As Tall as Lions | Strife Becomes Them

prof_atal_sm.jpgBeing in a band is like being married to three girls at the same time. You have to make sure that you’re all happy and not stepping on each other’s toes, doing an equal amount of work in the house and all that kind of stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I listen to music, I like to sing along. Generally favoring singers whose range I can emulate, I nonetheless found an anomaly in Long Island quartet As Tall as Lions. Frontman Daniel Nigro’s voice is high to be sure, but it’s also smooth, luscious and utterly captivating. Over four releases—three full-lengths, two of which were released on Warner Records imprint Triple Crown, and one EP—the band has steadily grown in popularity and recognition, proving themselves to be consistent, creative and cacophonous.

The forthcoming You Can’t Take It With You builds upon the self-titled LP and EP Into the Flood, showing progression as well as an unfailing ability to insinuate itself in the listener’s subconscious. (Thanks to the miracle that is advance releases, this reviewer, for example, quite often finds herself with songs in her head from You Can’t Take It With You; the rest of you, though likely to be no less impressed with the album, will have to wait until August 16 to enjoy the same experience.)

I had a chance to catch up with Nigro on the eve of their tour with Dredg and RX Bandits (the tour will be hitting St. Louis August 7 at Pop’s Nightclub), who waxed prosaic on finding themselves in the surprising position of having fans, to the band’s tendency toward self-implosion.

prof_atal.jpgGoing back to the beginning, you guys seem to have had a rocky history. Starting with the trouble of writing all the songs for the first full-length, it sounds as if you had to basically learn the skill of songwriting a year and half already into the band.

We were all in the band since we were in high school, and we did it for fun. We took it very seriously because we wanted to get signed and do something with it, but looking back we were all in college then, so we were kind of half-assing it because we could only get together and practice like twice a week. We’d only write like one new song a month and we just kind of took it pretty easy.

Once we actually got signed, it was the first time ever that it actually occurred to me that we were getting paid money; [suddenly] we had the pressure to writing the record together. At the end of the day, no matter what, we had to say, "OK, this is acceptable and this is unacceptable." With that being the mind’s consciousness, it all of a sudden became almost impossible for me to write songs because I was no longer writing songs for fun. Whatever I wanted to do, I was thinking about if our record label was going to like them or not, and having to write a song that was good enough for our record label to like, and that was like the absolute stupidest thing I could’ve ever done. With that being the case, it made it impossible writing songs. [Laughs]

How were you able to remedy that and learn to get over it and go back to writing for yourselves?

It took a while. It never fixed itself for the first record [the self-released Lafcadio]. I don’t really feel like I did my part, and probably for the first record I was always in that state. On the self-titled record, I realized that I couldn’t do it and that it was all in my brain, just me over-thinking things, and I had to find that spot in my brain where it was more of a subconscious thing, where I would just write songs by not thinking about writing songs. It’s a very hard thing and it doesn’t happen all the time, but you can get to that state where you’re just writing in a freeform, letting your body take over and you just being the vessel.

Did writing the self-titled album seem easier than the first?

It went in phases, kind of up and down. There would be a few weeks where the band was getting along and we would be very productive and writing a lot of stuff, and then we would go like a month without writing anything. Then there would be another few weeks were productive. I remember one week where we wrote five songs in one week; you get in that right mode and the energy in the band room is right and everybody is in a good mood. It’s a lot about band dynamics. You get into a room and somebody has a negative aura around them for the day, and it will throw off the energy in the room. Then it works the other way, where if everyone’s in a good mood, we can write stuff fairly easily and get stuff done.

Being in a band is like being married to three girls at the same time. You have to make sure that you’re all happy and not stepping on each other’s toes, doing an equal amount of work in the house and all that kind of stuff.

It also sounds like you guys just are destined to do things the hard way.

I would agree with that; it seems that way to me a lot of times. Like we can’t make anything easy on ourselves. If it comes easy, it’s no good. That’s a really bad mindset to in, but that’s definitely somewhere along the way of where we are sometimes. We’re trying to remedy that for sure.

What about songwriting; how does that work?

It’s different for every song. There are songs that I write. There are songs that Julio [Tavarez, bassist] writes. There are songs that Cliff [Sarcona, drums] writes. There are songs that Saen [Fitzgerald, guitarist] writes. They all come into the room with songs in different stages, whether it be a chord progression and a melody, or maybe all of the music but no melodies; maybe it’s just a drumbeat. It changes every song. There’s definitely no formula, and that’s been like kind of the mission statement when it comes to some works; whatever was best for that song, or that day or that moment is what is best for it, and there are no rules.

What about the tale of you being booted from the band; is that true?

When we wrote the self-titled album, I felt like I was coming into the room with with a bunch of ideas, and I was getting frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot of response from [the rest of the band]. I would come in with, say, four ideas and there was one where they’d be like, "OK, that one’s cool. Let’s work on that." I was getting really frustrated because I didn’t feel like anybody else was really coming into the band room with any ideas, that it was just me and they were judging me, deciding which ones they liked and didn’t like. I felt like I had my own kind of A&R team in front of me. I kind of told the band I [couldn’t work this way]. I said if we can work this out, I’ll come back. At that point, it became more of closer process, and everybody came in with ideas so it wasn’t just me.

It almost sounds like the time away was a good thing.

Sometimes you need to get to rock bottom to become better, you know?

There’s also a tale that, when you gave As Tall As Lions to the label, they weren’t really happy with it.

On our self-titled we have this song, "The Ghost of York," and were really excited. Instead of sending crappy-sounding demos, we invited the label to our session to listen to us play all the songs live and make their judgments on what songs they liked and didn’t like based on listening to all the songs live instead of us sending them crappy sounding demos. We’re like, "OK, we’re going to play ’em ‘The Ghost of York’" because we felt that was the single. The guy just looks at us and says, "That’s the weakest song we’ve heard." So that set the tone for the entire session with our label. We played them like nine songs in a row, and every time they were like, "OK, next song, next song," you know, like, Where’s the single? The funny thing was that the second to last song that we played was "Love [Love, Love (Love, Love)]," but at the time it was still in its writing stage; it wasn’t finished yet. We were like, "Well, we have another song that has a pretty catchy chorus, but it’s pretty slow. We don’t think you’re going to like it very much." Sure enough, we played them that song and they were like, "That’s the song. That’s the song." And we just thought, "Really?" We never thought that for a second. We thought it was going to be the closing song for the record.

Then like three weeks later, after the record was all finished, [the label] was like, "Dan, what’s up with this ‘Ghost of York’ song? This song is amazing!" I was just like, "Are you fucking serious, man? Are you serious?"

Moving on to the new album, you called it the most difficult one to make.

It was definitely the most difficult one to make, because I think that we personally as a band felt pressure from the self-titled. That record, as a whole, was very well appreciated; there wasn’t a song on the record where people were kind of like, "Eh, it’s not my favorite." So first we felt the pressure of wanting to create something that was completely different. We felt like if we tried to give [any of our fans] the same record that we would, one, be ultimately unhappy with it and, two, they would probably really like it at first, then get really bored with it really quickly. It was the first time we ever really felt pressure, besides Lafcadio, but I felt like I was the one that felt any pressure and it was all in my head. That was the first time that we ever felt that we had fans [laughs]

Saen also said that you guys almost broke up over the new album.

It got pretty bad. There were a few times where everybody walked into the band room and were like, "What the fuck are we doing? Are we really a band?" We spent two months in that studio every day, and we couldn’t finish a song. It makes you question a lot of things about the cohesiveness of four people. It’s just like being in a relationship, where we were like, "lf we can’t accomplish anything together and we can’t agree on anything, maybe we shouldn’t be dating." At that point it becomes about a comfort level. Like I’m comfortable with these people. I hang out with them everyday and they’re my friends, but are we really good at playing music together? We had pressure from our record label, who were basically saying, "This is the record that’s gonna break you guys. You’re gonna do big things with this record and we’re gonna put a lot of money into it." All of a sudden it’s like, "Fuck, we gotta do all this shit." Basically, it was a lot of finding ourselves in the midst of all that, and trying to reinvent the band in a certain way that was still exciting.

You’re about to embark on a 17-city tour opening for Dredg. Would you say that, given all the trouble writing and recording has been, touring is going to be kind of like the sweet dessert after a bitter meal?

It’s never that easy, but touring is a lot of fun. It’s definitely one of the most fun parts of being in the band, and I think that we’re going to enjoy this one, especially because we’re going to be doing an opening slot. There’s a lot less pressure in an opening slot; it’s a little easier to get through it. When you have eight songs to pick, the band usually agrees on the eight songs we want to play, but when you’re doing a headlining set, you’re playing 16 songs; it starts to get into the realm of, "This person doesn’t like this song, and this person doesn’t like that song, but the fans want to hear that song and we have to do this." | Laura Hamlett

As Tall as Lions play Pop’s Nightclub August 7 with Dredg and RX Bandits. Tickets are $15 in advance, $16 at the door. Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m.

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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