May 11, 2016 Interview – Christopher Guanlao of Silversun Pickups
Alternative – meaning something for everyone else. Where some forms of music are particularly focused on one sound, whether it be Heavy Metal, Hip Hop, or Pop, Alternative Rock keeps the the spectrum open. With that said, Californian band Silversun Pickups have been harnessing a lush brand of Alternative Rock since the early part of the new millennium. Initially releasing their debut album, Carnavas, back in 2006, the band has peaked in the charts with each album to follow, including their 2015 effort, Better Nature. Possessing a sound that is impossible to pigeonhole, Silversun Pickups have honed a style that unites the best of Pop, Rock, Alternative, Shoegaze, Electronic, and so much more. Showing no signs of slowing down, the four-piece unit has built a unity rarely seen in Rock-n-Roll, proving individual creativity can find harmony. Recently we sat down with Drummer Christopher Guanlao to talk the history of the band, their chemistry together, writing music, touring, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Silversun Pickups came together over a decade ago now. In that time, the band had a lot of success touring around the world and released four highly charted full-length records. First, tell us, what has this incredible journey been like?
Christopher Guanlao – It’s been really great. It’s funny cause it’s actually been closer to 15 years and it’s weird how time flies. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been doing this for 15 years (laughs). In some ways, Better Nature feels like we’ve kind of gone full circle. I don’t want to necessarily say back to square one, but I think, as far as our mental state is, we feel like we are back in the swing of things. We are back to being energized and excited about the things we do. Right now we are just enjoying our shows, we are enjoying our fans, and we really try to soak everything in. We understand that it’s a bit of a milestone for us to be on our fourth record and still have a lot of steam behind us. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs as far as any group of people that have to spend so much time with each other. We’ve come out of it a little bit more like family now than just band members. It’s been kind of really fun to go out like that, to go out to play these shows and to kind of have these refreshed feelings.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it has been fun. Like you said, it is a family because the band has kept the same core together for about fifteen years now. After working together that long, one can imagine it does become a family-like atmosphere.
Christopher Guanlao – Absolutely, we were talking about it, how sometimes, for whatever reason, bands don’t last as long as we do. One thing or another, it is hard to keep the core members of the band together. For us to have done that, I think it’s somewhat of an accomplishment. We are really proud of and we take a lot of pride for that, it just seems to work. Like I said, we’ve gone through the ringer with things just like siblings. Sometimes you disagree and sometimes you have arguments. At the end of the day, you are kind of stuck with each other (laughs). We know that and we kind of love that’s what it’s become. We love that we haven’t strayed from that, we are really fortunate.
CrypticRock.com – It is wonderful that yourself and the other members chose to to stay the course with Silversun Pickup. The proof is in the success. Speaking of which, the band just recently released their fourth record Better Nature back in September of last year to very positive acclaim. What was the writing and recording process behind this latest album?
Christopher Guanlao – This one was a little bit trickier. Usually we kind of have this idea of what it’s going to sound like or what we are going to be doing. This time around, working with Jacknife Lee for the second time, we had songs coming in, but we didn’t really have much arrangement. We didn’t really know individually what we were going to do. There was a lot of improvisation going into this record and really trying to instinctually see where the songs end up going, and going with that. We didn’t really do a lot of pre-production or anything. It was a leap of faith and I think it worked (laughs). We had a lot of fun doing it. The process was actually a lot quicker than our previous record, so that was interesting. I guess the downfall was when it was all done, we had to learn the songs and figure out how we were going to play it live. That is another whole beast within itself.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting approach. It is good to change things up a little when you are writing and recording. It helps keep things fresh and the mood energized.
Christopher Guanlao – Yeah, exactly, and I think that all goes hand in hand. Making the record the way we did re-energized our musical souls, if you will. That led through to the live shows and just kind of our mental state of where we are as a band.
CrypticRock.com – Those are all positive things. You mentioned the live shows, the band is actually doing some heavy touring here in North America. Through the current North American run, you have played with some great bands. What has this touring cycle been like as it continues through the summer months?
Christopher Guanlao – It’s kind of like the theme that we have. We just got off a three week tour with Cage the Elephant, which we’ve known for years. We’ve toured a lot in the past with them, they are kind of like family to us. Also Foals, they are an amazing band that we got to know a little bit last year as well. They have toured with Cage the Elephant a lot, so all three of us really had this familiarity to each other. It was just so much fun and we had such a great time. Then we added in Bear Hands, who were kind of new and they were great as well, they fit in really well with us. We are doing more shows with Foals and Bear Hands in the next few months. We love that comradery with other bands.
CrypticRock.com- That is really nice to hear. It is probably a lot easier when you are friendly and you get along with your touring mates.
Christopher Guanlao – It does and it also is inspiring to see them as well. To see them play and how good they are. It inspires us to step up and try to be as good as everyone else.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense, sort of a inspirational motivation if you will. Silversun Pickups are band which is a little difficult to categorize, but that is what makes the music even more compelling. Some may say you are Alternative Rock. Whatever it may be, the aspects which stand out about Silversun Pickups is the melodic nature of the songs and the atmosphere they create. Are these two aspects extremely important to the band as songwriters?
Christopher Guanlao – Absolutely, it is funny because we always say that we will try to sound different or we will try to do different things. I think that’s really important for bands to grow; you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, you want to have some type of growth in the creativity. We tried to do a lot of different things, but at the same time we can’t get away from ourselves. When the four of us get together, we always create a certain type of sound, a certain energy, and that’s always going to happen. We can feel like we are doing something completely different from what we’ve done before. We are, but at the same time we still have that kind of Silversun Pickups aesthetic to it. At the end of the day, we are always going to be melodic and we are always going to love that atmospheric background sound. We are not so conscious of that, it just kind of comes out of us.
CrypticRock.com – That is understandable. Like you said, you cannot get away from yourselves because the band is who they are. Silversun Pickups has crafted their own sound. Another refreshing aspect of Silversun Pickups, unlike some other bands, it has been a collaborative effort writing the music since the beginning. It seems more often than not, there is usually one primary songwriter in a band.
Christopher Guanlao – Yeah, definitely. I think is it what is really important to what we do. We are very conscience of that. We love playing with each other in general, we love each other’s company musically, and outside of music. It’s not difficult for us to do that. Whether we go into the studio and write music or we just have a barbecue, it’s all kind of the same to us, we gravitate towards that. Coming together and putting together a song is very second nature to us.
CrypticRock.com – Right, well that most certainly bleeds through in the music.
Christopher Guanlao – Again, it’s going back to how long we’ve been doing it. We’ve been doing it for so long now. It’s what we do, we don’t even think about it.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is always the best way to approach it, let it come naturally. Since the band’s sound is very eclectic, what are some of your personal musical influences yourself?
Christopher Guanlao – Right now, actually all of us in fact, not that we found anything like this, we’ve really been crushing over Courtney Barnett (laughs). We just saw her and her band at Coachella. We have been big fans of hers for awhile. What she’s doing with her music, with her cleverness and her 3-piece, it has this kind of loose, but very tight sound, and I love that. We are so inspired by stuff like that.
Also, we just found a band, Savages, which are also really amazing and blew us away. So those two, off the top of my head, we have just been really digging, those are like real big inspirations for us. What’s cool, talking about bands that work well together, it seems like each member in Savages has a specific vibe and a specific kind of character, if you will. It just works so well together and it makes it so fun to watch.
CrypticRock.com – They are certainly a band with a bright future following the release of their most recent record, Adore Life. My last question for you is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers all areas of music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of either genre, do you have any favorites?
Christopher Guanlao – Yeah, I love all that stuff. I love Horror, but I have to confess, I’m the type of guy that I’m covering one of my eyes (laughs). I get startled so easily, but I do love Horror. I haven’t seen that movie The Witch (2016), but I’ve heard that it’s really amazing. I don’t know if it would be considered Horror, but I just saw The Invitation (2016), that movie is really amazing. As far as Sci-Fi, I’m a big Sci-Fi nerd as well, of course I have to mention the Star Wars movies. I also recently saw this movie called Midnight Special (2016), and that one was really great. I loved that movie, it definitely had that Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) feel, which I really loved; it was beautifully shot. Those two are great.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, it is great to hear that you are into film like that. It seems like you have seen a lot of interesting in cinema.
Christopher Guanlao – Yeah, I’m trying to think what the last Horror film I saw was. I am a big movie fan, and Brian as well, we are both huge movie buffs. It does kind of seep into our music a lot of the time, we always kind of look at songwriting as like a soundtrack.
CrypticRock.com – That is very evident as well, there is a cinematic quality to the songs of Silversun Pickups. Like with a soundtrack, you are painting a picture through the music. That is how music should be and it is evident throughout the band’s discography.
Christopher Guanlao – I’m glad, that is our intention. Back to movies, a good one too, It Follows (2015) was one of my favorite movies of last year. It had a great soundtrack. What is great about that movie is it’s timeless. You really don’t know what time period it is, it surpasses time. It doesn’t need to be in any specific time, it just stands alone in its own weird, creepy universe.