Sunday, March 18, 2012

Just to Be: A Q&A with Voxhaul Broadcast

(L-R) David Dennis, Phil Munsey, Tony Aguiar, Kurt Allen
            A few weeks ago, before Voxhaul Broadcast set out on their busy schedule to record the last five songs to complete their upcoming album, then travel down to Mexico to play a festival, then head to Austin for SXSW, and finally finish the month of March by playing a Monday Night Residency at The Satellite in Silverlake, members David Dennis (guitar, lead vocals) and Tony Aguiar (guitar, organ, vocals) found a quiet Wednesday to meet me in their Silverlake neighborhood to sip some coffee, share a cigarette,  and chat about the evolution they and their bandmates, Phillip Munsey (bass) and Kurt Allen (drums), have experienced over the last 20 years.

Before Voxhaul Broadcast, you guys had a different name for the band?

Tony Aguiar:  Yeah, Boulevard.

How long were you Boulevard before changing the name up?

Aguiar:  We were Boulevard for at least a year or two, but then there was another band named Boulevard and we kind of got into this battle, and we were like, ‘Fuck it, just take the name.’

Has it been the same four members since the beginning?

Aguiar:  Yeah.  Me and Kurt (Allen) grew up on the same street.  I’ve known him since he was four.  I’ve known David since junior high, and same with Phil (Munsey).

Your ties run deep then?  I’m sure that makes a difference in your success.

David Dennis:  We’ve all been friends for a real long time.

Individually, when did you know music was the path for you?

Dennis:  I kind of grew up in a singing family.  They were all like church folks and Pentecostal.  So I just grew up singing my whole life because my mom is a choir director and my dad was a singer.  She played the guitar, and she actually taught me how to play.  She’s a songwriter as well.

Did your mom ever travel for music?

Dennis:  Yeah.  My parents were missionaries when I was growing up, so we lived in India and Russia, and she was a traveling singer/songwriter and missionary.  That’s how I got into it.  Tony’s dad was a guitar player.

Aguiar:  He had a guitar shop, so that was pretty simple.

You always had the tools around you?

Dennis:  He grew up most Saturday mornings to his dad blaring Cream or Led Zeppelin.

Aguiar:  It was never a question for me, it was just so obvious.  I never had a doubt of what I wanted and I still don’t.  I don’t think, ‘Oh I could have done this, I could have done that.’  There’s so much good stuff so far, it’s so much fun.

That’s probably another reason why you guys work so well together.  You’re just who you are, and you’re not trying to be in a band to be cool.

Dennis:  If you’re in it to be a superstar or something, the odds are against you, so you better start with liking it; you better start with loving it, and then go from there.
Love the music, not the spectacle.  When did you know that you found your sound?  Did you tamper with different genres, or just start jamming, or something else entirely?

Dennis:  We’ve collectively grown through so many different genres.  Knowing somebody that long—you can imagine what kind of music we listened to when we were in fifth grade—and it’s obviously a lot different then it was in fifth grade.  Naturally you listen to different bands and you start to be inspired by different things.

Aguiar:  I think we’re always evolving with our sound too.  Even with the new songs we’re recording, it’s a little bit different from what we used to do.  It matters who we’re listening to at the time, and what we want to sound like, and what’s fun to still play.

Dennis:  Even the changes in life you go through, and life in general, can change the way you’re writing.  Sometimes you’re more introspective, sometimes you’re more extroverted, sometimes you dig love, sometimes you hate love.  It’s just whatever is on your plate at the time.  It always finds its way into the music.  That’s really the best way you can write songs—just from a real place from a real feeling that you have.  At least for me it is.  I’m not very good at making up stories of things that didn’t really happen.

There are a lot of artists that hide their lyrics behind the music, but you guys always tell a story or communicate an emotion clearly.  When you’re writing, where do you go in your head to be able to translate those feelings?

Dennis:  I’m really always in that space in my head.  It’s all I know really.  It’s what I’ve done for so long.  It’s such a big part of me that if I don’t do it, I start to go a little bit nuts.  We were on this tour recently and usually I bring my acoustic with me.  I’ll play on the stairs while we’re at the hotel, and I’ll write on the road.  I didn’t have my guitar on the road this time because we were sharing gear and we had to keep it in the other band’s trailer.  So the last tour we were on I was just going bats.

How long were you touring for?

Dennis:  A month.  That was probably the worst tour as far as being pent-up—like I think I’m gonna explode if I don’t get to play my guitar soon.  Even though I played it every night, I wanted to just write and play something new.

Before moving to LA, you guys started your music careers in Orange County?

Aguiar:  David grew up around the world, but I guess we met in junior high and were there since then until we moved up here.

Dennis:  I was born in the mid-west.  The places I’ve lived at the longest were the mid-west and here in LA, which has been about five or six years now.  That’s about the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.

Do you feel more comfortable on the move, or do you like staying in one place?

Dennis: I don’t know.  I got a little bit anxious being like, ‘I think this is my home.’  It feels weird, but until recently I’ve pretty much lived out of a bag.  I moved out when I was 16 years old.  Even when I move in somewhere, it’s like a mattress on the floor.  I’m just afraid to have things.

What’s bad about having things?

Dennis:  Nothing, nothing is!  But they make me anxious for some reason, you know?  But I just moved into this new place, and the people who were evicted left all their furniture, so I moved into a house with tons of furniture already in there, and I was like, ‘Wow, my life really came together real fast (laughs).’  I just became a regular adult overnight.

When did you decide to move to LA?

Aguiar:  Phil just kind of moved up here (to Silverlake) one random year and we all followed.  We liked it a lot and found our home here.

Dennis:  You know, you think you hate LA until you go to certain places in the city.  Our first experiences playing LA were at The Roxy and the Whiskey, and they’re just like graveyards from the ‘80s.  It’s an awful scene over there.

The high rent is killing that strip.

Dennis: We kind of had a bad taste in our mouths, and they treat the bands awful over there.  Then we started playing shows in this neighborhood, and started meeting people around here, and this really feels like home.  It’s like a different world over there (in Hollywood).
You’ve toured with quite a few notable bands over the years.  Is there any act in particular that really inspired you guys while out on the road?

Aguiar:  I think when we went on tour with Airborne (Toxic Event).  It was a big leap from where we were.

Dennis:  That was a really special tour for us.

Aguiar:  We grew as performers big time because we were playing for 1,000 people a night, so we got our bearings straight—like exactly how you have to perform—especially when it’s not your audience too, ‘cause now you’re trying to win over a lot of people that don’t know who you are.

Dennis:  There were always people excited in the front row, and then there were always a couple people who were sooo bored—like obviously thinking, ‘When’s Airborne gonna come on?!’

Aguiar:  Yeah, that was our favorite game—picking out that one person.

Dennis:  We would all get on stage and look for that one person.  I actually started giving out the Most Bored Person In the Crowd award.

Aguiar:  Seeing how real fans—since Airborne has a lot of good songs—really react with songs helped us as songwriters too.  We want songs that people can love and live and say they can relate to, so that really opened our eyes to a whole different world of writing and performing.

You’re heading out to SXSW this year?  How many times have you attended now?

Aguiar:  We’ve been a couple times.  We went in 2008 and did a couple shows, then we went in 2010 and that was alright.  We went last year and it was phenomenal because we did all the great events with Filter, and the Pure Volume shows.  This year again we’re going to do the Filter shows and stuff like that.  When you’re doing the festival like that, SXSW is different.  We had a house with a pool last year, so we really got to relax.  It’s just band camp.  There’s so many bands, you run into all your friends out there.  They’re playing in one spot, and you’re trying to make it to all these different places.

Like one big ant farm.

Aguiar:  Yeah, it’s just the craziest thing.  I couldn’t believe, the first time we went, what it was like.

Dennis:  Or you couldn’t believe how you got home.

Aguiar:  Everyone has free drinks so…

Dennis:  It’s funny and that’s a weird thing in the music industry, like when you go to a meeting, it somehow just turns into drinking.

Aguiar:  They want to give you booze ‘cause you’re a band, so they expect you to drink.

How do you handle all the distraction?

Aguiar:  We’re pretty tame.  We do have our nights where it gets a little rowdy.  But after every show we go back to the hotel room and work out, ‘cause we’ve been sitting for eight hours, so it’s like, ‘Let me run for 20 or 30 minutes.’
Do you work independently, or do you have a manager of some sort?

Aguiar:  We just got new management with this company called, The Management Company.  We met them through Airborne, like our manager is Airborne’s manager, and he works with The Bravery and Andrew W.K.  We just got on that like a month or two ago.

Any dealings with any record labels yet?

Aguiar:  When it comes it comes.  We’re not rushing to get into it.

Dennis:  I don’t know how to feel about record labels.  I’ve seen more of my friend’s bands just get eaten alive that are on labels than seeing them become successful from being on a label.  It’s hard to be optimistic about it.

Aguiar:  If someone presents us with a good opportunity then we’ll definitely take it, but until then, we’re fine on our own.

When you produce your albums, how are you distributing your work?

Aguiar:  With Timing is Everything it was iTunes and at the shows, and then at local record stores.  It’s been working fine for us.  We’re not like worldwide yet, but we hand out to enough people when we’re out at shows.

How has song placement helped in spreading your music and raising some funds?

Aguiar:  The placement stuff is our bread and butter.  We don’t really have jobs—we just play—and the placements help us keep 100% focus on the music.  We work with this company, Zinc, who helps us out.  We just got on The Vow recently.

Dennis:  They’re big supporters of ours, and they are pretty much the reason why we’re able to survive without being on a record label, because we have some people over there that like us and send out our songs.  We’re very lucky to have a good relationship with our publishing company.

With your newest album Timing is Everything, how would you say you’ve grown since your first release Rotten Apples?

Dennis:  Mentality-wise we’ve grown up a lot.  I was into a lot more psychedelic stuff, I think we all were, back then.

What types of bands were influencing back then?

Dennis:  We were listening to The Seeds at the time, and Cream and Zeppelin.  The Kinks are one of my favorites too.

For the production of your music video, ‘Leaving on the 5th,’ who did you end up working with?

Aguiar:  A buddy of ours, Justin Franklin, does videos and he had been wanted to do something with us for a while so we sat down and came up with this concept.  He was really excited, so we went with it.
How do you manage your craft and social media simultaneously?

Aguiar:  That’s the only way to get to people, which is kind of sad, but you gotta go with the times.  You gotta sit in front of your computer and spend time doing that day-to-day.

Does each member have their own specific role in the networking, like one person covers Facebook, one on Twitter, and so on?

Aguiar:  Yeah each person takes over one, it just has to be that way.

Dennis:  Phil does the Instagram.  Whatever I’m supposed to do I’ve been slacking on I think.  If you notice, our Facebook and our Twitter, every once in a while we’ll post something funny, but we’re not like the 10-times-a-day offenders.

It’s been a little more than a year since your last release.  Are you working on any new material?

Aguiar:  We are actually going into the studio this Saturday to finish the album.  We’ve got six songs that we did earlier this year, and we’re going to record four or five more songs this weekend and we’ll be done.

Dennis:  We’re recording at Village Studios in the room that they built for Fleetwood Mac.  It’s gonna be awesome.

That should hold some good vibes.  What producer are you working with?

Aguiar:  We’re working with the same guy we worked with at Village last time.  His name is Ghian Wright and he’s amazing.  When you listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic, they do the sessions there and he’s the one working on them.  He knows a lot of people, but he’s pretty much the house engineer.

How did you initially get connected with The Village?

Aguiar:  We did a KCRW event one time and the owner of the studio, Jeff, just loved us and we called him one day.  We said, ‘Hey we want to record, can you help us?’  He was excited and said yeah, and we got in for dirt-cheap.  So we’re going back there again and it was such a great experience.  We bought David a cake on his birthday there ‘cause we were recording on his actual birthday.
How long are your recording sessions usually?

Aguiar:  This one is going to be pretty short, but at the same time pretty long—like 8am to 12am.  Being exhausted can be good, it can bring out good stuff too.  It brings out real emotions I guess.

When do you think you’ll complete your new album?

Aguiar:  We’ll probably be done by the end of February.  We’ll at least have a single out in time for our March residency at the Satellite, and we’re going to SXSW and Mexico in the meantime.

I saw that you’re hopping on a festival with Modest Mouse.  What are the details on that?

Aguiar:  We’re going to fly down to Mexico for a couple of days and do our thing.  It’s an outdoor festival and it should probably be pretty crazy.  I’ve never been to Mexico, so…

Dennis:  I’ve heard really good things, and then really bad things…

Tell me more about your residency at The Satellite.

Aguiar:  It’s going to be good.  It’s every Monday, it’s free, and we’ve got a lot of good bands, DJs, and sponsors.  I’m really excited.

Why did you choose that specific venue?

Aguiar:  We just have such a good relationship with Jen over there that we couldn’t play anywhere else. 

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