The Silversun Pickups were scheduled to come to St. Louis in November as one of the opening acts for Australian classic-rock scream-machine Wolfmother. But a few days before its highly anticipated gig, the LA quartet cancelled its appearance here. A disappointment, to be sure, but understandable: The kind folks at Late Show with David Letterman tapped the band to tape an appearance.
Such attention is fast becoming status quo for the wall-of-fuzz rockers, however at least judging from subsequent TV gigs (a weeklong stint as the house band on Carson Daly's late-night gig, a video for "Lazy Eye" landing in MTV rotation) and the ever-increasing star-power of tour partners (right now, Snow Patrol). Plus, the Pickups' label just secured European distribution for their ragingly successful 2006 debut full-length, Carnavas.
The mainstream notice earned by Carnavas is somewhat surprising if only because the album's sound is so drastically different from the vast majority of music created today and draws from sounds (shoegazing cloudbursts, Sonic Youth-style noise-creases) that don't really resonate beyond a cult audience in the U.S.
Roaring distortion and feedback tumble together like a blinding dust storm, but are often tempered by moments of tranquil beauty (in particular, the end of the noiseburst "Checkered Floor" smooths into vocalist-guitarist Brian Aubert crooning wordlessly over a heart-thumping bassline from Nikki Monninger) and sheer pop sugar ("Well Thought Out Twinkles" is buoyed by catchy, rolling guitars that thunder like Led Zeppelin Jr.).
Although there are more than a few hints of Ride and Hum and countless sunny California indie-rock bands in the Silversun Pickups' sound, most journalists compare the band to 1990s alt-rock staple Smashing Pumpkins. While keyboardist Joe Lester admits the comparison is valid, he also thinks "there's a certain amount of laziness to it like, 'Oh well, they said that, so I'll say that too,'" he says, calling while en route to Orlando, Florida.
"There's obviously got to be something to it if so many people have said it," he continues. "In the end, it's like, 'Fuck, dude, they're a good band.' It's a flattering comparison. Because they always say like, 'Smashing Pumpkins, the first two records.' And those are the two records that all of us like!"
What's perhaps most impressive, however, is how unaffected the band is by such comparisons and how unaware it is of its burgeoning success and popularity.
"We've been on tour basically since the record came out," Lester says. "We've had little breaks here and there. I think it's in the back of everybody's heads: 'Wow, this is going pretty well.' Probably going a lot better than any of us really sort of anticipated that it would? I don't think anyone's really sat down and thought about it, 'cause if that happened I think the rest of us would know 'cause that person would kind of freak out."
That attitude isn't new. "I remember being at a bar here in LA and I was with Joe," recalled Aubert in a June 2006 interview. "Our song 'Kissing Families' came on in the background. And Joe was like, 'Who is this?' I'm like, 'That's, uh, you, man.' He's like, 'Oh.'"
Lester is just as affable today in conversation calling from the Pickups' tour bus the band's first trip in such a vehicle, and "a whole rad experience unto itself." Despite the swank ride, he's endearingly still awed by the little things.
For instance, the best part of currently opening for the cuddlebug rockers/Grey's Anatomy faves? The catering. "It's so much different than truck-stop bullshit food," Lester says. "To actually come in and you load in, do your soundcheck and at 5:30 every night there's a really nice, hot meal for everyone? That's, like, unbelievably pleasant."
What did the band learn opening for Wolfmother?
"Subconsciously you pick up stuff watching them live, 'cause they're really dynamic and awesome, they're such a good live show," he says. "You take note like, 'Huh, OK.' It is possible to totally rock out and not look like a douchebag. There are ways to do certain things.
"It's not like you're going to copy their moves or anything. But it's like, 'Oh yeah, OK. Bigger venue, gotta rock out a little more. Right on.' If you were doing that in a tiny little club, people would be like, 'You complete ponce. What are you doing, like, standing on the front of the stage, pointing your guitar at the crowd?'"
Even more impressive, he's almost apologetic about having had to cancel the November St. Louis gig; it would have been the band's first time in town (even though Lester's old band, Pine Marten, played the Rocket Bar).
"We're glad we get to get back to St. Louis and make up for ditching out on you guys that one time," Lester says. "We got a lot of angry MySpace messages from that. Like, 'You fuckers! That was the only reason I was going to the show!' I was like, 'Uh, sorry! I didn't really think that was going to happen!' It was really sweet. It was like, 'Fuck, we gotta go back and make up for being slackers on that.'"
Lester might be the only person to refer to his band with the word "slackers," seeing as how its touring schedule has seen it play shows with Elefant, Viva Voce, Brendan Benson and Nine Black Alps, and its road schedule stretches through the end of the year.
As if just to prove how down-to-earth and un-self-conscious the band is, Lester gleefully relays a recent tale of tour-bonding self-deprecation included.
"We went to Disney World the day before yesterday and we got the Splash Mountain picture," Lester says. "It's pretty awesome. We got the whole log or whatever the fuck it is. It was everybody in the band and all of our crew. It's the entire tour, making goofy faces on a ride. 'Here's all of us, looking like jackasses!' You can't try and be cool on it. it's not going to happen. This one is a particularly good one, we're pretty stoked on it. We all look like extra jackasses."