An exclusive interview with The Constellations and reviews from the massive Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle.
Morning thought process: No rain? Yes! Seeing everything from Idiot Pilot to Bob Dylan? Yes! Interview with an awesomely sweet band? Yes!
And now I present you an interview with the eight members of The Constellations…except really, only three did the talking: Elijah Jones, Wes Hoffman, & Shab Bashiri.
You guys get called everything from funk, to pyschedelic, to hip hop, to grime, how do you choose to describe your sound?
Elijah: Whatever comes naturally. We don’t force anything. We just let the music speak for itself. We don’t define what we do. It’s all just pop music. It’s all what comes from our heart and mind. I mean, you don’t have to cookie cut your music for your audience. There’s some smart people out there and they don’t need it defined. Let music be. Let it become what it’s gonna become. Be honest. Give artists a chance to grow, to do what comes naturally, to not stay in a genre.
How did a Tom Waits song end up on your record?
We were a couple of songs into recording. We were trying to do a cover and we were just going to put it out there and see what people thought of the project. We thought of doing Tom Waits and that song [Step Right Up] came up and we went in and laid down the bass, the drums and some bells and whistles. I was trying to do the song as it was written but I couldn’t get the cadence. It just didn’t come naturally to me and our producer was like,”Take it home, take the track home, and just write something.” I went: “You want me to rewrite the song?” And after the first verse, it just flowed out on the paper.
How did you manage to maintain such creative control at Virgin?
Elijah: That was all Ben Allen [Producer of Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective]. There was never a gameplan. We walked into the studio and some days we were doing a psychedelic hip hop song, sometimes a soul song. He never said, “No, that doesn’t work” on this project. He was really cool with us.
You guys have a four-album deal with Virgin, any epic plans?
Wes: It could go any different way. The next album could be a disco record, you know? That’s the cool thing about it. We touch so many different genres. We could take it any way we want to go with it.
Elijah: Everybody’s a singer. Everybody’s a songwriter, basically, in their own right. This kid’s [Jason Nackers] solo stuff. I’m probably gonna try to steal some of his stuff, incorporate it into ours. He’s got an amazing ear for sixties music. We might try to infuse some of that. We’re leaving it open. We’ve been recording on the road.
Tell me about working with Cee-Lo on Southern Gothic.
Elijah: Cee-lo is the musical genius of our generation I think. He’s only just brushed on what he’s capable of. You know, with his new album, the Fuck You song is amazing. It’s gonna be huge. He’s such an honest songwriter. He wears his heart on his sleeve. It was such a blessing to be able to work with someone like that. I’ve always been a huge fan of his and always been definitely influence by him, so to be in the studio with him was amazing. Absolutely amazing.
Do you think record labels deserve the bad rap they get?
Elijah: Yeah, of course. We actually have a lot of really cool people [there]. It has its advantages and disadvantages.
Shab: I think the music industry still needs to figure itself out. It’s still trying to do things the way they were and things have changed. They need to break out and figure out a new game plan.
Wes: We’re progressive thinkers. People are willing to take chances. They just need to figure out how to sell records. Reach the audience. It’s completely different than it was.
How do you feel about file sharing?
Elijah. I don’t support it. I think, in some capacity, maybe. But to me, when you go buy a record, that’s your vote. You’re putting down your money to support a band. That’s how they’re going to be successful. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t, the only way to support a record is to go out to live shows. So if you’re doing that, eh, maybe I agree with that.
Wes: But at the end of the day, the most important thing is to reach as many people as you can. So in that respect, it’s okay.
Elijah: If nobody bought our record but at the end of the night there were 400 people in the crowd, that’s great. But that doesn’t mean I’m gonna be able to make another record. If people are sick of hearing the shit on the radio, that has no meat or substance, go to a record store and buy a record and put your vote in there.
After a good start with The Constellations, I listened to Bellingham, Washington’s Idiot Pilot. It only makes sense that Idiot Pilot’s Daniel Anderson competes in Tetris Championships as the bands sound lies somewhere between hardcore indie and electronica. The background sounds awfully like 8bit music (awesome!). That addition definitely makes for an intriguing sound. C’mon, hardcore screaming with a backdrop of video game music? Really?
The four-piece band has two lead singers: Daniel and Michael Harris. The two singers seem key to their success. Daniel is the screaming hardcore singer and Michael has the moaning indie voice. I have a feeling this pairing makes the screaming more tolerable to new listeners who need a little easing in to hardcore music. Michael definitely reminded me of Nic Offer from !!! because of his flamboyant hand motions during his first song. Within the first minute of performing, Idiot Pilot drove a old gentleman to the exit. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into.
The rest of the plaid-laden crowd seemed to be familiar with the band and many hailed from Bellingham, too. Idiot Pilot had no problem getting the band moving, especially when they played “A Day in the Life of a Pool Shark” and their newer song, “The Tail of a Jet Black Swan” that may or may not be on their upcoming third album. This band was a lot of fun, made great facial expressions (that the band would probably be embarrassed by) and made me look forward to their new album. Score.
I caught a few minutes of the ever-lively The Constellations, their crowd growing by the minute, before stopping to see Plants and Animals. Sadly, Plants and Animals didn’t hold my attention. I had a hard time differentiating them from the other scattering of other light, nondescript indie bands at local festivals (nothing wrong with that!).
When HEALTH walked on stage, it was like someone turned on a switch and the noise rock began. The thought, “this is insane” kept entering my mind. The bassist, John Famiglietti, looked like he was practicing the 360 degree head band with his long black hair during the entire set. I never saw his face. Two drums sets were set up, allowing for the second drummer to sometimes get up and play rhythm guitar. When this happened, it looked like the remaining three members were moles in a game of Whack-A-Mole. They were rocking out so hard, just moving their bodies to the ground and up again with every swipe of the guitar.
At one point, I could hear a woman behind me in the neighboring beer garden exclaim, “That’s my son!” The mother of Jake Duzsik (the one member of the LA band from Seattle) was in the crowd. She was extremely antsy, just waiting to tell someone that her son was up on that stage. One proud mother. If only my plan to corner her for an interview right then and there had panned out.
It’s funny; there’s always a certain amount of a “this isn’t my thing” vibe in crowds at shows that are a bit harder. It’s like when groups of girls dance around next to their boyfriends in ways that obviously don’t fit the music, like they’re mocking the music and saying to everyone, “yeah, we feel awkward here; this isn’t our scene.”
I was really impressed with Jamie Lidell’s stage set up. I’m always excited when bands mix up the standard of drums in the back, guitars up front, singer in the center. Jamie had just a little cube of personal stage space with the drums on his right and the keyboard to his left, with the guitars in the back. He played an equal mix of songs from Multiply (2005), Jim (2008) and Compass (2010).
Jamie was definitely the most interactive with the crowd out of the shows I’ve seen thus far. He introduced almost all of his songs, told stories for many, and dedicated a lot of the crowd’s favorite songs. Songs were dedicated to those who have done wrong, to lovely faithful people, to those wearing ridiculous accessories (he was wearing a fish net on his jacket), and to people in green (making it quite clear green underwear counts). To introduce “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” he told the crowed the perks of being his girlfriend’s telephone: He’d get to be in her front pocket, get to touch her bottom all day, and can vibrate. So that set off the mood of his set: love the one you’re with, “don’t look at other women’s buttocks,” and make sure your lover feels like they’re enough. Pretty sure that combined with his accent, the women of the crowd were pleased.
One of Jamie’s best moments was when his band exited the stage and he recorded his vocal loops live for “A Little Bit More.“ He built the layers and vocals for the entire song right there in front of the crowd. Really really cool.