Exclusive Interview: California Wives
September 18, 2012
by Chuck Norton
How’s your September been? Good? Bad? Somewhere in-between?
Unless it’s been in the “Great” category, you’ll have a hard time topping the September that the California Wives have had.
The Chicago-based band released their full-length debut album, Art History, earlier this month. Prior the the release, they got a nice profile boost with the release of a video/commercial for “Purple” that was produced by Sharpie and ran during the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards. And they will be joining Stars and Diamond Rings on tour in a couple of days.
Yup, that was their September 2012.
The band, Joe O’Connor, Jayson Kramer, Dan Zima and Graham Masell, leveraged the success of their 2010 EP, Affair, into a deal with Vagrant, which was finalized this past Spring. Shortly there-after, they recorded Art History in New York with Claudius Mittendorfer (Interpol, Neon Indian, Wild Nothing).
Prior to beginning their Fall tour, I had a chance to catch-up with Jayson Kramer of California Wives for this interview. He provided excellent insight to the band’s creative process and offers an intimate look inside the band.
For more information on the California Wives, visit their Web site.
DeadJournalist.com proudly brings you this exclusive interview with Jayson Kramer of California Wives.
Now that you are a couple of weeks removed from the release of Art History, how is the band feeling? Is there a sense of accomplishment or is it just one part of the bigger process?
JK: It’s still exciting for us to have our first full album out there. Some of these songs have been alive for a while now, so it’s nice to see them finally getting to the public. We know that this is just one small step in the grand scheme of things, but we are proud of this record and can’t wait to work the album for a bit.
How did the writing and recording happen for this album? Did it flow quickly, or was there a significant amount of revisions throughout?
JK: We spent a lot of time in pre-production for Art History. We wanted to make sure that when we went to New York to record these songs, we all knew what was going on. Of course there were sections that were still up in the air by the time we entered the studio and one song did get re-written the day before we tracked it (“Light Year”). But as a whole, everything moved pretty quickly. We were very focused for those thirty days in the studio … it went by in a flash.
What did you learn from the recording process will help you on future albums? What impact did Claudius Mittendorfer have on the final version of the album?
JK: I think I really saw the limitless possibilities that come from a great studio. Before Art History, we recorded most of our songs in smaller studios under serious time constraints. I think when it’s time for us to start writing for the next record, we’ll write with the idea that the studio is an instrument itself.
Claudius was a great influence on us in the studio. He really kept things moving and made sure that every tracking experience had a certain intensity to it. He’s not a very loud guy, but somehow he gets you to play with every bit of emotion you have. He’s a great producer.
You had the video for your song, “Purple” featured as a commercial during the MTV Video Music Awards. How did that opportunity come about? Have you seen an increase in interest in the band and its music since then?
JK: Sharpie approached us about the commercial after hearing Art History. Like most things in this business, the whole thing went by pretty fast. Before we knew it, we were recording the video and then it was on the television.
After seeing the treatment for the commercial, it was pretty much a no-brainier for us. They kept the commercial in music video format and included awesome artwork from people around the world. Pretty neat stuff. And the commercial has definitely been a boost for us as a band.
In this age of music, I think it’s pretty important to take the opportunities when they come. Anyone who’s been in a band on the road, sleeping in weird hotels, would probably agree.
How did the band go about preparing for your upcoming tour with Stars and Diamond Rings? Were there any changes made for performances in larger venues?
JK: We love to practice and play music, so we just spent even more time getting these songs into shape. We had to make a few adjustments with amps, tubes, etc. to get the sound just right. Our live set incorporates a little bit more guitar into the mix, just to keep the energy level high during the set. When you’re an opening band, you’re not playing super long sets, so it’s important to keep things lively.
Do you try to maintain consistency from show-to-show or do you like the mood of the band and the vibe of the crowd impact each performance?
JK: We always try to play our sets with a lot of energy. We want our audience to have fun when they come to a California Wives show. So that might mean some dancing or maybe just some serious toe-tapping. Our drummer, Joe, is a really loud, energetic drummer, so it’s kind of hard to not play up to that each night.
Is there a song (or songs) format on the new album which you are most excited to play live?
JK: I love to play “Light Year” live. The guitars are super loud and certain parts of the song come out of nowhere. Regardless of how I’m feeling before the set, “Light Year” always whips me into shape.
What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you while on tour?
JK: We went out for a night of fun after a Philadelphia show and ended up being swept into one of the most bizarre nights of our lives. I can’t get into all the details right here, but the night involved a rave in a warehouse, a studio-turned-night club called the “boom boom room,” and a lot of alcohol. We didn’t know anything about Philadelphia beforehand and it’s quickly become one of our favorite cities. We were all bummed that there wasn’t a Philadelphia show on this Stars tour.
How has Chicago and the city’s music scene influenced the band, artistically? How do you feel the acts there compare to those from other major metropolitan areas?
JK: Chicago seems a bit isolated from the rest of the scenes happening in other cities. So, in that regard, I think we were able to just focus on the music we wanted to make without worrying about making it to the top of a bunch of indie bands.
That’s not even the point of doing this whole thing anyway. There’s plenty of room for musicians to make their art.
That being said, I think the Internet has really taken away the geographical influence on new bands. If you want to hear a shoegaze band, you don’t have to travel to the UK. YouTube, Spotify, music blogs, all of these things bring a limitless amount of music to your finger tips. Hopefully all this technology blurs the genre lines even further.
Have you seen benefits or detriments from the intimacy your fans have to the band because of social media?
JK: We’ve only seen the benefits of social media, so far. It works for both parties. The fans can interact with us and realize that we are a pretty cool group of guys, probably a group of guys you’d want to hang out with. And it helps us as well because we can see the impact our record is having on people in real time. That makes us feel a lot better about what we’re doing and keeps things positive in the van.
Looking into 2013, what do you expect is the next step for the band?
JK: We just want to keep growing our fan base, keep playing shows, and keep writing music. I think if we keep things simple and stick to those ideas, everything will be great.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
JK: I was late to The Horrors party. For some reason, I never got around to listening to them when they came onto the scene. I’m glad I started listening though, that band is great.
What were you listening to in 2002?
JK: The Photo Album by Death Cab for Cutie
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD, Tape, or Vinyl?
JK: I think each of those formats has its benefits. I think I’m drawn more closely to CDs having grown up in the 90s. Jewel cases were all the rage.
Web site(s) you read regularly?
JK: Chicago Tribune and Deadspin. Gawker and Gizmodo from time to time.
One Drink. One Album. One Movie.
Jameson on the rocks. Original Pirate Material by The Streets (more rock? Ok Computer – Radiohead). Bladerunner (director’s cut or final cut – no voice over please!).
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