Lemuria mostly wrote their newest record, The Distance Is So Big, remotely, sending each other videos of melodies, hooks, and songs from their different home bases, but the distance between them has not held them back from creating an album full of catchy songs that capture the high energy '90s indie sound that brought them together in the first place.
Their third full-length is produced by J. Robbins, the engineer behind many of the bands that inspired them to play in the first place.
Up on the Sun got the chance to talk with Alex Kerns, the drummer and co-vocalist for Lemuria, ahead of Wednesday's show at the Trunk Space.
I read somewhere that you are going to be playing older songs along with tracks off the new record on this tour. It sounded like something you guys weren't doing as much of in the past. Lately we've been trying to play songs off of our new record. We have three full-lengths, and a collection of older EPs, and we realize, when you have that much material out, that people still want to hear what they are familiar with on certain records.
[So] we're trying to do an even distribution of each record live. We learned a total of 35 songs for the tour, and we play a dozen songs every night. We actually just got back from England, where we played two weeks' worth of shows, and a lot of the shows were really close to each other, so the same people came out to multiple shows. It was cool to be able to play two completely different sets for people who came out.
It also makes it way more exciting and energetic for us, to play a different set every night.
You've played in Phoenix before; what have your experiences of the city been like in the past? You are also playing a last minute show in Tucson, right? We played the Trunk Space once before, and we've played a house show there once. I don't remember what the house was called; we played a long time ago. We played a bigger venue once, where we opened up for the Queers. It was a while ago.
We were originally going to be playing Albuquerque, but the promoter stopped responding to emails, so we thought it'd be better to have a show than not. Daniel, who lives in Tucson, he did a show for us last time we came through, and he said, "I know I only have four days to put something together, but I'll do something."
So we were like, Yeah, let's do it. I've always had a really good time in Phoenix. I've never spent a lot of time in Phoenix, [though], because when we're touring through Southwestern cities, we usually have a long drive there and a long drive back after. It's not like the East Coast, when you play Boston and you only have like an hour drive the next day or something.
This is your third full length album, so what's the process of writing and recording the new album been like compared to the past? Well, the main difference is that at one point we all lived in Buffalo, but now I'm the only person who still lives in Buffalo. Sheena lives in D.C., and Max lives in Austin.
We get together and have really focused practices, instead of like before. I actually think we're more productive now that we don't live in the same city, cause when we get together we don't take it for granted. Whereas in Buffalo, when we all lived there, we were just like, "Yeah, we could practice today, or we could practice tomorrow..."
The process for this album is that I would write a song and make a demo, and then Sheena would write a song and make a demo, and then we'd just go back and forth to each other, so that when we got together, we kinda knew the songs.
We rented this space in D.C.--it's a practice space behind a pie shop, which is really cool. You could practice at any hour of the night, and whenever they would have a messed-up pie, they would always bring it back to us and we would be able to eat it. So the writing process has changed a little bit in that way, but not too crazy; just the distance thing.
Did any pies make it into this new album? Not that I'm conscious of. I mean, there might be some influence, but... [laughs]
What was the recording this album with J. Robbins like? The first time we worked with him we did our second album, Pebble, with him. We did this Record Store Day 7-inch release that we called Brilliant Dancer, and that's two songs, so this was our third time going into the studio with him.
The first time we went in, it was like, wow, it's J. Robbins, we were really big fans, and there was that nervousness, you know? But by the third time we went in, it was like, oh, it's J. Robbins, yeah, cool, we're comfortable, and we weren't afraid to be like, "No, this is what we want." It was a totally different vibe. It was really cool.
So, he mixes really well with your sound, and gets where you are going musically? I think so. Everything we did before we went to J. Robbins was with this engineer in Buffalo, and he recorded our demo and all the EPs until Get Better. If you listen to our early records back to back, you can tell he became a better engineer, but more so he learned about our band and figured out how to record us, and what's best for us, after going to him so many times.
If you listen to the demo back to back to Get Better, the recording sounds completely different--you would never guess it's the same guy who recorded it. I feel like that's what happens when you go to the same engineer; they get better and better at recording you and you go in there and they have a really good idea of how you work as musicians and how to approach things.
Was your new album as inspired by those early influences that prompted your sound on the EP's, or have new influences come in on this record to create a different sound? Those early influences are still influential but I think that once you've been a band for a long time, you're not trying to release the same thing twice. You're always trying to move forward and keep building on your sound. Those influences are still kind of the foundation but after we have spent so much time working together and playing together and understanding each other. We're also growing older, so there's even more influence, like other artists that we've come across over time.
What would you say some of those early influences are? I think some of the early influences from when the band started would be like Superchunk, Jawbreaker, The Lemonheads--like, a lot of '90s bands that walked that thin line of punk and indie rock. They were indie bands, but they played with the energy of a punk band. I would still to this day say those are some of my favorite bands.
What's your songwriting process like? Do you randomly write down lyrics or do you sit down and say, "Oh, now I'm going to write a couple of songs." It's always a little different. Every song has a different beginning. Some days I will randomly think of a melody early and I'll make a little video, and this sounds really corny, but I'll make a little video and I'll sing it, and I'll come back to it the next day, or sometimes I'll come back to it a year later...
I have this collection of random ideas. A lot of times I won't sit down and write a whole song, but sometimes I will. Sometimes I'll just write one line, and then I'll realize all those lines that I wrote in the course of a few weeks sum up that moment in my life because that's what I'm thinking about and they're all relevant, so they create a song.
Sometimes some songs start out with just a guitar line. Some songs start with just a drum beat. Or it can just be a vocal melody or a lyric or a drum beat . . . there's no set standard.
So sometimes it's the music before the lyrics? Yeah, sometimes we'll have a song that is instrumentally completely done and we'll listen to it and be like, I know what lyrics will be perfect for this--or Sheena will be like, "I have something that works really well for this mood." Then sometimes we'll have lyrics first and we'll write music to that.
What are your favorite Lemuria songs to play live? I'm not just saying this because it's our new album and I'm trying to push that but I really like "Paint The Youth," because it's a motivational song for me, and I really enjoy playing "Congratulations Sex."
As far as older songs, I don't think I'll ever get sick of playing "Lipstick." I love playing that song. I always love playing "Mechanical" and then I always liked playing "The One." It's hard to say what my favorite song is because I go through waves--like, if you ask me the same question tomorrow, my answer would be different.
How challenging is it to write music when you only communicate over email or phone and your time together is limited? Do you ever send your band members videos of melodies or lyrics you think up on the spot? Absolutely. There's thousands of embarrassing videos of me singing, and I go back and watch them and think, "Oh, God, I hope nobody besides my band mates ever sees these videos."
The other day I woke up--and this sounds really dumb, but in this dream I was having there was a song playing, and I thought, "I want to remember the melody." So I was half asleep and I made a video of me singing this melody.
Oftentimes when I make these videos there's not even words. This sounds weird, but it's mostly just me singing blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah along to the melody I thought up in that moment.
If those videos ever got on the internet, it could be a very weird tumblr. [laughs] Yeah, I hope no one ever hacks my computer.
You've been on tour straight through for a couple months, with some breaks in between. What does Lemuria do in their off time? Sheena was working at a bakery before we left for tour, but she left that to do the tour because she wouldn't have been able to get the whole summer off. I have a screen printing shop in my garage, so all our shirts and stickers and a lot of our record covers are things that I've done in my garage, and then I also do stuff for other bands. Max has a job working n Austin, where he does production for shows and festivals.
Lemuria is scheduled to perform Wednesday, August 21 at Trunk Space.
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