It seems that all the most appealing aspects of St. Louis’ music scene can be appropriately labeled bi-products of the unique interconnectedness that exists among its community of artists. No exception to this is HUMDRUM, a four-piece whose band members are no strangers to making music, but prove through their most recent collaboration that the quest for new sound with old friends can result in something truly unique. MOTH was pleased to sit down with them mid-production of their forthcoming second album to talk about band dynamics and finding their sound.
MOTH: On your MySpace page you list a group of different bands that each member has played in previous to Humdrum. How did this current project develop?
Mic: Paul and Phil were playing music together and asked me to play some drums with them; sit in on a show. Exclusively Dan had written some songs, mainly some melodies that he wanted me to work on with him, and so we got together and put some songs together, collaborating; me doing lyrics, him doing melodies. I obviously started playing drums on them, and then playing drums with Phil and Paul, and the projects meshed really well together and we would fill in the spaces for each other and collaboratively compose the songs that we had been working on independently.
Dan: Originally he was just going to be in, like, five different bands at once and he was like, “I can’t take it anymore! I’m combining these bands!” Because we were in Floating City, so we had been playing music together for probably 6 or 7 years…
Mic: Or 8 maybe.
Dan: Maybe 8, I don’t know.
Mic: Ten if we’re honest.
Dan: Ten, yeah. Ten if we want people to think we’re old, so 8.
“The stuff on our new album is actually more collaborative in crazy ways, and we really like where we’ve gone with it, whereas Individual Man was a really great first step for a group of guys who just got to know each other and were finding
MOTH: So how has that prior history, together with the experience of playing in a variety of different bands in Saint Louis, contributed to the creative process of this band?
Dan: Great question. I think being in Floating City really kind of helped me develop a songwriting style and be open with the songwriting process. I learned how to do it in that band, so that’s what I kind of brought to HUMDRUM. Paul is kind of newer, and so maybe you have a different experience?
Paul: This is my first band, so it’s a little different for me. I feel like whereas these guys bring a lot of experience, I guess maybe I bring a really, kind of like a newborn perspective on music. Both are really important because these guys have a lot of ideas that were brewing for years, like how to do different things in recording, maybe how to arrange songs, and I just have these sporadic, “Idea! Here’s an idea, guys!” And then we can all bring it together.
Dan: And being in the old bands, just going through the ringer, you learn a lot of the business side of it, booking and all that kind of stuff, which is the not as fun part, but it’s good to know all that so that you can get a quick start. With HUMDRUM we were able to quickly get a lot of shows and a lot of stuff going on.
Mic: Having been a part of playing music in Saint Louis for so many years, you have a lot of friends on various different levels of the operation, and I guess it’s easier to get your foot in the door and know where to play and things like that. I think a really valuable thing I learned from playing with Floating City, playing with Dan specifically, is how to communicate in writing songs and how to draw the best out of each other and kind of bring out what we’re good at and flush out ideas together. Listening, I guess.
MOTH: On your debut album, Individual Man, there was a palpable sense of ease and joyfulness that came through on many of the tracks. Is that comfortable feeling a bi-product of the history between band members?
Dan: Yeah, I think so. When we did Individual Man we were really writing the songs in a lighthearted and open atmosphere, and we’re all good friends so it was kind of, whatever. But on our new album we’ve focused more on arranging it, and it’s still lighthearted, but some of it is more serious. On Individual Man I guess we really did just kind of rock out, have fun with it, so that does come through.
Mic: We were actually a group of guys getting to know each other in a certain sense on that one. I knew Paul independently – we grew up together, he’s my cousin – and I met Phil through Paul and we just started playing music together. Dan and I have a totally different experience. I’ve been playing with him for like ten years. So there’s all these different relationships we’re bringing together, just kind of getting to know each other and what kind of dynamic we have as far as the creative process. The stuff on our new album is actually more collaborative in crazy ways, and we really like where we’ve gone with it, whereas Individual Man was a really great first step for a group of guys who just got to know each other and were finding their sound.
MOTH: How have differences in taste served to promote the synthesis of the band?
Dan: From a songwriting perspective we’ll all kind of go different ways with a song. Everybody will sit there and work to balance it out to make it more HUMDRUM-ish I guess you could say, but all of us kind of come at it from a different angle, and it’s interesting. It keeps our songs a little different.
Mic: We all have this big idea of what we sound like and we’re all chasing that big idea, and sort of honing for each other and with each other. It’s a weird thing, it’s hard to pin down.
Paul: In the end we all come together with our strengths and put them together, and that’s kind of how we try to work always. One person brings a small idea and we all just put what we’re good at onto it and it becomes something.
Mic: I was just laughing at a visual analogy I had for this process, of someone squeezing an orange. So, like, HUMDRUM is the squeezer and we’re the oranges.
Dan: I don’t understand it.
Paul: What the heck is the orange juice?
Dan: Wouldn’t we be different fruits?
Mic: Yes, of course. Like limes, lemons, oranges, but we’re all fruits.
“We all have this big idea of what we sound like and we’re all chasing that big idea, and sort of honing for each other and with each other.”
MOTH: So, on the record, you’re all fruit?
MOTH: What can listeners hear on Individual Man that’s become definitive of the HUMDRUM sound, and what can we expect from your forthcoming album?
Dan: The song “Sound”, which is the fifth or sixth track off Individual Man. We really didn’t even have that rhythm before we got to the studio, but we knew we wanted to record it, so we kind of wrote it while we were recording it.
Mic: We recorded with Ryan Wasoba, formerly of So Many Dynamos, in his studio, and that was one of the times we really collaborated with the producer to hone the sound of a song. You can tell when you listen to the track that he was really engaged with the music on that particular one. He helped us realize our vision for that song, I’d say.
Paul: That particular song kind of set the stage for our upcoming album, because when you listen to “Sound” and when you listed to the new album, you realize that all the ideas we had for the Humdrum sound came from the song “Sound” a lot.
Mic: Probably the most collaborative effort on the album, I would say.
Dan: And mostly it was Phil, going crazy on the Rhodes delay pedal. He’s silent over there, but he’s actually just – -
Phil: Agreeing and concurring.
MOTH: The relationship between fans and artists has evolved, expanded and contracted, immensely over the past 30 years. As a band that’s making great strides on a local level, what plans do you have to sponsor a progression in that relationship?
Dan: We mostly don’t like to use the word “fans” because it’s kind of weird as a little band. They’re our friends. I kind of feel like people – and this is maybe just a commentary on the music scene in general, but I’ll go ahead and dish it out – I kind of feel like people don’t want to see “stars” anymore, they want to be stars. People want to be involved in the music and they want to be a part of it. We try and get the audience involved, like by passing out percussion instruments and getting people to become basically a part of the music.
Mic: Yeah, I don’t think there needs to be any barrier there between audience and band as long as you’re both respectful and have fun.
Phil: We don’t try to pose on stage, like be divas or anything. We try to be really friendly and about the music and people respect that.
Dan: Well I mean, we might start doing back to back guitar solos, but I think that’s where we draw the line.
Mic: Shit happens, they say. We might get caught up in a whirlwind. We might get leather pants.
MOTH: What are you listening to?
Mic: I was on my way here listening to the Dirty Projectors and I was like, Cool! If she asks me what I’ve been listening to, I can honestly say that I’ve been listening to the Dirty Projectors. They are pretty fucking hip, I really like it. I’ve been bumping a lot of Why, too. It’s true.
Mic: Because I like them.
Dan: I listen to a lot of XM on Sirius, which is like a college rock station. I always listen to older stuff, too, like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Beatles, Tears for Fears.
Paul: I’ve been really obsessed with David Bazan. He was in Pedro the Lion, but I really like his solo album. I hold a lot of his sentiments. On the way here I was going to listen to Neutral Milk Hotel, but Phil had his solo stuff with him that nobody’s heard, so I listened to some solo Phil stuff called “Grey Pilgrim”.
Phil: And besides that, the last three CD’s I’ve listened to are Flaming Lips “Embryonic”, Cold Play “Viva La Vida”, and Led Zeppelin “III”. And oh, yeah, Igor Stravinsky is pretty tight.
Mic: I take back all my answers. Phil’s answers are mine now.