Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mini-Interview: Two Sheds

Alright. Let me put this out there in as artless and straightforward a way as possible: Sacramento’s Two Sheds are performing live this Thursday night at The Silver Lake Lounge and you really ought to go see them play.

Why? Hmm... Well, back when they were a Band of the Week pick in August, I couldn't say enough nice things about their debut album, Strange Ammunition. You could either read all of that over again by clicking on this link or download one of the best songs off of the cd right here. Or both.

Last weekend, I checked in with Caitlin Gutenburger, the singer/songwriter/frontperson behind the band -- and she gave one of the best interviews I’ve posted on this site.

Here's how it went...

Hi, Caitlin. First off, are you familiar with the works of Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson? Do you actually have two sheds?

"No, no. Look. This shed business -- it doesn't really matter. The sheds aren't important. A few friends call me Two Sheds and that's all there is to it. I wish you'd ask me about the music. Everybody talks about the sheds. They've got it out of proportion -- I'm a composer. I'm going to get rid of the shed. I'm fed up with it."

I suppose I should post the Monty Python sketch we're talking about so they don't think we're both crazy...

Okay. Back to it...

Basically, Johnny and Rusty and I had no band name and we had booked our first show. I decided to set up a MySpace page in anticipation of the show, and I needed a damn name to finalize the profile. Well, "caity_two_sheds" has been my email address since the beginning of time, so I just shortened it and called the band Two Sheds. After our first show, we got a bunch of other shows pretty quick, and I never changed it.

How did you all begin playing together? When did it start?

I think it started in the fall of 2004. I was beginning my last year of college, Johnny (bass player) and Rusty (drummer) had a couple months of lag time in between Jackpot touring and recording (Jackpot is Rusty's band, Johnny plays bass for them, too). Johnny's OTHER other band, Milwaukee, wasn't really using much of the studio time he had booked, so we all decided to hang out and mess around together.

I'd just started taking drum lessons, so the whole thing was centered around me getting in my practice time. It was really loose though. We'd switch instruments all the time. I was such a beginner, but there was something really exciting about getting to play with these guys who have been doing it forever - I guess it made me want to learn faster.

In late '04 the boys went into the studio to begin work on the next Jackpot record, I actually started writing songs and recording them on GarageBand at home. I shared them with John and Russ (after some serious negotiation and a few bottles of wine), and they liked them - that's when "mess around time" morphed naturally into band practice.

After a few months, Johnny decided to book us a show - I was terrified, but we did it. Later on, we were joined by our pal Norman Wolfe, who put some really great guitar/ keyboard parts on the record. (Norm has since moved to Portland.)

After recording, Robert Cheek (our engineer) started playing with us occasionally on second guitar/ keyboard. And just this summer Rusty's schedule got so slammed with his other projects, he had to move on.

He toured with Jason Lytle as his multi-instrumentalist, in support of the new Grandaddy record, then he went to Europe for about 7 weeks. That's when our good buddy Sam Coe (former Low Flying Owl) stepped in on drums.

What’s it like playing in a band with a spouse?

I was a really reluctant songwriter - Johnny was the one always telling me he thought I could do it. Without him, I don't think I would have worked up the nerve to try. I can't imagine being in a band without Johnny. Yes, I know. Schmarmy as hell.

It's funny though. When we were recording Strange Ammunition, Johnny would always have these suggestions that I shot down - I guess I wanted to let my other band members (my non-spouses) have more creative input on the songs.

I was worried about it being the Caitlin and Johnny show all the time, and I like to put a lot of emphasis on the fact that we are a BAND, not a husband/wife duo. So Johnny started whispering the same, vetoed suggestions to Robert.

Then Robert would pass them along to me as if they were his own ideas. And of course, then I thought they were brilliant. Sometimes I'm glad John knows me so well.

What’s the reaction been to the album? I know it’s been one of my favorites… probably among my most listened-to cds this year.

Really? That's cool, man. Thanks. It was a really fun record to make. We spent months messing around in the studio, essentially recorded the album twice before we put it out.

Our buddy John Baccigaluppi (he runs the Hangar, the studio where we recorded), pretty much gave us carte blanche with the studio time. I couldn't have imagined a nicer way to experience my first recording process - no pressure, all fun and ideas.

And it's funny, it really seems like people picked up on that. A lot of people say they listen to the record while they clean, while they work, while they make art, and it cheers them up - I like hearing about the context in which people enjoy the record.

Do you feel like comparisons to great bands a double-edged sword? I know I’ve read (and written) comments about Two Sheds at times being like a mix of PJ Harvey, Mazzy Star, and/or Cat Power, though that hardly does you justice…

I ask because I know when I was in a band I didn’t care for getting compared to The Strokes and The Psychedelic Furs, even though it’s not like I actively disliked either act.

You know, I'd be lying if I said I never cringe when those comparisons pop up, but ultimately, I don't care. Anyone that sees us knows that we aren't those artists. People need a frame of reference for things. It's how we create connection and meaning out of all the seemingly disparate elements in our lives.

Insound, an online retailer, contacted us about sending out a promo email to all of their customers that bought the Cat Power record - one of those "If you liked this, you'll probably like this" kind of deals - they were concerned that I wouldn't want to be associated with her.

I told them I didn't care - well, about 500 people downloaded our stuff and Insound sold out of our records in about a day. So, thanks Cat Power.

You say that you’re pretty new to song-writing, but it’s kind of hard to believe after hearing tracks like It’s Hard or Mine. What’s the process been like?

I did get an extremely late start on songwriting. I think that has something to do with how the songs turn out. Songs are different when you start writing them at 24 versus 15.

It was actually one of the reasons I didn't want to do it in the first place. I thought that if I hadn't started creating music as a fetus, I had no business doing it at all. You see these actresses on TV these days - they have been in commercials since they were two - it's discouraging to someone who's had office jobs their whole life.

But really, fuck it. It's not like I've been using fax machines since grade school, anyway.

So, I have a natural tendency to shoot myself down a lot, to put the kibosh on ideas that aren't even formed yet. I set this rule - I have to finish everything I start. And I generally have to do it in one sitting. I tend to write songs like essays - I try and make sure all of the lyrics and music inform a general mood or theme, but that doesn't always work out. Even if it feels like it's not working out, I still finish it.

Then I take the songs to practice, hand them to the boys and they decide what they want to play on them. Not much of the songs ever change - the arrangement, the lyrics, etc. - the boys just add textures to them.

Who do you consider your influences? Song-writing or otherwise?

Musically, I tend to refer to Neil Young, Pavement, VU and early Beck a lot. I have always enjoyed the way these guys write songs - weird, but not weird - the circus tent-full of words they use in their lyrics, the sense of humor that comes across... I dunno.

Other than that, I listen to mostly classical music - Bach, Dvorak, etc. - and more recent composers, too. I like Philip Glass a lot. I don't feel that my music necessarily sounds like any of these people, but they continue to stoke my desire to make music.

Also, I tend to write a lot of songs about my family. I have a really interesting family. So, I guess they are my other influence.

How much have you toured to support the album? I know you’ve played here in LA at The Silver Lake Lounge a few times. Have you ventured out of state?

We did a string of shows up in Oregon and Washington, but nothing out-of-state besides that. We all decided that we would break touring down into a series of long weekends. We never do more than four or five dates on a single trip out of town, and we leave town every month.

We'd definitely like to go back to the Northwest, but gas is so damned expensive. We come to LA and San Diego a lot because it's always fun and the drive is so much easier.

We play a fair amount in Northern California too - mostly in Davis, Sacramento and San Francisco. We play a lot.

What’s the Sacramento music scene like these days?

There is definitely some cool stuff going on, and it's not specific to any particular genre. No one band is really associated with any club in particular - it's not like LA where you have The Fold and Hollywood and the OC - this is probably due in part to the fact that Sacramento is smaller.

It seems like everyone is working really hard at playing as many different places and as much as they can. The only thing that's palpably lacking is a really good, all-ages venue in Downtown Sacramento. There really aren't too many places for kids to go these days.

But in absence of actual venues, there are always house shows. Sacramento has and always will be a place where you have to build from the ground up. I think this is what makes some of the bands that come from this area so neat.

What’s your favorite song been to work on?

The last song on Strange Ammunition, for sure - The Sea to E Minor. It was this total throwaway as far as I was concered.

We had Rusty play piano over this keyboard part that Norm had layed down. Rusty almost missed the chord change, so the piano has this lovely, delayed mess vibe. When we soloed out those parts we realized how cool they were on their own, and it went from there.

We ran the drums through this kick ass Chandler compressor, and I played some guitar we looped backwards - parts of it started to sound like Harvest, which got me all excited.

We had our pal Melody write some string parts for the end - she is incredible. She sat in a corner of the control room for a couple of hours writing out the music on her notepad, tapping her fingers silently on the fingerboard of her violin. When she finally played everything, she looked up at us and said "Um, is that okay?"

Well shit yes, it was okay. I just think her parts are really, achingly beautiful. So, Robert and John and I just ended up staying up all night, turning this three-minute song into a really neat, six-minute mini-opus.

We started drinking at around four in the morning - by 8:00am we were so delirious that we were laying around on the floor - we went out to breakfast to celebrate and Robert fell asleep in the bathroom - I can't remember when I've had more fun.

What’s next for you? Are you working on any new material? Any plans to record?

Johnny and Robert woke me up at four this morning to tell me that we are going to make an EP. (This is how most band decisions are made. John and Robert talk all night and then let me know what's going on.)

We have a handful of new songs that we can use for it. And I need to get back into the studio - winter recording at the Hangar is so much fun. Cold as hell, but really fun.

Last question: What current bands are you listening to the most these days?

I have been listening to the Brightblack Morning Light record a lot. I think they are so, so good. Johnny was just talking about a Beach Boys record I wanna revisit - Surf's Up. This band Dame Satan, our friends from SF, their stuff is great. And our other pals, the Chapin Sisters - love them too.

That’s it. Thanks for your time, Caitlin.

MP3: It’s Hard


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