How do you usually write the lyrics of your songs?
Brad: I like to start with a melody and then write lyrics. The band’s writing process has been slightly different. With Umbra we had some melody sketches and a solid instrumental. We recorded all of the instruments first and then Sophia, Chris and I went in and did a few days of vocal recording.
SOPHIA: This depends on who I’m collaborating with. It’s easier for me to write a vocal melody over a musical idea and fill in the blanks with words. However, sometimes there are words I need to get out and the melody can be birthed out of the feeling the words are giving.
Chris: I have a text file on my phone that I’ll jot down phrases and ideas I like, or voice memos if there’s also a melody that pops into mind. For a lot of projects, and this one in particular, these songs started with the conversations that the band was having, things that were meaningful to us and that needed to be said and worked through.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing in songwriting?
Brad: Melody first for me, a unique track and then lyrics! My favorite songwriter is Paul Simon- he has the best melodies and is lyrically extremely interesting, but he usually completes these after he has an amazing instrumental track.
SOPHIA: The most important thing in songwriting for me is that people wanna hear it after it’s done. So, simplicity is key. Not listening to my ego or my inner saboteur and sticking to conveying the message in the simplest way-for the fans. The audience only cares if you’re being authentic.
Chris: Speak your truth. Whatever it is, if you’ve decided that your thoughts are important enough that they should be expressed and shared, then own it and lean into the story you want to tell. That, to me, encompasses being authentic, but good songwriting also invites a conversation, invites participation or challenge on behalf of whoever is receiving the song.
Are you ever scared of revealing aspects of your personal life/experience to strangers through your music?
Brad: I haven’t been concerned with what people will think but am usually cryptic with lyrics.
SOPHIA: Absolutely! It’s the hardest thing for me to do and the biggest challenge I face as an ever-evolving artist. Standing in front of people and being strong comes easy. Standing in front of people and being vulnerable is terrifying.
Chris: I think art is tyranny, and truthfully can only be done for the person creating it, so….no, the whole point for me is to put one’s perspective and experience out there for strangers. For people I know, we’re probably already having the conversations I’d otherwise write songs about.
What is the best lyric that you ever wrote (the most meaningful for you)?
Brad: “Just Breathe” (In ‘Umbra‘) …I don’t ever have to write another song (ha).
That’s it for me- the breath holds reality. No matter what happens the breath is lucid and free of our mind delusions. The breath is in the now, and the now is all there ever is.
SOPHIA: “5,4,3,2 …Pull The Trigger”. It’s a metaphor for any underdog. Come at me..Try it..I dare you bitch!
Chris: My two favorites from this project are “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ‘round, me and the other 958” from ‘Pull The Trigger‘ and I think the whole second verse from ‘Blood On The Other.’ Both are expressions of the conviction of walking your path, no matter what external forces present you with. Self control is power.
What inspired “Umbra”, part of your upcoming EP “Brass Against” out the 10th of April?
Brad: A lot of us explore meditation. I’ve been interested in esoteric religions like Buddhism that explore the nature of reality for over 20 years, and now it’s pretty much everything to me. It’s easy to conceptually understand the illusory mind. We can close our eyes and see how chaotic the mind is while everything around us is so quiet and still. But, it’s another thing to directly experience the now- which has to be done through meditation. We explored all of these concepts in Umbra.
SOPHIA: ‘Umbra‘ came out of a writing session between Chris and Brad and me. We get very conversational around each other. Chris and I are like PONG, the arcade game, at level 10. Brad is like the arbiter. We wrote down phrases that resonated and then filled in the blanks. Brad is all about the breath so when he came up with that lyric, it all fit together-and I got to go home and sleep.
Chris: We’ve had this conversation a bunch, the actionability of illusion. I like the idea of a sort of pragmatic nihilism – that nothing is truly real, but that it’s also far more fun to lean into the illusion and give up attaching yourself to a specific result. Umbra, to me, is sort of an explanation of that.
Do you remember the day you wrote “Pull The Trigger”?
Brad: Musically- a few of us went to a studio in Rhinebeck, NY at a studio called The Clubhouse to write and record in early January. We had a few of the parts of what was to become pull the trigger and really expanded it when we got up there.
SOPHIA: ‘Pull the Trigger‘ came easily during the initial jam portion. Having a chorus lyric during the start of the writing process is very helpful because, as core of the narrative, it sets the tone. Verses are like the pixels, and the chorus is the frame. When I thought of “Pull the Trigger” the famous image of the 17 year old boy seemingly being attacked by a german shepherd in 1963 in Birmingham came to mind. I recalled an episode of “Revisionist History”, the podcast by Malcolm Gladwell and told Chris about how the photo is not exactly what it seems. Chris has a great way of summing up my thoughts and repeating them back to me in more articulate ways and so we came up with the idea that two sides in a fight have one thing in common: they think they’re right. We filled in the blanks from there.
Chris: Sophia had some really great riffed scratch vocals in the control room as we were tracking basics, the hook mainly. So, we took that lyric, the challenge and defiance of it, and decided we wanted to tell a specific story for a world that seems to forget the specifics awfully quick, and a story whose themes seem more relevant now than ever (Birmingham Children’s Crusade, 1963).
And “Blood On The Other”?
Brad: This was also borne out of the sessions in Rhinebeck. I was playing around with my octave pedal and Chris zeroed in on it and we kept going.
SOPHIA: We were committed to the chorus melody from our jam but no concrete ideas lyrically or for the verse melody. I wanted to go full on Chris Cornell vibes for the melody and lyrics, but we were on a short deadline and nothing was coming to me from the creative ether. To add pressure, both Chris and Brad were sick and couldn’t meet in person, so Chris and I wrote the song over the course of 8 hours via text and Google docs. We landed on suicide because a random thought led to me telling Chris about an organization called “Death with Dignity” that gives the elderly who are suffering the support to die on their own terms. That idea led Chris to thinking about government officials (SHOCKER!) who have taken their lives. As Allende’s departure was very illustrative, we had a good setup for metaphors and relatable themes.
Chris: Sophia and I were having a long discussion about suicide, both very concretely and very abstractly, and then Brad helped us sort of veer off into what it means to live for something, and what it means to die for something. I forgot how we started talking about the death of Salvador Allende, but his final speech and subsequent (debated) suicide are….wild. That sort of conviction and sacrifice is something I think we’ve become desensitized to, and it made a really good lens to view the more abstract conversation through.
What is the best suggestion your producer gave you?
Brad: “stop rushing”
SOPHIA: “Ok, now do a take where you don’t think. Give me you.” -Chris
What are your plans for 2020?
Brad: We were set for a lot of tours and now of course all of those tours have been postponed. We’re excited that we have new music to release and at some point soon are going to come together and continue to write and record. Hopefully by the fall we can get back on the road but so much is unknown right now.
SOPHIA: All I care about is getting better at guitar and performing around the world. I think we’ll get Covid-19 under control in time for us to get back on the road before the year ends. Until then, I’m shredding.
To conclude the interview a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes to your mind:
- Define in one word your EP “Brass Against:” Brad: Presence. / Chris: Ooh, I like presence. Cuts to the core of it. / SOPHIA: Will.
- The best show you ever played: Brad: Download Festival- Madrid. / SOPHIA: I don’t think that’s happened yet.
- The one thing that you must have in your backstage: Brad: Water. / SOPHIA: Tequila.
- The soundtrack of your childhood: Brad: Led Zeppelin. / Chris: Soundgarden/Bad Religion/Jawbox. / SOPHIA: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR, Santana, Motown.
- Your favourite song lyrically speaking, but not written by you: Brad: Reflection- Tool. / Chris: Soundgarden – The Day I Tried To Live.
- Last question is “unusual,” we want to know your best relationship advice: Brad: Humor- find someone that makes you ‘belly’ laugh and vice versa. This will get you through. / Chris: Find someone you want, not someone you need, and vice versa. And then actively choose them every goddamn day. / SOPHIA: Be better than you think! I always believed that dating “Up” is the best decision I could make. Jess and I are always challenging each other to be the best version of ourselves, and that keeps things going strong.