Can I come over and use your Wurlitzer?
been roughly a year since talkdemonic's Kevin O'Connor released his debut,
Mutiny Sunshine on Lucky Madison Records. Since then, talkdemonic has added
member Lisa Molinaro, extensively toured the west coast, signed with Arena Rock
Recording Company (ARRCO), been voted Portland's best new band, and closed out a
three day, 50 plus artist showcase featuring some of Portland's finest talent.
At present, with an approaching set scheduled for CMJ, a national tour on the
horizon, and the upcoming January release of talkdemonic's sophomore effort,
Beat Romantic, we find O'Connor and Molinaro at a momentous point in their
musical careers. We were able to catch up with the duo following their
performance at this year's PDX POP NOW! Festival in Portland, Oregon.
So, how did you two meet?
KO: Lisa approached me at a record shop in downtown Portland after she had seen
me playing drums for a show with Modernstate at the Blackbird.
LM: I was blown away by his style and complimented him after the show. When I
saw him at 2nd Ave records, I asked if he wanted to play sometime, selling
myself as a multi-instrumentalist but emphasizing my skills on viola.
I know things started out with just you Kevin, how did it come about to bring
Lisa on as a full-time member?
KO: Well, Lisa was part of the recording process of talkdemonic in the early
stages, when it was just a recording project. I would have her come over to the
basement and record viola tracks for stuff I was working on. Eventually, I
talked her into playing on some songs at a few shows. Any time we practiced
together and played live, I would try and talk her into playing full time. I
finally convinced her.
LM: That was tough at first, I have to admit. Kevin and I had played together
with a friend for just a bit as a trio, but not under the guise of talkdemonic.
Then, when Kevin asked me to record with him as talkdemonic, I did, but just as
a collaborator, I wasn't performing live. He eventually coaxed me into doing a
show last summer (2004). Call it fear of commitment! Seriously though, trying to
figure how to meld styles was challenging, and needed some thought before
committing. It's working beautifully though.
What's it like performing together?
KO: I love playing music with Lisa, and I know she feels the same way.
LM: It's invigorating and reciprocating. Seriously, we sometimes play off each
other, then maybe we'll rock out in sync rhythmically, and that's fun.
How are the practices as compared to the performances?
LM: The practices are very much like performances, since we line up our set and
play it through most times. Unless we find a new bit of melody we like and
improvise on it for a while to build on ideas. That's much more informal.
KO: Yeah, the practices can be just as intense as our shows. Especially if we
take a week or two off from playing. When we get together again to practice, we
are quickly reminded of our intensity for the music. Like the first time we
played Mutiny Sunshine together...
The album or the song?
KO: The song. She had never played it before, it was a song I had only played
solo. The first time we played it together it was as though she had been
alongside me all along. Her parts really brought it to another level, especially
towards the second half of the song.
LM: That's true! This part just kinda played itself during the high point of the
song, I don't remember mapping it our or anything, and each time I play it I get
goose bumps up and down my arms!
So now that Lisa has signed on, how collaborative is the music making process?
KO: The music making process was much more collaborative for Beat Romantic than
Mutiny Sunshine. Lisa wrote three of the songs (for Beat Romantic) and I built
on her ideas. The rest of the songs were things I had created at talknumeric
(O'Connor's basement studio) and other friends' houses.
LM: Our collaborative style continues to evolve, and I believe that's very
healthy. Oftentimes, Kevin comes to me with a well developed idea, a near
complete song, and I will layer string tracks over that.
KO: Make it complete with viola.
"Yeah, its definitely a weird process that
always seems to sound different because its never the same band, but always the
same two minds working around instrumentation." -KO
How do you write and record your music?
LM: It can go in one of several directions. One of us will lay a foundation idea
on the synth or strings, and we'll bounce off this first layer on our respective
main instruments. We often loop melodies, then countermelodies.
KO: The writing of the music is always very spontaneous for me. I usually wander
down to the basement and start with a guitar line, or a Rhodes line, or an
electronic beat I've made and experiment with all sorts of loops on my rs7000,
picking and choosing which ones to keep and then trying to structure songs
around parts that I've made.
The guitar, the viola, the Rhodes and the loops, those aren't the only
instruments you use though, right?
KO: No, sometimes I take my laptop to friends' houses and use their pianos and
other instruments. After a song is all tracked out and ready to go, we'll head
into the studio to track drums last, which is opposite of what most bands do.
Oh, you do the drums last?
KO: Yeah, it's definitely a weird process that always seems to sound different
because it's never the same band, but always the same two minds working around
Can you talk a little about the Portland scene? It seems like its thriving and
there are tons of great bands and people. Being involved and kind of in the
middle of everything, maybe you could just give us a brief positioning of what's
happening and what it feels like to be involved in it all.
LM: In all honesty, I'm not very steeped in the scene right now in Portland.
What I do know is that there are bands that are breaking molds here. Bands like
Nice Nice, like Modernstate, and talented people are constantly streaming into
this city because they hear it's a great place for musicians and it is.
KO: I can't say enough about Portland and the people that live here. Everybody
that lives here plays music, so there's a shit-ton of bands all playing at the
same time all around town. It's an amazing place to be living regardless of what
art you are involved in. People are supportive, people stay away from
negativity, and bands all do their own thing. No one mimics or cops anybody
else's sound. There's so much creativity and it's all so varied.
Who are some of your favorites?
LM: Uh, Schicky Gnarowitz, Charmparticles, Wet Confetti, Three Leg Torso,
Juanita Family, Horse Feathers...
KO: Some of my faves are Menomena, the Joggers, Alan Singley, the Get Hustle,
the Hunches, 31 knots, the Planet The, and so on and on and on...
Now, Portland just finished with PDX. How was that experience for you?
LM: Do you mean PDX POP FEST!?
LM: It was awesome. And I think the best thing about it was that it was all ages
and free! It was an opportunity to allow anyone to get a fat sample of what's
exciting in current pop stuff in Portland. No economic or age barriers, which,
to me, is important to stress when possible.
KO: PDX POP was a direct reflection of how amazing Portland is, and the music
that is generated here. It's all so different and inspiring on so many levels.
There were so many great sets by tons of talented people. We were lucky enough
to close out the festival on Sunday night, after the Planet the played one of
the best sets of the entire weekend.
And you played PDX POP last year right?
How was that in relation to playing this year?
LM: It was an unbelievable transition.
KO: Our show last year at PDX POP was a breakout show for us, where people first
started to get into talkdemonic. So it was kind of like the completion of an
amazing year for us in town to close out PDX POP this year.
Who were you excited to see? And who did you see that impressed you?
LM: I believe the Charmparticles were a staple of this fest, and they came
through brilliantly once again.
KO: I was excited for Alan Singley to play for a larger audience. He is a little
known songwriting genius that just put out an album on Lucky Madison. I think my
favorites of the weekend were probably 31 knots, and The Planet The. Oh,
Strength, and The Kingdom too. They all ripped it up.
I'm glad you brought up, Alan Singley and Lucky Madison, because that was your
first label, the one you released Mutiny Sunshine on. There still seems to be
quite an involvement and quite a family aspect with everyone there. Do you want
to talk about that a little bit, how close you all are, maybe about some of the
other artists and future plans.
LM: I'll let Kev field this one.
KO: Lucky Madison is very special to us since it's a collection of our friends
that all just happen to also make music. In that circle exists a number of
amazing bands, like the dance-duo the Snuggle Ups, there's Modernstate with the
dark songwriting and looping, the Burt Bacharach prodigy/genius child Alan
Singley, who we just talked about, the washed out summer pop of Dykeritz...
Do you all run the label yourselves?
KO: No, Ryan Feigh runs Lucky Madison. He's an incredibly supportive fellow
who's at every show.
It must be nice to have that kind of support.
KO: The beauty of Ryan is that he only cares about the music and the artist and
furthering what they do.
What about future stuff with Lucky Madison?
KO: As far as future plans, we plan on being involved with the label and helping
it continue to grow and flourish, but we are also incredibly excited to be
working with Arena Rock.
I'm glad you brought up ARRCO; you're coming up with my transitions for me. How
did they approach you?
LM: Um, Kev, do you remember?
KO: I started bouncing around emails with Greg Glover, who runs ARRCO, talking
about this new record we were about to finish up. He's really, really awesome
and was already a big fan of us.
How are you feeling about it?
KO: We are very excited, to say the least. Really it's as if all those things
you thought about playing in bands for years actually started happening: getting
a good label, getting a booking agency, all those things. People coming up to
you after the show, it's as though everything has been charmed by an unknown
source. We're just trying to enjoy every minute of it, and continuing to work
hard at everything we do.
LM: His majesty of ARRCO (Glover) is one of the nicest people I have met here in
Portland. His genuine demeanor and eagerness to help his bands achieve their
goals is for real.
Regarding the new record, what are some comparisons you can run with Mutiny
KO: Recording-wise, Beat Romantic is different from Mutiny in the way it feels.
Mutiny was basically written during a break up period, so it's very brooding and
emotional throughout. Beat Romantic covers a more varying spectrum of feelings
and life. It can come off bittersweet in a victorious kind of manner. It's more
of an album that reflects the joys of being alive and experiencing life to its
fullest, if you can even apply that to music. It was recorded very similarly to
Mutiny, mostly done in my basement studio, and then we recorded drums last at
Jackpot with Jon Cohrs, and at Miracle Lake with Skyler Norwood, who also
recorded Mutiny. I definitely utilized friends' instruments on this album
though. Can I come over and use your Wurlitzer?
LM: Lots of experimentation in recording techniques: some in the basement, some
at Jackpot, some at Miracle Lake. I use viola throughout as my string
instrument, yet it takes on different tonal qualities on each song. There was a
mixture of spontaneity and very careful planning and preparation both exercised
on this forthcoming album. I believe it carries some of the same imagistic
capabilities as Mutiny Sunshine, though it's definitely a departure in attitude.
"The album is a testament to the beauty of
great friends." -KO
How long did it take to record Beat Romantic?
KO: Technically, I started recording the album in February of '04, right after
finishing Mutiny, but the bulk of the writing happened in the summer months of
'04, when I was holing up in my basement instead of heading out to the river to
swim. When we got back from our first tour in May of '04, I just felt like I had
such a swirling cloud of ideas that needed to come out, so I spent gobs of time
in the basement, and Jon Cohrs and I would go into Jackpot whenever it wasn't
booked up, say late at night and work on the mixes on tape.
So you mainly worked with Jon when recording the album?
KO: We worked with Jon doing drums and viola and mixing at jackpot during the
summer and a little bit in the fall for half of the album. We then went in and
finished up seven more songs with Skyler at Miracle Lake in February. Then I
spent two months on the track listing alone, just trying out upwards of 50
different combinations of the songs together.
That must have been exhausting.
KO: Yeah, I obsessed like crazy. The album is a testament to the beauty of great
friends, since it wouldn't exist without Skyler and Jon being gracious enough to
work with us for nothing, since we had no money to pay them, just focusing on
the vision of the music.
How do you come up with names for the tracks?
LM: Some are reminiscent of the emotion brought forth by the piece, others,
well, I have no idea how Kev comes up with some of these (ha ha).
KO: Pretty much just digging through books and copping titles.
You mentioned earlier how Mutiny Sunshine was a breakup album and how
Romantic represents a larger pallet of emotions, was this a conscious effort or
did the songs just happen to come out this way?
LM: I think it happened on purpose, subconsciously.
KO: All of the songs convey whatever wanted to come out that day of recording.
Whatever feeling or mood that channeled out through the music. I believe that is
the most sincere way to make music, never really trying, just feeling it out and
letting that deep seeded idea carry over into whatever you are expressing
The song structure of Beat Romantic, as compared with Mutiny Sunshine, seems to
be more mature. Do you feel you have matured as musicians and song writers?
KO: That's funny 'cause the first thing my family said when they heard the new
album was that it sounded more mature. I think the more time you spend recording
and making music the more you can progress as a songwriter. But mostly, I don't
ever think about what I'm creating or composing, rather just letting it come out
naturally if it's there in the first place. Music should never be forced.
LM: Personally, I've taken up "classical" instruction again, and I think that
technical improvement can provide one with the confidence to create better
You somewhat recently finished up a tour with the National and Menomena. How did
LM: It was really uplifting. We received such a positive response on our west
coast tour, and it has to be mentioned that we toured with who are perhaps the
kindest fellow bands to accompany on the road. The National and Menomena are
great bands, great people.
KO: Our van broke down just outside of San Francisco in Vacaville, CA so we
called up the guys in The National and told them that our water pump had gone
out. They said, okay, we'll pick you up. So that's just what they did.
That was nice of them.
KO: Yeah, the tour turned into a summer camp atmosphere 'cause we all just hung
out in each others vans and hotel rooms and such. They are awesome people, as
are the boys of Menomena, who we bonded with pretty hard core and vanned it up,
passing the pigs and all. The last day of tour we spent at a water park waiting
for our van to get fixed.
How did the shows go?
KO: The shows were great; mostly sold out for The National. We are very lucky
because our sound lends itself to pretty much any audience. People were very
excited to see us on tour 'because they don't know what to make of us. We can
play electronic shows, rock shows, and even hip hop shows and people will dig
us. It definitely is fun to be able to appeal to people with varying tastes in
music, 'cause people tend to break themselves away from any genre they are
unfamiliar with, holing up in one comfortable region.
LM: Amen to that.
And you're about to start another tour sometime in September right?
How are you feeling about that?
LM: I'm ready to hit the East Coast! It'll be our first time together. Pretty
KO: We are anxious to get out there again with the National and another band
from New York called Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, on our way back from CMJ. It'll
be the first time we've made it out to the East Coast and extra special since we
get to play CMJ; something I've wanted to do since my college radio days. And, I
just bought a new drum set yesterday to take out, an early 60's Slingerland that
I scored on Craigslist. The dude was a talkd fan and gave me a huge deal!
talkdemonic was recently recognized as the best new band in Portland by the
Willamette Weekly. Have you been getting more attention since then? How was that
decided by the way?
KO: The music editor sent out 400 ballots via email to a number of music
industry people like bookers, club owners, and bands in Portland to vote on and
we just happened to be the top vote getter. It was really exciting and very
crazy. Since then, everybody in town knows who we are, regardless of whether or
not they've seen us play.
That must be nuts.
LM: I felt flattered and happy to be so well recognized here in Portland's
flourishing music scene. To know that the judgment calls were handled by
industry workers also means to me that we are respected by folks up and down the
spectrum. When it comes down to it though, I just wanna play. If people like it,
then that's good.
KO: People in Portland have been very nice to us, it's been like an extended
honeymoon. But as nice as it is to have more and more people coming to our
shows, the best thing about it is the confirmation factor for our families.
Before, my mom was asking when I was going to settle down and get a teaching
job. Now she keeps bugging me about when the new album is coming out.