INTERVIEW: Sci-Fi Romance

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Busy, not much sleep. Lots of coffee. We’re getting ready for the album release, so there’s more work around every corner, it seems like. But the good kind of work. The kind you don’t mind staying up all hours to get done.

Can you tell us more about the story behind your track ¨If I Fell¨?

A lot of the songs I write – maybe even especially the love songs – don’t ever get too starry-eyed. It’s not intentional, but I seem to write a lot of ambivalence into these characters and voices. “If I Fell” is a good example of that, because it’s about falling in love, but wondering if the other person is going to catch you. We’ve heard the expression “falling in love” probably our whole lives, to the point where we don’t actually think about the phrase, but falling is inherently scary, and it’s a song that I think owns that. There’s a trust involved in falling in love, and there’s always a moment where you don’t know if it’s going to be reciprocated. But it’s still fun. It’s a good feeling, so the song’s still got some bounce in it.

Did any event in particular inspire the song?

It wasn’t an event so much as a long period in my life. I am somebody who has to really pay active attention to my work-life balance. For a long time I didn’t, and as a result there was a period of several years where I didn’t have any kind of significant romantic relationship. So then when I found myself back in one, it felt like I didn’t remember how to do it. I found myself really questioning if what I thought I was feeling was real, or just…I don’t know, novelty re-asserting itself, maybe. That’s where the song came from.

The single comes off your new album Dust Among The Stars – how did you come up with the idea of making a concept album?

Yeah, our last record, The Ghost of John Henry was a true concept album, and it told a complete story with a prologue, a beginning, a middle, and an end. This time around, I didn’t necessarily want to do another concept album, but I did love the narrative arc that came out of The Ghost of John Henry, so that was something I really wanted to hold onto. You asked about “If I Fell,” and that became a really important song to kick off the album, because it holds the seeds of uncertainty, love, and loss, which all become important in the overall scope of Dust Among the Stars.

From all the legends within this genre, what draw your attention the most about John Henry?

I remember learning The Ballad of John Henry in a third grade music class, and for some reason that story never left me. The conflict of man and machine, and human will, and self-sacrifice, even at a young age that stuff had a profound impact on me. Everybody and their uncle has done a version of that song, though, or Steel Drivin’ Man, so I didn’t want to just throw another pebble on that beach, I wanted to try to look at it from a different angle, that was hopefully new.

Did you focus on any particular aspects of Henry?

Maybe a lot of people don’t know this, but the story of John Henry is based in reality. Exactly what went down, nobody knows for sure, but that’s why it’s a legend. What I wanted to do was step back from that legend and look at the human beings involved at the center of it. You’ve got a man who’s in love with a woman, but his work keeps him gone all the time, and suddenly that work, his life, and the lives of everybody he knows are threatened by this new, inhuman technology. It felt timeless, but very current. The human, emotional story of John Henry is one I wanted to tell for a long time, and I was tremendously proud that this band was able to do that.

How was the recording and writing process?

For Dust Among the Stars, the recording was challenging, but really pretty tremendous. I think we cut the record in about six days, but they were six days spread out over a few weeks. So we’d go in, cut two or three songs, come back a few weeks later, cut a couple more. It was just a function of everybody’s schedules and lives. A couple of years ago, we did a Christmas single of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and we recorded that at a tucked-away studio in my neighborhood in Los Angeles. We loved the studio, and the engineer who runs it, Tim Moore, so I jumped at the chance to record with him again. That’s where we did all of Dust Among the Stars.

The writing process was more of a paring down process, really. I’d written a bunch of songs in between The Ghost of John Henry and this record, so it was a matter of choosing the strongest ones, and the ones that could work together to tell that larger, emotional arc that I was hoping for.

Nick Cave and Johnny Cash are among the album´s strongest influences – when you were writing this album you had already set your mind you wanted an album that sounded like both artists or how did that come about?

No, that’s just the way things come out. Everything from my background playing drums in metal bands leading to a very percussive approach to our sound to legendary artists like Cash, Cave, Tom Waits, those guys, to less well-known cats like Dax Riggs and Jason Webley – all that’s just swirling around in my brain and in my heart, and whatever sound comes out when you mix that with my own emotional journey, that’s what comes out.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I love songs that feel like a journey, and I always want there to be some kind of emotional experience at the center of them. So for me, then, anything that’s emotionally resonant gives me inspiration as a song writer. I love science, and sci-fi (not surprising, I know), and old movies, and books, and anything that takes me on an emotional ride, it all gets filed away, and sometimes it’s more overt than others. Like the song “Pale Blue Dot” on the new record, that’s directly inspired by a famous photo of the same name. The song “Fields” was very much just a look back at all the time I spent as a kid in rural Texas, and how far away but how close it feels. All these things are just knocking around up there, waiting to find some chords to land on.

Any plans to hit the road?

No. It’s a complicated time, personally, and I need to stay pretty close to LA.

What else is happening next in Sci-Fi Romance´s world?

We’ve got an animated music video coming down the pike in the next few weeks, which I’m really excited to share because it really – and I think in a very fun way – rolls a lot of those outside influences I was talking about into one thing. And there are always more songs to record…

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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