A Sunny Day In Glasgow “People are like unicorns: they’re not born, they just appear…”

Some things are absolute. People believe whatever they hear on television. There's always smog over Los Angeles. It's always sunny in Philadelphia – and music journos will always be hung up on genre labels. Take Philly trio/septet A Sunny Day In Glasgow, who likely have to field the shoegaze question in just about every interview because their swirly, fuzzy atmospheric presentation sounds close to the trebly daze and melodious fizzle of bands like Cocteau Twins and the crunchy psychedelic, reverb-soaked My Bloody Valentine.

It's ludicrous to ask musicians about music. This band is happy to have each listener find their own definition, their own meaning, and, hopefully, their own feeling.

There's a touching moment in their TMT conversation, where drummer/engineer Josh Meakim, a longtime friend of ASDIG's originator Ben Daniels, remarks that Caribou's Dan Snaith is an inspiration for the bedroom musician. Indeed, that's just how ASDIG got its start: sitting cross-legged by the bed, head between headphones, amidst the four walls and ceiling of Daniel's apartment – later growing to a trio, with his twin sisters, Robin and Lauren on vocals (and Meakim acting as technological advisor) for the production of their debut, 07's well-received Scribble Music Comic Journal. When the group got a larger recording space for the more expansively scoped and intricate material for recently released Ashes Grammar, Daniels all but lost his original band, recruiting Meakim and singer Annie Fredrickson to become the core.

Daniels, Meakim and Fredrickson gathered together on a sofa in the study of a “large house” in Philly to speak with TMT via speaker phone.



(From speaker phone device, on coffee table in front of sofa)
So, where are you three (Ben, Josh, Annie) right now?

Ben Daniels: I'm house-sitting this giant house in west Philly, and we're in the study of this giant house.

How do you like Philadelphia, if I could just ask, to pick your brains and get a picture of other cities/scenes?

Annie Fredrickson: I like it…

Ben: I like Philly as much as I hate it…

Josh Meakim: That's a pretty good statement

Annie: I like it more than I hate it…

Ben: If you come here thinking it's gonna be something like New York, you're just gonna be disappointed.

Annie: That's why I like it.

Ben: That's the enormous positive side to it.

How is everyone's summer?

Ben: Great. I haven't had a job all summer, so it's been wonderful.

Annie: Ever since it's stopped raining, it's been really great. It rained for, basically the entire month of June and it was awful.

Obviously a highlight for the year has to be the release of (2nd full length) Ashes Grammar. Can you describe the creation process: songwriting, recording, and wherever your mind goes when you look back on it?

Ben: Yeah, we found this dance studio, in like a giant warehouse that was sectioned-off with really thin walls for different spaces. We rented it, and got in there on the weekends, and pretty much could do whatever we wanted.

Annie: It was a big room, it was nice to get that big-room-sound out of it. That was our main purpose.

"Well… do you know any female soprano singers who want to go on tour? I'm dead serious…"


Any kind of meticulous work put into soundproofing?

Ben: There was a hairdresser next door to our room that was open in the afternoon on Saturday.

Josh: We'd do quiet things until they left…

Ben: The funniest thing was, on “Close Chorus”, the first day we started recording, a hurricane came up to Philadelphia, which doesn't happen often. The roof of this place was a tin roof so the rain was just torrential, it was so loud, that you can hear it in the part where the song breaks away. You can hear this static sound, that's the rain. I think rain was our biggest sound problem.

What other kinds of experimentation did you do? Any re-amping or manipulations or what-have-you?

Josh: We didn't actually use a re-amp device, but I had the idea. A lot of the time, you get synths or you work inside of a computer which, this kind of was, and you lose the space that you get when you actually have a live performance. So, before we did anything, we sent all the synths out through a PA into the room, and then record them, so it sounds like everything is together. It makes things sound more cohesive.

Ben: And you get natural harmonics. But, did you ever hear this guy, Alvin Lucier? He's a professor at some school in Connecticut. This guy's most famous work is called I Am Sitting in a Room and, he talks on this recording, “I am sitting in a room… different from the one you're in now,” and he describes the room, and “I am recording the sound of my voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again,” so, if you record a sound, in a room, and play that recorded sound back and keep recording it and playing it back and recording it and playing it back, eventually the original sound is obliterated and all you get is the room… the room starts to ring, the harmonics of the room come out. “West Philly Vocoder” was just me doing that…

(In a follow-up email, Annie would later add her interpretation: “It's like making a xerox copy of a picture, and then copying the copy, and then copying that copy, etc... eventually the picture is all gone and you just get something that is kind of like the pure image of the copier.”)

"We had grand plans to kidnap a pony…


What was it like for you Ben, to get a bigger room to record? And for you, Annie and Josh, to become collaborators?

Ben: That last record I did, just in my apartment and I couldn't be loud ‘cuz there were people living above and below me. There's no live drums on that, every drum is a sample. The guitars are pretty much, just plugged directly into my audio interface. It was exciting to go somewhere I could crank the amps and be loud and have all real drums for the most part. It was definitely fun to go there every week. It was like an hour-and-a-half from Philadelphia, I initially thought it was gonna be a pain, but it was really nice, ‘cuz it's in this sorta bucolic, rural, cute little town.

Josh: It definitely had this Normal Rockwell painting (quality) about it, it was super beautiful and we were all enthusiastic to get started. Then, we realized that we're spending every weekend out in the middle of nowhere, just with each other, so by the winter time it started to get a little more somber and reflective.

Ben: (helps in questioning) How did you guys feel, coming onto it?

Josh: It was cool. I've known Ben since high school. I think his first band made me want to start my own band, so it's been cool to work with him. We've always been doing stuff separately, but stayed in contact. Ben would talk to me about stuff on the last record…

Ben: You were my technical partner.

Josh: Yeah. ‘What should I buy?' ‘Oh, you have to get this pedal, it's awesome!' All over that first record. It just felt like the natural thing to do.

Annie: For me, because I didn't know Josh or Ben when we started, I was kind of a little more nervous than they were about it. Maybe also because I have never really sung on an album before. I'm a cellist by training, so once I got used to doing (singing) it was really fun, I really enjoyed milking that side of my sound and figuring out how to get into the sound the band has already developed in previous years.

How does it feel, just from line up changes, recording changes, or beyond that… how has the band developed from the shifts of the last year-and-a-half?

Ben: It changed dramatically for a lot of reasons. We did a short tour of Europe in August of last year and we came back and then Josh and I were just super-psyched to bang this thing out. Our bass player, Brice (Hickey), on the day he was gonna come out and start fooling around with bass stuff, while he was loading his car up, he slipped and somehow broke 2 bones in his leg, in four places. So, literally, doctor's orders, he was confined to a bed for two months. And he's my sister Robin's boyfriend so she wasn't around for a lot of the recording of this album. For me, on the first record I did everything on it. I didn't want that to be the case with this second one, just out of necessity, there was just no way I was going to get it done. So it was very good that Josh was there to do the ton of stuff that he did. Without Robin there, we got Annie to come along and, I… I didn't know you were that nervous. Annie just jumped right in and it was great. Robin's still on the album a ton. Then, my sister Lauren, from the last album, about a week after we got back from the Euro tour, in 2007, she moved to Colorado for Grad School. Brice, Robin, Josh and I were pretty tight at the end (of that tour) but then that band wasn't there when it came time to record an album. We just rolled with the punches. But it's been great.

Josh: I've been in bands where everybody still plays, but when it comes to recording… to find three people who are enthusiastic about getting things done, is pretty rare.

"Watching Ben's lyric writing process is sort of like watching the evolution of sublanguage itself… "

What are your philosophies on, music as an experience, or as a communication — if people often get charged by that visceral effect of singing along to memorized lyrics… lyrics as a message, etc etc… how do you negotiate your own experience, when some of your vocals are swirled by feedback to the point of being somewhat indecipherable?

Ben: I think the melody is also more important to the lyrics, even more than the lyric. People who want to hear what the song is saying, it's the melody more often than not, that probably moves you. The emotional aspect of the whole… A band like the Cocteau Twins, who knows what they're saying in their songs? It's so beautiful, it's so moving. All of our songs are definitely about something and there's lyrics there, but it's never too important to hear what the lyrics are singing about. It's usually more interesting if you have your own ideas about what they're singing.

Josh: I grew up listening to Nirvana… so, that whole vague, obscure lyric thing, like, "What is he saying?" Sometimes there's nothing behind it and there's something to be said about a really good pop song with a good vocal hook, but that's not really what we're trying to do. A bad lyric can totally take you out of the song. I wrote a song before, I was in this band that had the same feel with the vocals, and someone said, "Oh, I love the lyric… ‘People are like unicorns: they're not born, they just appear…' " And…that…was the furthest thing from what I'd written but, it was great!! Everyone gathers their own take on things.

Ben: I'm happy for people to think whatever they want to think.

Annie: Watching Ben's lyric writing process is sort of like watching the evolution of sublanguage itself… not to make it sound too grand, but he thinks about words first. The meaning is not always primary, it's more about the phonetic qualities of what he's doing and how that fits in…

Josh: We definitely recorded a ton of vocals. The more vocals you put on something, the more obscure it gets. With people just singing things slightly different, that makes things more obscure, makes it sound like there's something going on that's actually not.

What draws you to sound, as a more atmospheric experience? Here, I'm tip-toeing around using all the tubular adjectives writers often tag you with, or often just citing shoegaze…

Ben: I appreciate that. I guess, it's what comes out. With Ashes Grammar, I wanted to try that Alvin Lucier thing, he can be very atmospheric. I like the Field's stuff, and Kompact records, I do like that a lot, My Bloody Valentine stuff… but, I feel like a lot of the bands that are usually “shoegaze” or “dream pop” are just very, probably a criticism people we'll give us, (laughs) but, very derivative… and not very interesting. Whereas stuff like Fields, Boards of Canada, that stuff, we'd be in the same vein as that. They're trying something new. With Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, you had something that really needed to get out… and it came out in that aesthetic that was really compelling and people loved it and so a lot of people rushed to do it, maybe… but maybe just without as much behind it, I don't know.

"I… I didn't know you were that nervous."

I always thought of shoegaze being inherently more psychedelic, or maybe it just fits well with psyche, more droney stuff… where as some of your songs have an insuppressible pop sensibility (like “Spy”). What other bands do you dig? Is Dan Snaith ({Caribou) on your radar?}

Ben: Definitely. Up In Flames, that record is phenomenal.

Josh: He's a huge inspiration on the bedroom musician, to do something grand like that, I can relate to it.

Ben: Does he have anything new coming out?

Not Sure. But what else for you guys?

Ben: Josh and I are really into that new Fever Ray album, we talk about that a lot.

Josh: That's a nice recording, very good. Very minimal, electronic, I like that.

Ben: I just downloaded, legally, from iTunes, this band called Palm. Really cool, minimally, and pretty.

Josh: New High Places is good too, and the new EP, I'm really into their side of the new 12”, it's pretty amazing.

Annie: I was just thinking, High Places, too. And early Magnetic Fields stuff. Usually, it's one album, and I'll just listen to it, I'll feast on it until… like, our album, I can't listen to it anymore!

What are you working on lately?

Ben: We've pretty much finished all the songs and a few other demos that we've done and we have enough stuff for another album, but it's not 100 percent done yet. Hopefully next year…

Leftover ruminations regarding the album? The recording of it?

Josh: I don't know. We had grand plans to kidnap a pony…

A pony…

Josh: We would drive by this pony farm, everyday on the way to the studio. There was this one pony that we named “Pancakes”… he/she was, well, all the other ponies would be playing together and, ponies are really small, but, Pancakes was really fat and he would always eat by himself. And he was adorable. It would have been nice to kidnap him, but we never got a chance to…

And the line up is set for now?

Ben: The three of us are kind of the brain trust, but we're a six-person live band at this point. But, we do need another singer to fill things out. Well… do you know any female soprano singers who want to go on tour? I'm dead serious.

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