Friday, May 12, 2006

Mini-Interview: The Movies

LA's The Movies are the stuff of local indie rock legend. Some say lead singer Timothy James is the product of a secret Soviet super soldier program from a dark corner of the early 70s, while others point out that keyboardist Brian Cleary was first spotted on camera in the remote northern woods more than a decade ago, leaving behind footprints more than twice the size of a normal man’s. Chatter on certain key restricted channels even seems to imply that drummer Stevie Triechel and bassist Jessica Gelt both killed a man once, just for snoring too loud. Each.

But personal mythologies aside, when it comes down to it, the members of The Movies put on their pants in the morning the same as anyone else: one leg at a time. They just go out and make extremely entertaining records after that, like 2003’s In One Era, Out The Other and 2005’s American Oil, both of which were recorded before the band’s move to LA.

A few weekends ago, I caught up with several members of the band in their new recording studio as they worked on The Monumental Life, the first track of their as-of-yet untitled next album. The song is one they’ve played out at shows over the last year, but were laboring over perfecting on tape that night.

"This song is hard on us, Joe," Tim says. "Not necessarily in a bad way, but I think the levy is going to fucking blow once we get past it. It’s going to be great, but right now we’re trying to get over a hump here. We took on a hard song. We can get away with it live. I can bullshit my way through lyrics, scream and yell and do all that shit."

Tim and Brian begin going back and forth about which elements from which take sounds best. They play one for me and it sounds great. It clearly has the potential to rival my favorite Movies tracks, Timothy James and Rock in the Slingshot. Eventually, talk comes around to the song’s origins.

"It’s about... No one can live the monumental life," Tim says. "Not even John Lennon or Jesus Christ. All these people are great, godly people but I bet if you were hanging out in their minds, if you were them for a millisecond, they didn’t think they were living the monumental life. So that’s what it’s about. It’s about, you know, you’re trying to live the monumental life, but you can’t. No matter how great you are. That’s what we’re working on. Brian wrote the music. Jess and I... We’re all kind of working on the lyrics in this case. I wrote a chunk of it but we’ve been changing it back and forth a bit over the last few days."

At one point, Tim asks me plainly what makes great music and it’s like that moment in the movie Conan the Barbarian when the Mongol warlord asks Conan what’s best in life. (His answer was of course, "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!" Because, you know, he’s mother-fucking Conan.)

I say that I think it’s that moment when you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right but listening right then. That that’s what I like about live music and I guess that recorded music is getting that on tape.

"It’s people coming together trying to capture some fuckin’ magic," Tim adds later. "That’s why you like bands. That’s why you write about bands, because they’re capturing something. People want to be recognized, they have to make art to do that. How else am I going to be recognized? Maybe do some stand-up comedy... Maybe be a place-kicker in the NFL... But no, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to live up to some of these great recordings of the past."

During cigarette and Icehouse beer breaks, we talk more about the new album. "We’ve been working on it off and on for about a month now," Tim says. "We’ve got ten songs: The Monumental Life, When I Was in Nam, If I Had the Cash, Get Your Macho Out, Limousine, Jacaranda..."

"A bunch of songs we haven’t named yet," Brian adds. "We’ve had a lot of new ideas over the last year and now we have to space to work them out. We’re really just getting started."

"It took us awhile to find this place," Tim says, "but it was worth the wait."

And Chermak Studios is a nice space. It’s in Burbank above a place that rents out old cars, ambulances, and the like to movie productions, and right next door to the hangar where Jay Leno houses his fleet of cars and motorcycles. It’s got good acoustics, a few fresh coats of paint that The Movies recently set down, a Spuds MacKenzie lamp, and a strangely homey feel to it. My girlfriend has said before that many places in LA feel haunted and if that’s true, this is the opposite of that, an anti-haunted, like nothing bad could ever happen there. Tim has been using it to produce recordings for local bands recently and plays one of their songs for me, before we start the interview rolling again.

The first two albums you recorded in just three or four days, I say.

"Yeah, theoretically," Tim says. "Our first record we did in three or four days. We’d practiced really hard. The second record? We don’t even talk about..."

They share a knowing laugh about this and I ask how the new album is different from the first two.

"Is it different?" Tim asks. "Yeah, I guess. A little bit. Really not much. It’s still us."

And Marcos adds, "We’ve got the studio now. We can take our time with it."

I ask how they all met in the first place and Brian begins telling the story about how Tim had rented a place in Boston when Tim interrupts him, saying "No... We met in my underwear. Brian moved into the apartment up in the loft in the top of the stairs above my house and apparently he says that I came up in my underwear and wanted to know what he was playing. He has this amazing collection of … everything that you could think of."

"We started having jam sessions in the basement and taking it a little more seriously," Brian adds. "Then he got us a show."

"Jess played bass," Tim says. "We didn’t have a drummer, just the three of us played."

"We played the show," Brian continues, "then they moved to DC and recorded the first album there with Stevie."

"We just can’t seem to shake each other," Tim says.

"Yeah, I was out in Boston until a year ago," Brian remarks. "I was touring and recording with these guys while they were out here. But now we’re all here."

I ask about The Silversun Pickups, who cover the song Creation Lake off The Movies’ first album.

"It’s very flattering, Tim says. "We love The Silversun Pickups. They were our first show in LA. We were practicing in our living room for a show at Spaceland opening up for we didn’t know who and... we met so many people that night. Those were the good old days. We got a couple shows. We were just having fun. I mean, are we taking it seriously now? We’re taking it seriously, but we’re not taking it seriously. We’re just fuckin’ having fun."

"Now we’ve got Brian out here and we’ve got the studio," Tim continues, "and we can hopefully start writing some songs, getting our older songs recorded, and get back to Spain... Get some jet-skis. I need some jet-skis and a shrimp cocktail. And like an older XJ6 for my mom."

"Nothing fancy," he says. "I’m not talking about buying houses or nothing. We’re talking about an XJ6. That’s probably worth about five… eight thousand dollars."

"We just want to buy nice cars for our moms," Brian tells me. "That’s pretty much why we’re doing this. That’s our inspiration."

I ask, like a nice car or a hot rod?

"Ahh, whatever they want," he says.

Later, Tim comes back from a bathroom break wearing a hat and sunglasses and goes in to try another vocal take. I have to leave before they get the final one down, which sucks because it’s sounding better and better every time. I can hear them honing in on it and it’s pretty amazing to be there for, but there’s simply no getting around me having to go.

A week or so later, Jessica -- who was home sick that night -- tells me that they’ve moved on to mixing the track and promises to send a copy. Needless to say, I can’t fucking wait for that to arrive.

The Movies have plans to play at The Derby in Los Feliz later this summer. Stay tuned for more details.


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