An Interview With Theory Of Why
A new EP release from Theory Of Why brings a youthful and vibrant form of indie-rock with twists and sprinkles of underground 90's alt-rock peeking through complete with progressive and melodically driven songs that stick with you long after they've ended.
The Pomegranate EP is loaded with layers of textured guitars, theatrical percussion, and vocals that lay out tons of hooks and a little edginess to boot.
There is a great fuzztone pop sensibility through the records course and songs creep up on you and grab hold within seconds.
This record has a little nostalgic undertone and the whole thing feels almost like a live performance which is quite amazing.
The players all feed off of each other's energies and it all comes through with a lushness and a metric ton of heart.
You can instantly hear how much Theory Of Why loves their craft and just how much each of them put into the songs.
SO much so that the songs actually begin to feel like they are your own.
Beautiful tones and building arrangements and surprising punches hit you during the EP's run and it's all warm and fuzzy in your ears.
You can hear classic rock and even jazz influence lurking just beneath the surface and the styles blend together without a hitch to create something that kind of has its own atmosphere all together.
It's all a bit of a rock journey and it feels great to listen to.
One of the best things about this band is the sheer fact ath they have their own staple sound and if you love one song, you're bound to love them all.
WIth such a killer release, we wanted to have a talk with the band to find out where this all came from and what's coming up next.
TSWS: So let's start with the Pomegranate album. This record has a killer fuzz tone garage rock feel with plenty of classic rocckundertones! Where did this album come from?
Anton: This album sort of felt like two albums. Half of it is fuzzed out garage/psych, and half of it is chiller, more toned down indie something vibes. That really just reflects the last year and a half of life honestly! The big fuzz songs came earlier, pre-COVID. Then came the lockdowns and it was a pretty rough winter and summer, and our moods just changed. We started to pivot to more open songs, more air, more harmonies, that kind of stuff.
The album is all over the place cause we kind of were too. We had a lot more songs written but had a hard time finding a way to get them to all work together. We talked about doing a double EP to pair up the big songs and the slower songs but decided that nobody gives a shit about double EP’s in the digital age so might as well just make it all one album anyways.
Every album I’m like “we should write an album like Low” and then every time it morphs somewhere weird. Low is a good ass band though. Just sayin.
Julia: Now that we are on album three, I think we are comfortable talking through tone and vibe for songs. We both worked at our college radio station where we had different shows, but diverse and overlapping musical interests. It is always exciting to get new musical ideas sent to me via email from Anton to see where his mind has gone to that day and we build from there.
TSWS: I'm hearing a bunch of rock styles here. What bands actually influenced you guys as a band?
Julia: Ahhh… the worst and most logical question to ask. We both love Stereolab, though we can’t seem to make an album that sounds like them. They are amazing. I love Land of Talk, her vocals and guitar lines are interesting and engaging and inspiring. I love a lot of 90s Brit pop/rock and 90s indie rock though that doesn’t always come through. I also love shoegaze, such as Slowdive and early Stone Roses, Galaxy 500, and MBV. I like Lilys and Duster. I love post-punk such as Delta 5, Pylon, and Come On. I also love Dungen who I think most influence the prog/rock/psych vibes on my end when I’m thinking about vocals. If only I could sing in Swedish.
I also love GBV which can sometimes lead to us deciding to cut a song in half to see how they would function separately. This means we have not only variety in the songs themselves, but variety of length in our songs.
Anton: For me it’s all over the place. I tried to categorize it but I kind of couldn’t, so I’ll just list some of them off. Stuff like Braid, Hop Along, Dogs on Acid, Low (I mean really they’re so good!!), Julie Doiron, The Microphones. Then a super healthy dose of krauty bands like Neu! and Stereolab. I love a repetitive beat that varies in dynamics or simple guitar riffs that let the bass line take precedence. Depending on weather and mood I’m also really into doom like YOB and Uffomammut with spacey, thick guitars with a good drone. I’m always trying to write songs like these bands and it's always coming out… like Theory Of Why!
TSWS:This album is massive! It feels almost like a live performance. Did it take you guys long to create?
Anton: Some of the songs we’d had since 2019 but most were written in 2020. So I guess it took almost 2 years? We had a lot of time during the lockdowns to really sit with it though, so we got a lot more done than we probably would have otherwise for better or worse.
Julia: It took some time for sure. We are lucky that our schedules kind of ebb and flow together. As Anton notes, I guess it did take almost 2 years.
How do you record your stuff? Is it a home studio?
Julia: I’m in Springfield Missouri. My setup is a home bedroom “studio.” I use Logic and record vocals with a C214 and I just upgraded to an Apollo Solo (gosh darn Mac made my old hardware obsolete.)
Anton: I’m based in Seattle and my master bedroom is a recording studio. I’ve always been big into home recording ever since I got a Tascam PortaStudio around 1996. Recording at home is great, I love the flexibility to do a zillion takes whenever I want, no pressure of being in a studio and worrying about time, I can fiddle with the mics/amps/instruments all I want all night long.
I basically record all the guitars with a Royer 121 ribbon mic and a Neumann TLM 103 LDC and run that to my rack with vintech x73i and api 3124+ pres to a Lynx Rosetta converter. I have a ton of other mics and rack crap but I really just like this setup and I tend to use it for everything. I’ve fallen out of the gear trap of getting more and more gear so I just got what I got. Bass I do direct and then I have a Korg MS2000 I use for most of the synths and all the drums I do with a set of v-drums that I play. I realize that nothing beats the sound of real drums, but I kind of love using midi drums. I can sound like a better drummer than I really am and with the right DAW plugins they can sound great!
The downside of a home studio is when the sound sucks I have no one to blame but myself, and the lack of a well treated live room kind of shows. Also going to a studio is a great way to engage the engineer as a part of your sound. When someone else mixes your work they can take an independent ear to it and do some fun things you might never have even considered.
But, ya know, you can’t beat unlimited studio time!
Do you write songs together or is it just one of you that really does most of the writing?
Anton: The process is usually I track a bunch of instrumentation and layers and send it off to Julia. Julia then does a bunch of vocal demos on the stuff, makes suggestions on how to change parts, repeat this, cut that, this is too loud, that doesn’t work, etc, etc. She’s like the producer/arranger/vocalist. We do a lot of video conferences to work on editing the songs together and when we have it arranged just right Julia records all the vocals at her place in Springfield and then sends me the tracks back for final mixing.
Julia: See Anton’s comments. Yes to all of that. He does put together the majority of the songs. Since we have been working together for a few years now, I’ve more recently sent him notes on cutting and repeating and adjusting. The result has really transformed this from a “project” where I’m just the vocalist more into a band. It’s a lot of fun. The only problem is that there will be days where my partner asks why all I do is yell “ohhhhhh” over and over again. I swear there are lyrics too, but oh well. That is the fun of recording at home.
How did this all start for you really?
Julia: We met in college at the radio station, but we were in two different and sometimes overlapping circles of friends. I do remember that art class together it was fun. We both played shows in DC and had our own bands.
As I was working on my dissertation and finishing up graduate schools in Ohio (since T.O.W. has always been long distance), when I was procrastinating and avoiding my work, I saw that Anton posted on fbook that he was looking for a vocalist. Since moving to Ohio it had been challenging putting together a full band that I had back in DC. I had been craving a musical creative outlet. I responded “I’m in.”
Then I paused... and reflected. I thought “oh crap, what if this sucks, or what if I suck? This could be very awkward.”
Turns out Anton and I had way more in common musically than we realized back in college. We fit together well. It has been just evolving ever since. I think because we both had had experience with bands in the past, we were able to have a long distance project and put in the time. I think if this was our first band and we attempted this it would not be as successful and rewarding.
Anton: Me and Julia met back in college at the radio station at UMD called WMUC. We weren’t really close friends then, just acquaintances. I remember we had an art class together at some point which was fun. But then college ended, we drifted, I was in a ton of other bands and was doing that, and Julia was in her own bands doing that. Then I moved to Seattle and kind of lost a big musical community that I was clued into and was feeling kind of musically listless, so I reached out on facebook (of all places) to see if any friends of mine were interested in collaborating for a musical project. At the time I was doing a solo project called For The Agenda and was just looking for someone to put vocals on stuff. Julia replied and here we are! I think that was like 4 years ago? I dunno. But that was a good decision!
The first Theory Of Why album is mostly For The Agenda songs slightly reworked with Julia. It really wasn’t till our second EP that we wrote together more intentionally. I wish we had done this sooner.
What's next for you as a band?
Julia: Anton, I’m down for working in Seattle. Anyone need an expert in digital accessibility? Just kidding, but Seattle is really cool. I actually got to visit Anton in Seattle right before the shut down because I had an academic conference there. Springfield is a cool city too and a beautiful place to live in America. Lots of outdoor activities.
What is next, we would love to figure out how to do some sort of long distance “performance” or something. We both have some ideas, but it will take some creativity. In the meantime, we want to try to slow down and enjoy this last release. We worked really hard on it and it embodies something very special considering all the changes that have taken place in the past two years.
Moving forward, more songs. Maybe I’ll fly to Seattle and play a show? I do have a theremin… still trying to figure out how to integrate that into songs. Although I’m the “vocalist” in the band, just like Anton, I can play all the instruments (and have on my own releases), so perhaps I can put in some guitar, bass, or drums. I’m not great on keys, though I always think I am… but I’m not. If we were not a long distance band I think that we would be able to co-write songs a bit more, but we are slowly figuring that out.
Anton: More songs I guess. Julia, you should move to Seattle then we can play live!
For real though I think the more we work together the more the instrumentation is focusly written around Julia. In our first albums Julia had the enormously difficult task of finding space and melody in already thick arrangements.
Pomegranate we took a step back and really started to carve more space for Julia to drive the melody and direction. It’s hard because I can just layer on a zillion tracks and edit and tweak these songs without her around, so by the time I’m like “Hey Julia check this out!” I’ve written 50 parts already ha. I constantly need to be reminded to slow down and be intentional so that we can iterate more.
What are you guys doing when you're NOT working on music?
Julia: I teach teachers... very meta, I know. It’s the best job in the world. I love it. I like taking long walks (no this is not a dating profile, I just really like taking walks), I hang out with my doggos, I ride bikes sometimes. I try to work on art projects when I have time which can range from graphic design to sewing to crocheting to creative writing.
Anton: I work with computers for a living so I like to do things not computers for fun. Last few years I’ve been into a lot of rando hobbies like sailing, woodworking, and doing brazilian jiu jitsu. I also took a stab at growing mushrooms for a while and experimenting with block printing. I kind of just love hobbies! While a lot of the hobbies come and go, music is the one thing that’s been around for a long time.
Who are you listening to right now?
Julia: I just got back from a short trip and I have my go to travel bands. When on a plane, I listen to Duster. Stereolab is always a go to. Delta 5. Last long trip was a lot of Guided by Voices. I don’t know. I always feel like I need a cool answer to this question, but I am kind of basic and stick to my go-tos. I also like listening to the radio to see what “the yutes” are listening to.
Anton: I’ve been listening to Psychedelic Porn Crumpets a lot. Talk about fuzz, holy shit. These guys ripppp. Other than that, I've been jammin on a lot of Lucy Dacus. When I don’t know what to do I just listen to KEXP. I like the specialty shows a lot, especially Wo’Pop and The Roadhouse.
Can we expect any music videos from you anytime soon?
Julia: Yea. I made some stop start animation videos as promotional tools and for one of our previous songs. It’s so much fun to do. I get totally lost in the detail and don’t realize that the sun has gone down in the process. I’m sure I’ll put together another video for one of the new songs, or maybe for a chorus of one of the songs.
Anton: Probably! We’ve done a few videos for every album we released. Since we’re geographically distributed most of our videos are either stop motion (Julia’s awesome at this!) or random footage that we film independently stitched together. I’m also a big fan of using Creative Commons licensed footage to make little videos too. Who knows what we’ll find!
This album feels like a big undertaking. Any advice you'd have for other up and coming bands out there?
Julia: Do it because you want to do it. If you are always chasing accolades, you are going to live a lonely life and a life that is not your own. Making music is the most human thing we can do. Art is the most human thing we can do. Being creative is the most human thing we can do. Create because it is in your bones, not because the internet told you it is cool.
(Also don’t compare yourself to bands on the internet, there is no such thing as a band that made it “overnight”... overnight usually means 3-5 years later.)
Also, the song is NEVER DONE. That is ok. Don’t be a perfectionist. Listen to the radio… you can hear mistakes on songs, on pitch, on hits, on production, on panning, and these are the songs that are famous and played every day on top 40 stations. Being imperfect is being human. We need to embrace our creative imperfect selves so that we can become one with our best selves and potential best selves.
Also have a friend to complain to, everyone needs to vent sometimes. Toxic positivity doesn’t help anyone. Having Anton to celebrate victories with music and complain to has been really lovely. Since we have been at it for awhile, we share a lot in how we think about music on a large scale (pun intended? Maybe? haha).
After doing a take, take a walk and then come back to it and listen a second time.
Also, once you learn all the rules, they will change. Spotify has single handedly destroyed any opportunity to live off of (and make a living) making music and art (in America- I think Canada still has grants and money for artists), yet they are the gatekeepers to sharing music with the world. I do love Bandcamp and do my best to encourage friends and family to use that app. Tik Tok is a weird new space. Radiohead has a Tik Tok that is not dedicated to music at all. You as an artist can complain all day long about the old days, but the reality is things change and that is ok. You just need to be flexible and adapt.
I feel like Bjork is one of the most inspirational artists of all time. Seeing how she has changed and transformed over time feels comforting as we all continue to figure out how to make music that best communicates our intents.
Also yes to everything Anton said. We are old cranky ornery farts who have had ups and downs in music, you just need to keep going and moving forward. Being a solo artist is fun, but lonely, we have both been doing that for awhile and it is refreshing to have at least one person to push you to keep moving forward.
Anton: Julia and I have been at the DIY game for a long long time now between all the different bands we’ve been in over the years. The only advice I can offer is to not give up, make music for you, and enjoy the process. It’s really easy to get disheartened with rejection, or toil in obscurity, but in the end we do it all for the joy of music and that's all there is to it. Also Julia said all this way better than I did. Listen to Julia.
Okay so you wake up in the middle of the night starving. What's your go -to midnight snack?
Julia: Popcorn, or Trader Joe’s wasabi seaweed (when I have it in the house, there are no Trader Joes in Springfield :( )
Anton: Milk. It’s got protein to tide you over, it soothes acid reflux, it comes from an animal that's way bigger than you, and you don’t gotta prep shit. Just stand there half asleep with the door open, chug some milk, go back to bed. Easy win.
Before we go, what would you like to say to fans of the music?
Julia: Howdy! Thanks for listening to our music. We are quirky and I bet you are too. Long live quirky folks.
Anton: Thank you! I don’t know how you found us or why you like our music, but it means the world to us.