Monday, October 30, 2006

As Tall As Lions

As Tall As Lions' van broke down and they had to miss the Minneapolis date of the tour, but vocalist Dan Nigro was kind enough to do a phone interview with me anyways. We talked about their new, critically acclaimed self-titled album and some exclusive info about upcoming tours and a new EP.

Curt Baker: Well, first of all thanks for doing this.

Dan Nigro: No problem man

CB: Since the website is on the Minneapolis scene I have to ask the obligatory question; what do you think of the city and its venues?

DN: Well to be honest we’ve only played in Minneapolis three times. We played the Triple Rock Club twice and we’ve played the Quest once. What’s the smaller room in the Quest?

CB: The Ascot Room.

DN: Yeah, we played there once as well. Those were the three times in Minneapolis and I have to say the Triple Rock Club was phenomenal. The guy that does the sound there, I forget his name, he’s a really nice guy, he’s always hooked us up, he’s always been kind, and always given us good sound and hooked us up with our monitors. And the food there is obviously amazing and they always have a surplus of drink tickets. It’s a pretty great experience every time we play there.

CB: What does the name As Tall As Lions mean? Is there a story behind that?

DN: I guess there’s a story behind every band name you know? Whether it’s simple or complicated. It was a phrase that Saen had come up with, Saen being our guitarist, and I had seen it in something he had written online, I can’t remember where I saw it whether being in a journal post or message boards, I can’t remember. Well, somehow I saw the name and was like, “That would be a really cool name for our band,” and asked if he could give it to us because it was a phrase that he had come up with. He said that he liked it as well and we chose it as our band name.

CB: How do you feel about your new self-titled album and the response you’ve gotten in regards to it.

DN: We’re very happy with it. We spent the last seven months writing the record and two months recording it. We were very meticulous when it came down to the song writing process and the detail that came into every song, every chord progression, and every melody that was chosen, every drum beat that was written. Everybody had to be very excited about everything or it wasn’t allowed to fly. So we were happy with the way it came out, our producers were amazing. Mike Watts and Keith Hagler were incredible to work with. They had a really good dynamic together in the studio. Although we were working 12 hour days it was always very relaxed. There was no pressure, like stress in terms of people getting down on each other. It was very free-spirited atmosphere. A lot of times it was trial and error with mic set-ups or placements or different approaches to singing or different guitar tones to every song. It was a great experience, we’re happy with the way it came out. We’re overwhelmed with the positive stuff we’ve been getting in the press about it because obviously our first record didn’t really get that great of reviews and this one seems to be getting pretty great reviews across the board. Obviously there’s gonna be the bad review here and there but I think that comes with every album you know?

CB: That’s actually why I looked into you because I read a review on I think and they just loved it so I figured I better check you guys out.

DN: Well, there you go. For the first time ever have I had faith in reviews to have someone be turned on to a band because of it. Like with our first record when we got a bad review we were like, “Oh, it’s alright it’s just a bad review, people are going to go out and listen to it themselves.” But, now we get e-mails all the time that say, “Hey man I read your review in this magazine or this website and I went out and bought your record and I loved it.” It's like, "Wow, you actually did that?" That’s kinda crazy.

CB: Did you approach the recording of this album differently than Lafcadio?

DN: Yeah, it was very different. Just in terms of technically and in terms of the way we recorded things. On the first record it was very much drums, bass, then guitar, then pianos. It was very “this after that after that” type of recording. With this record we did all the drums and the bass in four days. Then after that we did it song after song. Like we’d say, “Ok, it’s Tuesday, we need to work on Ghosts of York.” So we’d bring in some amps and go track guitar, piano, then vocals, so we where always in the vibe of the song. We never felt like we were really taking ourselves out of the song, we were lworking on it for the whole day and you get immersed in it and you tend to get more stuff for that song. It was a good process in that sense. It was a much more relaxed feel. On the first album the vocal takes were very rigid. It was more about perfectly being in tune at all times and on the new record it was more about getting the right feeling on the songs. On the first record we would spend hour upon hour on a vocal a track, whereas there were certain tracks on this record where I went in there, did a couple takes and that was it. It was like, “Ok that take you were perfectly on key, but on this take you were flat on one note, but we can use it because the feeling was better on this take.” It was a lot more about the vibes that were going on with this record.

CB: I’ve heard that you haven’t had formal voice training, is that true?

DN: I had voice training for a few months but it wasn’t anything that I feel I took anything from. Not because of the professionals that I went to. More so because of my attitude towards music at the time. When I went to voice instructors it was like four or five years ago and at the time I didn’t take my singing very seriously. I took vocal lessons when I was like 18 and I had three different instructors and each one of them was for like one or two lessons. And most of them were like, “You don’t take this very seriously, singing is a very serious thing,” and I didn’t take it seriously and I didn’t practice my scales and warm-up exercises. It wasn’t until the last year or two that..once we started touring and I started losing my voice at shows and listening back to tapes and hearing me hit flats all the time I was like, “Wow, I really need to work on this.”

CB: Yeah, well your voice is one of the most praised things on the album and it really surprises me that you didn’t have a lot of vocal training.

DN: Yeah, definitely nothing to make me a better or worse singer.

CB: You guys are from New York, but you don’t really sound like a New York band. Where did you get your sound, what were the influences?

DN: Everybody in the band listens to different music. Obviously people compare us to British bands all the time and I think that’s correct in a certain sense. Like obviously every musician out there listens to Radiohead. We listen to a lot of Elbow, Bjork, or Broken Social Scene. We listen to a lot of old stuff like obviously The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan. We’re very influenced by older rock and folk music. And there’s a lot of soul actually influenced in the music. There’s a lot of Marvin Gaye played in the van, there’s a lot of Curtis Mayfield played in the van. Cliff our drummer is obsessed with Alicia Keys. So we listen to a lot of older hip-hop whether it be the Roots or A Tribe Called Quest. Not just your standard rock influences I don’t think.

CB: I think the album kind of has a dream-like feel to it, my roommate is always saying it’s the perfect nap album. I mean not to...

DN: Perfect nap album! Haha, I didn’t take any offense. Actually we get a lot of comments from people at shows that say like, “I fall asleep to your record every night.”

CB: Was that a conscious decision? Like the vibe of the album?

DN: Yeah I think a lot of the music we listen to is very flowy and dreamy. And obviously you’re influenced a lot by what you listen to and who you hang out with. Most of the guys in the band are really mellow people, no one in the band is really a partier. Obviously that go out and drink and have fun, but we’re not the type that go out to parties every night and be stupid. We’re not the most social people most of the time. So I guess it’s more of an extension of our attitudes.

CB: I would say the main theme of the album is love, I don’t know how you feel about that..

DN: Yeah, I think….I’m trying to refrain from clich├ęs but if you think that is the theme, then you’d be correct. Whether it be the positive or negative aspects of it. Obviously every human goes through the natural emotional rollercoaster of being happy and sad. And we definitely through that rollercoaster ride while we wrote this record and it definitely comes across when you listen to it.

CB: So were the lyrics mainly autobiographical on the album?

DN: No actually. I only write part of the lyrics. We have a funny lyric writing process in our band. I will write most of the melodies, but I don’t write down lyrics right away for the song because if I sit down to write them down I over think it and I’m never happy with anything I write and I just drive myself crazy. So, for this record I would make up a melody and would sing the melody and whatever lyrics I would come up with I would sing it and demo it out then show our guitarist and he would go back and listen to the melodies and lyrics I had written. Then he would go back, like over the course of the months when we wrote the record, and he would write down what he really liked about them or would write stories around the lyrics or on some songs he would completely change everything I had written, lyric-wise, and that’s the way we write songs. So some songs are autobiographical about situations like definitely when I was initially writing them out and some are autobiographical for Saen’s part and then some of the other lyrics are just complete made-up stories. It varies from song to song.

CB: What do you guys have coming up? Any more tours?

DN: Well, we’re done with this bar tour on November 17th. Then we start up on a tour with a band called Under The Influence of Giants.

CB: My roommate just freaked out when you said that.

DN: Oh really? Haha, well it’s only going to be ten days and it’s not coming to Minneapolis so I’m sorry. We’re doing about ten days with them along the east coast and then Texas and then I think we’re gonna head home for a few days. We’re gonna take off December, I think we have about a week of shows planned for December like a couple of headlining shows then we’re gonna do a big Christmas show in our hometown. We haven’t Long Island since August so it will have been about six months at that point. Then we’re looking into options, we have a couple of invites and submissions for tours starting in late January, early February. Nothing is for sure yet, we’re just figuring out our tentative schedule. We just recorded a four song EP that we don’t know what we’re gonna do with. It’s one original Chrismas song we wrote, a cover of “Oh, Holy Night,” a cover of “Across The Universe,” by the Beatles, and we did a remake of the single “Love,” more of a trip hop remix. We're trying to think of a way to release it, we might release the song separately, we might release them together. We haven’t decided yet.