Out Hud is phyllis Forbes, Molly Schnick, Tyler pope, Justin Vandervolgen, and Nic Offer. If Nic, Tyler, and Justin's names sound familiar, it might be because they also play together in !!!. Both bands were founded in Sacramento, CA, in the mid 90's with the first Out Hud single emerging in 1997. With the release of Let Us Never Speak of It Again in March that makes two albums in eight years! Out Hud's follow-up to S.T .R.E.E.T. D.A.D.  was entirely recorded in New York, which the band now calls home, and took under two years to complete. The new album prominently features the vocals of Molly and phyllis and the album might surprise those who expect D.A.D part two - the songs are more focused; Out Hud's in-house producer and engineer, Justin Vandervolgen's, mixing skills are utilized to great effect, and the new material seems to be aimed more squarely at the intersection of rock and electronic dance music, with songs chock full of electronic rhythms, sweeping synths, bouncy bass lines, guitar and cello atmospherics and a sense of experimentation that harks back to the early 80's and an era where bands unselfconsciously mixed dance and rock music at venues such as Danceteria.
The conversation with Out Hud took place during the Grammys, which the band gallantly muted.
Daniel Blumin: The first thing I noticed when I listened to this record is that there's a lot more of an electronic feel to it; much of it is due to the fact that I don't hear any real drums. I hear a lot of programming…
Nic Offer: Some of the last record was made when we were still living in Sacramento; when we moved out to New Y ork, we pretty much started jamming exclusively to a drum machine. This album is pretty much all New Y ork songs. That was the main thing -when we started jamming with the drum machine, we started jamming for a lot longer. Then we'd find the cool parts, and put them into a song form.
DB: It sounds like a lot of it is very heavy in the pre-production realm. How did you put the tracks together?
Phyllis Forbes: Well, different songs sort of get made in different ways. With a lot of the songs, we sort of came up with parts from jamming and then put together songs,and then we'd go play ʻem on tour and they would change.Then we recorded them and they'd change some more.
DB: I noticed that on the new record there are quite a few different parts that are independent of each other but still work within the context of the song. Is that the result of that kind of process?
PF: Yeah somewhat. Even after we record it, it's still in a raw state, and it's up to Justin to decide what the focus of certain parts of certain songs is. It kind of gets honed in more even after it's recorded. Even a long time after, it can still change a lot.
NO: Justin is an integral part of the song process. It's not done until he's done with it. With this album especially, we did lots of demos after jamming, and he'd basically form them into songs, picking the parts that he liked best. He's always been the one who focuses the song. Basically, we have the songs, and they're kind of naked once they're recorded until he does the production to them. He's also a producer live; without him, especially on the instrumentals, it's almost like there's no singer. He's kind of the focal point of it.
DB: So, what does he have to work with when he gets the demos? Would it be like a drum track and a whole bunch of bass and guitar parts, and vocals?
PF: Some of it's like that; most of the songs we come up with when we're jamming, and then we'll go play them on tour. So, it's a whole song that he gets, but it's missing, like one major part that we don't have live. They're just sort of the dry tracks. Others ones are different. Some of them were more written, and we just went into the studio and recorded them. With some of them, Justin had more like a whole song; others actually changed pretty dramatically after we recorded them, while some are the same as when we play them live. It's different! were just messing around some old track and we were like, “Hey, let's put vocals on there, and it'll sound really cool.” It happened in the process of fooling around with stuff and trying out new things.
NO: If you go back to the first song on our first 7”, it had vocals on it, so Out Hud has always been super creatively free. We do whatever we want at all times; if we wanted to play the triangle through the whole song, that's what we'd do.
PF: Yeah, more triangle!
NO: It's always been about whatever is creatively fun for us, and it just became more creatively fun to do it this way.
DB: Phyllis, you have known Molly since you were teens, and now you've all known each other for a really long time. Some of you play together in !!!, and most of you live together. Do you feel that when you're playing or recording, you know each other so well and you're so used to each other in certain ways that it tends to affect the process positively, or does it sometimes get kind of negative?
NO: It's both; it is a family, and families have hard times, but, ultimately, I don't really understand bands that aren't like that. That's just my experience. My bands have always just been like this. It seems like you get work done better if you're living together, and again it's not a decision; it's just kind of something that worked out. We started playing in bands together because we were friends, we had fun, and we liked the same kind of music. And we stayed together and made it work because we are friends, and it's fun to be together and live together.
DB: It's unusual these days to find music that sounds so electronic and is created by three people, never mind five people… It's interesting that you're able to create a sound so unified and still do it as a pretty large group.
PF: When we jam and write songs and all the stuff that's on the record, it's all real instruments playing those parts; we're all actually playing together and listening to each other like a band might. So, it doesn't seem that weird.
NO: I understand the traditional rock band is bass, guitar, drums, singer, and electronic music is usually two guys or something, but electronic music is getting old, and I think we're just a symptom of what's going to happen. I think there will be a lot more bands… The keyboards we use are pretty cheap and you can get them at Guitar Center, so people will go out and use them in bands as well. If it seems strange, I think that it won't, eventually.
DB: There seems to be inspiration from music that was made in the 80's in your sound, and I was wondering whether you feel that a lot of bands over the last couple of years have been using some reference points that hadn't really been explored all that much, or, at least, less attention had been paid to them for awhile.
NO: There's this thing that seems pretty regular to me in pop music, which is this mirror effect. In the 70's, you had bands like The Ramones and Devo, who were jacking the 50's-60's pop music and looking back to that era. Then, you had the 80's and a lot of groups in the 60's revival, like R.E.M. Then you had the 90's, which obviously reflected back to the 70's, so it makes sense that in the 00's, we'd be looking back to the 80's. As I remember it, in the 90's, we just got over the 80's, so the 80's were horrible and we hated them. We only liked the 70s. Well, now it's like the 2000's, and we hate the 90's. We really do. It just seems natural -music becomes hip, becomes unhip, becomes forgotten, and becomes rediscovered. There's a lot of music that we listen to now that we would've laughed at ourselves for a few years back, and a lot of those are the 80's disco tracks that we really love.
DB: I think there's a real strange line in “One Life to Leave” - “It fits us to die”. I was kind of bobbing my head along to the track before I even paid any attention to what it was saying, and then I was like, “Wait, it's saying “It fits us to die”!
PF: Sorry, dude! [laughs] You know, it's funny, I feel like a lot of the lyrics on the record are dark, and I just feel like, “Don't you ever feel bad!?” I don't know; with the human condition and all, it'd be the right ending.
DB: One of my favorite tracks is “It's for You”. I was wondering whether you had any stories about it. Was that just something that came out of a jam session?
PF: No, that song I made a demo of, and we pretty much recorded the parts. That's probably the closest song to any of the demos I made for the record. I was living in an apartment, and I wrote it there, and that was it.
DB: Did you play all the instruments?
PF: Yes, on the original demo, but then when we went back and re-recorded stuff for the album, Tyler played the bass and the guitar. We needed to do a better job for the recorded version, and that's all we really care about.
DB: Who gets the job of doing the song titles?
PF: This time, we had some of them from playing live, and some of them, right towards the end, we're like, what are we going to call that one?” Nic thinks of a lot of them.
NO: There were a lot of brainstorming sessions before practice - just joking around.
DB: The music that you make doesn't seem jokey, while some of the song titles are meant to be funny or tongue-in-cheek. What do you think the role of a title of a song is?
NO: It's what we think they are. Everyone has this idea that art has to be serious, but Marcel Duchamp loved fun, and he would always title his stuff something really weird. But the title does become what the song, even though it's instrumental, will be about. For instance, I don't think you can listen to “Dear Mr. Bush” without thinking about the title. I think the music very much expresses the title. The same thing with, say, “L Train Is A Swell Train,” the music very much became what that sentiment meant. So, it's like, we're half-joking, but, sometimes, we're seriously joking.
DB: And, of course, I guess it's one way to get the “Dear Mr. Bush” message across without actually becoming Bono.
NO: We're always looking for ways to avoid becoming Bono because we're [snaps fingers] that close!
DB: [laughs] What are your future plans?
PF: We're going to tour the East Coast and some of the South with Hella in April. And we're playing New York at the end of that.
DB: Outside of the Out Hud record, are there any other projects you guys are involved in? Is !!! going back into the studios? What's in store for the '05?
NO: Yeah, when Out Hud's not touring, we're basically working on a new !!! record, so that's basically what we're doing all year - touring promoting this record and getting that one together.
DB: Tyler is also in LCD Soundsystem. Are they also touring?
PF: I don't know; he's not going on tour with us, actually. We're gonna go without him ʻcause he's just had too much to do.
DB: So you're going to go out as a four piece?
PF: No, our new bass player's name is Lance Krueger.
DB: Is that a full time thing?
NO: Maybe - we'll see how it goes.
DB: OK, have fun watching the Grammys! You probably still have a few minutes to catch that final performance…
NO: Usher's on right now.
PF: He's a good dancer!
Out Hud's album Let Us Never Speak of It Again is out now on Kranky Records.
For more info: www.kranky.net
«« table of contents