Together, Connor Birch, Nick Berlin, Noah Pfaff and Colin Johnson have toured the United States, released two LPs and are coming out with their first full-length album, Postponement, this April. They have to find some way of communicating what they do — even if the term "psych rock" is painfully vague.
To check out the sound, listen to their new single, "Silent Volvo," the third to drop off their upcoming album:
Westword caught up with Johnson and Birch before they head out on a West Coast tour that will circle back and end with a headlining concert at the Bluebird Theater on May 30. The musicians talked about why it took three years to create Postponement, the integral songwriting that each player contributes, and the reasons they hate the term "psych rock" so damn much.
Westword: Did you imagine you’d be performing in a rock band like this when you were a kid?
Colin Johnson: I guess I didn’t imagine I’d be touring all the time, but it just kind of happens.
Connor Birch: Younger me would be excited [about] where we are now. I had bands in middle school and high school that were all terrible. I’m not going to go into what genres. Just so bad.
Your discography and songs are rich in layers of melodies and trance. It's as if you can't tell one song beginning from another.
Johnson: In some recordings, it’s meant to be seamless. It's trying to be like a musical block. There’s a lot of that on the new record coming out. The pacing is very intentional. It was a long process of back and forth. We probably rearranged the record, no exaggeration, 420 times...or 169 times [laughs]. It was a lot. This is the longest time in my musical career working on one set of recordings.
I think it’s important for people to listen to the songs more than once. You’ll discover all the little things we hid in there.
Time is a central theme for Postponement. Can you explain why?
Birch: It’s cheeky, but we called it Postponement because we had jury duty around the same time, and I ended up filing for postponement. And that’s exactly what we are doing with this record. Intentionally, because we did wanted to spend time on the record. Unintentionally, because it ended up taking way longer.
We did this record with James Barone, who plays the drums in Beach House and used to
Over two years of recording, it was only 125 hours of studio time, three weeks of work. The naming of the album is a symbol to that time.
Who's the primary songwriter, or do you all collaborate?
Johnson: Everything goes through everybody.
Birch: Someone might have an initial idea, but it's all four of us writing in a room, which can be excruciatingly difficult, but rewarding, too.
Have you ever had a major argument over a song?
Birch: Yes, like always, and no, not ever. It's
Johnson: Coming up with the melody and letting the words come together is usually a natural thing. I don’t try at it.
Birch: Your lyrics just come from where you are currently. It’s more reflective of yourself at the time.
Birch: I think that’s another aspect of the record in regards to time. Each one of these songs represents us at that moment — trying to write reflectively of where we are.
Colin, how would you describe Birch's style?
Johnson: He's a huge part of the complexity that happens in our music. He's there for every part of it.
Birch: I have irritating amounts of ideas. I notice it. I’m a process talker and frequently annoy everyone.
Johnson: Our drummer, Nick, whenever we are constantly in between songs talking about it, he starts to play AC/DC-type drum beats. We call it mobbing.
Birch: He’s playing the drums like a bicycle. He’s trying to ride a bicycle as fast as he can, and he’s not worried about where he’s going or what he’s doing.
Johnson: Noah [Pfaff] joins in on whatever [Nick] is doing, and the next thing you know, Metallica or Creed is being played.
Birch: And how the hell do you know how to play Metallica, [Nick]? It’s not like he spends time learning, but he’s so in tune with the guitar it’s in his brain.
Johnson: We sound more like us than ever.
Birch: With some of the older recordings, people would throw out cheap references. Oh, you sound like this, or that sounds like this. I feel most confident in this album; it doesn’t sound like anything but us.
But the umbrella of indie rock from 2000 to 2010 is now psych rock from 2010 to 2020. Calling things psych rock is cheap, and sometimes I feel like it’s a blanket term for synthesized keys, drums and bass.
Do you not classify yourself as psych rock, then?
Birch: I do, but…
Johnson: I think we only do out of the ambiguity of the term. There’s not one recipe.
What are some "guidelines" you and the band as a whole use to approach music-making?
Johnson: Generally, if somebody has an idea, you have to play the idea before we say no. You have to listen to it.
Birch: There are also times where someone is like, "Anyone got an idea?" — and it’s just crickets. And that’s when Metallica kicks in, and they are both twelve years old again.
Floral, 8 p.m. Thursday, May 30, Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, $13.