[Photo by Jim Thomson]
Recording Under the Influence is a recurring self-titled feature where we ask artists to ignore what inspires them musically for a minute and share what really went into the making of a particular record. In this post, Le Loup founder/frontman Sam Simkoff makes sense of their new Family LP, a spooky middle-of-the-woods meeting between Animal Collective and Akron/Family.
The Once and Future King, by T.H. White
I was reading this while we were making the first portion of the album. The first book of the [King Arthur] series is more of a children’s book–a lot of magical hijinks; fun, but not very hefty. The rest of it is really gorgeously layered, though–very modern, colloquial writing painted over a very, very old story, with a bunch of themes that twisted around each other. And through all of it, this wonderful sense of melancholy. I read the majority of it in West Virginia while in the presence of family. It was the most beautiful part of the wintertime, and [reading] all of it together, it gave everything a sense of double-meaning. It felt like everything was interwoven, so I wrote “Saddle Mountain” under the influence of that story.
We spent as much time as possible outdoors when we could: long hikes, loud rivers, lots of green, public parks, warm nights, and the constant buzz of cicadas. When I was stuck in the city, all I could think about was being someplace open again, so even when we weren’t actually experiencing the outdoors, it kept showing up in lyrics, and a lot of outdoorsy sounds (including those cicadas, which show up a number of times in many different manipulated forms) ended up on the album. My most vivid memories from the last two weeks of recording are generally of sitting by a river, or hiking through the logging access roads cutting through the deciduous forests up in North Carolina. It’s such a trite theme to employ in an album, but we can’t help it.
When we went down to the cabin, [guitarist] Jim [Thomson] made up a huge batch of mint julep mix, which is like one part minty sweetness and ten parts Kentucky bourbon. We’d drink it like soda, because the sweetness just painted over the kick of the whiskey, and all of a sudden it’s 5 p.m. and we’re all hollering at the top of our lungs for this track that has to go in this song. A lot of songs originally were a lot more carefully planned to incorporate the delicate placement of samples or this spindly interplay between guitars, and by later on in the recording process, a fair amount of that planning had just gone right out the window. Instead we just ended up having a good time and not worrying about how perfectly something was placed, or whether it provided a proper counterpoint to this or that.
In order to save money, every night that we stayed up late recording, we’d make a meal for each other instead of ordering out or going to a restaurant. It became a kind of ceremony, with the main meal planned by that night’s chef, side dishes put together by two others, and outliers doing the dishes. While we were at the cabin, it helped take the pressure off of recording and forced us to take at least two hours off every night. It’s pretty obvious, but there was something incredibly comforting and homey about it that made the whole experience that much better. It’s easy when in the throes of the recording schedule to forget that we’re all friends above being bandmates, and that simple ritual was a sort of anchor that swept away all the business of the day and forced us to interact as something other than just coworkers. We didn’t always do a great job at what we were making, but it was always delicious, since we made it ourselves for each other.
Yeah, yeah, yeah–insert family analogy here.
Mario Kart (for Wii)
In the final two and a half weeks of recording, the time we didn’t devote to music and food, we spent either hiking or playing these horrible round robin Mario Kart Wii tournaments. I mean, it would just eat our brains, it was great. Mario Kart is such a manic cartoon orgy–a complete [sensory] overload, sound upon sound, colors exploding, shit flying every which way, no end to movement. It would put us in this trance, which fit what we were trying to do in the music perfectly. So you can absolutely hear Mario Kart in the music, in both a figurative and very literal sense–not only did we kind of ape those cascades of shrieks and shouts and arcade sounds, but in a couple songs, people would actually not stop playing the damn thing while we were recording in the same room. So it’s very possible that Mario and company are harmonizing on one or two of the songs.
Do bad influences count? I-95 is a terrible road that just tears down the eastern seaboard. Half of the band had to commute to get together for weekend practices: Jim drove down from Princeton, and [sound manipulator] Christian [Ervin] and I came from Baltimore down to DC. Depending on how the drive down south was, our recording sessions could be fine or they could be terrible. Bad traffic on 95 is the pits–it’s the slowest I’ve ever encountered, and there’s nothing to look at–just gray over-development for miles and miles. If one weekend’s drive was especially punishing, it’d be really hard to get motivated to drive down for the next weekend. We had to take a lot of breaks. If it weren’t for that drive, we could have easily recorded the album in half the time. Who’s to say that didn’t greatly influence the sound of the songs, for better or worse?