SIGNAL HILL Interview – May 2013

Many thanks to the members of Signal Hill for providing the answers to the questions that I sent them. The interview is below and is a must read.

You can find out more information on the band here at http://signalhillmusic.com

This is their current record labels bandcamp page http://sunseasky.bandcamp.com

FTY : Can you tell me about the members of Signal Hill and how did the band get it’s name?

Dave : Sure! We are Rishi Arora – Guitar/Piano, Dave Masters- Guitar, Brian Vasallo – Bass, Tim Cooper – Drums.                                                                                                                                                                                             The band name comes from a small area next to Long Beach, CA. Rishi, who’s from San Diego, would drive back and forth to LA, where he was attending college, and would see the exit for Signal Hill. The name always stuck with him. So as we went to name the band, we had one we could all get behind right away.

FTY : How did the band meet?

Dave : Rishi and Brian met via Craigslist, either late 2003 or early 2004 and tried to get a band going. Tim and I (Dave) knew each other from Phoenix, and both had been living in LA for a couple of years and would just jam for fun occasionally. In September of 2004, while trying to get a new music project going, I went on Craigslist and saw a post from Brian looking to start something. He listed a ton of bands like American Football, Tristeza, The Mercury Program, etc., so I emailed him. Rishi was just returning back for School after summer break, and Brian asked him if he wanted to come jam with us, so the three of us got together and played some tunes one night. I bumped into Tim a few nights later and asked if he wanted to come check it out and play drums. We ended up having our first full band practice a few days later. It all happened quite quickly. Our personalities all clicked and we became fast friends.

FTY : There have been lots of relocating of band members to different parts of the world but here you are with 4 albums and you have the same line up. How do you manage to keep that all together as a band, considering your locations, and what lines of communication are you using?

Dave : Our first 2 official releases (The self-titled ep, and More After We’re Gone) were written and recorded while we all lived in LA. most of the songs on those were played live quite a bit and refined before we hit the studio. We were a band for nearly 5 years (shortly after the More After We’re Gone) album came out, and Rishi moved away to Scotland a couple of months after it was released.

When Rishi moved away, the process sort of worked like this. Rishi would email us some ideas, which Tim, Brian, and I would then work on them, and vice versa. We were primarily sharing mp3’s via email at the time. Rishi was planning a trip home for December, so we booked 2 or 3 days in the studio and tracked some songs which we had played together for the first time the night before. It was a new and somewhat scary process initially, but it came together quite well. I think it was at this point that we realized we could continue doing this for as long as we wanted to.

After Distance came out, Rishi and I both ended up moving to Brooklyn NY. The band’s future was pretty uncertain, but we all remained committed to doing it as we had time. Luckily, the launch of services like Soundcloud mixed with nice improvements in skype/google+ getting much better, we have had many discussions, some mixing sessions, and even shared an occasional riff with each other via those types of tools – never a full band practice though . Plus our email trails get quite out of hand.

I think in the end, we are all super good pals and we love making music together. It helps that both of us guitar players live close by, so we get to refine parts etc.. We always set out with a notion of let’s keep doing this as long as it’s fun. Our initial ambitions of writing some tunes, playing a few shows, have been greatly exceeded, and we feel sincerely glad that there are others that like what we do. In the end, as long as we are still writing songs that we love and it remains fun, we will continue. Albeit with a slightly slower output and fewer shows than we would like!

FTY : For someone who didn’t know your music, how would you describe your sound?

Dave : Hmm. This is a tough question. I guess in the broadest way, would be melodic, mid-tempo indie rock with no vocals. Haha.

FTY : You have just released your 2nd full length album (there are also 2 EP and other releases). Can you tell me about this new album Chase The Ghost?

Dave : This was our first attempt at writing a full record as a bi-coastal band. Rishi and I would get together a couple of times a week and work on some guitar ideas. We always played loud while together, and now we were playing in his bedroom out of one amp, at a pretty low volume. The songs naturally sped up, and got more dynamic when we had a writing session together, but some of the early demos of songs like “Collide Us”, it’s hard to tell at the time exactly what would come of those tunes.

The first song we completed out of all of them was “Van Gogh Sky”. We wrote and recorded that song without ever playing it as a full band. Rishi and I tracked scratch guitars to a click, and Tim and Brian went into the studio in Long Beach to track drums and bass. About a week later, Rishi and I went to a studio here in Brooklyn and recorded the guitars and keys for that song.

We sent all the files to our friend Murphy to mix the song for a split 7” we released with our Australian pals All India Radio.

After that we just kept writing. In February of last year, with about 7 songs sketched out, Tim and Brian came to NYC for a 3 day working session. The songs were all mostly arranged at this point, with the exception of Corners, which became a song somewhat accidentally. We used our time together to refine/tweak/adjust for dynamics of us all playing them together. It immediately felt right.

Over the next 3 months we were just working putting the finishing touches on and working on ideas for subtle instrumentation. Rishi and I flew out to CA to record in June over the course of 4 days. We tracked everything except violin during this session.

Our good pal Murphy spent the next few months, working on editing/mixing the record. We didn’t have a real deadline, so it was a pretty casual process. Murphy started passing back mixes to us for review.. The first mix was for the song “The Pacific Northeast”… we were stoked on how it was sounding, and things just started picking up from there.

FTY : Up until this release you have chosen to self release your music, but you have released this latest album on a record label. How did the deal with the label come about?

Dave : We never were one of those bands who submitted demos to labels, although I think Brian sent our very first stuff to Temporary Residence and maybe a few others (which if you heard some of those early demos you would have passed too , haha. ). We just continued on making music. When it came time to release our self-titled EP, it actually felt natural to do it ourselves. Releasing your own record takes work, but we knew we could do it again. At the time More After We’re Gone came out, we were approached by someone starting a label about releasing it on vinyl. It didn’t end up working out, which was ok by us.

We actually got a Facebook note from Shawn at Sun Sea Sky Productions asking us if we wanted to do something together. He shared a lot of the same independent ideals as us and it seemed like a good fit. He was excited on the music we made and wanted to help get it out there.

FTY : How do you go about the writing the music, do you start at the beginning of the song? is there one person who does the writing or is it a collective process? and then how do you then go about putting titles on the songs?

Dave : The songs these days typically start with a riff from Rishi or I, and then we sort of piece parts around them. They are very rarely constructed as full songs prior to getting together. When we get the sketch to a point that it feels like sharing to Brian & Tim, we will post it on Soundcloud. Everyone has equal say in the process though. If someone isn’t stoked on a song or a part, we keep trying new stuff until it feels good.

The working song titles typically start out as a joke, We eventually move on and refine the song titles with some sort of theme in mind. Most of the time it’s trying to find a song title that captures the overarching theme along with the evocative nature in the song. While we have a backlog of song title ideas, it’s very rare for us to have the end title in mind for a song before we finish it.

FTY : The writing is all done, how is the music then recorded, do you go into a studio or do you have facilities to record at home?

Rishi : We try and demo as much as we can outside of a studio. Once we get the songs in a pretty solid place, we will all record together in a studio. The mixing typically happens separately by our friend Murphy. He will upload various mixes and after working together on a few releases, has our sound pretty dialed in. We typically load those to Soundcloud, and then provide timed comments/notes etc via that service.

FTY : Will there be a USA tour or maybe further afield for this release?

Brian : We did a few dates on the east coast, but our shows will likely be few and far between unfortunately. We have been talking about making it down to Austin, Chicago, and back out to the west coast. Not sure if that’s feasible or not this year, but definitely something we are excited to try for.

FTY : Who or what influences you to do what you do?

Tim : We all have different influences, naturally, be they from other works of music or a feeling we get when looking at something like an old photo, or even inspiration for themes from old science shows. It really comes from out of nowhere and when it hits, you’d better have a notepad or voice memo app to capture the idea. I’m just the drummer but I have hundreds of melodic parts logged in my voice memo app. Hah. And in the notepad app, I have scores of random track title possibilities taken from conversation, books, deep thought, etc. Sometimes watching another band live will give you insight to what you can do with your instrument that you haven’t yet thought, or even deliver a mood/thought you had not contextualized in a certain way before. Then comes the trickery of delivering that to the band and making it usable. Right now as you read this you are probably just as confused as to what that actually means – as I often am in trying to make a thought tangible for the band. And all four of us do the same thing in our own way.

FTY : How do you promote yourself, are you using Social media and to what extent and how successful is that media to the success of the band?

Brian : Its funny you should ask this. During the early Myspace days, we were just starting out as a band. We put up a few demos and ended up meeting and doing our first tour with you.may.die.in.the.desert off a few random demos and some friendly correspondence. These days we are trying to be more active on sites like facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr etc. There’s a lot of social media these days, and trying to find unique content for each is challenging. But wherever the fans are, we want to try and connect with them.

FTY : If You could collaborate with any artist/band, who would it be and why?

Tim : I would love to work with Balmorhea as their mix of strings and acoustic sounds along with some of their newer electronic elements could be super cool when added to our sound. We could build something very big altogether.

Brian : I would love to work with Eluvium or Helios.

Dave : We have been fortunate to befriend some super talented folks. Would love to collaborate with some of them… the list is long but folks like beware of safety, you may die, the littlest viking, no grave like the sea, etc.

Rishi : Graham Coxon of Blur

FTY : What was the last piece of music that you guys listened to?

Dave : The Sea and Cake – The Moonlight Butterfly
Rishi : Diiv – Oshin
Tim : Cliff Martinez – Solaris
Brian : Eluvium – Nightmare Ending

FTY : What does the future hold for Signal Hill?

Tim : We had a round table lunch while in NY for our last set of shows, a state of the band kind of meeting, which sounds serious, but knowing us four, that it was not. We did voice our thoughts on the last record, it’s writing and production process and then moved on to discuss what’s next. Aside from shows in faraway places (and nearby places, too) we agreed we’d like to start towards our next full length.

BIOGRAPHY

Signal Hill emerged in the fall of 2004 from the cluster of noise and competitiveness so famously known as the music scene of Los Angeles’s urban sprawl. Tim Cooper (drums) and Dave Masters (guitar), having known each other only in passing in Phoenix, met with Rishi Arora (guitar) and Brian Vasallo (bass). Immediately, camaraderie and bonds were formed through shared experiences and appreciation for musical influences such as indie rock, instrumental/post-rock, electronic music, jazz and more.

The band performed in earnest at local house parties and small clubs with touring groups. Shortly after the release of a limited-run demo and following a small west coast tour with friends You.May.Die.in.the.Desert and Strangers Die Everyday, the band realized the potential behind their music. The trajectory of the band’s popularity resulted in the first five-song SELF-TITLED EP release, successfully spreading the group’s name nationally.

Almost immediately, the group followed up with the well-received full-length, MORE AFTER WE’RE GONE. The album’s 12 tracks reached a growing fan base, and garnered licensed-use through a number of mediums that include movie trailers, novel previews and non-profit films. After sharing the stage in the US with bands such as Caspian, Beware of Safety, This Will Destroy You, Balmorhea, and many others, the band decided to head over to Australia to play with new friends All India Radio and SleepMakesWaves. The name Signal Hill along with the acclaimed full-length had gained international notice.

However with years of momentum, the reality of life set in with the group. Rishi was accepted at the University in Edinburgh in Scotland, and Dave began incubating his move to Brooklyn, New York with his wife. This only opened a new chapter for this group of friends that refused to let the distance between them dwarf their creative potential. The group soon managed to share creative ideas and muster a limited print EP, rightfully titled DISTANCE.

After years, Signal Hill had managed to hold on to its core of players, as it has always been motivated behind the concept of four best friends sonically connected to play what is in their hearts and minds. After a number of short tours, many shows and an anthology of releases that include a number of limited 7-inches, Signal Hill now establishes itself as a bi-coastal band calling both Los Angeles and New York City home.

The distance between these four individuals has not interfered with their ability to play shows or, most importantly, write music. The recent completion of their new and second full-length album, CHASE THE GHOST is a reflection of the time each band member has experienced prior to and during the formation of Signal Hill, through friendships, old and new relationships and family. Nine dynamically unique tracks transition into each other like a well-formed storyboard that tells a tale as different to each listener as it is to each band member.

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