I’ve been a fan of American Analog Set since that fateful day I came across The Golden Band. Living in Mexico meant that I never really had much chance to see them, until their show at Polyforum Siqueiros back in 2007. Skip forward a few years and I serendipitously find The Wooden Birds, a new project with Andrew Kenny sharing vocals with Leslie Sisson. I interviewed them and now, with the recent re-release of Know by Heart on vinyl, I interviewed Andrew Kenny. This interview was originally posted in Spanish at México’s La Pop Life, a cool website I write in Spanish for and the editor kindly agreed to let me post it here, unedited, in its original form.
1. Great news about the re-release of Know by Heart! I have to ask you this: what made you choose this particular album from all the ones you’ve released?
Know By Heart was a special album for us. Sure… they are all special to us, but a lot of things lined up in our lives that helped produce a memorable recording. Tom and Sean joined the band. We all still lived in Austin. We spent a lot of time together and it all made for a better recording experience. The window was small. Two years? Two and change. But in that short time, we wrote and recorded Know By Heart and Promise of Love and toured a ton.
Another big reason was the availability of the vinyl. Know By Heart vinyl sold out quickly and was never repressed. It took us all a few years to track down copies for our own collections. When Barsuk suggested we put it back in print, it seemed like an obvious thing to do.
2. Was there any particular reason the demos included didn’t progress into finished songs?
It has always been my opinion that songs shouldn’t be forced. If after a few practices it doesn’t feel like we’re on to something, I’d rather spend time working on something else. Something we’re all more enthusiastic about. Sometimes a song just seems so simple that the input from a room full of people isn’t necessary. In contrast, The Wooden Birds was a project created to play some of those songs. Songs like, “Warm to the Blade”, “Secrets”, and even “Aaron & Maria” to be honest.
3. My first impression of Know By Heart was that it was more “direct” than the ambient rich previous releases. What drove this change? Was it an evolution for the more droning nature the band had excelled at before?
When it came to big picture direction, the arc of development, there was never anyone at the wheel. We always just picked up instruments and played. I think your observation is right on though. As the album took shape, definitely felt like a different animal. A sexier animal. (kidding).
4. Do you plan to re-release any other American Analog Set album in the future?
No plans really. We enjoyed putting Know By Heart together and we hope that we’ve made a few people a little happier. Their vinyl collections a little more complete. It’s not a priority to reissue the others though.
5. Any plans for reunion shows, since they seem to be on trend right now?
Ha! I feel you. Since I moved back to Austin a few years ago, we’ve been getting together and to play every couple of weeks. It’s fun. A little old stuff. A little new stuff. I guess you could say that we have “reunited” to play private, bi-weekly concerts for the 5 biggest fans of the band. But I’d have to admit that the AmAnSet ever broke up in the first place… and I’m not ready to do that.
6. On more current affairs: any news on The Wooden Birds front?
The Wooden Birds was always meant to be a brief project and that’s just the way it was. I loved the band we put together to play those songs, but aren’t the most talented people also the busiest? We did what we came to do, and then some.
7. I watched a tour diary of The Wooden Birds once and I remember this phrase: “If it’s gonna break your heart to leave a band then you are already in the right band.” Do you still live by that creed?
Mmm. Yeah I’ll stand by that one. But a heart can be broken more than once, can’t it?
8. Tell us all little more about Alex R. Johnson’s film, Two Step and your soundtrack contribution.
I scored one of Alex’s short films, Pick Up and Return, when we both lived in Brooklyn. He’s also made a pair of Wooden Birds videos so we have a certain language that has developed over the years. He gave me the script for Two Step last summer (2013) and I just loved it. Dark. Patient. I don’t know if he had me in mind but I asked if I could submit a few ideas and it grew from there. I’d always wanted to score a feature length film and I couldn’t have stumbled upon a better opportunity.
9. When is the score for Two Step released?
I haven’t decided. Two Step is still doing festivals and so it’ll be a while.
10. You are working on genetics research at the University of Texas. I’m still on my PhD and I was wondering: how can you balance music and science at the same time?
Over the years, I’ve done both for a living. Back and forth. On and off. I’ve concluded that I’m the happiest when I’m doing a little of both. So maybe it means that I can’t do either as well but I’m happy and that’s got to count for something. Every once in a while, I get rockignized at the hardware store. Or somebody asks me a question about genetics or molecular biology at a party and I get to feel smart. How many rock star / scientists do you know? It looks amazing on a business card anyway.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López