You probably do not know The Rowboats…but you should. I reviewed the band’s debut album, Four Years And Forty Five Minutes here but the release date is still TBA. The band will be playing their first show June 1st at Magnetic Field in Brooklyn, NY (hopefully I will be in attendance). If you are a fan of electronic indie rock then The Rowboats should be topping your playlist. Thanks to Ben and Ted for taking the time to answer some questions.
I find Four Years And Forty Five Minutes to be quite a diverse listen. How would you describe your sound and what are some of your influences?
Ben: I would describe our sound as rock music incubated for a long time on a computer. You can hear this tension between fairly straightforward rock, layered with soundscapes and small details. The rough division of labor is that Ted plays all the rock instruments, I add the electronics, strings and keyboards, and then Ted reins it back in. Our hope is that the finished product is music you would nod your head if you heard it in a room, and go pretty deep into your head with if you heard it on headphones. We used Eno’s Another Green World to forge agreement on overall taste issues. And I would cite dub music, The Beatles and Les Paul in terms of our using the studio as a lab for intuitive experimentation.
For example, for “Eyes Closed,” we manipulated an old stereo with a fluorescent light, using the interference to make these long, unpredictable droning tones. Then we cut them up, added effects and arranged them until we had the ending of “Eyes Closed.” “3,2,1” started with a loop of Ted’s erratic refrigerator motor, which sort of calls to mind Detroit garage music as far as the syncopated beat is concerned.
How did The Rowboats come together? Besides being long, what was the songwriting and recording process like for Four Years And Forty Five Minutes?
Ted: I moved to NYC in January 2000, and was playing in a band with one of Ben’s roommates. Ben had some recording gear, and we started getting together every week just to try to learn how to record. The stuff was a little goofy at first, I mean, we had a song called “The Non-Sexual Date.” We didn’t set out to be a band– just to learn how to record and make one-off songs for various projects—but after a few years of this, we realized that we had almost forty songs in varying states of completion. A few made it onto Four Years and Forty-Five Minutes, but most of them went in the trash heap. And then we built our record around what was suggested by the songs we had… In general, our songs arose from laying down a single guitar riff, drum pattern, or keyboard loop, and then slowly building up the rest of the tune around it. “3,2,1”, “Vivion” and “Eyes Closed” were written this way. “Crickets All Night” and “Black Chandelier” were songs that were mostly arranged before the recording process started, but those were exceptions.
The use of electronics in indie rock has grown even more prominent year by year. How has that influenced the music of The Rowboats?
Ben: I think that what you’re talking about is reflective of a broad wave in music over the past 100 years. So say a kid gets on stage with a theremin, she’s tapping something that started in World War I-era Russia, but maybe she liked how the Beach Boys or Led Zeppelin used it. I think those long-term trends influence everybody… and 1919 in music isn’t even really such a long view. For us in particular, I would say, things took an interesting turn in 1975–the year that both (Eno’s) Another Green World and Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity got released. It’s entertaining to try to write love letters to that stuff. I also like Terry Riley, Nobukazu Takemura, and Mice Parade a little too much.
Being in a band in NYC would seem almost overwhelming to me? How hard is it to distinguish oneself from the pack? Is that something the band thinks about?
Ted: I think the most important thing is to make music that you believe in creatively, and enjoy playing. I realize this sounds cliché, but it’s true. Trying to willingly fit into some kind of scene strikes me as a slippery slope. Of course, New York can be tough because there are a million bands, but there are also a million venues and millions of people who want to go see good bands, so really it’s just a matter of making good music and putting yourself out there, which we’re in the process of doing. I guess it’s up to the rest of humanity to decide which scene we’re in.
What kind of priority is the band in everybody’s life right now? Is there any thought to making The Rowboats a full-time gig?
Ted: Well, considering that we’re playing our very first show next month, it seems a little early to be thinking about going big-time or whatever. Given the amount of effort that’s already gone into this project, naturally it’s something that does cross one’s mind. The response we’ve gotten from a wide range of people who’ve heard the CD certainly does give us reason for optimism.
What’s the band’s opinion on file-sharing?
Ben: It’s weird how, by focusing listeners more on individual tracks, file sharing (and iPods) have added extra amnesia to some already forgetful genres. I also just prefer the way a CD or a record sounds. With a record, from the second the needle lands, you have this shared emotional history before you hear the first note. Maybe in 2053 people will be sentimental for how crappy MP3s sounded on bad headphones. But snobbery aside, my ethos as a listener is the shareware one: Listen to everything, then if you like it, buy it, spend a few years really getting to know it, and support the band how you can.
What’s been playing on the band’s collective stereo lately?
John Vanderslice, Time Travel is Lonely
Pavement, Brighten the Corners
Hula, The Cloud that Eats Hands
Psychedelic Furs, S/T
Holy Modal Rounders, Good Taste is Timeless
The Sundays, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Amadou et Mariam, Dimanche a Bamako
Ben: A lot of what Ted said, and I would add all by Manu Chao, the most recent Mendoza Line record, and Louise Attaque’s A Plus Tard Crocodile.
What’s on the horizon (releases, touring) for the band in the near future?
Ted: We’re going to be playing locally until the end of the summer, and then hopefully do some weekend outings in the fall. It also looks like Ben will be playing keyboards for Dean and Britta on some dates this summer.
Any last words?
Ben: Well, we’re looking for a label. If you’re interested in hearing us, drop us a line and we’ll mail you a record. Or come check out one of our shows this summer.
maple syrup (no, I take that one back. I’m gonna hold onto that one.)