Portland indie rockers The Shivas have just released their new Dark Thoughts album, and they’re performing at the Hi-Hat with Ramona Hammer, so we chatted about all of that and more…
L.A. WEEKLY: The band has been together for 13 years now — how do you think the sound has evolved and grown, if at all?
JARED MOLYNEUX AND KRISTIN LEONARD: Over the last 13 years the sound has changed quite a lot. We started the group when we were 15/16, and just about everything has changed from the ways in which we write songs, the influences we expose ourselves to, the way we record, where/how much we tour and therefore how much we hone our songs in front of live audiences before putting them to tape, etc. All this, as you would probably expect, changed the overall sound.
What is most striking to me are some of the ways in which the sound (and the group in general) has stayed the same. I still see this band as operating based on the principle on which it was founded. We started the band all that time ago (2006) because we felt there were songs that we wanted to listen to and to play, but that didn’t exist. Music that we wanted to hear, but that we couldn’t find – it wasn’t on the radio, we didn’t know how to search for it on the internet. I believe that this band still works because we still have that feeling, that there are more songs out there, floating in the ether right above our head, waiting to be plucked, brought down and developed. They’re songs that need to be heard, songs that haven’t been heard before.
Going on tour, putting out records was initially just so that we could make the band more sustainable. Then we realized that we loved performing live and going on tour, and that it had a positive effect on our mental (albeit if not always our physical) well-being. It felt good in our souls to go give a live show to a room full of strangers who typically left feeling better than they did when they arrived. We left feeling better too.
That is maybe the biggest way in which the band has changed. In those years since our teenage selves were getting kicked out of bars directly from the stage, we realized that this is something that we need to do. We need to do it for ourselves, sure, but it’s something that has resonated with people no matter where we have gone, no matter what language they spoke. It is something positive, healing, and universal, and now more than ever we need to cultivate these forces-for-good. Now more than ever we need to be doing what we are doing, and everyone else needs to think about what positive forces they can lend to the world and do everything they can to be effective.
The sound has changed, sure, although we are still as always a rock and roll band that you can dance to, and one that can maybe help you forget, even if only for a few minutes, that you have to work tomorrow.
Dark Thoughts is about to drop — is there a general theme to the record?
Dark Thoughts has to do with all the fears, all the negative thoughts, all the bad things in our head – looking those in the eye. And it’s not just personal things, but cultural and societal norms and expectations. And I think that’s a big part of what our song “Gloria” is about – this idea of glory and success – but the video that goes along with it is a horror theme, we all get eaten alive. Not that the whole album is about negative things. Without looking at those negative things you wouldn’t see the positive.
By drawing attention to the darkside in Dark Thoughts we are also trying to draw attention to the bright side and work with that contrast. There are happy songs with sad lyrics, vice versa, and everything in between. I think we are told to ignore those negative things that pop into our mind, but then they just sit there, they don’t go away.
I’ve come to think of “If You See Me” (Track 4 and the second single for Dark Thoughts) as kind of a theme song for the album. In typical contrary fashion it is not a garage banger or a psychedelic frenzy. It’s a ballad, or something like that. Kristin has described it in past interviews and in press releases as being about “depression, fear, and all the internal and external battles that go on for myself, but that I know also happen with lots of people.” That is also relevant to Dark Thoughts as a whole – it’s a way to face what’s going on, and try to break through it, and in doing so make something out of it. “If You See Me” was a way to work through the dark thoughts and make something of them. We look at what’s going on and make music as a way of processing it. And by writing about everyday experiences, things that really happen to people, the music resonates with the audience more, they can relate.
You’re known as a stellar live band — do you have as much fun in the studio?
Wow, thanks that’s very kind of you to say! And we do have a real good time playing shows. I’ve often thought that folks can’t get the full picture just from an album (much less a photo and a single!) You won’t get the full effect of the group without seeing the live show. Maybe that’s the hardest thing about making an album, coming to terms with the fact that it will never suffice to just go into the studio and do the live show and call it a day. And no matter what you do, the album won’t ever be the live show. That is also what makes recording so fun, the possibilities are endless. There can be 25 of Jared all screaming, or there can be 6 of Kristin whispering “Suck my devil dick.” slowed down and reversed. It truly is magic, I think a lot about alchemy, and how for hundreds of years people have been going down into their basement and trying to find a way to turn some substance or another into gold. We spend a lot of time in the basement too, making stuff that could one day turn gold or platinum. Frankly, it’s exhilarating. Every environment has preoccupations – we’re gonna be late to soundcheck, the stage sound sucked, we gotta do another take (take 13), etc. Both experiences have their challenges but that’s part of what makes them both interesting. Besides, who wouldn’t have fun just hanging out in a recording studio messing around making songs?
Differences – no auto-critique at shows, no production rabbit holes. There’s a lot more reflection done during the process of recording, the reflection on the live show is all done after the fact.
Similarities: in both cases if everyone is kind and respectful it’s all going to work out okay.
What can we expect from the L.A. set?
A stellar live set! Haha. We will be playing a bunch of songs from the new album and lots of our other songs, most likely a couple songs we didn’t write as well. A bunch of our friends will be there, a bunch of people we don’t know will be there. That’s a fun thing about playing in L.A., you never know who’s going to be in town and show up at the show.
When that’s done, what’s next for the band?
The tour continues, after L.A. we keep going up the coast, it concludes in Seattle and from there we fly to Europe until mid-December. We’ll be headed out across the US in January/February, festivals and more Europe in the spring. We wanna stay on the road and in places with nice weather during a lot of the winter/early spring, so we’ll definitely be seeing you, L.A.! Once it gets warm enough to come back to Portland we’ll go make a new album.