There are plenty of people who will pick up the new Free Moral Agents record, Chaine Infinie, and remark on how the sound and style of Ikey Owen's studio project has blossomed into such an unexpected full band experience since the release 2010's sophomore album Control This. No longer a hazy collection of jazzy, knob-twiddling production, the rumble of live instruments and the emotional depth and range of vocalist Mendee Ichikawa are such a major leap forward and will no doubt attract a whole new group of fans to the music. Of course, Long Beach fans know better. They've watched the band perfect their dub-slathered, experimental rock for the last several years in between albums. And the sonic progression of Owen's band is well documented on loose recordings, YouTube videos and in the lore that exists on streets, record stores and cafes anytime you mention the band's name to those who frequent the local 7th St. bar scene.
But the digital release of the record back in April finally put a legitimate face on the material that symbolizes the growth of their collaboration as a whole. For Owens–best known for his work with The Mars Volta and Jack White and his unofficial role as LBC's go-to producer–Chaine Infinie is only a glimpse of things to come. We sat down with Owens briefly to talk about how the new record came together as they prepare to play a show in celebration of its vinyl release tonight at Que Sera.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): Despite being a much different record than 2010's Control This, Chaine Infinie actually presents a sound that the band have been perfecting live for a while now. How does it feel to finally get a true recorded representation of where your band is now?
Ikey Owens: It's good, I feel like we've been able to update our sound. Control This we'd released almost four years after it was finished, whereas this material is fresh and new and it's great to get it out right away and a lot of it contains songs that went undeveloped for moment and then it all came together really well.
Did you dedicate a solid block to time to this recording or were you doing it before you started touring around with Jack White as his keyboardist?
When we started the record, it was before I started touring with Jack [White], so we actually had the EP and the album recorded. So we'd gotten maybe 70 percent of the work done as far as tracking. Then Miguel Happoldt from Sublime he went in and did dub mixes of all the songs and then we brought those back to the Compound recording studio [in Long Beach] and then we put those mixes through a real soundboard, just did it like old-school Jamaican style. I've really been influenced by Jamaican music, especially in the last two to three years. Then we brought them back to J.P. [Bendzinsky] from Wild Pack of Canaries and he worked on them. So when I came home from working with Jack it was just a matter of touching things up here and there and getting some last little things recorded.
Your first record, Everybody's Favorite Weapon, is very much a solo vision as far as you controlling every aspect of the production and the music. Years later, what is it like letting the reins go and making this more of a band effort?
Ikey: We always write together, but like in this case, Mendee cut her vocals by herself. I wasn't even there. Jesse cut his vocals and guitar by himself. For a lot of the recording I was purposely taking myself out of the situation and letting everyone reserve more control and more authority. It's always been a collective vibe but this time around all of the people in our band are great producers as well. Mendee is a producer, our guitarist Jesse [Carzello] is producer, ur drummer Ryan [Reiff] is a producer, Dennis [Owens], the bass player is a DJ and producer, you don't have to micromanage so much when you have good recruiting. We all share in the responsibility of this record.
During this three year span between records, has anything specifically helped bring you guys closer as a band while you were working to get your new sound out there?
Touring brought us together. We toured 2010-2011 pretty hardcore and now whenever we get together, it's like we never left. So the way recorded was like an offshoot of our touring experience. I was the only one who'd been on tour before that. And when you're going through an experience like that it gives you a chance to really see what people are made of.
You've been in some of the biggest bands in the world, including of course The Mars Volta and Jack White's band. What was it like going back into a DIY, super dedicated touring situation, getting in the van and just hustling every night?
Ikey: Before 2010, I hadn't been in a van since De Facto or like maybe early Mars Volta days. But it doesn't really matter to me so much. I mean, I love tour buses and I really like nice hotels and all the shit that comes with it, but I just really wanted to go play with Free Moral and we [toured] and it was really fun, especially Europe was the shit. It was kinda weird to get back in the van. For the first part of it we slept on people floors and occasionally booked hotels. It wasn't really that big of a deal, this is my band. What am I gonna do, not go on a tour because I can't rock a tour bus?
What kind of techniques have you picked up as a producer for other bands that helped you refine your own process with Free Moral Agents?
I did a record with a band called Melvoy and they were like the Killers, total pop, radio rock. We did all the cut and paste ProTools stuff, all the stuff that I always hated. But I did it and it sounded really good and was really interesting even though it's pop and you can't really push it too far, to me I was thinking if I could do this to my own music, I could make this drum sound crazy. It woke me up to the boundaries that I hadn't really been pushing because I'd been doing things just bass, drums and guitar. And then working with Miguel on my stuff we mixed everything the oldest way possible, it went from 40-50 Pro Tools tracks down to eight tracks and analogue and that was it. I've been doing a lot of analog recording with bands so I kind of took the best of both worlds with this record and tried to give that to my band.
Free Moral Agents play tonight at Que Sera with Selfish and Wild Pack of Canaries (DJ set),1923 E 7th St, Long Beach, (562) 599-6170 9 p.m. $5. 21+.
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.