Interview with Young Pioneer

We have a special place in our hearts here at UBL for music acts out of our home state of Michigan so we try to make time to feature as many as we can. Recently we were contacted about a new single from an up and coming band out of Brighton, Young Pioneer (formerly Signals). We were a little late getting to the request but the guys just released a new album thus giving us a reason to feature them after all. The band’s vocalist, Ben Awrey, and guitarist, Mitch Howell, were nice enough to sit down and answer some questions for us.

First let’s talk about how the band got it’s start.

Mitch Howell: It was an interesting process. It was around the summer of 2012, Jon Walker (our guitarist) asked me a few times to form or join a band. Actually if I recall correctly, he told me that he had a group of musicians lined up and that he needed a second guitarist. Jon and I had hung out and played guitar together a few times for fun, never with any sort of intention of starting a band. When he had pitched the idea, I was very honest in letting him know that I was perfectly content just writing and playing my own music in my free time and wasn’t particularly sure I could make a whole band thing work. What a salesman…. A month or so went by and he invited me over to play with a few different musicians. I recall repeating this process numerous times with no success based on a multitude of reasons, and simply thinking to myself “I’ve been sold” (laughs).  At the time, I really didn’t have the energy to build a band from the ground up, but luckily Jon did, which led him to be the driving force behind what would later become Signals. Fast forward to a few months later, and I received a phone call from Jon regarding this talented young vocalist who he believed would be a perfect fit in our somewhat thought out musical idea. A few nights later, I met Ben for the first time at Jon’s house which ended up being a great night. We showed Ben some song ideas we had, Ben showed us some of his own material, and just hung out talking about common influences we all shared. From this point on, everything started to come full circle. Jon brought out a great drummer (Ricky Sprader) that he had played with in a previous band, and I touched base with an old friend and talented jazz bass player (Bob Schmid). At this point, everything made sense and the rest is history.

And what brought about the switch from Signals to Young Pioneer?

Ben Awrey: Well, a large part of it was honestly a visibility thing. Signals was simply too difficult find, and shared a name with too many other projects. It was hard even for people we personally know and explain what to look for to find our material online, let alone people we don’t know. Plus, I think many of us simply liked Young Pioneer better when Mitch pitched the name. More interesting and meaningful.

Mitch: What Ben said.  No one really knew who we were at the time, so we figured any sort of change wouldn’t necessarily hurt us. At the same time, we started writing new music which presented a different aesthetic. The band name idea came from a book I was reading at the time, and it seemed to fit in with the overall transition we started feeling through our new music.

Listening to the Signals EP and When Does The Night End I hear a slight difference in sound. I love the short but sweet EP but it’s not as bright sounding as the new tracks. Was there a conscious change in your sound from the Signals EP to When Does The Night End or was it just a natural progression from playing together more?

Mitch: What’s pretty cool about this, is the 5 of us didn’t set out or force any sort of change, it was done in a completely natural state. I mean, when we did the Signals EP, the 5 of us had written a total of 7 songs at that point, of which 6 of them were featured on that EP. So when I look back and even listen to that specific release, and I can only speak for myself, I hear a collection of individual songs without any sort of connectivity or common artistic outlook. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of that release and it actually contains a few favorites of mine, but those songs were written within the first year of being a band which really had us all trying to figure each other out. As we began the transition into Young Pioneer, we started moving away from different artists throwing their favorite color paint at a blank canvas, and more into the artistic state of being whole.

Ben: Yeah, I think it was more of a natural progression than a conscious change. This record felt a lot more like a collaborative effort instead of a slapping together of song parts. Again, not that I don’t love the first record, but I think you can definitely hear more of a togetherness in this record. Like we’re more of a collective band instead of 5 separate musicians putting in their 2 cents.

What was the recording process like? Did you find a significant difference from going to recording a short EP to a full length LP?

Ben: This record was actually easier and quicker to produce than the Signals EP actually. A lot of that had to do with Mick (Maslowski) from Zoinga Studios who we worked with. He was super easy to work with, highly efficient, and flexible. Great guy. I think it helped that we also had a more solidified idea of what we wanted going in this time. We really put a lot of thought into this record. Speaking for myself, I know I felt and still feel very personally attached to these songs.

Mitch: I agree 100% with Ben. I honestly cannot say more about Mick as a person, Engineer & Producer. Mick had a natural ability of making sure we were pushing ourselves in a highly efficient environment. Recording the LP was completely different than the EP, both in atmosphere and creative mindset. We had a solid foundation with these songs, production, etc. before entering the studio to record the LP, so it was essentially stress free not having to worry about a single thing besides the tiny finishing details. Honestly, it was just a positive creative experience.

What about the writing process? Where did you draw inspiration and influence from and about how long did it take to write the ten tracks that appear on the final album?

Mitch: The writing process started right around the release of our Signals EP in January of 2014. I had written a few songs around that time frame which had a different makeup sonically, and that continued through our transition into Young Pioneer. This is always such an interesting conversation that I have with friends and fans when discussing influence, inspiration, etc. People listen to your music and like to make different connections to different artists, and I totally get it. I find myself doing the same thing once in a while when comparing artists, but honestly, I  do not draw inspiration or influence from other music while writing, nor do I listen to music when I write. When engaged in writing, hearing music simply creates a massive block.  I can only speak from an instrumental side since Ben writes all the lyrics, but when building a song, I visualize a specific landscape and try to create a feeling, which then allows me to bring the foundation to the other members for full collaboration. I believe that is what was so much fun about this record, is the complete collaboration between everyone. Over the course of the year when writing these songs, everyone had such a huge impact on what would become When Does The Night End and I believe that to be very rewarding. I remember writing the song “Armslength.” The original foundation of that song started with a 6/8 dotted eighth note delay, but by the time we completed the song, that entire delay was scrapped and rightfully so. In addition to that, Ben wrote and recorded 2 acoustic based tracks on his own, and my favorite example when talking about the process was on the song “Playing Pretend.” I had Bob playing this awful tremelo picking bass guitar part, which thankfully he changed into this jazz/funk riff which is now one of my favorite individual parts on the record.

Ben: I had a blast writing this record. With the Signals EP, I essentially came in and slapped vocals on top of finished songs, which was fun and worked well, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit less connected musically than with this record. With this record, I felt a lot more involved in the whole process, which could simply be because I was present for a lot more of the writing! I felt a lot more connected to the feelings the songs evoked this way, and I got an idea of what kinds of stories I wanted to tell. Lyrically, the songs are influenced by my own life, though not necessarily direct translations of events. I wanted the whole record to tell a story of feeling kind of lost or trapped, but still holding on to an outlook of hope. Like knowing that feeling unsure of yourself or even out of control of yourself can feel like a vicious and never ending cycle, but it doesn’t have to be the inescapable rut that it feels like.

Now that the album is out in the world, what do you hope new and old Young Pioneer fans take from the album?

Ben: I really want people to put on this record and feel inclined to listen to it all the way through. It means the world to us when people take time out of their lives to listen to something we’re proud of. I think that’s the biggest thing. Speaking for myself, I’ve always wanted to make a record that comes together as a whole, and you can listen to start to finish and take in as more than the sum of it’s parts. I really hope we made something like that this time.

Mitch: Honestly, I just hope people enjoy listening to this record as much as we enjoyed creating it. Hopefully people connect with it in some sort of way.

What’s next for Young Pioneer? Will you be touring?

Ben: No current plans for anything like that, but you never know what the future holds I guess! I think we’re going to concentrate on this record’s release right now, and see where it takes us. We do have a release party show planned for August 22nd, so that should be awesome. After that, we’ll have to see what’s in store!

Make sure to check out our review of When Does The Night End and don’t forget to pick it up on Bandcamp or iTunes.

And don’t forget to get out and see Young Pioneer at their release show August 22nd at The Loft in Lansing with special guests The Most Powerful Weapon and Another October.

Young Pioneer Show Poster