105.9 WCXR – the main classic rock station in DC during the 80s. My father blasted it in the car wherever we went, and I fell in love with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, etc. Mainly stuff with badass guitar work – I knew by the age of six I wanted to be a guitarist just like my idol George Harrison. You couldn’t imagine how upset I was when I found out Eric Clapton actually played the guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
But yeah, they turned me into a rock addict at a young age, and I haven’t been able to shake it after all these years.
Was there ever a time in which you imagined you may be cured or give up?
Honestly, in 2008, my band The Alphabetical Order lost its fourth drummer (sequential) and I’d tired of the sound and the DC music scene. I was pondering graduate school, writing a novel (still working on that one), maybe even teaching overseas. But I couldn’t shake it – I still wanted to rock, play guitar loud as shit and make at least a few more albums. A good friend explained that Brooklyn was the place to fulfill these dreams, so I packed up my equipment and never looked back. Well, except to visit friends… And family, if I have to.
What essentially makes Libel tick so urgently?
A fair deal of angst, discontent and disillusion – possibly some very hot overdrive pedals. Certainly the espresso IV bag hooked up to my left arm, which is easier to play guitar with than you might imagine.
My initial goal with Libel was to blend my love of post-hardcore – e.g., Mission of Burma, Fugazi, Shudder to Think, Jawbox – with my affection for Bowie’s vocal stylings (he taught me how to sing, whether he knows it or not!) and songwriting prowess. And then, yeah, I wanted to layer in some heavier shoegaze atmospherics a la Swervedriver and Ride. I was influenced by very intense music, so it’s all I know how to make.
Seems like NYC projects break-up and reform under new banners if they don’t pop quick, or did you already?
Nope – we’ve been flying under the Libel flag since 2009, when we released our first EP, “The Prolonged Insult,” though the lineup has changed over the years. Pop culture memories are super short, so there’s a huge push to appear fresh and new (although it’s our fourth release, we do market “Music for Car Commercials” as our “debut LP.”) I think many people that re-brand constantly like you suggested are trying to chase the popular sound, trying to keep in step with what’s hip, which is definitely not my philosophy.
There are plenty of great bands that didn’t get a lot of attention at first (maybe they didn’t have the hot sound of the moment) who eventually broke through, and people were then blown away by their back catalog. But, those bands stayed true to their ideas and evolved organically, not at the behest of the latest sonic trend. They’re the ones we remember.
How / where does the writing process seem to work best for the band?
The magic songwriting window opens right after falling off the bar stool and right before vomiting and blacking out. It’s a short nirvana, so the process must be repeated regularly.
No, it’s more like this: I’ll come up with an idea – a lot of times just fumbling around with the guitar while watching TV – record it via Logic, and then build other ideas on top of it over a while until it seems like a sketch of a song. I’ll record bass, program (basic) drums, throw on some extra guitars and maybe keyboards, all the while working out draft lyrics.
When I feel the tune is far enough along and is worthy of their ears, I’ll send off an MP3 and get feedback from the guys – while hearing what I was thinking, they’ll bring their own (better) ideas to the table when we jam on it. Nothing is set in stone – parts will disappear, parts will be added. I say that I provide the skeleton of a song, and together we develop a body for it.
What’s first for you in terms of material: a feeling / vibe from the music or the subject matter?
A lot of times they’re not even connected. I used to have notebook upon notebook with random lyric ideas, while now I keep them all stored in my iPhone (notes are great, save trees), which in turn gets saved to iCloud. You can tell I embrace the tech. While we’re writing a song, I’ll just sense that such-and-such random verse would be perfect and build the rest of the lyrics from there. Or it could go the other way around – I’m constantly humming works in progress to myself, and on the train something may click. Not to sound too hippy dippy, but often my musical ideas and lyrical subject matter just seem to find themselves in my head. Must be some kind of holy function…
At first I was going to say, “Oh yeah, I wish I was in the 90s!” We probably would have seemed among peers 20 years ago, but in the current landscape, it’s nice being unique and difficult to classify. Other 90s-throwback bands getting attention sound a lot like one particular act – Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, vintage Weezer. But our influences are pretty mixed, and they’re not groups that really roll off people’s tongues, although they have loyal followings – bands like Jawbox, HUM and Swervedriver. We’re not lonely – we got a lot of Brooklyn peers with raucous sounds – but standing out in the current morass is gratifying,
What’s the bigger high for you: writing, recording or performing?
Ugh, must I decide? Performing is certainly the most exhilarating, leaving you tingling for hours – maybe – days afterwards. Performing offers the quickest gratification, but writing and recording an album gives a sense of accomplishment that cannot be matched.
You wanna know the biggest low? Marketing – trying to convince people your music is special, especially when their senses are saturated by media. “Well, my mom likes it!”
What’s your philosophy (if any) when it comes to playing live?
As rabid fans of the great German group Autobahn, we practice nothing but nihilism. Emphasis on nothing.
A spaceship lands on your roof, a small gray humanoid emerges with a vinyl record he knows you will approve of as a first offering / means to an end: what (most likely) is it?
Though it may sound cliche, I think there’s only one record that could be in his hand: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.” This starman has come down to meet us because he doesn’t think he’d blow our minds. Basically, he’s telling us not to blow it because he thinks it’s all worthwhile. Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let all the children boogie.
However, that LP better be a first printing, or it’s galactic warfare up your ass, buddy.