Event Start Date : Mar 08, 2020
Event End Date : Mar 08, 2020
About this Event
Brian Aubert (guitar, vocals) * Nikki Monninger (bass)
Joe Lester (keyboards) * Christopher Guanlao (drums)
Silversun Pickups have always considered their sonic density a source of pride: The Los Angeles bandâs four studio full-lengthsâincluding their 2006 gold-selling debut, Carnavas, which spawned the hits âLazy Eyeâ and âWell Thought Out Twinklesââreveal additional sonic gifts with each subsequent spin.
Their fifth album, Widowâs Weeds, also caters to an adventurous, patient group of listeners. Strident acoustic strumming tussles with raging electric riffs, as urgent, precise beats and moody electronic pulses percolate underneath. The band membersâwhich, in addition to Aubert, include bassist Nikki Monninger, drummer Christopher Guanlao and keyboardist Joe Lesterâwere also in agreement with the albumâs starting point (the urgent synth-rocker âNeon Woundâ) and closer (the aggressive, throttling âWe Are Chameleonsâ). The band admitted that everything in between, including how the rest of Widowâs Weeds was sequenced and how the album unfolded, often surprised the band.
âWe didnât know exactly which emotional level the lyrics were going to start at,â Aubert says. âI was like, âAre they going to be angry, with these crazy times?â Everything seems so polarized and bizarre and scary. All of these things affect you. And then as they were coming out, it was like, âNo, they sound like theyâre kind of mourning.â I couldnât quite put them all together.â
To make sense of these ideas, Silversun Pickups enlisted a long-time friend: producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth). Incredibly enough, this was the first time the band had worked with Vig, even though the idea of collaborating had been floated for years. The timing didnât feel right until now, Aubert says. âWith the ideas that were popping around in my head, it felt like, âGod, this would be awesome; I think itâs time. If Butch is interested in doing this at all, letâs just call him.'â
Vig and mixer Billy Bush helped Silversun Pickups craft a confident, extroverted album in which every instrument is clearly audible in the mix. Pulsing, Cure-like keyboards hold their own against slashing riffs on âNeon Woundâ; antique-sounding violin and cello enhance fragile acoustic strumming on âStraw Manâ; and the spring-loaded, glammy âIt Doesnât Matter Whyâ boasts pogoing beats and needling pizzicato plucks. The albumâs more restrained moments also maintain this crispness. âSimpaticoâ is âthe closest weâll get to a James Bond song,â says Aubert, who immersed himself in movie scores as the album was coalescing. Widowâs Weeds strikes a perfect balance between provocative noise and distortion, and lush, introspective pop tranquility.
The band members also decided not to go overboard layering on instruments and sounds, which contributed to the albumâs clearer approach. âWe made a conscious effort to rein in the electronic stuff a little bit, and have more pianos and organs,â Lester says. âThereâs still synthy stuff on there for sure. But we have strings again, which we hadnât done for a couple of records. And thereâs a lot less sequenced electronics. It was like, âLetâs strip the palette a little bit, and see what happens.â And that goes back to the directness of things.â
Vigâs versatility and songwriting background helped the band shape other songsâincluding and especially âDonât Know Yet,â on which glitchy, taut electronic textures segue into explosive choruses drive by brusque drums and noisy guitars. âIt has moments of intimacy, but then it really comes alive and big-sounding,â Guanlao says of the song. âThatâs all Butch. We would have probably gone a totally different direction if it wasnât for him hearing that this once-intimate, mellow song can be really boastful and rocking.â
In the end, recording with Vig surpassed the band membersâ already-high expectations. âHe really listens to each band member, and he puts a great value on each individual, and what they can add to the music,â Monninger says. âIt was very collaborative with him. Heâs such an easygoing person, and he put everybody at ease.â That camaraderie translated into a studio environment that involved intense and serious hard work unfolding in a jovial, even lighthearted, manner. âWe had a really fun time recording this album,â Guanlao says. âHe really did get the best out of us. We didnât want it to end.â
Despite the halcyon studio time, the band members were wrestling with challenges in their personal lives. The album had to be done in two separate blocks of time, since Vig had Garbage tour plans already on the calendar, which left Silversun Pickups with a break between sessions. During that gap in time, Lesterâs father passed away. Aubert, meanwhile, found himself in an extremely dark place, for reasons he couldnât immediately explain.
âWe started making this album about mourning, and itâs like, âWhat are you mourning? Are you really mourning politics and stuff like that? Or what is happening?â I didnât realize that I was finding myself in this space where I completely tried to take on everything myself. I couldnât ask for help; I couldnât let anybody in. That led me to start drinking in a different way, that I never did before.â
As a result, Aubertâwho was already feeling âemotionally closed off,â as he puts itâfell into a deep depression. âI didnât know how to get out of it,â Aubert says. âFinally, I was just like, something big has to happen.â His solution was getting treatment and getting sober during the gap between recording sessionsâa decision that immediately improved his mental health and creative outlook.
Unsurprisingly, Aubert also had a much different perspective on his Widowâs Weeds lyrics post-treatment, and understood more what messages he was trying to convey with the album. âThe record does have a mourning vibe, but itâs not sad,â he says. âItâs change. Itâs growing up, and moving on and letting go of things. And itâs okay to be sad about those things, and mourn them. Itâs actually healthy to do so, and take the time to do it. At the end of the day, itâs going to be much better and much more fulfilling when you get through it.â
âWhen I got sober, and took a little time to myself to move as a human, we came back at the record again,â Aubert says. âThen it was like, now weâre back into the record, and writing again. It was wild. Things are really changing, and Iâm starting to emotionally connect to things, and starting to take care of myself. Iâm starting to ask for help.â
Aubertâs bandmates also saw an immediate change in him as they reconvened to finish Widowâs Weeds. Guanlao noticed that the vocalist was opening up to him and the rest of the band more, and allowing himself to be more vulnerable, while Monninger observed increased clarity. âIâm really proud of him for coming through all this. He focused so much on the album and put so much of his heart into itâas we all did, but especially coming out of all that, he needed something to really focus on.â Lester also saw big, positive differences in his bandmate. âIt was like, âokay, this has actually been really good; heâs gotten stuff that has probably been bothering him for a long time sorted out.ââ
In a nod to Aubertâs healthier mindsetâand in a big change from past working environmentsâthe members of Silversun Pickups welcomed friends and family into the studio as they were recording. âThis was the first album where we were open,â Aubert says. âNot just with Butch, but with people around us. We played stuff for people. We never used to before. Weâd play a little mixing and things like that. We were too shy.â Creating this kind of social, nurturing atmosphere added levity and accountability, and kept everyone in the band grounded. âDoing this in front of people is so much more enlightening, and really helps you focus on things,â Aubert says. âWe were exposed. I see how that can be scary to people, but for us we really thrived on that.â
Widowâs Weeds ends up being about rebirth and renewal, facing darker elements of the soul (or society) head-on, and choosing to either engageâor leave them behind. This shift toward blunt candor wasnât lost on Lester. âI feel Brianâs lyrics have gotten more direct over the last couple of records. Heâs much more open and less coy about what heâs singing about. Thereâs less trying to put Vaseline on the lens.â
Over the years, Silversun Pickups have racked up 210 million worldwide streams and 10 Top 20 hits on Billboardâs Alternative Songs chart, led by 2009âs ferocious chart-topper âPanic Switch.â Nearly 20 years after the band formed, itâs not lost on Monninger that theyâre one of the few groups theyâve grown up with who have sustained a career. âI donât know many bands that have lasted that long,â she says. âBut we started as friends first, and we care about each otherâyou know, this is our second family. We really believe in what weâre doing. Weâre going to take it as far as we can.â
For Aubert, moving forward involves staying connected to his own self (and remembering to prioritize self-care) and being attuned to creative impulses when they arise. If that means going outside of his comfort zone, so be it. âThis album feels the most naked out of all of them,â Aubert says. âThatâs scary at first. But that goes into my whole headspace. That goes into how things went down. It was like, âHey man, you were so unaware of the things you needed, and so closed off. Just do it. Stop hiding. It was crushing you. Donât be afraid.â
Date And Time
Sun, March 8, 2020, 7:00 PM EDT
Doors at 7:00 PM
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC 20001