This Friday, May 29, KEXP presents John In The Morning At Night live from Neumos! DJs John Richards and Michele Myers host a special live broadcast featuring New York’s finest, Pela and Iran, and Seattle greats United States of Electronica (U.S.E) and Throw Me the Statue.
As they ready for their blowout performance, Billy McCarthy and Nate Martinez of Pela talked to KEXP about what they’ve been up to since last year:
KEXP: How are you guys doing?
Billy: Great, man.
Thanks for doing the event for us again. You guys have done so much for KEXP.
Nate: You guys have done so much for us!
It’s a mutual thing. I hear you have some new music.
Nate: We are pretty much done with an album that has taken a long time and we are going to play a bunch of new songs this Friday. We’ve been doing a couple shows with The Gaslight Anthem and we played a couple shows in January. Just getting back out there, playing this new material and getting it road ready.
How has the reception been?
Nate: People are digging it.
Billy: It’s exciting. It’s a lot of different experimentation. We have some new keyboards and organ and we have a new touring musician who has been helping us. I’m playing more acoustic guitar up front. And there’s some different percussion going on.
Nate: Different vocal harmonies.
Wow, sounds great. You guys are known to have sort of the big sound. I remember when you played the KEXP Barbecue and it was this epic show; it seemed like you were made for that size stage. Is the new music written with that in mind?
Billy: I think the big stuff is bigger than with Anytown Graffiti and the soft stuff is probably more intimate.
Nate: intimae but also more spacious, in a different way.
Billy: It went to the next step in both directions, I feel.
So bigger and softer!
Nate: The whole gamut.
Billy: More dynamic.
Sounds great. I remember when Anytown Graffiti came out and you played it here at KEXP on the Morning Show. John Richards was like, “We have to get those guys for the BBQ!” So that was kind of early in 2007 really. It’s been a while. Have you been working on the music for this one since then?
Billy: I am actually very proud of it. We tried to record it and we went out to California. We were staying in a hotel for almost a whole month. We tried to live in the studio and do the record quickly and we realized that it was just not our method, so we scrapped the whole record. We started over. It was a pretty courageous move.
Nate: And a huge undertaking.
And you guys produced it yourselves, right?
Billy: Yeah, we produced it ourselves. Just after all the prep and demoing and to go in and not be happy and know that’s not where you want to be, it took a lot for us to accept that we wanted to start over. So starting over and slowly producing from that point on, really was an undertaking. We wanted to outdo ourselves.
Did you feel there was a lot of pressure to do that?
Nate: Pressure on ourselves, to want to see it through and to do it better than before, so yes, that was self-pressure.
Billy: I feel a lot of people came up to me and really had moments with me where they told me what Anytown made them think about or reflect on something in their lives and it seemed personal for fans and people who listened to the record .I just felt like I wanted them to have that experience again. I didn’t want it to fall short. It means a lot to me.
Billy, you’ve had a lot of personal things going on in your life. Is more of that reflected on this album, in the lyrics?
Billy: Yeah absolutely. There were a couple notable things, one of them being a family situation where my brother is incarcerated. He’s always been kind of a wild one, but he ended up in Folsom prison and through the process I have been trying to figure out how to talk about it. What I can say is that my brother is schizophrenic. We share the same birthday. The onset of schizophrenic happens in the early 20’s and I saw it happen and really tried everything I could. Eventually he committed a crime and he got sentenced and he is prison. He has been for four years. A lot of the songs are about that. He’s got an illness but in this country we don’t separate mentally ill people from normal folks in the penal system, and it’s actually horrible and cruel. My brother as it remains is in Folsom prison for attempted murder and he is schizophrenic and there is nothing anybody can do for him but give him state issued meds. I went to visit him in the beginning of the year, which is what kicked off the title for me of the album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships. It was sort of a tone in my family and I wanted them to be strong, and this was happening in the later part of the Bush era and I was in the hospital, I think like 40 times.
Nate: I think that’s an understatement! Wasn’t it 85?
Billy: I think we did seven studios and six hospitals this year.
Maybe you guys should start playing hospitals.
Nate: As long as he’s here!
Billy: But hopefully you’ll bear with me on the family stuff. I mean, if you listen to the record you’ll see that some of the topics are referencing all of that quite a bit. It’s going to take me some time to get comfortable with it. I had a lot of lawyers step up and try to help me with it and advocate. It’s just a really awkward part of our culture and we just don’t know what to do with our mentally ill or homeless.
It’s interesting that you should say that. For instance, when you tore the tendons in your hand you had a lot of people step up and help pay some of those medical bills and you have a lot of communication with your fans via your website. It seems like you guys are that kind of band, not that you are a forum or a platform but in a way you kind of are. You bring up issues that people want to talk about and are interested in and want to do something about.
Billy: Yeah, I am really proud of that. We’ve always been vocal and I think we always were, even before when people were talking about our shows. It’s nice to do interviews and talk about stuff and I wouldn’t run my mouth if we didn’t actually write about it and try to push those messages and those subjects out. I think another topic in the record this year is this song called “Juarez,” which is about a border town. There is incredible stuff going on at our southern border. Crazy minutemen and a lot of drug trafficking, which is really harrowing and kind of incredible. I felt like exploring it and that is another thing you will hear when you listen to the record.
People who know the band realize that you are positive in a lot of ways and it’s not like “Oh, this is going to be a downer record from Pela.” I don’t even know if that is possible for you guys to do.
Billy: No, I think because times are thought but I feel like the band really loves being around each other; we really love our fans and we love making records and at this point we love producing records. It’s a good thing. Just like any other kind of life it’s got its knocks.
Nate: We’ve had our fair share in the past couple of years.
Billy: Yeah. We also switched labels and we’re going to reveal who we are going with very soon. I think coming to the end of a relationship with an independent label was kind of strange for us, for the unknown and for the fact that we had produced a record and had to pull over from touring, which is such a big part of our identity. I think there were some unsure moments but we’re feeling super excited to play songs for folks now.
Right. I mean, you guys have been pretty independent all along, releasing and producing music on your own, and I’m excited to see where you guys end up with this one. I guess, we can save that news for later.
Billy: We’re really excited to let everyone know [about the new label] and we’re just trying to wait it out a little longer.
For the show on Friday what can KEXP fans expect? New songs? Old songs? Injuries? …hopefully not.
Nate: No, no injuries!
Billy: No more broken bones!
Nate: Rock n roll. Lots of fun.
Billy: We have some surprises in store and songs people will recognize. We definitely thought about it because Seattle is super special to us so we put in some time getting a good set. Last time we were there I ended up in the emergency room, but I won’t do that again. Just a high level of rock n roll.
Nate: Epic in a different way!
And I think you went to dinner before you went to the hospital, right?
Billy: We went to dinner and we went to the bar!
Then you went to the hospital. Priorities.
Billy: And the Seattle hospital, which I have to tip my hat to, was the finest hospital. I have to say to the people of Seattle, you have one the finest hospitals I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of them!
Get your tickets to John In The Morning at Night to see Pela perform new songs! Tickets are $18 presale, $20 day of. Advance tickets can be purchased at Ticketswest.com, Ticketswest Outlets, and Neumos Box Office. Proceeds benefit KEXP.