interview – western lows

los angeles trio western lows slid into focus with their impressive single “grapevine,” the lead single off of their arresting debut lp, glacial.  i was able to track down frontman jack burnside and ask him a few questions surrounding his new project, and he graciously answered via email.  check out the transcript below.

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western lows seems to be a significant departure from your previous band, mezzanine owls.  was there a tipping point that ultimately led to the inception of this project?

this project came into being slowly.  it started off with me writing songs on my own to no particular end.  after a while, i felt good enough about the songs that i wanted to make a record, and then i felt good enough about the record that i wanted to start a band.  from that point western lows evolved into a three-piece – myself, julien bellin on drums and michael orendy on bass.  i guess in a way the whole thing was almost backwards.   usually you start a band and then make a record; this happened the other way round.

the lyrics across glacial are pretty dense at times – in the best way possible – and i also really enjoy the guitar work.  i know you handle both of those chores; do you feel that you assume one role more than the other in western lows?

they’re equally important to me.  i have a pretty obsessive one-track mind, so i’ll go through periods of getting way into lyrics and song construction and not thinking about guitar very much in anything other than a rudimentary way, and then periods where the opposite is true.  i don’t consciously try to focus more on one than on the other, and in the end it feels like it basically balances out.

the western lows backstory contains some ties to saddle creek records and members of bright eyes.  can you talk a bit more about those connections, along with any other valuable ones, that helped you to push this project along?

that connection starts off with andy lemaster, who was totally instrumental to the entire process.  andy is a good friend of mine, and we had worked together previously on mezzanine owls recordings.  andy was playing bass on a bright eyes tour, towards the end of 2011; they came through los angeles and we started talking about recording.  i sent him some of the stuff i’d been working on, one thing led to another, and a few months later i went to athens, georgia to start work on the record with him at chase park transduction.  clay leverett and jeremy wheatley drummed on the album.  andy was recording an azure ray ep during that time period, and orenda fink ended up singing on a track, which was very cool.

 

“grapevine” is the lead single off of glacial and it’s the song generating the most buzz around western lows right now.  in this internet age, one song is sometimes the only chance an artist gets to draw listeners to the rest of their work.  what made you choose “grapevine”?

i didn’t anticipate leading with “grapevine,” but that’s how things turned out.  i think that particular song is immediate but in a way that’s still subtle and in keeping with the rest of the record.  it’s the first track on the album, so we’re using it as an introduction in that context also.

i hear various musical references across your new record, but i don’t want to be presumptuous.  did you have any key influences while writing the songs on glacial?

more in the recording than in the writing.  from a writing standpoint i like to start with very small things and then expand from them to the point that the original source of inspiration is essentially unrecognizable and irrelevant.  often that source is something non-musical, maybe a line from a book.  in the studio that changes; you find yourself listening to playback and thinking, “it would be cool if the bass was doing kind of a field mice thing” or, “i want the hard-panned guitar to sound like my bloody valentine.”  even that’s pretty compartmentalized and specific though.  in a larger sonic sense we weren’t gunning for any specific artists or bands.

 

have you been playing many live shows in support of the new record?

we have.  there’s more to come on that front.

although this is a relatively new project, i know people are always thinking ahead in some manner or another.  what’s the next step for western lows?

it’s early days still on this release.  our record has been out for a month now.  it’ll be coming out in the uk and europe on september 9th, so we’ve got a lot of promoting left to do, a lot of shows to play.  past that i’m looking forward to working more with julien and michael, writing more songs and making more recordings.  i’m past the post-recording burnout and can feel the next thing starting to take shape.

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glacial is the end result of the careful calculations burnside discussed above.  the album solidifies its place within the dreamy, melancholy world that is shoegaze, but the songs also dip into a smattering of other genres, resulting in a refined musical palate.  jaxart is handling the united states distribution of glacial, and the record is out overseas on september 9th via highline records.  it’s worth a listen.

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