Interview: Lost Lander (Portland)

This past August I decided to take up my best friend’s offer and head on out for a mini-vacation to the Pacific Northwest to check out Seattle and Portland. The trip also helped quash a longstanding void in traveling involving the States-Europe I’ve got down pretty well.

Portland’s a mecca for creativity that had to be experienced. Just before leaving, I picked up the PDX Pop Now! compilation to delve deeper and keep the discoveries going. Usually you run across a few new bands that catch your ear, like Bright Archer and Blue Skies for Black Hearts. But one arrested attention for probably six repeat listens before I could move on-Lost Lander‘s “Cold Feet.” After returning, there was not really much out there aside from that one track. It’d be until January till a second recording made its way out there through none other than Rolling Stone.

With little out there and DRRT being released January 17th, I had to learn a little more. So with me in Paris with cofffee and Matt Sheehy in Portland with herbal tea and a 9 hour time difference, he was kind enough to give a little more detail into Lost Lander with Mezzic. Madison, be sure to catch their performance at der Rathskeller with Paper Thick Walls February 10th. You do not want to miss them on their first tour! Nice job WUD Music, and thanks to Matt for speaking with us! (DRRT is available now!)

You’re originally from Alaska and now in Oregon. What brought you there?

I wanted to move out of Alaska because, although I love it up there and the people, the scenery and way of life, I’m not crazy about the weather and there’s not a huge cultural scene up in Alaska. So I wanted to move somewhere I could be around people playing music and some kind of art scene. And I knew some people that lived in Portland, so I just picked Portland. It was just kind of randomly. It felt smaller than Seattle, but felt like a big city at the time.

So where in Alaska were you from?

Juneau, Alaska. The capital. Gotta have some capital pride!

Do you have any nostalgia that’s still with you for Alaska?

For sure. I go up to Anchorage once a year. My sister lives in Anchorage now with her kids. And it’s weird-Alaskans are very prideful about being from there. Often Alaskans stick together, so it’s common for people from Alaska to hang out together in groups when they find out other Alaskans are living in that same city. So there’s some nostalgia and still a lot of Alaskan pride. I still feel like an Alaskan even though I’ve lived in Oregon for a while now.

So how long have you known Brent? You’ve been working together for some time.

I meant Brent a long time ago during the taping of a music video for Menomena, on their first record I am the Fun Blame Monster! record. There was a video for the song “Cough Coughing,” directed by Jonnie Ross, that stars this crazy trash monster that runs around and throws trash presents at people. Like garbage wrapped up in paper as gifts. I played the trash monster and Brent had a big part in the making of that video. So he and I hung out a lot for 4 or 5 days and become friends through that. Our bands played together a couple of times and we just kept up over the years.

When I was recording my solo album, he played a little bit on it. He was going to produce one of the tracks but that was right before Friend and Foe came out and he got super busy and wasn’t able to finish what he had started to work on.

It came up slowly and then when he started Ramona Falls he asked me to play in the band. We toured together pretty much and I asked him to produce what would be my next solo record, and to my surprise he agreed. We started out recording a follow up to my first solo record [Tigerphobia] and it eventually turned into Lost Lander.

Was there anything that has changed in how you two work together over time?

With Tigerphobia, I went over to his house one day and he recorded some ideas for a couple hours. Then he started to produce a song called “Go Missing,” but he ended up recording a bunch of string ideas with Peter Broderick, who eventually moved over to Europe. But that was pretty much as far as he got. After that he had to walk away from the project because Menomena really took off.

So we didn’t really work that closely together other than tracking a bit and giving a ton of advice. When we started working on what became the Lost Lander record, it was a much more intense experience. We were in much closer contact, working together. I went to him with a bunch of demos, and he helped me sort through them. He set up the structure to use to organize what we were doing. It was a totally different experience in terms of involvement.

Was there a method to coming up with the songs?

When he came onto the project, I had the majority of the songs written although some of the lyrics were being sussed out. Some of the songs were only a minute or two minutes long. We took those tracks and would record with different musicians. Originally the first one to play on it was Dana Janssen, the drummer, where he just played over the top of the track. We gave him a click track, but no other rhythm tracks. He just improvised hearing the songs for the first time. We were recording him as he was hearing the song for the first time. After three or four takes, he’d start to know the song and start writing parts. Later, we would go back and go through all those different ideas he had thrown out spontaneously and constructed a rhythmic idea over it. It was collage-y in that sense that some of the times, people that were playing didn’t really know what they were playing on. So we were taking their mistakes and turning it into something that sounded like music to us. So that was probably about half of the tracking. We kept all the demo material and just recorded on top of it.

It was a really interesting way to work in terms of just seeing what happens spontaneously and putting it together.

Is that what happened on Cold Feet and Afraid of Summer, because you can hear changes in the song structure that seem logical, but then come out of nowhere that go to a different level?

Yeah, for sure. Originally the demo that I recorded for “Cold Feet” had the same repetitive beat from start to finish. They changed pretty drastically from when we started in on them in terms of adding ideas. There was a lot of spontaneity.

“Afraid of Summer” was a little different though. That was a little more methodical. I had really wanted to put that beat that sounds a little bit like a Kate Bush beat during the “you can never go home” sections. I knew that I wanted to put that beat idea somewhere in that song. That one was a little different. I wrote out drum parts and asked Scott MaGee to perform them. A lot of those piano parts, Brent just goes through and plays on top of the stuff a bunch of times and just spits out ideas (he has so many ideas!). Then he goes back and analyzes what he liked and didn’t like. So I think he really collaged the stuff on that one.

How is it translating the songs on the recordings to performing live? How’s it going to sound?

I’m really excited about the live band. We’ve been playing together quite a bit. We’ve played a bunch of shows now and I feel that the songs are coming across really well. We use a keyboard with a lot of different sounds on it. So we’re able to reproduce a lot of sounds from the record but keep it spontaneous. We’re not playing the tracks very much-we do a little bit-a little teeny bit, but only on one song. It’s a little higher energy when we play it live.

Are you all prepared for touring and SXSW?

We’re ready to do it. We play a radio show next week and then we start the tour the following week.

When was the last time you did a full tour? I see that you’re playing Madison, Wisconsin…

Yeah, we’re going to your alma mater. We’re playing in der Rathskeller. We’ve never been there. Is it a cool spot?

Yeah, it’s modeled after a German beer hall with two giant fireplaces that’ll be facing you and the stage. Tons of people all the time since it’s in the center of campus.

We’re looking forward to it! It’s gonna be fun! Lost Lander never played out there. The last time I’ve been out that far was with Ramona Falls, about two years ago. I have no idea what we’re gonna expect. We’ve been getting a little bit of press. It’s going to be an adventure.

So does everyone have a way to pass the time in the van?

Those guys are just all so positive. You know, Sarah is so good at bringing good music around. She’s so musical and into lots of dance music. We haven’t had any meltdowns or anything…so far [laughs]. We play a lot of bananagrams. I have this app on my phone, the Glee app. It has an autotune thing on it so you can sing into it and you can plug it into the car stereo. We all take turns singing with the autotune really loud!

It seems Lost Lander’s been under the radar, then last week Rolling Stone debuted “Afraid of Summer”…

It’s weird. We’ve gotten some press, like the video of “Cold Feet” on Spin.com. But it seemed like nobody seemed to notice it that much. It was weird-that Rolling Stone premiere happening. People really noticed that more than anything that had ever happened to us. So I was really surprised, I had no idea when I found out that that was going to happen. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if it would be a big thing or a small thing because other things that happened that I thought were big. I was surprised and it seemed like everyone saw it, well everyone I know, like my family, saw it! I’m not used to my aunt calling me up and saying, “I saw you on Rolling Stone!!!” [laughs]

So what can people expect from DRRT since only two songs have been released?

They are different-sounding, but I feel they come from the same place being that I’m a songwriter mainly and influenced by early ’80s English experimental stuff like early Peter Gabriel. Brent has this real, synth-heavy vibe. I feel those two elements pervade the entire record. Those two tracks are pretty different, they both have a songwriter core that are in this shell of synthy-sparklyness. Pretty much the whole record is like that.

I’ve heard the album’s described as organic but technological, with both sides coming through on the two tracks.

Yeah, that’s why the record’s named what it’s named. We were trying to find the same contrast in the name DRRT. The art and the name and the band are kind of spacey and futuristic sounding. Trying to have both elements is where the name comes from.

So will you end up going back to Lost Land Lake in Wisconsin when you’re driving through? What’s the story behind that part of Wisconsin?

I would love to. That’s on the itinerary, we’ll see if we actually have time. My mother was raised in Chicago before she moved to Alaska when she was in middle school. Her family used to go to Lost Land Lake for vacation. My mother passed away recently and before that, she had a dream where she was at Lost Land Lake with her family, her extended family. She woke up and it seemed to be really vivid. She called me up and was like, “Matt! I figured out a name for your band-it’s Lost Lander!” And she just kinda blurted it out and I decided to keep it. Her story about the dream was so great, and I thought it was a cool way to pay tribute to her.

It sounds sci-fi too. I like that you can’t really tell what it means and that it means different things to different people.

Anything else to add? The best constellation in the shadow box?

[laughs] Tell folks in Madison to come out to the show! Madison sounds great. Thank you for your time and letting people know about us!

Thoughts?