One of my favorite things about running this blog is getting to see the growth of bands that I discover. It’s been just over a year since I last sat down with The Lake Effects who have been very busy since the last time we talked. They’ve traveled, toured, some of them have graduated, and somehow still have found time to put out their first full length LP, Ioway. I was excited to get to sit down with the band and talk about how they’ve spent their last year as well as the new album.
So it’s been just over a year since we last talked. Why not start with a quick little recap of the last year for The Lake Effects.
Lukas Schroeder: Playing across Michigan, a lot of schoolwork (Mak graduated!), various side projects over the summer (Gabe and Niko presented music theory and musicology research in Ireland and Brazil, I played in Germany and the Netherlands with the Calvin College band program, playing across Michigan, and Mak played across the Midwest with Good Day Good Sir – now Flashover – and other groups – jazz, musical theater, you name it), a break to record the album, more playing across Michigan, and more schoolwork for the rest of us still finishing school.
You guys are about to release your first full length album, how long have you been working on Ioway?
Lukas: This album is really a compilation of the work we (mostly Niko) have been doing for the last 6 or 7 years. “Late June Riot” was written by Niko in high school and originally played by his and my high school band, Atomic TIme Machine. This is contrasted with “The Listeners” – Niko and Gabe reworked the words in the studio the day before we recorded it.
Niko Schroeder: Though the age of the songs varies drastically, the last year has really been the time that the tracks have seen the most significant growth. Our songs are really written for live performance, so we learn something every time we play them, and that also meant that getting the tracks ‘studio-ready’ was an intensive process. The year definitely changed when we solidified plans to record the album last winter. Rehearsals became more focused, and we began reconsidering the songs since we knew they would be recorded into a tactile and permanent form soon.
“Jimmy” and “The Listeners” come to mind as the tracks that saw the most growth and change from their original forms…”Jimmy” got several formal revisions and new brass parts, and, like Lukas mentioned, “The Listeners” got a whole new set of lyrics.
The last time we talked you guys had just released My Friends All Left Me, are there any differences in the way that that EP came together vs. putting together a full length LP?
Gabe Ellis: I think that one of the most interesting aspects of putting together a full-length LP was the way it forced us to think about musical narrative. We spent an awful lot of time thinking about how to concatenate our songs musically and thematically, and I think the result of this – even if it’s not apparent to listeners – is that we as a group have a much better understanding of the themes and musical ideas that really interest us, of how we’ve expressed these ideas in different ways in our different songs, and of how we can continue to develop them.
Niko: My Friends is somewhere in-between indie-rock and pop-punk, and we really wanted to develop a more concrete musical concept for Ioway. What we settled on, and what I think is readily apparent, is that the music and lyrics are often at odds—when the music is effervescent, the lyrics are biting, and angsty music often brings funny or optimistic lyrics (satirical or not). These contrasts are much stronger than My Friends… I think “Banding Together” is the most apparent example of these juxtapositions.
What inspired Ioway?
Niko: Ioway was born of our desire to a) put out a full-length and b) get our music done up professionally so we and our fans can hold onto it forever. It took us a long time to settle on a name for the album, and “Ioway” was actually the last track assembled. Since the album was written over the better part of a decade, we were surprised that we found any commonalities between the songs at all, but the common themes that did emerge coalesced around what we identify as key facets of Midwesternism – the community, the humor, the tyranny of harsh winters,and the ubiquitous can-do attitude.
Gabe: “Ioway” was inspired by the recently-unearthed 25th book of the Odyssey, in which Polyphemus has his revenge by bonking Odysseus on the head with a cricket bat…named Ioway.
Do you have a personal favorite track on the album or is there one song in particular that you’re particularly excited for people to hear?
Makenzie Mattis: My favorite track on the album would have to be the title track “Ioway.” Since our fearless leader Niko is the primary song writer for the band, I don’t have a very big impact on the creative processes behind the songs, with the exception of the drum parts. My main contributions to the song writing process are laying down beats and helping with song structure and metric time. With the song “Ioway,” I got to play around with the time signatures a bit and switch back and forth between a “three feel” and a “two feel,” which for a drummer is one of the most fun things we can do! The multiple metric changes keep the audience on their toes and make the song unique and interesting to listen to. The time signatures we utilized include: 9/8, 6/8, 12/8, 4/4, and 6/4! I also greatly enjoy how instrumental the song is, which highlights our brass and keyboard writing by means of an instrumental chorus and instrumental/vocal bridge.
Lukas: I am excited for everyone to hear “Happy’s Pizza” because Gabe won’t admit he got the idea from Yik Yak, but the first line is literally a Yik Yak.
Niko: I would be really excited if Jimmy Fallon heard “Jimmy,” but we’ll leave that to fate.
For the general public, I’m most excited for “The Listeners.” I definitely don’t think it’s even close to the best song on the album, but it’s definitely the most sparsely orchestrated, and, in that sense, the most revealing. It very honestly portrays my voice and the brass playing—not always in tune and certainly not perfect, but there are a few words and lines that I really cherish. It’s like saying, “Here I am! Love me or don’t!” I am more passionate about its lyrics than other songs, and Mak hits a couple of the best fills of the album. Maybe I’ll use it as a business card.
At this point I’ve only heard a couple of tracks. I thought “Happy’s Pizza” was a wonderful blend of 70’s disco / pop with 80’s rock. I can’t seem to get enough of it. I’m interested to know more about how this track came together.
Gabe: I suppose I ought to answer this question, as “Happy’s Pizza” is the one song I contributed to the album. Lyrically, I always say that the song is about the difficulty of interpersonal communication, or the idea that most of the time, we’re all of us just talking past each other. But at the same time, it’s just about pizza and clowns, and I think that aspect of it is what really influences the music. I’m a big fan of the 80’s, which is why I wanted to use the big synth in the song, and somehow some 70’s got in there when Niko added the funk guitar – but then we threw in a bunch of stupid stuff, like the whistle, the break in the middle where Niko and I “dance” when we play the song live, and the circus-band trombone solo – which is probably why it comes across as so jumbled-up!
Lukas: “Happy’s Pizza” is the only song on the album that wasn’t written by Niko. Gabe has an obsession with 70’s and 80’s pop, and also apparently linking food with philosophy. I heard his next hit is going to be based on the life cycle and a grocery store. We don’t know how he puts this all together so well but we love it!
What do you hope listeners take away from the album?
Lukas: Tuba is awesome.
Niko: One response to our live shows that I’ve often heard is that our collective sense of humor really ties the set together, and I hope that comes through on the album. The Lake Effects have never been a sad band, and that is more apparent now than ever. The album bounces back and forth between complex textures and straight-ahead pop songs so quickly that, to us, a sense of cohesion only came from embracing our satirical and dry humor and the juxtaposition of the disparate elements.
What’s up next for The Lake Effects?
Niko: More shows (announced soon we hope), more stupid tuba jokes on Twitter / Tumblr/ Facebook, and a lot more side-projects (as always). Little Gabe is all grown up and heads off to grad school in the autumn, so that leaves a lot of questions about our future (most of us are hoping he just won’t get in). Each member brings a unique aspect to the band that is really irreplaceable, but, anyhow, we’re happy that we could get Ioway down in ink so we can keep it forever.