By: Natty Morrison
With a much-anticipated new album on the way, livetronic up-and-comers Sonic Spank take a minute to talk to me about going on their first headlining tour, the Electric Factory and why songwriting needs to move past your everyday orgasm.
1. You’re back on the road; What’s the general vibe at the beginning of a Sonic Spank tour?
We're anxious to see what happens. This is our third extended tour but our first headlining tour. When you're the opener, you usually play to a cold crowd that needs to be warmed up. Hopefully they will be ready to go when we walk on stage and whip our dicks out. There's also the excitement of exploring new and old songs. Placing tracks at different points in the set or experimenting with the improvised sections can completely change the way you've been thinking about a song. We learn so much from the reaction we get from the audience every night.
2. Any dates you’re really looking forward to?
We're hitting a lot of new markets like Hartford, CT & Portland, ME so we're definitely looking forward to those. In a brand new market, you never know what to expect. I think we're looking forward to Philly the most though. It's our hometown so we've set a different bar. We've played so many big and important shows here. This is the first time we've played Philly since we opened for the New Deal at a packed TLA in late December, so we're anxious to see what kind of response we get from hopefully new fans that haven't seen us headline before.
3. Would you consider this tour a “step-up?” Or business as usual?
This is definitely a step-up for us. It's the longest tour we've done and like i said our first headlining tour. We did a Northeast tour with the London-based band, the Egg in October 2010 which was our first real experience touring with Sonic Spank. We spent most of our time trying to mimic their silly accents and insatiable appetites for "fun". Then we did a tour with This is Art last March where we traveled much further and explored a ton of cities we'd never even heard of before. We didn't even know Valdosta, Ga existed and it was one of the best responses we got. So this time around we have a lot more experience and hopefully this will be the best one to date.
4. If you could play any venue in the U.S., where would it be?
Doesn't everyone want to play MSG and Red Rocks? Playing any of those beautiful outdoor amphitheaters would be incredible. We have been to a handful of Phish shows at SPAC over the years, and it’s always amazing. The first set starts right before the sun goes down, getting the party started for that second set under the stars, where everyone just goes bonkers. But Electric factory in Philly is what really means a lot to us. We had the pleasure of opening up of Lotus at the E factory last year on New Year’s Day. Looking out at that huge sea of people and remembering the times we spent in their shoes watching our heroes MMW & A Tribe Called Quest rock out on that stage was unreal. To be the headliner there would be a real dream come true.
5. You’re currently working on your new album, “Drama.” How are the sessions going?
The recording sessions are pretty much done. We spent three days recording at Kawari Sound Studios in Wyncote, Pa right around the corner from where we live and grew up. Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits and Jason Fratachelli formerly of Matisyahu both came in and cut some live bass on the record which was awesome. When we play live, the bass is all pre-sequenced, so playing as a quartet was really refreshing. The new album is a departure from our filthy-titled, hardcore porno mentality, which fueled our first two years of songwriting and focuses on the other emotions that go along with sex beyond an orgasm. "Drama" is the space between the end of one relationship and the beginning of another: the emotional ride that is relief and regret at the same time. The material is very personal and we spent a lot of time trying to really blend the songs together as one. The lyrics and musical themes from song to song are related and reoccurring. We try to really tell a story and hope that people will appreciate this album as a whole.
6. Can you describe the approach you’ve been taking on recording?
Well we spent a long time developing these songs over the past year. Being able to rehearse the album in order as if we were performing it in our basement paved the way for a solid game-plan going into the studio. We set up in the studio the same way we would live and just hit record. Dealing with the vocoder was a big thing too since this is our first studio recording with vocals. We've always been frustrated with how the vocoder sounds live and we wanted to do it right for the album which involved us having a lot of trial and error regarding different techniques. I'll give a little shout out to our homie Starkey for pointing us in the right direction. Hopefully our new method makes the words easier to connect with and less robotic.
7. How does the songwriting process work for Sonic Spank? Do songs tend to originate in the live arena, or in the studio?
In the studio. Sometimes one of us will bring a beat or a bass line or some lyrics to the table and we'll go from there. We kind of throw ideas off each other until we form a song. On the other hand, sometimes one of us will write and sequence an entire song and we'll just learn the parts.
8. Would you say you guys have a primary songwriter? Or does everyone carry the load? How does that affect your tunes?
All of our material was written by either me or Ian. The two of us worked on most of "Drama" together over the course of the last year just hanging at our place in Wyncote. We were both going through different types of relationship trouble and were really connecting on ways to turn these frustrations into music. We both work on music alone but sometimes our best stuff happens when we get together and feed off of each other. Scotty has been contributing some tasty remixes lately so he's on the up and up.
9. In your guys’ bio, it talks about “penetrat(ing) the line between the craft of DJing and…musicianship.” Would you say you guys sway in one direction versus the other?
Haha, it says that? That's a little pretentious and overambitious. When we first started Sonic Spank it was just me and Ian on laptops. We had been playing together for years in a rock band and were just discovering the power of computer music and how it could augment our sound. Eventually we started incorporating our live playing into the fold and it was like 2 DJs augmented by guitar & piano. The idea was cool but we didn't capture the intensity until Scotty joined the band. Now we sway much more towards live band than DJ. Now there's just one computer that I use to trigger bass, samples and pads that we play with and around. There's a lot of production that happens before we get on stage but when we play live, we improvise and sound like a rock band.
10. Were you guys always EDM fans? Or did it come over time?
Well we were into stuff like Chemical Brothers, Nine Inch Nails and Squarepusher growing up as well as jam scene bands like the New Deal. We all started learning music at a young age, continued developing as musicians through rock and roll bands and then studied jazz in college. When we developed Sonic Spank we were really getting into Alex B (Paper Diamond) and Pretty Lights. When Pretty Lights released "Making Up A Changing Mind" we were pretty much floored. The blend of hip-hop beats and the intensity and creativity of the bass was something we'd never heard before. It was really inspiring and a lot of our original tracks were influenced heavy by that record. Now we're all huge EDM fans. We listen to everything and are encouraged by the popularity that EDM has garnered over the past couple years. Seeing Skrillex at the Grammy's nominated for "New Artist" was incredible. The reach that this scene has now is limitless. Popular music has always had the most reach and seeing independent artists being able to trump the power of the major record labels is the dawning of a new era.
11. Do you see yourselves ever moving in another direction? Or do you feel like you’ve found your niche?
It's hard to say. This group was originally started to escape being in a rock band but now our sound heavily incorporates distorted guitar, acoustic piano and heavy live drumming. We feel like our style is evolving with every new idea or piece of gear we incorporate. It might be fresh to do an all-acoustic album if we ever get a live bass player in the band. Who knows?
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