State Secrets

Boy Crush // Cristina Black // June/July 2010
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Koenig, second from left, looking to the west

You’re in a band built on New England culture, yet you have some obvious Cali influences on your latest record, Contra. what’s up with that?

Sometimes you get obsessed with a certain place and for a while it was California for us. We don’t want to frame our outlook as being a dissection of California culture, but certainly the vibe of the place had an impact.

Did you have a California fantasy before you went there for real?

Growing up in New Jersey and New York, there’s a certain condescension people have towards L.A., which always made me more excited about it. My dad had that Woody Allen in Annie Hall thing about, like, there’s something wrong with living in a place with nice weather. I think people in other parts of the country dislike the idea of the Southern California lifestyle. Whether that’s jealousy or some kind of puritanical hatred of pleasure, I’m not sure. But I think that dichotomy already had me fascinated by it.

Did the music you were listening to reinforce your intrigue?

Yeah, but the records I had from Southern California didn’t emphasize easy living. I always loved California punk culture, like the Descendents and Black Flag. They don’t exactly position L.A. as heaven on earth.

Yeah, I guess sometimes, when you think of L.A., that whole ‘90s rock scene comes to mind, Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, some really intensely dark music.

Yeah, especially growing up in the ‘90s, when the whole gangster image entered our national consciousness, there was a little bit of a disconnect from the East Coast notion of the kind of suburban-urban divide. But to me, there’s a connection between New Jersey and California. They’re both known for their endless suburbia.

You guys were camped out in the Hollywood Hills for a while last year and micro-toured in the area. what was the impetus for that?

We noticed, even from the early days, that some of our most passionate fans were in California, especially Southern California. Then, we thought, because we did have so many great fans in California, we could go to suburban towns and sell the shows out. You can’t just do that anywhere. We played places like Lomita, Bakersfield, skate parks and stuff. We met a lot of cool kids.

How did you enjoy your non-show time?

I loved being in the hills and looking out at the haze. And going to the beach. Growing up on the East Coast, when we would go to the Jersey Shore or Cape Cod or something, I always kind of felt like, what’s the big deal with going to the beach? Now, I have new respect for the concept of just hanging out at the beach.

And how did Cali influence the album?

Even from our first album, there were people comparing us to bands like Sublime, often as a diss. But it got me thinking. It led us to embrace some of those elements on the second album.

I heard you were a third-wave ska fan at one point. have you had any other musical phases we should know about?

After I got through the Beatles and whatever records my parents had, I had two phases: One was surf music and the other was ska music, and both have ties to California. Both also had comebacks in the ’90.

Were you a Sublime fan then?

No, I thought that stuff was corny in the ‘90s, but after I heard a few people compare my band to them, I started getting a little more interested. I started to realize how much that band means to people who grew up in Long Beach in that era. It had that regional vibe. For a band to embrace where they’re from and in turn be embraced by the people who live there, I think that’s
a pretty important thing. If you’re into the original Jamaican reggae or ska then yes, maybe Sublime seems like a fake version of that, but that’s kind of a stupid way to think about it.

You must relate to that because Vampire Weekend has been criticized for co-opting certain kinds of world music that you maybe don’t come by honestly.

Yeah. It’s like, no, they’re not Jamaican and they’re not British but they’re dudes who grew up listening to Jamaican and British music and they were living in a community that had a lot of different kinds of people and they kind of made it
their own thing.

Is that why people have compared you to them?

Yeah, but I think it was as a diss because people think of Sublime as lightweight, throwaway music. There is some condescension toward major-key, tropical-sounding music.

But it’s worked quite well for you. Your album debuted at number one, after all.

Yeah, but that was just the beginning for us. We’re really just getting started.

Contra is out now on XL Recordings.

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Leader of the Pack

Originally published in June/July 2010

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