If you haven’t heard of The Y Axes, they are a pretty amazing group from San Francisco. We got to ask them a few Q’s and they gave us a few A’s. Enjoy! (Also, this might be the funniest interview I have ever done!)
—First off, “Sunglasses and Solar Flares” is a pretty great album. Can you tell me about the recording process?
Alexi: Recording Sunglasses & Solar Flares was a fun, though very long process that ultimately turned into a great learning experience for us. We began by recording drums to scratch guitar at Studio SQ. Our drummer Darryl spent one huge session behind the set. Being a practiced martial artist, he completed the task with stoic grace, something I certainly could not have survived.
The longest recording session I had for the album was six hours recording vocals for Neon Street, Green to Gold, and Loop Machine, and only the first three were worth anything. You can only say a word so many times before you start to forget how it is supposed to sounds, or what it’s even supposed to mean.
We recorded the rest of Sunglasses in our then-keyboardist Kevin’s living room. From these recordings Kevin mixed our Moon Rock EP on Pi Day March 14, 2013. During this time period we had Future Shapes’ Fil Cala as our bass player. Aaron Larson succeeded him in September 2013, reimagining the bass lines for the album.
This amalgam of engineers, zen-drums, and space-angst was expertly mixed by Nathan Winter at Hyde Street Studio.
Devin: Besides the drums, mixing, and mastering, everything was done DIY. This gave us a lot of time to experiment and try out weird ideas. It was definitely a learning experience but it helped us craft our own style and sound that we hope to tighten and elaborate on with the next release.
—Who is the main songwriter of the group, or is it a group effort?
Devin: Alexi and I do the preliminary songwriting, putting together the lyrics, chords, structures, and strumming patterns. We bring those nascent proto-songs into the studio and everybody contributes to fill out the arrangement to develop the feel and aesthetic of the song, often totally transmogrifying it into a new entity.
Alexi: Songwriting in the band begins in several different ways: Most often, Devin will come up with either a strumming rhythm pattern that intrigues him, or a few riffs that combine into a verse and/or chorus melody, and then bring it to me to add vocal melodies and lyrics. Sometimes I come up with a skeletal song idea and bring it to him to help orchestrate. I usually call that method running it through the “Devin Machine,” or “Reverse Funnel”. Once we have a layout of our parts, we bring it to the rest of band to jam our their parts. There have been some instances of spontaneous in-practice songwriting, which is where Nanoseconds and Loop Machine originated. Over time, Devin and I have adapted in a way that our songwriting voices have become more similar to eachother, and I think this helps the whole band have a much more consistent sound.
— “Neon Street” is my favorite off the album. can you tell me about how it was written?
Devin: I have a tendency to write complex obfuscating songs so I decided to challenge myself by writing a simple 3 chord pop song. However, one can see that I failed, evidenced by the dramatic modulating middle section. Neon Street also has an evil twin song born at the same time, existing only to distill my need for strange riffs and rhythms. At this point in our story, it is uncertain whether this conundrum of a song will ever crawl out of the basement and manifest its wrath on a record.
Alexi: Devin began writing Neon Street as an attempt to write a simple pop song. We’re still working on making more simplified songs, but Devin’s prog sensibilities have an itchy trigger finger! This is how a “Party in the USA”-wannabe song got an intense Brian May walk in the middle of the bridge. As for the lyrics and vocal melodies, Devin had his heart set on the “call-back” in the chorus, and it was up to me to think of what to say. My lyrical inspiration for this song was a Matt and Kim-style neighborhood anthem similar to their “Sidewalks” album. It seemed only natural for me add a romanticized vampire motif as well, but I’m not sure why.
–You guys have a crisp alternative sound, who are some of your influences both as a group and individually?
Alexi: As a group, we draw inspiration from so many different time periods and genres. While I can delve into early-2000’s garage pop and electro with the best of them, I have had to stand agape at a few practices while the guys in the band talk about Yes, and The Cars, and any number of bands I’ve only heard the names of. For me, the first bands that come to mind at the moment are Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, Saves the Day, and Oingo Boingo.
Devin: I’m really influenced by Oingo Boingo, Mew, The Velvet Teen, Jimmy Eat World, AFI, Killing Joke, Coheed & Cambria, Yes, Brand New, and At The Drive-In. I love music with big vocal hooks and intricate guitar and drums.
Aaron: As a group we are constantly being influenced by our friends in other local hard working bands. Bands like.. Record winter, curious quail, picture atlantic, piranha party, starover blue.. As individuals? Our personal playlists would be very long to list. A lot of us are influenced from many styles of music – rock, prog, pop, r&b, jazz, and even broadway tunes. Its a hard question to answer because at different stages in your life, you are being drawn to new sounds and some of that is based on your skill level, other times just a feeling or life situation when a particular group sounded inspiring. St. Vincent, Radiohead, Ellie Goulding, Andrew Bird, Tool, Belle and Sebastian, Minus The Bear, Oingo Boingo, Hendrix, Alice and chains, Jane’s Addiction, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, and on it goes…
— If you could pick a mix of five of your songs that new listeners could listen to, to get an impression of your sound, which five would they be?
Alexi: I would pick Dotted Lines, Nothing With You, Phaser, Green to Gold, and Artax, just to show the range of what we do, without going into extreme cases like Loop Machine or Light.
Devin: Green To Gold, Artax, Neon Street, Loop Machine, and Light.
Aaron: Hmm, good question. You can ask me that again tomorrow and it would probably be a different list, but without any explanation and in no particular order… Loop Machine, Dotted Lines, Artax, Neon Street, and Green To Gold.
Jon: NEON STREET – Though we are a band from the future, we are no strangers to the past. Time is a Möbius strip we travel upon as we please. We are actually *influencing* bands, like Queen, who recorded arena rock singles in the 70’s–not the other way around.
LOOP MACHINE – The medium is the massage. Sometimes the massage has to have force to soothe the muscle. This is a song with muscle. Don’t try to fight it.
ARTAX – This is the sound of falling in love on a muggy day in the park. As the sun sets, hundreds of fireflies illuminate the moist grass at your feet and the heavy space above it. You are despondent and joyous and sinking into mud.
HALF-LIFE – It’s a little known fact that folk music came to us from outer space. Astronauts who landed on the moon found a small crater, still unexplained, shaped exactly like a Martin D-18. We are proud to interpolate the inventions of these under-appreciated space travelers, however obliquely.
GREEN TO GOLD – Alchemy is the one true science. This tribute was written for the United Federation of Alchemists on the occasion of their last fundraiser. Please contact your local congressperson and ask how he/she can support federal grants for alchemists.
— Do you guys enjoy the current culture in the bay area? Does it help or protract in any way?
Alexi: I think the current culture of the bay area is a little scary right now, but it’s this kind of scary environment that inspires change. With more and more venues closing or threatening to close like Cafe Du Nord, El Rio, and Bottom of the Hill, this will hopefully inspire music lovers to go to more shows and to support the local scene. The perception of music in culture as a whole, as more of a flickering experience than a material possession, should inspire more people to go out and experience the music they enjoy, and share it with their friends. I could go on and on about the economic tumultuousness of the Bay Area scaring artists away. Or I could talk about how this struggle is in turn creating a close-knit community of remaining artists such as the Balanced Breakfast group, but that’s a story for another day. How about we rent an Air BnB to throw a house party?
Devin: I’ve been in the bay area most of my life and absolutely love it here. Though things are changing, change is a universal constant, whether it is a glorious new horizon or a harbinger of doom. The only thing one can do is adapt to survive in the new climate. If you asked me this question about 2 years ago I might have lamented about the lack of community and interest in art but today I am entirely more optimistic. I am involved with a group called Balanced Breakfast that meets every Thursday morning at 8 AM at Piano Fight (144 Taylor St. in the Tenderloin) to talk about the music industry and build a community and music that helps each other with resources and support. I highly recommend getting involved if you want to see how people are working to make the Bay Area and awesome place to be a musician.
Aaron: The artist community in SF has changed quite a bit and in some ways a bit saddening at times. Long standing clubs are closing in the name of builder-developers seeking to add more residential housing. Artists are moving out of the city as live/work loft prices have continued to rise. Many have chosen Oakland as the new artist arena to live and work. But I think in any major city these changes come in waves and then follow new waves of change, harvest and inspiration as businesses learn how to connect and thrive within their community. Hopefully people are aware of this dynamic though and make a conscious effort to support live music in order to keep it within reach of their neighborhoods.
— What does the future hold for you?
Alexi: The Y Axes are currently buckling down and writing new material. Meanwhile, we have a show at The Depot SF on Jan 29, and are joining The Thermals, Crashfaster, Curious Quail, and tons more at Rockage San Jose Feb 6-8!
Devin: We are solidifying our line up, writing and arranging a new batch of songs, and getting ready to play shows again. You can see us at The Depot at SFSU on 01/29, and the Rockage music festival (http://rockagesj.tumblr.com) at SJSU the weekend of February 6th-8th.
— When should we expect to see new material?
Alexi: You should expect an announcement by the next Pi Day.
Jon: We’re currently waiting for a particular astronomical alignment to take place that we are not at liberty to divulge. (It’s never our intention to incite widespread panic; there are truths for which the public is simply not ready.) Suffice to say that when the need arises, our “material” will be there, along with our abstract. And when that day arrives, you will need only whisper our name to conjure us.