K Records outfit Saturday Looks Good To Me are about to release their fourth LP, Fill Up The Room. Frontman Fred Thomas took some time to answer my questions about the creative process his band uses to make their unique style of indie pop.
PPJ: First, tell us your name and what you do in the band.
Fred Thomas: I'm Fred Thomas and I play guitar, sing and do some percussion stuff in SLGTM when we play live. I also write all the songs and lyrics and do most of the recording, production and arrangement of our records.
PPJ: How did SLGTM get started?
Fred: At the turn of the century in Ann Arbor, Michigan where the band started, me and a lot of my friends had built up this tiny community of musicians and homies who were really into music and conceptual ridiculousness. One of the ways this love of concepts and foolishness manifested itself was the idea that four or five different people could play music in different combinations and be legitimately considered twenty or thirty different bands or solo projects or whatever. So we were always starting new bands or different ideas with the same five or six people. One was Flashpapr, a kind of quiet slowcore folk improv group, one was Glass, a cheesey electro project, one was Saturday Looks Good To Me, a 60's inspired four track dance band and one was Slinner, a Pavement/Slint/Weezer tribute band where all the songs had to sound like equal parts of those three bands. I just kinda stuck with SLGTM from there, but that's how it began, as a ridiculous concept.
PPJ: How do you go about writing your songs?
Fred: It's always different. Sometimes an entire song comes to you at once, lyrics and melodies and different movements and everything are right there. Other times it takes months or years to find the perfect way to fit pieces of different ideas together.
PPJ: You're about to release your fourth album, and the band has gone through a lot of changes since the release of your first. What do you think have been the most positive and negative changes along the way?
Fred: That's a great question! I think if a musical project does the same thing record after record, it's a really bad thing. The band has evolved from a kind of recording-based entity that gathered together my friends and acquaintances and made really lush records into a full-fledged band that tours all the time, and translates these precious bedroom songs I make on my own into loud and energized communiques in the setting of a live show. This is reflected in our new record, which is probably the first one we can play live and come close to having it sound anything like the record, cause it's coming from the experience of the dance floor moment instead of the bedroom experiment. In my view, this is both the most positive and most negative change that's happened. Positive in the way that it allows for a full-circle appreciation of the songs and that we're changing and growing in an honest way. Negative in that it signifies the end of that dreamlike world where I would record anything and anyone, slow it down, throw it away, dig it back out of the trash, put reverb and delay on it and form this perfect sound, not thinking about the future or the past. It feels like growing up, which is always both good and bad.
PPJ: How did you get signed to K Records?
Fred: It was extremely mellow and intuitive. We had been working with Polyvinyl since 2003, and they've always done a great job and helped us out immensely, but we've also done a lot of smaller projects with other labels, so it was never an exclusive arrangement. When we finished our new record, I sent it to a bunch of labels to check out and K was the most excited about it of anyone, and I had been getting to be better friends with them for a few years, so it just seemed to
PPJ: Would you consider "Fill Up The Room" a concept record? Why or why not?
Fred: I consider it more of a song cycle than a concept record. All eleven songs are about the ideas of love and death, and how those things are really the only things that truly effect our lives and all the choices we make. Different lyrics or musical parts repeat a lot and the context changes from song to song. All the songs sound different stylistically as well, which makes it really interesting to hear the same words or guitar lines and have it be a totally different listening experience than the last jam.
PPJ: What is your favorite aspect of writing and playing music and why?
Fred: I love recording. It's the most insular and the most vast place in music for me. You can do anything and everything's acceptable and beautiful, even the failed experiments.
PPJ: What do you hope to do with SLGTM in the future?
Fred: At some point I abandoned hope in the future. When we started playing, before we were even playing shows out of town, there was a lot of hubbub about bands in Detroit getting signed to major labels, and this kind of energy in the air that being in a band meant bigger and better things than just playing sweet shows and feeling good. I saw this corrupt the music of some people I knew and also felt a weird pressure on myself for who I was making songs for. Invisible friends. Invisible critics. As we went on there were more and more pressures and strange things like that, and I've found the only way to stay pure in your music is just to follow your muse and do everything you want to and not worry or think about where you'll end up. So no plans or desires for a future, though there will probably be one.
PPJ: Finally, tell us three bands you think we should be listening to.
Fred: Since I moved to Brooklyn, High Places are my favorite band. Two folks making this really perfect percussive, dreamy and uncomfortable sound that falls into a heavy eastern/Hawaiian sounding bed of noise that echoey, slushy and sweet vocal melodies glide above. They're perfect. They did a remix for us. The Dirty Projectors' new Black Flag revamp record is pretty hard to stop listening to as well, but for the sound you never want to end, this extremely rare record by a british folk rock act called Tony Caro & John has been reissued recently and it's a flawless, homemade masterpiece that finds a midway between the minimalist hippie bliss of Tyrannosaurus Rex and somber psychedelic rock band production without the rock band. It's transcendent music, perfect sound forever.