Enon - Interview - January 2008
05 Feb 2008
"there's always some weird phrase like, 'this would be a hit single in a parallel universe' - like, never in this one...!"
Enon are one of those bands that seem to have been around forever. In fact they were formed in the late-'90s by singer/guitarist John Schmersal after his old band, cult Ohio synth-botherers Braniac, disbanded when their singer Tim Taylor died in a tragic car accident. Ex-Skeleton Key members Rick Lee and Steve Calhoon were also founding members, appearing on the band's 1999 debut, Believo!, as well as helping cement Enon's reputation as a jaw-droppingly great live prospect. The Schmersal's combination of lounge lizard croon and feral yelp worked wonders against an intriguing backdrop rich in found percussion, wonky electronics and fuzzy guitars, and many had Enon pegged for great things in the future.
Although much-praised, the original line-up was short-lived, and by the time a second album appeared (High Society in 2002, their first for Chicago's [the town, not the band] Touch & Go imprint), Calhoon was nowhere to be seen, with Lee also leaving shortly after. For that album, Schmersal recruited Toko Yasuda (whose top notch CV included stints with The Van Pelt, The Lapse and Blonde Redhead) and Matt Schulz (who can currently be seen moonlighting in lo-fi electronica merchants Holy Fuck) on bass and drums respectively, and the line up has remained constant ever since.
The trio recorded a third full-length, Hocus Pocus in 2003, but after extensive touring of that record, relatively little (apart from Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence, a rarities and B-sides comp) was seen of the band until last November's Grass Geysers...Carbon Clouds broke the silence. The album sounded like the work of a band that really meant business - with less sprawling, more muscular songs and an emphasis moving more toward straight-up guitar, bass and drums and away from the suitcase of effects in which Schmersal used to root around onstage.
Rockfeedback caught up with the band late last year for a chat over a slap-up meal in a Caribbean restaurant near the Windmill in Brixton, shortly before the second of two triumphant London gigs.
Rockfeedback: We haven't seen you in the UK for about 3 years, what the deuce have you been up to?
Toko: Well, we moved from New York to Philadelphia, although Matt stayed in Brooklyn.
John: I just wanted to move and spend some time getting settled in Philadelphia. I got into gardening actually. We planted some tomatoes, some rocket. There's an apple tree in our yard that we'd ignored until we started gardening and we were like, wow, these are some pretty decent apples!
RFB: A lot of reviews of Grass Geysers...Carbon Clouds called it a more focused, more 'rock' Enon album. Was that something you set out to achieve?
M: I think so, that was the way we were practicing - more concentrated as we were practicing less, because of the distance. Since they moved, the dynamic's changed in a lot of good ways. Though all the time now I get asked, 'Are you moving to Philadelphia? Are you moving to Philadelphia?'
J: We did talk about stripping things down beforehand. In the past whenever we had a guitar-orientated song, I would sing it. Then when we played live and were in situations where we were in the middle of the bill and didn't have much time to set stuff up, we'd just do guitar songs and I would end up singing most of it...
T: ...I was writing electronica...
J: So we wanted to write a record that was really stripped down but where we both sang a lot. We'd never really done that before so it was kind of a challenge.
RFB: What did you think of the press you've got for the album?
J: When we finished the record I was so pleased with how it turned out I didn't really care what the reviews said. Sometimes I even read a positive review and hate it because I don't understand what the person was trying to get at. For the most part though, I think the reviews I've read so far have been positive. It's a little less polarised then it used to be...
M: I agree with John, I get more upset by bad writing then bad reviews. I think the internet has kinda added to that. It's easier for just whoever to write whatever.
RFB: Present company excluded of course...
J: I think the most negative review was in Vice magazine which was like 'This is the worst band ever!' or something. But I kinda like that because at least it's not some weird lukewarm thing.
RFB: It's been suggested that this could be your 'breakthrough' album - what do you make of that?
M: [Laughs] Yeah, there's always some weird phrase like, 'This would be a hit single in a parallel universe' - like, never in this one!
RFB: Does it feel like indie music has changed whilst you've been away?
J: I feel like since the last time we put out a record music has changed a lot, mainly on the business side. We had to have our record ready earlier than ever before, then there's the whole paranoia of your record possibly leaking.
T: The web has really changed things.
J: And this was the first time we were asked if we wanted ring tones of our songs made, and downloadable videos for phones.
RFB: What did you say to that?
J: Sure! It didn't really cost anything to have those things made either. It's kind of weird having this accessory replacing record sales, but you can't feel too bad about that. There's no singles on this album, I feel like the idea of the single has like evaporated, at least in the US. I mean the White Stripes sell like 15,000 copies of their 7" in the UK, but in the US to sell 1,000 7"s would be a lot.
RFB: Seems like putting videos on YouTube is the way to go now...
J: Yeah, our friend made a cool animated video for 'Dr Freeze', and then a friend of Matt's made a video for 'Mr Ratatatat' back in October which has like a Halloween masquerade theme.
M: John had some plastic fangs he was singing through - it was based on some campy 70s murder movie. It's all on the web, check it out!
RFB: What do you think about the way indie music has moved into the mainstream of late?
M: I think it's been like that forever.
J: Ever since Nirvana, at least.
M: I think it's up to the band, and how commercially minded they are. Some bands are just good and they happen to blow up big, but there are definitely people who are really careerist - you can tell by listening. I think it's just how willing you are to compete with the corporate machine to get yourself in the same league as other bands that are doing that stuff.
J: And also the internet generation has made everything so accessible. We played a show in LA then three days later the songs were on YouTube and I didn't even know someone was filming us!
M: Now, all the people who were like 'Man, I never got to see Nirvana!' can see them without leaving the house. I come from Ohio, and we had to look so hard to find out about records and stuff - there was no record store where I lived. So it's kinda rad for kids in places like that because they have access to everything now.
RFB: You all contributed to Les Savy Fav's latest album, what was it like to work with them?
J: We've been friends with them for a long time. I actually toured with them, playing guitar around the time of 'The Cat & the Cobra'. Toko sings on that record too.
M: I think the new album is great. I don't really like the song I play on though! I love that song 'Brace Yourself', I think Syd [Butler, LSF bassist] really brought a Trojan, Jamaican influence in on that, and I love the lyrics. I like all the songs on ROME but I think this is their best record.
RFB: Any other favourite records of from last year?
M: Love of Diagrams, Weirdo Rippers by No Age. Octopus Project - maybe that hasn't come out over here - they have a girl who plays theremin really well. The MIA record.
J: Tokyo Police Club - I'm not sure if that came out recently...
RFB: Anything else you'd like to add?
J: This interview is delicious!