Sometimes You See Them on the Lawn
Good Night, States represents all the best qualities of Pittsburgh. They are innovative but humble, intelligent and hardworking, ambitious and independent. And also like the city of Pittsburgh, the rest of the world has yet to recognize all that they to offer. Recently though, with their debut album Short Films on Self-Control and a string of local shows, they’ve been making the turn from underground secret to source of local pride.
(left to right: Trevor, Megan, Steve, Dan and Joe)
Their music rings in your head for days after listening; it is aggressively melodic and includes influences of Glam, Americana, Rock and Pop. Even the melancholy songs somehow manage to shine.
The band certainly shown bright while opening this past WYEP Summer Music Festival in Schenley Park. I recently broke bread with the local contingent (Singer/Guitarist Steve Gretz and Guitarist Joe Tanner live in New Jersey) and discussed their Internet Singles Series, the reception of their work as a “Pittsburgh” band, and plans for the near future that may or may not include an accordion.
-Dave, host of WYEP Afterhours: Monday
WYEP: Megan said this is your “study hall.” What do you guys usually do during study hall? It seems like a fun idea.
Megan: [laughs] When it’s going well, we’re all working on our various spheres of influence. Trevor is our web guy, and Dan books and I do press and PR. The idea is that we forget to do things unless we keep each other accountable. Every Wednesday night, we do it together.
WYEP: Speaking of the website – the inspiration obviously came from a keyboard, but was there a light bulb moment where you figured it out?
Trevor: That was kind of the keyboard that was the centerpiece for Short Films on Self Control, so we were trying to brainstorm ideas on what the website would look like –
Megan: - I drew it out in the middle of our – I do a lot of doodling when I’m supposed to be paying attention – I doodled it out in a musical staff in one of our books. But then I think we didn’t remember for a long time, and then all of a sudden Tim [who helped set up the website] was like ‘We can do that! I can wing it!’
WYEP: I think it works, and it’s totally in keeping with the sound of the band too.
Dan: It’s where the sound’s coming from.
WYEP: And it’s also where the sound’s going with the Internet Singles Series. What was the idea behind that?
Dan: We were brainstorming about anything we could do that was slightly different than what we had done before. The regular 'creating of a crowd out of nothing' by booking shows in a town where you don’t know anybody, and you don’t know bands, and you don’t know venues, and making a record and trying to sell it at that place – just a grassroots thing – hasn’t seemed to be our way yet. And maybe it will some day, but it seemed like we were in need of newer music because Short Films was released only this January [ed. note - official release date: December 11, 2007), and we recorded it last March, meaning that we were recording it throughout . It’s new music to the public but it’s very old to us. You always have to have the ball rolling, so we wanted to figure out a way to make new music but at the same time not have to do the standard ‘Let’s save up some money, let’s go to a studio. It’s going to take probably nine or twelve months before this is released.’
Trevor: In addition to all that, in all our talking about the band, we wanted music to be the primary thing, not image or not –
Megan: - Or merch! [laughs]
Trevor: We aren’t very good at marketing ourselves, image-wise, so I really think that the music is the primary thing that people will latch onto. So we are trying to build a listenership through the website – to use that as a vehicle to get music to people.
WYEP: You guys do have a really high quantity and quality of electronic interaction with your audience through weblogs, photo albums, Internet Singles Series, Youtube videos. Do you think that’s what you kind of have to do now as a band, or did you grow up knowing you wanted to know more about bands and you saw these things as really good resources [for your fans]?
Trevor: I think the thing that people really grab onto is when they feel they can be a part of something, and that was one of the goals of having a blog-style website and lots of things for people to interact with.
Megan: I guess the more you can know about people you don’t actually know, the more interesting they are. In that sense, I think we are all nerds to the extent that we pore over the websites of bands that we really like.
WYEP: You’ve played out of town – do you get a reaction from other bands when they hear you’re from Pittsburgh?
Trevor: I would say it depends where you are. In Philadelphia, we definitely got the strongest negative reaction – not from bands but from people at the show.
Dan: I think it’s just sentiment. It’s ‘Philly vs. Pittsburgh’ and I think that’s all it is.
Trevor: Yeah, and everyone assumes we’re like huge Steelers fans. That’s the universal thing, I’d say.
Dan: I think at least on the blogs Megan has gotten us written up in recently, people have exclaimed, if [the blogger is] from Pittsburgh, ‘I can’t believe this band is from Pittsburgh!’ And if the [the blogger is] not from Pittsburgh, they’re saying ‘I can’t believe this band is from Pittsburgh!’ So, good no matter which way you slice it. I think people are usually more intrigued by the New Jersey-Pittsburgh difference – ‘Why is it like that? How do you pull it off? You guys are crazy!’ I think that usually illicits some sort of reaction.
Steve was the impetus for moving out [to New Jersey], but all along he’s always chosen to say that we’re from Pittsburgh, and I don’t really know why. To make it seem like we’re not this crazy two-headed beast I guess, telling people we’re from fourteen different locations? And it sounds weird but in the long run of being in a band, the more I realize that lots of other bands don’t live in the same city. Lots of them.
WYEP: The Walkmen, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah –
Dan: - Yeah, Matt Pond PA live all over the East Coast. And of course, insanely huge bands on insanely huge record labels certainly don’t need to all be in the same city. The Damnwells, at one point, were all in Brooklyn and the one guy moved out to L.A. and they continued to be a band. I guess if you find a way to do it you find a way to do it.
WYEP: Going back to what you were saying about the reaction people have – both from Pittsburgh and not Pittsburgh – of being amazed that you guys are from Pittsburgh, do you think it’s a nurturing town for young bands?
Dan: Whew, that’s a question we’ve always wrestled with. I certainly have a ton of people who say to me: ‘You need to be in Austin’ or Nashville or L.A. or New York City. We always ask ourselves that question and we all ask other people we think have an opinion about that, but really, nobody has a good answer.
Trevor: We’ve fallen in with a fairly nurturing bunch of people, in the past year and a half or so.
Trevor: The circle of bands we run in right now is pretty supportive of each other. Even beyond bands, there’s a group of people that sort of surround those bands that is very supportive. It’s very good to be around each other.
WYEP: What are those bands for you? Lohio –
Trevor: Lohio, Briar Fox, Cindy [Howes], Blindsider -
Megan: - Triggers.
Trevor: Yeah. I think there’s a bunch of us that have sort of been around for five years or so, and we sort of know each other.
Megan: I think having a home base is kind of important, but even because [Steve and Joe] live in New Jersey, we have kind of a home base and a half. Steve grew up there – that’s why he’s there now – and he’ll pull from all his family and friends. We can have a sort of small, guaranteed crowd there, and a slightly larger crowd here. I think we’re just hoping that at some point, it will all just congeal.
Trevor: It’s been really interesting to try to transition over from a “friend” fan base to a “people who just like music” fan base. I would say that – and I don’t mean this as any kind of slight to our friends – our friends aren’t the music-lover types. They come out to see us because they’re friends with us.
WYEP: Because you’re you.
Trevor: Yeah, and trying to build the music-lover fan base is a long process.
WYEP: Do you think there’s anything that would make the city better for younger bands?
Trevor: I think the venues, I would say –
Megan: - A mid-sized venue.
Trevor: - Yeah, it’s weird. Club Café is a pretty good size for us.
Megan: It’s hard because if you’re a little larger than the Brillobox but you can’t pack Mr. Small’s, what do you do? I feel like there are enough incredible old buildings around town that surely someone wants sweep in and renovate something and make a mid-sized room.
WYEP: You recently played two shows at Club Café – you played an acoustic set and an electric set and you played an acoustic set opening for Men Women and Children. Obviously that’s a different experience for the listener. Does knowing you have those acoustic sets to play change how you write or prepare songs at all?
Megan: It’s a lot of preparation.
Trevor: I don’t know if we always end up changing parts - sometimes we do – but it definitely takes a lot of effort for us. I don’t just play acoustic bass and Dan plays with brushes and everyone else plays acoustic guitar. We definitely add some – I would say - interesting instruments into it. Like Megan playing accordion this time around; Megan had some synths onstage at the Club Café stage. I’ve played two-octave synth bass for acoustic shows before - quiet, not acoustic. The “Quiet” Show. That’s what it is.
Dan: The alternative set.
Trevor: Right, and I think that since we’re only together on the weekends, there’s a lot of effort that goes into the arrangement and rehearsal. We know the electric songs cold, so we don’t have to rehearse those as much. The effort that goes into acoustic shows is significantly larger.
Dan: We need to stop!
Megan: Yeah, they’re hard.
WYEP: Did you play accordion growing up?
Megan: No… [laughs]
WYEP: I was hoping there were pictures of you –
Megan: Oh that’d be awesome! There’s a photo of me, probably three or four years old with pigtails playing my dad’s trumpet. I’ll have to see if my parents have it.
The accordion was fun for that show, but one song in particular was not well suited to it. But it’s really fun to experiment with different instruments. From things that Steve has said, I think we may be pulling more instruments and more sounds into future songs, into either the next album or an EP or something.
WYEP: Are you working on a second album?
Dan: The plan, at this moment, is we’re taking two months off from the Internet Singles Series releases.
WYEP: Did you record those songs yourselves?
Dan: Yes, Steve engineered them all.
WYEP: Did you play those songs out before you recorded them? Or is the recording process also the songwriting and arranging process?
Dan: They’re being written as they’re being released. We didn’t start any of those songs until the one before it was finished.
Trevor: I find, in general, for my own personal “band” life, it’s so much more helpful to have a recorded version of the song because it just solidifies everything. You’re not goofing around playing different stuff during a live set. You know what you’re playing and it’s much easier to settle into that than try to figure out whether you like this part or don’t like this part.
Megan: I kind of forgot that other bands do it the other way – that they fit into their songs as they’re playing live and then record them.
Trevor: I think that lends itself to a different type of album though. Songs that are written that way are less coherent as a whole. Songs that gelled in a live situation could tend to be more disparate across an album.
But, going back, we’re taking two months off and then in October, November, December we’re releasing internet singles again and then in 2009 we’ll be writing a new album.
WYEP: I look forward to hearing that, and I look forward to seeing you guys at Third Thursday in October. Do you guys have anything up your sleeves? Any pyro? Go-go dancers?
Megan: I hope so… [laughs]
Trevor: I think that was supposed to be a secret. [Dan and Megan laugh]
WYEP: Oh did I blow your cover?
Trevor: We’ll have to come up with a bigger and better idea.
Dan: Dancers holding the pyrotechnics?!?!!