By: Jess Goulart
By proudly pining a retro badge to playful mod tricks, The Interest Group’s sound manages to be expressive, nostalgic, and novel all at once. Comprised of Yohsuke Araki, of Banana Symphony, joined by Marissa Lesnick, Kyle Garvey, Matthew Keller, and Steve Urgo, the band offers a lot of potential in the small amount of tracks they’ve released so far. In August, the Philadelphia-based band partnered with Stratosfear Recordings to debut a 7” two-track teaser (also available in digital) for their unreleased full-length album. The fivesome acknowledges their vintage influences, developing them into kaleidoscopic swells to create a modern take on psychedelic indie pop. In the first track, “The Passenger” Lesnick’s vocal blend of sultry and siren dreamily offer a ride through fuzz guitar riffs and trickling ’60s synth, while the B-side, “Vagabond Dreamer”, haunts with a gorgeous vocal duet layered tenderly atop romantic mandolin trills. BTR caught up with Araki, Lesnick, and Garvey – the three primary songwriters/producers – to chat about what catches their interest, and how they’ll spark yours.
Tell me about your background as musicians? What brought you all together?
YA: I think what’s more interesting than our backgrounds as musicians is our backgrounds as film students. Kyle and I were a part of the same group of friends that made music and film sketches together. He went to college in the city for film and I went to art school for a year, but I eventually transferred to the same school as Kyle for the same major. That’s where I met Marissa in an experimental video and media class. It was a pretty bogus class, actually, but we figured out that we both like to make music because some of our projects involved our original music. Honestly, above education, finding someone to start a band with was always sort of the real agenda for my “college experience,” and unexpectedly and naturally, Marissa and I found each other. So in a sense, film school was worth it.
KG: I got into music for my dad, he played in the punk rock band the Buzzcocks, so I picked up bass from him.
ML: Matt Keller got involved because we worked together at the same movie theater, and I’ve jumped in on a few of his other bands. We wanted to add another guitar for live performances, and he’s a great guitarist. Yohsuke writes a lot of guitar parts in all of his songs, and I think they’re all really important, so we wanted to have a nice balance of sounds, a fuller sound, when live. I generally play rhythm, Matt will do some experimental stuff, and Yohsuke has some awesome solo riffs.
Have you always been listening to this kind of music? What are some of your biggest influences?
YA: Well, we’re a pop band, with some ’60s and ’70s influence, but I would prefer it to be thought of as forward thinking that looks backward. Especially as far as production quality and tricks are concerned. Hopefully it translates live, because really, I think the whole spectrum of music influences us. As far as production goes, electronic dance music was just as much an influence as Dusty Springfield. When people hear our music, I want them to say “this is like the sixties, but there’s something different about it.” And I hope that what they’re hearing and thinking and feeling is the influence of everything. Music from all time.
ML: I think a lot of my harmonies come from listening to girl groups like The Crystals, The Ronettes, and Love Darling. That’s what I follow as a songwriter.
KG: I think the one band that we can all agree on is Fleetwood Mac. Fleetwood Mac is universally accepted by us.
Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind your 7”? Any themes you were trying to touch on in particular?
YA: We were listening to a lot of French pop music from the ’60s at the time we were writing those songs. Francoise Hardy, Franz Gall, and Serge Gainsbourg.
ML: I think we sing about whatever comes to mind to us at the time, for whatever makes sense, or maybe doesn’t make sense. When I wrote “The Passenger” in my room, it was like two in the morning. I think I’d been listening to Dum Dum Girls a lot, and just her voice, the sultriness of it, I was trying to emulate that. I looked over at my desk and my friend had made me a cd and on it it said “Need A Ride?” And so that’s the chorus, do you need a ride?
KG: Marissa does sultry very well.
ML: Thanks, I’m such a nervous person that my voice is always sky-high rocketing when I talk, but when I sing, somehow, I don’t know… I guess I can be my true self.
And the inspiration behind “Vagabond Dreamer”?
YA: Oh, that one was me. My songwriting process is usually pretty stream of consciousness. I wrote that one in my kitchen, just playing a riff, and I sort of improvised the lyrics and melody. I think you find out a little bit about yourself by doing it that way. I got lucky with that one, because I love it, and I think the theme sort of speaks for itself.
It made me think of Leonard Cohen…
YA: Oh cool! Major compliment!
You guys did a vinyl copy of those two songs, in addition to a digital copy. Why did you guys decide to do that?
YA: We didn’t decide to do vinyl. My friend Henning from No Fear Of Pop contacted me about releasing “The Passenger” because he liked it a lot and he was just starting a 7″ label. I like physical releases, not because I don’t like digital, but because physical releases are actual items. I remember hearing my friends say, why would I buy a vinyl for $7 when I can get it off iTunes for $2? I can see where they’re coming from, but I also feel sorry for them. I’d just rather read a real book than read something on a kindle, you know? Especially if it means something to me.
KG: Yeah, and vinyl is a lot warmer sounding…
ML: It’s cozier.
In “The Passenger” you have only female vocals, and in “Vagabond Dreamer” you have both male and female, do you favor one or the other? What can we expect off the upcoming album?
YA: Our album has a mix of the two, and we both really enjoy singing together so we’ll probably continue doing duets.
ML: There are some songs on the album that are just me, harmonizing with myself, and Yohsuke has a bunch of his harmonies underneath. For this album we kind of wrote separately, but I think in the future we’re going to collaborate a lot more.
YA: We’re open to anything, we might have a whole album where I don’t sing on it at all, or maybe we’ll make a whole only instrumental one… who knows!
What was the recording process like for the album?
ML: We started the recording process at the end of 2012, and finished that plus the majority of the mixing around March/April to send those two tracks for the 7″ to Stratosfear. We recorded drums and bass at Philly Sounds Studio in South Philly, but all of my vocals were recorded in Kyle’s dad’s studio. It was winter, which made singing a challenge at times, with uncontrollable shaking from the cold stacked on top of the jitters I had from all of that nervous anticipation!
The process was interesting – exciting, something I looked forward to doing, but there were also plenty of frustrating moments for me. Mostly when it came to singing I wanted things to be perfect, so it usually took a few takes for me to feel satisfied. Certain songs I had written for the album, I initially had trouble figuring out how I wanted to sing them to convey a specific mood or feeling, but in the end I think everything worked out.
KA: Yeah, the recording and mixing in Kyle’s dad’s basement was cold! We just had a little space heater.
KG: It was kind of weird too, actually, at the time, because it was a little Twin Peaks-y up there. There was a girl that went missing, rest in peace. It was really eerie, and that might have contributed to the sound a little bit.
So, apart from eerie, what’s the general vibe you’re going for with the album?
ML: I kind of just wanted to make people cry. You know, go “yeah I feel that way too!” And then cry, and then ultimately feel better about themselves. I want to give people chills when they hear what we’re singing about and can relate to it. That’s the ultimate goal when you’re writing, is to sort of be vulnerable and sort of open yourself up to something and hope that whoever is listening to it feels what you’re saying. It’s a release for me to write, so if I can help someone else feel good, or sad, just feel in general, I’ve done my job.
What’s your most vulnerable moment on the album?
ML: Probably “Oleander.” That was a tough song to write. Actually, I take that back, it was an easy song to write, but it’s hard to listen to sometimes when I think about why I wrote it. I was going through a breakup, so it’s basically all about that person going away and me having to deal with it and move on. And it’s one of those songs that’s really quiet in the beginning and then it just explodes. I’m really excited for people to hear that song. I’m proud of what we did with it. It’s kind of like a little gem of a thing, and I think it will really touch people.
YA: Oh yeah, it will definitely make people cry. For me, every moment is equally vulnerable.
What about you Kyle, any vulnerable moments?
KG: (laughing) I’m feeling pretty vulnerable now.
Ok, when can we expect the full album?
YA: We’re talking to people to see about a release date. We have 12 tracks, but we don’t know how many will go up, and we don’t have a title yet.
Any closing thoughts?
ML: Thinking about it all makes me nostalgic, not only remembering the recording process but also how much closer we became throughout this entire project. These boys are like my brothers, and I know it was in those moments [of recording] that I first felt closest to them. I trust and love them completely. We’re really excited.
YA: Yeah, keep an eye out, and your ears out, for what’s to come. We’ll keep your interest!
Their next show will be at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia, PA on Friday, November 8th.