Sebastien arrives as I relay to Ben a story I told Seb in the aforementioned deleted portion of the interview: how, a few Christmases back, my grandma had discovered some old reel tapes of her husband playing violin.
My grandfather had played in several city orchestras across the country and died when my mother was very young. Since Grandma still had a small old reel player tucked away, I was able to hook it up to my iMac, essentially rip the tapes and clean up the muddy audio a bit with my mom, her sister and my grandma listening in. At one point between musical numbers, my grandfather paused to tell his audience about the 200-year-old Jacob Stainer violin he was playing, and I remember looking over to my mom, who was hearing this voice she hadn’t heard in 40-odd years and had long since forgotten. It was striking.
When I feel like I have developed enough of a lead-in for my first question with them both, I turn the recorder back on.
Caleb Martin: So I’m using this old technology. I had to put a lot of work into it. It’s so old and it’s so outdated and doesn’t really matter to anyone, except for me, because story I have behind it is so subjectively valuable. The people who do sort of talk shit about your music, if there are any…
Ben Davis: I’m sure there are a few. At least.
CM: In effect, I understand what you’re doing.
BD: Well, yeah, cool. I think that no matter what you do somebody will think you’re doing it for a reason other than the reason you’re doing it and judge you based on the decision they’ve come to on their own.
CM: Going back to SXSW, everybody has to play abbreviated sets. How do you like the fact that you have to go and put it all out there in 20, 30 minutes?
BD: Well, the funny thing is, that’s not too far from what we do anyway. A lot of bands like to indulge themselves onstage and go indefinitely, but we’ve always kind of preferred to be short. And maybe it’s my own personal preference but, I can go see a band that I adore — I saw Pavement live and about five or six songs in I personally have had my fill. It’s not to say they won’t do anything beyond that point that blows my mind. But it’s like the law of diminishing returns. It gets less and less exciting as it goes.
CM: Like the Pavement reissues that are 80 songs long? I don’t need this much Pavement.
BD: Right. Or even Flaming Lips, who are some of the most dynamic performers in the world right now. They’re crazy to watch, you get a state of euphoria at their shows, but 45 minutes in you’re like, “Meh. Alright. My euphoria can only last so long.” And certainly not suggested Bad Veins creates any sort of euphoria, but any degree of entertainment or interest that we have can only last so long before you’re tired of dynamic drums and fist pumps. Eventually we’re guessing that happens at about 30 minutes, so around then we try to wrap it up. So SXSW, they supposedly give you 30 minute sets, but things are always running late. They always cut you short. We go down there knowing it’s going to happen so we’re not disappointed at all when they cut us off.
CM: You can’t feel offended because they’re doing this to everybody.
BD: Oh no.
Sebastien Schultz: Yeah, our friend Erin who works in promotions for Dangerbird, I talked to her about it, the grievances I had as a band getting kicked on stage and kicked off and she talked about how she loved it.
BD: Kept things short.
SS: It meant that she knew from 8-8:30 p.m. she was going to be at this band and she was going to see the best set they could possibly do and then she’d walk somewhere else and from 9-9:30 p.m. she saw another band and from those times on the dot it was the best set they could possibly perform…
BD: And to an extent that’s true. I definitely would not argue that our sets were the best we could do [laughs]. Because a lot of times you get to the club and you realize you can’t get your gear within three blocks of it and you don’t find that out until 20 minutes before you’re supposed to play.
CM: So you guys have to carry your equipment yourself?
Together: Oh yeah.
BD: Our first show down there we were running a little late because of traffic and had just forgot that it was going to be a standstill. It was right when we got into town. By the time we got our feet into the club, not our gear, they were like, “You need to be on stage playing in 20 minutes.” So it took us that 20 just to get our gear into the venue. At that point it started cutting our set time. So we had 20 minutes to play.
SS: It’s a very relative 30 minutes.
CM: But at the same time, is there a comfort in the back of your mind knowing the people who are there to see you, they understand?
BD: I think so.
SS: To an extent, but you still want to do the best you can possibly do. I wasn’t very happy playing someone else’s drum kit.
CM: You had to play someone else’s kit?
SS: For the first day.
BD: They didn’t tell us. We carried our drums three blocks down the street only to find out we couldn’t use them once we got them there.
SS: It was a drum kit that they might have just put the drum heads on that day and not even tensioned them. But you do the best you can do. It’s all relative, band’s performances, with the environment and the constraints, etc.
CM: Did you have time to see other bands? Who did you see that you were really excited to?
BD: You mean other than Metallica? [chaos erupts; everyone speaks at once]
CM: You guys saw Metallica?!
SS: Well, if you’re talking about Metallica, then yes.
SS: We might have seen Metallica, and that could have been awesome.
BD: They were pretty badass.
CM: I interviewed Sebastien Grainger on Saturday at Hot Freaks, and the first thing he asks me is, “Did you see Metallica last night? Agh!”
BD: He didn’t do any of that “end-of-the-word-aaagh!” live. He didn’t do any of it. I’m pretty sure that it’s all producers who make him do that. He didn’t do it at all. He sounded awesome.
CM: That’s one of the shows I’m jealous of. The other is that secret Kanye show we left before but had wristbands to. So beyond Metallica, did you go down there thinking, “Hey I need to see so-and-so?”
SS: Well, I already talked about the other one.
CM: You have to do it again, ’cause I’m…
SS: The two big nights that we had where we could enjoy ourselves were Ladyhawke and Metallica. If Ben wants to elaborate on Ladyhawke then he’s free to, but I went on and on previously and all of that interview we lost. [grins]
BD: Well, let’s just say that Seb and I agree we really love the Ladyhawke record.
CM: So, a year ago, the only reason I knew you were playing or that SXSW was going on, even, was when I passing by a string of those newspaper distributor/vendor boxes at UC and I see you two on the cover of CityBeat. It was a huge deal, seeing as how Cincinnati has this “prove yourself” mentality with its bands, denying them credibility until they’ve been hot shit elsewhere. So it was cool to see…
BD: But what were we on the cover for?
CM: A “Bands Who Deserve to Be Signed Who Are Playing SXSW” bit.
BD: Well, I think CityBeat is a larger version of the human condition as it is. You might think of me a certain way and then I could leave to go get a beer and somebody tells you that I’m a billionaire. And so I come back out and you are instantly thinking different of me.
BD: And that’s the same way with success. You know, you see a band and you think, “Oh, they’re pretty awesome.” Then it’s, “Oh, by the way, that band is signed to, say, Matador and they’ve broke records at Matador and are the biggest band on the label.” All of the sudden you’re thinking about us differently. And that’s just the way people are. People treat famous people differently because they’re famous whether they mean to or not, and a band gets treated differently if they’re successful or not. Even if they are local. So it’s hard to discredit CityBeat or any person for applauding our success so far, that’s just how it goes.
CM: But as far as the difference between playing SXSW last year, you’d been playing shows with certain bands in certain places that were really encouraging because you were getting this recognition, though maybe not as much as you wanted. What’s the difference between a year ago playing as an unsigned band and playing now, having those things you wanted?
SS: It does go along with those things I spoke of previously, we didn’t have to go down there this time with a sense of having to impress people or win-over people. Ben and my career, up ’til a month ago, was about having to win over so many people. Like, there’s someone in the audience that you have to play for and we always, thankfully, rose to the occasion to a degree. But we didn’t have to go down there this time having to, like, fucking win over this or that person. We could go down there this year to play the best we could. It wasn’t, “Fuck! Dude! This kills me! Hopefully I fucking impressed this guy. Did I? I don’t know.”
SS: That wasn’t there.
BD: There’s no doubt we made some friends and we impressed some key people who will probably be able to help us, but at the end of the day we didn’t have to do that. And we went down there knowing it. So the five songs we got to play at the set that got cut short — it didn’t matter as much to us. As long as we do well. And there were even people at that show who’d never seen us, so…
SS: And it even felt like a good show. It was a decent … we played well. We weren’t necessarily wearing what we wanted to wear or playing on what we wanted to play on.
CM: You weren’t wearing the fatigues?
BD: We didn’t have time to change.
CM: How’d that feel? Did you guys feel naked?
SS: For Ben it felt worse because I was wearing a grey shirt. Ben was wearing yellow.
BD: I was wearing a yellow gingham shirt. It definitely wasn’t what I wanted.
SS: Ben probably felt more out of place than I did. I mean, Ben was wearing yellow. I was playing someone else’s kit. I still feel like we played a good show.
BD: He makes the color of the shirt feel like a larger issue than it is.
SS: [laughs] No! That’s a part of what we do. That’s part of what we are, and if we can’t wear what we want to wear then, yes, that affects us.
BD: Picture seeing Metallica — he never got time to change out of his floral print shirt he wears every day.
SS: [Speaking over Ben] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, James Hetfield’s wearing floral.
BD: He’s up there looking like a car salesman.
SS: Oh, that Hawaiian shirt was awesome, James. “Seek and Destroy” was awesome except for the color shirt you were wearing.
BD: I really wish you’d had time to put your contacts in.
SS: I mean, it does affect you. You want to present yourselves as such. It wasn’t how we wanted to, but, what did we play for? Eighteen minutes?
BD: Yeah, 18 minutes. I put a stopwatch on my keyboard. We played as long as we could.
CM: Knowing that you have a lot of peers and/or fellow artists in your audience, is it more like a communal thing? Playing in front of friends? Is it more like people are there because they want to be?
SS: I think that when we play the biggest satisfaction I personally get is winning people over who are there. So if there are 20, 30, 40 people in the room and we can get that many people to move from the bar next door, to stop what they’re doing to watch us, that’s success for me.
BD: In SXSW it is particularly gratifying when the people that happen to stumble into your show are people you know about from other means. There are people involved in other projects and mediums and I see on Twitter that they saw us and I’m like, “Oh shit! Those people are awesome and they caught us.” That doesn’t always happen. Especially away from SXSW.
CM: I spoke to Pomegranates when I was in Austin, albeit briefly. No interview. Do you feel like you’re able to bring recognition to Cincinnati? Is everyone there representing another place or do you feel like you are?
BD: Well, I don’t know. I think that if you’re a part of a movement maybe you’re representing that place a little more then.
CM: [Laughs] You don’t feel like you’re representing a movement in Cincinnati?
BD: Well, that’s hard to say. If you’re from Detroit and have a garage rock sound, then maybe.
SS: I don’t think we go down there feeling as though we represent a specific place. But as I said to you before, Cincinnati is my home. I lived in Europe as a child, we see all these other cities when we travel and those other cities may have this or that and are great, but when you boil it down all our friends out there who have moved away have the same problems where they live. Cincinnati is just a great base to come back to.
SS: It’s home.
CM: And the rent is cheaper.
SS: And the rent is cheaper.