Indie vocalist talks of music listening, inspiration’s death

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Music Monday - Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s

How do you listen to your music?

There’s an art in creating a setting for making music, but not many people realize that the act of listening to music is itself an art, too. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, in particular lead vocalist and guitarist Richard Edwards, believes that both creating and listening to music is something not to be taken lightly.

Take, for instance, the manner in which they recorded their latest chamber pop opus, Buzzard, released in September. Edwards and his crew recorded the album using no artificial lights in the studio after certain hours and recorded late into the night, a fact that makes itself evident when one listens to Buzzard, an album that evokes the rich, deep atmospherics of a dimly lit room.

The Daily Texan spoke with Edwards in anticipation of the band’s appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest and a festival after-show at the Mohawk about collaborating with luminaries of the Chicago music scene, the mysterious girl on the cover of Buzzard and the untimely death of Alex Chilton.

The Daily Texan: So how are you and how’s the current tour going so far?
Richard Edwards: I’m good! I’m on a break in Chicago at the moment. The whole thing has been going pretty well. The shows were really good. Nothing to complain about, really.

DT: I wanted to ask you about the recording process for your latest album, Buzzard: My first exposure to the band was your first album, The Dust of Retreat, and something I found interesting is that you recorded Buzzard a lot like you did the first album — no artificial light in the studio during recording, only candles, and you only recorded late at night and early into the morning. Why?
RE: Well, recording [at] night is done off and on by necessity over the years. Maybe it seemed like a different way to try and do it. We did those Animal records in a pretty traditional way, and we would chill and record until 10 or 11, and it was something to get in a different state of mind so we didn’t want to feel like we were picking up where we left off. It just always feels nice, you know? I’m personally kind of a nerd about that sort of setting.

DT: Was that sort of setting solely necessary for your purpose, or is the mood it creates something you hope fans “get.” Are you hoping that Buzzard evokes the same sort of mood for your fans?
RE: I hope so! I don’t know if they would catch on to candles or anything, but I would hope there’s a feeling that would come across that way. As long as it has a cohesive sort of overall mood, I guess that’s positive.

DT: I’m really curious about the cover of Buzzard. Do you know who the girl on the cover is?
RE: No, I don’t. She’s a friend of my friend, Stephanie Bassos, who took the photograph. It’s a photo she’s had for a while, and that was the one that at the end of the day won out. I think the girl is a poet or some sort of artist.

DT: By any chance, was the decision to pick that particular photo influenced in any way by Vampire Weekend and Dum Dum Girls’ album covers? All three covers have a vintage-looking photo of a girl on the cover in the same style.
RE: No. I guess I’d seen that Vampire Weekend cover but haven’t heard much of the music, so I was not specifically, I wasn’t thinking about that, but I think we’re having less legal problems than Vampire Weekend because of it [laughs]. But they can afford it; we can’t.

DT: How did you get together with Tim Rutili from Califone and the rest of the new lineup for Buzzard?
RE: Well, I knew Brian Deck from Animal, and we developed a friendship and a good working relationship. He was in a band called Red Red Meat. When Red Red Meat reunited for a couple of shows a couple of summers ago, I had just moved here, and he thought I’d be good to play some of those shows, so I played several of them, and he got really into it. When [Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s] was making [Buzzard], it became this joke with Red Red Meat and Califone — we’d say, “It’d be really cool to have Tim play on this,” but then he did! Because once you get something like that on a song, you get greedy and want to hear it on a lot of stuff. It came through Brian, and he was nice to do it. With Cameron [McGill], he’s a singer-songwriter from Chicago that I’ve known for a long time, and this other guy, Ronnie [Kwasman], Brian got to as well 15 to 20 years ago. It’s all people Brian and I know pretty well.

DT: Sounds like quite a collective. I take it all these people are deeply embedded in the Chicago scene?
RE: Definitely, for the most part, yeah. These people are very involved in the Chicago music scene.

DT: On Wikipedia, there’s an upcoming album listed after Buzzard called Go to the Ant, something I’m not too familiar with ... are you really already working on another album? [Author’s note: The name has now changed to Rot Gut, Domestic.]
RE: There’s another name that’s more likely, because I’ll probably change my mind. Hopefully we’ll record in December, but it’s contingent on if we have time to finish writing, and releasing [Buzzard] like this is liberating and it’s the first time in a long time we’ve felt this way. And that’s really exciting, but we don’t want that excitement and temptation to rush things we don’t feel good about it.

DT: You mentioned the way Buzzard is being released. I was happy to find out you were also releasing on vinyl as well as digital and CD formats. Do you have any particular preference for a format audiences should be listening to Buzzard?
RE: I mean, I do, but it doesn’t really matter; it’s just my opinion. If I’m buying music at a shop or something, I pretty much just buy vinyl because I like the way it sounds better; I like the experience better, and I don’t need any more CDs lying around that I’m just going to rip and then forget. I’m going to listen to it on a record or iPod, so personally, I don’t have much use for CDs anymore. I would hope that when people hear the record, they try to at least hear it through the best they can and not through, like, iBook speakers or something. We work hard to make things sound a certain way, and it enhances the experiences if they accurately represent the way we intended it to sound.

DT: I know a lot of artists are releasing on cassette tape lately. Is that something you would ever consider for the next album?
RE: [laughs] No, I don’t know. I get the quirk value of it, I guess, but it doesn’t appeal to me. Records and CDs and vinyl are fine. I don’t think [we] have a big cassette nostalgia, you know.

DT: I was surprised to read a review of Buzzard in which you were compared to Alex Chilton several times. Is that a coincidence, or are you a fan of Big Star?
RE: That review is actually really funny, and I sent that to Brian. I don’t read too many reviews, but he probably brought up every reference we ever brought up during the recording. We tried to decipher how Big Star’s drums sound like that. I was super into Sister Lovers during the making of the album, a really great Big Star record, and I don’t know if it was a subconscious thing or not that came out through the recording or what. But it’s nice to get that sort of reference instead of, uh, The Decemberists.

DT: [laughs] Well, it’s a shame Alex Chilton passed away earlier this year. How did you hear about his death?
RE: I was listening to Sister Lovers when I read it. I was outside sipping beer. I’m not embarrassed to say I got a little teary and emotional. I love a lot of Alex Chilton’s stuff, not just in Big Star. I had a couple of friends in the same boat as me.

DT: Alright, just a few quick questions. How would you describe your perfect sandwich?
RE: My perfect sandwich? Skirt steak, brie, gouda, crab and some sort of chipotle mayonnaise.

DT: Ooh, that sounds good. Very surf ‘n’ turf. What was the first album you ever purchased with your own money?
RE: Oh man ... probably the Blue Album by Weezer or something power-poppy in that era.

DT: How would you describe your perfect day?
RE: Oh man ... um. Like 56 degrees, windows open, listen to a few records and drink a whole bunch of Stella Artois. And smoke Camel Lights. But I’m trying to smoke more American Spirits because — I know they’re not healthier — but I’m on a big natural kick lately because of my girlfriend.

DT: Last question — favorite website or blog?
RE: I like the AV Club a lot and its features, but not really the film reviews. I go to a site called xixax.com, and it’s sort of like a little message board for film kids, and I like going there to find out what Criterion is going to release in the next month or what project so-and-so is ready to start shooting.

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WHAT: Margot and The Nuclear So and So’s
WHERE: Fun Fun Fun Fest — Orange Stage; the Mohawk after-party
WHEN: Sunday, 1:25 p.m.
AFTER-PARTY TICKETS: Free with wristband, $5 without