John Warne of Relient K
Relient K’s latest album Five Score And Seven Years Ago marked a new era for them. It was their first album recorded as an official quintet (Matthew Thiessen on lead vocals, guitar and piano, Matthew Hoopes on guitar and vox, John Warne on bass and vox, Jonathan Schneck on guitar, vox, banjo and various bells and whistles, and David Douglas on drums and vox) and it also marked their first album away from producer Mark Townsend. The band worked with famed producer Howard Benson for the first time on this release, Benson best known for his work with My Chemical Romance and The All-American Rejects.
The result would be an album that takes on the world with it’s amazing harmonies, their signature clever lyrics, and a vast array of songs that take you on a whirlwind of emotions. The band incorporated a lot of new instruments and ideas into this album and the result is nothing less than amazing from the a capella induced craziness of the opening track Plead The Fifth to the haunting eleven minute epic ending titled Deathbed that was enough to leave even the strongest of men in a wake of tears. I think Matt described it best when he compared the new album to Laffy Taffy: “”It’s the same flavor but we try to stretch it a little bit. It’s still melodic, it’s still rock ‘n’ roll, there are still a lot of dynamics. But at the same time, we’re trying to write a bit differently, lyrically.” How can you beat Laffy Taffy!
Relient K is currently out on tour in support of their new album with Mae and Sherwood. Look for them to hit Europe soon!
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | April 2007
I’m not a fan of the old cliché “Do you think you’ve matured on this album” but there is a definite progression with Relient K on this album in that you’ve added a new member and it seems like you’ve incorporated a lot more instruments and different styles…
It wasn’t really a conscious shift. We don’t want to have to change sounds every record. We don’t want to go too far away from what fans have come to know and love from us but we wanted to switch it up a bit, get some more instruments, add a little more dynamic to our sound. Just having extra instruments and tweaking the songwriting process a little bit definitely helped with that part of the maturation process.
The new album opens with Plead The Fifth which is really a unique track that combines a capella and lyrics that seemingly point towards the assassination of President Lincoln. Where do you come up with this stuff? First of all, I have to ask, are there definitely no instruments on that track?
Yeah, It’s all voices.
We sampled the kick drum beat or a snare hit, you get a good take of one of those and you loop it over and over.
And what about the lyrics, where did they come from?
Actually by that time we already had the name of the album and nothing had anything to do with Lincoln at that point so Matt thought it best to tie it in right at the beginning of the album. It doesn’t make any sense, the lyrics are just kind of fun.
I can usually tell the mood of a band by listening to their songs – if they are happy songs the guys are generally happy, and if they’re sad…they’re generally sad. You’ve been known to write a sad song or two but overall, the lyrics seem to be a bit more diverse on this album than on past albums covering both lows AND highs. Is this indicative of particular events in the bands career and personal lives?
The songs always deal with what’s going on in our lives. There have definitely been some low points in the past year or year and a half for the band just with some of our relationships. On the flip side of that, Matt also wrote some of the happiest, cheesiest songs he’s ever written largely due to his ongoing steady relationship that he’s found; which is a good thing!
You are often described as a Christian band by the media. I often wonder what defines the label of a Christian band…because I’m sure there are many bands that have members who are Christians and are inspired by and write about their spirituality, yet they aren’t called Christian bands…what sets you apart and do you think that label limits you? Is it a label you stand behind, how do you really feel about it?
I think it’s natural that people are going to want to gravitate towards that. It puts a sanction on our music for church kids or moms, they want something safe to listen to. I understand that whole side of it but we think it’s kind of lame that our music would be in the Christian section of Walmart. It’s not based on music, its based solely on lyrics and thats the only genre of music they put us under. We really don’t care either way. We’re all Christians in the band, that’s what’s most important to us. We’re not the kind of band that’s going to preach from the stage or try to shove anything down anyones throats, we write about stuff that’s important to us. That’s just the way it is with us.
In a lot of the songs, it’s really up to interpretation whether it’s about a specific person or God anyway…is this by design? To let your fans interpret the songs how they would most impact their lives?
For sure. That’s the intent with a lot of those songs, to be specific enough so that its not too much of a thinker so that it’s general enough so that anyone can listen to it and relate.
When I first started listening to Relient K, I had NO idea you were considered a Christian band so I’d say you’re doing a good job with that.
This is how I pictured John during our interview
I’ve heard Faking My Own Suicide described as country and folk, which is a bit of departure from your standard sound….
That song was actually written four or five years ago, it just never found it’s way on to a record. It’s inspired by Harold and Maude, the old seventies movie, where he keeps trying to fake his own death to get his mother’s attention. It’s very much of a tongue and cheek song. It’s got a happy feel to it, we just wanted to have a slide guitar because we always wanted to incorporate that somehow. We think it sounds cool and we’re happy with the way the song turned out.
The first video for this album was for Must Have Done Something Right. Do you think videos have the same impact that they use to have? I remember waiting in anticipation for the release of a new video, but now with the internet and everything at our fingertips, videos don’t seem to make the same splash.
Sure, especially with stuff like YouTube.com and bands putting out podcasts there’s just so much more content available that can be done for much less and much easier than a video. There’s still something about a video that’s really well put together that you don’t get with any of those other things though. We’re happy to do videos, it’s not our favorite thing to do because we don’t like to be in front of the cameras so much, we’d rather be heard and not seen; but they are still fun.
And regarding the them of the video, it incorporates soccer and bowling, are any of you actually good bowlers or soccer players or was that just for the benefit of the video?
We’re mediocre at best at any of those things.
Watch the video here or head over to their MySpace page for a better quality version of it!
You just played on The Tonight Show, what kind of experience is that for a band? Do you get nervous or is it just sort of par for the course?
It’s funny, I just blogged about that last night. It’s interesting, the first time we played The Tonight Show we were all nervous and it was our first “live” TV performance so we were all super nervous. This time going into it, it was maybe our fourth or fifth time playing national TV so going into the actual studio almost felt like old hat. We knew where everything was, we knew how everything was set up and the scheduling for the day. That made it a lot more comfortable. It’s still nerve-wracking to be in front of a camera and know that a bunch of people are going to watch you so you’re trying desperately not to screw up but it was a much better experience for us this time around.
The shows have been awesome so far, a lot better than I think anyone in the band expected. We love being on tour with Mae and Sherwood, they are great buddies of ours. We’re really stoked to be on tour with them. For me, some of the shows that have stood out have been Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, we’re expecting Denver to be amazing tomorrow. In addition to those, we love being in cool cities like San Francisco and Seattle.
Of the new songs, do you have a favorite to play live?
I think my favorite so far is Devastation and Reform. It’s interesting to me musically and it’s really easy to rock out to. That works for me.
When this tour finishes, what’s the plan?
We’re going to do some summer festivals.
Oh yeah, you’re doing Bamboozle right?
Yep, we sure are! We’ll do a bunch of shows like that, try to write a little as well. Hopefully toward the end of the summer we’ll get overseas to tour.
The album closes with Deathbed, a long epic of a song which takes a look at a mans life from start to finish with some serious ups and downs and includes Jon from Switchfoot playing the part of God. Was this song written to be such an epic or did it sort of evolve into something bigger? And how did Jon get involved?
We definitely didn’t plan for it to be quite as big or long as it is. Around the time that we got into the studio Matt was thinking about doing the song and we were thinking about the different parts of a man’s life through the ups and downs and the ultimate redemption at the end. We found the idea very intriguing. He spent awhile agonizing over trying to get it right and not come off as too cheesy. As far as Jon Foreman, we’ve always been good friends with the Switchfoot guys and wanted to work with them so this gave us the opportunity to do that. Basically, the way it went was Matt demo’ed the vocal line at the end of the song, emailed it to Jon, and Jon has a studio in his house so he just sat there in his house with a cup of coffee and sang the song.
Okay last question for a poll we’re doing on our site…what was the first album that you ever bought for yourself and are there any specific stories or memories tied to it?
I got a group of them! I had stars in my eyes from the Columbia House Days. Remember that?
Of course I do! Come on!
You’d get like twelve cds for a penny. I don’t even remember who I got but I remember it was like some Beastie Boys, some Aerosmith…then the rest of the experience is, as we all found out, you have to pay through the nose for the rest of the CDs. That was a bummer!!!!