Q&A: A Lull

A Lull: Confetti (Mush, 4/12/11)

A Lull: “Some Love”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/03_SomeLove1.mp3|titles=A Lull: “Some Love”]

Since its formation in 2008, indie electronic quintet A Lull has expanded its lineup and grown into a much louder and more textured unit. After experimentation with a plethora of objects and instruments, the Chicago band has crafted a sonic landscape that’s truly its own. Between thumping rhythms, trance-like vocals, and layers of percussion, A Lull’s debut album, Confetti, pulsates from start to finish.

The band’s live performances are equally infectious in energy. Before Confetti‘s record-release show, two-fifths of A Lull — Nigel Dennis and Todd Miller — discussed making the album and how the music will translate live.

There is definite progression between the Ice Cream Bones EP (2009) and Confetti. What kind of growth did you experience between these releases? Or what did you feel was missing with the EP and the smaller lineup?

TM: [Ice Cream Bones] was pretty early on in the recording process, and those were kind of the first five songs that we got finished, and I think we were just trying to figure out what we sounded like. After that EP, we kept trying to figure out what we sounded like, and I think we all just kind of moved more towards a much louder sound.

ND: I think it also came from playing live together. When we wrote the EP, we hadn’t really played live that much — our first show was December of 2008, and the EP came out in May [of 2009]. But when we were recording that EP, we had the songs already written to play them live in December. We’d extend a song and make it a lot crazier on drums and sort of build on that — so it naturally happened.

There’s a lot of talk about the 75 tracks or partial song ideas that inevitably became Confetti. What was the most difficult part about creating the album out of so many bits and pieces, and how did you overcome these difficulties?

ND: Well, when we recorded, we would just sit around and start tracking a beat or something and sort of build around that. It would come to a point where, the next day, we’d listen to it and be like “eh” and just sort of forget it. The whole 70-songs thing was basically a bunch of ideas where only like 15 or 16 of them ever got finished. I don’t think any of us second-guessed too many songs. If we had an idea and it wasn’t worth expanding on, we just dropped it and didn’t really continue working on it.

Your lyrics portray simple stories of the human condition in a pretty complex, emotional way. Are there any specific situations that you’ve experienced that assisted your writing process?

ND: Well, heartbreak is a very real thing. How you handle it is another. I don’t know if this was something that subconsciously happened, but I feel like a lot of the stories that we tell in the songs are about a desire to be wanted, needed, and shared. I have a really great relationship going right now, but it was more about acknowledging that these desires exist and have existed in my life and everyone else’s. A lot of the songs are about the human body — female, male, whatever. There is something that is very real and tangible about the lyrics. It’s not just a bunch of deep thought. At the core, they are very literal.

Can you elaborate on the non-traditional instruments that you use to achieve such texture? What they are, how do they expand your sound, and who plays them?

TM: I think there’s one part where we found a garbage can full of garbage, churned it with a broom handle, and got that textural sound of swishing bottles around and stuff. The album was recorded in a bunch of different places, but in all of those places, there were small rooms, and we would be sitting around just trying to use what we could see. Throw something against the wall, and see what it sounds like. And if it works, keep it, and if it didn’t work, we could just delete it. So we tried to use everything that we could get our hands on.

ND: We dabbled a lot in the pitch of things. Dropping a clarinet pitch gave some real power to a lot of the songs. I played clarinet and saxophone on the record. I also made a homemade shaker out of rice grains, rice noodles, and spaghetti inside a fancy spring-water bottle that made its way onto the record in some songs. There is some synth on the album, but more as a texture, not as a lead tone. I guess the real non-traditional instrumentation was more in how we arrived to the tones we got with our guitars and with our bass and drums. We had a lot of time to experiment.

How do you recreate the non-traditional sounds in a live setting?

TM: Well, there are live versions of the songs. We don’t try to replicate what’s on the record exactly in a live setting. A lot of the guitar parts are different; a lot of the drum parts aren’t necessarily exactly the same as they are on the record. So we do use a lot of samples and things from the songs, and we do play a lot of the parts as they are, but they are definitely versions of the recorded songs.

ND: It’s sort of like we have these wire frames for these songs, and we don’t want to synthesize too much, so we’re trying to figure out how to compensate and make those sounds. I think the live versions are a lot fuller, in a sense, because we get a lot deeper tones live with our guitars and our basses.

How has signing with Mush benefited the band and the release of Confetti?

TM: I definitely think that being on a label offers way more resources than if we were doing this on our own, for the simple thing of distribution. If we recorded a record and pressed the CDs, we wouldn’t be able to get it in stores. That’s where our label comes in and helps — and also financially as well. In that regard, it’s very advantageous.

ND: I think we’ve gotten a lot more press outlets. Obviously, things like this have been because of them. The label isn’t necessarily like a rock label or anything, so they have access to different outlets that we wouldn’t really have access to.

How has Chicago — as a city or the music scene — shaped A Lull’s style? What elements of the city (if any) do you embody through your music?

ND: We got a review from Stereogum that said we sound like Chicago, and that was like the best compliment ever. I feel like we do sound like a Chicago band, and I feel like only Chicago bands sound like Chicago bands. All the bands are different, but there’s a distinct sound. Like The Sea and Cake and Tortoise and all them, and Wilco even — they all sound like they’re from the city. And we all listen to those bands, and I think that’s what shaped us.

TM: I kind of think that “Aytche,” the closer on the album, is definitely a nod to those progressive Chicago bands that we’ve listened to for a long time. There’s definitely influence from Tortoise in that song. So I think there are elements here and there that kind of tie into this Chicago sound that people reference a lot of times.

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