By Benjamin Leatherman
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By now, you'd think Silversun Pickups frontman Brian Aubert would be ready to slap the next critic he catches comparing the shimmering splendor of Silversun Pickups' fuzz-a-delic breakthrough Carnavasto Smashing Pumpkins.
There's clearly more to Carnavas than a recurring Siamese Dream.And you'll find none of Billy Corgan's more annoying tendencies in Aubert's lyrics or delivery. But, hey, if that's the frame of reference people want to run with, who is he to argue?
"I think it's all right," Aubert says. "I think people expect you to get upset about comparisons. But it's okay. I understand it. They have those big sounds. So when we hear the Pumpkins, we're like 'Totally, man. Right on.' Because you're gonna get compared to something and that's fine with us. At least they're good."
And if, perhaps, you pick up on a hint of former My Bloody Valentine guitarist Kevin Shields in Aubert's squall-of- sound approach to lead guitar, well, all the better. "Obviously, we're huge fans of My Bloody Valentine," Aubert says with a laugh. "And Sonic Youth. You can't do the stuff we're doing without nodding your head to these people. Without them, we would be the weirdest band in the world. But they were there to make it more acceptable to hear these things. Doug Martsch from Built To Spill? There are parts on the record I hear and I'm like 'Wow, I ripped that off from Built To Spill.'"
When Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger started playing together, no one sat around suggesting things like "What if Kevin Shields had played guitar for Smashing Pumpkins and Doug Martsch had written all the instrumental passages on Ride's first album?" They just played and let the music find its own way.
"We had no clue," Aubert says of that formative stage. "We hardly had time to be a band before we started playing out. And there were different members back then too, so everyone was really just learning. But we were learning onstage because we were always accepting shows even though we were horrible."
Things really started to gel after they acquired keyboardist Joe Lester and drummer Christopher Guanlao, but even then, it was what Aubert calls a "shier" version of their current sound. "I think we were afraid to hit that pedal, that distortion pedal," Aubert says. "We definitely knew we liked the loud, warm sounds, and we would sneak it in. But we were way more timid, I would say, and slower."
It was right around that same time, Aubert says, that he started emerging from the shell he'd been wearing onstage. "In the beginning, for us especially, because we didn't know exactly what we were doing, you're timid. You're thinking a little bit too much. But then you just eventually don't give a shit," Aubert says. "You're not thinking, 'Oh no, what if I forget the words?' or 'Oh no, what if my guitar goes dead?' or 'Oh no, what if she fucks up the drums?' Guess what? It happens. It still happens. And nobody cares. If you wave your hands in the air and yell, 'Stop, I can't do this,' then okay, everyone's gonna think you're an idiot. But if you laugh and everybody just keeps going and you fix your guitar and then jump up and play, it's fine. We've actually learned that people like when shit goes wrong because it's something new."
Silversun Pickups' growing pains were long behind them by the time they hit the studio with producer Dave Cooley to fashion an album that would leave behind the sound of Pikul, their 2005 debut EP. "That one has a really warm sort of vibe to it," Aubert says. "So I was like, 'I don't want any warmth no acoustic guitars, no cellos.' If 'Lazy Eye' was on Pikul, it would sound a little fuller, a little more organic, a little looser. But since it was on Carnavas, it was punchier, a little more intense. And 'Rusted Wheel' would full-on have acoustic on it if it was on Pikul, but it didn't because we wanted the album to be shiny, a little future-y. So we just removed the acoustics and started playing with backwards delays and really high-pitched, clean guitars."
The hardest part, Aubert says, was retooling the songs they'd gotten used to playing live. "It was hard to pull those down a bit on the recording, but we knew we wanted to," he says. "We slowed 'Well Thought Out Twinkles' down a little bit and it's amazing what happened. When you start a band, you're always thinking 'louder, faster, more intense.' We always used to try to make the drums as loud as possible, but then we learned to make them really tight and small, and then everything else will feel big around them and the song will just sound massive."
Live, of course, they still prefer to beat the living shit out of their music. "I can use a Big Muff and do a little scream part here and there. I think it's kind of nice when you put out a record and people respond to it and you play live and it's a little more intense," Aubert says. "I know I've always responded to things like that. And so far, we've been lucky because people think, 'Wow, that's cool that it's that way instead of just going out there like, well, here's the album.' It's a different animal."