Matt Close of Achille Lauro: "I will just dig through libraries of samples"
Achille Lauro's new full-length release came partly from a sense of smugness. According to Matt Close, the band's sample master, rhythm guitarist and lead singer, Flight or Fight came as the quartet recorded material for what was originally envisioned as the latest in a series of singles. When the group realized they had enough material for a full record, they pushed forward to complete the nine-track release, which will also be cut into vinyl as part of the release.
The album, set to be released Friday, February 10 at the hi-dive, offers listeners a broad palette of sounds, a dynamic that has much to do with its long gestation period. Older tunes like "Hard Pressed" share space with newer, more experimental material. We caught up with Close to discuss the gradual evolution of the new record, the songwriting process and updates he's made to his sampling hardware and live gear.
Westword: The new record, Flight or Fight, represents a mix of old and new material. Songs like "Hard Pressed" have been a part of the band's live repertoire for more than a year, while "Goddess an Island" sounds much more raw and experimental. How did that structure come about?
Matt Close: We've always had the problem of needing to play songs for a year to 18 months before we can afford to record them. We decided early last year that we would just release double side singles throughout the year. During the latest sessions at Notably Fine Audio, we realized that we would have enough for a full album. Some of the songs we have played for quite a while. Some of them are a little newer - to break the cycle.
So tunes like "Hand of Sand" and "Low Cha-Cha" were recorded as singles?
The approach of singles was a response to a couple of things. It was a response to never really being able to afford a full-length while the songs are timely. It ended up working out that we were able to do a record. I think it was just a response to a real feeling of ambivalence to the medium. We never could arrive at a medium that seemed like the best option. An album was too pricy, or we were worried a single going to become garbage after it's loaded onto a hard drive.
How has the piecemeal approach impacted the dynamic of the record?
It tends to make recording a little bit more streamlined if the band has more practice behind a song. For others, some of the kinks are still being worked out in the studio. Time is precious in that situation. The older songs are much easier to record ... [We] use the energy, for spur-of-the-moment changes.
Songs like "Goddess" - we decided to stop playing it live after the album. The majority of the band felt it was enough to record it for posterity - we don't have to play it ever again. All of the recording for Flight or Fight was done in 2011, just over several sessions. Each time, we basically thought that we would only be recording two songs to release independently. The sessions continued to be just the same - straightforward, easy to do. It ended up being kind of a smug thing to do - "Hey we could have a record." We're doing a vinyl for this one. We're doing the cover ourselves.
Like Indiscretions, this record boasts a lot of different sound contours and layers in the samples you use. How do you end up finalizing which sample you'll use in a specific song?
We'll have a song already in place and a groove. I will just dig through libraries of samples and play them as they go until something fits sonically. It's much more about the sonic fit. That's something that I do at practice as the three guys look onward and wait. They will put forth suggestions on what fits and where it fits in the spectrum - whether it should go lower or be higher. Ben will give that input too on the drum sounds. He'll point things out. It's a collaborative effort.
I've seen posts from you on your social network feeds about pulling samples from old analogue sources. I think you recently mentioned trying to pull sounds from an old VHS of Ghostbusters. How have you refined that technology?
I've spent a lot of energy and money over the past 18 months to develop the kind of home studio that can allow me to pull from that kind of media. I have VCRs, TVs with the built-in VCR. That's something that I do need to dedicate more time to. There are artists with a savant level of attention they can give to this, they have monstrous libraries of samples that they've pulled. But it's hard to pull media from that type of context.
There are a series of promotional videos on YouTube for the new album. They feature the four members of Achille Lauro beating up a kid for drinking out of a juice carton and backwashing, for messing with the thermostat, all under the phony guise of a public service message. Where did that idea come from?
That came from a common process for us. When we're planning or hypothesizing for records or artwork, we like to do alternative media to promote ourselves. The common theme is that we'll just end up entertaining ourselves. We wasted a half hour, an hour - we just made ourselves laugh. That's the way that our last album cover came about. For the videos, the idea was that we were superheroes, but that were just kind of dicks. John Botts filmed it with a borrowed camera. We did all that in one day - he had it edited out the next day.
In terms of the lyrical themes on this new record, there seems to be a lot of similarities to songs like "Friends War" from Indiscretions. There are musings about justifications for war, about moral relativism. What brought you back to those observations?
Maybe I need to diversify a little. Lyrically, I've never felt real proud of what I can do. Sometimes I feel like I can create strong words and imagery, themes with originality. But I tend to stick with what is most sincere to me, and those are feelings of social and economic injustice, of world politics. Those feelings are much easier to justify than your classic "I love you" song. I tend to rely strongly on a sense of righteous irony with my lyrics. I may say something in character that is the opposite of how I personally feel just to be sarcastic.
Is the fact that some of these older tunes have finally been formally recorded and released a relief?
Definitely. It's a relief that we managed to get it done and relief that the songs are preserved for posterity. One of them, "Goddess an Island," has already been stricken from the setlist. Some of the songs could go away in the future and it's good to have them set and recorded for all time. For some of the songs, it will be nice to have them cut into vinyl.
Are there any songs from Indiscretions that have been, as you say, "stricken from the setlist"?
As far as the old record, "Summertime" has undergone a complete re-envisioning - the song has different chords, but the same melody. "Sandra," we haven't played that at all. It's one of the ones like "Goddess" that I feel came from such a different direction, that it's not representative. It's embarrassingly sincere and organic. I continue to shoot myself in the foot with ideas like that. I grimace at those. If they think it's good, then I have to give them the benefit of the doubt.
So you refitted "Summertime"? How was it to revisit an old song?
It's great to have an alternate version for the setlist. I didn't mind it actually. It's that different. It's easy to go in and just change the chords. Are you going to play that at the CD release show?
That's our plan. I just blew the secret. No one will have heard it. How has the technology behind the band's sound evolved in the past year?
I have a directness and a feel between keyboard and computer - there's not the same latency I've dealt with for years. At that point, you can play samples from the keyboard like an instrument. I've got more samples, better hardware for doing that onstage. I'm using the program Live to run the stage portion and run all of the syncs. I just use a MIDI controller externally. It's a device that acts like a keyboard but it only controls software synths in a computer. That's what I use to trigger samples.
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