23rd Feb2009

East Hundred- The Interview

by Todd

As mentioned last week, East Hundred is a Philly-based band who’ve created quite a buzz based on their new album Passengers and the single “Slow Burning Crimes”.  The folks in East Hundred were nice enough to answer some questions for us.  Read up, kids.

Quick background update:  East Hundred produced one of the more clever “mockumentary’s” in an effort to promote the band.  It went viral on the internet and is absolutely worth the time to watch.  Essentially, the band was followed by TV journalist Will Kenny during a recent tour.  The “dynamic” between Will and the rest of the band is hilarious.  I won’t spoil it for you, but see how long it takes you to figure out what’s going on.

Part 1 of 3 here:

and links to the rest:

Part 2 of 3, Part 3 of 3 and the tremendous “aftermath” interview

East Hundred are Beril Guceri (lead singer), Brooke Blair (Guitar), David Sunderland (Bass), Will Blair (Drums), Susan Gager (Keyboards)

Without further ado, the interview:

TDOA: You’ve talked about the impact the dissolution of Brooke and Beril’s relationship had on the album. What effect did it have on the creative process for this album? Is it safe to assume that the guitar parts were written before the lyrics or had Brooke seen the lyrics prior to writing his parts?

Beril: The creative process for this album –the best way to sum it up is by saying: going into this album we evolved from a 3 piece to a 5 piece , making us a proper band, and less of a recording project. Simultaneously Brooke and I broke up, so that fueled even more expression on my part, and Brooke’s as well. We actually wrote more together, which wasn’t easy at all, but songs like ‘slow burning crimes’ and ‘afterlove’ came from it.

Whether lyrics or guitar came first? Mostly music comes first but it’s both together at the same time sometimes, hard to describe.

I can use ‘slow burning’ and ‘afterlove’ as specific examples for when Brooke and I wrote together:

The lyrics for ‘slow burning crimes’ actually started in my head before any music was written. It was during a night when Brooke and I were just trying to focus on writing a new song. We were broken up. Nothing was working and we got really frustrated (with the process, and each other). Then I was in the bathroom and I heard ‘so tell me what the time is now before I figure it out’ just in my head, which is in the first verse. I ran downstairs and said ‘Brooke! You have to write some chords around this melody!’ The two of us sat in the living room which was empty (Brooke and Will had just moved in to this house in south philly). The old wooden floors and lack of furniture gave it a simple, reverberated sound. Just Brooke on acoustic guitar, me singing with a tambourine. So the verses were initiated lyrically first, then the rest was written around the music.

With ‘afterlove’ – brooke just started playing this beautiful arpeggio, which set a mood. Then the lyrics came as he was playing it.


TDOA: Brooke, discuss the feeling of hearing those lyrics the first time and how it might have impacted the process of finishing the song?

Brooke: It’s always hard to hear lyrics come together that are based on Beril and my relationship. At the same time in can be very therapeutic for both of us. But the excitement of getting a song done, on the whole song starting to materialize is all I’m focused on. I don’t think it slows down the process at all. (Brooke Blair)

TDOA: Did Beril write all the lyrics after the break-up? Anyone that’s ever had a failed relationship can relate to the pain expressed in each song on this album. Is it painful to sing such personal songs in front of Brooke or are you able to separate yourself as a story-teller.

Beril: There are a couple songs on the album that were actually written before the break-up. Will also writes songs, and sometimes we even combine lyrical efforts…. like ‘Deadpan’, “Along the Way’ and ‘Dear Blue’. But yes after the break up or even leading up to it, a huge wave of lyrical expression came out of me. It definitely inspired a lot of the mood and writing on this album from ‘pony’ to ‘autopilot’ to the others I mentioned, but there are still other concepts on the record woven throughout and in between the heartbreak theme. The aftermath of Brooke and my relationship is certainly a big part, but it’s not the only thing.

TDOA: Is it painful to sing personal songs in front of Brooke or can I separate?

Beril: Hah, good question. The answer is both. It’s not embarrassing or anything like that, we’re close friends and we’re moving on. The painful part is more in the writing process or the absence of being productive actually…because then dwelling on the negative becomes easier. I was sad about our break up but also felt sorry for us objectively…like, what do we do now? So it’s therapeutic and bittersweet singing the songs. Takes a lot out of me, but I need to let it out.

TDOA: Is this Will Kenny stuff real? It’s so painful to watch and Brooke looks like he’s already hates him by the 5 minute mark of the first video. By the way, I’ll be sending you my dry cleaning bill next week.

Will Blair: Is Will Kenny real? Yes and No. People like Will Kenny, who lack any social grace and have a complete sense of self-importance, yet who are also rather uninformed and poor at what they do, do exist in the music industry and all areas of life. In this particular case, we developed an exaggerated characterization of this person. We were on tour, and we wanted to document the trip, without the all to common “indie tour” documentary feel, which normally features sleeping on the floor, drinking, being broke, etc. We wanted to approach it differently, but still get some shots from each city, each night. So we created a “show”. I changed my glasses, added a stupid trucker cap, and a tight zip up, and became what I was later referred to as “An Indie Ryan Seacrest”. Perfect. You’ll notice I’m not in any shots with myself unless I’m using Brooke as a stand in/body double. The rest of the band played along perfectly, as did plenty of hilarious and talented bands we met on the road. Of course, a lot of people didn’t get it, and because Will Kenny’s persona is based on real people we all know…a lot of people who’ve watched the video truly believe it. It was a ton of fun.

But it was simply a way to kill time on the road. I think I’m a pretty nice guy in reality, but if music doesn’t work out, I know I can fall back on acting like a complete douchebag.

TDOA: Love the “toy piano” effect on Slow Burning Crimes. It really grabs you as one of the great hooks of the song. Was that melody in the “demo” version of the song or was it added during the recording of the song? How far into the recording process were you before someone came up with the idea to use that effect?

Beril: The melody was indeed added in the demo from the start and on a toy piano…so when we were recording the album we already had that ‘effect’ idea in place. We liked the klinky, playful sound of it. It’s probably one of the most ‘anthemic’ moments of the album. Susan and I double that melody (on the toy piano, and another synth) and that’s what made the sound that you hear on the album and at our live shows.

TDOA: The video for Slow Burning Crimes is great fun and seems like a great step in the process of expanding your popularity. Who came up with the concept?

Susan: Brooke and Will’s older brother Macon came up with the concept, (and he directed the entire video) He’s a filmmaker and really had a good idea of what was do-able for us. I think in the beginning we were definitely split as a band when deciding whether we wanted to do something more serious, but I think this was the perfect blend of serious song, and a fun video. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, because our music can be serious. We do like to have fun and the video really shows that other side of us

Ed. Note: Macon Blair directed the video for Slow Burning Crimes.

TDOA: Can you talk about the inspiration for the video and the process of filming?

Macon: I was visiting them in Philly about as year ago and we were staying up late drinking and bullshitting about ideas for a video (they were putting the finishing touches on Passenger around this time and thinking about their release plan). The pillow fort idea came up (we were BIIIIG into pillow forts as kids) and got a big laugh.

So I wrote up a treatment, they showed it to the rest of the band (highly democratic as they are) and it got the green light. They had some money set aside in the band budget for a video–not much but enough to get by–and we just got to it.

Because Brooke and Will had worked for practically nothing on Murder Party, they got to call in some favors. Jeremy (who directed the movie) was more than happy to shoot the video, Chris (who produced the movie) came on the manage the set, and our friends Eli and Adam at Suite Spot NYC (who are also old pals with Brooke and Will…it’s al very incestuous) donated a hi-def camera and equipment as well as editing space afterwards. Our buddy Marc Vives cut it for a fifth of his usual rate just because he’s swell and he dug the song. We had a great local grip named Blake and a New York grip named Rommel who came on and worked for nothing and then, of course, a whole shit ton of Brooke and Will and Beril and Dave and Susan’s friends showed up in their pajamas and allowed themselves to be stuffed into this sweltering blanket fort all day. Everyone was a super trooper and although it was a mad sprint to get everything shot that we needed it was FUN AS SHIT.

Ed. Note: Radiohead invited fans to do remixes of their song “The Reckoner”. East Hundred’s remix is here and is outstanding.

TDOA: I love your remix of The Reckoner. Did you get involved in mixing any of your albums and any plans to do remixes for other bands in the future?

Brooke: We kept the elements of the song that we knew we couldn’t redo in a way that would do the song justice. Obviously we kept Thom Yorke’s vocals, and we choose to leave the drum track in, as well as most of the background vocals. Other than that, we re-cut all the guitars, bass, and some percussion. We also added an accordion, some synth parts, a lap steel guitar and ambient sounds. Finally, Beril added vocals as if it were a duet with Thom York. That was the most interesting aspect of the remix, being that it might be the only time you’ll ever hear Beril and Thom on a track together, unless we get super lucky some day!!!

We’ve never mixed any of our proper releases, but we’ve always been in the room annoying the shit out the mixing engineer! We have a little home studio where we demo songs and work out ideas. We’ve put together a few small pressings of free Ep’s consisting of B-sides, covers, remixes, and rarities that we’ve produced, engineered and mixed ourselves. They get better and better, and we’ve built up our studio gear little by little. You can kinda tell the newer stuff from the old.

TDOA: How did you get the guitar sound during the chorus of “Along The Way”? It’s got the amazing effect of sounding epic yet fragile at the same time.

Brooke: That’s basically two guitar parts doing the same line that couldn’t be more opposite in approach. One is played on a telecaster with a dirty sound in a lower octave, and the other is a nylon string classical guitar played a whole octave above the other. You have the attack and energy of the electric and the delicate finger style on the nylon, giving opposing sounds that just worked well in context. I was actually on the fence about keeping the classical guitar in the mix initially, until my bandmates talked some sense into me. I think I just needed a nap at that point. I really love the way that turned out on the record.

TDOA: Strangely, I haven’t been able to find anything where any member of the band discusses influences. I here a little Velocity Girl (Sub Pop) in you (particularly in Beril’s vocal melodies), but I wonder what bands influenced each of you.

Will: Actually, we’re not that familiar with Velocity Girl, but I’m off to check them out in a bit. Our influences are broad and constantly changing based on new (and old) music we’re still discovering. As writers, there is not one definitive artist we all agree on as an influence. We do agree, that from a production standpoint, we are greatly influenced by certain “moments”. In other word, we feel certain musical sounds, approaches, and moments play as much a role in setting the mood as the songwriting itself. The tambourine part on “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS, most of Kim Deals backing vocals with the Pixies, the guitar “fuzz” and “swells” found in Sigur Ros’ music. These are moments that influence our approaches to songs. Peter Katis, is a great producer (with whom we’d love to work with one day) and his approach to drum production is truly inspiring. He’s worked with Interpol and The National, two bands whom we really admire. I think we’d all have a hard time finding one ultimate influence as our feelings towards music we like constantly change, which keeps us looking for new music to listen to, as well as to create.

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