‘We’re a fun sort of mess’ An interview with Demonlover
While Water Liars stuck to more of an indie-folk hook, Demonlover fell off the stage and rolled around in spazz surf punk.
I caught up with Demonlover vocalist and bassist Andy Lashier over the phone from his hometown in Iowa, where he’s been spending some time recovering from an illness. Multi-instrumentalist JJ Hamon took a few minutes over the phone sharing his perspective while on the road in Kansas City for a gig with for another fine St. Louis musician, Beth Bombara.
Catch Demonlover on October 2 at Mushmaus on Cherokee Street, where they’ll be playing with Magic City (featuring Hamon and Meyer of Demonlover), electronic super duo CaveofswordS and touring hazy rockers TOPS.
Matt Stuttler: How did Demonlover get together?
Andy Lashier: It was like we were playing in this other band [Theodore] and it was kind of falling apart, and we played this one show at the Jefferson Warehouse. I booked a show with some Iowa City acts that I really liked, and some people flaked out on it, but I really didn’t want to cancel the show. So we got there and I was like “Fuck it, let’s just sort of wing it.” I was really excited. It was nerve-racking because we had no idea what we were going to do. We ended up just goofing around and it was kind of rad.
That was the first show, then we were like let’s keep doing this. I was pretty sure it would be cool if we just kept working on it. It sucks, right after that Matt Pace quit. He plays in Rats & People [Motion Picture Orchestra] and just didn’t have time for it, but the other two dudes, Sam Myer and JJ Hamon, decided to keep doing it.
How is Demonlover different from other bands and projects you’ve been involved with?
JJ Hamon: I think we’re pretty good. I mean, we’re all serious about music, but we’re not serious about like getting on stage and being very “Oh, we are ominous” or “Oh, we have this over-riding mood of everything sucks” or “We are a rock band, we will rock you” you know. We’re a fun sort of mess.
Lashier: It’s a lot more fun, I don’t think anybody is afraid to screw up. Basically with that first show, it was like we’re going to screw up, so just get used to the idea of it and just keep fuckin’ playing, you know? I think at least at the outset we wanted to do some weird instrumentals, and throw some pop songs in here and there. Since then, some of the pop songs have taken over for the live shows. I don’t know if it’s the response to them or just how fun they are to play.
Also, with improvisation, I’m not an improvisation dude. It was kind of like, “Okay, we’re going to play this song and it’s going to go on for a while, then once somebody else does something different, you just go with it” — which gives you the right frame of mind for a live show. I hate to see bandmates look at each other when they fuck up. I think not caring about any of that, people respond to that really well. The energy just goes a lot better.
I would say that’s different — definitely the types of songs we sing and play. It’s still just getting started. I’m kind of sick of people talking like, “Oh, we have so many different influences.” When I hear a type of song, I want to make it sound a lot like that. I’m not trying to mix it with other things all at once. I like to get it a little closer to the way songs sounded in old cinematic shit and just throw like a 20-second-long death thrash shit in there. You know, just see what happens. It’s so fun. I mean, I won’t say it’s paid off, but it’s definitely paid off in smiles.
Is there a calculated plan as to why you don’t play that often?
Lashier: For the most part the people that like us have just been people who have gone to a show. We played a bunch of shows at El Leñador all in a row, and that was kind of for fun. We have all this shit recorded, but we haven’t really put it out. The only people who know about us are our friends and people that have come to shows. For the most part people who have come to shows have come back for another show so that’s been pretty cool.
You’ll be playing at Mushmaus on October 2. Anything special planned for that night?
Hamon: Sam and I are both in another band Magic City, and we’re leaving for a little two-week tour after that night, so it’s kind of a send off for us. Then we were asked if Demonlover could play too, and we were like sure. We haven’t gotten to play in a while now. Sam will already be there so we just have to get Andy to drive down.
There’s lots of time when you’re on the road between shows to just dream, you know. I’ve been thinking, “Oh it’s going to be great to be able to whip out three or four new songs. Or three songs we haven’t played live before and two songs we haven’t played at all before.” Then of course our own standards we’ve created. That’s what I’m hoping to do.
Lashier: I’ve got some ideas. I think it’s really awesome with just three dudes. I think three’s the magic number when you’re deciding to do shit. It’s really easy to get people on the same page. We all try to think of some shit to do so we’ll stand out to people. It usually just ends up dressing stupid, really — which is cheap, but it works. I’ve got grandma’s clothes, a lot of them, so that’s pretty easy to do. We’ll probably just dress stupid, and there’s four brand-new songs I think we’re going to play. Blow some heads open. But again, these are probably what I consider pop gems, so we’ll see. TOPS, everyone loves them. Magic City is starting their tour with that show so that’s special. CaveofswordS will be cool. It should be a good old-fashioned kick-ass show.
I saw recently Demonlover has a single coming out in January through Tower Groove’s Single Club series. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Hamon: It’s going to be the most interesting thing I’ve ever put out on a record, I think. I believe we’re calling the single “NC5U in My Dreams.”
Lashier: Well, maybe about a month ago, a little more, they asked if we wanted to do it. It’s the first one [in the series], with Old Lights. JJ’s brother Kit [Hamon] is in that band and he helped record some shit. He actually did a lot to help us record stuff early on. I think he had a blast recording that, so they asked if we would do the first one. So we’re throwing on a little song that we recorded with him, then JJ and Sam came up here to Iowa and we threw some other weird shit on there, part of this other song I was working on. Then JJ did his email magic. He’s got some tape and, you know, computer magic. He put that shit together and I guess that’s what will be on there.
What’s the songwriting process for a Demonlover song?
Lashier: I rarely ever write a song from start to end. I think we all kind of have bits. A lot of the practices early on were just somebody would start playing. It usually starts with a piece like that. I’m up here [in Iowa] all goddamn day and usually just like talking or singing to myself, so that helps if I can remember any of that stuff when I see them. It usually gets fleshed out in the shop.
I think we really get sick of stuff super fast too if we have to think about it too long. Writing it and recording it is just done at breakneck pace. It’s what always worked best for me as far as enjoying it. When we get sick of it, you can really tell. That’s no fun for anybody. It’s very collaborative.
The recording on the other hand, I mean we all kind of have imagination coming out of our assholes, but when it comes to knowledge, JJ holds down the recording end of it. So we can just kind of do the whole process ourselves. Kit helped out, of course.
Hamon: Sam and I went and visited Andy about a month ago now. He’s had a little more time to work on songwriting, starting from scratch. I’ve been working on kind of filling out old recordings. By old, I mean like six months or something. So lately Andy’s been coming up with a general idea and maybe like a nice little chord progression. Then we get together and decide, “Oh, this is going to go, the verse will be eight times through the progression, and then we’ll do a chorus. And the chorus is…”
So the last time we went up there, he was working on a new song and we all played it together through about three times to make sure we had the feeling. Then Andy sat down and listened to it three times, wrote the lyrics, then we put the lyrics on top of it for sort of a demo thing.
When you play a show, what do you want the show to be? What are you envisioning, what are you looking for?
Lashier: I really just respond to people just shaking their asses. Just getting down to it. The last couple of shows, there’s been some of that, and undeniably, that fucking propels it. I like to play short sets too, so if we can keep it to like half an hour. It’s really the answer everybody should give: people crowding around. I’d like to see more people encroaching on where we’re playing, make it that phenomenon.
I get kind of weirded out by tall stages. It’s just so separated and I can’t see who’s listening, I can’t look at people. I like to get in and out, and not mess around up there. The less time to stand around up there and think, the better. Otherwise, I get anxious. This is like my anti-anxiety medication here, and if I’m standing up there and it’s weird, it’ll fucking crash and burn.
Hamon: After the set, I want someone to carry all that stuff. Then I want someone to carry me home, but it doesn’t end up that way very often. I sort of think of it as — Sam’s been in punk bands for a long time, then rock bands after that. All the while, he started off learning how to play jazz, and same here, I never really learned to play jazz, but it’s sort of a jazz mindset where you got three players with different styles and ideas, and you kind of throw them together. We’ve kind of created our own list of standards. The jazz players will say, “Okay, this is going to be ‘Black and Tan Fantasy.’” All of sudden they play something that doesn’t sound anything like “Black and Tan Fantasy.” That’s kind of what we do. We’ve written our own list of standards, and then we just basically fuck ‘em up every time and try to go in a little different direction with it.
So you’ve been playing in bands in St. Louis for a while now. What have you seen in your time?
Lashier: Of course I see good and bad things. Like I said earlier, we get sick of stuff really easily. Obviously now the variety of shows you can go to in a night is something the city hadn’t enjoyed 10 years ago. I think the bands were there, but they just had to work a lot fucking harder to get someone to let them play. I think if you put something together now, you can pretty much get a show no questions. That’s pretty huge.
A lot of people say the old staple alt-country isn’t so much at the forefront any more, which would be awesome if it were true. I think it wasn’t ever at the forefront as much as people thought. Just kind of the bar-rock sound. I think people like some of it, then hate hate hate hate the rest of it. I think that’s not giving enough credit to some pretty original bands back in the day. Without a doubt, that’s the case now. You see a lot more.
On the other side of that, there’s always that kind of shit then weird noise. Now I think the pop, and the noise, and the dance, that steady-beat kind of thing is coming across a little more. There’s some weird shit that people haven’t heard before. Some of these bands you can’t even pinpoint their influences. One of my favorite bands is Bug Chaser– it’s pretty hard to say there’s something that sounded like that before. I think that’s what we’re trying to do too. I think for the most part it’s working. I don’t think we can sound like some other shit just with what we got going.
You guys use a lot of alternative instrumentation live [trumpets, saws, bells]. You seem to have a pretty varied arsenal, especially for three guys to play so many different things.
Hamon: You’ll notice that Sam [Meyer] tries to bring at least one different percussion instrument, or any kind of instrument, like a whistle, an air horn, or an electronic drum to do something different just to get his brain going in a different direction for every show. It’s exhausting coming up with different stuff. Andy and I, it’s just kind of a carry-over for us. We just get bored easily, hence every song sounds like a different genre hopefully, with our stamp on it. Certain songs are looking for different instrumentation. Plus we just really like carrying shit! The three-person band I’m touring with right now, we’re in a little Subaru. There’s no way Demonlover could tour in anything less than a van just because of the junk we got. We just like carrying stuff. Feels manly.
Lashier: That’s just something we all just sit around and do. Probably when you talk to most people they sit around and play different shit, it’s just hard to roll in the luggage to the show. I think less and less, we’ll see. I think to make different shows special, we’ll have to put down the things we’ve been playing recently. It’s like, when Catholic Guilt do a set, they aren’t playing any of the instruments you’ve seen them play before. Now with us I think we’ll throw some other shit in there. It takes a lot of work to even stop playing what you’re playing and think about playing something else at a show. It all comes down to whether or not it’ll work — like physically work — if the equipment you have will make a sound people will hear. With our equipment, half the stuff, if I took it to a show, I wouldn’t be confident it would make a sound. We’re trying. We’re trying.
I think it comes across really well. Is there anything else you really want to convey with Demonlover?
Lashier: I think a big thing for me and why the other dudes and I like to play together is you can fall into the type of songwriting where you kind of take yourself too seriously. And me going to shows, I can barely stomach seeing people do that to themselves. It’s a natural thing. People like your shit then you start to fall into this way of thinking where you think you’re hot shit.
Then also with that, you’re like “the next song we make better sound kind of like these other songs,” and again, that’s just not going to happen. We won’t let it happen, ’cause shit goes wrong all the time, and that’s my favorite thing about rock ‘n’ roll. In general, I love pop music for one, I love perfect-sounding shit too, but that’s not us. If we sound perfect, that’s an accident too, and that’s great.