Interview: The Better Letters
Published on July 24th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The Better Letters are set to unleash more funky odd-pop in the form of their free Play It Straight EP, so Rocksucker caught up with front man Joe Palumbo to find out a bit more about the whole operation. Before/while reading on, get an earload of these good ‘uns…
What’s the line-up of the band? How did you all meet, and how long has the band been going for?
Joe Palumbo (singing/guitar), Abraham Something (keys/synth), Ben Brunnemer (guitar), Steve Goldberg (drums), Darryl Specht (bass guitar).
Band has been around over 2 years as a five-piece.
Abraham was a door to door vacuum cleaner salesman. I told him when he’s got a safer job like selling beds or something he should give me a call because I’m looking for a keyboard player and dancer. He plays the synth as if he’s walking through a wind tunnel–it’s breath-taking. Ben and I also met in school, but only talked about playing music after days of working together on a job painting a silver seahorse pegasus on a rich lady’s bedroom wall. Trying to level out metallic silver paint brings talented people together.
Steve was brought in because we heard he was going to do session work for Bootsy Collins but we got him real drunk the night before so he’d missed his gig. Almost a year later, after forgiving us, he accepted our offer to join the band. He looked stupid in sequins anyway. Darryl answered an ad we placed in The Voice. We were seeking a tall white male who had a mean vest collection. As it turned out, he played the bass too.
How would you describe your music, if pushed?
Edgy. As in, it has a lot of edges and sharp corners. Recordings are super dense with just enough room to breathe. We sound like people who have something to say about how we feel without being whiny and sensitive but still kinda dickish. This tends to get misconstrued as us having nothing to say or having no feelings because the lyrics are so plain and seemingly innocuous. Our song “You Like Boats” is not about boats as you can imagine. The problem is that I don’t lay out all the cards and say that it’s about interacting with someone who doesn’t know when to stop romanticizing.
All the instruments interact with each other and the song. I feel like all I hear are psych bands who are pushing three big fuzzy balls of chords down a giant hall way. It’s hard for the band members to keep the balls straight because there’s really no direction but forward toward the end of the 6 minutes of song. I mean, I LOVE a good psych band (I’m talking to you, Thee Oh Sees) but they’re hard to come by. I’m not interested in the listener or audience being relieved when then end of the song occurs. I’d rather them not realize three and a half minutes have gone by and they’ve missed three texts from the person they’re trying to hook up with after the show.
To answer your question, our sound is stolen from the Talking Heads.
Where are you based, and what do you use to record with?
We’re kind of all over the place right now but we’re all in some part of Pennsylvania, LA, and New York on a given day.
When we were recording (this EP and our last LP, Mixed Feelings), we essentially had an equipment-less set up. That is to say, we couldn’t exactly get our hands on good preamps, rooms or microphones (or an engineer for that matter), so we had to make do with a cheap set of drum mics that I bought after finding a couple hundred bucks on the street and borrowed a couple other mics from friends for everything else.
We got attached to this real claustrophiliac sound and stuck to a high transient kick drum sound and pushed the vocals through the roof since we felt like we were surrounded by a lot of new bands who bury their voices deeper in the mix than Michael Stipe would. That kind of thing doesn’t work well with our sound. I hate writing lyrics, but when I have to (all the time, for every song) they have to sound strong regardless of their meaning. We’re opening up the sound and making it a little more roomy for our next recording which I think is where we will sound fully like us.
Are you signed to a label? If so, how did you come to their attention?
After dozens of hours in the waiting room and endless meetings and negotiations we decided that we would sign ourselves to our own label–we almost didn’t make the cut. My friend Joshua and I started 4:3 records shortly after the band was formed. We have a couple other bands involved besides us and there are more coming soon, but we’re trying to curate a roster of not only good pop bands but good people who we want to work with–no flakey slackers.
Is there a full album in the works? If so, what can you tell us about it? (Feel free to be as abstract as you like…)
We released an full length album last year called Mixed Feelings which we are proud of, but this EP is kind of like a supplement to that. These three new songs aren’t particularly new, but rather songs that kind of had their own life. We are already working on our next album which is going to blow anything we did before out of the water. Seriously, once you have bought our first three releases and listened to them till the grooves are flat, throw them all in the garbage and buy three copies of the next one. I’d say it will be out in early 2013.
I’m not sure what else to say about it except that there is a lot of piano and voices and we are going easy on the synth which is a direction to which I’m quickly adjusting. I mean, we are essentially a punk band but the new material is crossing over into pop territory in a very exciting way.
Where can we hear your music online?
Anyone who has a computer and a Free AOL disc can dial up our songs on our website: www.thebetterletters.com, on 4:3 records website: www.4-3records.com, iTunes, Spotify, etc. The Play It Straight EP will be available 13th August for FREE on our website and at 4:3 records. If you’d like to show monetary love, it will be available to purchase on iTunes.
Which have been your most exciting gigs and/or overall moments so far?
Probably any gig that wasn’t in NY was fantastic, although we’ve had some unbelievable shows in NY. I know it’s cool to shit on NY or whatever, but when you aren’t there, you’re not playing to a jury of your peers, you’re entertaining people who want to be entertained and who want to engage you in conversation about how they felt about everything you did and how drunk they are. There are people out there who like new ideas and like being challenged despite what your armchair sociologist who holds office hours at you local starbux says.
Got any more coming up? (Gigs, that is…)
We were supposed to do a few dates on the west coast but due to a bicycle injury and vehicle issues we will be postponing those dates.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
This fellow by the name of Nas is trying to climb his way into the spotlight. I’d say he sings really fast, almost like he’s talk-singing, but it seems to work. I’m not sure what his songs are about. I’m thinking about signing him to the label but I’m not quite sure if he’ll sell any albums. Keeping an eye on him.
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Solitary confinement? And they’re letting me bring a stereo? That prison sounds pretty nice.
The Smashing Pumpkins (partly because I can use a few of the most recent albums to try to dig my way out)
Frank Zappa (partly because I could possibly die before I finished every album)
Queen (but not on tape, I gotta be able to skip a couple songs. This prison cell has a proper hi-fi, right?
Ask me tomorrow, these will all be different.
Joe Palumbo, thank you.