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Band Crush: One Happy Island

May 25, 2010

I am one happy blogger to be covering One Happy Island. The trio (Rebecca, Shannon & Brad, l-r) covers all your typical bitter-sweet love/loss and other life topics with the added bonus of dinosaurs and elephants! Furthermore their first full-length album, One Happy Island, is carefully sculpted with an endearing, sugar-coated, lo-fi aesthetic. It pulls on your heartstrings then lift your spirits in all the right ways through an impressive array of instrumentation and executions. Lucky for you, they will be releasing said album TONIGHT at the Lizard Lounge. The band has a lot to say, so let’s get to it:

BBC: So you are properly from Boston but have toured the U.K. extensively and were signed to London-based WeePop! Records. Could you briefly explain the story behind that?

Brad: A few months after we self-released our first EP, the folks at WeePop! in London heard us on MySpace and asked us to record a CD EP for them, which lead to another EP – this time on blue vinyl as well as CD. Camila and Thor at WeePop! did an amazing job of getting our music out to the very vibrant and enthusiastic indie-pop scene in the UK, and when we went over there on tour we were astonished to find audiences in every city that knew our songs. It was an amazing experience, especially considering we’d toured the US a few months prior to varying degrees of recognition. When we finished the new album, we sent it to a lot of our friends around the world, and once again the UK came through for us in the form of Trevor McCabe’s awesome Oddbox imprint. There just seems to be a very vital appreciation for quirky, personal, handmade music there.

Shannon: We’ve put out a couple EPs on Weepop! because they contacted us and we all thought it was a good fit. We fit pretty well into the more cohesive indie-pop community in the UK, and so last summer we went to the UK to play at a festival and tour for about a week. It was great. We met a lot of awesome, supportive people. That’s how we met Trevor, who’s putting out our full length on his Oddbox label.

BBC: Now that you are back in Boston and are about to release your first full-length record, what do you think this year has in store for you?

Brad: It’s amazing to think that, even though we’ve been together for three years, we’ve never released a full-length of new material before. I just want people to hear the album and discover that this is a really interesting, multifaceted band that has a lot going for it. We’ll be doing shows in New England and in the northeast, and doing everything we can to get this thing heard. We’re discovering that audiences at non-traditional venues respond really well to us, so we’re trying to find new and interesting places to play. Also, we’ve written a lot of new material, and plan to make a second record this fall – which will probably be totally different than this one.

Shannon: Hopefully we’ll do a bit of touring this year, because I kind of miss that. But we’ve been focusing on writing songs for the next album. I don’t think we can look any further ahead than that.

Rebecca: These new songs are mostly just drums, uke and guitar. Our self-titled album had a lot of extra stuff on it, and we’re interested in getting back to a more basic set-up for the next one. The songs themselves have more parts. Clint [their former bassist] moved to Indiana in the fall, so we need to be more thoughtful with our song construction to make up for the missing bass parts. And I’m moving to Spain next May, so we gotta get moving with the new stuff!

BBC: You all play a handful of instruments – guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, auxiliary percussion, I even heard a theremin in there. What made you decide to utilize all of these tools and how do you decide where to put them in your songs?

Brad: There IS a theremin in there! It’s actually kind of a challenge: each of us can play a bunch of different instruments, and our rehearsal space is filled with options. The album has everything from optigan to banjo to trombone… but none of it is gratuitous; we play through the song at hand and try out all the possibilities, listening for what best reflects the content and spirit of the melody and lyric. It can be a long, arduous process or it can happen instantly, but it’s rewarding every time. I think it’s worth saying that a lot of the new album was done live, with the four of us playing together in a room. No click tracks, no sequencers, no scratch tracks.

Shannon: We recorded it with Pete Weiss at his Verdant Studio in Vermont. We got there and saw vibes, a wurlitzer, pianos, an optigan, a ton of percussion stuff, and we immediately started planning how to use it all. I think we were excited by the idea of having all those different sounds on our record to give each song its own personality and to give the record variety. That said, I don’t think we got carried away and overloaded any of the songs. We planned overdubs thoughtfully and kept asking whether they fit the character of the song. And we left out some stuff that didn’t work. On one hand you want to work quickly to keep the songs fresh and fun. But you also want to give yourself enough time to experiment a little bit. I think we balanced that pretty well.

Rebecca: Pete Weiss at Verdant Studios has a ton of awesome gear. Some of it we put on just for the hell of it. We knew he could make it sound good. And when else were we going to have access to a vibraphone, an optigan. or real grade-A Vermont crickets?

BBC: Where do you find the inspiration to write such upbeat pop songs? How are your approaches different? Is there ever a conflict of where you think any particular song should go musically?

Brad: “Upbeat” is in the ear of the behearer, I guess. A lot of the songs have bright tempos, but contain lyrics of uncertainty and frustration. The sum effect is sort of sad yet hopeful… we all have different levels of experience and different perspectives, so when we get together, a song can go any number of ways. All of us write and sing, and initially I think we composed more independently, with each of us bringing in nearly-finished songs. Now it’s more exciting to bring in a kernel of something and throw it out there for everyone to have at. Like “Cave City Sunrise” started as a melody Rebecca wrote, then Clint and I wrote the lyrics, and Shannon added the amazing low-tuned guitar riffs and sang the lead vocal. It’s a very collaborative process, and unlike any other band I’ve been in.

Shannon: Our melodies tend to be upbeat but the lyrics are often not. I think we all have similar instincts about keeping songs a little ambiguous, and not making them too sweet or too sad or too simple. The songs are almost always a mix of different people’s ideas. Oddly enough, we’ve gotten pretty good at just bringing in unfinished bits and pieces of melodies and lyrics and working together to develop them into a song. That’s hard to do. There was a conflict once, but I smashed a ukulele over Brad’s head, and Rebecca busted my knee with a glockenspiel. At which point the conflict was resolved.

Rebecca: We have a lot of different methods for writing songs. Sometimes one of us will record a demo of music and send it around for words, or the words will come first and someone else will write the music. Shannon and Brad have a much better grasp of theory than I do, so sometimes they need to transcribe my songs for me because I don’t even know the names of the chords I put together. There is a lot of collaboration. I’ve had a bit of writers block lately, so I always appreciate a homework assignment. Like, “Dudes. Name four chords and a girl’s name and I’ll have a song recorded and in your inbox by Friday.” It’s like musical Madlibs.

BBC: What Boston bands are you currently crushing on?

Brad: Desmond Reed, Orange Nichole, and the Weisstronauts are perennial favorites. Cotton Candy’s new LP is tremendous, and Michael Tarbox‘s recent solo album was a revelation. I just stumbled on the Milling Gowns the other night and really enjoyed what they did, and I saw JJ and Thee Cuban Heels a few months back and had a ball. I’ve enjoyed the John Shade album and recent string quartet gigs, too.

Shannon: Hands and Knees, Faces on Film.

Rebecca: The Channels have a new album called Cold Comfort, and it’s really great! Can someone do something to make them play a live show? Maybe one of your readers is particularly good with threats?

Download Elegant Elephant from their upcoming full length; click album art to buy the record:

And don’t miss out on their CD release show TONIGHT:

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