Contents Edited for Syntax - transcript of an interview with Justin Rodriguez, Silverbird singer/guitar player/songwriter
compiled January 2007 by Cat Dirt 02.05.07
Band interviews tend to trivial and inane. What's your favorite color? What kind of animal would you be? Any crazy touring stories? Fuck that. Boring.
The romantic idea of the local rock musician "making it big" persists as a powerful force in the minds of many local musicians. The conventional narrative is that some person, manager, record label, talent scout, will "discover" the band playing one of it's crappy gigs in some shit hole and "take them away from all this." This plagues bands from all genres and is indicative of a distinct lack of professional ethic among many amateur and "semi pro" local musicians.
Band interviews tend to reinforce these harmful fantasies- after all- Rolling Stone never publishes interviews with unsuccessful bands who don't sell any records. However, it would be my contention that the attempts by local rock bands to achieve some kind of viability and/or stability constitute a rich narrative vein. I though this interview was interesting because it demonstrates the assembly of a rock band in the "myspace" era, and for Justin's interesting thoughts on recent changes in the record industry.
Q: My understanding is that you wrote the songs for Sliverbird and then went out and assembled the band- assuming this is true- how did you go about putting together the band?
A: Initially, I wasn't sure I even wanted to put a band together, but the more songs I wrote, the more I heard these other layers of instrumentation that I felt NEEDED to be there for the songs to truly be complete. I started to seriously consider looking for musicians after I met robin, our pianist, by chance at the store I work at. We got together and I started showing her these songs I had been working on and it just clicked immediately.
She has a great ear and really understood what I was trying to do from the moment we started playing together. We worked together for maybe 4 months until we both knew the songs really well and once we felt we were ready to bring others into the circle, we started searching for the right people to fill out the group.
Finding a drummer was so hard that we almost decided to just keep Silverbird a 2 piece and start playing out that way. Then in a sort of last-ditch effort, I happened to make a Myspace (gag) post about needing musicians and my friend Morgan responded. I had never approached him about it, even though we had talked about playing together for years, because I had assumed he was already playing in other projects as was usually the case. It turned out that he wasn't and when he came and sat in with us, it just worked. It was very exciting after months of trying out terrible drummers that just didn't get it.
Through Morgan we found Forrest who was practically in the band the moment he plugged in because he was such a perfect fit.
Bubba and I met pretty randomly. He had a friend that saw the Myspace bulletin I had posted about looking for musicians. In that post, I had mentioned wanting a pedal steel player. I really didn't think I would be able to find anyone, since pedal steel players are so few and far between. Then out of the blue Bubba writes me saying he plays pedal steel and sends me an mp3 of him playing over an acoustic guitar. Since we didn't know one another, and the only way he knew to contact me was through Myspace (double gag), he actually had to start an account with them just to get in contact with me! Ha ha.
Anyway, the mp3s he had sounded good so I sent him some mp3s of my demos, asked him to learn a few songs, and to let me know when he was ready to come to a rehearsal and try out. about 2 weeks later we met with Bubba and from that moment on, i knew we had finally found the right group of people for this project.
Q what other projects have yourself and the other band members been a part of (don't worry about accounting for all of Morgan Young's various endeavors- I can get that info from him)?
A: Hmm. let's see... I was in a hardcore band back east called Sum of all Fears until about 1999 and then I did a band called Counterfit here in San Diego up until about 2004. I'm not really sure of all the bands Morgan has been involved with but I know a few he was involved with were the and/ors, the Millionaires, and Dare Devil Jane. Robin played and in fact still plays keyboards with an african high life group called Bolgazohdoomah and has played with a lot of great jazz musicians. Forrest was in the q (formerly the legend of.), Pleasure Circuit, and adventure club. He also toured with Candye Kane, and played with a bunch of blues artists/groups, such as Billy Watson. Believe it or not, aside from playing with friends here and there, this is actually Bubba's first official band.
Q: Where are you recording?
A: we're actually recording with my roommate Mitch Wilson (no knife) at his studio, lunar maps.
Q: how do you plan to release the material (label, format)?
A: The current plan is to shop this recording to potential labels etc. but initially i just want to use a few of the songs as a free demo that we can give out at our shows. i think we all feel it's best to keep things as d.i.y. as possible for as long as we can.
Q: When do you plan to release the material? the recording should be finished by the end of the month (fingers crossed) so hopefully some time in February. it would be nice if it could coincide with our upcoming shows.
Q: Do you have any plans to tour? when are you going to play Los Angeles ?
A: Yes, we are definitely planning on touring although there is nothing in the works at this time. I'm hoping we'll play L.A. by march. Basically, we want to finish the recording first and then start by doing little stints up the coast. I'd love to be able to do our first real tour (full U.S. ) within the year. I guess we'll see what happens, right?
Q: What is your level of interest in the business side of the music world?
A: I think it's very important for musicians to stay involved in the business side of their music. Otherwise, it's far too easy for people to take advantage of you. I don't get involved because I enjoy the business world, but rather to make sure that I'm protected. Too many people involved in the music industry today look at it from a monetary stand point rather than an artistic one.
I think that's a big part of why popular music has gone so far into the depths of hell. Labels used to take chances on their artists and stand behind them, regardless of whether their first record was a commercial success. At the least, an artist could release a couple of albums before the label gave them the axe.
These days it seems like all the industry cares about is turning a profit rather than putting out artistically viable musicians. And what's the easiest way to turn a profit in this industry? They play it safe and release a string of cookie cutter bands with a 1 to 2 album shelf life and then toss them aside when the next "big thing" comes along.
I just don't think art should be so disposable. I like to use this as an example: when Bob Dylan released his 1st record on Columbia , it DID NOT sell very well. Did Columbia drop him? Obviously not, and the next thing he put out was "The Freewheeling' Bob Dylan". The album was considered a folk masterpiece, was hailed by critics and fans alike, and was the beginning of one of the most amazing and influential careers in music history.
Can you imagine if that was today? He would have been dropped the moment Columbia realized his first record wasn't going gold. Who knows what would have happened with the rest of his career? It's pretty insane to think about. And you know, if you look back through time, A LOT of the musicians that we consider legends today did not hit it out of the park with their first release. Jesus, that was a bit of a rant wasn't it?
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the impact of technology on the ability of musicians to make a living from their music?
A: I'm still torn on this issue. I agree with the argument that it's wrong to be taking money from the musicians who create the songs being illegally downloaded. However, I also realize that musicians make next to nothing from album sales. The percentages the artist receives from each album sale is so frighteningly low it's almost comical. Of course, there are a few independent labels that split the profits fairly with their artists, but it's a VERY small few. in truth, artists make the majority of their money from touring and merchandising. So really, they're already being robbed of their hard earned money by the record labels that are supposed to be supporting them!
I think the only reason the industry is so up in arms about this issue is not because it's hurting the artists, but because it's hurting these multi-label conglomerates. I feel like that's who kids are really stealing from when they illegally download music, and that really does not bother me.
As far as I'm concerned, I just want people to hear my music and be able to get a hold of it, whether that means buying the album from a store, at a show, or just downloading it from soulseek or something.
Q: Do you read music blogs?
A: No, not really.
Q: What are Sliverbird's song writing influences?
A: I suppose some of the influences on this project would include Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Gram Parsons/the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Kinks, Willie Nelson, Donovan, the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, the Pretty Things, Marc Bolan/Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the Faces. amongst far too many others to list.
Q: Do you have a process for writing songs? Do you usually write the music and then come up with lyrics?
A: It differs from song to song. Usually I'll come up with a riff or progression that i like and while I'm working it out a melody will start developing around it in my head. Although, sometimes I come up with a part and then months later actually write a melody/vocal part on top of it. Of course, it's much easier to write when I'm feeling inspired. Unfortunately, you can't pick and chose when, if, or how that's going to happen. Sometimes you have to piece together the different little pieces and parts that you come up with during those different bursts of creativity and inspiration. I guess that's why my creative process tends to fluctuate.
Q: Is there a place you like to write songs?
A: Yes, I like to write when I'm back east visiting my family. I wrote some of the current Silverbird material 2 summers ago when I was considering moving back and I stayed with my folks for about 3 months. I think I just get more accomplished when I'm in a comfortable and positive environment. Out here I mostly just write in my tiny-ass room. I definitely need the privacy if I want to get any writing accomplished.
Q: Are there any bands whose career's you see as a model for Silverbird?
A: Good question. There are certainly artists and groups who's career choices i have a lot of respect for though I wouldn't necessarily say that any of them would be a "model" for Silverbird. I have a lot of respect for artists like David Bowie, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon for pushing boundaries and thumbing their noses at convention at a time when it was considered career suicide. I also love the way that Bowie and Dylan could constantly reinvent themselves, both sonically and aesthetically. Of course, that's why those guys are all legends today, right? Haha.
As far as contemporary groups go, I have a lot of respect for Wilco and the way they've handled their career, Fugazi both for staying so true to their music and their ideals, and even though I'm not into their music I think pearl jam deserves a lot of credit for taking such an outsider approach to their career after they'd already "made it" in mainstream music media. I've honestly never really thought about silver bird's career like that. I just want to play shows, make records, and hopefully turn a few people on along the way.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the "major label" system vs. independent labels and which you would rather be a part of?
A: I'd always rather be a part of an independent label, but when you're trying to make a career out of this it becomes a question of "will this label get me where I need to be so that i can support myself with my music?" I think that's when people start considering working with majors because, in theory, those are the labels that have the money. Not to mention that when they're courting you, they LOVE to wave it around in your face. so when you've been struggling for years doing the shitty tours, dealing with bullshit from the small indie or the buddy that put your stuff out, and playing with bands on bigger labels that actually have money, it becomes really easy to rationalize going to a major. Unfortunately, what most musicians don't realize is that aside from a signing bonus (if you even get one) every penny they "give" you, you WILL pay back to them at some point through some clause in your contract. Not to mention that you can record your dream album and have them shelf it for months, years, and sometimes for good! I guess when we DO sign with a label, we'll sign with the label that offers us the best deal. We've all been doing this for too long to drop to our knees with dollar signs in our eyes at the first mention of money.