Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview: Eric Axelson of Statehood

Last month, DC-based post punk outfit Statehood released their first album Lies and Rhetoric to impressive reviews. Saddled with Clark Sabine on vocals and Leigh Thompson on guitar, Statehood is rounded out by former Dismemberment Plan members Eric Axelson and Joe Easley, respectively, on bass and drums. An almost elder statesmen of the DC scene, I engaged in a Q&A session with Axelson via gmail chat. (We cover all modes of communication to conduct our interviews at NQL. We're still waiting to hear back from David Yow for an exclusive "text message only" interview.) Now an 11th grade English teacher, the interview actually took place in his classroom while a couple of his students stayed after school to take a test. While molding the minds of our future, he was able to multi-task and dish about Lies and Rhetoric, the virtues of DC, and why he's excited about a certain DC area sports team. (Note: It's not the Redskins.) For all you Chicagoans, Statehood will be at Reggie's this Saturday with nearby land of lincolners Kid, You'll Move Mountains.

nql: Eric, I'm ready whenever you are.

Eric Axelson: One sec...gotta get a student started on a test, 2 minutes...brb.

nql: No problem!

EA: Ok, I'm back...fire away.

nql: Ok, I hope you don't become to engrossed in this interview and your students start cheating.

EA: Nah, it's my planning. (I) just have three kids here working; (and) they’re all spread out.

nql: Good deal. So you teach the 11th grade, right? To your students you must be known as either the coolest teacher ever or some weird guy who, rumor has it, plays in a band.

EA: I'm pretty sure it's more of the former than the latter. Don't get me wrong, some kids think I'm bizzare, but I get a lot of rock star jokes and kids who come back to visit from last year. But only a few kids really know what any of my bands sound(ed) like.

nql: What are they listening to these days? Any idea? (I'll get to Statehood shortly.)

EA: Lots of reggaeton - Daddy Yanqui, Wisin and Yandel. Lots of Bachata and Cumbia, though I don't know (which) artists. Kids who are into hip hop like Lil' Wayne, Kanye, Tre Songz (not really hip hop). And then being DC, lots of gogo: TCB, CCB, BYB. They’re all acronyms these days.

nql: Gotcha. Lies and Rhetoric received pretty good reviews which I saw as a good sign, not just because it's a good record, but I thought it showed that rock or post-punk or whatever you want to call it still matters. Is that kind of what you all took from the reviews?

EA: I'm not sure about the mattering point, but it's nice to see that folks still like the DC sound that we bring. A lot of folks pointed out that it sounds a bit singer/songwriter, which is fair. I think the next record will be fairly different. They're all fun songs to play though.

nql: Why do you think DC has always been so nurturing to this particular scene? Is it pretty incestuous with DC bands all helping one another and what not?

EA: I think it started with Dischord being very community based, which fed into things like Positive Force and other small DC labels. Hard to say…sometimes I take for granted what we have here, then I travel and remember that it's a good place to be making music. Though now, being a bit older, I feel a bit out of the loop here.

nql: How so?

EA: We know most of the older bands (Evens, Medications, Beauty Pill, etc.), but there are a lot of younger bands that we just haven't met. With our jobs, I don' think any of us go out that much unless we're playing. So there are bands I read about but have never met.

nql: Clark (Sabine) had written a bulk of Lies and Rhetoric before you all came on board, correct? And did the final cut resemble his original vision? (Sorry, horrible question.)

EA: Yep, when they called me, Clark had a big batch of songs written on his MPC. At first, Joe and I played along to computer guitars and keys while Clark sang. (It was) kind of awkward. Then we started to make the songs less robo, give the beats and bass more breath, more bounce, and we cut the songs back considerably. I think the original versions of most of the songs were 4 to 8 minutes long. Now they're all 2:30 - 4:30, which is more manageable for pop. Then, when we added Leigh (Thompson), the last four songs were written, which I think are obviously different.

nql: I think "Save Yourself" sounds like a total hit song. Any plans for that one? And i really liked how the album ended on a bit of a calmer note with “Jailer's Daughter.” Is that a preview of perhaps things to come?

EA: Actually, "Jailors" is all Clark on MPC. We tried to live track it and it didn't sound as good, so it's all machine, I think. “Save Yourself” is part of those last four, which is more the direction we're headed. I guess it's actually 5, because "Every Single Question" was post-MPC, too.

nql: I feel like Chicago is pretty welcoming to the sound you guys bring. Have you found that to be true in your past experiences here?

EA: With D-Plan, yes. Our publicist lived there, our distribution was based there...both of those helped. Plus we had really good early experiences at the Fireside (Bowl) and the (Empty) Bottle. With Maritime, it was a different crowd / different vibe, more based on the Promise Ring history. Hopefully folks there are into what Statehood is up to. It's a pretty energetic show.

nql: I'm sure they will. I'm actually moving to DC in 3 weeks because a job beckons. I'm bummed because I love Chicago and am reluctant to leave. Sell me on DC. I'm going to love it, right?

EA: Yeah, it's good. Almost all of the galleries and museums are free, lots of cool Federal buildings to check out. (And) it's small, so you can walk almost anywhere. (Also): Great Ethiopian food, free shows in Ft. Reno in the summer, amazing thunderstorms in July / August, the cherry blossoms

nql: I love a good thunderstorm.

EA: I can keep going...

nql: You've done well, you can stop.

EA: Where are you moving to?

nql: I think 14th and U.

EA: Right down the street from me. I'm 13th and Harvard, about a 10 minute walk.

nql: Nice. Good place to be, I assume?

EA: Yeah, it's cleaned up a ton. That's where we bought beer in high school and it was super sketchy. Now there's a gardening store and tea shops and whatnot. Kind of a 180, for better or worse.

nql: Hamilton Leithauser (of the Walkmen) told me last month he was pretty excited to see a new coach/regime for the Redskins. Do you agree?

EA: Not much of a Skins fan. I watch it out of nostalgia, but I'm more of a DC United fan. Season ticket holder / junkie to be exact.

nql: That surprises me. When I go there it's Skins, Skins, Skins, and everything else seems rather secondary.

EA: I'll take you to a soccer game. Great tailgates, (great) atmosphere.

nql: Nice, I would love to go.

EA: I need to tell you....one of my students from last year just came in with his new Ibanez. And he's playing a finger tapping solo in my ear. He’s the one student here into metal. WAY into metal...He corrected me…he’s into everything, “dude”.

nql: Everyone knows that one guy that is really into metal. (But tell him) I’ll quote him accurately. Back on track just a bit, obviously you're moving forward with Statehood and Travis (Morrison) is doing his own thing, but looking back on the Dismemberment Plan, you must have a great sense of pride in the records you put out and influence you all had.

EA: Yeah, I have lots of pride in the Plan stuff. It was a fun 10 years, and I was really happy with the music we made. To me it felt pretty original, especially when we started and everyone was sounding like GVSB [Girls Against Boys].

nql: So with Statehood did it feel like you were starting over from square one or, since you've been around, was it much easier this time around in terms of recording, getting the word out there, etc.?

EA: Hmm. Maritime was more like that. I think we thought with our two old bands that we'd start somewhere in the middle, but it was like starting from scratch in some ways. With Statehood, we never thought about touring much, so it was more low key.

nql: is that because you are all more settled in? Obviously you have another job as you're there doing it right now.

EA: Yeah...with me teaching, I'm loggin crazy hours. Leigh is a lawyer and probably does more hours than me. Joe (Easley) works at NASA on a robotic arm...it's kind of nuts. There's only 2 days a week we can even get together. Last year, sometimes it was 1 day a week. So we figured out early on that we'll do this best we can and not to stress out about what we can't do. My goal is to book 3 or 4 shows a month. And if we can make it happen, a short tour here and there. For us to really tour, we’d need to be making more money than our day jobs, which would be hard.

nql: I assume that lends to playing a lot of local shows. Any favorite venue in DC?

EA: Love the Black Cat. Capital L, yes. The 9:30 (Club) is nice, too, but so far off our radar now. Being in DC, there are lots of places nearby, too (with) Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Richmond, etc. (and) lots of college towns in VA, too. It works out.

nql: How long do you see yourselves riding the wave of Lies and Rhetoric before heading back to the studio. Is there more of a sense of urgency to get back in there as a more complete band this time?

EA: We have four songs done now, which we'll be playing on tour and there are more ideas bubbling about. I'm guessing at this rate, we could record again in the fall for an early 2009 release? Hard to say, the writing goes in spurts, but we have some new toys, which always makes for fun writing.

nql: What can you tell us about Kid, You’ll Move Mountains, your opening act this Saturday at Reggie’s?

EA: I know the brothers from when they were in Troubled Hubble. I think I met them at shows in Chicago, and we eventually started emailing back and forth. I don't know a ton about the new band but the stuff I've heard on their site reminds me of Style Council or almost like Joe Jackson (Look Sharp, not Stepping Out). Looking forward to seeing those guys play live again.

nql: Lastly, if I show up to a DC United game wearing a Freddy Adu jersey will I be instantaneously recognized as some sort of interloper who doesn't know the first thing about soccer?

EA: If you're wearing a Freddy jersey, people will probably assume that you're in middle school - maybe you'll get a discount ticket that way? He's playing in Portugal now, you know? I'll track you down a Emilio or Olsen jersey for the game. March 18th, it all begins again.


1 comment:

Jewy McJewalot said...

Great interview however I'm somewhat stunned. You agreed to a soccer game? I thought you said once that you'd rather have relations with a soccer mom wielding a strap-on than watch soccer. Oh Alex, the times they are a changin

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