Posted by Andrew
The stage is a mask. When a band performs, it’s important to remember that that’s what it is: a performance. Offstage, there could be an entirely different dynamic within a band contradictory to how they pose for an audience. This is clearly not the case with Chicago band the Pear Traps. Hanging out for a drink before a band practice, the guys are all at ease, joking around, acting more as group of close friends that just also happen to make some great music together. Despite the introspective nature of their tunes, there was no tears-in-beers melancholy when we talked. Instead, we chatted about lead singer/songwriter Bryant’s amp building, experimental recording places, and the hopes and dreams to play Chicago’s most elite venues.
Check them out live this Saturday, October 16 at the Mutiny with Bad Bad Meow (click here for an interview) and Videotape, and read on for the interview.
WCR: Where’d you guys begin, have you always been together?
WCR: Where’d you guys begin, have you always been together?
Bryant: We started early 2009-ish. I moved back here from San Francisco and I just put out a Craigslist ad. I was doing individual stuff, recording myself, making full songs and then I decided to try to put a band together. One by one, we just started playing together and that’s pretty much all it’s been.
Are you all originally from Chicago?
Josh: I’m from St. Louis.
Billy: I’m from Chicago originally.
Bryant: We’re all Midwestern types and Stephen [the keyboardist] is also from Chicago.
Josh: With the Craigslist ad, I had looked at like 50 people that day for bands like ‘Cheesedick!’ or something like that or just the worst fucking metal you’ve ever heard - just horrible. I hopped on [Bryant’s post] and I thought ‘finally something good,’ so I emailed him and I think that we practiced a few days later. Then it was like a week and a half and we were practicing in some Belgian guy’s place.
Billy: You rented a Belgian guy’s basement for however much an hour.
Bryant: And then we were in Billy’s basement forever. That’s why we called our EP Basement Fidelity. We were just playing there and it was very appropriate.
How long ago was all of this?
Bryant: Well, we started in April. Our first show was July-ish 2009.
Josh: I think the first show was in August because I was actually out of town. I was on a road trip.
Bryant: That’s right. Well, we played that warehouse party, too. At first it was me and Billy. I was just doing shows solo and then we practiced one song and I was just like, “Well, Bill, you wanna play?”
As far as songwriting goes, is there one lead songwriter, like you say you were performing solo before…
Bryant: Yeah, I pretty much write most the stuff. For awhile I would just write a song and send it out and say ‘hey guys, do whatever you want.’ Now were getting to the point where we can get together and work through it piece by piece. So our songs are coming out way different than if I just took it start to finish. It’s kind of always changing.
Josh: I think that’s why I joined the band, too, because [Bryant] did have a pretty clear picture of the songs that he had written. He knew what he wanted to hear. You’d think in some ways it doesn’t allow you to be creative, but it’s a sound I like. I was like, ‘this is fucking awesome.’ And now it is becoming more organic.
Nathan: Bryant actually builds his own amps, which adds a certain sound. There’s already so much set a certain way, it’s just a matter of every one plays a little differently and adds something to the sound.
Bryant: Yep, I build old '50s and '60s amplifiers. For a while my amp was a converted stereo receiver. I’m actually working with this underground music company in Chicago and I build amps for them, so now my stuff is looking a little nicer, a little more professional; for a while I would show up with this whole thing with the tubes sticking out of a beat-up cab. It was a cool sound, kind of garage-esque. I made a smaller version of the amp I’ll play Saturday. Josh’s isn’t finished.
Josh: Yeah, it’s the same thing, just a case with the tubes sticking out. It’s awesome though.
With the whole lo-fi sound, if you’re making your own equipment you can sort of tune it how you want.
Bryant: Yeah, exactly, you tailor it to whatever sound you want, instead of going to Guitar Center like “is that amp good for me?” I can actually have an idea of what I want and change things on the inside and make it more like the sound I hear in my head.
In high school, a friend let me borrow a CD by Guided by Voices and I couldn’t even listen to it because the quality was just crap to me. What do you think is the advantage or attraction of the lo-fi sound?
Bryant: To me it just seems like it has more character. We’ve been in professional studios and it always sounds so sterile when it’s pure digital. It doesn’t necessarily have to sound terrible to have that lo-fi sound. Maybe it was just what we were raised on listening. Even the first CD by Kings of Leon, I remember it sounded like they just went to their basement and recorded it there. There wasn’t any smoke and mirrors.
Josh: There’s a lot of stuff that Guided by Voices does that I don’t like, but I do like them as a band. There’s something about it; it’s not accessibility, it’s like the grit, a genuineness to it. And even if there’s something I don’t like of theirs at least I can respect it.
Have you guys come across any limitations with this created sound with lo-fi? Do you feel you have to stick within that?
Bryant: I don’t think so. Even some of the stuff we’ve been coming out with lately…so we’re gonna record, we rented out a log cabin in Nashville in November where we’re going to record our next EP. I think we’re going to do what’s best for each song. Some of new songs are bit more catchy. Not pop, but they’ll definitely sound a little nicer.
You mentioned Kings of Leon before. What other influences do you have?
Bryant: Early Joy Division, Ryan Adams as far as the Americana side. I like the Replacements personally because I’m from Minnesota. I think we all agree on the Strokes, especially early Strokes. Been listening to a lot of different stuff lately but it’s usually somewhere between '80s alternative and classic country. With our sound, I have this big hollow-body classic Gretsch guitar and Josh is playing a Telecaster and a lot of the drumbeats are danceable, know what I mean? And Nate’s bass has got a lot of classic lines.
What other venues have you guys played? You have a favorite venue here?
Bryant: Yeah, that’s where we did our EP release party. Anytime there’s not a cover involved we’re happier. We wouldn’t want to charge our friends eight bucks to see us play. We’d rather have them there, have a good time, rather than trying to make 50 bucks playing a show.
Josh: It’s easier for other people to be turned onto the show. If the show’s free, you’re coming in for a drink anyway, you know?
Nathan: We’ve played everywhere from Reggies to Subterranean, Beat Kitchen, Cal’s…
Billy: The Beat Kitchen sound was awesome.
Bryant: I liked Reggies sound the best.
Nathan: We need to get to the United Center [laughs].
So what are the future plans? You talked about recording in the log cabin, what are the dates for that?
Bryant: In November, just for like a weekend.
Josh: We’re also recording one song, next Friday [at Tesla Studios].
Bryant: I think we’re going to take our time as far as mixing and getting this EP ready. We’ll probably have an EP release in February/January.
Billy: Last time, we set up our EP release before we recorded, like ‘oh, we could get it done.’ We got it sent to us like two days before the show.
Planning on any tours at all?
Bryant: We’ve talked about doing a weekend or something, but we all work. You never know, we’d take off work, spend 200 dollars, go to these other cities and not have anybody see us. We’ll probably send the next album to more mid-sized labels in the area. I’d rather have some support from something else rather than us. It’d be awesome to eventually get someplace with this, but who knows.
Nathan: First, the United Center.
Bryant: Until then, we’re having a good time.