blisterpackzine

Playing Songs in the Theatre of Heaven: An Interview with England in 1819

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm

[This interview was conducted by both Emily Vega and Monica Garza.]

Emily and I had first seen England in 1819 at a show at the Fitzgerald’s in Downtown Houston. We had heard of them from Featherface (whom we had gone to see that night) and I saw their music video for “Trophy Sixty-One” on YouTube a couple of days before. Their music is very hauntingly beautiful and definitely a successful experiment in destroying musical conventions and creating a sound that speaks to the creativity and innermost thought processes of the band as a whole. After hearing some of their songs online, I was convinced I definitely would stay to see them play. I did not regret this decision whatsoever. I already thought England in 1819 was pretty great, but England in 1819  live was an incredibly different story. They were amazing. Emily and I stared at each other in awe periodically throughout their performance. Zuly’s operatic vocals meshed with Andrew’s melancholy crooning was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. Their wide array of instruments wasn’t to be overlooked either.

Imagine a Holy War about to happen. Angelic wings beating furiously, bows being drawn. England in 1819 is a theatre in Heaven. Their music is the battle song. England in 1819 is like nothing I’ve ever heard, and it’s incredible in this case. Immaculate, even. Sounds come from instruments I’ve only ever heard in the orchestra, and I hear it from the small Fitzgerald’s stage in Houston. I can only stare in awe and astonishment.

Since all of England in 1819 resides in Louisiana, we conducted an email interview. Don’t be fooled, however. Despite such a cold mode of communication, Andrew is able to convey his passion for what he does.

Emily:
1. Each band member’s name, and what they do in the band.

Andrew – piano/vocals

Dan – bass/french horn

Liam – guitar

Jon – drums/percussion

Alex – drums/percussion

Zuly – vocals/percussion

Chip – oboe/percussion

2. What’s the story behind the band? How did you all come together as England in 1819?

Liam is Andrew and Dan’s father. When we found ourselves together again in Baton Rouge in late 2007, after several years of all being in different places, we decided to start playing together. We slowly added people as we went along and the result is the current line-up of England in 1819.

3. How would you describe your sound?

Mellow, grand, slowly-building, ending-anthems.

4. The songs on Three Cheers for Bertie are powerfully ethereal and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. How are your songs made? What is the process of making a song and writing lyrics?

Most of the initial ideas are formed first on the piano by Andrew. These fragments will be brought to the band and pieced together and jammed out, continuing the growth. They might go back to the solo piano stage a few times during the process, but eventually will be taken over by the band, and take on their own unique form and sound.

5. Who/what influences you, musically?

That’s a difficult question. I think we all try to let the music come from a really natural place. It’s hard to say specific groups or bands that are our influences, but we do like the way certain bands do certain things. The National’s lyrics, Sigur Ros’s size and pace, Anathallo’s unapparent complexity, and Givers’ energy…there’s just too many to name. And I don’t think we really sound especially like any of the bands we listen to, but we see things they do and say, “wow, that’s awesome. i want to affect people in that way as well”…and we find a way to incorporate it into what we are doing.

Monica:
6. Do you see yourselves getting signed to a record label? How do you think the dynamic in the group would change?

Hopefully yes! Ideally, we would be prepared for being signed. What I mean by that is, sometimes we get caught up in thinking that once we get signed, we’ll be able to sort this out, and sort that out…and that’s a dangerous way of thinking because you are making excuses for essentially not striving for perfection. One of our main goals right now is to make steps towards that perfection, so that if someone comes along with the possibility of signing us, they have very little work to do. Hopefully the dynamic of the group would not change dramatically but the added pressure of using someone else’s money can definitely create problems, and so we just have to do our best to be prepared.

7. If you were to be in a dream concert, who would your dream artist/band be to play with?

…I think that’s too hard…it could be anyone from any time period? The Beatles maybe? That would make a pretty good story.

8. How does it feel to tour in different cities?

It feels amazing! It feels like you are finally getting out there and sharing your music with people. It’s something that was a goal for us from the beginning…to be able to travel and share the music. As you drive into a different place, with the thought in your head – “The only reason I am here right now is to play this music and connect with these people” – that’s powerful. It gives you a sense of purpose and drive, and a bit of responsibility, and as long as you are playing well, it’s really rewarding.

9. What’s your favorite thing to do on the road?

Telling everyone that it’s meditation hour and putting an album on and just listening to it all the way down. It’s so rare to do that anymore, and it’s really difficult to do at home, when you feel like you don’t have the time. With a 6 hour drive ahead of you, it’s feels like free time. Someone has said, you have to sit in this chair for 6 hours, but you can do whatever you want. That’s an opportunity! Let’s just listen.

10. What makes for a great concert? Does using the diverse instruments onstage take its toll?

If every aspect of the show comes together, and falls into place, it’s a great concert. Without getting too specific, if the crowd is having a great time, and we play really well, it’s a great concert. It can be a great concert even if you played like crap, in your eyes, but the fans still loved it. But it’s way more rewarding to walk off the stage as a group, hear people cheering, and look around at each other and say, we nailed it.

The extra instruments. The never ending argument. I hope people are out there saying, all that extra stuff really made it, because it really is a pain for the live shows. Every thing you add is just one more thing to keep track of. One more mic, one more cable, one more thing for the sound guy to worry about and less space on stage for us. And half the time you can’t hear all the extra stuff anyway. It’s always up in the air as far as how much of that we need to do, and the sad thing is that we’ve cut down tremendously. It’s about finding a balance between all the elements we want to bring to the live show, and the reality of making it all work. There are days where I feel like we should have more, and days where I feel like we should just cut it all back. Hopefully we’ve found a good middle ground.

11. Are you working on a new album/song(s)? If so, do you feel like you’re heading in a new direction sound-wise? Are you trying new things?

Well we are really close to wrapping up our second album. It’s about to be sent out to be mastered, and then pressed. I feel like it’s not a drastic change. It’s a bit more polished, just because we recorded it professionally this time, as opposed to just doing it ourselves in our living room. From a writing perspective, I tried to write more major themes musically. The lyrics still came out a bit dark, and that’s something I just can’t help. I don’t come home after a really great day and just pour out my happiness. I crawl to the piano in desperate times and allow music to be the outlet for the darker emotions.

12. What would you say to your past self in terms of how things have turned out? What would you say to your future self in terms of how you hope things will be?

I’m going to interpret “self” as the band’s “self” and not me personally. To the past “self”, I’d say “It gets better”. To our future “self”: “Remember where you came from”  and “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

13. Are any of you in college? If so, what’s your major? How do you balance the band and school?

Zuly and Chip are in college. Zuly is getting her Doctorate in Voice Performance. Chip is getting his doctorate in Oboe Performance.

The time commitment is not as crazy for them on a daily basis, and I don’t know how they manage to go on tour with us a for a weekend and keep up with it. That’s a testament to their competency I think. I don’t see how anyone, without a manager, could possibly do school and develop a band. Having a lot of friends would help, because you would have people who would be coming out to your shows without a lot of work…we don’t have any friends. We had one once…he left.

14. What do you feel is your purpose (in terms of the band, making music, or just in general)?

Whoa! If anyone knew that…that would make life easier I think. In a very wide sense…to inspire people. To give people hope. To make people connect with other people. No matter how bad things may get for you, there’s always something you can do for someone else, to make their life better. And I think if everyone followed that, the world would be just a bit better. And that’s the bottom line I think everyone is striving for…to create a better world. For us, through music.

You know, you’ve got people having a good time at your show. And then the person who sits down with the lyrics. And then the person who has no where else to turn, and really sits down and gets really deep into what I am singing about. I think what we’re trying to do is be successful on all levels. Have a great show. Have meaning and connection for the person who looks a bit deeper, and way down is philosophical issues and comments on life.

And it’s a little conceited to think that you are going to change everyone’s life who listens to your music, and that you’ve got all this meaning and the music is oh so deep and meaningful. But I think the attempt to offer thought, comfort, and solace is genuine. Whether anyone gets anything out of it is another question, but that’s what I needed to do, in order to make it meaningful to me.

15. What would you say to your fans right now?

Keep listening and keep talking about us. You are absolutely going to love this second album. We really aren’t anything without the support of our fans, so…thank you, thank you, thank you!

We love talking to people, so please feel free to come talk to us, anytime.

Emily:

We really enjoyed your answers. However, the answer about the lyrics being dark really struck me (this is Emily typing). It’s nice to see that the profoundness of the music matches that of the artists, and the deepness resonates with its fans. I think it’s better to write from the very core of your soul. Anyone can write a pop hit, a happy, catchy little beat, but it takes real emotion to write a sad song, you know? Music, or even more broadly, art  is perhaps the best way to channel emotions, especially when those emotions are negative. It’s like Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s no trick to writing. You just sit a typewriter and bleed.”

That being said, how do you feel about that in relation to your music? You talk about a “wasted encore” in “Trophy Sixty-One.” If the piano is how you channel your soul, do you think one day you’ll eventually just end up scraping your soul for more inspiration?

Andrew:

I do know what you mean.

I would say first that is exactly what I do. I sit at the piano and bleed. I think some of that is the difference between words and music. Words in my mind, are more limiting. To me, a feeling, an emotion…can be more closely replicated and conveyed through music than through words. It’s often hard to describe exactly how you might be feeling…exactly what emotion is within you. In the same way, I find myself at a loss when I try to describe the feelings and emotions conveyed through music. Words and language, to me, are better for creating scenes, use with imagery, or telling a story. Music is better for conveying emotion.

Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. And there are people who do amazing work with purposefully emotionless music and powerful words…and that itself is a statement, and can affect people in very strong ways. For me, it’s just that the emotion comes out in the music.

“Do I think one day I’ll just end up scraping my soul for more inspiration?”

I’m not sure I understand this question. Would it cause me too much pain to re-live and have to re-spin what I’ve already let out? Or that it would be bad for the listener, who has already lived through these stories with me, and wants something fresh?

I think I’ll just keep letting out whatever is down there. It very well may be positive things one day. Until then I don’t mind the negative things.

I heard Matt Berninger (of The National) talking about this. He was saying how people had criticized his new album for being too dark and a bit negative, and he was asked how he felt about singing sad songs. His response was that – the topic might be sad…but he wrote the songs as a release, and that in itself is positive, cathartic…and is a pleasurable way to write.

I think that describes almost perfectly the feelings I have about writing sad songs. A sad topic doesn’t necessarily have to become a negative experience for the singer, the band…or the listener. I try to include positive ways of thinking about all of the things I sing about…so that at the end of the day…there is some sort of message. We aren’t just left in a bleak world, but rather inspired for change, with a sense of hope and purpose.

Monica:

I definitely understand what you’re getting at when you say that a sad topic doesn’t have to be a negative experience. My theatre teacher in middle school once told me that “Sometimes, when something is really intensely bothering you, you just have to cry it all out. Once you’ve cried your hardest and poured all of those emotions out, you’ll never cry about it again.” In a sense, I feel that correlates with pouring out your emotions into a song, especially if the emotions are powerful and tinged with sadness. The act of creating a song from those emotions becomes an outlet for the songwriter, and, in turn, creates a semblance of a sanctuary for the listeners.

Your response about how words are limiting to you reminds me about Kurt Cobain when he said that his lyrics didn’t mean anything really, and that it was just about the music. However, over time, his music evolved and it did become about what he was saying just as much as it was about what he was composing. Of course, I know your lyrics have meaning to you, but do you ever feel that you will get to a place musically where you can feel that not only have you mastered the instrumental portion of a piece, but also the lyrics?

Andrew:

I’m glad it made sense then!

I guess I do hope to one day feel like I have mastered the lyrics. I’ve thought about having other people write, and using their words…but it never comes out how I want. I’m particular about the way the words sound too. I still like my words, even though they lack emotion sometimes, and aren’t always the strongest aspect of our music. But I look forward to reaching that point though, where I feel both are conveying emotion in a meaningful way.

Thanks for all you’ve done!


Want to know more about England in 1819?

Check out these great links:

http://www.facebook.com/englandin1819

http://music.englandin1819.com/

http://englandin1819.tumblr.com/

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