Carefully contemplating where the levels should be at on the various guitar tracks, SARS sits calmly on a large, leather couch; his eyes fixated at the small table in front of him. It hosts a variety of loafs of bread, honey, and hazel nut spread; SARS favorite thing to eat. He raises his head and instructs Zieske that the backing acoustic track should be a tad louder, and then returns to silence as he looks back down, peering out through his glasses at the hazel nut spread and bread.
When Zieske hits the playback button, I notice that he raised the piano track in volume, but left the acoustic track alone. When I inquire about this, he lets me know that what I assumed to be a piano track was really an acoustic guitar track recorded at a slower tempo, and sped up to the tempo of the song in order to create the impression of a keyed instrument.
Many of the songs on “Sale of the Century” boast such interesting recording techniques; adding a vast array of textures that make the album sound just as much as like an art project as a pop album. During the mixing session, I was able to talk with both SARS and Zieske about such techniques, the making of the record, and the plans they both have for the future of the album:
WE-HEART-MUSIC: How did you initially approach writing a full-length album?
SARS: At first, I wanted the album to maximize the catchiness of pop music. Some of my main influences are one hit wonders from the fifties and sixties, and I found the concept of making an album made up of singles to be appealing. I wanted the album to sound like a throwaway collection of one hit wonders.
ZIESKE: We decide to have the album move as collections of singles, but you have to keep in mind every single have a B-side. We structured the album so that every song that had single potential could hypothetically be released on its own, with an accompanying B-side. This helped the overall flow and continuity of the album.
SARS: We brought in session musicians to track all the other instruments on the album, and most of them were all from surrounding Chicago bands (The Coop, The Villains of Verona, Dorian Minor). One of these musicians, Pat Fanella (Dorian Minor) really did a lot to help shape this collection of pop songs, and gave each one its own unique vibe and artistic distinction. With the help of people like Fanella and Zieske, the songs were able to have their own approach and feel, while still staying consistent with the other songs on the album.
ZIESKE: The album as a whole definitely flows. It doesn’t move as a collection of songs, but as one large, creative entity. My task was to basically orchestrate all of these songs and bring them to life based off of SARS basic vocal/guitar tracks.
WE-HEART-MUSIC: Since you are a solo artist, how does that differ from being in a band and working with other musicians?
SARS: Well every good band has their own creative dynamics, and they collectively form their own “cool vibe.” As a solo artist, you feel left out on that "coolness." I am originally from the suburbs of New York, and I played guitar in a band there called Advanced Cassette (named after a track from Spoon’s album, “A Series of Sneaks”). Coming from that background to being a solo artist forms a lot of pressure. You are responsible for creating your own vibe without the help or contribution of others, and the success or failure of your music is firmly planted on your shoulder. When you’re in a band, the critical panning of your music falls on the band as an entity, and everyone is there to support each other. Creatively, I feel a lot more freedom now, but in order to gain that I have to lose collaborative ears to offer input or insight. I would eventually love to get back into a band though.
WE-HEART-MUSIC: What influenced the music and the lyrics on the album the most?
SARS: Lyrically, I have always been really impressed with The Beatles lyrics. I like how so many of their lyrical lines have double meanings. I really like when artist incorporate weird phrases, or slightly explicit things into the format of a fun, pop song; contrasting the lyrical content to the vibe of the song. It offset the listeners, so I definitely incorporated that technique. A lot of random things would pop up too, and I would talk to Zieske about incorporating whatever it was into the album.
ZIESKE: We would text message each other at night after the sessions about how we should have a song that sounds like a theme song for a Superhero, like from all the television shows.
SARS: I really wanted to tap into that Spiderman-teen-angst-vibe, you know? Just write lyrics that would fill the nitch left open at the end of the night after an episode of The O.C.
WE-HEART-MUSIC: Let’s talk about the single, “Empty Gun,” for awhile. How did you decide that “Empty Gun” would be the single for the album?
SARS: Well, when we started working on it in pre-production, Pat Fanella pointed it out right away as the standout track. Because we were in pre-production, we couldn’t spend too much time on it, because we were still demoing all the other songs. We left it alone for a while, and started doing some extensive work on the other songs. They began to take on this really “sunny” sound, and when we came back to “Empty Gun” it just sounded like this generic, rock song. We knew the hooks were strong, but we didn’t know how to go about shaping it to give it a unique sound.
ZIESKE: Since it was more of a “rocker” song, we decided to exploit that and make it over the top on purpose. This way the song sounds quirky while still maintaining its hard rock roots. It rocks in a non-pretentious way, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It encourages participation. Anyone can sing along to it.
WE-HEART-MUSIC: What is “Empty Gun” about?
SARS: The song is pretty vague and open for translation. Like the music, the words don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a very sarcastic song. I think it’s a song a lot of people can relate to. It has that sort of thematic youthful, high school feel to it; something for suburban parents to frown down upon. Pavement was a big influence on the lyrics for “Empty Gun.”
WE-HEART-MUSIC: What are your immediate plans after the album is completed?
SARS: After we are done tracking and mixing it – which will hopefully be by late summer - the album is off to Abbey Road Studios to be mastered by Steve Rooke. Once the mastering is complete, we are going to be shopping the record to labels, trying to get a live band together, and showcasing to label representatives and A & R scouts.
WE-HEART MUSIC: What is your future plans as a musician?
SARS: Hopefully riding the wave of success that will come from the album. Idealistically, I would really love to get a band together sometime in the future. My cousin is a bass major at NYU, and I think it would be cool to be in a band with my cousins.
Exposition and Interview by Eric Hehr (email@example.com)
For more information on SARS Flannery and his music: www.myspace.com/sarsflannery
For more information on The Gallery of Carpet Studios and Brian Zieske: www.myspace.com/galleryofcarpet