Being in a band can be the best of times and the worst of times. You’re traveling with your best friends, seeing the world, creating music that ends up in Apple commercials. But you’re also playing the occasional dud gig (only seven people in attendance) and working as a testing coordinator at an elementary school to make rent every month. It’s not easy being a musician; but when music is in your blood, you really don’t have a choice. A few weeks ago in Austin we met up with Richard Carpenter and Jeff Taylor, two of the five members of Air Review, to talk about where the band has been and where things are going. You can immediately tell these guys are not only great friends, but they have a long, long history together. (They may or may not have once slept in the same bed.) And from the sound of things, they’re going to be making music together for a long time to come.
Here’s Air Review.
Richard Carpenter (Guitar/Vocals): Well, the band kind of started when Jeff and Doug [Hale] started getting together and playing music.
Jeff Taylor (Drums): I ran into Doug and knew he was a great guitar player, but I didn’t know how talented he was beyond that. I knew he’d just quit another band, and I’d been out of my previous band for about a year. So I was itching to do a new project. I said, “Hey, man, do you want to get together and write?” Doug always says that’s the worst thing you could ever ask him because he hates cowriting. But for some reason, he took me up on it…
RC: Basically, yeah, Doug does not like to cowrite. He’s private about that, I guess. They started getting together, and then they asked me to hang out with them and join in the fun. I actually grew up with Doug. We’ve been best friends our whole lives pretty much. Our parents were best friends. We grew up learning guitar together, listening to the same music — really just doing everything together. Jeff and Doug got things started, and then I stepped in pretty quickly. We really just loved playing and writing.
RC: Yeah. That was something all of us grew up doing from a pretty early age. As soon as we got our first guitar, or whatever instrument, we were forming bands with our buddies. Jeff was in a band with his brother when they were in high school. Doug and I were in bands together in high school. That’s just what we did all the time.
RC: We were playing gigs, but mostly high school talent shows. Maybe a few clubs, but not a lot. There were a few teenage clubs back in the day, like The Door. We grew up playing at our churches too.
RC: It was always something I wanted to do. I just didn’t think it was possible.
RC: I think when we said something was missing, we really meant something was missing from the music we were playing.
We’d written and recorded our first album, and we’d started playing shows. We were proud of what we’d done, but we felt like the music we’d written for that first album wasn’t what we wanted to play anymore. It wasn’t what we were listening to or excited about.
JT: It was pretty self-indulgent. We wanted it to sound as cool as possible and throw as much stuff on it as we could. And then we were like, “These songs aren’t that great.” We went back and said, “We just need to write songs that we think are good songs regardless of the production.” We kind of stripped it back. It started with “America’s Son.”
We wrote “America’s Son,” and we were like, yeah, this is something we can be proud of. We want to move forward in this direction. Initially we were going to try to write and release a song a month, do an EP over six months. It turns out that was a really grandiose idea and really hard to pull off.
We ended up stretching it out over almost a year. By the time we were getting around to releasing it, our new management/label said, “You know, you’ve got seven songs here. Why don’t you write a couple more, and we’ll call it a full-length album? Get more bang for your buck.”
Surprisingly, that album turned out to be more cohesive than we thought. It started out a little more stripped back, and then it evolved into more electronic-sounding songs with longer reverbs and more digital stuff.
JT: Okay, so what I meant by self-indulgent: As artists, obviously, we make art because we love art. On some level, we just do what we want to do. But on another level, we’re the kind of band who wants their art to be accessible. When people enjoy what we do, it makes us enjoy it too. Not that we’re just writing for the audience, but we don’t want to be so inaccessible that nobody is listening.
RC: I think the other thing, too, is that we’re more self-critical now. We’ll say, “Okay, would we say this song was good if we hadn’t written it?” Everybody thinks their own baby is cute; but if I weren’t the father of my baby, would I still think it was cute?
RC: I don’t think the first baby was very cute. I agree with what Jeff said. I like the whole community thing. I think it’s really important to connect.
JT: We went on a tour to San Francisco back in June. We went completely unplugged, no PA system; just acoustic guitars and a few little auxiliary instruments. We rearranged all of our songs, rearranged our set, and transformed our sound from this bigger electronic, drum-driven sound to a bare minimum, folkily driven thing. We played in people’s houses and had them invite their friends. People brought wine and six-packs. It was awesome.
RC: If we’d never rethought how we were doing things and written songs that were just good songs, we never would have been able to do that.
RC: Yeah, it was awesome.
RC: Definitely. We just randomly got this email that said, “Urgent request: Apple wants to use two songs.” That’s all we knew. We were like, “Awesome! Do it. Yeah.”
JT: We love Apple. They’re like another member of our band. We sample everything through a Mac.
Not even a week after we’d signed the agreement, a friend said, “Hey, I heard you on the Mac website.” We didn’t even know it was up. So we were like, “Hey, guys, check it out! We’re a part of the 30-year celebration of Mac, isn’t that cool?” We had no idea it was part of the 30-year birthday campaign thing they were doing.
RC: There was one time when Dragan [Jakovljevic] got mad at me because my feet were too close to him in the van.
JT: We had an ice chest sitting in between the front two seats. Richard put his feet on the ice chest, and it was a little too close to Dragan’s nose, I guess.
RC: It was pretty tense.
JT: We’re usually trying to keep expenses to a minimum, so we have to do things like ask if anyone in Charlottesville has a place for us to stay. We’ve done things like couchsurfing.com. Richard, do you want to pick it up and tell anything about our couch-surfing experiences?
RC: Well, it’s interesting. It’s been the highlight of our touring actually — being just us four or five guys, all really good friends, staying at a perfect stranger’s house. These people aren’t even fans or anything. I mean, they’re perfect strangers. But it’s always been so cool. We all piled into the basement of this house in Charlottesville, Virginia. Or was that South Carolina? No, Virginia.
Anyway, it was kind of scary. I would’ve been really scared if I didn’t have my four closest friends there with me. The next morning when we woke up, they’d made breakfast for us. The family was all hanging out with us, and every time we’d come upstairs, the mom would hand us something to do to help, like, “Here, chop these onions,” or whatever. They had this huge garden, and all the vegetables were from the garden.
It was really cool getting to experience these random places. I never would have gone to Charlottesville, but it’s a pretty rad place. I hope I get to go back.
JT: Couch surfing has been a really cool part of it.
RC: For the most part...
JT: Typically in one bed, too.
RC: Jeff, remember — this might be on the record.
RC: We are starting the conversation about the next project. We’ve set some goals — more personal goals. Like, okay, we’re all going to come back together and each have something to offer. We tend to start writing individually and then we bring it to the table. We don’t ever start from scratch all together in the same room.
JT: We are kind of in that very early stage of the process of the next project. We’ve never even planned this much before. It’s typically like, “Hey, I’ve got a song idea,” and then I’ll bring it to the next rehearsal, just randomly. But this time we’re like, “Okay, by the end of the month bring five ideas to rehearsal.”
JT: Yeah. Not everyone has written stuff that we’ve kept. But most of us, yeah.
RC: It’s awesome. My mouth is full of it right now.
RC: I just keep it simple. Just a straight-across cheeseburger with everything on it.
RC: Keep it cheap, you know?
JT: We’re all about value.
We love that Air Review is part of our Musicbed family for two reasons: (1) The music they make is awesome, and (2) They’re awesome. They strike a perfect balance between taking their work seriously without taking themselves too seriously. If you haven’t heard their music, please do yourself a favor and give it a listen. We think you’re going to love it.
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