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Posted Mar 2nd, 2009 (11:13 am) by Derek Duoba

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Albany's indie sweethearts, Scientific Maps. Over the course of our discussion, we spoke about the upcoming album, the Albany music scene, and even a little bit about film. Check out the interview after the break.

InYourSpeakers: You guys have been a band for how long now?

Aaron: Scientific Maps has been a functioning band since early 2003, and it’s gone through a few incarnations since, different band members and such… Its kinda been a revolving door, people coming in, coming out. It’s more like a band that doesn’t necessarily matter at the time how many people are in it. Donna and I play as a duo, but we are still billed as Scientific Maps.

IYS: Now, you guys are based in Albany? How has the music scene out there treated you since forming?

A: Recently there has been a rebound with the people in there interest in going out and seeing bands play live. I think there has always been very talented and energetic people in the area – it’s always been a great place to record and play – but since I’ve been playing for the last maybe 12 years in Albany, it’s had it’s ups and downs in the scene, but even considering the Arctic blast of late, there is still an energy that shines out despite the obstacles.

Donna: Aaron won’t say it, but I can. I’d say as far as how Scientific Maps has been received, like three weeks before Aaron asked me to play in the band, they were [Metroland’s] Best Pop Band of 2007.

And then Aaron, if you don’t mind me saying…

A: I allow you to talk me up. [Laughter]
D: …Aaron was 2008 Best Songwriter [Albany].
A: Male. Just best male songwriter. Still working on the other one.
D: He wants to grab the female title as well. [Laughter] As far as Scientific Maps goes, definitely well received.

IYS: How does the recording process work? Do you write songs with a full band or just hire extra musicians to play the stuff you’ve already come up with?

A: At the inception of the band, it was basically just me writing and recording all the songs on a four-track machine. Even now, for the most part that hasn’t changed. We did veer off from that last year, and the whole band went into the studio and laid down the basic tracks for the next full length, Food for Witches. We’re still adding more sounds to that as time goes along, but that was the first time we went into a studio and did a quote-unquote professional-sounding type of recording that can be a little more accessible. The four-track lo-fi stuff, it is all I can afford to work with right now, and it is something I know how to work with, but unless you have it mastered really well, some energy is definitely lost.

IYS: Your new EP sounds a lot clearer that your previous work, was that intentional?

A: Yeah, I sent it out to get mastered professionally, so that’s the difference. Again though, I’m giving these guys really low-quality recordings on cassette tape that I’ve just digitized and sent to them, so they’re still working with very lo-fi stuff anyway.

So that’s why we wanted to go to Troy to work with Frank.
D: Frank of Princess Mabel. The coolest guy.
A: Yeah, and he has been extremely helpful getting us on the right track.

So that’s basically it when we go into the studio, I write all the songs, I try to come in with them in my head, and have like a direct plan – especially because it costs dollar bills. [laughter] Alternatively, I really like recording lazily in my apartment on a rainy afternoon at my own pace. So it kind of goes between those two extremes – working with almost militant precision or just being lazy and waking up thinking, “oh, I should plug in the keyboard today and record something.” That’s probably why [Food for Witches] took four years.

IYS: By comparison, how long did your debut take?

A: Also four years. Then the Galvanic [Wizardry EP] – on that there’s only three songs on that which are quote, unquote pop songs and then there’s like four noise-collages that I put together. That took only about two months.

IYS: Your music has a very organic feel to it. Where does it come from? What’s the root of it, if you will?

A: Well, there’s different things that are constantly being used in pop music. We’re working with a fairly limited palate. And for someone like me who is totally self-trained in everything – I mean, I took lessons for a short time when I was twelve years old to play guitar – I think that basically, the songs, lyrically are extremely informed by film. Just dialogue or characters that I’ve seen in movies, particularly lately. I’ve been really immersed in film.

Sonically, I grew up listening to AM radio in my room on rainy days, you know, listening to the oldies station and getting really into the British invasion when I was very young. You know, when it was something that was really not cool and got you made fun of in junior high. Being a fan of The Beatles and older bands like The Who. You know, it just wasn’t cool. I mean, this was the eighties, and if you weren’t listening to New Kids on the Block... [Laughter]

So I feel like I always go back to those days, in fifth grade listening to AM radio and reading really goofy ghost story books, which also has a huge influence on me – folklore and old mythology.

IYS: And this affects you lyrically?

A: And sonically too. I mean, a lot of my stuff you could say has an almost spooky feel to it. We’re really into old ghost story records, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents records, or even the cheaply produced theatrical things for kids. I was big into those when I was little. So in a way, I guess you could say that there’s still emotionally a ten year old in this room banging on an imaginary guitar he’s made out of a bit of wood and drawn on with a Sharpie. [Laughter] I actually had that instrument once. It’s probably still somewhere.

IYS: I find it interesting that you consider your stronger influences to be things that aren’t necessarily music.

A: Especially lately, yes.

IYS: Well one would generally ask at about this point what music you’re listening to now, but I’m not sure that’s relevant anymore. Perhaps I should ask which films you find influential?

A:Okay, well, first of all, it’s hard to ignore the talent that I’m surrounded by. I mean, people and friends will play things that they’ve recorded and it’s amazing. Some of these songs you listen and you’re just like “God Damn.” So, we listen to a lot of our friends’ stuff, but not so much contemporary stuff at all. That’s just kind of how I am. Sure sometimes I hear something and think it’s pretty good or sometimes something will come along and get me hooked, but I don’t generally go out of my way to find new music or artists with the intensity I had when I was younger.

Now I’m into finding directors and following the path of who else they’ve worked with, actors in this guy’s movies, maybe who his influences are, and you can look back into the thirties and forties to stuff that’s totally underrated. I get into that type of stuff. So thematically, there’s an influence there. The themes in some of those movies really hit me.

Like Werner Herzog for example, I’ve been getting into him a lot lately. Ridiculous and absurd stuff like [Federico] Fellini or David Lynch. That stuff influences me heavily too. I like absurd lyrics. Not being straightforward and obfuscating things. Just being intentionally oblique.

IYS: Well, the next question…

A: Donna and I are not an item. [Laughter]
D: Contrary to popular knowledge. We get that a lot. We’re very affectionate, but not an item. [Laughter]
A: She’ll sometimes call me up in the middle of the night, scared and alone…
D: [Sultry voice] “Aaron, Aaron, come over here quick Aaron” [Laughter]
A: [Laughter] Sorry, what were you going to ask?

IYS: Well, sometimes you play as just a two-piece band. The dynamic of that must be different than that of playing as a four-piece. How do you feel that affects things?

D: It’s strange to me, because I feel that when it’s the full band, and we have our bassist and our drummer, Jason and Phil Pascuzzo, and I feel like when... Especially when Phil is on stage -- Phil is so fascinating to watch when he plays the drums; He is the most entertaining and most beautiful drummer. He’s so skillful and artistic with his playing. I personally can’t keep my eyes off the guy.

A: He’s a good looking guy too.

D: Yes, he’s a handsome looking guy too. That makes me feel more like... Not like an accessory, but kind of. I feel like I’m sort of just adding sounds to what’s already going on. But when it’s the two of us, I feel like I’m the main item, or that I’m more integral to the whole thing.

A: I know what you mean. When you have those other people around you or behind you, it’s one thing, but strip away that, and there’s way more pressure. I can’t play alone. I need Donna there. I hate playing alone. I just feel totally naked. And sonically, it’s obviously important too.

D: Yeah, the music needs drums and the other things to flesh it out.

IYS: Some of your stuff reminds me of early of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel or Okkervil River. Would you agree with those comparisons?

A: Well I’ve never heard an Okervill River song, but early Elephant 6 is a thing I really got into in 2000 or so and there is definitely an influence there. That was a great group. There’s a sensibility there that I think you can trace back to the whole brit-pop thing. Like The Kinks. Or for even more jazz or even more surreal stuff, Captain Beefheart. That’s all been an influence on me too. Just having fun with lyrics and making up stories with characters that you just create, you know?

I think that’s the reason I get bored sometimes with listening to guys just sing about their girlfriends a lot, you know? [Laughter] But I’m a sucker for those songs as well. So for every ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, I’m big into the McCartney stuff as well, about waking up in the morning and there’s no girl there anymore. I think I’m more into the storytelling and the character development though.

IYS: The new LP seems to have a more upbeat feel to it when compared to your older stuff. What would you say is the reason behind that?

A: Well the real reason is that I tend to write lyrics that are a little bit asurbic and biting, and I try to mask that with a bouncier pop background. Because if it was over a somber backing, it would be, first of all too straightforward, and mostly just too mean.

D: Yeah, Aaron can be a bit... costic. Cleverly costic though.

A: I think that has something to do with it. Also, I’m a fan of that type of music. When I want to listen to music, it’s usually something that moves me.

That trick is nothing new -- taking extremely sad lyrics and attaching it to an upbeat rhythm or whatever. It definitely messes with your perception though. People will sometimes come up to me and tell me that they love a particular song and it makes them so happy and inside I’m thinking “that’s so funny; those are the most depressing lyrics I’ve ever written.” [Laughter]

IYS: Okay, so the Wizardry EP is the precursor to a new album. What details can you give us on that?

A: Well the new album is called Food for Witches. It has all been written, and as far as the music goes, the basics are all done. I’d say overall, the album is about 75% finished. When it’s done, it’s probably going to be eight or nine tracks, which is four or five less than I had hoped for, but that’s alright. Right now we’re working with quite a few, but some I’m not quite so sure will make it to the album. There’s at least eight or nine really strong songs though.

IYS: Are the tracks on the EP going to be a part of it?

A: No, no, it’ll be all-new material.

IYS: Galvanic Wizardry. What is that?

A: I think the source of that is that I was doing an art installation in Troy once in a window that was made up of album covers. I thought it would be funny if I went to the Salvation Army and garage sales and bought every copy I could find of Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that album, but the cover is green and there’s a woman sitting on the front of it covered in whipped cream. She’s got whipped cream all over, on her head and everything. It’s from like 1968. It’s like this sort of iconic album cover from the sixties that for some reason was basically omnipresent. Everywhere you looked, it was around. So I thought it would be funny if I bought a bunch -- and I think I had like 100 copies -- and I put them all along the walls. It looked really good.

So like any art exhibit, it had to have a name. Most art exhibits have pretty stupid names. I mean, people just look at it and say “I think I’ll call this one Geranium Deposits” or whatever. So I named it “Galvanic Wizardry” and I took it to a whole new level and wrote up this piece on “what the art meant to me” and whatnot. It was just a fun time I had.

I wrote a song once called ‘Headstone Amplifier’, and at the time I was thinking of a guy dead and buried and his headstone is an amplifier through which he’d talk to people. But then years later I’ll look back and think, is that really what I was thinking at the time? I can never be sure. So I guess in the end they’re just titles.

IYS: Okay, let’s end with a cliche. Five words that describe your music. Go.

D: Um... Genius. Counter-intuitive is my favorite word, so definitely counter-intuitive.
A: Thoracic.
D: Thoracic? Like a thorax? Also, I said it earlier... Costic. Is costic okay?
A: Solemn. No wait, I don’t like that.
D: Rapid.
A: Sexual?
D: Confused. Confusing? Or confused? Confused.
A: Animistic.
D: I know some good words.
A: Kafka-esque.
D: Kafka-esque!
A: Jurassic. How many is that?

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