Most groups have a vision. They may even be able to articulate what they are trying to accomplish. But what if the vision is flawed? There are a lot of bands that are "almost there." They show an occasional flash of brilliance but can't sustain it. What they need is somebody from the outside to point out their missteps and put them on the right track. That's why there are producers.
But will the band listen? Musicians have huge egos. They have to. Nobody can step on a stage, night after night, often in front of disinterested, if not downright hostile audiences without feeling they are, and possess, something special. So for a band to listen to a producer they must have confidence in him/her and that doesn't come easy.
Here's where this proposition gets even riskier. What if the producer doesn't have a clue? Countless bands have been sidetracked, if not destroyed, by a errant producer who tried to make the group into something else. This roll of the dice is what faced Silversun Pickups when they began working with producer Dave Cooley on their full-length follow-up to their debut EP "Pikul."
The L.A. based band of friends played countless club dates trying to hone both their sound and stage presence. It was an arduous process but in the end they had something worth listening to. Now it was Cooley's job to raise the Pickups' game.
"He's amazing, because he'd push you and push you, but he'd be the first to pull the plug," said Brian Aubert. "I remember I'd been singing for days and days, trying to get a track right, and he'd say, 'No, man, just stop. You're tired.' He'd just push the stop button and say 'It's not right, it's not working, it's too job-like.'"
"Sometimes he'd push and push, and sometimes suggest a bunch of different ideas, and all it did was steel our resolve… because it just reaffirmed what we know is the best way to do it," added Lester.
"Before that experience, we were very organic about how we got a song going and finished; we would never really think about it too much, we did it how it felt," said Christopher Guaniao. "And then Dave came in and we really had to focus on things, just a measure or a little beat or whatever."
So all Cooley did was challenge the group, inspire them to do better, throw out ideas - some used, some not - and pay attention to every detail. Other than that… not much. The end result was '06 release "Carnavas."
Aside from being a major hit, the single "Lazy Eye" (from "Carnavas") landed on Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2. "Table Scraps", a B-side, was included on the compilation album "Give. Listen. Help. Volume 5." The group also toured the U.K. and Ireland opening for the Foo Fighters and the Kaiser Chiefs.
The ten-track album "Swoon" arrived in '09. "Some songs are very quiet and delicate, [while] others are just f***ing loud," claimed Aubert. Songs from the album, presumably the loud ones, were available for download for Guitar Hero: World Tour.
"A stranger in a strange land" was the overarching theme of the '12 release "Neck Of The Woods." Ideas for the group's third full-length album formulated while Aubert was traveling in Europe. Back in the U.S. Aubert and the band began recording with producer Jacknife Lee (U2, R.E.M.). "We ended up recording the whole album two minutes from where I was born, Topanga Canyon," said Aubert.
But even being that close to home didn't eliminate the distance he felt from his surroundings - much like when he was in Europe.
"Neck Of The Woods" debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200.
2012 Neck Of The Woods
2007 Live Session
2007 The Tripwire Session: Live In Chicago
Whether Cooley is entirely responsible or not, Silversun Pickups play down the ambient Rock that permeates "Pikul" for a more direct and forceful sound. On "Carnavas," the group comes across as an updated version of the Breeders, with a sharp distorted guitar, tight beats and airy vocals. "Lazy Eye" moves dangerously close to "Cannonball."
The album opens with "Melatonin." Not many groups write a song referencing hormones, in this case "the hormone of darkness," that's often used to treat sleep disorders. Shows the group is not content with the usual subject matter. Surprisingly, the track is far from sleepy. The Pickups ply the Breeders sound, though not to "Lazy Eye's" extent, on the single "Well Thought Out Twinkles." It instantly connects with a catchy riff and intoxicating melody. Good choice.
For those who liked the "Pikul" sound, "Rusted Wheel" is as close as they come, which is pretty close. But there are far better tracks in "Dream At Tempo 110," "Common Reactor," and the charming "Little Lover's So Polite."
Silversun Pickups match their dense fuzzed out sound with melodic ingenuity to create "Swoon," a brilliant album filled with undeniable and often irresistible hooks. With "Panic Switch," "There's No Secrets This Year" and "It's Nice To Know You Work Alone," they measurably raise their game.
"Neck Of The Woods" was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. But "Skin Graph" is boring while "Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)" often sounds like noise in search of a melody.
However, the edgy "Busy Bee," "The Pit" and "Mean Spirits" get the album on track. The latter is powered by a great riff down in the mix. "Dots And Dashes (Enough Already!)" and "Gun-Shy Sunshine" - excellent title - and "Make Believe," which strays from the usual rhythm patterns, are appealing anxiety laden junkets (that sounds like a contradiction but it works).