Essex Green Interview
A long, long once-upon-a-time-ago, Buzzsaw Haircut interviewed The Essex Green, a stellar indie-pop act that played a highly entertaining, if not a bit poorly lit, set at Cornell on March 3. We talked with Chris Ziter, guitarist and vocalist, about the trials of being in a long-distance band, the stigma of being labeled a "60s" act, and a couple other topics, some of which got inevitably lost and misplaced in the passage of time between the actual interview and our transcription thereof. Enjoy.
Buzzsaw Haircut: So how has living in Cinicinati changed being in the band [as the rest of the members live in New York City]?
Chris Ziter: As a band we've always lived near each other, and our rhythm section, our bassist and drummer, have either been local folks or people that have lived in other countries. We never really necessarily settled on certain people. So we were always project-based as a band -- we would pick times for getting together to either work on live songs for a tour or songs for recording. So in a sense that's pretty much the same, we just have plan it out a little bit more when we get together. With recording, we try to write the songs separately and then bring it all together. It changed a little bit more from a friendship point of view, not running into each other as often, but from a work point of view, it hasn't affected it that much.
BH: Can you talk about the songwriting process? How does it work putting an album together, with all three songwriters writing independently?
CZ: Jeff Baron, the lead guitarist, and myself went to college together and we were in a local band at the University of Vermont. We started playing music together our senior year in college in a local band with four members who all wrote songs, and we'd each record them on 4-tracks. So the idea of writing songs separately and recording demo versions of them, then playing them for the other band members and having everybody work together on what becomes the live version is just something we've done from pretty much day one. And once we started Essex Green and Sasha was in it-- she'd played with our old band for a little while, and she was watching how we were doing things and that's just the way we've always made music. It kind of taps into the personal side of every songwriter in the band and they spend some time with the song, then they bring it to the table and it gets shaped around before we go into the studio.
CUT::This is where this interview gets interrupted by an old woman in Biloxi, Mississippi discussing her work helping people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She tells many great stories::CUT
(BH's assumed question: What's it like working with Merge [Records]?)
CZ: In general, they're just really, really top-notch people. A great independent label. It's really one of the last major, true indies; no major label money coming in from anywhere. We have a lot of respect for how they do business. But there is handicaps that come with any independent label -- that they can't spend a ton of money that a major label would be spending on marketing and what have you. So our PR is limited, and we have to kind of pull stuff out of our own pockets to supplement that if we want. They've been great as far as us being proud to be on that label with their roster, and people definitely notice us because we're on [Merge]. I think we get a certain amount of respect just based on that.
BH: Do they have people working to get your stuff on commercials and movies, or does that come about by people just hearing the band?
CZ: They do a lot of hard work that we certainly couldn't do ourselves. [For example], they give us some advance money for recording. They have a lot of really great bands on their label and they're very busy people just trying to make it, and when a band like the Arcade Fire comes along they can finally get some sort of payback for all the hard work they put in. But in general, it's the same as being in a band, people are doing it for different reasons and they're just trying to make ends meet so they can keep doing what they love to do.
BH: How would you describe a typical audience?
CZ: It's strange, you know, we've gotten really into opening for either bigger acts or contemporary acts that have just started to gain some popularity. And that's one of our favorite things to do because you expose yourself to a lot of different audiences. A lot of cases we can come out of that really positively. Our audience is definitely the indie crowd, but it can really range from really young to much older people because our music has that range from the different levels of songwriting that are happening. And our kind of preference for 60s-style production and arrangement. It's generally pretty much a mix, hard to pin it down.
BH: Do you feel like the 60s comparisons that critics like to latch onto help or hurt the band?
CZ: We get pegged for the 60s thing more than we certainly talk about it. That's the kind of music we like listening to, but when we're writing the music and then recording it and arranging it, we're doing it based on what we want to hear. It's not like we think, "Oh, this sounds like The Zombies," or "This sounds like The Kinks or whatever." We're not thinking along those lines and we don't actively associate ourselves with being a 60s band or a 60s interpretive outfit or anything like that. We get pegged that a lot, I don't know if that has to do with our name. In one periodical we got pegged as a Kinks revisionist band solely on the fact that our name is close to the kink's Village Green Preservation Society. It's just wierd how people kind of want to put that stamp on you, and I suppose the Elephant 6 label might of helped do that. And I have no problem with it. Our music, we feel, is more complex than that. On the last record it ranges from 60s and 70s [influence] to some stuff that has an 80s sound going on. It's a mix, I dont think it helps or hurts us necessarily.
BZ: So you think the people who listen to your music just listen to the record? That's really something they're thinking about?
CZ: It might be. The one thing we really associate with the 60s is the arrangements of the songs and the production. We're going for a specific sounding amp and specific sounding keyboard and stuff like that, and we choose those olders sounds rather than a lot of synthy stuff. But that's just the kind of music we like listening to and the kind of things we like to hear, so i can see why people consider that in our music, but, outside of that, I think it's a little more complex.
BH: What are your future expectations for the band? Are you guys working on another album, or just songwriting for now?
CZ: We've been friends for a really long time, I hope and expect that we will continue to make music for a long, long time, even into older ago or whatever. [I hope that] as we all get older, we get families and consider moving various places like I have in some ways, it's gonna be the way we all keep connected to each other. Obviously I'd love to have a break-out record and love to be able to play some big festivals and tour with some really big acts and stuff like that. But we've had some really great, big shows and we've done really well in certain countries, like Sweden, so we're really lucky.
BH: So are you guys working on another album for 2007 or just concentrating on weekend tours?
CZ: We did a lot of touring in 2006 for our record, and we just toured with Camera Obscura a couple of weeks ago, and I'm on my way to New York for these shows we're doing this weekend. And everybody's just kind of writing. I think starting next fall we'll probably get together and start the process of recording. We're all into the idea of going about this record a little bit differently by spending more time in an actual studio and not recording as much by ourselves, so we can both get the record done quicker and get more a live feel, because we've really enjoyed the live stuff we've been doing.