Interview – EP Island

Photo by Michele Brayton

A while ago, we interviewed LL Schultz because her band Down the Lees frankly rocks. We asked about the EP Island project (question 7!), got told it was alive and kicking but heard no more for a while.

Time seriously passed. EP Island ‘s newest EP, Sweet’ish got released and we loved every single track of it.  So, we sent LL Schultz (guitar, vox, keyboard), Sarah Jane Truman (bass, vox) and Melanie Covey (drums, percussion) a bunch of questions and they courteously answered them,  which made us very happy! We even did a little victory jig and all.

Hi, EP Island, here’s our questions for you, hope you enjoy answering them at your own pace as much as we loved your Sweet’ish EP. Been listening to the previous ones and it’s safe to say we are fans now!

1) The Engineering work from EP Island is neat and incredibly accurate. What was the general purpose when mixing Sweet’ish in terms of sound?

LL: The whole essence of EP Island is to capture the first incarnation of the song, the soul of it. It’s not hard to mix a song that speaks for itself. Adding overdubs only highlights what is already there. And, we wanted to have music that you can turn up to 11 and still be rocking!

Sarah: My feeling is that, well…  we all really respect each other as musicians and each others choices, writing-wise as well as tonally…  when we would listen to the mixes, the general consensus was usually just making sure that everyone’s parts were being heard in the way they had intended them!  But LL would know more about this since she mixed the thing!

2) First time you ever played together, and the aim was exploring sounds. Do you think this EP Island experience can or somehow affected your perspectives / ideas for your future song writing?

LL: Definitely! Every ep has been a learning experience that we build off of. The first one was just Mel and I. We had no idea how it would be done or how it would turn out. On the second one, Lyn Heinemann came on board and the 3 of us had never played together so it was anyone’s guess on how it would turn out. Same with the latest ep and Sarah Jane. The ideas for all songs come the weekend of each outing, and it’s exciting every time. Bringing new people into the mix brings new excitement therefore new perspectives.

Melanie: The EP Island Project is always about exploring sounds, and also setting an ambitious yet manageable goal to maximize the creative experience of making music together. That is always the goal/perspective, in my view. The invited guest is like the “wild card” each time, that offers the possibility for shifting any predictable tendencies that LL and I might have, as we have been playing together for many years, both in a previous band, and I’ve supported her in a few of her solo recordings and shows. She and I were originally introduced with mutual appreciation for each other’s previous projects. So, in a sense, even though each EP Island grouping has “never played together,” we are possibly in fact grounded by 2/3 of us having played together very closely, and I think this helps us to quickly find a groove together in songwriting for EP Island.

I also think it helps that after doing this a couple of times before, LL and I have a sense of how the pace of the EP Island weekend tends to go (including shared mealtimes). I would say that both LL and I share an appreciation of common influences and musical aesthetics, equal parts raw, angular, and pretty/melancholic, and we have been fortunate to invite guests who are on the same page with us. Sarah Jane was our latest invitation, because she is a musician whose work we were familiar with, and we knew her as a friend and acquaintance – it is always fun to work with musicians whose music you’ve already admired from an objective distance.

The first night we started jamming for Sweet’ish, things fell into place very quickly. In general, there is a point where we’ve jammed a riff for a bit, and then need to switch gears and move on to a new riff, until we have a collection of riffs or sounds we can start to structure and refine already by the end of Day 1 and decide how some of them might fit together to create a whole song. It’s amazing how much musical material you can improvise in a few hours with good energy and inspiration! Also, limiting ourselves to 2-3 songs per EP is a manageable goal. I think in every case so far, there was at least one song that kind of “wrote itself” – i.e. we started playing and just followed some natural direction until we brought it to an end. I think this time around it was ‘Teen Age’. In Rad’ish, it was ‘October Fantastic’, and in our first EP, Good’ish, it was ‘Trading Silver for Licorice’.

Sarah: It certainly has affected me.  Now I think it’s going to be super easy to write cohesive songs with people I’ve never played with before in one day!

3) The main driver to make a song for each one of you is…

LL: The unknown! I love going into this with a huge question mark of “What is the ep going to sound like?”.

Melanie: Spontaneity, capturing that spontaneous energy in recording without overthinking structure and perfection – letting go. Experiencing the most creative aspect of music-making, being in the moment, enjoying what you are creating while you are playing it and while it is fresh.

Sarah: Curiosity, I guess.  I had spent a few years living with the guy who recorded LL and Melanie’s old band and listened to him mix it from home…  and my old band’s practice space was across the hall from theirs, so I was really familiar with their musical aesthetic…  I knew I wanted to cram myself in there somewhere and see how it all fit!

Photo by Michele Brayton

4) This is for Sarah Jane Truman: you bass lines sound incredibly strong and powerful to me. What’s the one thing that pulls your attention to a specific bass line (like a “wow” moment)? Either you create it or listen to someone else’s?

Sarah: I can’t really put my finger on that.  I kind of shut the controlling part of my brain off and just see what happens.  I think I can just trust my mind to come up with something interesting, and trust my ability to play bass (technically) to be able to spew out what my brain makes up.  At the risk of sounding “new age” – music is just so much a part me, or whatever, that bass lines come from like a primal place in me, I guess.

5) Could you also tell us about your other bands, Sarah Jane?

Sarah: I have played in so many different types of projects, on different instruments…  Just because playing music is fun for me.  I’ve never been super precious about a “vision” or anything like that, so I’ve done everything from singing and playing baritone recorder in acoustic punk band the Doers, to playing flute and percussion in the more experimental project The Secret Mommy Quintet… to playing bass and singing lead on crunchier pop/rock in Skort.  Right now I’m playing guitar in a 5 piece, super up-tempo rock band called Ghost House.  I just want to play with my friends in whatever form that takes I guess.  I couldn’t wait to do EP Island with Melanie and Laura Lee because I have always admired them so much.

6) General question: A version of your songs is considered as ready to be recorded/final when…

LL: As soon as we feel the structure is solid enough for us to record the bed tracks.

Melanie: Time’s up! Since it is difficult to go back and re-record whole sections of any song, the finalizing is really in tweaking the levels in production where all of us are satisfied with how our instruments sound, and the overall flow of a song with any added effects from LL. This part, of course, does not happen on the weekend of an EP. We always re-convene after LL has had a chance to engineer a mix, and give feedback to tweak anything within reason.

Sarah: I guess you just know when you know!

Photo by Michele Brayton

7) Any plans to do physical releases of any of this EP Island EPs?

LL: That is the great thing about EP Island, no plans! No pressure to deliver. It’s anyone’s guess.

8) Let’s talk about gear… what did you use for this one?

LL: Well, a bunch of stuff! My studio is chalked full of instruments and recording gear. We had to rent some gear like a drum snake and extra mics but for the most part, we had everything we needed. Some stuff like a Fender M80, Hoyer guitar, Korg M1, 1980 Yamaha SK20, various pedals, various mics, view finder, slide projector, Marshall combo amp and a whole recording set up. It’s nice to have a bunch of instruments at your fingertips to fool around with. You never know what is going to come out!

Melanie: My same drum kit, the only one I’ve ever had… a small Ayotte kit with 20” kick (front skin removed), 14” metal snare, 14” floor tom and 12” rack tom. I use fairly bright Sabian hi-hats, and I love my Zildjian Medium A Rock ride, which doubles as a crash for me. I also sometimes use a tambourine clipped to the hi-hats. The last couple of EPs I’ve tried adding some Glockenspiel off the side, just to see if I can coordinate my limbs that way. It just about gives me a seizure to include that element (I don’t know how those other people manage it), but it’s fun.

Sarah: The most important piece of equipment I used is my bass itself!  I play a Burns Bison.  It’s huge, ballsy, hideous and punchy.  I played it through an SWR working man 12 amp, which is really clean…  so I messed it up with chorus and distortion pedals.  The Danelectro distortion pedal I used is my fave because it’s a little thinner sounding than a BOSS, while still fuzzy.  I think it makes it more interesting.  LL’s house is a gear palace, too.  We kept bringing synths and stuff out of the hatch in the ceiling (literally!).

9) This particular line up worked fantastic (well, according to site consensus). Any plans to do more recordings?

LL: See question 7! And yes, I agree that the latest line-up worked really well. So lucky/happy to have Sarah Jane on-board for that one.

Melanie: We have been very lucky with our 2 guests so far. They have both been extremely talented and multi-instrumental musicians. For the latest EP, Sarah Jane was so open-minded to try just about anything, and is also just a fabulous bassist. So every moment was a pleasant surprise. It turned out to be a great experience getting to know her better through playing music together. I think it would be great to play some more music with her at some point – I think we all acknowledged this when we met up for our post-EP “Bowley Schmoley” party. It might be a love affair we have to repeat.

Photo by Michele Brayton

10) What’s the biggest challenge for LL Schultz as a producer/mixer/recorder with a Blitzkrieg-like project like this?

LL: The clock! Since this project is based on a specific timeframe, I am racing against the clock.

11) Would you like to guide us through the lyrics of each song? There’s no word limit and we basically won’t edit anything, so feel free to share as much as you want.

LL: I can talk about ‘Engine Cleaner’ and ‘No Royal Wedding’ as Sarah Jane and Mel wrote ‘Teen Age’.

For ‘Engine Cleaner’, we turned to social networking to help guide us in writing. It all began with a projector slide that I got from my grandma of 2 kids sitting on a bed with a huge poster on the wall behind them that said Engine Cleaner. We projected that slide on the wall the whole time we were working on the song, for inspiration. When it came time to write lyrics, we posted on Facebook, “When you see the words ‘The Engine Cleaner’, what comes to mind?”. One answer was, a lighthouse. So, we went with that. Sarah Jane and I sat and discussed the feeling of the song and how it would be great as a call and answer type tune and that’s how a ship lost at sea and a lighthouse trying to guide it home came about. The idea being that failing to bring the ship home would leave both the captain and lighthouse operator lost.

‘No Royal Wedding’ always had an edge to it that deserved a biting topic. And since the slide we used was of a newlywed couple kissing and it was the weekend of the Royal Wedding, it was begging for some cynicism. How can you get anymore cynical than “I’ll wait till you die, to get what was mine.”?

Sarah: LL said it perfectly.

12) We saw there’s a couple of Viewmasters and overhead projectors on your recording process, where did the idea come from these visual stimuli?

LL: My grandma gave me an old viewfinder and projector with slides from the 60s/70s that I love. It seemed only fitting to fill the studio with influential pieces from the past and future to help stimulate the creative juices. I have always appreciated the visual medium as way to express myself.

13) What are the plans for each member for 2012?

LL: Well, music is always on the top of list. If I’m not doing EP Island with Mel, which I hope to do till the day I can’t pick up an instrument anymore, I’m writing music for my solo album (Down the Lees), working on my web series Lez Renovate or hanging out with my cat. I also write custom songs for any occasion. Name a genre and topic and I can write/record it for you. It makes the perfect gift!

Melanie: Crikey. It’s only November 2011. I am just not thinking quite that far ahead yet… I am trying to go to school part-time right now, I do some community volunteering, work in my home business. These things are taking up more of my time at the moment than anything musical. But I will be happy when LL and I can coordinate another fun jam session, because we always connect when we are making the music together. We are lifetime musical collaborators, in my view.

Sarah: Ghost House is writing a bunch of new songs…

Thank you very much! :D

Words: Sam J. Valdés López

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