The Final Say: An Interview With Lackthereof

When he’s not touring and drumming with Menomena, Danny Seim is Lackthereof, a lo-fi indie-pop project based in Portland. Lackthereof’s first six albums were hand-copied on cassettes and CD-R’s, which were subsequently given out to Seim’s friends. In 2005, he released Christian the Christian, the first Lackthereof record to receive formal distribution. Now, Lackthereof is working with Barsuk Records, who also distribute Menomena releases. We had the opportunity to chat with Seim about his new album, the benefits of self-recording, and his best friend, Geddy Lee.

Lackthereof’s MySpace page describes Seim’s sound as “emotronic”, which one would assume to be a portmanteau of “emo” and “electronic”. Seim seems to have chosen it solely because of its absurdity. He says, “MySpace is great for listing a lot of bizarre genres that I know nothing about. For all I know, ’emotronic’ could mean ‘sounds exactly like Fall Out Boy’, which would be kind of awesome.” Your Anchor sounds nothing like Fall Out Boy, but will certainly appeal to those who grew up on the introspective bedroom rock of Deep Elm and Jade Tree in the mid- to late ’90s. Between this resemblance and the album’s occasional synth flourishes, the ridiculous adjective is as apt a description of the Lackthereof sound as any.

I had the pleasure of seeing that other band, Menomena, play at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival, where the band played between the Dirty Projectors and Clipse, which Seim calls, “a dream come true”. He’s only played in the Portland area as Lackthereof, and plans to keep it that way, for now.

“I have no current plans to take Lackthereof out of Portland. Right now though, I’m playing with some guys who I love working with. Matt Dabrowiak and Paul Alcott are in an amazing band here called Dat’r. Jim Fairchild was in Grandaddy and is now doing his own beautiful thing in All Smiles. I feel really fortunate to have these guys playing music with me for free. I wish I could buy them all a lifetime of McDonald’s gift certificates for their efforts. It’s truly a luxury to have two other dudes who I can trust to bounce ideas off. But it’s also a luxury to have a solo project where I know my process will always be the final say. Both projects together complete the artistic ideal for me.”

Seim claims he never pushed Lackthereof like he pushed Menomena because he’s content with its status as a side project. The pet project allows him to explore themes and ideas in a controlled way, an outlet that he wouldn’t necessarily have working with Brent Knopf and Justin Harris in Menomena. He says he dialed down his Lackthereof output when Menomena took off, but with Menomena between records, he has a little time to promote Your Anchor and play a few shows in Portland.

Self-recording has always been an integral part of Lackthereof’s output. He says he could never be productive in a recording environment that pushed him to be creative on time and monetary constraints, “with people staring at me through glass in a control room”. Self-recording allows him to dabble and tweak. But he’s no eccentric control freak, as he humbly points out.

“I’m still light years away from being a Steve Albini, unfortunately. For starters, I’ve doubled the number of microphones I normally use on a set of drums … I now use two. This gives me twice the amount of sonic textures in that department, so that’s been fun to experiment with. But other than that, Your Anchor was pretty much made the way 95% of the other Lackthereof records were made: with me staring into my computer screen for countless hours wearing headphones. I can’t imagine ever doing anything other than self-recording. It’s just so much easier for me to worry about being creative at home instead of worrying about wasting precious time in a studio with people staring at me through a little glass window in a control room. It intimidates me just to think about ever being productive in that environment. But I guess if Brian Eno ever decides he’d like to record me for free at Abbey Road, I’d probably reconsider.”

Pedro the Lion was a particularly strong influence in Seim’s recording philosophy and seems to have had an impact on his lyricism as well. Pedro’s 1998 debut album became a blueprint for his home recording attempts, “completely altering” his creative trajectory as a result, by illustrating how earnestness and passion trump expensive studio effects.

“In the late ’90s, I was singing for a teenage Christian band that was desperately trying to modernize its sound to match the arty futurism of Radiohead, while remaining rooted in the same semi-dorky stuff we had been listening to in the couple years since high school: Live, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam. As different as all those bands may be, they shared the common denominator of having elaborate, big-budget studios with reputable producers to make their lush-sounding albums.”

The band decided to pay top dollar to try to capture a big studio sound. With budget concerns in the back of his mind every time he approached the mic, he found he was unable to be creative in that setting. So he pulled a Springsteen, bought a cheap 4-track recorder and started noodling in his bedroom, where he found he could at least communicate his creativity despite his lack of technical knowledge. The production philosophy has paid off for Menomena, and with Barsuk now pushing Lackthereof, perhaps his pet project will gain traction as well.

We couldn’t help but ask about Danny’s adorable dog. Lackthereof is often pictured as Danny holding a pug? Unofficial band mascot? Sorta.

“Geddy Lee splits her time managing Menomena and collaborating with Lackthereof. She didn’t make an appearance on Your Anchor, but she freestyled some sweet backing vocals on My Haunted. She’s my best friend.”