ON AN ON | Things Can Always Get Heavy

prof on-an-on_smWe’ve done a lot of touring, and with ON AN ON we’re pretty fresh, so it’s definitely the most fun thing we’ve been able to do.




Formed from the ashes of gloom rock outfit Scattered Trees, ON AN ON is difficult-to-classify indie pop trio based out of Chicago. Their debut album, Give In, will be released on January 29 through Roll Call Records. PLAYBACK:stl recently spoke with lead songwriter Nate Eisland to get some insight into the transition from somber, ghostly guitar rock to somber, ghostly electro-pop.

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Your previous group, Scattered Trees, was a very melancholic outfit, labeled more than once as “sadcore.” How have you adapted your songwriting or recording approach to reflect the change in sound with ON AN ON?

It’s been an interesting transition. A lot of those labels, like “sadcore” [laughs], came with that last Trees record, Sympathy. It was really heavy, so I totally get that. There are certain things in life that are global, and I tend to think about death and mortality and things in those vein a lot. My perspective in life has changed a lot since Trees, and so has the angle for my songwriting. There are still thoughts about mortality—things can always get heavy, fast—but I was tired of feeling like I was going to cry after every show. Performing as Scattered Trees was kind of draining, and recording for ON AN ON was, in many ways, a reaction to that. Subject-wise, it’s a lot of more varied, and I think we’ll be better able to respond to our listeners because of it.

Listening to Give In struck me as a logical progression from your sadcore material as Scattered Trees. Do you consider your new project to be an entirely new entity, or a continuation of your previous work?

It’s definitely an entirely new entity. It has three of the same people [as Scattered Trees], but I think we see eye-to-eye creatively in a way that starting a new project was really a perfect storm for us, to go into the studio and make a new record from a place where we didn’t have loyalties already. It’s a leap that I don’t think Scattered Trees could have made.

You recorded Give In with renowned producer Dave Newfield. Did working with Newfield change your typical approach in the studio?

Definitely! It was a serious education for us, and we looked at recording way differently after working with Newfield. He really changed our old ideas and executions. We had been self-producing the past several years and it really put a glass ceiling on our work. Working with Newfield forced us to try out some things we wouldn’t have even considered before.

Did you approach Newfield about producing, or vice versa?

We had approached Newfield before, and at the time he told us that he wasn’t really looking for any long-term projects. We had to kind of convince him that we would handle our share of the work; he had recently done some production for artists that forced him to handle a lot more of the music than the producer normally would. But I was persistent, and when I tried contacting him again and showed him all of the material we’d already come up with, he was willing to give us his direction for the album.

What influences or inspirations did you look toward for ON AN ON, and how have they developed since your earlier work?

I think our artistic influences are a lot more varied than they used to be. With ON AN ON, there was a giant alchemy in the studio. Dave had DJ’ed for over 20 years, and he introduced us to a lot of music that shaped the ideas on the album. I don’t think ON AN ON have a specific stable of influences, but there are definitely other artists you can point to when listening to us. Did anyone pop out to you?

Well, to me, the kind of “emo-electro” aesthetic behind Give In reminded me of Jimmy Tamborello’s material as Dntel and his work with Ben Gibbard as The Postal Service. Do you think that might be a good point of reference?

Hmmm, that’s an interesting comparison. I don’t think I’ve listened to Dntel before but I’ve always liked The Postal Service.

How does Geographer compare to other groups you’ve toured with in the past? Given the direction you’ve taken with ON AN ON, the pairing seems like a natural fit.

We’ve done a lot of touring, and with ON AN ON we’re pretty fresh, so it’s definitely the most fun thing we’ve been able to do. Sometimes on the road, you get paired up with a band that you can have a lot of fun with, but isn’t necessarily a good pairing once you get on stage. I think with Geographer, the crowd will respond to us really well. It’s really cool to perform with a group you know and respect.

You’ll be doing several shows in Europe after your North American dates. Will this be your first international tour?

I have never done music overseas, so it’s going to exciting for all of us. It’s a whole new experience: you have to rent new gear, make reservations in strange places and everything. I’m really looking forward to it!

Have you played St. Louis before?

Yes, I want to say we played at a place called the Rock House? That was as Scattered Trees.

Oh, the Old Rock House? That’s a great venue. The nachos are great, anyway. I’ll confess that The Firebird is bit of an upgrade, even though it usually smells like pee and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

As any quality establishment should!

This one’s a little off topic, but are there any upcoming albums you’re looking forward to in 2013?

Hmmm, good question. I’m not exactly sure myself. I guess you’d probably know better than me. Anything good you’ve listened to lately?

Well, I just reviewed the new Yo La Tengo album earlier today, and that was pretty excellent. The Danish indie electronic thing, not so much. Oh, but it all pales in comparison to Give In, of course.

Of course!

All right, one last thing. I hate to bring this up only because I imagine you’re pretty sick of talking about it, but a lot of people were introduced to Scattered Trees through the Star Wars-themed video for “Love and Leave.” There seemed to be a bit of a science fiction theme with the video for “Ghosts,” as well—or, given the clips of rocket engineering, actual science. How does that theme fit with the aesthetic of the album?

Ha. I’m glad someone still remembers that! The video for “Ghosts” was actually courtesy of our friend, Joe Parcello. He does lights and visuals for our concerts, and we asked him to create something that would be similar to something he would normally do at a show. He created this whole narrative behind it, with the rockets firing and such, and it was really awesome to see his interpretation of our music. There’s a certain “other” quality to our music that I think he really gets, and that’s where the video came from.| David Von Nordheim


St. Louisans can experience ON AN ON’s multimedia performance (as well as the signature odor of The Firebird) when they open for Geographer at The Firebird on January 22, 2013..

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