Exclusive Interview: Eternal Summers
February 13, 2014
by Chuck Norton
Honestly, I thought I had already interviewed Eternal Summers. I actually had to check DeadJournalist’s interview history to be certain that I hadn’t done so. My curiosity about an interview peaked when I saw the band announce the release of their third album, The Drop Beneath (out March 4, 2014), earlier this year on Twitter.
Once I did confirm that I had not interviewed them, I reached out to the band – with whom I’ve had a nice rapport for years – about an interview. Nicole Yun, the band’s vocalist, guitarist and primary song-writer, and I decided to do an email interview. We spent the last few weeks trading emails between snow/ice storms.
For the Roanoke, Va.-based band, their new album – produced by Doug Gillard – couldn’t have happened without the support of their fans. As detailed in the interview, the band leveraged crowd-sourced funding to record the album.
Originally formed in 2009 as the duo of Yun and drummer Daniel Cundiff, they expanded several years later by adding bassist Jonathan Woods – who had initially introduced YUn and Cundiff.
In this interview with Yun, you’ll get a first-hand account of the band’s creative process, how they’ve evolved as artist, a look into their future and a great story about mistaken identity.
DeadJournalist brings you this exclusive interview with Nicole Yun of Eternal Summers.
It was 10 degrees here this morning. That wouldn’t be so bad if it was Celsius, not Fahrenheit. What’s it like having to sludge through the cold and ice when on the road? Do you have to do warm-up exorcises to play? Or just drink a little more whiskey?
NY: Yeah, we just sludged up to snowy Boston a few weeks ago! Yeah, warm ups are always key. Sometimes I wish venues had a little indoor track or something but jumping jacks and running in place are pretty much a requirement especially for Daniel. He’s such an intense/spastic drummer! None of us really like to drink before we play. The kind of music we make takes focus and punctuality!? Haha!
You’ve been through the writing/recording/touring process enough times to know what to expect. Was the process for the new album any different? Was there something you’d learned in the past that impacted the band this time around?
NY: The recording process for our last album, Correct Behavior, was pretty brutal. We recorded it in our warehouse space in early winter with no heat over a period of 10 days. We recorded 17 songs and Daniel had the flu. And then just us still being in Roanoke – our friends and family still expected us to be our normal selves and fall into our regular daily routines. It was hard to focus.
We knew with the Drop Beneath that we had to get outta town! We wanted to be in an environment where we could record and do nothing else and be away from our regular lives. Also, since it was winter again, heading to a warmer climate like Austin seemed heavenly!
Also, a new element for this album was having a formal producer which was really fun though a bit challenging. Doug Gillard (from Guided by Voices and Nada Surf, etc.) really worked with us pre-, mid-, and post-production. As the main songwriter, he would even give me notes about some of my song structures and arrangements which was great but also new and sometimes difficult for me to take.
I honestly think all of his input was right on point!
In a related question, how has your maturation as both people and musicians impacted your music? Are the core themes and inspiration for the band the same or have they changed?
NY: The core theme of the band has always been making solid pop songs. I think in the beginning we had a lot of limitations being just a duo with limited skill on our respective instruments. We always tried to do the most we could within those limitations though!
Over time we have become much better instrumentalists- the addition of Jonathan on bass really helped us open up and grow as musicians. Being better musicians has led us to play more of what we were intending rather than just what we were capable of executing. The songs have become more mature and go to further distances than before.
The three of us have pretty broad tastes in music and I think we are at a point as people where we just want to make songs we like and not worry. Who cares if they seem too varied in style or not in the realm of what is in trend right now? That’s not a concern.
Speaking of your tastes in music, when you are working on a song, to you ever find yourself going, “Oh, crap this sounds too much like _____”?
NY: Sure that’s definitely happened but usually it’s just in my head. The mix of our playing styles and musical instincts kind of prevent anything from sounding too much like another specific artist. That’s what I love about this band!
There’s a track on The Drop Beneath called “Until the Day I Have Won” that I was sure came from my obsession with the song “Forever Live and Die” by OMD. I was pretty self conscious about it at first but when I listen to the two songs my paranoia doesn’t really compute! They are so different. It’s just subtle influence paired with intense inspiration. Plus OMD rules!
Other than when you are on tour, do you still go and see live shows? If so, do you find it more difficult to go as a music fan versus that of an artist analyzing another artist’s style or ability?
NY: Living in Roanoke kind of prevents us from seeing too many shows since not a lot comes our way. We like to support the growing local scene especially since Jonathan and Daniel are both in several other projects. I know Jonathan has gone to see some really good ones in Chapel Hill and D.C. recently, but that’s still 3-4 hour drives from us. So yeah, a lot of bands we see are the ones we play with on tour.
Honestly if I weren’t in a band right now I just don’t think I would be keeping up with new music. Nothing against it, I just like digging into older albums.
That being said, when I watch other bands I think a lot about what their influences are and whether I get a sincere vibe about what they are doing – despite whether I am into the music or not. So I guess I am analyzing them in a way?
The longer we do this Eternal Summers thing, the more I just have to respect other bands trying to be in a band and put their music out there. I guess my analysis is a lot less negative than it used to be.
Funny how that happens, isn’t it? How you long for a deeper understanding of music from the past rather than music of the future? That’s been me for the last five years …
Let’s talk about the new album. When did you all begin working on it? Had you been writing songs throughout, or was there a specific push to write for this album?
NY: There were a few songs we had for a very long time. “Gouge” was supposed to be a track on Correct Behavior but got rejected. I’m glad because we did it much more justice this time around.
But yes there were song ideas, scraps and jams that had been lurking late-2012 through early-2013 like “Deep End”, “Make it New”, “100”, “A Burial” and “The Drop Beneath.” These usually were considered fragments of songs only because it would take me forever to decide on a melody and even longer to finalize lyrics!
January of 2013 was a crazy productive month for me as far as songwriting went, knowing we would record in February! I would let Doug listen to recorded memos of song ideas and let him weigh in.
This one time he was starting to get concerned that there weren’t going to be any “pop singles” on the album. I got so mad that I wrote “Never Enough” which I believe is one of the tunes I am most proud of.
I also wrote “Until the Day I Have Won” around the same time which is a song that really stretched us stylistically, and also pushed me vocally to be vulnerable and raw. I almost voted it off the album because I felt embarrassed. I’m glad we kept it!
Is there a typical dynamic and process that happens while writing?
NY: Usually I will have a riff or melody or even a verse and chorus that I will bring to practice. Daniel and Jonathan are great at helping me structure my ideas and building on them. Sometimes I will basically have an entire song and the guys will add their parts. It just depends!
We all get very excited when working on new material and aren’t really rigid about the process.
The technical side of the album notwithstanding, how do you feel about it? Do you have a deeper emotional connection to this album?
NY: Hard to say. Seriously hard to say because I have started answering this question about 6-7 times already and have stopped myself mid-sentence. I am proud of this album. As a band I know there was a lot of struggle and sacrifice to make it – not just with recording but with the months on the road, personal and career sacrifices, intense creative effort and so forth.
I think struggle makes satisfying art – at least for the artist. My emotional connection with any album I work on will always be like that of a person reading a past diary or journal. These songs, those lyrics – the way we played during the recording session will forever be imprinted into the album. Whether positive or negative, the emotional connection brings up weird, pleasant or horrible memories.
I do believe the emotional connection is deeper for this album. The songs are more personal, however cryptic they may come across.
You alluded earlier to the focus the band needs to perform live. How does the band approach its live shows? Do you try to be consistent in your set-lists or do you change things up performance-to-performance?
NY: We really try to play a different set every night – it keeps things interesting for us and pushes us to take old songs and refresh them. Sometimes there will be short 2-3 song chains that just work great live: the ends meld perfectly into a seamless epic 3 song journey! We like that kind of stuff sprinkled in.
I used to banter a lot but I’ve gotten shyer recently and also Daniel hates it when there’s too long of a break between songs – even when we are tuning!
I know life on the road can be grueling, but has it become more manageable has you’ve gotten older? Or, is it more difficult because of other commitments and responsibilities?
NY: It’s still grueling but we know so much more about surviving now then when we first started. Being positive is a huge rule of thumb! I mean it’s true – we have all put other things in our lives on hold for the band but getting to see different cities and getting to play songs you’ve written to people who have paid to see you – that’s amazing!
It never gets old, even in the most humbling situations.
In the years that you’ve been performing, what is the most bizarre experience you’ve had?
NY: Not bizarre but hilarious! Early on when we were a duo, Daniel and I got asked to do an interview for a local paper in Austin during SXSW. At this hotel bar members of the Dixie Chicks, JD Samson from Men/Le Tigre and others were also doing interviews.
Anyway, the hotel bar staff decided that they were sure that Daniel was Jack Black, asking and double-checking with our interviewer and photographer and started sending us over free snacks and giving Daniel major flirtatious eyes and arm touches. Even when he went to pay for his drink with his card the waitress whispered to him “I know you’re not ‘Daniel’.”
We all woofed down all the free food as fast as we could before they had time to figure it out and got out of there!
As I sit here listening to an advance of the new Beck album, I wonder, what artist still gets you excited?
NY: David Bowie. I am excited about the new Beck, too. Very interested to see what this Slowdive reunion will yield.
Umm, as far as new acts? It’s embarrassing how few recent albums I own. I genuinely am looking forward to the Cloud Nothings album and I hear a new Metz album is on the way?
In a similar vein, what artist or band have you been recommending to your friends?
NY: As a band we are pretty deep in with Teenage Fanclub right now – and Matthew Sweet and the Replacements. I guess it all falls under the Big Star influenced bands: bands with intense pop sensibilities but enough rock to get your blood going!
Do you see yourself involved in music as your move forward into your life? Is it something you still hope to be doing in another decade?
NY: Absolutely. Ultimately, I like writing songs and even in the future if I can’t tour like I am now I hope to collaborate and write for others. I recently lent some vocal tracks to ALPACA, the electronic project of Allen Blickle formerly of Baroness. The track is called “Perth” and the music challenged me to think outside of the box and write and deliver a totally different kind of vocal line.
I have this strange goal to somehow become Beth Gibbons by the time I’m 40. Is that weird? I just find her very interesting and the idea of being a vocalist for a kind of mellower electronic or jazz based project later in my life seems right. But for now I’m loving guitar and being in a rock band.
You had fans donate in advance of this album to help get it made. That’s a trend that is happening more often. How did that help you? And also, how did you put together the recipes in the cookbook the band is giving to those who donated?
NY: Yes, the pledges really did help. As a band you never know when or if you will come into some money. It was nice to know we could record an album that was a step forward for us and know we could pay for it. But more so it was so affirming to know fans wanted to support us and the music we make. It’s kind of overwhelming!
Oh, realized I didn’t answer the part about the cookbook! Well, no real rhyme or reason. I just thought about dishes that I had cooked enough times to know if they were any good! Tried to incorporate recipes for different types of eaters and also a little bit of Korean flavor to represent my roots!
What were you listening to in 2004?
NY: Pinback, Hella, Bjork, Medeski Martin and Wood, Built to Spill, Les Savy Fav, and tons of Stravinsky since I was studying to be a composer.
Which do you prefer? MP3, Tape, CD, Vinyl?
NY: Vinyl. Sounds good. Looks good.
What Web site(s) do you read regularly?
NY: Not anything regularly. I have no allegiances to the Web! I do like to check in on Web sites after not reading them in months! I just did that with Gorilla vs Bear recently. It shows me the progression of media in a quick view I guess. Like a, “so that’s what’s been going on with them” sort of view.
One Drink. One Album. One Movie.
NY: Drink: Trilogy Kombucha in the black bottle
Album: Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
Movie: Wayne’s World
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