Saint Motel make their music a visual experience, literally. The band (A/J Jackson on vocals and guitar, A Sharp on guitar, Greg Erwin on drums and Dak on bass) originally met in film school so their songs have a flair for the dramatic. Their sound isn’t easy to describe and that’s okay with the band. Blending rock and pop stylings with raw energy and enthusiastic experimentation the songs leave a lasting impression.
Their latest release, ForPlay, was released in September and each song is accompanied by a video for each song. The band tries to incorporate this cinematic element into their live show as well. During a recent residency at L.A.s Spaceland the band concocted themes for each night including Science Fiction, Erotic, and Slasher.
The band is in NYC this week for their CMJ showcase. Lead singer A/J recently took some time to talk to us about Saint Motel, their unique take on music and the perfect recipe for getting a song out of your head…
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | October 2009
Your EP “Forplay” came out in September, I read that each song was recorded in different places with different stories. Can you pick two of your favorite stories and walk us through the songs in your own words?
Yeah, it was quite an entertaining process. Well, Dear Dictator was an interesting story. We laid down the backbone when we had some extra time in a nice studio in the North Hollywood but we never had time to finish it. Weeks later we got the files and set up our rehearsal space as a recording studio, which meant figuring out/borrowing enough equipment to make that work. Our space looked like the control room on the Starship Enterprise. I recorded the vocals in my bedroom right into my little Macintosh computer. When we finished off the tracks we brought the files over to a friends house in East LA to listen and do a rough mix. Finally we brought those files out to the deep deep valley where we had them mixed. “Dear Dictator” is the equivalent of a kid who’s father’s a traveling shoe salesman and has to move to a new town every couple of months. That shit will scar you but also make you resilient.
There’s also a video for each song on the EP. Was that part of the overall plan from the start or how did that idea fall into place?
Well, after we had done 3 music videos we figured we should just go the distance. We felt it broadened the creative experience for our music. We were told we’re one of the 1st bands to have a video for every song on itunes and we you download the album you get them all for free with it.
I think the thing that struck me most about your music is, it stayed in my head and I found myself humming the tunes throughout the day, it has that “je ne sais quoi” vibe about it that will keep people coming back for another listen, what artists do that for you?
Oh thanks! We hope that didn’t drive you crazy. The ultimate prescription for when you can’t stop humming something is to counteract the tune by singing “Zombie” by the Cranberries. “In your head, in your head, they are fighting, etc…” works like a charm. As far as catchiness, I was singing the harmony from “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear for two weeks straight . I guess they planned that. A lot of the music we all are influenced by comes from great songwriters like Tony Hatch, Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry, etc. Songwriting where the emphasis is on melodies that are eternal and above genres and fads.
The band met in film school, can you tell us how that experience and your love for film has impacted your music?
After going to film school and making and studying films for so long you tend to crave visual stimulus. I think besides the visuals in our live shows, our music has a cinematic flair. We like to paint pictures with the music and lyrics. Large energetic pictures.
Given your background in Film, if you had the chance to work with any producer/director out there to collaborate on a video for one of your songs, who might it be and why?
I can’t speak for everyone here. Jodorowsky, Lynch, Spielberg, Tarantino, hmmm, I guess it would depend on the tone and concept of the song. Wow what an amazing position that would be.
What movie do you think best sums up Saint Motel at this stage of your career?
Well American Pyscho primarily because we are about to run wild all over the streets of NY for CMJ. But also because I feel that the members of this band have a secret animalistic side that comes out in playing live. Something we can’t control.
Some of your songs tell stories and some are songs that people could relate to on a number of levels, is there a goal you have in mind when you sit down to write songs?
Yes, a couple ideals that we try and follow. To make every song unique lyrically and musically. It has to have a reason for existence. To make sure that every musical part and lyric is interesting alone. Other than that we just want to play music that excites us.
In our world of generation NOW, what should people know about your band to get them to check out your music or come out to a show?
Well it seems most of the attention we’ve been getting recently has been on: having a music video for every song which are free when downloaded from iTunes, our eventized thematic shows which tend to get a bit out of control, and our music which we describe as “Frankie Valli meets The Who”
Describe each of your bandmates in three words and only three words.
Dak – Sushi Chef Bassist
Greg – Strong Man Drummer
Sharp – Cock Rock Guitarist
View Saint Motel’s video for Dear Dictator:
Tell us about your background in music. How did a bunch of musicians end up in film school or when did the musician in each of you develop?
All four members of the band began studying music at very young ages. Sharp comes from a classical guitar family and he’s been playing since he was old enough to hold a guitar. Greg started playing drums in the school marching band in middle school. I started playing piano when I was in 2nd grade. That’s also when I started writing songs, horrible 2nd grader songs, but songs none-the-less. I had this idea that people who study music in school are looking to be teachers, ensemble players, musicologists, etc. and l, I wanted to be in a rock n roll band so I didn’t see the point in it. Film is a natural fit for a musician. Another form of creative of expression.
We heard great things about your Los Angeles September residency at Spaceland and love that each night had a different theme: Science Fiction, Erotic, Experimental and Slasher! Will each of the dates on your tour be themed?
Yeah, every residency night was a different film-genre theme in honor of the six music videos we finished. We have limited space in the ol’ band van but we are planning on bringing as much of our live show as possible. We are going to bring our own projector and screen and of the deer head. So you can definitely expect some fun.
We hear that the band has never been to NYC so you must be very excited to be playing CMJ! What are your plans while in NYC?
We are soooooooo excited! Besides playing? Seeing old friends is going to be fun. A lot of people I grew up with live there now. I know that Saint Motel is very into museums and NY has some of the best. We will probably spend all our free time in the Hayden Planetarium.
If you could map out the next year for the band what would you like to see happen?
Just more and bigger versions of everything we’re doing now. I’d like to see the band grow to a point where all our shows are as sweaty and packed as our Los Angeles shows. I’m excited for our next wave of music because I think the band is developing a really cool sound.
For more info on Saint Motel:
Upcoming Saint Motel Tour Dates:
Oct 18 2009 The Dark Room w/ Bellakotchka Chicago, Illinois
Oct 20 2009 CMJ – Kenny’s Castaways New York, New York
Oct 21 2009 CMJ – Piano’s New York, New York
Oct 22 2009 CMJ – Purevolume House – Purevolume/HellYa!/BMI Showcase New York, New York
Oct 23 2009 CMJ – AudioPerv BLOG Showcase @ Legion Brooklyn, New York
Nov 3 2009 The Shore w/ Low VS Diamond Hermosa Beach, California
Nov 5 2009 The Coach House w/ Low VS Diamond San Juan Capistrano, California
Nov 7 2009 The BLACK & WHITE Show w/ Rumspringa, Red Arrow Messenger @ The Roxy Hollywood, California
Nov 17 2009 C Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, California
Nov 18 2009 Cal State Fullerton Fullerton, California