Interview: Greenland Hits Songbyrd to Celebrate Bold New Album
A fixture in D.C.’s music scene for some time, Greenland is capping off 2016 with an excellent new record, Shitty Fiction. Among other exciting news, the group will be performing at Songbyrd tonight in celebration of this new album. Reflecting on the events of the past year and the time-consuming recording process, I spoke with guitarist and lead vocalist Jamie Green prior to their big show.
The last time DCMD interviewed Greenland, you guys had just released Evil Spring. You have a new record coming out soon – how would you say your sound has changed since then?
Well the processes were very different so that’s reflected in the sound. Evil Spring was recorded in a basement over the course of a year, loosely based on some demos I cranked out, then we finished / re-recorded it very quickly after I managed to lose a good chunk of our work on a hard drive. We did a lot of re-amping experiments and recorded multiple tracks of noise guitar at once that we arranged in post. It’s probably the first thing we did where the vocals are set back more, for better or worse, and lyrically there’s a lot of apocalyptic references going on, and it’s supposed to be like this self-aware oblivion blanket or something.
We released something else in the interim, Give My Regards to Kielsgard, in which we doubled down on some of the more experimental aspects of Evil Spring. It’s not much of a rock album in the Joe Carducci sense, but more a handful of sprawling compositions that we can barely play live and a lot of random noise generators and drum loops, with lyrics that I compulsively polished to the point of abstraction for the most part. It touches on sports in addition to, like all our stuff in retrospect, anxiety, paralysis, and negotiated complicity with power mechanisms that to our own discredit we’ve not been good enough at defining.
That brings us to Shitty Fiction. We made a vinyl record. This is huge for us. Before we entertained ideas of putting everything we had on a hard drive and burying it in the ground and that’s our release because fuck us. But credit here to Mike and Rishi, we got records made and they sound fantastic (credit also to Kyle Downes and TJ Lipple for making it sound fantastic).
Post-Give My Regards we wanted to get back to what we were best at and do another live album. I cranked out like twelve demos on New Year’s day 2014 and from there we started tracking drums and guitars in Mike’s basement in Silver Spring. We got pretty far with that approach, but then decided we wanted Kyle to record us live like we did for Cleanly Shaven back in 2008. Our great friend Justin Kielsgard came with us and let us use his family’s cabin in Luray, Virginia, and Kyle was up for bringing loads of outboard gear down there for recording. We tracked everything sans vocals in two days. Obviously, it’s a live sounding album, and because Kyle engineered it, it sounds more professional than our previous two efforts. The low-end is also super intense, which is typically how we roll.
Lyrically I tried to reign in my relatively recent tendency towards over-abstraction, and some themes are applicable to our current cultural crises (Shitty Fiction read fake news, slip-shod narratives that only serve to distract, etc) and we get into a space on Appalachian Motel that we haven’t really occupied before. The way this came together at the cabin, it was such a powerful and positive experience for us, that we wanted it to be about the band first, and the vocals are mixed accordingly.
Did you make a conscious effort to take a new direction with your music, or has your growth as a group been more organic?
It’s always organic. Back in the year 2000 (not sure exactly when it was but it was pre-9/11) a smart friend told Tony and I about the origin of Talking Heads, how they were art students and got together to decide what it was that the world, or America or whatever, needed, and they laid out their project accordingly. So Tony and I went and got smart books (Foucault was in the mix as I recall!) and I kid you not tried to do the same thing. It was such a funny attempt. We frankly weren’t on an intellectual level to bring that kind of theory to bear, even if such a thing were advisable, but most of all we really had no idea how to step up to such a role.
The same thing has held true over the years. It used to frustrate me to no end, the lack of conscious control, especially since the best (particularly DC!) artists seem to have it, although now I think that’s probably an illusion and it really comes from carefully balancing what songs become on their own and how one guides them towards meaning and presents them to the outside world.
What were some of your inspirations as you put the new record together?
In creating this thing we were extremely privileged in two ways that bear mentioning: (a) we have made music together for about ten years now pretty much doing whatever we wanted to do, and made six albums or whatever you want to call them and (b) we were able to spend a weekend in a beautiful, isolated environment. And mostly, that’s where our inspiration came from.
In terms of musical influence, this was not a record where we really reached out and looked to change our style. I suppose there’s some things we haven’t done; some iteration of country funk happens a couple of times and the closing synth jam is maybe slightly off our radar, but these weren’t conscious things. Most inspiring are other people doing things, like Nicole in Eternal Summers, who I fell in love with a certain type of music with in high school, and the Caribbean, who have sort of chartered a path for us.
Any big plans for the release show surrounding the record?
Well, it’s this Thursday at Songbyrd, with More Humans, whose music and albums have been an inspiration to us since I first saw them as We are Wolves in Mt. Pleasant ages ago, and also Kid Claws who are old friends. I saw them at Slash Run and I am really excited. Their songs are amazing and they are a pleasure to see and hear.
What was the most challenging part of the recording process?
Probably recording the way we did out in the country, but Kyle took care of that. Otherwise just getting the songs together to be able to crank them out live in a weekend. After we recorded it and mixed it I decided I hated all my vocals, and wanted to re-record them, so that was challenging for me to get over myself and my bandmates and Kyle to deal with the hold up. Otherwise it came out smooth as melted butter over that weekend, and tracking the vocals and mixing were pretty painless. We’ve done this six times now; with Kyle five, so we know what we’re doing in our limited context.
What were some of your most memorable moments from the past year?
We recorded Shitty Fiction in 2015. Our most memorable moment in 2016 is getting physical copies of an actual vinyl record, which looks great, by the way, thanks to Liz Gorman, Justin Kielsgard, and Hai Vuong.
We’ve had two practices (as opposed to creative get togethers or what have you) down in Del Ray, Virginia, spaced about six months apart, one for a show we played with Broken Hills and More Humans, and one for this upcoming release. The first one was subsequent to the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and the second was the horrible morning after Trump’s election, so 2016 has been that kind of year where we question what we’re doing and why.
Are there any other big plans for the band in the coming months?
We’re looking forward to our next project. We’ve been demoing a lot and Tony is bringing a lot of songs to the table; in the coming months we are developing material to bring back to the cabin in May ’17.