“If you call us lo-fi, I think it’s kind of lo-fi by default.”
Detroit's Tyvek must be used to the car analogies and industrial metaphors their hometown invites. On the one hand, these links are a no-brainer: their self-titled debut on Siltbreeze features churning, distorted sonic landscapes that plod along with the mindless determination of urban sprawl while still feeling frighteningly unstable, thanks to Kevin Boyer's noodling and spastic guitar work. But to only remark on this aspect is to miss some of the best parts of Tyvek and, for that matter, the modern city. Where some bands are wallowing while others plug their ears and close their eyes, Tyvek are considerate and acknowledging before giving fun and recklessness its due share in their music.
Kevin and Shelley were kind enough to look for a relatively quiet spot on the streets of downtown Austin with me during SXSW. (We ended up settling for a bridge with cars steadily driving past us.) Shortly afterward, I watched them play an intense set with their drummer Matt, like they were trying to rip their instruments apart. Since this interview took place, some of the things we talk about have already come to pass. Most significantly, their album on Siltbreeze is already out, and the production value is indeed of higher quality than their early 7-inches.
You get identified with the lo-fi community a lot, and people have been describing the sound as being fresh or at least a refreshing change of pace; but, when you think about it, crappy recording equipment has been around for a long time. Where do you think you fit in in terms of time? Is this something new?
Kevin: If you call us lo-fi, I think it's kind of lo-fi by default. You know, it's not what we go for, but sometimes things turn out that way. Once you make a recording, there's no way you can go back and record it again. Sometimes the best thing you get doesn't sound optimal, but you just go with it anyways. I guess in that way we try to go for the feeling of a good performance or a good take of the tunes than we do for the sound quality. I guess that's true, but it's not like we want things to sound tinny or anything. That's not intentional.
So now, as you get more popular, you'll have the means to record differently and would explore that?
K: Yeah, I would love to have a studio and be able to go like, “turn up the floor tom.” That would rule. But then again, I don't mind listening to someone else's record that sounds lo-fi; then I just turn it up louder. That doesn't really matter to me. I guess in that sense that's probably why we get called more of a lo-fi band. But I don't think we value lo-fi for lo-fi's sake but we do value other things above sound quality.
"It's not about Tyvek products. It's just about the word. It's about our music. "
What about the time frame of recording? Does that play a role in it? I notice you guys release a lot of splits and singles.
K: Even those take a really long time sometimes [laughs]. I think we're going to be working a lot quicker in the future. I think we're getting into a groove now where we feel confident with what we're putting out, but definitely in the past there was a lot of second-guessing about things. Even singles would take a long time because we'd be like, “Is that right?” and we'd tinker with it for a long time. I think we just want to capture that essence of how a song should be and after you get that, you just want to do the song justice. Once you get something that's good to work with, I feel like we take a lot of time with making sure we get everything else right. In that way, we are kind of perfectionists.
Given the idea of doing something justice, your line up changes live pretty frequently. How does that change the experience of it?
K: That's a good question, there's definitely a lot of... Dealing with other people, everyone's got their own lives; getting everyone together was hard. We were a five-piece for a long time, and even when we were a five-piece playing live, we'd often be just with three or four people depending on who could be there. Like one of our guitar players lived in Portland Oregon and we live in Detroit you know, so he'd be there for certain things but not for a lot of things. And one of our guitar players lived in Toledo. So it was a matter of that was something different live, and I like that because I felt like when I go to see a show, the things I enjoy about a live concert aren't necessarily the same things I like about a record.
But I think right now we're getting in the zone where we just want to get our heads down and really have the live sound that we have on the records and just have it be super powerful, and we're honing that. We've definitely expanded and contracted in the past, but now we want to take the good bedrock we've got with the three-piece and expand on that occasionally to keep things fresh or spice it up, while keeping things pared down as they are now. Because, I really do subscribe to the philosophy that less is more a lot of the time. So having three guitars onstage did kind of wear on me after a while. I find that having a three-piece with one guitar allows for a lot more possibilities.
So what's the current base lineup now
K: I play guitar and sing and Shelley plays bass and Matt plays drums. I think one of the cool things about Tyvek is that the songs are simple enough that friends of ours who know the music can kind of step up and play guitar or keyboards when we're in different cities. I'm looking forward to doing that. I think with the three-piece, it'll be easier to add something new now and again.
Have you guys been touring a lot since the lineup changes? When'd you join Shelley?
Shelley: Late December. We just went on tour for like three weeks, and we went home for a week before we came down here.
K: I feel it was different, because we hadn't played a lot of shows as the three-piece. But by the end of it, we had it pretty locked down together
How did you make the decisions when you were paring down the lineup. Can you talk about that a little bit?
K: Yeeeaahhhh, it was something that had been --- I don't know, at the end of the day... I'm sure we're still going to play with them, but it'll be more of an occasional thing. It just seemed to be a situation where, if you're not living in Michigan, and we can't practice, I just felt creatively totally stagnated. There's no creative spark or incentive to get in and get something new down so we could record it, because they weren't around. I just felt really backed up and had to make a change. And that's how we've always been. We started as a three-piece, became a four-piece, became a five-piece. We've always been changing; I feel like that's a natural part of the band.
This is something I've been curious about: I notice your name changes a lot. Is that from legal troubles, or do you just like change?
K: Yeah, we're gonna see. Hopefully we don't get into legal troubles, but we did change the name for some purposes. The album that's coming out on Siltbreeze though is going to be out as T-y-v-e-k. I guess it's important to note that it has nothing to do with the brand; it's just our band. It's not about Tyvek products. It's just about the word. It's about our music.
Why did you think Tyvek was a significant name.
K: I like the sound of it. And I was just seeing it everywhere. Especially a few years ago in Detroit, they were building all these condos when there were obviously so many houses falling apart. And they're just building all these new houses, and you'd just see whole blocks plastered with the Tyvek plastic wrap everywhere. And it's just like visual pollution on one level. And we were always seeing it, and it's such a part of our lives, noticing how people are throwing up crappy new houses while these other houses could be fixed. So they kind of made it part of our lives, and we felt that that's enough of a reason right there. And everyone sees it all the time; it's there.
On a firsthand basis, so many people have asked me what Tyvek is I feel like I've explained it to over 1,000 people at this point. I don't see how they could be pissed; we're raising awareness one person at a time. Who knows how many people I haven't told personally what it is through our band.
The lower quality sound has kind of become a mark of authenticity
Do you feel that that's a loaded way to look at it?
K: Yeah, I mean I just judge bands based on the music. Low-quality production doesn't bother me. If I like it and it sounds really well-produced, that's fine. If it sounds like someone just hung up a microphone in the room, that usually sounds good to me too. But yeah, I don't think there's anything specifically good about being lo-fi. There's obviously a lot of shitty records out there that are lo-fi. But yeah, it is rare that you'll find an album on a big label that sounds shitty. In a sense, it's like, yeah, I think the most important thing is the do-it-yourself spirit. If you can do it yourself and get an awesome full sound, then more power to you. I mean, it doesn't have to be recorded yourself, but it's like, you know, the spirit of it is what matters more. I know some bands that have their own studios in their house and they make awesome-sounding records where you wouldn't think it was done in their house. I guess that's what matters to me: creative freedom. And, yeah, if someone makes a record that sounds like shit, they probably had carte blanche to do whatever they want, but that doesn't necessarily make it good.
"We've always been changing; I feel like that's a natural part of the band."
It looks like with all the singles and splits, you get to hop around from label to label. You're talking about the carte blanche; does that help with that?
K: There's definitely reasons why we've worked with the labels we've worked with. We get a lot of MySpace requests from cool labels that want to put out our stuff, and we have a lot of friends with their own labels as well. So it's like we could press up 500 singles on our own very easily. We've pressed our own records and released our own records before, and that's really fun, but I feel like there's no reason not to spread it around. When you work with other people, they get those records to other people that you wouldn't be able to or that another label wouldn't be able to. It's just a good thing, I think, working with a lot of different labels because it just adds to the pool of people who are going to get these records.
Like, my friend Brett runs M'lady's Records and he's been playing music for a while and knows a ton of people who are cool musicians and stuff, and he gives them our records, which is awesome. And Tom from Slitbreeze is putting out our next record [Tyvek released May 2009], and he knows a ton of people. So yeah, we could just work by ourselves or one label, but why not work with a bunch of people who want to get our records out there and show their friends. But, at the end of the day, if a record label says “We want you to record this song for the next single,” then it's bye bye. We do only want to work with labels that will let us put out the records we want to make.
You guys have an acoustic set after this. How do you do that when you lose a lot of the distortion and…
K: We haven't done it before. We'll see though, I'm pretty excited because the noise and distortion is cool, but I really love playing acoustic guitar. I know Shelley does too. It'll be fun because I feel that our songs are pretty basic tunes, and it'll be cool to hear them pared down to an unamplified level; but, we haven't practiced anything acoustic and we really have no idea what we're going to do for it even though it's only a few hours away.
I saw that video where Matt's playing the cardboard box. I thought that was really good. I was expecting something like that -- I didn't know what your take on acoustic was going to be.
K: There could very well be a cardboard box involved. I definitely want to play acoustic guitar. I love noisy music and punk music, but I also love folk music and other things that are done acoustically. Maybe we'll get into a little Incredible String Band kind of vibe or something. It should be fun. I think our friend Faith is going to play the musical saw with us.
S: I wonder what I'm going to do. We'll have to see what's there I guess. I'd like to play an upright, but I don't think they'll have one.
Oh, so you're just depending on them for the instruments?
K: They said they'd have an acoustic backline. I think they did mention a cardboard box actually.
You know when you're a kid and the music you listen to kind of informs a lot about you? What do you think kids that listen to Tyvek are going to turn out like?
K: Oh jeez, I don't know. I kind of got into music a little later, but when I did I was pretty fascinate by punk rock in general. I'd see videos of punk bands or histories of rock documentaries, and I think there is some sort of social alienation issues or general weird disaffection. I don't know. I think I also draw a lot of strength from music, and it gives me the wherewithal to keep pushing. I hope there're some people out there who take away a rough idealism. There's certainly a skewed cynical vibe going on, but hopefully it'll make you kind of tougher or something. Hopefully people won't throw in the towel. They'll be like “Yeah shit is fucked up but I gotta make my way through it.”