Published on June 13th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker was utterly charmed by Crocodiles’ third LP Endless Flowers (click here to read our four-quail review), so we caught up with the band’s head duo Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell aboard the Tamesis Dock boat/bar on Albert Embankment for a hearty natter just before their album launch party nearby. The day also marked the birthday of their keyboardist Robin Eisenberg, who along with Anna Schulte and Marco Gonzalez saw Crocodiles expand into a five-piece for this latest album, the “informercial teaser” for which we shall present to you now…
What songs did you play on your BBC 6 Music session with Lauren Laverne?
Brandon: We did “Sunday” and “My Surfing Lucifer” and then they recorded us playing “Endless Flowers” to put up later on their website to air later.
How did Field Day go? Who else did you get to see play there?
Brandon: It was good. We got to see Mazzy Star, which was incredible because we used our artists’ passes to watch from the side of the stage and their tour manager came over – I don’t know if they don’t like people watching from the side of the stage or something, but it’s better from the front and they let us sit on the other side of the barrier in front of the crowd. It felt like a proper show, amazing.
Charles: I saw Friends, who I thought were really great, also TOY and The Men.
People have been really into dumbing down band names of late: Girls, Men, Friends…
Anyway, you went on to Paris afterwards. How was that?
Brandon: Paris was probably the best show we’ve ever had, ever.
Brandon: Every time there the kids up the ante. They’re just more excitable – most big city’s kids are reserved for whatever reason, maybe because they’re spoiled by all the live music there, but in Paris they just go nuts. It’s a more rewarding experience to play for people when they’re freaking out than it is…you know, even if you’re enjoying it with your arms folded, it’s not as cathartic an experience as when you’re sharing that intensity with all those people, you know.
What have your previous experiences of playing in the UK been like?
Charles: We’ve had some really great shows in London over the years. Nothing too memorable outside of…
Brandon: We’ve had good shows in Glasgow and Manchester, but the rest of the UK is pretty tough. There have been some good shows here…
Charles: …and there have been a few turkeys as well, but we’ve played here a lot so it’s not like every single one can be golden, unfortunately.
Congratulations on another fine album! Did you have a preconceived idea of how you wanted it to sound, or did you just turn up with a bunch of songs to see what happened? It’s your first self-produced record, isn’t it?
Brandon: Yeah, which meant we had to do our homework. We hadn’t really prepared how we wanted it to turn out.
Charles: The only preconceived thing we talked about was taking advantage of the fact that we were doing it as a five-piece, make it sound a bit more ‘live’, although obviously we didn’t record it live.
Are the new band members nice and obedient?
Charles: Yeah, of course.
Brandon: If they’re not we give them a slap, you know.
Charles: They’re great. They’re close friends of ours so it was good to have them around, especially as it was our first time self-producing – you know, we had a group of ears to bounce ideas off of and it kept the atmosphere light. We just had fun and I think that came across on the record: unhinged at times and very energetic.
How much about production did you learn from working with James Ford [Simian Mobile Disco] on your last album Sleep Forever?
Brandon: He’s so in control of what he’s doing that we were just recording while he was doing all that shit, you know, so it’s not like he was giving us a lesson or anything. I suppose we had some obtuse ideas regarding textures and things like, and from him being able to dial into our thinking now we know what certain things are. If we knew a sound we wanted in our head, he knew how to get it and now we understand what that is. That doesn’t mean we can twiddle the knobs and get it ourselves, but we can describe to the engineer how we want a certain part to be and get to it like that. I guess we know a bit more vocabulary now.
Do you get synaesthetic during this process? Do you ever find yourselves saying that a certain part needs to be more ‘brown’, or ‘crinkly’, for example?
Brandon: Oh yeah, definitely, although more natural kind of stuff like, “This part needs to sound like the sky,” or something. “Can it sound cloudier here?”
Charles: Yeah, that sort of stuff definitely comes up quite often.
I read an interview in which one of you said that “My Surfing Lucifer” is indicative of the direction Crocodiles will be going in. Now, you might not have started thinking about album number four yet but…
Brandon: Oh, it’s already half-written.
Charles: We hit a bit of a creative mainline with this record. I feel like we’re just enjoying it even more now than we ever have – we always have enjoyed it, but that being said it feels like there’s this new rush of freedom or something…I dunno. It’s like, you start out and you write songs, and they’re the first songs you’ve written, and you kind of don’t know how it is…you know, we created an identity, and now we don’t have to worry about it because everything we do becomes part of that identity. I feel like most bands get to a point where they feel free like this, when they become established, so to speak.
The music press loves to categorise bands and draw comparisons. Do you get sick of all the mentions of The Jesus and Mary Chain and the like in articles about you? (Rocksucker says: we’re aware we’ve just mentioned The Jesus and Mary Chain in this article too now.)
Charles: It’s not insulting to us to get compared to other bands, but to us it just seems like…
Brandon: It kind of reflects more on the journalist more than anything, you know. If that’s only how far your frame of reference stretches then maybe your knowledge of music is too limited to have the right to write about it, know what I mean?
Charles: It seems like the majority of reviews either consist of the critic talking about the other bands that the band brings to mind – you know, things come to mind when you’re listening to it – but some bands are put down for sounding like other bands…I dunno, it just doesn’t make sense, to be honest with you. I don’t really care about reviews any more.
There are some very positive ones for Endless Flowers out there, though.
Brandon: Obviously it feels good to be complimented but if you let it go to your head either way then it’ll fuck you up and affect the way you work in the future. Our point is to make music that we want to hear, and the only other people we care about are the peers that we respect, friends’ bands and so on, and our fans. We’re not one of those bands that’s going to be universally critically acclaimed, so if we’re a cult band or whatever it’s all cool with me. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we feel good about it, and we still feel good about it.
When you said the next album is already half-written, were you joking?
What can you tell us about it at this early stage?
Charles: They’re just songs that have been written in hotel rooms on an acoustic guitar. We have a lot of them and we know where we’re going to record, but I’m not going to tell you! It’s been planned out already.
After Sleep Forever and Endless Flowers, will album number four continue the trend of implying a state of permanency in its title?
Charles: We’d never even thought about that. It’s literally been a case of the night before the deadline going, “Oh fuck, what are we going to call the album?”
Brandon: To be honest, we usually just pick a song title that sounds cool to us.
Charles: There are references to flowers throughout Endless Flowers – I’d say that lyrically it’s our most poetic record, and the title Endless Flowers just seemed to sum up its vibe up. But once again this isn’t something that we really thought about – it just made sense.
To my ears, the melodies on Endless Flowers are more swoonsome than ever, if that makes sense. Have you noticed yourselves becoming more sophisticated as songwriters?
Charles: Naturally, I guess the more you do something the better you’re going to get at it…
Brandon: Like I said earlier, we make a point not to analyse ourselves or bother too much about the press we get, just because we want to be as natural and unaffected as possible. I would hope we’re evolving, getting better and changing – I think being stagnant is the enemy of good art – so we don’t really think about what we’re doing, we just keep on trying to please ourselves and each other with the music.
Charles: When we first met we wrote a song together that’s similar to but not entirely like “My Surfing Lucifer”, and it’s just funny how twelve years later we’ve brought it back. It didn’t feel right to do it then, and maybe even at certain points between then and now, but it’s interesting to think that now we’re writing a song that sounds like the first song we ever wrote when we were 17. I don’t know how that actually relates to your question but I hope it puts things in perspective! I don’t know, I guess the more you do it the more you understand the composition and what you want to bring to it – we’re at a point where we’ve got a grasp on it, and now it’s a little bit more about where we want to take our ability to write a song, as opposed to…
(Charles is interrupted by a loud noise as the boat rocks quite jarringly – someone says, “Motherfucker’s going down!”)
So, how does it feel to be about to drown?
Brandon: It’s like an airplane – if the staff don’t look stressed out then it’s fine.
Do you guys write together or separately?
Charles: Normally together but…
Do you ever dump on each other’s ideas?
Brandon: We’re best friends so we’re pretty sensitive to each other’s feelings, but we’re honest with each other so to be better we tell each other…
Charles: After so long writing together, and just growing up and going through life together, it just works well. Obviously there are things we bring that don’t work for whatever reason, but we’re usually both able to recognise it. If I’m showing him a riff or something I have, maybe I liked it when I was listening to it myself but when I play it for him I can see it in his face that it’s actually a bit shit. Sometimes it’s just about playing it and seeing if it gives us both that feeling, because that’s when it works. It’s all really weird and psychic!
There must be times where one of you has insisted upon the merit of an idea the other doesn’t like or hasn’t grasped immediately.
Brandon: I’m sure there have been times where one of us has argued a point, but we honestly see eye to eye 95% of the time.
Charles: I can’t really think of a time. Normally it comes together pretty well.
Brandon: Like I said, we grew up together so we learned a lot about everything together – so our politics are similar, our views on life and art and love and death and sex and religion are all pretty similar, you know. We formed these ideas together because we were just kids.