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Posted Apr 15th, 2009 (9:23 pm) by Matt Midgley

Every once in a while when you interview a a band, right from the get-go, you know that you are going to have an awesome interview. Such was the case when we sat down to talk with Headlights at their Salt Lake City tour stop. Read on for some (read: quite a bit of) info on the new record, some insights into Remixes, and along with the slew of random questions that we usually ask during interviews. Also, if you are drinking a hot beverage, please put it down, so you don't burn yourself while inadvertently snorting with laughter from reading the following transcript.

IYS: Obviously the most pressing thing we can talk about is your upcoming album. You have been dropping hints around the internet about it -- Last thing we heard is that the mixing has just been completed?

Erin Fein: Well, we’re in a bit of a spot. The mixing was completed, and it sounded great, but it wasn’t sounding just like what we had been looking for in it. So we’re going to take some extra time and sort that out before we officially say we’re finished.
Tristan Wraight: It’s pretty close though.
Erin: Yeah.

IYS: Just a few finishing touches then?

Erin: Yeah, I think there are just a few things that we need to adjust. Actually, there’s this one song that we usually open our set with that just kind of came to life in the live setting. Then when we went back and listened to the recording of it, we were all thinking that it was off.
Tristan Wraight: It was good, but it just became something better over the course of us playing it live.
Erin: Yeah, so there are a few things like that that we’re going to try and fix before we put it out.

IYS: I suppose that’s the best kind of problem to have -- you could be trying to fix songs that weren’t any good in the first place.

Nick Sanborn: Yeah, it could be worse.

IYS: We haven’t seen anything as far as a name for the new album. Any light you can shed on that?

Tristan: We’re mulling over a few ideas. Really, we need to get the finished product first, so we can get an idea of what it is, and it’s personality. It’s message.We’re not an issue band. We don’t think, “This is the concept” and then build a record around that.
Brett Sanderson: This album is not about Tibet, if that’s what you’re asking.
[Laughter]
Tristan: We write pretty --
Erin: Free Form.
Tristan: -- yeah, it always ends up being more of a stream of consciousness thing as opposed to a pre-meditated thing. I think once we have a bit more perspective on the album, we’ll be able to name it properly. That’s how it always is with us, we always name it after it’s done.

IYS: There isn’t really any information out there about the record at all. What can you tell us about it?

Erin: [Laugter] Yeah, we haven’t really told anyone anything about it.
Brett: It’s hard to talk about before it’s finished.
Everyone: Yeah.
Tristan: We can tell you that we recorded it in our home.

IYS: Yeah, one of you recently posted the snippet online, “Tape hiss is a beautiful thing.” Does the new album have a distinct lo-fi feel?

Erin: Well, that’s what we were going for.
Brett: That’s the snafu that we’re having now.
Erin: Yeah, that’s the snafu we’re having. I like that.
Tristan: Basically, the mixes that we got back were really hi-fi...
Erin: A little more produced than we’d been hoping for.

Tristan: ...and we recorded at home for a reason. That’s what we love. That’s the aesthetic that we love. The guy who’s mixing it right now is this really talented dude -- he’s a badass -- but I think that because we weren’t able to mix it with him, there have been some stylistic interpretations that have changed the album in ways that we weren’t hoping for. And so, right now, what we need to do is basically reset the clock on it and go back to some of the original, natural tracks that we recorded.

We really love all the tracking and all the songs we got. Also, we really like the personality that the recordings have. We just want to keep that, to keep the integrity of that, alive more. So that’s what we’re going to do when we get home [from this tour]. However, one thing to note, is that this record is the first one we’ve ever done as a four-piece. The two previous records were just the three of us [Erin, Tristan, and Brett]. Then Nick [Sanborn] came on board. He joined us a long time ago to tour, but officially as a permanent piece of the band last year when Some Racing, Some Stopping came out.

We also had another person join the band [John Owen], who was a guitar player and a percussion player who got married and moved to San Francisco halfway through the recording process. So we kind of had to reset the clock then as well. So all in all, this record has been quite an effort so far.

Erin: Yeah, it has.
Tristan: ...but it’s sounding really cool, man.
Brett: It’s very close. Very close.

IYS: Fall was the original release-time goal. Will it be pushed back?

Erin: We’re still shooting for Fall. We were planning on doing August, and I think now we’re just going to do September instead. Just a slight push-back, so it’s not going to be too big of a deal. It’s still early enough that I think we’re in pretty good shape to be on track.

IYS: You were saying that home-recorded gives off an aesthetic that you love. The previous two albums, however, weren’t home-recorded, were they?

Tristan: The last one [Some Racing] was totally home-recorded too. The first one Kill Them with Kindness was actually half home-recorded too. We did basic tracking for the first one in a studio in Milwaukee with a friend of ours, and we came home to our farmhouse and did overdubs and icings and fun stuff. Then Some Racing, Some Stopping was totally home recorded.

IYS: Well, Some Racing doesn’t really sound like a homemade recording.

Erin: That’s because of this guy right here. [Pointing at Nick]
Tristan: Also, just because it’s home-recorded doesn’t mean we want it to sound like a Wavves record.
Erin: We’re also not using some old 4-track.
Brett: We’ve got a pretty proper studio setup, it just happens to be at home. [Laughter] We’re just more interested in doing vocals in the kitchen or whatever.
Tristan: See, full-out studio albums sound like they were done in a vacuum. That aspect of studio recording is what we want to avoid. We wanted atmosphere. And space.
Erin: We wanted room sound.

IYS: So would you say that it’s more for you as a band, and what home-recording brings out of you, or more for the final sound of the recording?

Tristan: Both, definitely both. Process-wise, it’s more affordable and it’s more flexible. We have much more freedom to do exactly what we want to do, as opposed to what some engineer or computer guy wants us to do.

IYS: Yeah, so if you want you can go get a corn dog from the freezer mid-song.

Tristan: [Laughter] Yeah, but it’s also very much the resulting aesthetic that we like.
Erin: It takes us kind of a long time. Even though we tend to come up with songs fairly quickly, it takes us a while to make it all come together as a band. I think if we were to record in a studio, we’d just have to have so much money.
Tristan: We have three different takes of almost all the songs. We like to play with them and if it doesn’t feel just right we just make another one.
Erin: I feel like, for me anyway, recording at home is really nice. I can just roll out of bed and everyone shows up at noon and we’ll just, I don’t know, eat some eggs and start recording.
Tristan: Then we’ll usually work until we collapse.
Brett: That’s our secret.
Erin: Yeah. Eggs. Coffee. Collapse.
Tristan: That’s the Headlights formula.

IYS: You know, you’re probably going to see other bands now in interviews saying “Oh, we follow the Headlights formula.”

Tristan: Yeah, just eat a lot of eggs.
Erin: I’m sure other bands have already started that combo. It’s really solid.

IYS: Okay, so the actual process of taking an album from a concept all the way to the finished product -- or almost finished product in this case -- was that any different on this album than, say, Some Racing?

Erin: At least my impression is that this time around we went for a slightly more live feel. A bit truer to our live sound. We were talking about that a lot during the recording process. I guess it’s hard to know whether or not people will actually hear that in the finished product, but that’s definitely something we were thinking about during recording.
Tristan: Also, the writing process was really different. That’s because of Nick over here.

IYS: Because you were writing as a four-piece?

Tristan: The way it used to be is that Erin and I would write a song, and the two of us would work on it, and then we’d come to Brett and flesh it out just a little bit, and then start recording it as we were writing it.

We still kind of do that, but the way it worked this time around is that we’d have a song, and as a band we’d take the opportunity to just play it, and experiment as a band. Previously, as a band, we wouldn’t be able to hear the song until we had actually recorded it. Now we can actually play the song and listen to it as we go, and play with it, and I think that definitely made a difference in the sound of the songs and how we were able to arrange the songs together.

IYS: How long has this album been in the works? Were any of these songs kicking around during the Some Racing creation process?

Erin: Not really. It’s all pretty new. We had a few songs that were a little older that we recorded just to see if they would “jive” with the new stuff, and we wound up just putting those aside and going completely with new material. It’s kind of taking a long time though, and it’s what Tristan was talking about earlier, in that we did have five members and one of them left in the middle of the recording process. So that changed a lot for us.

IYS: Not a team player?

Erin: No, the big jerk.
Tristan: Yeah, because our first recording session was... when? September? It was September [2008] or sometime around then, and that’s when our guitar player [John Owen] moved to San Francisco. He came back to do a session with us right before we set out on our European tour, and it was during that tour when we all realized that this guy was kaput. It was a miserable experience. We got back home and we were like, “Dude, what the fuck is going on? You’re either in or you’re out.”

IYS: Was he staring into a little locket at the time? [Laughter]

Tristan: We sat down and we said, “Let’s get focused here, either you want to do this or you don’t.” And you know, 3,000 miles is a bit too long of a commute.
Erin: Which is very understandable.
Tristan: We’re still great friends, but after he left, that cloud of negativity that was holding us back lifted, and we were able to, as a four-piece, really tuck in and get down to what we were doing. Now we just need to do that again and finish the mixing.
Erin: It’s the same with any group. When you’ve got a group of people and one of them isn’t 100% sure about where they stand or how they feel, it has a big effect. We were able to work that out and I think we’re all better for it.

IYS: There’s a distinct difference in the sound and feel between Kill Them with Kindness and Some Racing, Some Stopping. Does this third album make another significant change in sound?

Brett: Well, without having the final mix, it’s really hard to tell. [Laughter]
Erin: You know, an interesting thing about our band is that we don’t exactly have a 100% defined aesthetic. I guess that’s just part of what Headlights is.

Some bands have a really super-distinct sound. I think we have a sound, definitely, because it’s us playing the songs and writing the songs, but there’s a variety to it. We were very much in a certain mood when we recorded Some Racing, Some Stopping, and we definitely tried to make a more cohesive record with that album than we felt like we had done with the first one.

This one has it’s own flavor too. It really does. I think maybe we’ll end up being the kind of band that always changes a little bit each time we make a recording. I would think people who like Some Racing will like this though, because it has a lot of songs that are sort of in that vein, but it’s definitely not the same record.

Tristan: We hope. [Laughter] Need the final mix, again.

IYS: And we’ll be waiting until September for that?

Tristan: Yes.
Erin: We’re aiming for September.
Brett: Yes, aiming for September.
Tristan: September is what we aim for. [Laughter]
Erin: Maybe that’s going to be the name of the record?
Tristan: Yeah, I don’t think so. [Laughter]

IYS: After the release of Some Racing, there was an interim release -- the Remixes album. How did that come about?

Nick: It just sort of happened. Well, I knew we weren’t going to have a release for a while, and since I had recorded all of the tracks on the second record, and some of them from the first, I had all those raw tracks. We have a lot of friends that I knew would be capable of doing that, so I just thought, "hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we just had some of those friends pick a song and interpret it how they will?" So that’s what we did.

For example, there’s a band from Salt Lake City called Uzi and Ari who are buddies of ours, and they did one.

You know, I think every single person from that remixes album was someone we played a show with. Basically I just went to each of them and said, “Here’s the songs that are available; pick one that you like or think you can do something cool with.” Then they’d just tell me if they want the vocal track or the guitar track or whatever.

Then a month or two or three later I started getting this stream of songs back. I just compiled that into a record and that was it. It was pretty easy.

Tristan: We didn’t ask anybody that we didn’t want to do it. I think a few people offered remixes that weren’t asked.
Nick: Basically everybody we asked said yes, too. I mean, I only asked people who I thought would be interested in the first place. We didn’t have to weed anything out or anything, so it was nice.

IYS: Do you have any favorite remixes from the album?

Erin: I do. My favorite is the Casiotone for the Painfully Alone track.
Tristan: That one is rad.
Erin: I like the Uzi and Ari track a lot too.
Tristan: I like Brett’s [Sanderson], Uzi and Ari’s, TJ Lipple’s [of Aloha] and Casiotone’s.
Nick: I think TJ’s is my favourite.
Erin: Yeah, TJ’s is fantastic.
Brett: The thing is, they’re all really good.
Everyone: Yeah.

Brett: It’s kind of a bizarre thing to hear your songs reinterpreted so differently than you originally had in mind when you made it. It was just really fun to hear that.

IYS: The remix album idea is a very popular one lately in indie music. There’s Grizzly Bear’s Friend EP, Stars has Do You Trust Your Friends?...

Nick: That’s an excellent title for a remix album.
Erin: It’s true, because you have no idea what you’re going to get back. You could hear it and think “Uh oh...” Then you either have to put it on or at the very least risk offending someone.
Brett: That’s why you have to only pick people who you know and trust. Also, you pick people who have the aesthetic that you’re going for. I mean, I guess we could give Daft Punk our track, but that wasn’t really what we were going for. We weren’t going for Club Bangers Vol. 2.
Erin: Maybe the next remix album will be Club Bangers Vol. 2.

IYS: Perhaps that’ll just be the new record’s title?

Tristan: Hmm, Club Bangers, I like that.
Erin: Yeah, that definitely says a lot about the songs. [Laughter]

IYS: You guys are signed to Polyvinyl. They’ve got some of the most eclectic, interesting musicians and bands in indie music today [of Montreal, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Architecture in Helsinki, etc]. How do you feel about being a part of such a team?

Tristan: Fuck ‘em. [Laughter]
Erin: We love them.
Tristan: Yeah, we love them, they’re all great.

IYS: You went straight to Polyvinyl, too. How did that happen?

Erin: Well, they’re from Champaign, Illinois. It was started by this couple. They’re originally from a little town called Danville, which is a little town about half an hour outside of Champaign. They started making ‘zines’ together, they just loved music, and they did the whole Mates of State and Rainer Maria thing, and kind of built themselves up that way. The label has definitely changed since the ‘zine’ days.

Anyway, they moved to Champaign, and we met them there. They liked the stuff that we were doing, and we wanted to put out an EP. So they put out a mail-order-only release -- I think because they liked our stuff but they also wanted to see how it would do. At the time we were a really small band -- They tend to sign bands that already have a bit of steam going. So that sold really well, and after that we signed our souls away to them.

Tristan: We’re really lucky to be working with them. They’re a great, relevant, hard-working label, and I like all of the bands signed to them that I’m familiar with. They help us with merch, they help us with recording budgets. It’s just really great to have someone like them backing you up and helping like that.

IYS: For the one week a year you guys aren’t out on a tour, what do you do? Do you spend time together at all outside of the realm of music?

Tristan: Well, Champaign is a small town. It’s a big-time college town, and because we tour so much, we’ve kind of outlasted most of our peers as far as bands in the area we like. So, we’re really all we have anymore. We do hang out together, socially. Except for Nick, who lives in Milwaukee.
Nick: Fuck these guys. [Laughter]
Tristan: When he’s in town we hang out with him. I mean, basically we’re ballers, so we just chill by the pool and ride around town and whatnot.
Erin: Chill at the beach house in the middle of the corn fields.
Brett: Do you have any idea how nice it is not to have jobs? [Laughter]
Erin: No, we all have jobs. We don’t have ‘jobby’ jobs, but we do each have jobs we need to do to make ends meet. I’m a bartender, Brett works for a landlord doing handyman work, Tristan has done painting and has worked at a bakery --
Tristan: I’m unemployed right now. I lost my job in order to record this record.
Erin: He’s baked. He used to sell baked goods as well. And then Nick works at a bar as well.

IYS: So you’re driving across the country on tour. What’s in your CD player?
Erin: We’ve been listening to Beach House, Little Joy, Department of Eagles, Fruit Bats, Blitzen Trapper...
Brett: You brought along that Belle and Sebastian megamix too.
Erin: Oh yeah, some Belle and Sebastian. We listen to NPR’s This American Life a lot as well. It’s fantastic.

IYS: If you could do a split EP with any band, who would it be?

Erin: [No hesitation] The Love Language. We’re on tour with them right now.

IYS: Really? Any band?

Erin: I just think it would be so awesome to do a split EP with them. Obviously, you want to do split EPs with bands you care about.
Brett: We’ve talked about it with a few bands we’ve been on tour with. So any one of those would be great.
Erin: Mates of State would be awesome. That’d be a nice thing for us. [Laughter]
Brett: Yeah, are we talking about exposure or what would make a good seven-inch?
Nick: I think Broken Social Scene would be a great split to do.
Erin: Also another awesome thing for us. [Laughter] Or how about Fleetwood Mac? Rumours-era. I could listen to that record every day for the rest of my life.

IYS: Okay, probably the most important question here, so take your time with it.

Erin: Uh oh.

IYS: If you were an actual headlight, to what type of car would you be attached?

[Laughter]
Brett: Probably a van carrying another young band somewhere.
Erin: I would be attached to an old-school Oldsmobile. One of those black ones with the big circular headlights.
Brett: Are you sure you wouldn’t be awkwardly strapped to a thoroughbred? [Laughter]
Erin: Yeah, I was thinking about saying a truck that has a trailer with horses in it, but I just love the look of those old cars. I’d pick that.
Nick: You know, my dad used to have a really cool Chevrolet Corvair. That’s what I’d be.
Erin: And Tristan would be... [Tristan had just stepped out of the room for a minute] A dump truck. [Laughter]
Brett: Yeah, a big garbage truck.

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