Interview: Old News 11-8-20

(l-r): Max Abood, Beau Harris and Blaine Martin of Old News. Photo by Mel Mercer, courtesy of Old News

Interview by Brennen Smith with Max Abood and Beau Harris of the band Old News.

I love the title of the album, Self-Acceptance Speech. What were you thinking with the album title, and how does the album as a whole reflect that?

Beau: Thanks a lot! To tell you the truth, at the beginning of the LP process, we didn’t know what we were gonna do for a title. Nothing really stood out to us. We ended up making a Google Doc that we all added ideas to and over time whittled it down. Self-Acceptance Speech was one of the last names on the list, and it fit thematically. Lyrically, the record spends a lot of time considering the concepts of “self,” self-medication, self-discovery, self-acceptance, etc., so we went with it. Plus, you know, we’re all cheeky people, so we wanted something that wasn’t entirely serious. In the end, ‘Self-Acceptance Speech’ felt like a good nod to the concepts explored without taking itself too seriously, which is a position we’ve reached as a band after a few years of doing Old News.

Max: The album has a consistent theme of personal growth. Beau’s lyrics come from a time where he was moving to a different city, starting a new job, handling a break-up emotionally, and not knowing what’s next. It’s easy to lose your sense of self in those transitions. Though these lyrics may be from Beau’s perspective, I think he did an excellent job making it relatable to any listener. One of our favorite lines from a review years ago was, “it’s like Beau snuck into your bedroom, read your diary, and wrote a song about it,” and I think that line still applies to SAS.

Is the band on a journey of self-acceptance, or is this more from Beau’s perspective as an individual? If so, what in particular has helped you with self-acceptance? Is writing and playing music a therapeutic or cathartic process for anyone in the band?

Beau: It’s both of those things. Old News has always been and will always be a highly autobiographical act, for better and for worse. It’s a very transparent glimpse into my headspace over time. I think music as a whole is a healing force in our world and, personally, is very therapeutic for me. Old News is pretty intense emotionally, so I just have to balance it out by playing other kinds of music too.

Max: We all collaborate musically and mesh well when composing the instrumentation, but, lyrically, Beau takes the reigns. Because of that, more often than not these lyrics will be from Beau’s perspective and/or very personal to him. I don’t think that was anything we did intentionally; Beau is a very open person and easy to work with, that’s just more his wheelhouse than ours, and he uses this outlet to cope with some of his experiences. I think performing these songs are therapeutic for all of us because we have seen Beau grow through some of these struggles ourselves, and it’s really cool being a part of that.

What song on the album was the most fun to write, and what song is the most fun to play live (if you’ve been able to play some of these songs live before COVID-19 made that difficult)?

Max: I love all of these songs, but I think the most fun to write would be “I Don’t Care” specifically because the process was different, and I think that causes it to stand out. We’ve had most of these songs written for a good while now and got to “test the waters” with a few of these on stage while touring last summer. Playing “Pulling Teeth” live to a different crowd every night was a highlight for me because of their reaction to the first line of the third verse. If ya know, ya know. Total mood shift and grabbed their attention.

Beau: Same with me; I really liked putting together “I Don’t Care.” Max wrote 90 percent of that one and it’s quintessentially Old News. I just took Max’s composition, rearranged it to sit with vocals, and added that last riff on the outro, but otherwise it’s all him. It was so fun for me because it was our first truly collaborative piece, and it put me really far outside of my comfort zone in a way that challenged me and made me grow as a musician. Most fun to play live for me is “Dancing In The Light.” I think we’ve only played it live (in its current arrangement) twice? It has so many texture switches and so much guitar rock nonsense that it’s just a blast. The time, tempo, and phrasing fall in such a way I can put my whole body into flailing around and having a ball.

How do you feel as a band about releasing your first LP, and how do you feel you have evolved as a band over the last few years?

Max: It’s a relief for all of us. We’ve been sitting on this album for most of the year and started the writing process back in February of 2019 after releasing Hands Like Glaciers. It’s been a ride getting this project put together. The night it hit streaming platforms, I felt so much weight lift off my shoulders and like I could breathe again. We had worked so hard on getting every detail right and giving it the proper send-off it deserves over the course of several months. Our sound has evolved a little bit, and we’re growing away from the “whinier” side of emo. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely still placed in certain parts, but I think Beau has approached it differently. Feels like we are growing up in a way. “Too weird for the emo crowd, too catchy for the math-rockers” was a description we developed when diving into our PR campaign, and I think that explains this season of the band really well. Aside from the musical aspect, as our relationships grow stronger, so does our sound. We spent so much time in a van together last year and shared some weird/tough experiences that caused us to connect deeper, and I think that has only helped elevate our live performance and tightness as a group. There’s no better feeling playing music with your best friends.

Beau: Max is spot-on by describing the feeling as a relief. Creating Self-Acceptance Speech was a delightful and exhausting year-long learning experience. We learned so, so much about our writing process, the recording methodology, and the album cycle. It was highly rewarding despite the ups and downs. As for the release itself, it was much different than we expected or would have hoped. Unfortunately ,we had to both record and release the album mid-COVID pandemic, so, obviously, we couldn’t do a release show, tour, or do the same “release month” stuff we would have liked to. That being said, we were so blown away by the response from our fans, the press, and our local and national music communities alike, so we didn’t feel like we were missing out on too much. As for evolution, we’ve been on a journey of self-acceptance and growth for the last year and some change. For a long time, I had been sold this myth that there was a “right” and a “wrong” way to be a band. Since I wore more of a “bandleader” hat then as opposed to now, my ignorant (and arrogant) ass dragged Old News into a lot of situations we had no business being in. It wasn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. It wasn’t as authentic. I was trying so hard for Old News to not be a solely regional act that I not only alienated a lot of our music community, but led the band dangerously close to being something it wasn’t and could never be in the first place. We spent a lot of time last summer processing that, letting go of a lot of baggage, and realizing there wasn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to be a band; there was just the best way for us to be us. We got back to our roots a bit more and decided to make a record that was the most “us” it could be. We decided to do the record as a trio, tracked it live, and as authentically as we could. We ditched the superfluous guitar layers, the vocal tuning, and the nonsense. In the end, it’s a record that sounds like the three of us played it and documents the journey of self-acceptance of both myself as an individual and as a band.

Can you describe your writing process as a band? How do you normally get together to write a song?

Beau: I feel like our writing process left us well prepared for being a band during COVID. Now that I think about it, I don’t think we’ve ever written a song together in one room. We use a hybrid model these days. Generally, it starts guitar first — most of the time dead simple. One of us will write a riff or a song skeleton, record it digitally at home, and put it into our band Google Drive. From there, we’ll all listen, text about it or jump on a call, and work out arrangement details remotely. Once we feel like it’s more-or-less in the structure of a song, everyone will write their “first draft” parts, and at that point, we’ll schedule a rehearsal to glue it together. When we get together, though, that’s when the fun begins. Moving from the digital sphere to the acoustic realm changes the song tremendously. We’re all about playing off the human energy and breaking, rebuilding, and rearranging what we wrote — and using that to inform how the song should turn out. From there, we’ll record another demo with the newly “human” parts and wash-rinse-repeat until it’s there.

Max: We’ve taken a couple different routes to composing, but, most of the time, Beau will flesh out a skeleton, and Blaine and I will add the frosting and sprinkles. Some songs we’ve had to scrap, some only require a few adjustments, some haven’t needed any. With Beau living in Lawrence now, we’ve been sending demos back and forth. We will solidify our parts on our own time and then put it together at rehearsal. I recently moved into a house where I am able to have a small studio setup, so that makes things a little easier. I’m able to share my part with the group and get feedback before coming to practice.

Are there any songs on this album that were very easy or very hard to write? Why?

Max: A lot of these came together fairly quickly and smoothly. “JPS” and “1917 Cherry St.” were released previously on separate EPs, so those were already done; we just added some ear candy and tweaked some parts. I think the tougher one to put together was “I Don’t Care” just because the process was different, and it has a real weird section that consists of a mixed meter pattern. Getting the band to play that together and sound tight took some work, but we got it eventually!

Beau: For me, the easiest was “Pulling Teeth.” Wrote the music, lyrics, and vocals in an afternoon, and I don’t think we’ve changed the arrangement once. Hardest was “Dancing In The Light.” I rewrote and rearranged my part so many times. I even threw it in the burner pile at one point. One of our engineers/producers, Joey Lemon, really helped me glue my mentality for that one together, and, without him, I probably would have scrapped it. Now, it’s one of my favorites and certainly my favorite to hit at practice and play live.

What future hopes or plans do you have as a band? Do you hope to tour and/or put out more LPs in the future?

Max: Right now, the plan is to just kind of chill, and we’ve been enjoying the breather since its release. There has been talk on recording another EP early next year, but we still need to finish composing the songs. We have four or five contenders along with some other ideas but nothing set in stone. Obviously, we hope to tour again, but, right now, it’s just not safe or feasible, so we are using this time to take it easy. What a weird time to release music. Closing thoughts: I really want to thank Jordan Hiebner over at We’re Trying Records for having us join their roster and help us with this release. This is the first time our band has signed to a label, and the process has been very smooth, and he has been extremely fun to work with.

Beau: I would say we have a lot of future hopes but not as many concrete future plans. Like Max said, we’re just kinda kicking it and taking it easy right now. It’s a bizarre time to be a musician. We all miss touring dearly, but it’s not a safe or realistic possibility right now due to the pandemic. Rest assured, we’ll hit the road again hard whenever it’s responsible to do so. We’re considering another release of some kind next year, be it an EP or some singles, but haven’t finished composing or thinking about those. We’ll definitely be doing more releases, full-length records, and touring in the future, but, for now, we’re focusing on staying upright as individuals and friends during a crazy period in history. Also, same as Max, but big ups to Jordan. He has been extremely helpful and encouraging to us. We’re so grateful for all the hard work he’s put in to this release and for making us feel welcome and part of the team.

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