my teenage stride. interview #40

My Teenage Stride started as the musical vehicle for Jedediah Smith express his love for The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain. After two albums recorded all by himself, the act started to count with a few rotating musicians and nowadays has Jedediah and three other musicians backing him up for live performances.
The band started back in 2004 in Brooklyn and since then, received a - much deserved - cult status by their followers. Not hard to understand why, since MTS plays some of the most tight, straightforward, addictive tunes in the indie world (I'm not exaggerating when I say world, ok?). The perfect combination of rhythm, witty/clever lyrics and evoking melodies. Jedediah is - and a lot of fellow music bloggers agree - one of the best songwriters nowadays and I could name at least 3 songs from MTS that should be part of any respectable guide to indie music from the 2000's.
While the references are all there, in their music (The Smiths, Jesus and Mary Chain, C86, jangle pop, 60's pop with a tougher take...) MTS manages to create a fresh, powerful, very personal and creative sound; modern and urban.

Below there's my conversation with Jedediah... This is one of the most enjoyable interviews I've made: just like his compositions, Jedediah's answers are filled with a funny and witty mood.
Here he talks about references, creative processes and recording sessions in haunted studios and among bats; his next album, which was funded by supporters through Kickstarter and more.
He recently released five (amazing!!!!!!!!) free songs at Free Music Archive. At some point of the interview, the link will pop up.

01. The ‘My Teenage Stride’ project started 7 years ago. Could you tell us what were your ideas when it was created? And, as I always ask to our guests, how the name came up?

I didn't have any specific ideas other than to record a bunch of songs. I attached a name to it when someone asked if they could put a record out. The name was one of many out of what was supposed to be a fake compilation of 60s and 70s pop/psych/garage-type bands, which were of course just me and a four track. It was actually one of the worst names of the bunch. I don't know what I was thinking. I never changed it because by the time I was getting any attention for it I was already perversely attached to it. Or maybe it's fear of success. Who cares.

02. If you had to materialize you music in something visual, what would it look like?
A tiny little ray of gauzy grey light bolting through a universe no one cares about.

03. Name a few influences (music, film, comic book, historic figures… anything).
I don't know. Everything right up until about 1985? I can't say I've ever been influenced by a film to do something in music. I grew up on a farm so there weren't really comics in life as a kid. What's an historic figure? That Fatty Arbuckle sure had a memorable figure, but was it historic?

04. Your three LP’s are extremely compelling for many reasons. The catchiness of melodies and the witty fatalism of lyrics are fantastic (specially ‘major, major’ and ‘ears like golden bats’). How were they made?
The first two albums (A Sad Cloud, 2004 and Major Major, 2005) were recorded by me by myself on a four track cassette recorder in various bedrooms, basements, and practice spaces. The third LP (Ears Like Golden Bats, 2007) was recorded largely by myself with some other people on about five of the songs in a practice space in Gowanus and my friend Scott's studio in Western Massachusetts. The latter location is haunted by a ghost named Joe, which is my father's name and my middle name, which is not really that amazing considering it's one of the most common names in the English speaking world. During the recording of the album, a bat attacked me and Scott in the live room and I shouted "Bat problems!". What IS interesting is that I already had come up with the album title "Ears Like Golden Bats" before that particular incident. Anyway, it happened. I don't know, did you want to know more about the songs themselves? I just sort of think of them and then I record them, it's not that interesting.

05. Last year you started a single series, releasing one each month. How was/is the experience of doing something like that? And what are your thoughts about the results of it… comparing to the making of albums, how was the reception and success of the project among listeners?
Well ha, I didn't finish the series, actually. Mostly because of some personal stuff. The reception was good, considering we didn't have the hype machine behind them, because they weren't released on a label or anything. A lot of people bought those songs, if I may be crass. I really like writing singles- I don't have to worry about matching some sort of production/musical aesthetic perfectly song to song. I like how a single just sort of sits in its own little universe. You can do uh...bigger ideas that way.

06. To record your next album you used Kickstarter to gather money. How the idea of doing that came up? Was it easy to get the amount you were expecting? And what’s your view on the production of independent music nowadays?
Cassie and Yancey from Kickstarter both egged me on to do it. Yancey used to be with Emusic and Emusic has always been really supportive of MTS so I thought it seemed like a good idea. It's a little weird, getting used to the idea of it, but since then it's taken off- I know a ton of people including a bunch of bands you've probably heard of who have done it since then. It's a great idea, but people are weird about asking for money directly from the consumers of their creative effort because we're all hooked on this idea of the advocacy and support of the middleman. It doesn't have to be that way, though. I think it's great that it exists.
As far as music production goes, I'm actually really happy that more people are recording themselves these days. The lo-fi thing happened in the 90s in indie rock but it was pretty marginal, and it was also all on 4-tracks and the like- which is a different sound than Garageband on a laptop mic. People talk a lot of shit about the current lo-fi thing- mostly just because it's trendy, but I think some of the most interesting-sounding records of the past ten years are a result of it. I don't think it's improved songwriting at all, but indie rock in the 90s was horribly antiseptic-sounding and I'm really glad that people are exploring the glory of fucked-up sounding records now. I'm all for it. I've never stepped into a real professional studio for MTS and I don't plan on it unless an engineer is willing to let me make it sound the way I want to, and it's free, or cheap. That said, we still want Kramer involved in the album in some way but right now we're going it alone. He may still be involved with the record in some way, but we'll have to wait and see.

07. What’s next? When will we hear new material from the band? What can we expect?
I'm recording and writing tons of songs, some by myself and some with John and Ed, and we're going to wind up sifting through all this stuff after I feel like we have about two albums worth of songs and whittle it down to one album. It's been fun because while I'm still doing the one man band thing on some of them, there are a lot of them where it was a bit more of a group effort, and a pretty spontaneous one at that. We call that "swish-swash". It's the new thing and it's going around. Also I released a little EP of songs for free download on the Free Music Archive which Jason Sigal from Home Blitz and Lame Drivers and also of WFMU helps run, as a little taste. You can get those now.

08. You have a few songs that, to me, could easily be labeled as ‘perfect pop’: catchy, uplifting (despite the sometimes sad lyrics), timeless, the kind of song that makes you wanna liberate your body and lose the consciousness of where your hands and feets are… ‘Happy Mondays’, ‘Reception’, and specially 'Weirder Nightmare', ‘Theme from Teenage Suicide’ and ‘Skin Lieutenant’. Just to name a few.
Could you talk briefly about ‘theme from teenage suicide’ and ‘skin lieutenant’ in particular (coincidentally both from ‘lesser demons’, your last ep)?
"Theme From Teenage Suicide" sort of came a bit from a Dead Milkmen song- there's just this 4-second bit in one of their songs that I always loved and I took that as the seed for the bass/guitar verse thing, and then the melody came and the chorus pretty much instantly. Hint: it's not about teen suicide.
"Skin Lieutenant" popped into my head on the train on the way to the practice space one day and I recorded it as soon as I got there. We re-recorded that demo but I kind of like the demo even more, to be honest. The drum beat is a rip on "Schizophrenia". I'm not sure what it's about but it might have something to do with an unhealthy paternal bond between one person and a slightly younger person who thinks they're smarter than they actually are.

09 And what is a perfect pop song for you?
It seems like it always existed and someone just happened to get it down on tape/hard disk.

10. Do you get to live of your music?
For awhile on and off I have a little, not recently because I haven't put anything up on the digital distro for like a year and a half, but I surprisingly saw a good bit of money for a couple years from a combination of Ears and the EP and the singles, entirely off the downloads, because the physical sales don't make you money. I'd be a little ashamed of it if it hadn't been such a surprise but it says a lot about grass roots music stuff. If the label that had put out the physical releases had had the rights to the digital I wouldn't have seen much, but because I had all the rights, and I played most or all of the instruments on 80% of those releases, I got the lionshare of the money. It's terribly crass to talk about but I find it sort of encouraging and I don't think people even realize it's a possibility. Conventional wisdom dictates bands don't make money off album sales but actually it depends on the specific circumstances. We've enjoyed minor buzz here and there from the indie establishment but we're not Animal Collective or something like that and I still managed to partially live of album sales more or less for awhile. It's like the wild west out there. Now I feel weird for having talked about it.

11. Any song(s) you’d like to cover?
I'm thinking of covering the Judy Collins song "Easy Times" soon. That's the only one I can think of, though.

12. Name the perfect place and time to hear your music.
I don't know, I never listen to music, it's too distracting. I hope that's a sufficiently pretentious answer.

13.  Recommend something you've been listening lately.
 I'm digging Sea Lions these days, also Gold Bears. I'm looking forward to the new Beets album that they just released but I haven't managed to get a copy of yet. The new Crystal Stilts record is tremendous and it's out very soon. Kevin from Knight School has his band The Hairs now and it's just as good as Knight School, but less distorted. He's one of my favorite songwriters that I actually know and everyone should listen to him. Truthfully though I really don't listen to music passively all that often, and when I do it tends to be the same stuff I've been listening to for 15 years. Actually most of the people I know in bands don't really listen to anything current, now that I think about it.

14. Anything else you feel like saying? 
 I'm sorry.

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