February 22, 2011

Interview: New Animal's Kris Hermstad & Derek Burdette

Aside from the new Radiohead, the album I can't seem to stop playing is the debut from Atlanta's New Animal. The 15-track album—available entirely for free at the group's Bandcamp page—is a richly dense and nuanced psychedelic pop record that weaves its way from a wild lo-fi dance-fueled opening through vast synth and effect-driven soundscapes, uptempo rock, a quiet campfire ballad, and the vocal harmony and harmonium-filled closer "Out There." Through both its light and dark moments, the feeling that permeates through the record is a celebratory one: this is a duo that clearly loves making music and their enjoyment of it can be heard through every foreign and freshly conceived of sound.

So, first off, what are your names and how old are you guys?
Kris Hermstad, 24, Derek Burdette, 25.

What’s the first song you learned to play and on what instrument?
Kris: I'm pretty sure it was that song "Santa Monica" by Everclear (on guitar). That damn riff!!
Derek: "Come as you are" by Nirvana. Same with "Santa Monica," it seems like if you were growing up and playing guitar in the early 90s, everyone was playing the same riffs.

How long have you been recording as New Animal? How did this partnership get started?
Kris: We're coming up on about a year now. We've been playing together for years though.. since at least the 6th grade.
Derek: We started recording songs separately early last year, and then we decided to join forces as New Animal. The first song we recorded together is "Looking for the Sun" which is on our album.

What are your roles in the band? How are instrument/songwriting duties divided up?
Kris: It really depends on the song. We both play all of the instruments on the album. So, depending on who is singing, we have to sometimes switch roles, to make it easier on the singer. Live, I'll primarily be playing the guitar, as well has handling some key/sampler duties.
Derek: I'll usually be playing bass or guitar, as well as working the sampler.

This is a pretty big splash for a debut: 15 songs, 75 minutes, all sorts of genre-hopping, and some really lush nuanced instrumentation. How long have you been working on this?
Kris: We actually started recording around April of last year. After we would finish a song, we would upload it almost immediately to our YouTube account and just share it with our friends. So if you go to our Youtube channel, you can kind of track when songs were recorded. That was our initial way of distributing our stuff.

So album-opener, "Nightmares of Candy Yang & The Black Italian"—that song is so raw and deliriously full of energy. I seriously can’t get enough. Visually, I’m picturing some sort of wild dance montage a la Flashdance whenever I hear it. Where did that title come from? And what is that percussion? It almost sounds like the back of a guitar.
Derek: Candy Yang and The Black Italian are pseudonyms for the girls of two past failed relationships. I woke up from a nightmare and I wrote this song. The song was initially recorded on my iPhone. I was simultaneously singing and playing on the chord organ with one hand and with my other hand I tapped out the beat on the side of it.

“All I Want Is Gone” is another song where the percussion completely captivates me. Was there a certain sound or mood you were going for on the album? It’s certainly pop and all sorts of psychedelic, but everything sounds extremely specific. For example, you posted a song on your Tumblr that didn’t make the cut, “Lazy Summer,” because it was too upbeat.
Derek: We weren't going for anything specific with the album. We just wanted to record music and this is what came out. All of our music is basically a reflection of who we are and what has influenced us.

Another one of my favorite songs is “Fires In The Backyard.” It’s a great change of pace track with the acoustic guitar and piano replacing the usually dominant synth. Is that how a lot of your songs start out—on a piano or guitar—before they get morphed by various instrumentation and effects? Or does it work the other way around?
Kris: I pretty much start with an idea; whether its a guitar riff, synth patch, effect, or a drum beat, etc. I find something that inspires me and then I run with it.
Derek: I begin my songs with a drum beat, usually sampled from live instruments. Then I build from there.

Have you had a chance to try these songs out in a live setting yet? If not, do you have plans to?
Derek: We have not played out live yet, but we have been rehearsing as a duo, and plan to being playing shows in the next month or two.

Who designed the artwork?
Derek: I did. We found some public domain art that we really liked, and then I photoshopped that shit. I thought it captured the natural mood of the album.

So I’m an asshole. I’m one of the blogs you emailed the album to and honestly, I didn’t even open the email. Not because I didn’t want to, I just literally didn’t see it—it got lost in the clutter of submissions. I have Tympanogram to thank for this introduction. So, what’s that process like, sending your music out to blogs all over the country? Your music speaks for itself, but it seems like just getting people to listen can be a task in itself.
Kris: The blog community has been incredible to us. We are really new to this world, and so far it's been nothing but positive energy. It's a great thing to be apart of as a musician. The people who read blogs love music and they are constantly looking to hear new music. They don't care how big your band is, they just seem to appreciate it for what it is.

It can be tough to get people to listen to your music. When sending your stuff out to blogs, you dont want to look desperate. But you also don't want to act like you're hot shit! I've just tried to be honest and super humble when I submit my music to a site. Those poor bloggers probably get like a billion submission a day, so you really can't beat yourself up if some blog doesn't post your album.

We actually got lucky. I had initally posted the album on a message board. Probably only 5 or 6 people downloaded it from that site (according to my Bandcamp stats) but I know for sure one of those people sent our album to a blog. From there it got picked up on another site and that's where we got our initial boost in "awareness." We've just tried to continue to create an awareness of our music through blogs while we prepare our live show.

A lot of people complain there are too many blogs, too many bands, too much file-sharing and so on and so forth. What are your thoughts on the current musical landscape?
Kris: I personally love the way things are going right now. I cant complain about the over saturation of bands due to sites like Bandcamp. I'm in one of those bands myself. It's become incredibly easy to make music in your own home these days. We recorded the entire album on a 7 year old computer, with one condenser mic. Sure, things are changing, but people can't sit around and cry about how great it used to be. Today is today, and you've gotta adapt with the changes. I don't know what it was like to be a musician in the mid 90s and before when things "seemed" great so I have nothing to compare it to.
Technology today is incredible. With Twitter and Facebook, you can be in direct connection to your audience. The social media aspect has been a huge thing for us.

I don’t know much about the Atlanta music scene. Other than the basics, are there any bands people should really be paying attention to?
Kris: Definitely check out Places. He's got some great stuff on his Bandcamp, and he just started playing shows recently. Hopefully we'll be playing shows together in the future.

If New Animal were an animal, what animal would it be?

New Animal - "Nightmares of Candy Yang & The Black Italian" (from New Animal)
New Animal - "Fires In The Backyard" (from New Animal)

Connect with New Animal: Homepage, Twitter, Facebook, Bandcamp, Tumblr

New Animal

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