Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Erica Rivera Interviews Ages and Ages

Q&A: Ages and Ages

Ages and Ages is a secular septet that specializes in its own brand of invigorating folkadelic pop tunes. Tim Perry founded the Portland-based band in 2009, and their debut album, “Alright You Restless” dropped in 2011. NPR featured the delightfully raucous band in anticipation of their first appearance at SXSW that year, but Ages and Ages’ 15 minutes of fame truly came when their song “No Nostalgia” was included on President Obama’s playlist for his 2012 re-election campaign. For their sophomore effort, the band hunkered down in Jackpot Studios with producer Tony Lash. The result was “Divisionary,” released in March on Partisan Records.

Perry spoke to Vita.mn from the band’s tour van.

Q: You guys just played SXSW for the second time. How did this year compare to 2011?

A: Frankly, I don’t think it’s totally amenable or hospitable towards artists. It’s frantic. It’s awesome in other ways. The response was really positive. The weather was good. It’s great and terrifying at the same time.

Q: If you had a mission statement for Ages and Ages, what would it be?

A: We are non-believers in apathy and shoulder-shrugging. We embrace having opinions, having feelings, and feeling passionate.

Q: The press often uses “congregational” or “gospel” to describe the sound of your music. Do you think that’s an accurate comparison?

A: My mom was religious was brought me to church as a kid. In certain ways, that was my first introduction to music. The sound of multiple voices hitting the same note at the same time and shaking the rafters made an impression on me. The purpose of having as many people as we do in the band is to be able to pull these things off in a live setting. This day in age, we could over-dub all we want in the recording studio and make everything sound perfect, but when it comes to a live show, then what? Being able to carry that sound live gives it this uproarious quality of gospel. I’m cool with that comparison, for sure.

Q: Your song “No Nostalgia” made it all the way to the White House. Are political themes prevalent in your music?

A: To us, that song was blatantly anti-establishment in terms of leaving the culture of greed and distraction behind for a utopic place. It’s interesting that a campaign would pick up on that. The madness we’re talking about is modern, mainstream culture. It’s easy to be apathetic. It’s understandable. Apathy is something that comes with feelings of powerlessness and feeling overwhelmed with the grandness of the problems, but I think that it’s the wrong approach to take.

Q: Is making music the way that you fight against apathy?

A: I think it’s one of the ways. Music is an extension of us and the human spirit. I think we all try and live lives that also reflect that perspective.

Q: You spent time at a meditation retreat while writing “Divisionary.” How did that experience influence the album?

A: I wanted to be silent, not communicate, not be communicated with, sort through my own thoughts, and be a better observer of life. A couple of us in the band have done this very retreat and it’s super helpful. As far as “Divisionary” is concerned, once the noise filtered out of my brain and I was able to slow my thoughts down, the music just started to come and got trapped in my head and cycled around over and over and over. I couldn’t write it down or play it or record it, so I had to keep it in there, and a lot of those songs made it on the record.

Q: The title track on “Divisionary” repeats the words “Do the right thing.” What did you have in mind when you were thinking about the “right thing?”

A: I think lyrics are directed at me just as much as anyone else. There’s a sense of irony in doing the right thing all the time because it’s hard. Actually, it’s impossible. I wanted to play with that irony and be mindful that doing the right thing is complicated. It often involves upsetting people or creating something that can be construed by some as righteous, by others as divisive. I think that’s where the word “divisionary” comes from. Pursuing that path, whatever that is for us, might not be what your parents had in mind. It might not be what is reflected in the status quo or the power structure. Doing the right thing sometimes creates inner conflict as you grapple with having to break off your old habits, your destructive ways, or what you used to identify with. It’s not always pretty. There’s a struggle happening in real time, because I think we all struggle as we experience growth and revolution.

Q: During the making of this album, several members of the band experienced the death of loved ones. There was a marriage and a birth as well. How did those events play a part in the album’s creation?

A: It’s that real life stuff. This band, collectively, experienced a lot of that in a condensed amount of time. It was intense. It played into the group dynamic. In many ways, it brought us closer together, and in many ways, it accentuates the existential things you struggle with [like] “Where am I going? What am I doing?” When you experience a loss, it heightens that and it may motivate you further in one direction or another, away from or towards something. And with kids or marriage, it’s the same thing. Good and bad are happening simultaneously and it’s a challenge to process them and keep a clear head. How do we find a way to sit with the darkness and the negativity and the sadness, but ultimately come out with a positive perspective?

Q: What does the apple with the keyhole on the album’s cover art symbolize?

A: We didn’t intend for a biblical reference, though the apple may have that connotation. It’s more about the apple being a thing of sustenance, representative of life. The keyhole is depth; there’s a darkness and mystery to that. I think that’s what we’re about: on the surface, sometimes people hear us as optimistic and uplifting, but if you look inside, we’re more complicated. It’s one thing to be naively optimistic—you know, the person who watches TV, eats a Hungry-Man dinner, and shops at Wal-Mart—versus an optimism that comes from observing and stews these confusing things in their brain, then comes out with an optimistic perspective. The pile of keys represents that all locks have different keys. All paths belong to different people. We all want the same thing: to live a peaceful life, to be whole. So how do we do that? We go there in different ways. 

Originally published on Vita.mn in April 2014.