Nonsense With a Purpose: An Interview With Times New Viking
On the verge of breaking through, Times New Viking sits down with PopMatters to talk about its new record, Dada art, and what it's like having played over 700 shows.
Ohio's native sons in Times New Viking have had an eventful career that seems to be arcing forever upward. The trio formed after meeting in art school in 2004, recording albums like Dig Yourself (2005) and Present the Paisley Reich (2007). These early albums -- the band's first four -- were released by prestigious labels, first by Siltbreeze and then Matador. Now, Times New Viking has signed with Merge Records for its fifth and most recent release, Dancer Equired. On the new record, the band continues its tour de force with songs like "Fuck Her Tears", which made Pitchfork's March 16 Playlist. Here, drummer and vocalist Adam Elliott talks to PopMatters about the new record, Dada art, and what it's like having played over 700 shows.
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This is your first album for Merge. How did that come about, and how has that affected you?
We had the record recorded before Merge ever heard it. I love how in some reviews or comments its implied we "cleaned" up for Merge; but the switch to Merge has been a bit different in some positive ways. I mean, our album streamed on NPR, for one. One step closer to a Grammy!
Who else did you work with to make this album, and how did that collaboration change the music?
We had Adam Smith of Columbus Discount Recordings/CDR/Necropolis/Unholy 2 at the helm recording. He knew his way around all the old ribbon mics and tape machines like a German scientist. We almost made him wear a lab coat the whole time. We also had our sounddude/goodguy Dustin White help with ideas and some background noises. Both guys knew our sound and have been fans from day one and we trust their opinions. It was nice to have someone place mics for a change.
Was there a philosophy about Dancer Equired that informed the making of the record?
Be informed. Act quickly. Every now and then something important gets done. Winter is long. Love is forgiving. Youth is short.
Your music has definitely changed over the years. How would you describe the changes?
Natural. We have gotten a little more comfortable in each of our duties. We have played roughly 700 shows, so I hope we have gotten a little better at our instruments. We are aware we can't sing that well, FYI. People seem to be missing the point but that happens. I still look at my Shaggs tattoo every day to find my muse.
What is your songwriting process?
Three hundred-percent creative control. We each are allowed 100% control. We each come in with bits and bobs and mix them together. We are into collaborative art. We enjoy the idea of a band being more of a gang than an individual who has bodies flesh out his inner emotions.
How long did it take to make Dancer Equired? Where did the title come from?
It took three 16-hour days. We just went for it. No time to let anything get too messy or overdone. Dancer Equired came out of [the phrase] "attendance required" that we ripped [off] an Electric Eels flyer. Like the album art, the title had been copied, fucked with, then recopied so many times it eventually came out Dancer Equired. It's nonsense with a purpose.
How would you describe your live show to someone who's never seen one?
Ohio rock and roll. We play loud and fast, usually about 19 songs in 40 minutes nowadays. We come from basement/noise shows, and we use that mentality even if we are opening for a huge [crowd] in a theater. Hopefully [there are] a lot of whiskey and fist pumping and an all-around good time.
What is the biggest misconception about you, if there are any?
That we aren't serious. Or we are a lo-fi band.
What would surprise your longtime fans the most about you, either as musicians or just as people?
That we are incredibly poor. Or that we love sports.
What do you do for fun on tour?
Play rock shows! I feel like I have a better standard of living on tour, an actual schedule where I sleep and eat. I personally love just staring out the window and seeing the landscape change. Or to pretend to stare at buildings. Or get away from the Internet and phones and just exist.
Do you have a favorite place to play on tour?
Anywhere that will welcome us. I love Big Ten country though. And the UK its like our 50th state (sorry, Hawaii).
What differences have you noticed between American audiences and international ones?
Americans take rock and roll for granted, as they should. International audiences tend to be a little more introspective, kind of viewing you like a piece of art. which we don't mind really. Sometimes in America we get made fun of for being from Ohio; overseas we are like a rare delicacy.
Do you still do or teach any art? If so, tell me more about it.
We all still do. Not for money or gallery aspirations. Beth [Murphy] makes excellent short films, I constantly am putting something together or making collages, Jared thinks of band names and then makes the album art. We constantly write songs as well. I do hope to teach art someday.
What visual artists inspire you?
As a band, I would say Fluxus/Dada/early pop art was a big influence. Also the early DIY flyers and album art. Maybe some Caravaggio. Definitely Kurt Schwitters. The list is kind of endless.
Are you inspired by any writers?
Richard Brautigan was a starting point for us.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about being a musician today?
Young music fans have their minds made up by blogs. It's hard for anyone to actually feel nowadays. Oh, and also selling records.
Do you consider yourselves a political band at all? What political issues do you see as most pressing?
Socially political, I suppose. Most pressing for our youth would be the inability to get away from social networking, the lost art of conversation. Also, the loss of funding for the arts or anything worthwhile. The high importance placed in standardized testing, the complete lack of nutrition given in schools. The low wages and benefits taken away from teachers. It all comes down to education, huh? Congrats on bombing and killing Osama bin Laden, can we buy some kids an education now?