In this week's paper, we tried something a little different with the Berlin Whale feature. Akin to the stars-interviewing-stars conceit popularized by Interview magazine, we enlisted bassist Mike Cracchiolo of the Bureau to conduct a Q&A with one-half of Berlin Whale. Cracchiolo brings a unique perspective to the story; while he's played shows with Berlin Whale before, he's also a big fan of the band -- and thus imparts great insights from both sides of the stage to the piece.
The quartet's self-titled album -- which it's releasing tonight at Cicero's monthly indie-rock new-music night -- is full of perfect summer jams. See below for a few MP3s, but they're best described by the blurb I wrote for the music awards booklet:
Like the Ramones, the four members of Berlin Whale tend to use the surname "Whale" when referring to themselves in MySpace messages — a darling conceit that aligns perfectly with their adorably lo-fi dance-rock. Rickety Casio keyboards and surrealistic lyrics collide in joyous tandem; think the B-52's, New Order and Talking Heads riding a Tilt-a-Whirl together. Whimsical without being cutesy (and stuffed with more melodies and harmonies than a Broadway musical), Berlin Whale's upcoming debut album is an equally jubilant affair. This is DIY new-wave at its most primitive.
After the jump, Nate Bethel and Trevor Berkholtz talk about working with So Many Dynamos guitarist Ryan Wasoba and the transition it's made from basement shows to real stages. Read on while the songs "Sweet Sixteen" and "Beatrice (Apples and Oranges)" stream:
"Beatrice (Apples and Oranges)":
Trevor, you’re not exactly the model frontman -- you’ve got a very different personal life than the other three guys, you seem to be a little more introspective. What’s it like to play a Berlin Whale show? Trevor Berkholtz: I think we just all realized in practice that our music is really fun to play, and started moving to it. Nothing’s rehearsed. I mean, the claps and stuff -- we obviously talk about wanting to get people to be more into the music, which is why we try to have some crowd interaction. So that’s discussed. As far as what we do individually, it’s just how we react to our own music, I guess. None of it’s forced, but I think we realize we would probably kind of suck if we just stood there. Nate Bethel: The typical set-up is Trevor in the middle, but I guess it depends on where you see us, because sometimes the set up is that I’m in the front, or Jesse. I don’t think we ever try to make it focused on a frontman, or that this is just about one of us. It’s more like, “We’re all here, let’s do it.” You see a lot of bands where it’s all the singer’s doing. I don’t know if we did it intentionally or subconsciously, but we’re all into it.
It seems that in recent years that’s become a lot more important in the indie scene, it’s almost like what it was like at early punk rock shows, where the distance between the band and the audience was really minimized. Bethel: When we lived together, that house was not that fun of an experience all-around, but those basement shows were the best thing we’ve ever done, because there was no division. The RFT showcase was gigantic, but I would take a basement show with 30 people who were really into it over that any day, just because it’s so compact. You can’t argue with that energy.
Having moved on to playing out in clubs, is that something that you’re having trouble translating? Bethel: I think it’s something that’s impacted us a lot, not having a basement, or a venue -- I guess Lemp Arts Center is the closest thing to that, but I think everybody has their own issues with Lemp. It’s still one of my favorite places to play, but it’s hard to draw there. But yeah, not having a basement to play has totally impacted the way things work, and the way we think about ourselves. Berkholtz: There’s something weird about being up on stage. Bethel: I still don’t feel very comfortable. Berkholtz: When we started, all we ever played was basement shows and Lemp, and it just worked so much better with our energy, having the crowd two feet in front of us. Bethel: And it sounds like pretentious DIY attitude to say that, that we don’t want to be above anybody or beyond anything, but it’s totally true with us. It feels so much more honest when it’s all on that level, figuratively and literally.
So Many Dynamos has done a lot for you, right down to Ryan Wasoba recording your album. How did that all come about? Bethel: They invited us to play a show with them at Radio Cherokee, in May of last year. And we totally sucked. Berkholtz: Yeah, it was pretty bad. Bethel: It was an awful show, so that was a big bummer, but then we just stayed in touch. They started sending me demos of their Flashlights album, and we kept talking and me and Ryan got pretty close. They took a huge interest in us. I don’t know what we’d be doing if we hadn’t hooked up with them. The album coming out is exactly how we wanted it, and it was recording on a four-track. They just really get it.
Were you nervous about recording? Bethel: We did a previous recording. We spent seven months recording it with someone else, and it just never felt right. A lot of these songs were written over a year ago, and a lot of people could argue that we should have put it out just to have something out, but we were pretty committed to getting it right. Berkholtz: When we recorded last year, we knew we wanted it to sound good, but that was it. So the guy who recorded us, it was a very fast-paced thing. Bethel: Like a conveyor belt. Berkholtz: So when we got it mastered, it just lacked any sense of energy. It was just flat. It took that, though, for us to know exactly what we wanted. And Ryan, after seeing us live once, offered to record us for free. And it took him about two months to record the whole thing. Bethel: Totally stress-free. And he did it in a way we would never have thought of, he just recorded us live, more or less. All of it is just us playing in a basement, basically. Berkholtz: I think what holds it together is the foundation, the bass and the drums and a couple other things were recorded at the same time, and then we layered over that. Bethel: It’s real together, very live-sounding. Well maybe, not too together. It’s real. Berkholtz: My big thing with recording is that there’s no reason to overproduce or have it sound any differently than what you sound like live. You need to be honest with people. Bethel: Especially with this type of music. Berkholtz: It needs to capture exactly what the band is, no frills, and that’s what this album is. On a couple tracks, there’s a little hiss from the tape machine, but then our guitar amps buzz all the time. None of it’s so low-quality or distracting that it’s shitty to listen to, but it makes it more interesting, I think. Bethel: There’s a lot of little mistakes like tempo drops and little like that, that I guess one could pick on, but that totally makes it what we are. I’m really happy with it.
So was the difference in the technical approach, or in working with somebody you had a rapport with? Berkholtz: Both. I mean, the guy we recorded with previously is a really sweet dude, a really good guy, but he’d never seen us live. He was used to following the rules as far as recording goes. Bethel: He didn’t want us to turn up too loud, or amp things a certain way for the sake of it sounding technically right.
But then, you guys as a band don’t necessarily sound technically right. Bethel: Yeah, I think he just didn’t get it, or wasn’t ready for what we wanted to do. But Ryan aced it.
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