The Awkward Off Vs. Lymbyc Systym

EMO’S in AUSTIN, TX was a post-rock wonderland last Friday as Loxsly, Sleep Whale, Lymbyc Systym, and This Will Destroy You took the stage on a soggy evening. The duo of LYMBYC SYSTYM were kind enough to sit down with me before the show for an interview.

We discussed everything from sock puppets to putting their sound into a concise musical package. They shared the process of creating their latest album Shutter Release with help from Jeff Zeigler and John Congleton. Even though it was a sopping-wet Friday in Austin, TX, Lymbyc Systym filled Emo’s outside with their lush and often-surprising post-rock instrumentation.

Full Transcript (Audio):

Nichole Bennett: I’m Nichole, and I’m at Emo’s with the dudes of Lymbyc Systym. Do you guys want to introduce yourselves and say what you do?

Mike Bell: I’m Mike. I play the drums, glockenspiel, all of the electronic stuff for the most part…electronic percussion, some textural stuff.

Jared Bell: I’m Jared. I do keyboards live and a bunch of other stuff.

NB: So these guys are brothers, and they’ve been in various incarnations of a band for a while, starting with a kiddie rap group and progressing to what is now Lymbyc Systym. If you had to tell the story of Lymbyc Systym with a puppet show, would it be with sock puppets or marionette puppets.

MB: Oh sock puppets straight up, I think.

JB: Sure, yeah. Marionette puppets are a little classier, maybe.

MB: We played at this venue in Houston, Super Happy Fun Land, and the woman that works there makes sock puppets.

JB: Sock monkeys.

MB: Ever since then, I’ve been totally into sock puppets and sock monkeys and all that stuff.

NB: Do you guys prefer studio or stage? They are totally different animals for you guys.

MB: I don’t know which one I necessarily prefer. They are totally different animals. There’s an amazing microscopic sterility to the studio, if that makes sense. It’s like everything is under the microscope and you are analyzing all of the details, whereas live none of that matters anymore and it’s all about the raw energy. In a body sense, I prefer live, but in a mental sense I prefer the intensity of the studio, overanalyzing all of your stuff and being super-critical of everything whereas live you forget about all of that and you sort of just go at it and it’s more about creating an energy onstage.

NB: Is there any element of improvisation on stage?

MB: We used to do more of that in the past. These days it’s mostly just really subtle stuff. All of our stuff are through composed, so it’s the same length every time. So, we’re not improvising with the structures. When you’re on tour you definitely find your little spots where you can mess with things and reinterpret yourself or be influenced by other external factors. So there’s a tiny touch of improvisation but not in the greater sense.

NB: When you hear an album like this, you wonder how it’s going to translate to stage. Like “Oh no are they going to jam me to death?,” but when I saw you guys it seemed very clean.

MB: We try to keep things concise and only keep them as along as necessary. This is something that we’ve been dissed for in reviews sometimes is making things shorter than they seem they should be. It’s an instant impact. There’s something amazing about listening to a 12 minute song that progresses, but there’s also something awesome about a song that covers all of its bases in like 3 minutes.

NB: You guys have a new album from last year. Do you want to tell me about it? How’s it different?

JB: I think the main difference between this and our previous records is that it is a long time in the making. It took about 3 years from the very beginning to when it was released. It’s also a lot more production-heavy than anything we have done before.

MB: Yeah. More intense orchestration with different instruments.

JB: Our last full length record Love Your Abuser was just recorded at home. We lived together in Arizona at the time, and we just did it all at home. We would just wake up in the morning and record, and we kind of wrote it as we went. For the new material we made full demos for everything. Everything was very set. Then we went into the studio and recorded everything to tape, and obviously there’s a lot more orchestration.

MB: I like the idea too of bands that I’m fond of in the sonic evolution of their records. In the context of Lymbyc Systym for Love Your Abuser sounds very homemade but in a charming sort of way, like it was constructed maybe in a bedroom or in a room of a home and done by people who didn’t necessarily know what they were doing as far as recording their instruments properly. I think it’s cool for the listener to then hear our new record or the split we did with This Will Destroy You. Actually our stuff on that comes from the same recording sessions as Shutter Release. Hopefully it’s a sonic evolution in the sense that there’s more clarity and you can hear more of what’s going on, more intense orchestration.

NB: Yeah, it’s almost more focused. We talked a little bit about press earlier. Do you guys read reviews about yourselves?

JB: Yeah.

MB: Sometimes.

JB: Any band that says they don’t, they really do. I don’t think it gets to us ever. Fortunately everything for this latest record has been really really positive, like overwhelmingly positive. I think it’s actually a good part of the process to read reviews. It’s really easy to say that this is my art, and it doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s important to start from that approach, but you can make music for just yourself and keep it in your house, but once you put it out there it’s not just you, it’s a part of everyone. The way people hear it is really important to us. For any art, not just music, it should be important what people’s reactions are. Sometimes it’s good. Like Mike was saying is something that is really jarring to them that we’re actually really proud of is Lymbyc Systym has really abrupt changes or things are shorter than you want. Like in a parochial piece of art, something that gets you to think may be initially disturbing. We enjoy checking out what other people have to say.

NB: Yes, with the internet, you can get a review almost immediately.

JB: You can see also when someone posts a review how someone just guts half that review and makes it their own review.

NB: You guys are known for doing lots of touring. Is there a method behind that madness or is that just something that kind of happened?
MB: We used to tour just for the sake of touring, like self-promotion. There were times when Jared or I didn’t have jobs. We would tour to make the bare amount of money necessary to live. Over time, we’ve realized it’s more about productive touring, planning things more, making use of good opportunities, and consolidating the tour. We’ve kind of backed off from the constant touring we did 2005 to the middle of 2008 or so. Now I would say it’s more about doing logical, well-planned tours that are more concise and well-promoted.

JB: When we started, we were really inspired by bands that had a DIY ethic. Now things are more centered around blogs and the Internet making bands. There was a point, or at least I’d like to think, that it was just about bands that are touring. Everytime you come back through a city there are more people and maybe a record label finds you. The reason that we started touring so much is that we were really inspired by that go-for-it approach.

NB: I think there’s still an element of that. Here, I see it a lot. If you could trade your tour van or tour bus in for a dinosaur, what would it be?

MB: Well, for the same use, I’d get a brontosaurus because we could ride it. Ten tour buses worth of people could ride on the back of a brontosaurus.

JB: Velociraptors are really fast, and I really hate long drives. It would be kind of nice to get through a drive fast.

MB: If you could get a little team of velociraptors you could go way faster than you could go on I-10.

JB: Although a pterodactyl could just fly you around.

MB: That’s true. I’d take a pterodactyl over an airplane anyday.

NB: Tell me a little bit about the songwriting process.

MB: For this record, living in two different places, it was all about us starting our respective ideas where we were and then swapping ideas online.

JB: It should be noted that when we were making the record, Mike was living in Austin, and I was living in Brooklyn.

MB: There were definitely moments in the process when we did have to come together. Like Jared said, we did fully-fledged out demos for all of the stuff, but then we got together to have someone who really actually knew what they were doing record us well who was our friend Jeff Zeigler from Uniform Recording in Philadelphia. So that was a situation where Jared and I got together. We spent a week at Jeff’s house.

NB: And he’s go the studio in his house.

MB: Yeah in his basement. It’s a fully-fledge studio with great equipment, and Jeff’s a masterful engineer. So we got together then, and then there was the process of us being in different places editing what we recorded and then adding stuff that didn’t necessarily have to be recorded by someone who knew how to record, like electronic programming or textural stuff that we did with synthesizers where we just plugged them directly into the computer—maybe through guitar pedals and into the computer. That’s simplistic. It only gets difficult when you are trying to record a whole drum kit. Jeff also has a lot of really great gear, like vintage microphones. That was stuff that we didn’t even have access to. We were in a separate places, and then we met up again to actually mix the record with this guy John Congleton who is actually up in Dallas. That was the final part where we were all together making sure everything was how we wanted it, and John did an amazing job, impeccable job, mixing it. And then it was done.

JB: I think another interesting thing that you were almost getting at was this time around that most of the gear we used, I’d say 70% of the gear, was Jeff’s stuff. He’s got a lot of vintage stuff.

MB: Yeah, I played a vintage drum set.

JB: It was an easy way to get a different flavor on this album from our previous album. We were using a different keyboard, different drum set, different percussion things.

NB: I’m going to go back and listen for that. That’s exciting. If you guys could have a superpower, what would it be?

MB: Never ever getting tired.

NB: I want that one.

MB: To be able to do this tour scheduling where you have to drive for like 14 hours. This is a very real-life example maybe from yesterday. Driving from 13-14 hours, sleeping for 4 hours, and then getting up and doing the whole grind again. Of course there’s an element of exhaustion just from the work involved, but I think it would be awesome to just never get tired without the use of any caffeine or anything, blaze through everything totally on top of your game and alert. I don’t know. Jared, what would yours be?

JB: I don’t know. Mine would be more humanitarian just because the world’s so disgusting right now.

MB: To be able to heal with a touch would be an amazing superpower.

JB: That’s my cliché answer.

NB: What would your advice me to a band that’s starting out?

JB: My basic advice would be to just play music because you love it.

MB: If you’re really invested to the project in the long term, do your best to learn how to deal with the other personalities and how to work together. I would say that so many times bands come to an end not because the music has gotten stale but because personalities conflict, and they can’t stand to be around them. Granted, being in a band involves being close to these people all the time whether you are in a studio or a tour van. If you can say that regardless of stress or anxiety that these are people that I’m really committed to working with, then that’s a great place to start from.

JB: And also in a more jaded way, just meet a lot of people. Meet the right people. Tour and make music, but unfortunately you also have to schmooze it up.

NB: And we’ll end on if you could be any animal, what would you be?

JB: I have several animals. People say I look like a bird, so I kind of feel connected to being a bird, but if I weren’t a bird definitely a monkey. Dexterity is important.

MB: I would be a well-groomed dog in a luxury home and well cared for and my only life responsibilities were to eat food and be loved by people. Not having any responsibilities—that’d be cool.

JB: That would get stale. Maybe if you were a dog living in the countryside and you could go roam all day.

MB: You’re right. It would be better to be a dog on an awesome farm than in a luxury home.

NB: That’s the most specific answer I’ve gotten. Thank you guys so much.

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