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Pompeii Graffiti : Interview

Songs about falling in love with lesbians, a song about Battlestar Galactica, songs about losing friends, songs about high school romance, songs about feeling like a loser

[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]P[/dropcap]ompeii Graffiti is about to release their debut full length, Annapolitan, with a sound their Facebook page promises is “confessional, self deprecating, nerdy, remedial math rock”.

Deep thoughts. Dark words. The best part about this? Negativity is finally back.

After a decade of songs about “getting on the dance floor” and whistle-led choruses, a rock scene has started to reemerge, and nobody is pretending that the last decade has been kind. With the 90’s on their 20’s most bands are looking back, but Pompeii Graffiti is pushing ahead with the indie/rock sound.

With excellent synth production underlaying pop-punk guitars it’s impossible to be bored or stop head banging through these twelve songs. The choruses are big. The hooks are catchy. And the most important element of a song, the lyrics, never fail. They get flamboyant and they get insightful, but most of all, they get revenge.
Pompeii Graffiti answered fourteen questions backstage in Annapolis, MD.

Scott Laudati: When I hear your band I think Saddle Creek, how would you describe your sound?A picture of Pompeii Grafitti

We definitely obsess over some of their records. I secretly wish I was from Omaha so I could be on that label. That’s probably the only reason anyone has ever wished they were from Omaha! People usually tell me that we sound like Bright Eyes songwriting and vocals mixed with Weezer instrumentation. I’ll take that as a compliment any day even if they mean that as an insult.

When people ask me what style of music we play I just skip the “indie rock” label because that can mean anything from Bon Iver to Pavement. We’re not a new genre or anything, but I call us “Nerd Rock” because of the subject matter of all the songs.

How did Pompeii Graffiti start?

Cara and I met in high school. I saw her wearing a Weezer t-shirt the first week of school and knew she would be a cool person to be friends with. We were both in marching band, concert band, and orchestra together so we chatted about music all the time. She got me into Cursive and Ben Folds. She came up to me one day towards the end of my junior year and asked if I’d like to jam. We practiced a bit and then started immediately playing shows that summer.

How many times have you broken up since then?

Technically we “broke up” at the end of 2006 (end of my senior year in high school) so we could all focus on college. We all got together in 2010 to record the first record of songs we had written in high school. That was really cool because I had learned tons from going to music school so I kind of went overboard writing string sections. My proudest moment on that first record is writing a two part Baroque style violin and cello duet in a rap song. You don’t hear that every day!

[quote]songs about falling

in love with lesbians,

a song about

Battlestar Galactica,

songs about losing

friends, songs about

high school romance,

songs about feeling

like a loser[/quote]

Anyways, the drummer and bassist from the original lineup weren’t available to commit to being in a band so we recruited Robin Eckman on drums (he played in several bands I idolized) and Tyler Grimsley on bass (who was in a band called Sonic Bloom that we would always play with in high school).

We’ve all gone through a lot in our personal lives since reforming but we’ve managed to hold onto this core group of people, which is really neat. I’ve played more with this group than anyone else in my life. Things are really starting to click now that we know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Songs seem to write themselves now.

Is there a story behind the naming of Pompeii Graffiti?

I was looking through my parents’ bookshelf when I came across a book called Scorn which is a history of vulgarity. The nastiest, most disgusting language examples came from the graffiti written in ancient Pompeii that had been preserved in ash for thousands of years. Really revolting stuff describing sex acts with animals and the like.

It made me think about how people always talk about “the golden age” of society, as if there were ever a utopian period of culture without prostitution, murder, vulgarity, hate. The ugliness in humanity has always been there alongside the beauty: we are just more aware of it now because of the media.

What record has had the most impact on you?

If I had to pick one it would be Fevers and Mirrors by Bright Eyes. One of my friends from sailing camp when I was fourteen suggested it to me and it just blew me away like nothing had ever done before or since. The lyrics are brutally honest, and best of all for me – the instrumentation and arrangements are brilliant and engaging.

There are so many different textures on that record; accordion, synths, pedal steel, toy piano, acoustic guitar, flutes, mellotron, glockenspiel, organ, hammer dulcimer, mandolin.A picture of Pompeii Grafitti

This record made me want to go out and learn every instrument I could get a hold of. I’m literally having shivers right now thinking about the genius segue from “The Curious Girl” that ends with a barely audible phone dial tone that keeps going into “Haligh, Haligh” then Conor sings “The phone slips from a lose grip”. That kind of text painting makes me nerd out. Every time I listen to that record I hear something new. It has so much depth and so many layers.

Same exact thing with Weezer’s “Pinkerton” and Cursive’s “The Ugly Organ”.

Who’s your favorite band to end up putting out a terrible record?

Weezer. Everything after Maladroit comes off as completely insincere and fake. It sounds like they’re chasing after hit singles instead of really trying to make heartfelt music. Cara and I have tried, really tried, to like their new stuff but it doesn’t compare to their first four records.

What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever played?

A couple years ago we were contracted to play a street festival in Annapolis that paid really well. We were supposed to play a two hour set. We worked pretty hard at putting together a good set for this festival. Turns out there is a ghetto right off of the street we thought we were going to play on, and they set us up in this ghetto. Yeah, Annapolis is funny like that, patchwork of ghettos and gentrified areas.

The event coordinator told us right before we played that there would be a brief parade that was going to roll through during our set for like ten minutes and we could take a break when they did. So we are playing probably our second song and this homeless, schizophrenic woman walks right onto the stage and up to Tyler’s microphone and starts shouting into it, “You’re all a bunch of ham & eggers”. We’re all confused but we keep playing the rest of the song as she shouts nonsense into the mic.

I think she must have thought that she was rapping or something. She gets off the stage after that song, then the marching band comes up the street so we stop. They pull right up to where we are playing and they do their thing for two hours while we stand there waiting to play. So yeah, we probably played fifteen minutes of our two hour set.

The event coordinator was profusely apologetic and we got paid for the whole thing. Haha.

What is your favorite city to play shows in?

We played one show in Frederick, Maryland at Café Nola with Silent Old Mtns. There must be something in the water in that town. Everyone there is incredibly friendly and receptive.

Annapolis seems to hold on pretty tight to the 90’s Wigga scene. Did you have a rap career before you became a rock band?

It’s a really weird scene here. It’s like Sublime, Yacht Rock, Jack Johnson, and hip hop all mixed together in the same five bands that all sound exactly alike. Annapolis is a sailing town filled with yuppie jocks that only want to hear easy listening music about drinking too much and getting laid. Ok, there’s more to Annapolis than that. Much more. But that’s what’s supremely popular here.

The bands from Annapolis who do not fit that mold have to travel a bit to be appreciated. Our songs on this record are about tormented love, internet dating, Science fiction movies and books, Fight Club, getting in arguments on Facebook, mental illness, video games, Ray Kurzweil, geeky shit ya know? Our album title is kind of laughing at ourselves, how much we don’t fit in here.

I love the variety of instruments and synth sounds on Annapolitan. How many instruments do you play?

I’m completely a music nerd. I started on violin at ten, then guitar at thirteen, then sax at fifteen. Then I heard Fevers and Mirrors and all the instruments on that record. That led me to go out and get a mandolin, pedal steel, glockenspiel, dobro, keyboards, etc. I really am just trying to be as cool as Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes.

I also really love writing for string sections (there’s lots of that on our first record). I often joke about certain songs on this current album as me doing my best impression of a U2 or David Gilmour guitar solo, or trying to play mandolin like Chris Thile or dobro like Jerry Douglas. Also, just growing up being in orchestra, jazz band, concert band, going with my Mom to bluegrass concerts, Irish concerts, folk concerts – gave me an appreciation for pretty much every genre.

My love for cool arrangements and bands with interesting instrumentation even led us to do note-for-note covers of some of our favorite albums. We covered all of The Ugly Organ by Cursive a few years ago with a really great cellist, Erin Snedecor. And last year we covered all of In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. That was nuts. We had a nine piece band for that one. Two trumpets, musical saw, lap steel, baritone sax.

It was amazing to play those records and sound pretty much exactly like the record and people to tell us that before seeing us they had thought it impossible for anyone to cover those albums so accurately. Yeah, we’re geeks.

How long does it take to sort through synth sounds before you find the right one?

Five minutes to several hours. Sometimes Cara can get really attached to a patch and spend hours tweaking it only to have it sound horrible when recorded. Cara uses a Micro Korg keyboard and a Phantom XR midi head for all of her sounds. Her nickname in the band is actually Phantom!

What was the recording process like?

We recorded drums at my friend’s studio called Scoville Sound in Annapolis. Then we spent about a year and a half recording at my home studio. I had just started recording so I would record guitars then help someone A picture of Pompeii Grafittirecord their record and I would know how to record guitars better from that experience – so I would go back and re record everything. That happened quite a few times, especially with vocals.

I’m very self conscious about my singing. When recording I was focusing so much on getting the pitches correct that everything sounded really boring. Eventually I just got frustrated, said “fuck it” and just did some takes with reckless abandon, trying to really feel the meaning of the song and the lyrics instead of worrying about sounding perfect. Ultimately everyone seemed to like those takes despite the pitch errors.

I think that’s something that is getting lost in music recently: everyone is trying to be perfect but we’re humans and we’re far from perfect. Pop music sounds cold because it’s so perfect. All of my favorite records have imperfections and that’s what makes them feel real and allows you to connect to them in a way that you can’t with most pop music. If Bob Dylan and Neil Young can sing that atrociously out of tune, then so can I.

It’s still painful hearing myself sing though, I want to sound like Rivers Cuomo but I’m stuck with what I’ve got.

Honestly this record only sounds as good as it does because of the mixing engineer, Frank Marchand. He is a wizard at mixing. He really brought this record to life. Everyone in the band was shocked to hear his mixes.

What gear did you use for the record?

Oh man, do you really want me to geek out on you? For recording gear I used my Imac with Logic, a couple of consumer level interfaces, consumer level microphones. Nothing special about that stuff, just lots of trial and error tweaking microphone placement.

As for instruments – I used tons of stuff on this record. My PRS SE EG that I’ve had since I was 16. My Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster. My Carter Pedal Steel, my Goldtone Dobro. My most prized instrument, most dear to my heart is my 1981 Flatiron mandolin. If my house was on fire I would grab that and my hard drive.

That mandolin is a work of art. Everything else is a tool.

As for amps, I used an Allen Brown Sugar that I built out of a kit (I told you I was a nerd) and a really crappy vox amp that records great. For pedals my “secret weapons” are the Barber “Direct Drive”, MI Audio “Neo Fuzz”, and Strymon “El Capistan” tape delay.

What is the next year looking like for Pompeii Graffiti?

Annapolitan comes out August 9th and we’ve already started recording our next album. I’m really excited about that record. There are three songs about falling in love with lesbians, a song about Battlestar Galactica, songs about losing friends, songs about high school romance, songs about feeling like a loser. Yeah, the next album is the most self deprecating record you’ll ever hear. Some of it is really funny, too.

Right now I’m writing out the arrangement for the string quartet that’s going to be on one song about a lesbian girl I fell head over heels for.

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