Recently I began thinking of new ways to expand The Noise Is as a music blog. You can come here and get some great music, see some nice show recaps, and maybe find out about an event or two. But nothing about these gets you into the head of the artists. Why do they make music? What drives them to make the music they do? Who influences them as an artist? So I proudly present the newest adventure for my blog…interviews! I hope this interview along with future ones will give you a proper insight into the bands and artists that truly make up my blog and keep me going.
My first interview is with Keith Freund of the Akron/Cleveland soft-droners Trouble Books. After two full-lengths, art gallery shows, green vinyl, and a long time in the Akron area, I sat down with Keith for a few words. Hit the jump for the interview.
The Noise Is: I feel like it would be only appropriate if we start off talking about Cleveland. What is your opinion of the current music scene in Cleveland, and do you think it has room for growth?
Keith Freund: Well I’m really not an expert on Cleveland, I like quite a few bands like Emeralds and related stuff, Afternoon Naps, Cloud Nothings, etc. I feel like all three of them are at or above the level of their peers elsewhere and definitely deserve more attention, both in Ohio and across the globe. I’m looking forward to hearing Buried Wires too, I’ve missed all their shows so far. But there’s definitely room for growth. One thing that’s disappointing about mid-sized cities and their music “scenes” is that it often centers around just a couple bands and maybe a dozen people. Which means whenever those bands break up or those people quit or move on, things can drag. Akron/Kent and Cleveland can run through some highs and lows in local music quite fast.
TNI: How long have you been in Northeast Ohio?
KF: In Akron for…8 or 9 years now? Since I finished high school. Although I’ve never felt super-involved in Cleveland. There’s always been enough going on in Akron to make me save my gas money for trips up 77 only about twice a month.
TNI: What’s the best things down in Akron?
KF: Friends mostly. Our neighborhood, Highland Square, is nice. Cool places to hang out, nice houses to live in cheap.
TNI: Now about your band, Trouble Books! First off, how did you come upon the name Trouble Books?
KF: The band name was just a term some old ladies used at the library I was working at when we started. I just thought it would be funny to use for the one show we had planned at Diamond Shiners, our friends’ house, in Akron. I’m not particularly fond of it, I would’ve thought about it harder if I thought we were going to play more than one show and if I knew I would be working in libraries still. Oh well!
TNI: It’s a much better name than you think.
KF: It’s got good assonance and alliteration.
TNI: Trouble Books is mostly made up of you and your wife. Do you have any complaints about that? Or is it actually better than any other band situation you could picture?
KF: (laughs) “Complaints.”
TNI: And by “complaints” I mean “best things!”
KF: It works out great. The band has always tended to be people I’m living with. It started as me and my roommates Matt and Jen, then Mike and Linda moved in and became part of it, and later Linda and I got married. The “band” is always very noncalant, so membership often requires a higher level of commitment like rent or marriage.
TNI: So anyone could be in Trouble Books, they just have to pay rent.
KF: Yeah or be neighbors or something. We’re pretty lazy and we’re not going to pack all our crap up and haul it somewhere to practice, and if someone’s gonna come over to our house to practice, it would be pretty annoying to drive far since I often lose interest pretty quick and end practice after a half hour or so. We’re usually pretty reluctant to play shows in the summertime because we don’t want to practice or carry heavy things.
TNI: It’s too nice out to do that!
TNI: Earlier this year, you released your newest album, Gathered Tones. For the first album, The United Colors of Trouble Books, it felt much like an soft acoustic album, whereas the new album, Gathered Tones, leans heavily on soft and heavy tones throughout. Did that happen by accident, or were you striving for a different sound?
KF: We were definitely going for something different. We wanted to make the new record really abstract and make the instruments as unidentifiable as possible. There are a lot of acoustic instruments on “Gathered Tones”, they’ve just been run through a bunch of shitty effects pedals and such.
TNI: So was the recording process much different?
KF: Process-wise, not so much. Things usually start with some recording idea like “loop a cello” or “shaky tremolo drone that sounds like snow” or something, and then we add layers and ideas. That was all pretty much the same, we just used more synthesizers and effects and such and tried to get farther from a traditional pop set-up.
TNI: Did any major thoughts/ideas/influences directly affect Gathered Tones?
KF: Our friend Ben Vehorn, who runs the Tangerine Sound studio in Akron, kept loaning us some of his old analog synths, which had a huge impact on things. Linda had been jamming Cluster and OMD pretty much all summer, so that definitely impacted things sound-wise. I had gotten into the idea of really trying to write true-life songs instead of the little fiction sketches I had done previously. Nonfiction lyrics can tend to be really really terrible, but I wanted to see if I could come up with something both true and interesting.
TNI: And Gathered Tones was a product of that concept?
KF: Yeah. There’s this great book by Julio Cortazar, “Autonauts of the Cosmoroute”, which is a journal of writings and drawings by him and his partner as they camp at rest stops on the French expressway system. It’s beautiful and lighthearted and fantastic. The book really resonated with me and Linda and I wanted to try to write songs like that about our daily life in our apartment/neighborhood.
TNI: I had the chance to see you in concert a few weeks back with Afternoon Naps, is it difficult in any way to translate the studio tracks to the stage?
KF: Oh yeah, for sure. Since we kind of assemble our songs as we record them, I often have no idea what the chord progressions are. I’ve really been wanting to play “Dusk Accelerator” live, but I can’t figure out the notes. Also, the bar/loud club setting is tough when you’re making some drones to sing over. We’ve almost never played a song as a band, at home or for people, before we’ve recorded it.
TNI: What has been your favorite/best setting for your live show?
KF: Some shows we’ve done at art galleries have turned out really well, probably because the sound is usually bright and people are often in a different mood for music in an art space rather than a bar.
TNI: You got Gathered Tones pressed on green vinyl from Cleveland record pressing company, Gotta Groove Records. When did you know that you wanted to press Gathered Tones on vinyl? And why green vinyl?
KF: We love records. Buying records is probably our biggest expense as far as non-essentials go. Having a nice physical manifestation of the music is really important to me. If I didn’t think there was going to be a record or something and instead the album was just going to be some digital download, I would lose a lot of interest in even finishing stuff. Doing colored vinyl was mostly just another dream fulfillment. We picked green because we felt it fit the sound. Maybe it had to do with the leafyness outside the window where we recorded most of the album during last summer.
TNI: So lastly, any big plans or shows or anything for the summer?
KF: No big plans for summer. Gonna play baseball, take walks, etc. Maybe start working on some new stuff, but I’d rather go see shows and drink beers and chill out than hook up pedals and sing right now.