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Silversun Pickups' debut album, Carnavas, utilized cold, metallic textures, mechanical drum sounds, effects-laden keyboard and woozy guitars. The result? The Los Angeles band achieved a level of mass appeal that few rock acts enjoy in this day and age. Thankfully, the group didn't dumb down its sound on album No. 2. Last year's Swoon retains the band's strengths — Brian Aubert's catchy, near-whisper vocal delivery, effects pedal echoes and Chris Guanlao's focused, hypnotic drum patterns. But stretched-out arrangements and the addition of lush strings and other warm acoustic instruments proved that they weren't afraid to attempt involved mini-shoegaze symphonies.
B-Sides reached drummer Chris Guanlao while the band was working its way down the East Coast on its most recent headlining tour.
B-Sides: Something I've noticed is that the drum sound used on Carnavas has become quite popular in the past few years. It's a very tight, compressed sound — and that was really different from most of the big room, reverb-laden drum sounds that were more common at that time. Was that something you and producer Dave Cooley were conscious of while you were recording?
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Christopher Guanlao: We always loved the idea of mechanical drums, like almost drum machine-like. Not necessarily using a drum machine, but trying to capture that feel. We kind of stole from that Joy Division, metronome-type of drumming instead of big, boomy drum sounds. The idea of Carnavas was for it to be very mechanical and nothing warm. That's why we didn't use any acoustic instruments except for the drums. With Swoon we wanted to bring back a lot of the warmer tones, and that's why there are real strings and acoustic guitar and that type of thing. We wanted to get away from that Carnavas sound, but we stayed true to it with the drum sound — which I think made the album feel like a natural progression.
Was that sound accomplished through the drums themselves, the room, post-production effects?
There are some effects here and there, but for the most part those were really the drums, the way they sounded in the room.We definitely made sure that we were getting the right sound going to tape. With us, there are so many effects as it is with guitars and keyboards that we really wanted to keep the drums kind of simple.
It's kind of like the old shoegaze or Britpop idea of very unassuming drumming that leaves room for all of the swirly guitars.
Definitely. My pet peeve as a drummer is pointless drum-fills. I felt like sometimes I was doing too many fills during Swoon. I hate playing fills.
A lot of bands would feel obligated to streamline their songs and maybe write more accessible material for a sophomore album, but you guys stretched out even further and wrote songs with more involved arrangements. Did that seem risky at the time?
We really just followed our instincts. We discussed things like adding in warmer tones. But as far as talking about whether we should have shorter songs or poppier songs, we never really discussed that stuff. We wanted to get a little more complicated and intricate with our songs and have more movement, but at the same time we felt really good that a lot of the stuff we were doing was still catchy enough and melodic enough to be played on the radio. So we felt like we had a good combination of getting a little bit arty and proggy but still having a pop basis, for lack of a better term. We're really fortunate that people got into it and understood what we were going for.