I grew up in the ‘80s and my dad was a big Lakers fan, so it was always just in my blood. A few years ago, we were opening for Muse on a big arena tour and…I got into the Boston Celtics’ dressing room and got a picture flipping off their logo.
BY WILLIAM LENNON
‘90s music purists have a tendency to dismiss them as a Smashing Pumpkins redux. And to many more casual audiophiles, they’re nothing more than the band behind “Lazy Eye.” But anyone who stops there misses the chance to loop-de-loop through the less explored quadrants of The Silversun Pickups’ haunted cosmos. Their previous album, Neck of the Woods, was a moody, atmospheric tangent that could have been a B-side for the Twin Peaks OST while their newest record, Better Nature, is being heralded as their foray into synth pop and electronica. Lead singer Brian Aubert has described Better Nature as being like “a quantum universe,” but drummer Chritopher Guanlao cited some additional, more unexpected influences when he spoke with Chicago INNERVIEW.
Chicago INNERVIEW: So there’s been a lot of talk about how ‘loose’ the recording process for Better Nature was. This has to be a pretty steep departure from recording Neck of the Woods, which is almost a concept album in that it imitates the structure of a horror movie.
Christopher Guanlao: Well when we did Neck of the Woods, we did a lot of pre-production. Then we went into the studio and Jacknife Lee, our producer, basically dismantled all our work. By Better Nature, we had learned that we didn’t want to do too much pre-production because there was no point. Things were going to change. Plus we had a whole different set of references. This time around, we were all about Spaghetti Westerns. We were getting into those kinds of guttural noises, like an Ennio Morricone type thing.
Chicago INNERVIEW: You set up your cymbals higher than most other drummers…Can you talk a little bit about why you do this?
Christopher Guanlao: It’s funny because over the years, I’ve made up a bunch of silly reasons for why I do it. Like, the technical reason I’ll say is that I like to mic the cymbal from the bottom so it isolates the sound, so it’s brighter in the mix. Another one I’ve said is that I like to get a good wind-up so I can hit it really hard. Yeah, but it’s really nothing. The jig is up. Early on, when we were starting to play a lot of shows, this kid came up to me and said it reminded him of me slam-dunking a basketball. I liked that because I’m not very tall. So when he said that, I was like, ‘that’s a good enough reason for me to keep doing that.’
CI: Could you do me a favor and nerd out on Radiohead real quick?
CG: When The Bends came out, I remember being a kid in L.A. and seeing an ad in the newspaper that they were going to play a show at Tower Records. And I was like, ‘that sounds cool. A free show. At midnight. I’m gonna check it out.’ And Radiohead played in the store! There were maybe a hundred people there, and they moved some CD racks aside and they just played. And it wasn’t acoustic! I thought it would be, but it was full-on. Full band, amps, everything. It just blew me away. And that album. I mean, The Bends is still one of my all-time favorites. One song after another is just amazing. After that they were just always one of my favorite bands, even before OK Computer took it to the next level…And that’s what we try to do. We try to make things interesting like they do, the way they push the envelope constantly.
CI: You’re also known as a huge Lakers fan…Can you talk a little bit about being a basketball fan on tour?
CG: I don’t know if you’ve seen my drum kit, but I’ve got purple and gold vista lights set up around it. I grew up in the ‘80s and my dad was a big Lakers fan, so it was always just in my blood. A few years ago, we were opening for Muse on a big arena tour and I was nerding out. Every arena we played I knew, because I watch so much basketball…So I did this project where at every arena, I stood in front of the team’s logo with my Lakers shirt on. And I got my drum tech to help me out. He was my photographer and right-hand man. I think I got into the Boston Celtics’ dressing room and got a picture flipping off their logo. Some places were harder than others, specifically at the Toyota Center. I think the security guards were onto me because they would not let me near any Houston Rockets logos.
CI: I’m guessing word got around?
CG: Yeah, but in the end I took 10 or 12 venue photos…I ended up doing an ESPN article about it! I gave them some of my pictures, so that was awesome.