[7 September 2006]
Hand-Claps, Head Starts, and Sunny Pop
Not since the Spinto Band has a young musical outfit burst onto the scene with the level of infectious joy that the Little Ones exhibit on their Sing Song EP, released this spring. Spinning out exuberant harmonies and indelible hooks, yet under-girded with strong, eccentrically plotted beats, the EP had the irrepressible optimism of early summer—the smell of new mown grass and suntan lotion was practically built right in.
People noticed. There was a live session on influential KEXP, and NPR selected “Lovers Who Uncover” as its song of the day—the day after a Paul Simon cut got similar treatment. Out of the blue, the band got an invitation to fly to New York and open for Matt Costa at the Bowery Ballroom, a gig that, by all accounts, was packed with A&R types. Kelefa Sanneh singled out the EP in the widely followed List feature of the New York Sunday Times, calling it “one of the year’s most lovable indie-rock CDs.” All this on the basis of six ebullient songs that, once heard, cannot be dislodged from the brain.
Like most overnight successes, the Little Ones have a bit more back-story than you’d guess. They’ve been playing together for more than two years and several members share roots in an earlier emo-centric outfit called Sunday’s Best. Singer Ed Reyes and Ian Moreno both recorded with this predecessor band, releasing an album on Polyvinyl before burning out creatively. “When Sunday’s Best dissolved, we just kind of started writing together, just trying to figure things out,” Reyes explains. “I just felt like I wanted to write music that was kind of fun, you know?”
Moreno brought in keyboard and bass player Lee Ladouceur, while Ed Reyes recruited his brother Brian to cover the same instruments (they switch off on the band’s EP). Greg Meyer, a critical anchor to the band’s sound, came last. “We realized as we started playing together that we needed a drummer. We can’t play to a click or a drum machine anymore, so Ian’s best friend from San Diego came in to play drums,” says Reyes.
An early demo reached David Newton, ex-guitarist of the Mighty Lemon Drops and currently running a studio called Rollercoaster, and the band began recording. The sessions stretched from April to November of 2005, as the band repeatedly had to stop, earn more money for studio time, and begin again.
This lengthy recording process gave the band time to think and re-think its songs, adding and subtracting layers until they were satisfied. “We really paid attention to textures,” says Reyes. “We were always open to little things. If you listen to old records, something like a shaker could totally make a song. You realize in these old Motown songs, something as simple as a tambourine can make the whole song sing.”
Or consider the power of handclaps, the sonic element that, more than any other, defines the EP’s light-hearted vibe. Maybe the best thing about “Lovers Who Uncover” is the bridge that comes a minute and a half in, where the stabbing guitars quiet, the verse ends, and all you hear is a series of handclaps, staccato bass, and band members shouting “Hey!”
“I’ve never used handclaps before,” admits Reyes. “That was one of those things where the song was all written and somebody just came up with an idea. A lot of those things that are on the EP are the result of that. Just having spontaneous ideas. I’m in a band with my friends, so I do not say, like, ‘Oh, that’s not a good idea.’ I say, ‘Go for it.’ No holds barred.”
The Little Ones’ classic sound has earned them comparisons to 1960s psyche-pop influences like the Kinks, the Beach Boys, and the Zombies—and also to the Shins, a band with whom they share a look as well as a sound. The art on their album was created by Jesse LeDoux, who designed the Grammy-winning packaging for Chutes Too Narrow. LeDoux agreed to create the whimsical, pastel-colored art after hearing Sing Songs.
The band lives in Silver Lake, a bohemian enclave east of LA, but Reyes at least pursues a surprisingly buttoned-down, un-hipsterish lifestyle. “Cha Cha Cha”, with its verse “The law of waking people / Breathes with such heavy symbols”, documents his habit of rising at five, just as many of his songwriter counterparts are getting to bed.
“I accomplish more things by getting up early, and I’ve been doing it for years now,” he says. “I love it when I get up in the morning. I go to the gym and run, do cardio. I like getting in the car and driving and not seeing a lot of people. I feel really empowered that I’m the only one here and I’m getting a head start and stuff.”
The Little Ones are embarking on their first full-scale US tour in September. Wake up early, get the jump on your friends, and check ‘em out (complete dates available at www.wearethelittleones.com).
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/little-ones-060907/