Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cut Off Your Hands Interview with frontman Nicholas Johnston

Quickly gaining notable attention, New Zeland's own Cut Off Your Hands have released their sophomore effort, "Hollow," via Frenchkiss Records. The self-produced album has already received praise from numerous publications, including a short feature in SPIN magazine and solid feedback from Rolling Stone. I had the chance to ask COYH front man Nick Johnston a few album specific questions, as well as hear his opinions on social networking and words of wisdom for new indie bands...

Before writing and recording "Hollow," did you guys sit down and discuss the direction you wanted to take the album?
Johnston: Not particularly with writing, as I wrote a lot of this stuff isolated from the rest of the band, and Brent and Phil worked similarly so there was no point of 'hey we need to make THIS type of album' however in coming to record, which is a much more collaborative process. We were conscious of the sounds we were wishing to achieve for sure. The main conscious decisions made were focused on creating this record fast; I didn't want to spend hours considering drum sounds before or after recording so I limited Brent's drum kit to just 2 snare options, and likewise with guitars. I told Jono our guitarist that the 2 of us would have 3 amps between us and from those amps we got all the main sounds on the record. We just couldn't afford to take too much time, we had a week to record and that was all so economy of choice was key.
Johnston: Partly due to the money factor, but also as I touched on in the last answer it's the ability to just make the record fast that I liked about the process. I get so frustrated with how long everything takes in 'studios'. You spend all day getting things like desks fired up and mics placed and just when you feel like you're ready to record the engineer or producer needs to get lunch or go home and pick up the kids or whatever. I like being in control, working as late as we wanted and as quick as we needed.
Where did you get the idea to make the album yourself?

Do you feel like it is a departure from your previous work,
"You and I?"
Johnston: Definitely, I think that "You and I'' is a very instantly catchy pop record. It's full of energy and hooks and is all over the place sonically and lyrically. Hollow in contrast is very concise, it is a record to be listened to from start to finish, and is far less immediate. I think it is a record that takes its time and requires a little more patience than "You and I" but I also find it is a much more rewarding listen than our first record, it grows on you slowly and sticks, whereas you and I thrusts itself onto you from first and second listen but is very easily swept aside.
Are you pleased with the outcome? Would you do it again?
Johnston: Yeah, I think we will self produce all our records from here on in. It is great to work with producers and gain little bits of knowledge from different avenues etc, but the reality is that we just cannot afford a producer.
How did "Hollowed Out" originally come together? What inspired the lyrical portion of the song?
Johnston: It was one I wrote entirely alone, and initially had quite a different melody and lyrical content. It existed a year or so before we recorded the album and so we had played it live, in its original form. I wanted it to sound like The Byrds with all that chiming 12 string.the minor melody over the top came about from listening to those early verve records, something about the melodies he was singing, like this minor over major thing really captured me. So I  switched it from what was a much more uplifting vocal melody to what I feel is much more interesting and fitting with the lyrical sentiment. The lyrics are pointing at me really, just feeling worn out to the point of beat and how that 'beat' mind frame becomes the platform from which you view everything around you.
You guys recently released a video for your single "Fooling No One." What was the inspiration/idea behind the video in conjunction with the song?
Johnston: The song fooling no one is really me making fun of myself for taking things so seriously, its taking the piss out of myself so in communicating my ideas for the clip to the directors (who are friends of mine from Auckland). I just wanted them to capture a nonsensical vibe. Just for it to be a little silly and playful but other than that I chose not to have much input.
What kind of advice would you have for a band just starting up? Any words of wisdom you would be willing to share?
Johnston: Just to forget about everyone else and make the music you want to hear.
Being that you have traveled around the world performing, where is your favorite place to play? Where are the crowds the craziest?
Johnston: Favorite place to play is Wellington in NZ. Kids go nuts there and just show us a good time every time. I generally like playing closest to home, except Auckland is a little nerve racking as my mum might be there or my closest friends.
Who are some bands that have blown you away with their live performance and stage presence?
When I started this band I was so turned on by bands that went mental onstage, I guess it was from my love of At the drive-in, so spazzy bands like Ex Models, Q and Not U or at home the Mint Chicks (who have gone on to form Unknown Mortal Orchestra) seeing Iggy Pop play was incredible too that blew my mind.
How important do you guys find social media?
Johnston: It's probably very important, but I don’t pay much attention cause I find it really boring hearing about what Tyler the Creator thinks about his lunch or whatever. So I don't really wish to contribute. Facebook is handy for getting in touch with people that enjoy our band. But yeah I think the other guys in the band get involved more than I do.
Perfect day, driving in your car with the windows down, what are you listening to?
Johnston: It's most likely my girlfriend's car as it’s been years since I owned one...which would mean it’s her music blasting, so Robyn's entire back catalogue, Frank Ocean, Wiz Khalifa etc, and to be honest I'm not complaining.
For more info, check out the bands facebook page(http://www.facebook.com/#!/cutoffyourhands) and download their first single, Hollowed Out," below:

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