Hindu, it's a Sanskrit word that predates all those religions. It just kind of popped out of me and that's about as far as I'm gonna go with that. It has definitely different meanings to me and probably has different meanings to everyone in the band and for one reason or another it became the album title and it will have different reasons for different people. I can definitely say that it's quite a journey reading about mandalas in the form of a word, mandalas in the form of physical creation, in Hindi religion, people create Mandalas.
SC: It's a shape, like a sign of sacred geometry. Like you make, actually draw an elaborate shape and put it on a rug or on a rack. It's a shape to induce this state of mind or state of being which is, like [Matt] said, only one aspect of it. It kinda works out funny because he suggested the title when we were working out song titles and everyone else was down for it, but I was kind of like the dissenting opinion at first. I always liked the meaning but I wasn't necessarily down for it to be the title of the album at first.
The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't deny the concept of it. Because, whatever, it was a superficially dissent on my part because I didn't like the sound of the word. I will always like the meaning, but the more I thought about the concept and how it tied into us making the record, and every aspect whether it's the sound of the record, whether it was lyrically for Matt, whether it was instrumentation, it all tied into it for us. In a way we had to make our own Mandalas to get to be one, to make our own sort of non physical Mandala which was this album, this collaborative creation. So I just couldn't fight the flow.
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