Over the past nine months GUARDS‘ often unsuspecting audiences have been engulfed by the inescapably ecstatic sunburst of energy their shows crash in waves over those who have had the fortune of seeing them live as they’ve toured with the LP In Guards We Trust. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION caught up with founding member Loren Humphrey mid-way through a month-long European tour stint with buddies MGMT to discuss the groups origins, their workflow, surfing and their return to the studio to record their followup album.
You guys have been working together for awhile now?
Yea, six or seven years- we were in a band called the Willowz, which took a kind of break and then Richie’s younger sister Madeline started a band called CULTS. Things for them happened extremely fast when they started out so Richie and I helped them out and played in the band for the first couple of tours.
How does opening for them across in terms of the audience’s reaction?
We were opening for a lot of different bands that drew a lot of different crowds –
Yeah, how does playing for a QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE crowd go over, for example?
German audiences are a bit different. You think they are bored and that they don’t really like it but then afterwards when you get off-stage they come up to you and and they give you a full analysis of the whole show, and you realize: OH, that’s why they were so quiet – they were really paying attention – they were focused! They’re maybe not so much about freaking out and dancing, more about really watching the show. The QUEENS crowds were some of the best we’ve ever had on tour, and actually that is another band we’ve become good friends with over the past 5-6 years or so. They’re really great guys – some of the sweetest people on the planet – and they sound better than they’ve ever sounded. They have Jon Theodore now, the first drummer form the Mars Volta, he’s incredible. Their line up is just really tight and that ends up being powerful.
What sorts of things are you up against creatively here and now in 2013?
I feel like nowadays there is a lot that is really derivative and I think that is something we are trying to stay away from. Everything is so strange now with the internet. Even the size of a band can be totally skewed – people will think that a band is huge and they can’t even draw a hundred people or on the other hand people will think a band is washed up and they can bring 4,000 kids out.
The way the media is now, everything can happen in a single instant. It is quite strange.
Were you gaining a following mostly from touring or an online presence? How does that work for you?
Well, I think now we gained a lot of fans because we did our touring schedule in an old school sort of way where every couple of week we were playing the same cities again. It was just a constant attack.
How does GUARDS‘ music come about?
Well, the records are primarily me and Richie. When we are doing his songs I play the drums on them and he’ll just disappear and hole-up inside his closet-room then come back with it weeks later and say “listen to this!” While the CULTS thing was happening Richie was writing some of the songs that would become the GUARDS EP. He was actually writing the songs for his sister, and the song I See It Coming was one that I had made and we decided to use it for this project – basically, in those cases I’ll make an instrumental version and we’ll have an instrument that is a suggested chorus melody and Richie. The EP came about really quickly, we did the drums in about three hours and Richie did the rest of it in-between the CULTS stuff, but with the LP he had been writing non-stop. We had something like 35 songs to go from. I already have one or two songs for the new record, which we hope to be recording once we get back from this tour, and I think Richie has at least a dozen.
Between the first EP and what you are doing now what sorts of things have transferred over? And what has changed?
We wanted to get less retro because the EP is very 60s-girl-group-inspired, and the new record pulls from a lot of different genres especially stuff we grew up with in the 90s and even the 80s. Now you have a bunch of 90s kids creating music, and there is always this sort of revival – which has always happened. Speaking of the 90s, this place kind of has the vibe of the whole Foot Clan lair. TMNT…
Yeah, the venue where your show is tonight is part an old train factory. It has changed a lot since the public viewings during the last Would Cup – now it is more carneval-y, but there is still the skate park. I wonder if they’ll let us poke our heads in the indoor skate park here…
I actually grew up around skate parks. I still do all the music for Element skateboards and a couple of other people like that – I mean, I started doing that when I was really young. The town that I grew up in – at our YMCA had one of the most famous halfpipes in one of the best skate parks in the US.
GUARDS: “People can’t see past the hair”
Where are you from?
Encinatas in Southern California. Tony Hawk is from my home town. Sean White. All those guys. In my town there are no jocks.
Well, the surfers and skateboarders ARE the jocks. At my school there was no football team, there was a surf and skate team. For P.E. you had an hour where they’d take you to the beach and let you surf, and for skating you would go to the “Y“.
Unreal. That is way different than what most of the country grows up with. Different than what most humans grow up with, actually…
Yea, it is a freakshow. Totally weird. It is nice here, though.
Sorry, everything is closed the only day you are here – it is Reunification Day here in Germany (October the 3rd).
We just wanted a chess set for the tour bus… even a roll-out mat one…
That might be hard to hunt down today. Tomorrow there is a flea market here, though.
We’re back on the road at midnight. I wish we were staying longer. Even if I ever wanted to move to a place like this it’d just be impossible beause if you are a drummer you just have a whole studio full of stuff- like, for example, a 7-foot-long 200 pound old 60s plate reverb, for example. Back in the day all they really had was those and spring reverybs – which is like the inside of an amp – they’d have big ones, too, inside boxes which were the size of trash cans and then you’ve got an echo chamber – which is really just a mic placed in a room with a lot of echoes and they’d play it back through.
And you use these all regularly?
Yes, on the LP we use an echo chamber in a basement room which just has a lot of echoes, and a spring reverb. All that stuff.
So, the album actually has a bit of darkness which isn’t initially apparent. First impression was that it is more dreamy and hopeful – perhaps nostalgic – naievete about it, but then by second or third listen you start to think: hmm, there is something else going on here…
I think that has something to to with Richie and I having been into bands like the CRAMPS and BLACK SABBATH. But then again, we’re always a bit self-cosncious about coming off too retro. We want to be progressive and forward – we want to come off as modern. Especially because of our hair and whatnot, we tend to get type-cast as psych-dudes. People can’t see past the hair. A lot of people can’t even tell me and Richie apart, or they think we’re brothers. Even Hayley kind-of looks like she’s related to us.
You guys should start wearing name tags.
Yea, totally. That’s the drummer and that’s the singer…
So GUARDS are officially a trio now? How did the three of you end up working together?
Kaylie has been in the band ever since we started playing live shows but then the records have been primarily me and Richie. When I play his songs I just do the drums and he takes on the record she is mainly singing and she’ll do back up and group vocals except the track Your Man, – Richie wrote that with her voice in mind. She also directed the music video.
Your In Guards We Trust album cover art and some of the other official photos are a bit unusual, too. You guys are in the boat and Kaylie is outside the boat?
It was actually an image that was from this book of photographs taken from horror films from the early 20th century, around 1890-1930. It was a picture that Richie saw and he wanted to recreate – the image of a guy in a boat waiting with the girl swimming.
One last question: what do hope and passion mean to you?
A dream, and the pursuit of it.
Well said. Thanks, Loren. Best of luck with the rest of the tour and the new album.
Interview by Paul Thomas