A Detailed Interview With The Indie-Pop LA-Based Quartet, SAINT MOTEL!
Posted On 29 Mar 2017
Having just wrapped a successful run of European headline shows, the Los Angeles indie pop quartet, Saint Motel are in the middle of a 30+ date North American Tour with Panic! At The Disco, including sold-out shows at NYC’s Madison Square Garden and The Forum in Los Angeles (see our review of this show below).
Saint Motel have toured Europe multiple times and had high profile exposure via GQ Italia, Cosmopolitan Italia, Italian Vogue and Rolling Stone, BBC1, and live appearances on X Factor (Italy) and the nationally televised 65th annual Sanremo Music Festival.
Following their current tour with Panic! At The Disco, Saint Motel will play select 2017 summer festivals including Governor’s Ball, Shaky Knees, Bottlerock and more.
All Access was recently at their show in Los Angeles at the Inglewood venue, The Forum. Despite being a short set, Saint Motel dazzled the audience with songs off their first collection “My Type” including “Cold Cold Man” and the hit “My Type.” They also played a few tracks off their most recently released album, “saintmotelevision” including “Destroyer”, “Sweet Talk” and “Move.” Read more of the review here- http://bit.ly/2ocgCsY
Saint Motel’s latest collection, saintmotelevision was recorded earlier this year in Los Angeles with production from the likes of Lars Stalfors (Cold War Kids) and Tim Pagnotta (Walk The Moon) among others along with the band’s own A/J Jackson. The album’s infectious lead single “Move” entered the Top 25 at Alternative after going #1 on Sirius/XM’s Alt Nation and went Top 5 at Triple A. The song is joined by a remarkable “virtualizer” created by the band to go far beyond the standard companion visualizer or lyric video. By combining 360° animation and virtual reality technology, the “Move” virtualizer offers fans an interactive and immersive experience on either conventional mobile devices or VR goggles.
Check out their latest video for their single, “Born Again”:
saintmotelevision follows Saint Motel’s 2014 label debut EP, “MY TYPE,” featuring and the breakthrough title track. “My Type” proved a Top 5 Triple A and Top 10 Alternative radio smash here in the US, has garnered over 60 million streams on Spotify and was a top 40 favorite in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, where it received platinum sales certification.
Saint Motel is made up of A/J Jackson (vocals), Aaron Sharp (guitar), Dak Lerdamornpong (bass) and Greg Erwin (drums).
To Keep Up With Saint Motel:
Learn more about Saint Motel in the following All Access interview:
Is 2017 off to a good start for you guys?
A/J: Yeah, I think so. We hit the ground running. Well, I guess we actually counted in the New Year in Chicago. We were technically playing second one of the new year and it hasn’t stopped since. We went to Europe for a little bit for some touring and then we came back to the U.S. and joined up with Panic at the Disco and that’s where we are now.
Now a while ago you were proposing this multimedia spectacular big event called Saint Motel Vision, and it was shut down. Can you talk about what your vision was, and how this new record connects to it?
A/J: Yeah. So, initially, the idea was, we were going to mix all sorts of arts together and have a live variety show thing. It was going to be awesome. The David Lynch Foundation was presenting it and we had Neil Hamburger as a host. We had some amazing local Los Angeles comedies, dance, installation art … We actually had this old analog television organization in L.A. that was bringing all this beer, made all these cool promos. In the end, the warehouse we were throwing it in didn’t have the correct permitting, so it did get shut down.
The idea of mixing these various things together is kind of true to Saint Motel spirit of trying to mixing various things like Benny Goodman samples with rock music, just trying to use different ideas and seeing what sticks. Even the name Saint Motel is a balance of light and dark together, we’re all about that dichotomy.
Do you still hope to put this event on one day in the future?
A/J: Yeah, sure. We’ve already been talking about our next headline tour, incorporating the concept into it.
Now your songs continue to have these incredibly catchy sing-along choruses. Is that something that you as a band consciously strive for and want in your music?
A/J: You know, I don’t know. I guess, probably a lot of it been influenced by the music we grew up with, hearing on the radio, which you typically … I’m from Minneapolis. Dak’s from Thailand, Sharp’s from LA and Greg’s from Norcali. No matter where we were, there’s the same songs we all kind of grew on the radio. Not to say that we want just made 15 minute experimental music that doesn’t go that direction but, yeah, I think there’s definitely a pop and rock song structure format that’s somewhat ingrained into most people. I think it’s definitely ingrained the back of our heads. Sometimes we consciously try to avoid it with songs like Daydream Mushroom Nightmare and some of our older stuff like Eat Your Heart Out and whatever. Yeah, typically, we do enjoy a good chorus.
How did your lyric video for Move end up getting that incredible virtualizer treatment on it?
A/J: Initially, we were talking about doing some virtual reality this was almost 2 years ago. We were pretty into virtual reality when it was first popping up in LA. It’s everywhere. We were going to all these conventions. A lot of my friends from film school already experimenting with it. We were talking about what we can do in that field. Though it is a little bit expensive at the time being so we decided to try a new thing which is a cross between a lyric video, a visualizer, a live video, and like a just king of graphic thing. We call it a virtualizer. So far, we’ve made five of them and we’re not stopping. We’re going to do everything on the entire album. The idea is it’s not a music video, which is its own narratives. Usually separate. Usually higher budget. Usually you only get them for the singles. It’s not like a lyric video or a visualizer. It something new. Something in between. We’ve made up these parameters that it needs to have lyrics, live performance, song specific graphics, in one location. It’s not like you’re on a virtual reality roller coaster. It’s more like you’re taking a walk inside the song. You put on an album when you’re first listening to it and you close your eyes and use your imagination. It’s trying to accomplish the same thing.
Along with this incredible advancement in technology, how else do you think that Saint Motel has grown since your debut music was released in 2009?
A/J: Yeah. We always tried to tie in whatever technology could and see if there’s uses inside our set. I remember we had a thing called the video piano, which was we put tiny security cameras on our mics, on our guitars and instruments. We have some wireless ones floating around the crowd. This was around 2009 when the EP came out. This was before GoPros and these small cameras. We had them all blended together. Well, we called it a video piano. Each key on this wooden piano sunk a different video signal. Behind us, we have the screen. It almost looked like, even if we were playing dive bars, it looked like there was a visual feed from the stadium camera system or something. You saw all these different clips and stuff. Now it’s the guitarist, now it’s a drum solo. It was a fun idea.
We’ve done things like in various cities on tour. I remember when we were on tour with Band of Skulls we brought a DVD player with us and a small projector and just have all Vancouver related footage played behind us with our logo and song stuff. Every night of the tour it would be a city specific visual. We’ve tried various non-technological, timeless, things. We’ve done stuff with dancers. We’ve done stuff with stage props. Our keyboards stand is now built into an old analog television which I hope we’ll keep using this summer during festival season.
Let’s talk about your current tour with Panic! At the Disco. How do you guys keep of the energy night after night on show like this, where the shows are back to back?
A/J: I think it’s just a general excitement, I think, an adrenaline of playing these really big rooms. We never done arena shows before. It’s a new experience for us. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a lot of people which I don’t think you need much to get pumped up from that. We do have some strange warm-ups backstage. Some I can tell you about, some I can’t. One does involve we all slap each other. That helps a lot. It’s rhythmic slapping. That definitely gets the blood flowing.
We also do a lot of vocal warm-ups like cereal jingles. Like Cookie Crisp and they’re great. That keeps you healthy. We have a really awesome crew. Panic at the Disco are really nice guys. Very helpful and their production is very helpful for us on the tour. I don’t know. The catering. We have our own catering on tour, which is awesome. We stay healthy and eat food, which is good. It’s not all pizza every night.
Wait, back to the slapping. Where do you slap each other?
A/J: All over. Mostly shoulders and back. Only I slap myself in the face, sometimes. I think everyone slaps themselves in certain places. There are some places that are available for groups slaps and there are some that are off-limits.
What musicians have continued to inspire your music and then, in the same question, who would you love to see in your dream concert, your dream music festival?
A/J: Well, I think 2016 hit pretty hard with the passing of David Bowie and Prince. Those would have been, probably, my answers. Those two playing together on tour would have been pretty epic. I don’t know. I mean, we’re playing with some pretty amazing bands this summer. There’s some pretty awesome festival lineups. Really excited to play with Phoenix. There’s tons of acts. I think I’ll pull it up. Hold on a sec here.
We’re playing at the Governers Ball on that Saturday with Mark Ronson, Kevin Parker. It’ll be awesome. O and Wu-Tang Clan, that’ll be really rad. Yeah, that’s going to be really cool.
Growing up, what did you listen to?
A/J: All sorts of stuff. Yeah, I went through probably general phases. I think, a little kid, a lot of 50s pop and then my parents records. Probably New Age and punk and classic rock. Then, when I became a teenager, I started listening to my own punk kind of music and Ska and whatever. Then got a little more experimental like Queen and a little more electronic music. Then back to the classics when we first started the band. I remember, vividly, working in a record store in Minneapolis when the Strokes came out. I remember as soon as the Strokes came out, we had to go clear at so many CDs, Nickelback, that people aren’t interested in anymore. I remember thinking this is amazing this feels like something’s happening here. That [inaudible 00:13:05] the 2000s, I think. I was still a kid but I was thinking, now this is like … I think I felt more at home, musically, when that stuff started to come in [inaudible 00:13:18] play the radio.
I feel like it was a bit lost in the 90s. There was so much Britney Spears and boy bands and butt rock. I think knowing that bands you like can get airplay is pretty exciting.
Switching gears for a second, I think that right now, politically and culturally, these are some really interesting and challenging times. Where do you see the future music heading with this climate and how do you think it’ll connect with all of that?
A/J: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think part of it is music is an escape and music’s always been an escape. I mean, music can serve either purpose. Music can fire you up for a political cause. Music can be a protest. A voice of protest. Music can be alternative to the horrible things you see every day on the sensationalized news. You can take you to another world, which is great. Which is great and necessary. More so now than ever, I think. I don’t know. I think our music has always been escapist, even when it was in the calm days of the Obama presidency. I think we always made music and where we want to be more so than where we are. Because we would write this music in a dark, windowless, un-air-conditioned box in downtown Los Angeles in this warehouse. We all have these mini shitty part-time jobs. We didn’t want to make music that was depressing because we needed something to lift us up.
If we were going to be playing the same music over and over and over, every night, when we were on tour we wrote said depressing music we probably would have killed ourselves. We needed something to be an escape, be a beacon of hope to be something that we could aspire to. That when we get on stage every night is a release. It’s cathartic. We get adrenaline flowing and you’re sweating. The crowds going dancing and crazing. They’re feeding you and your feeding them. That’s what happened.
So what do you hope, at the end of the day, is the message of your music? What do you hope that fans take away from your shows?
A/J: I don’t know if the music has a message as much as, probably, the songs do. I think each song has his own reason for existence. It tells a story, it’s own background, and a lot of them are pretty all over the place. I don’t know if there’s actually a consistent theme, message-wise, but I hope you walk away from a Saint Motel concert sore, sweaty, exuberant, cathartic, drunk in love.
My final question is about your newest single, Born Again. It’s really taking off right now. When you were working on it, did you see it becoming this hit and what was it like writing and putting it together?
A/J: I mean, we never really thought about it in terms of radio. I remember this is one of the songs that always stayed on the band’s periphery and that we always considered bringing into the album. We were, initially, it’s not like a slow song but it’s a bit down tempo and we were thinking does this fit with everything we’re doing? It’s not a ballad. It’s not an up tempo song. It’s in between. We played around with it and we felt it doesn’t really matter. We just like the song. It’s been getting a really interesting reaction. We’re not a religious band and the song is definitely not meant to be taken literally. It’s inspired by a childhood friend of mine who was sent away to rehab. It’s been getting a lot of reactions in that sense. It’s been fascinating to see. Playing it live has been really fun to do. It channels this almost revivalist kind of feeling. You just get really excited. It starts out so mellow and so …
There’s no need to be nervous, I’m not dangerous anymore. Sung in the most mellow way. Then by the end of the song it’s almost like we screamed and you and you can see, oh man, maybe there was a dangerous aspect to this person. At that point, you’re almost flipping out. Having this moment with the choir. It felt really good. Once we had the demo, we liked it. Then, when we produced it, we finished it, had a choir, it just felt like it took it to a whole other level. It’s one of our favorite songs in the recording process. We were really happy when we had it on the album because I wrote hundreds of songs through this album and about 30 of them we took to production. Mostly between two producers. From that, we decided on 10 by pretty much pick your top five and then figuring out what we all agreed on. Everybody chose Born Again as one of their songs. Like, okay, this is great. We’re going to put it on the album, then.
That’s the story. I just found the voice note on my phone from Born Again. It was a song where it rarely happens where sitting down at the piano and writing the chorus and the lyrics that came out, which are normally just gibberish, which were actually right off the bat, there’s no need to be nervous, I’m not dangerous anymore. It was the first thing I said which pretty rarely happens, the first thing I say becomes the actual lyrics. Yeah, I just found that. Maybe we’ll put that out. I feel like it’d be cool to put out all these voice notes and voice demos and early mixes and alternative mixes. They all have all sorts of different styles. There was a version of Born Again that actually was up-tempo, one time, that I’m really glad we didn’t do.
Listen to the full interview here on Souncloud: