By: Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Landlady.
When Adam Schatz isn’t busy playing sax for Vampire Weekend and Man Man, he’s fronting his indie project Landlady, whose euphoric blend of riff and rock sounds as good recorded as it does live. Schatz and his crew, Mikey Freedom Hart (guitar), Ian Chang (drums), Ian Davis (bass), and Booker Stardrum (drums,) experiment with asymmetrical compositions that slyly slip in and out of style and tempo. It’s been a few years since their debut album Keeping To Yourself dropped. It is a twisted tale of carnivals and dancing in your car. Their latest single “Above My Ground”, off the new album Upright Behavior, slated for release in July, retains some of the weird edge but with a maturity that’s far more inviting. BTR caught up with Schatz to talk all about who, exactly, he wishes was still around?
What are your backgrounds as musicians?
All different. The drummer Ian Chang and I met in college, both studying jazz at NYU. He grew up in Hong Kong and didn’t hear Led Zeppelin until high school when he went to New Jersey for boarding school, got into classical percussion, and decided last minute he didn’t want a career in that field. Mikey Freedom Hart (guitar) and Ian Davis (bass) also both went to NYU, but for not jazz. We met through circles of friends through the school and otherwise people interested in good music and fun times. Booker Stardrum (also our drummer, we have two at the same time) went to SUNY Purchase and studied music and was a raised by some serious music brains. It all bled into us in different ways but we’re lucky to have found each other.
Have you always been listening to this kind of music? What are some of your major influences?
It’s really all over the place for each of us and you’d have to interview each band member separately to get the real dirt. Ian (bassist) is an amazing arranger, he did all the string arrangements on our album, so he really digs into some amazing orchestral business and is always turning me on to goodness I’ve never heard. Mikey has spent a lot of time in Ghana and has really lived in the world of west African music, but is equally hungry in terms of soul, psychedelia, and New Orleans sounds (he grew up in Louisiana). I could go on and on, and that’s sort of the point. We’ve always been hungry listeners I think. Always will be I hope.
How is your new album, Upright Behavior, different from past work?
We’ve only made one album before this one, and it was recorded in my basement. It was really great to do it ourselves, I recorded drums on a really awesome Tascam 388 quarter inch tape machine I have, and then we did overdubs over the course of a year. This next one happened in bursts and the initial tracking was done in an honest to goodness studio called the Isokon in Woodstock. We slept there for three nights and recorded all day until we couldn’t any more. The songs were really ready, so it felt easy, and it felt like a whirlwind. Then the rest happened in concentrated bursts. Vocals at my house, keyboards at my house, synths at Mikey’s house, then mixed in a week in November. It felt more focused, like we knew what we wanted and knew the right people to make it happen. The first album was more of an adventure and a lot of the songs became more realized throughout the process. For Upright Behavior the songs knew what they had to be.
Any particular vibe you’re going for?
Honesty and surprise.
Any songs especially close to your heart?
All of ‘em come from there, truly truly. “The Globe” is really important to me, largely because it’s a pretty old song. I started it in 2010 and can remember the piano it began on. When we recorded the first album Keeping to Yourself we left “The Globe” off because I wanted it to live in the right way, I knew the next album would be more hi-fi, and it would give that song the space it needed. A lot of these songs just take up so much space, they can be silent and they can take up a whole universe. That’s where the heart comes in, because I think that’s how the heart works.
What is the writing process like for your music?
The songs come out in different ways. I write the core of the songs and the lyrics but the arrangements and the finality of the songs comes out of the whole band brain. I try to get an idea of where I want things to be before I bring a song in to rehearse and work on, but I never record fleshed out demos. I usually write on piano or Casio or organ, and I try as often as possible to just sit at the instrument and see what comes out. I’ve been doing that with any piano I passed since I was 8 years old, and after the years of music theory lessons that I thought were good for nothing. I now know it has allowed me to be as comfortable as I could on the instrument, to let instinct kick in and move my hands and see what can come together. As I type that, it seems really fictional or hokey, but it’s the realest. Sometimes I’m driving/walking/in the shower and I’ll sing, and if it’s a melody I really like I’ll record it on my phone and set it to music later. The lyrics almost always come second, except when they don’t.
And I can almost never remember how a song was written. Sometimes little bursts stick in me. I remember sitting down at the drums (I’m not a very good drummer,) and writing the “Above My Ground” drum part, then moving over to the piano and that song came out fairly quickly.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
The people around me. I write these songs now knowing who’s going to be playing them. I know how they can do absolutely anything, and all the ways we can harness that to affect an audience. So I’m equally inspired by the potential audience, and how together we can be a part of something so huge. And meaningful. I’m inspired by putting an taking meaning from the everyday. The idea of not taking it for granted, being together, making a sound, or highing a five.
Just after Levon Helm died I took part in a few tributes to The Band, who are one of my favorite bands. Levon especially is such a hero of rhythm and the human soul. One of those tributes happened in Hudson, NY, and the show was running short and the organizer asked if I could play another song, so I ran to the office of the venue and printed out a bunch of lyric sheets to the song “Lonesome Suzie.” I went up to the piano and passed them out to everyone who wanted one and we sang the song together. And it felt tremendous. Two nights later I was in Puerto Rico doing a 15-minute improv set at a festival my friend organized. I sang a melody on this ham radio microphone and looped it. Without instruction, some younger members of the audience started singing along. And that became everything to me. A sincere sing-along is the simplest representation of how good we can feel.
What was the recording process like for Upright Behavior?
The first live session was engineered by D. James Goodwin, the Isokon is his clubhouse. Co-production credit goes to me and Mikey Freedom Hart, our guitarist, who is a great engineer and producer in his own right. He really had a huge hand in some late in the game additions to the arrangements, especially in the synth department, which despite being a keyboard player I know very little about. It was mixed by Jake Aron who is an absolute superhero.
Tell me about your “history of heart-pounding home-town live shows?” Any favorites come to mind?
We recently played at the Manhattan Inn which has become a bit of a home base for our growing community of musicians, bands like Celestial Shore and Star Rover and all sorts of monsters. The band sets up in the middle of the room and there are tables all around in a circle, people stand wherever they can, and the energy is spot on. We did a special set where we added three additional lady singers, Kristin Slipp (Cuddle Magic), Margaret Glaspy, and Angelica Bess (Body Language). They sang on all of our songs, and we closed with one of my favorite songs of all time, Nina Simone’s cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” The original version is 18 minutes long, and we did our best and ended singing in the street.
I really love “Above My Ground,” who are you singing it to?
I wrote it about a friend of mine who passed away. I’m still figuring out how to deal with loss, so that was one attempt, and every show we all sing it together and throw it all up in the air. The sentiment is simple and true and blatant in the lyrics. But while it’s that personal needlepoint for me, it can also be applied to anyone and any feeling. I really love the idea of being hyper-personal and emotionally broad at the same time. Broad in a positive, inviting way.
Anything you’d like to say to fans as an ending note?
Thank you and welcome.
Or check them out live at one of these dates:
Landlady Residency @ Shea Stadium
April 15 – Shea Stadium – Brooklyn, NY
April 22 – Shea Stadium – Brooklyn, NY