Believers Interview (Director’s Cut)
Most blogs keep the content short and to the point. So, it was no surprise when my contributions were cut for the True/False blog. There are no hard feelings. That said, I’m posting the extended version of the interview below. You can read the edited version here in order to see what a real editor can do with my ramblings. Especially notice the title. Andrew is a titling genius.
Zac: As brothers growing up together, did you ever foresee something like Believers happening? What were your previous experiences playing in bands together (if there were any)?
Wesley Powell: When we were youngsters, the thought of playing music together didn’t traverse either of our minds, the age gap of four years felt more significant when i was sixteen and tyler twenty. We both made music individually, tyler more electronic and myself in my high school band called ‘Say Panther.’ Making music seemed the most fitting future for me since playing in high school and that sentiment came for tyler in college, but we only started to tinker together once i got to school in Columbia and he was still living there. We still have a few of those weekend-basement-recording tapes filed under ‘The 1960’s.’ After a minute of chewing on the idea of collaborating and overcoming the burden of pragmatism, we finally moved down to Austin three years ago to pursue that end. That was when we decided to make this our reason to be, for the time being.
Z: I first became familiar with your work at last year’s True/False Film Fest. Leah Cheaney, then one of the music coordinators for the fest, went on and on about the music you put together for the bumpers and that your band was set to tear the house down at the “Super Secret Party”. She was right on both counts. Can you talk about how that all came to pass and how that T/F project led to Believers?
WP: The project for the bumpers was isolated from Believers. [brother] Tyler [Powell] and I had collaborated with [cinematographer] Andrew Palermo to make the music for his first short film a few months prior and he decided to tag team once again for his work on the bumpers. As far as Believers goes, a few months before True/False, tyler and I realized we had gotten into the same funk as we did in Austin. Tyler had left Brooklyn and I had left school Holland to once again pursue musical ends. We had spent another year [this time back in the heartland] writing and scratch recording, but again lacked a band to bring the songs into the live realm.
So, to light a fire under our collective tush, we talked to [then-T/F music coordinator] Kim Sherman about setting us up with a show. Without a band and only some demo recordings to plea our worth. She graciously obliged. With a month and a half to prepare, we joined forces with Travis [Boots], Taylor [Bacon] and Pete [Hansen] and began pulling songs from our cache and making them into more than just bits and pieces. It somehow came together. Then Ron Rottinghaus [owner of Uprise Bakery/Bar] kindly let us play our first first show at Uprise where 3/5ths of us work, it was like a warm up/confidence booster for our first more public show. Certainly one of the more tender evenings of my life, playing in front of our whole community of friends at my second home. A few days later we played at two in the morning during that party. A blast. And here we are, our anniversary just a few days away.
Z: Speaking of those T/F bumpers, the soundtrack you put together was absolutely haunting and perfectly cinematic. Have you had other experiences with film and/or film scores that informed this work? What was the process like putting that music together?
WP: Like I mentioned, before working on the bumpers with Andrew Palermo, Tyler and I had made the music for his short film ‘A Face Fixed.’ it was a really enjoyable and fruitful process, quite a different approach to creating music. A soundtrack is more functional in that you need to create something that fits parameters set out by the film itself, its editing, aesthetic, vibe, and so on; all things outside of ones self. And there is no consideration of how the music will be achieved live, its all recording and production. The two of us hope to do more of it in the future, with one project coming up working with our friend [filmmaker] Polina Malikin on her short film.
Z: For those who haven’t had the pleasure, a Believers live set is a soulful, festive experience where the audience is taken over by the moment, moved to dance. What goes into a Believers set to make that happen or has it come about organically? Is it that much fun for you as well?
WP: I suppose it just so happens to happen as such. Which is nice. And most of the time it’s a real treat for us as well, getting all shaky and sweaty, wibbly wobbly. All this assuming equipment doesn’t bum out or something of the sort.
Z: A striking feature of your live sets is that you have two percussionists at the center of the stage while the rest of the band fills the edges with guitars, samples, vocals, and bass. What’s the reasoning behind that setup? Is it just a space issue or is there a purpose for such a configuration?
WP: For much of what we play live, the rhythm section carries us. Taylor and Pete are the metronomic backbone, so it makes sense to have us all focus on them. And we like to have the two of them close together so they can feed off of one another’s energy, and the rest of us can feed off that. Some kind of parasitic vibe feast. Ridiculous. Anyway, personally, these days I enjoy watch the drummers in bands more than anything, their mechanical rigor, their constance, and so on. So it’s nice to have it as a focus in our band as well.
Z: This past december, you embarked on what turned out to be a successful Kickstarter campaign to release your debut EP. How did the idea come about to go with this sort of fundraiser? How do you feel about all the support you’ve received?
WP: All of us living under the poverty line, we hoped to figure out a way to soften the blow of mastering and pressing a record ourselves. We figured setting up a pre-order was a good way of going about it, the potential of receiving a little help up front. We had had friends who were enabled to embark on and achieve their own artistic endeavors thanks to kickstarter, so we chose to follow in suit. We were floored at the generosity we received. It’s astounding how our friends have helped make this happen and shown their support of what we do. They helped overcome the silly burden of finance.
Z: Describe the writing and recording process for that EP. Were these just songs you developed for your live shows or had you planned to record all along?
WP: A bit of both. The songs on our little record had existed somewhere on a tape or hard drive [some for nearly three years, on that perpetual back burner], but were only truly realized with the band. Being able to hear everything in person, in reality with Travis, Taylor and Pete brought out a better understanding of some of the songs. This took some of them in fairly different directions.
Since we went about the whole process with a DIY outlook, recording and mixing turned out to more of an ordeal than expected. Tough stuff for amateurs, figuring out microphone choice and arrangements paired with varying compressions, reverbs, room sound, and all that jazz. We’ve been recording for some years, but never have we had to consider laying down something that will end up on vinyl and be shared more widely.
This was certainly a trying endeavor that tested our patience, took months longer than expected and drove us all a bit mad. Especially the task of finding the time to record and mix in between work and everything else. But, it was a undoubtedly good experience and we learned quite a bit. Recording Taylor and Pete together live for some tracks to try to capture some of the energy they have playing together was some of the more exciting stuff to lay down.
Z: What’s in store for Believers in 2012? Are there plans to tour, write and record more music, or contribute to T/F?
Next week we’ll once again be playing True/False, this time at a more reasonable hour during the Mojo’s a go-go. Looking forward to it quite a bit. True/False is always a trip. Delays and delays after first sending out our mixes to Chicago Mastering service, we finally received our test pressing today [YES!] which means we will most likely have them ready for sale at the festival. As for the further off weeks and months, we’re aiming to disseminate our record both in the mail and online and hope to set ourselves up for more touring around the heartland and beyond. Having music to share gives us another incentive to get out and on the move. It’s another kick in the pants to get on it. As per usual, we’ll see what happens.
I have Believers’ EP in my possession and will be reviewing it shortly. To follow and/or contact Believers, it might be best to go to their Facebook page, but they also have a website you should check out. Of course, you could always buy their EP and figure it all out for yourself.