The Race Interview
Following their performance at Graceland in Seattle, the members of The Race were kind enough to sit down with Yaeka and me to talk a little bit about their new album If You Can and touring in general.
So is this your first time out here on the west coast?
Craig: Yes, this is our first time here.
I was reading that there wasn’t much touring behind The Perfect Gift.
Steve: I think there might have been about two weeks that we did.
So what was it that helped motivate you guys to get out on a full national tour for If You Can?
Steve: I did.
Kevin: He’s the drill sergeant of rock and roll.
Steve: The Perfect Gift was a record where the whole band as it is now was just coming together after it was recorded. It was also the first record that the label that we’re on put out in any sort of serious fashion so everything kind of happened in the wrong order. We got done with two and a half weeks of tour before the record came out and everyone just kind of thought that it didn’t feel right, but on this record, everything was recorded and everything was done in sort of the right order so now we’re touring as much as we can to support that record.
The sound on this album is a little different. It’s a lot crisper and cleaner. Was that a result of putting all the pieces together or is that something you had in mind for the last album, but it wasn’t exactly possible?
Kevin: I think it is due to the recording technique more than anything. Before we were going to tape with inexperienced engineers and now all of a sudden we had a couple of guys on our hands who really knew what to do with the equipment they had and made everything sound really crispy and clean and lovely. I think for the most part it sounds exactly how we wanted it to sound whereas before we never really had the option to try.
Craig: We took a lot of time with this album.
Steve: I think the songs too. The songs evolved to a point on this record where they had the opportunity to be fully realized whereas on the old album it was just set up and play what you got and that’s it. On this one we spent tons of time paying attention to the most minute detail.
Craig: And before that too just working out the parts there was this point before we recorded the record where pretty much all of us somewhat knew all of the different parts. Not drums, but as far as bass and guitar and piano it was very collaborative. We worked a lot of it out in the practice space and also we played all the songs live at shows except for maybe one so we had been playing them for months before we headed into the studio. It was just at a different point. The Perfect Gift was kind of like an explosion of ideas just doing everything we could do since we had this studio we could work with. This one was much more deliberate so we were able to focus on the sound of each different part and were able to rip it apart and decide how it should go. We were able to strip it down to its essence.
Steve: We had these two guys who usually just make electronic music and will spend just hours making one measure of beats and so they got this indie rock band on their hands with a bunch of songs and I think the combination just sort of worked out well. We got to spend a lot of time making songs that were written instead of spending time doing that in the studio.
I also read that you had over twenty written songs before you went into the studio, but overall the album is still under half an hour.
So is it that you guys are perfectionists or…
Steve: No, basically what happens is Craig writes a lot of songs and most of them are just garbage and we have to throw them out.
Craig: Fuck You!
Steve: Half of it is Jeremy and I going through them and we’re like garbage, garbage, garbage, garbage, garbage, all right, that’s a good song. We got to rewrite this one. Garbage, garbage, garbage. No, but in this band there’s just an incredible wealth of songwriting. There’s nothing the members of this band enjoy more than writing a song and coming up with ideas so almost naturally there were just a ton of ideas that went into the studio. It was really a collaborative environment where everyone worked on a different aspect. The songs that made it on the record are the ones we all thought deserved to be on the record.
So do you think you’ll ever work with Telefon Tel Aviv again?
Kevin: It might not even be an option. One of the guys moved back to New Orleans and the other guy is just really busy. It’s not generally what they do â€” recording bands. I think we’ll probably leave it how it was and see what other options we have.
Steve: For whatever we do next, we’ll be exploring a bunch of different options. Really we’re just kind of working on songs right now and then we’ll feel out what the options are for the next record.
How’s the tour going so far besides the breaking car…well not your car, but…
Steve: I’m becoming a really big fan of Old Canes; I’ve got to tell you. They’re really good.
Jeremy: I haven’t listened to their record but I enjoy their live show so much.
Steve: We have the record, but haven’t listened to it once.
Jeremy: I realize that. We’re playing Trivial Pursuit every day.
Steve: Well this is our first time out on the west coast and so far we’ve played in St. Louis and Kansas City. We’ve played in Omaha, then Denver and Salt Lake and now we’re here in Seattle. So far it’s been great. I think the one thing we’ve realized is that we’ve been driving a lot. It’s a 19-date tour and we’ve been driving like eight hours a day. So far there have been great turnouts to all the shows and it’s been a lot of fun.
During the long drives have you come up with any creative ways to pass the time?
Kevin: Trivial Pursuit. The World Series of Trivial Pursuit. We have our own rules. Jeremy, maybe you can explain the rules.
Jeremy: We have so much time that we’ve turned Trivial Pursuit into a baseball game where you’ve got two teams and you ask all the questions on a card. Let’s say we get five and the other team gets four then we get one run because we got one more right than the other team. You play nine innings and whoever has more runs wins that game and we do a seven game series. That’s our big hour eater. We have ten different variations of Trivial Pursuit, that’s our main activity. Once and a while we’ll listen to music, but for the most part we don’t say anything and we just stare into space for hours and hours. It’s hard to make good use of twelve hours in a van. We could play a ton of different cities on the east coast easily because they’re all so close together, but west coast, everything is like 10 hours away so we’re doing some insane driving and I think we’re all losing our minds.
So you’re not making mix tapes ahead of time for your road trips?
Jeremy: Music is such a small element of driving. I don’t know why.
Steve: Well, what the main problem is that we just built a loft in our van with all our equipment in the back and in the front of the van there are two stereo speakers and the one next to the drivers left foot works, but everything else is just sort of blown out and just sounds horrible.
Jeremy: So the original question was how the tour is going.
Kevin: It’s good.
Jeremy: Yeah, it’s going very well. I think that we all love being on the road and have positioned ourselves in our life so that we would be able to do this as much as possible and we want to just keep playing shows. But you really should check out Old Canes. It’s hard to describe their music. I call it “skiffle” because I don’t have a better way to describe it. Every night a different song of theirs gets stuck in my head. Incredible band. Great music. It’s been a lot of fun touring with them.
Tell us about the cover art for If You Can
Craig: There were a few stages in the process of the cover art. The basic idea for it came about from a friend of Kevin and mine and actually Jeremy knew her as well. It’s a really long sad story, honestly, but a person that we all knew very well had this idea that she was going to build a replica of the Biblical arc in the desert of New Mexico and tragically about a year ago she died in a car accident. There’s a song on the record called “Arc Again” and it is kind of about that in a way as much as you can talk about something that is so serious in a song. It’s music and can never convey something like that, but that was the basic idea and there was a song that came about. The album was very thought out and every detail was sort of pored over. So we thought we’d take this drawing that Kevin did which is just sort of this sketch of this idea of a song and it came about that we thought it’d be really cool if we had someone who could hand sew all of this stuff. You know, a sort of quilt and this girl Sara, Sara Kohl, who is related to all these people here hanging out with us right now and distracting me from this interview, stitched all of this stuff for me. So it was sort of this idea and this drawing that Kevin made that kind of encompassed the idea of a song and then something bigger than that. A lot of ideas at once.
Kevin: I don’t know if it comes out like this, but it’s pretty detail oriented as far as the position of the stars in the sky being actual constellations in a certain part of the United States, namely the southwest, during a certain part of the year, but I don’t know if that’s really important at all.
Craig: There’s a lot of things together. In the end the idea is that we spent so much time on this record and that everything is kind of like a stitch everything is sewn together over this long period of time. We really thought about it and analyzed it and were just trying to do something and we didn’t even really know what it was that we were trying to do. Just do something that was…I don’t even know how to say it. It’s overwhelming when I think about it. It doesn’t do justice to anything. Someone spent all this time hand stitching all the stuff; all the words, everything.
It made a lot of sense…you conveyed it well. All the parts and the detail and effort that went into the album is apparent â€” you hear it and you see it.
Craig: I’m glad that you saw that. I didn’t know if it was apparent. That was the idea when we came up with that. Something that just fit with what we were doing. As soon as we started to actually do it. She was working on it and it made sense.
Kevin: That’s a pretty good spiel about the artwork.