Monday, December 10, 2007

Interview: Michael Pace of Oxford Collapse

(From L-R) Michael Pace, Adam Rizer, and Dan Fetherston of Oxford Collapse

On Sunday, Brooklyn-based Oxford Collapse played a quick and energetic set at Chicago's Darkroom. If the four to five new songs that were played are any indication, fans of 2006's Sub Pop release Remember the Night Parties will not be disappointed with the band's new album set to be released next spring. Plan on Oxford Collapse to continue to forge ahead in the same loud and melodic style that has made their past efforts such a treat.

Before they took the stage, lead singer and guitarist Michael Pace was nice enough to answer a few questions about the new album and explain how a search for a vintage Doritos' bag spawned an album cover.

nql: Where did you all come from today?

Michael Pace: We flew out here yesterday morning.

nql: Because you’re not actually on tour right now, correct?

MP: Right, this was just sort of like a Christmas bonus for us, so we decided to put questionable ethics aside of doing the these kind of corporate events since the paycheck is hard to deny.

nql: And you came here from New York I assume.

MP: Yeah, we got out here yesterday afternoon and had a low-key night yesterday. We wanted to go see a movie but didn’t make that, so we wound up going to a friend's house and watching the bootlegged dvd set of The Wonder Years which was on dvdr so it kept fucking up and pausing.

nql: Did you get to watch the pilot episode? I love that one.
MP: We started to but it kept pausing and wasn't compatible with his dvd player.

nql: That pilot episode was a pretty monumental event of my childhood.

MP: Well, it’s weird because it’s been in limbo for years because of licensing issues with all the music.

nql: Really? I didn’t know that.

MP: That’s why it hasn’t officially come out on dvd because the music was such an integral part of the show. So a guy we know bought the entire series on dvd off of ebay from some Japanese distributor or something, and we tried watching it but it just wasn’t happening, like I said, it kept pausing and about 5 minutes in it just went down.

nql: So you didn’t even get to see Kevin make out with Winnie?

MP: No, because that part is at the very end but The Wizard was on demand, the Fred Savage Nintendo movie, so we watched that instead. It was kind of a Savage night if you will.

nql: Are you guys still planning on releasing a double album?

MP: Well, the double album….I guess in theory we are, but tomorrow we’re flying back to the studio for a couple of days to finish up. We recorded 27 songs or something but the prudent thing to do would be to whittle that down to a real solid 13 song album. And maybe follow that up with an EP or a 7” beforehand, maybe save a lot of stuff for a b-sides and rarities compilation.

nql: Any idea for a release date?

MP: It’s going to be this spring. Probably early May.

nql: Do you have a name yet?

MP: The record is going to be called Bits.

nql: If it was going to be a double, I was going to suggest Mellon Collie and the Oxford Collapse.

MP: Yeah, that sounds familiar. But, it’s kind of ostentatious just to think in terms of our second record for Sub Pop, and be like “Sure, we can put out a double album!”. As if anyone wants a double album from us. So I think common sense is going to prevail and we’ll figure out what works best with just a single record. Maybe we’ll release two albums on the same day (laughs).

nql: Did Sub Pop come and kind of steer you away from the double album?

MP: Well, you know, they give us a whole lot of leeway, and left us alone while we were making the record, but I feel like they would not be incredibly excited about the prospect of a double album.

nql: But they still gave you the freedom to make that choice?

MP: Yeah, I think there definitely has to be some give and take but I feel like, you know, if we wanted to do something ridiculous they might step in. And it may not justify itself in the end when there is a stack of double 10” sitting in a warehouse somewhere that no one has bought.

nql: What have you found to be the biggest difference with putting out a record on a label like Sub Pop versus what you were doing before?

MP: I think, obviously, in terms of getting out there and a lot more people being able to find the records and just kind of getting our name out there even more. Before we were on this label Kanine, kind of a smaller New York-based label, and a lot of it was just us sort of doing it ourselves in terms of the first couple of tours we did, we booked ourselves. And going into record stores and giving them our record on consignment or whatever. With Sub Pop being this sort of well known entity, we didn’t have to do those things anymore. It’s kind of like stepping up to the big leagues but still being the smallest fish. A lot of us were still thinking oh, we’re on Sub Pop now, the shows are going to be sold out, or whatever, but there is still this element of pretty much everyone being on a label now.

nql: I know you’re a pretty big name in Chicago but it sounds like you still find a lot of shows to be hit or miss with the crowd.

MP: In Chicago we tend to do well. There are certain cities where that just happens. Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Atlanta, kind of bigger cities where I think most bands just tend to do well. And then there’s the anomaly of the Southwest or Midwest. In retrospect, I think we could have toured even more for our last record because you need to have those bummer shows to ground yourself. Because we’re happy that we’re on this awesome label but still not everyone cares so you have to work for it.

nql: You guys were on one of the stages at the Pitchfork Festival this year. Can you tell me what that experience was like?

MP: It was humbling in many respects. It was awesome to play for that many people and we had a great time, it was a great weekend. But apparently unbeknownst to us while we were playing there was some kind of weird technical issues where we blew the PA at one point. And we’re on stage and we had no idea. So I think there were times during our set where you couldn’t hear a lot of things. Coupled with the fact that I think the vast majority of people were there to see Girl Talk and Dan Deacon.

nql: Were they coming up right after you?

MP: Yeah, yeah, it was us and then Dan Deacon. And I think a lot of people were like who are these losers (laughs). But it was still awesome. We had a great time.

nql: It’s probably pretty hard to open for or follow Dan Deacon.

MP: It was, and hey, he’s hot right now. The kids are feeling it so God bless him.

nql: I don’t think you were the only ones who had technical issues. If I recall when the Pony’s were playing their speakers were blown at one point as well.

MP: Yeah, they had some technical problems, too. You know, we haven’t played a whole lot of festivals and I can just imagine the intricacies of dealing with all that stuff and panicking and last minute stuff. Our bass amp also died at the very end and Dan Deacon tried in vain to test it out and get it back going and it ultimately turned back on. All in all, it was a great time.

nql: So what’s the next step after today?

MP: We’re heading back to the studio and need to finish mixing and kind of come up with what songs we want on the record and hand it in by the end of December. Then we’re going to go on hiatus for a couple of months. Dan (Fetherston) is moving to Maine for 3 months to live in a cabin off of the coast of Portland so we’re just going to take it easy and then go to SXSW and ideally start touring in the spring.

nql: So I assume you’ll make it back here.

MP: Oh, definitely.

nql: Do you have a favorite venue in Chicago?

MP: Playing the Empty Bottle is always fun. We had a great show at Schubas. The Hideout is a lot of fun. The Subterranean. We’ve played Chicago a lot. It’s always fun to come back here.

nql: So what are the expectations for 2008?

MP: I think what we really want to do is go all out and really tour a lot. Go to Europe, Japan, Australia…not that there is any demand for us in those places but just kind of make the most of it and then break up. (laughs).

nql: When your record is released how much will you pay attention to reviews?

MP: I’m not above reading reviews of our records. And a lot of times it can be insightful. I think anytime it’s your name and you made a movie or wrote a book and someone writes something about your work, since it’s your thing, you kind of know when someone has something constructive to say or when they’re just talking out of their ass and clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. You have to take it with a grain of salt. Reviews are just one persons opinion.

nql: But at the same time, that one person's opinion can have a wide influence on a lot of people.
MP: Oh, sure. You know you have websites like Pitchfork that hold so much weight for whatever reason these days and that so many people are in tune with but you get over it. Because hopefully you’re doing it for yourself, and you want people to hear it, but if you’re not satisfied that’s what’s most important because you’re your own worst critic.

nql: I wanted to ask about the lyric from the song “Forget to Write” that says “I’ve given up on Innisfree/To concentrate on responsibilities.” Does that lyric kind of sum up the band?

MP: Well, what’s interesting is our bass player Adam (Rizer) wrote that song and sings that song so you’d probably have to ask him the meaning but I remember he was excited about that when he came up with it. It was kind of a testament to our striving to be democratic with the three of us all putting things into the pot, we all write lyrics, and the music is very collaborative. But I have no idea what that lyric means (laughs).

nql: “Please Visit Your National Parks” has the lyric “You should be standing right next to me/ Instead of two feet in front of me”. There are a lot of different ways you can interpret that lyric, so when you write a song do you want the listener to know exactly what meaning was intended or do you want them to kind of make it their own?

MP: That’s something we’ve been talking about a lot because lately we feel as we keep doing this and get better at it, that the lyrics have gotten much stronger. We’re really proud of the record that is set to come out from a lyrical standpoint. When we first started, the lyrics were really just to service the music, to add a melody and they were tossed off. A lot of that also had to do with me because on our first record we had a different bass player and I did all the vocals and once Adam joined the band we started singing together and the vocals became much more important. But it took me awhile to get comfortable with my voice and singing and over time a lot of the earlier lyrics were a lot more nebulous and obtuse and trying to be clever so we honed that down. We’re really trying to write about actual things now and on Remember the Night Parties I can definitely say, “Oh, that song is about this.” And on the new record, even more so. The lyrics are more direct. One of our friends had said it would be nice if you could write stuff that is more universal as opposed to something that just comes out of left field. So we made an attempt to do it in our own way without being cliche and come up with something that people can really relate to. And that particular lyric was inspired in part from this band called Lync from the mid 90's that came from the state of Washington. And they were this sort of awesome, scrappy indie-punk band. They had a song called “Two Feet In Front” and we sort of appropriated that and made it our own. But I told one of the guys in the band so we’re in the clear.

nql: You must have been happy with how well that song was received.

MP: We’re really happy with the way it turned out. I think one of the things looking back that we should have done was to try and capitalize on that and try and come up with another single. We only made one video for that record, and I think for us, it was like we’re on Sub Pop and this is great But looking back I think we could have worked even harder. And I think that’s what we’re going to try and do with this next record….make a video for every song, release everything (laughs). But you know, give it a shot.

nql: Last week there were a few people at my place and we were doing that thing of watching sports on mute and listening to some music in the background. I put on your record and remember noticing when “Kenny Can’t Afford It” came on a lot of people in the room who I’m pretty sure aren’t that familiar with your band, were really getting into that song. At the end of the day, is that kind of what you want, to be able to write a song that at the very least can get a room full of people to just sort of bop their head to?

MP: Oh, of course.

nql: Because it’s so catchy…

MP: It’s funny you say that because Kenny is actually the friend that said your lyrics should be more universal (laughs). To me, we’ve been doing this for awhile and it’s awesome to go on tour and play for a bunch of people. It still boggles my mind that people I don’t know listen to our band and get into it. So I feel like that is a real big compliment. You know, we’re not trying to re-invent the wheel we’re trying to have a good time and at the end of the day hopefully people do get into it.

nql: I grew up sort of near Peoria, can you tell me the story behind the song “If It Dies In Peoria Then Who the Hell Cares”?

MP: That’s sort of one of the first real songs we wrote as a three piece. And I was reading an interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis, who’s this filmmaker from the 60's that made a lot of low budget gory horror films and I don’t remember quite the context but he was talking about opening a movie and said something to the effect of “if the movie dies in Peoria who the hell cares.”

nql: You think that’s kind of a take on the expression of “Will it play in Peoria?”

MP: Yeah, kind of like this litmus test, like “who cares”, and that’s where that comes from.

nql: What’s become of the Noid on the album cover to Remember the Night Parties? Is he still around?

MP: No. A lot of people think that is me on the album cover.

nql: Yeah, I had read in a few different spots that it’s a band member.

MP: What had happened was Dan (Fetherston) was at work one day and was on that website Flickr and he was looking up vintage Doritos’ bags. Remember the old Doritos’ bags that had a clear window so you could see the actual chips? So he’s looking up vintage Doritos bags for whatever reason and found all these photos that this guy had taken in 1989 or so. Basically this guy, he’s an amateur photographer, posted all these photos, and he grew up in Sacramento, California and he just had all these photos. He worked at Domino’s Pizza and there were these pictures of he and his friends goofing off during the 1980s. So Dan stumbles upon all these photos and sends them my way and says check out this guy, he is amazing. And I was looking at just all these fucking amazing photos of this guy goofing around at Domino's with pizza dough all over his face. And we saw this picture with the Noid on it and we were just like, “That is the album cover.” So we got in touch with the guy and we told him we play in this band and we’d love to use his photos. And he was totally cool. His name is Ray Conrado. And he’s still in Sacramento I believe working as a photographer. If you look him up his stuff is amazing. We had to go through Sub Pop to get some work done because of the copyright issues.

nql: (laughs) I never would have thought that the Noid was still such an integral part of the public domain.

MP: Well, that’s the thing, I looked into this because, you know, the Noid hasn’t…..the Noid has been void since 1992 or so. And his likeness hadn’t been used in a really long time so our lawyer through Sub Pop looked into it for us and he tracked down some woman who worked at Domino's in their legal department. The joke as I tell it is that they were very cool with it but just asked that the name of the record be “Domino’s Pizza Presents….the Oxford Collapse”.

nql: So they had a pretty good sense of humor about it?

MP: Oh, they totally did. The woman who was in the legal department was from New York, she did a little research on us, found out we were from New York and there was just something about a little disclaimer that we had to put in the liner notes but other than that they were totally cool with us using it. But I have no idea what has become of the Noid. That picture was taken in 1989 and that’s actually Ray on the cover. Everyone thinks it’s me just because he has brown hair but it’s not.

nql: Did all of you guys go to NYU?

MP: Dan and I did. Adam is actually from Ohio.

nql: So when you guys go to NYU reunions are you considered notably alumni yet because I would think they have a pretty extensive list?

MP: No. I don’t think we are there yet. It’s pretty much take a number. But soon enough we’ll be appreciated (laughs).

nql: So you haven’t been invited to give the commencement speech yet?

MP: No, sadly not.

nql: Anyone in particular you guys have been listening to?

MP: Hmm, new…old, that’s tough.

nql: What are the most played songs on your ipod?

MP: I wish I could figure that out. I always blank whenever I get asked that question. A lot of Buffalo Springfield, the first couple Paul McCartney solo records I’ve been really in to. I think what it comes down to is that we love classic rock. Stuff like that, a lot of Tom Petty lately as well. New bands….I have no idea.

nql: I was in a car yesterday and Free Fallin’ came on the radio and me and my friends just kind of unanimously decided that say what you want, when it’s all said and done that’s just one of those all-time classic songs.

MP: Oh, it absolutely is. The fourth record by The Band called Cahoots, that’s another one. That would probably be my top-played lately.

nql: Kind of a side question to that, would a list of your influences be a pretty similar list?

MP: Well, I think there are a lot of different things that go into that. Because no one would ever say we sound like The Band. They might say something more along the lines of Jawbreaker.

nql: You all have a pretty diverse sound that’s hard to pigeonhole.

MP: Yeah, and I think that’s nice, we do a whole lot of things but what I think it comes down to is we came of age growing up on a lot of punk and indie rock and that stuff is just so much fun to play. So I think that our live shows have a lot more punk influence because it’s just so much more fun to go nuts on stage.

nql: As the year is drawing to a close, any albums from the past year that really stick out in your mind?

MP: I can tell you there is this great band from Scotland called Frightened Rabbit. That record is really good. It’s funny because you listen to a lot of your friends’ bands. Our friends, The Narrator, who are from here just put out a record called All That To The Wall which is great. And, let’s see what else…I’m trying to remember if there are any other new things that I’ve listened to a lot. I haven’t heard the new Band of Horses record yet but we loved their last one.

nql: I think it’s really good.

MP: Right. So I’m sure that’s a great record, put that on my list even though I haven’t heard it (laughs). There are just so many bands out there right now and just a huge gold mine of stuff from the past x number of years.

nql: With the internet do you find it at all hard to keep up? You know, because now any band can pretty much get their music out there and the DIY concept is a lot easier.

MP: Oh, real quick, No Age is another group I really like, they’re coming out with a record on Sub Pop. But to the question, I think it’s a double edged sword. There is this great opportunity that anyone can essentially put out a record but the bad thing is anyone can put out a record and it can be hard to wade through the shit I guess. It’s nice on one hand that people can put out this music without having to jump through all the hoops of dealing with a label but there is a lot of garbage out there.

nql: This is an issue that is somewhat important to me just because coming from a small town, the music my friends and I listened to was stuff that was on the radio or written about in Rolling Stone-type magazines. I knew there was this big underground rock scene but I never felt like that music spoke to me because it just wasn’t accessible. We bought most of our music at places like Best Buy or even Wal-Mart. And the internet has really changed that.

MP: Well, how old are you?

nql: I’m 28.

MP: Okay, so we’re pretty much the same age. I think we’re sort of the last generation that if you wanted a certain record you had to really look for it. I grew up on Long Island so Manhattan was readily accessible and I would go into the city and to record stores and go to the $1 bins and search for stuff. Or I would read fanzines like Maximum Rock ‘N’ Roll or Punk Planet and read a review or that a certain band put out a 7” and then I would order it. And today you kind of have this instant gratification because you can do a Google search and listen to them in seconds. But there was something about the thrill of the hunt of going out and finding something. Or you’d see someone wearing a shirt of a band or someone tells you about a band that you keep filed in the back of your head and then you go look for it and I don’t feel like that really happens anymore. And like what you were saying, you know, when you got CD’s at the Wal-Marts of the world, you had to be tuned in and figure out that there was still this big underground scene going on. And then once you were in you could buy records at shows, trade mix tapes, stuff like that. I guess that is still there but its still a culture of instant gratification which is great on one hand because you can find stuff that you couldn’t find before. But like I said, the thrill of the hunt is no longer there. Unless of of course you’re looking for our first couple of records which still no one can find (laughs).

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