TUNES — An Interview With Southeast Engine

With an autumn tour in full swing, the sweethearts of Southeast Engine (Misra) sit down to talk to RASCAL about new material and that damn good band, Guided By Voices. 

Interview by Emily Votaw.

Emily Votaw: How would you compare the experience of recording Canary or the Canaanville EP with the experience of recording your earliest releases, like One Caught Fire?

Adam Remnant: The more recent recordings were created in a professional studio – 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio.  The studio is well equipped with all sorts of gear that allows us to record together as a band and get great sounds.  In the early days, we would record on our own with home recording equipment, which can be quite limiting.  I think we got some cool sounds back then on some of those recordings.  However, you end up recording each track or instrument separately, which is a totally different approach to recording.

EV: Sometimes Southeast Engine is broadly referred to as a “folk rock” or “indie rock” band — how do you feel about those labels, and do you relate to either of them? 

Billy Matheny: Well, every band likes to think of themselves as beautiful, unique snowflakes who are completely unlike everyone else! I’d like to imagine that somewhere there is a polka accordionist who’s like “C’mon guys! I’m so much more than just a polka accordionist! My style is totally informed by 70s prog rock and dubstep!” Ideally, I think labels are nice because they give people a frame of reference for what a band is doing or maybe a label will help introduce someone to a new band they’ve never heard before. Either way, it’s not as if we have discussions during band practice about if a song is “folk rock” or “indie rock” enough.

EV: Canary is also available on cassette tape — how and why did you decide to release the album in this format? 

BM: I don’t actually know why we did that, but I think it’s really cool. The very first albums I bought were all cassettes and I definitely feel some nostalgia for that. I still really like the sound of cassettes too. Especially the ones that people have dubbed onto blank tapes.
AR: Yeah, I gotta agree with Billy.  Cassettes can actually have a really warm sound.  I’ve grown to love some albums through a cassette and have had a hard time enjoying them years later when I purchased them in a digital format.

EV: How long have the songs on Canary been in the works?

AR: I imagine I started writing the songs for Canary as far back as 2008 or 2009.  The Canary songs and the Canaanville songs are really from the same cycle of songs.  So I wrote that cycle of songs up until the fall of 2011 when we recorded Canaanville.  A long period of time really.

The music video for “Old Oak Tree” premiered three days ago. 

EV: During your live shows, you play some great covers — in fact, I remember a Neil Young cover show in 2010 that was incredible. How do you choose the covers you play live?

BM: Man, that Neil Young show was so much fun. Thanks for saying you liked it! We’re pretty easy-going guys, but somehow convincing Southeast Engine to do a cover can feel like getting a bill passed through Congress. We’re all super opinionated about it and we have a lot of qualifications for something that we want to cover. A song has to say something about the band or bring out a facet of our musical personality. We usually like it to be something that people can latch onto and make the show more exciting. Long story short, not too many suggestions make it beyond the “wouldn’t it be cool if” stage.

On the other hand, the Neil Young show was a complete no brainer.  We’re all huge fans and he’s a huge influence on the group. He also has so many great songs that you could just do his tunes all night and never dip into the B material.

EV: Speaking of playing covers, how did you prepare for your October 5th Bee Thousand tribute show?

BM: That was another easy decision for us. Adam, Jesse and Leo all grew up in Dayton so GBV [Guided By Voices] is to them as Bruce Springsteen is to people from New Jersey. I didn’t grow up in Dayton, but I’ve been a big GBV fan ever since I was Surge-swilling teenager who would stay up all night reading All Music Guide.

If we were really preparing like GBV, we’d be pounding some beers and chain-smoking, but we just practiced and listened to the album a lot. It’s a lot of fun. I think it’s a great learning experience. I mean, what better what to learn something new about music than to work up one of the greatest albums ever?

EV: Canary is a concept album, but wow, there are a lot of very different types of concept albums! Would you say that Canary is a concept album the way that Tommy or Diamond Dogs are concept albums — with pretty concrete stories? Or is more of a concept album to the tune of Arcade Fire’s Suburbs?

AR: I haven’t listened to that Arcade Fire album so I’m not sure about that one.  I will say that Canary is a far cry from something like Tommy.  I love Tommy and some other concept albums that have that strong of a narrative from beginning to end, but Canary was more about capturing a certain time and place through the lens of a family.  There’s no major narrative to the album, I just imagined characters set in Southeast Ohio during the Great Depression and tried to write songs from their perspective that dealt with the challenges they faced. 

EV: What can fans look forward to in the next couple of months?

BM: We have a pretty sweet tour of the northeast in November. Primarily we’re going to be knuckling down on all of this great new material that Adam has ready for us. I imagine we’re going to unveil that soon. You heard it here first, people!

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