Interview by Parisa Eshrati
After their show at Hotel Vegas at SXSW, I had a chance to sit down with Tracy, Rick, and Robert of Corners. We discussed the synthy evolution of the band, concepts behind their music videos, college radio, and much more.
Your latest full-length release, Maxed Out on Distraction, shows some themes of our current age and where our minds are. What are some things that you find to be major distractions of this generation?
Tracy Bryant: I think the concept of distractions was just kind of based around the way that you can build an identity online that might not be accurate or how things really are, and it’s easy to be affected by that. People every day see things and are affected by what other people are doing , what other people aren’t doing, that they have this and they have that. It’s a real thing and people deny it. People’s personas can be very overbearing.
Rick Mabery: I just think at one point it was so heavy and that’s what inspired us.
Tracy: I think we took pride in the fact that we work hard and that we do things in a way that a band should do things. I mean, there are a lot of things that are distracting people in this age.
What do you all do to gain focus again?
Robert Changer: Music for us is the ultimate thing. It’s one of the only things that …well, it brings us together first of all. A lot of times when we’re writing and working on new music, it’s total focus. It’s like bigger than a Ouija board. Everyone is kind of moving the same concept around and it paints this picture and we all roll with it.
Rick: Everybody has a stroke to paint. I’m not going to say it’s so much me, but these guys will show me these songs and I’ll start drumming. We’ll all get involved and suggest to try this or that, and everything just kind of evens out. That way we make something that’s more cohesive for everyone in the band. I mean, it might be that the song is driven from one person but we just roll with it.
Robert: The cohesion that we share is like a glue. We get really close and that helps because it makes it easier to express yourself. You don’t have to search for anywhere else to do that, so that kind of takes away all the distractions.
Rick: And it’s good to hear these things from your friends as well as your band members, but they are mostly your friends. To hear all the constructive criticism and not take it offensively, it’s what really makes a band. Everyone has to be on the same page. It’s how our songs come together.
The single, “Pressure”, was the first track that transitioned your style to a more synthy, post-punk sound and kind of had the darker visual appeal. Were there any personal reasons why you wanted to switch to having this kind of colder aesthetic?
Robert: "Pressure" was interesting because we brought the synth in for the first time to the studio, and Tracy was playing it. When we were mixing it, we kept thinking, “Well how high should the synth be?” It became this big debate on the mixing aspect of how the synth should play in that song. We tried it out and it ended up kind of being in there. It wasn’t a highlight but it wasn’t buried.
Rick: Yeah, it wasn’t a feature.
Robert: It was a hint of what was to come. We recorded the new record...pretty much Tracy, Ricky and I playing together live. After reviewing it and listening to it a bunch, we decided to add the synth naturally to it, but as a counter-melody of what was happening. It wasn’t just adding a thicker sound, it was adding its own piece into the music.
Rick: It’s more than glue. I’m not going to generalize this for everybody, but a synth can be just like a glue for some band. Ours is so sparse, so it’s not like the glue to the band but it’s like this other feature that happened to come into Bobby’s head.
Robert: It sounded good, which is why it’s such a feature of the album. We liked the synth sound so much that it just ended up being loud and present.
Tracy: I think "Pressure" was a pretty important song for us. It happened really organically. It started out as just drum, bass, guitar, and vocals. We all have similar taste in that kind of music, and we just wanted to start making music like that. We didn’t really talk about it, it just happened.
Robert: I think we also wanted to expand from being a 3-piece. At that time we were just guitar, bass, and drums. We just wanted to be something bigger than that in some way
Aside from Joy Division, what are some of your favorite early 80s post punk bands?
Tracy: We all like Television.
Rick: Television rules…The Sound..
Robert: Neon Boys, The Clash..
Tracy: The Cure, The Smiths..
Robert: Kraftwerk, Hawkwind..
Rick: I mean, the essentials, but there’s also a lot of great stuff after the 80's and before the 80's.
Tracy: We obviously like some surf stuff too.
Robert: True, can’t ignore the surf and garage influence.
I also wanted to mention how you all incorporate some sweet artwork in your merchandise. I remember seeing somewhat Daniel Johnston-esque style drawings for the t-shirts. Who designs these?
Tracy: Most of the stuff is from this guy Emanuel Farias. He’s an awesome artist that’s in the band Mutations and we started playing with him at the very beginning at The Smell.
Rick: His bassist, Steven, was playing in a band with me, Tracy and Robert for awhile.
Robert: We played this random valley show and I noticed every time he would watch a band he would be drawing. He would always be constantly drawing in his journal no matter where he was. I think that’s why we approached him, because he’s very detail oriented. But when he worked with us, the art ended up being very minimal and that actually worked out for us.
Tracy: He had seen the band for awhile and got our vibe. We gave him not a lot of money but he drew us a bunch of stuff. I love it, I think it’s amazing.
Robert: We’ve also worked with this girl, Hannah Melde. She’s done a few designs for us, like the spaceship design and a couple of flyers as well. She’s great at design and layout, and also very minimal. She’s at Lolipop Records all the time, so it kind of worked out.
You’ve made several music videos for previous singles, but “Love Letters” is first video to show yourselves playing rather than having actors playing a role. Was this an intentional thing to make yourself more exposed? What was the idea behind this video?
Tracy: That was definitely intentional. When we made that song, we were kind of laughing ‘cause it was different than the rest of the songs that were being made. It’s funny that you ask that question, because right after that song was made we stopped and I said, “Honestly dude, this might be the single for the album." And Robert had already envisioned something with smoke, rockin’ out on the synth, and just showing the full band. He was already talking about that.
Robert: We wrote the song and listened to the early demos after we recorded it. We talked about how the song was going to be such an influential on not only us, but the record.
Tracy: That was the song that we realized, "Hey, this sounds weird. I wonder what the rest of the album is going to sound like.” Every band has a single that’s kind of a weirder song but the rest of the album is awesome, like DEVO's "Whip It". "Love Letters" doesn’t seem that strange now, but at the time it felt way more adventurous. So many bands in LA were doing semi-safe stuff that's not so stripped down.
Robert: It was also easier in production. We thought, "Why don’t we have someone film us perform at a place where we’ve played so many times?" Alfredo Lopez just reached out to us.
Tracy: He just reached out and said he loved our music and loves to make music videos. We just kind of collaborated with him on that concept. We did it at The Smell, but you can’t even tell it’s at The Smell. There’s so much fog and everything. But yeah, that was a very conscious decision about us being more at the forefront of the video.
I read that Robert used to work as an engineer at KXLU and that’s how y’all met, so it seems like college radio was a big influence in the band's beginnings. What role do you think college radio will play for your future?
Robert: College radio started this band. I was DJing and my friend, Frankie Guerra, was DJing too. Tracy gave Frank a CD, and Frank was a music supervisor at the time, and we totally nerd-ed out on how cool the CD was. We put it in the stacks and played it like crazy. We brought his band out to do a live performance, and I had already known these guys for a long time but that got us to all reconnect.
Just recently we started distributing our music to college radio stations across the country. It’s really funny for me to visit these stations. We were just at LSU at their radio station, and it was so cool to see a group of students doing the same thing I used to do but at another school and another state. These DJs are enjoying bands coming through town, supporting them and just spreading the word of their music. That’s the whole goal...finding some music you enjoy and just spreading it as much as you can. Obviously that has a huge impact on us. We’re on a long tour right now playing small towns and small venues, we’re just trying to connect with people. That’s the most important thing for us musically.
Tracy: I couldn’t say enough about KXLU. Not only did I find out about a lot of bands, but I also listened to it for the longest time. It was a serious goal to be played on there, ‘cause I always thought that if your music is playing played on KXLU then your music is relevant in Los Angeles. It’s also the only radio station in the vicinity that plays punk rock.
Rick: It was a trip to hear our songs being played on there.
Tracy: There's this guy, Ryan Smith, who is a DJ there and he played that song “Sometimes”. It blew my mind. I called my mom on the phone. It was such a trip. It was so cool. KXLU is so important.
Rick: It's really weird, sometimes we’re rolling out of LA to go to a show and we’ll have KXLU tuned in and we’ll hear our song being played. It's really cool. KXLU is fucking awesome.
You’ve been on the road for several weeks now. What does the Corners tour van smell like at this point?
Rick: Oh my God [laughs]. Petruli and I don’t know what else…just dudes.
Robert: It’s been smelling really gnarly recently.
Ricky: It’s kind of moldy.
Tracy: It’s not that bad!
Robert: Well, what happened is we went to the North and there was snow everywhere. Everytime we got into the van, our boots were covered in snow, our clothes were covered in snow. There was snow on the floor of the van. We went from NY to Florida which was completely humid. It went from snow to gooey…I don’t even know [laughs].
Tracy: It’s pretty swampy right now. We went through some crazy temperature…like -10 degrees in Minnesota and now it’s like 80 degrees here in Austin.
Corners has a new 7” single “No Confusion” out on April 10th. Maybe you could tell us more about that or what else can we look forward to from you guys in the future?
Tracy: It’s coming out as a split with this band in the UK called Morning Smoke that we’re going to do a leg of the tour with. We’re going to Europe for 5 weeks after that. It’s pretty much going to be just us, and then Morning Smoke is going to be there for 7 dates.
Robert: It feels good to record after the album. You record a full length and afterwards there’s always that question of "what’s next?" This was something that felt really natural. We did it pretty fast actually. Tracy had this great idea for a song, and we went and executed it.
Tracy: Billy added the synth. It really changed the song because with just the guitar, bass and drums it was really classic rock and roll sounding. The synth gave it a kind of edge, or different vibe.
Robert: We happened to finish it before the European tour. Dead Fun Records and Lolipop is supporting the 7". So that’s the next step. After that when we get back from Europe, we’re going to relax for al ittle bit but we really want to do a new record again as soon as we can.
Tracy: We really like the album, and all this touring has been putting it out there. Now it’s out there so we’re giving it the attention it deserves. But it’s cool cause now we can make a new record.
Robert: We feel released from the album after all this touring.
Tracy: It’ll be cool. I think the new record will be more listenable, more accessible, but still have that some aesthetic. We want to still do what we do, and reach out to more people.
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All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.