Interview with indie-popper When I Was 12

November 5, 2009

*cough* Hi… well, um, Twee is back, sorta.  You know?

Depending on which circles you hang around in, Twee is either hailed as “punker-than-punk“, or maligned as “music for bedwetters.”  Nevertheless, the most misunderstood pop genre continues to tout cuteness over coolness and has the market cornered on Growing Up Awkward.

Twee has always been the most unapologetically emasculate sect of “Indie”, but it always seems to hover, smirking, just on the outskirts of popular music.  It’s too catchy to ever be marginalized, but it’s just too fey for the trampy-or-macho American taste.  Pitchfork’s excellent essay of all things Indie Pop, “Twee as Fuck” said it well:

…”indie” and “alternative” became popular in precisely the hard-rocking, masculine, centralized form that indie pop usually shied away from. The mainstream honed in on the underground’s hard-rock side, and, acts like Superchunk and Modest Mouse would go on to become Important Bands; acts like Tiger Trap and Heavenly would, for good reasons and bad, fade into history. And there on the television, ironically, was the K-tattooed Cobain, still wearing his cardigans and covering songs by the Vaselines.

So there twee sits, like the kid not picked at recess, rewarding anyone willing to seek it out.

Maybe it’s because of the excellent Juno soundtrack, but twee artists seem to be on the rise again.  The playfull Architecture in Helsinki, sallow Vivian Girls, the spider-fearing Boy Least Likely To, and the self-referential spunk of Los Campesinos!, have all attracted the blogosphere masses in the past few years (and, oddly, a large number of television commercials to boot). Fast on their heels are artists like New Jersey’s When I Was 12 – producing the sonic equivalent of a painfully joyous (or joyously painful?) prolonged adolescence.

I ran across WIW12 searching a now-defunct music site and really enjoyed their aesthetic.  The endearing strum-hook-and-harmony style burrows deep into your head and doesn’t go away — like a library volunteer into Franny & Zooey.

Earlier this year their principle songwriter, Adrianne, was nice enough to swap a few Q&A emails with me before their first non-basement gig of her young career:

Brian B (BemBang): First things first… Who’s in the band, or is it a “swinging door” type thing where there’s a core and people come and add vocals and accompaniment etc?

Adrianne Gold (When I Was 12): First things first… When I Was 12 consists of two main members: Adrianne Gold and Camille Bayas. Then some other beautiful revolving members; our friend Brianne Evans did some harmonies on “Dear Eskimo” with her angelic voice, and my guitar teacher, Mike Yelle assisted with lead guitar. When we play live friends Jenn Diaz plays bass, and Will Samtur on drums. We are so lucky to know so many wonderful people.[ …] It’s been a little hectic we’ve been getting offered shows and things lately!.

BB: Good to hear you’re busy… I hope things are going well. Is there some sort of tour in the works? When I hear the name “When I Was 12″, I immediately think of both the charming and awkward aspects of that transitional age… was that the aim?

AG: We still have two more months of high school so we’re not exactly planning a tour but we’ve been getting offered a lot of shows lately! I suppose so about the name, I mean we definitely try to be charming and I definitely am a bit awkward!

BB: Ha. Since there’s not much info about you guys online I couldn’t tell if you were in high school, or if you were just channeling your inner-highscooler to write the songs.

Your music, lyrics, production, etc seem very attuned to what I would consider classic indie-pop/twee. That is to say; sweet, clever, and fixated on youthful experiences… even when the person singing may be 30+ years old.

Ha. You’re the real deal, apparently.
What inspiration do you draw from … musically or otherwise?

AG: We are the real deal! We write about things on a high school level because it’s what we know! It’s what we are familiar with. But like I said only until June! We are so excited for summer and then of course for college! We are inspired by so many things.

Camille really likes bands such as: Los Campesinos! Beirut, The Submarines, and Seabear. I on the other hand am insanely inspired by Bright Eyes (of course, who isn’t!) Tilly and the Wall, Mates of State, and Saturday Looks Good to Me. We were actually just featured on an online mix CD, “Birdsongs, Beesongs – Eardrums Spring Compilation 2009″ and so was Saturday Looks Good to Me! So that was exciting to see!

Inspiration otherwise would of course include every boy i’ve ever known, even if only for five minutes. The boys who’s hearts I’ve broken, the boys who have broken my heart, and the boys who have yet to break my heart. Boys in bookstores, coffee shops, New Brunswick basements, and any other place you can imagine. However! I did write about my grandmother, “You Me & Symmetry” is about my grandmother, I love her. We still do arts and crafts together.

BB Hahahaha yes, the album is definitely heavy on the boy-crazy.
So…  you brought it up…  you’re from Jersey.

NJ tends to get a bad rap; some of that probably because you’re so close to the self-proclaimed cultural capital of the world.

Many big names spent time in New Jersey… , George Clinton/P-funk, Les Paul, Sinatra, Springsteen among them. What are your feelings about ‘repping from a place that has been home to many musicians but also the target of many a joke?

AG: Well I’m going to college in Philadelphia so soon i’ll have that rep and I can’t wait! It’s such a great area and so many opportunities arise there! However New Brunswick is a pretty fun area in New Jersey just last friday, we played a basement show there! Such a great vibe, I mean those are people who love and understand music! Unfortunately I cannot say the same for those at my high school!

BB: Congrats on going off to school next Fall… where in Philly? You’ve started playing a few shows in the area — will you be doing that this summer as well?

AG: Yes! We have a show tomorrow in fact, and then another one this coming friday and then the next! It’s all very exciting, I’m even starting to manage my stage fright a bit! I’ll be attending Drexel University actually so I’m absolutely pumped!

BB: That’s really cool that you were on the same comp as Saturday Looks Good To Me. How did that whole Birdsong, Beesongs thing happen? Are you familiar with any of the other artists on the album, or are they from all over?

Do you find yourself playing alongside / opening for the same bands… like, is there a like-minded scene in Jersey, or are you on your own singing to whoever listens?

AD: To be honest I am not sure how we were spotted but I am glad! The band Thunder Power from Omaha Nebraska on Slumber Party Records spotted us on the compilation and have now asked us to play a show when them they come through New Jersey touring! And we got invited to play a show in Brooklyn! We’ve been having so much fun and meeting so many wonderful people!

BB: What happens after this Summer. Will Camille be in the general area? Will When I Was 12 go on the back-burner once you start school up again?

AG: Camille will be attending Cornell, (Congrats to her! It’s really a great accomplishment!) On the contrary, once college begins, I hope When I Was 12 will be going full throttle! Because I write most of the music, melodies and lyrics, I am going to look for permanent members once I arrive on campus! You’ll have to wish me luck!

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Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Flight of the Conchords

May 18, 2009

Nearly June.  The year is 5/12ths over. Here’s one of 12 I enjoyed over the last 12 or some months…

Flight of the Conchords – Flight of the Conchords

(#5 of 12 in no particular order)

Like David Brent playing a pretty good acoustic guitar — there’s something intimidating about musicians that have chops but then choose to make fun of what they do.  Performing as a comedian/musician is a fickle thing… play original work and people may not know you’re joking, play too close to something else and you’re written off as a parody artist, or even worse, an impressionist.  FotC somehow manage to walk the funnyrope.

Songs that were rawer (but still hilarious) on their HBO show take on a new life on the LP — they clean up nice.  Specifically, you have to love the spotless production and prominent funk bass that now comes through beautifully on both “Ladies of the World,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)”.


Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Bon Iver

May 13, 2009

Still May.  Since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

(#4 of 12 in no particular order)

Not much more you can say about Justin Vernon… just ask Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.

Hell, Great albums tend to have great backstories, and I was admittedly skeptical of how great this album could be based on the fact that those recommending it would talk more about HOW/WHY it was made rather than what it sounded like.  I can now accept that sometimes an album so patient, subtle, unassuming and redemptive will need that extra tangential push to make it up into the popular conscience and get the audience that it really deserves.


Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Passion Pit

May 1, 2009

Hey.  It’s May.  I continue to slack. Since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

Passion Pit – Chunk of Change

(#3 of 12 in no particular order)

As mentioned before, people are sick of sincerity. The world’s heart has hardened as year-after-year of more cloying emo bands  have clogged the brains of music fans and playlists of radio stations. When you hear something that’s confessional verging on embarrassing, it’s no longer a bold statement but a groaner.

Passion Pit, the nom de plum of Michael Angelakos, has the only acceptable excuse: these songs are not for you to hear. PP’s debut EP, “Chunk of Change” was recorded by him for an audience of one — his girlfriend.  Lyrics that would normally be cringe-worthy once again become sweet.  Grand imperfect love-sick gestures are somehow okay again.

What’s more, you can ignore all the lyrical content and you’re still hearing a brilliantly made laptop album. It’s an EP that mixes refreshing up-tempo samples, charmingly twee falsettos and occupational club-worthy bass. Their Vampire Weekendesque blog buzz has polarized critics, and the back-backlash should be starting soon.  Don’t worry about choosing sides… just give ’em a listen.

Their first LP, Manners, is dropping soon.


Best Albums of the last 12 months or so… Hood Internet

April 30, 2009

Hey.  It’s prettymuch May.  Can I slack any more?  I figure, since the year is nearly half over, I’ll just post 12 or so albums I liked over the last 12 or some months…

The Hood Internet – The Hood Internet vs. Chicago Mixtape

(#2 of 12 in no particular order)

Comprised of DJ STV SLV and ABX, The Hood Internet represent the future of the mash-up. Gone are the days where you mix one song with another song just because you can, or because they share a strange time signature, or because they make a hilarious song title. Technology is such (and GirlTalk has shown) that there is a way to mix any song with any another song and make it sound good. The next step, the step Hood Internet is going in, is voluntary restraint for the sake of clarity and craft — in this case, restricting the mix to only bands that share the city they all hail from.  Also, it’s my City, so I’m biased.

The best part?  It’s a Mash-Up so it’s FREE


Wilco (The Blog Post)

April 29, 2009

Wilco (The Band) has just released the name of their album: “Wilco (The Album)”.  See what they did there?

Also there’s the topic of the press photo:

vs…

Just sayin’


Geronimo Jackson: LOST Rock Found

April 24, 2009

The Fictional Geronimo Jackson -- they look like Sawyer's people

Except for a few times in Season 1, when the lovable Hurley would put on his Discman to listen to some god-awful Grey’s Anatomy reject songs while observing life on The Island in slo-mo, the two things I  tend to obsess over — LOST and pop music — rarely come together.

But lo and behold, hipster culture dictator Pitchfork Media broke a VERY interesting development a few weeks ago:  The story of a fictional classic rock band Geronimo Jackson / real San Diego throwback rockers The Donkeys. The Phork reports:

On a recent episode, the character Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) is heard listening to a Geronimo Jackson song called “Dharma Lady”, and last week, the song appeared as a free download on iTunes. Over on the “Lost” message board Dark UFO, someone noticed that “Dharma Lady” is almost the exact same song as “Excelsior Lady” by the Donkeys

The non-fictional Donkeys

Well played Dark UFO dude!  Pitchfork, thorough journalists as they are, took it straight to The Donkeys’ label, Dead Oceans, to pose the question, “Are the Donkeys Geronimo Jackson?”.  The reply was revealing, also, hilarious:

“It seems as though it’s possible that the Donkeys also existed as Geronimo Jackson in 1977. It might be possible that they were part of a Dharma Initiative experiment on time travel … Geronimo Jackson is likely to appear on extras of the season five ‘Lost’ DVD, where they will feature the band recording ‘Dharma Lady’.”

Hahahah.  It seems they did indeed.  Alrighty then.  A simple “yes” would have sufficed.

Anyway, Geronimo Jackson seems to be a recurring reference in the show — on T-shirts, on posters, but most prominently in the scene below.  Hurley and Charlie (who could easily pass for clerks at Championship Vinyl) sift through the Dharma record collection and come across the GerJack LP Magna Carta…

Innnnnnnteresting Charlie.  Hmmm.  You say you’re an “expert of all things musical,” but you’ve never heard of them, eh?  Hmmmm.  Maybe that’s because YOU’RE IN THE BAND in the past (future episodes)!?!?!  Wha? Sounds ridiculous, but why not?

I personally like to think that Charlie is bound to show up again.  First of all, one of the lesbians hiding in the Looking Glass told Charlie that the stations’ passcode was the song “Good Vibrations” and that it was originally programmed “by a musician”.  That’s a weird tidbit of information to throw out there as your dying words, isn’t it Bonnie?

Also Charlie gets the code on the first crack before he drowns.  Is it too crazy to assume that Charlie himself wrote that passcode?  I don’t think so.  Meaning, Charlie didn’t die at that point, and is sure to have lived and done other things, like, ummmmm, jumping through time and forming a band in the 70s. It’s possible.  After all, we’ve seen people we thought were dead come back to life in the show before.   Isn’t it possible that Charlie is in the band Geronimo Jackson?  Could be.

Also, is it at all possible that Geronimo is actually the name of Jack’s son?  Doubtful.

You can down the Donkey’s on music blog Gramotunes.com: The Donkeys – “Excelsior Lady