When Silversun Pickups first started playing live, the band was, to put it mildly, less than confident in its live shows.
"Sometimes it was nerve-wracking because people didn't know we were in a band and they were like, 'Whoa, I'm going to go check you guys out,' " guitarist/singer Brian Aubert recalls. "We're like 'Whoa, woah, woah, we're just playing."
By Aubert's own account, the band's friends wouldn't have missed much by skipping the early Silversun Pickups shows, an understandable opinion considering the band's bassist and drummer were literally learning how to play their instruments onstage.
What songs the band had were, shall we say, a bit haphazardly crafted. Songs sometimes bled from one into another, not because that was the plan, but because the first song didn't have a real ending.
"We just kind of had ideas and stretched them out and were learning things onstage and stuff," Aubert says.
He describes one particularly humorous stage trick the nascent Silversun Pickups would use to vary material.
"(Our drummer) could play the drums actually, which is kind of the irony of it," Aubert says. "She could play certain beats. She knew about four or five different beats, all at the same tempo."
The problem was, she really didn't know when to change beats, so the group had to devise an onstage signal
"If you kick the kick drum, (she'd) move to another beat," Aubert says. "It worked out fine because we didn't know when that other beat was supposed to happen either. We were just kind of going with it."
One might have a hard time these days believing today's Silversun Pickups could ever have been so green on stage. The band's latest CD, Carnavas, was one of the coolest Rock releases of 2006, finding an audience with the single, "Lazy Eye," a bona fide Modern Rock hit.
With a fuzzed-out sound built from effects-laden guitars and keyboards, the group has earned comparisons to such sonically adventurous groups as My Bloody Valentine and Smashing Pumpkins. But the real strength of Carnavas is the songwriting, as tunes like "Well Thought Out Twinkles," "Little Lover's So Polite" and "Dream of Tempo 119" deliver punchy Pop hooks that are every bit as invigorationg as the CD's high-impact sonics.
Part of the reason the band has improved so much is that it eventually added a pair of experienced musicians -- drummer Christopher Guanlao and keyboardist/effects guru Joe Lester -- to join original members Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger.
It was only when Guanlao and Lester arrived about four years ago that Silversun Pickups' sound grew focused and the band got serious about being in the business of making music.
"That was the real beginning of the band in a way," Aubert says.
Things got even more serious after the group sent a tape of three songs to organizers of the CMJ New Music Marathon in New York City. Aubert says the band didn't apply to play at the festival to get in front of record company scouts. It just seemed like a fun thing to do and a way to go to the Big Apple and see a bunch of bands. But then the Silversun Pickups got chosen to play.
While in New York City, Aubert and his bandmates ran into the owner of Spaceland, a club back in the group's Orange County, Calif., home base of Silver Lake. Seeing that the Silversun Pickups had landed a CMJ gig, he offered a show to the group at Spaceland. One show led to another, and suddenly the Silversun Pickups had to grow into its songs -- and instruments -- on stage.
"I think people thought we were a band more than we did," Aubert says. "Like we couldn't see ourselves in a band. We didn't think we were good enough."
Going in to record their breakthrough CD, the band wanted to showcase more of the louder, fuzzed-out sound that had come to define its live shows. With the help of producer Dave Cooley and engineer Tom Biller, the band achieved that sonic goal. The band also found itself liking the idea of taking musical chances.
"It makes it fun for you when it's hard and difficult and you're stretching, and maybe you fail and maybe you don't fail," Aubert declares. "It just keeps it fresh and exciting and I think it keeps music good. It's really a shame to just go, 'OK, well, we've got that, let's just go that way, always.' Instead of being like a well-oiled machine, it's like you're constantly close to a train wreck.
"That's how we like it," he continues. "We kind of like to be like, 'Alright, we know how to play that really well. Let's do something we don't know how to play. Let's make it hard.' "
The growing confidence of the band is perhaps most apparent in the vocal performances of Aubert, who in the early years fronting the Silversun Pickups was a painfully shy and tentative vocalist. But on Carnavas, he revealed himself to be a more than adequate singer.
"I never had a problem with guitar and stuff, but the singing part was like, 'Wow, I'm just too shy,' " Aubert says. "It must have been so frustrating to see us play back when I wouldn't go to mic and hardly had any words. And also, when we did previous recordings, I'd hide my voice with vocal effects and all this crazy crap. Wen I laid down the vocal tracks, I was like, 'Oh, I just ruined it.'
"I don't know, you just get over it," he says. "Like we were playing so long, I just kind of came to a thing where it's like, 'That's how I sound.' Now you can't take the mic away from me."
SILVERSUN PICKUPS play Friday at the Southgate House.