Northern Transmissions caught up with Emily and Tucker from the NYC band Total Slacker to chat a bit about, well many things.
NT: You guys are based out of Brooklyn, like a lot of young bands, but you came from Salt Lake City originally? I think that Emily was from Santa Fe, along with your drummer… was it a culture shock, moving there?
TS: Fr me, it was a culture shock because I was only used to one way of living, like living in the suburbs where with dudes, you go to college and then you get a job, and a lot of kids don’t even go to college. Salt Lake City isn’t a really rich town, so a lot of kids just go straight into working entry level jobs, and then they start families (really big Mormon families), so it was definitely a culture shock for me.
NT: When you start to notice a difference, musically, I guess it’s a lot easier to be creative
because I guess there’s a lot more of a music scene going on where you are.
TS: [Tucker] Oh, yeah, definitely! The strange thing about Salt Lake City is that, I don’t know if it’s this way in other smaller towns, but there’s really a lot of really great bands in SLC, but they never really get the exposure; never get out. There are so many really talented people, and I talk to a lot of them and they really want to move to New York, to Brooklyn, and to do the same kind of thing we’re doing, but they’re just kind of stuck there.[Emily] Yeah, Santa Fe not so much, but because it’s so small, there’s like… one local punk band, one local metal band, and not many people are songwriters.
NT: you’ve been on CNN, VH1, and now the prestigious Northern Transmissions… things are happening really quickly for the band over the past little while—are you excited?
TS: [Emily] Yeah, it’s been really short amount of time, but we’ve worked really hard at it, so
I’m glad people are paying attention.
[Tucker] It’s kind of a strange thing… there’s kind of an “existential” thing that happens when you realize that people are starting to pay attention to what you’re doing. Maybe it’s a typical thing that happens right before that happens, you know? You go through this cycle of wondering whether anyone’s going to care about what you’re doing, and then you find out that people are talking about it or writing about it, or when you find out that we’re selling albums, it puts a whole new perspective on it and it’s kind of invigorating, and all of a sudden you start to produce more because you feel like there’s a nice market paying attention, so you get more productive. I think that’s what happened to us: we’re writing a lot, and recording a lot, and just really looking forward to the future.
NT: Your families must be really proud. I mean, you’re on CNN and NBC and stuff that your parents watch. Are they excited for you?
TS: [Emily] I just talked to my dad the other day actually, and we were talking about that kind of stuff. He’s kind of a hermit, kind of lives in isolation, and the fact that he knew the publications
and stuff that we’ve been mentioned in was a really big deal.
NT: Your single Crystal Necklace was on the UK label Fierce Panda … how did you get involved with them?
TS: [Tucker]That was really kind of random, actually. It’s Death Cab for Cutie’s label, and it’s really bizarre… we got an email from them and they were putting together a compilation with Beach Fossils, Dum Dum Girls and Weekends, and asked if we’d like to be on it, and we were thrilled! Then we had to get permission from the label here in Brooklyn that originally released the single on 7-inch vinyl, and it worked out. I guess it was just a limited run of 300 cassettes or something, you know?
NT: Do people still listen to that format? And do you put out anything else like that?
TS: [Tucker]Yeah, definitely! Our debut LP that came out in London 5 months ago was also co- released in Japan, on cassette tape at the same time, and we have a box of them that we bring on tour with us now. We’ve got cassettes to sell, and vinyls… and I love the format. We were kind of thinking about having our next album available on VHS next. Wouldn’t that be cool?
NT: That would definitely be cool. Tell me about the new 7-inch on its way.
TS: [Emily] We have two 7-inches coming out. That’s one of them with a really new song, and I’m glad we were able to work on it and get it out while we’re still really hyped on it, and then there’s an older song that we’ve just sort of been sitting on for a little while, and it has a really awesome instrumental jam on the B-side, which is so much fun. Then the new “7” “Brain slime” is coming out on 16-tambourines, a Japanese label, and they’re helping us release a split with another band: we’re covering one of their songs, and they’re covering one of ours.
NT: That’s great. I wanted to ask you about the song “Brain Slime”. It’s such a great title, and I wondered what the inspiration is behind the song?
TS: (Tucker) It’s kind of a strange song, you know… it’s kind of about a few things. I think, right of the top, it’s about nervous anxiety and dealing with nervousness and living in New York in general. Coming from Salt Lake to New York, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to living here, but I enjoy it. I really love New York, and it’s a beautiful and romantic place that’s always changing—there are always new and amazing things happening every day, but at the same time, if I weren’t playing in a band and writing music with Emily, I don’t think I’d be living here, personally, so there’s a dichotomy where it has to happen, I have to be here… though if I could actually be a hermit and stay home all the time, then I would, but I can’t… so we play a lot of shows. In “Brain Slime”, I try to deal with a bit of nervousness on that part. It may be social anxiety, but in the end, it turns out alright. In the song, you realize that everyone goes through their own little social anxieties, and it’s not that big of a deal.
NT: In the other single, you also covered Grime’s song “Oblivion”. Are you guys a big fan of
TS: [Tucker] Yeah, we’ve always wanted to cover one of her songs, ever since we first found out
about her maybe 6 months ago. Some mutual friends have been trying to get us into her music for a long time, and it all sort of culminated… there were two songs we thought we might cover, and it just made sense to do Oblivion, because it could explode, got really intense and dark and could turn into kind of a grunge thing in the middle (which it does), and it’s really fun. I actually want to turn it into a live song and add it to our set at some point in the future. What do you think, Em?
[Tucker] You know it’s interesting, my friend at Brooklyn Vegan found out that there’s been like, 600 downloads of that cover.
NT: It’s a great version, and very timely too, as that song is getting a lot of airplay.
NT: I know I’m quoting a writer here, but they say that Tucker, you echoed Lou Reed and Thurston Moore. That’s a pretty cool comparison there. Do you see that?
TS: [Tucker] I’m totally honoured that people ever make that comparison. I mean, those are two huge musical giants in the western world, and it’s a really neat thing for people to make a comparison like that, but at the same time, I feel like people make comparisons like that, especially to Thurston Moore, are for a couple of reasons. Number one, I’m tall and thin and I have blonde hair, and I like to play Fender guitars and play noise… but I don’t particularly like songs by Thurston Moore, and I don’t have the same perception on how I want to approach pop music like he does. I mean, although I have a lot of respect for what he does, the thing is that… we’re a girl/guy couple band: Emily plays bass and sings, I sing and play guitar, and immediately people draw back on what they know.I think it’s really cool—we’ve met Thurston Moore, and he’s actually a really nice guy and stuff and I look up to him, but I think I’m way more into the idea of being compared to Lou Reed, because he’s actually one of my huge heroes. I actually met Lou, once at Lincoln Center, and it was a total coincidence thing, nothing that was planned… it sort of just happened. I was working backstage, in production… it was the first job that I had when I moved to New York four years ago, and he was there doing a set with his wife Laurie Anderson, and so she was doing her set and he did a little cameo and played guitar onstage. I was working backstage, and all the kids working there were bugging him and trying to get his autograph and shake his hand and stuff, and I just sort of watched from afar and I had this whole thing going through me like, if this man only knew how much he inspired me and my career, and how much people are going to associate me with what he did, he’d either be really mad, or he’d be honoured. I didn’t approach him or anything until the end of the night when he was just walking around with his guitar, and I said “Hey, keep making beautiful music”, and he shook my hand and that was it.
NT: I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but have you guys played any shows with Beirut?
Your drummer has a connection with that band, as I understand?
TS: [Tucker] It almost happened once, when we had a show scheduled at a venue called Cameo, in Williamsburg here, and something happened when the owner of the club got double-booked and asked if he could move our show to another night, as they accidentally forgot that they had a private show booked with Beirut that same night. We said yeah, sure… whatever, and said that actually we could put the shows together, but musically the bands don’t really fit: our music and our audiences are completely different, and although we’ve sometimes joked about it, there’s no crossover. A lot of people who like Beirut are settling into families and they have baby strollers and like hanging out at coffee shops, and that’s great and all, but I don’t think they want to thrash around drinking 40s, you know? It was fun to entertain… But some news about our drummer, actually: we had a bit of a rough time recently, and our original drummer has gone on to do other things, so he’s not in the band anymore. After 2 and a half years, he’d played over 200 shows with us, and I think he got to a point where it was just too much for him. He wants to change his lifestyle, he doesn’t want to be in the public eye, and he doesn’t want to be involved on a public level. He wants to be at peace with himself, at home, and doesn’t want to be onstage and stuff.
NT: Have you found a new drummer?
TS: [Tucker] We’re in the middle of trying out a bunch of new people right now and deciding
who it’s going to be. Right now we have a guy who’s doing the tour for us that’s coming up.He’s a really good guy and a great player, and when we get back from being on the road, we’re going to re-assess who we really want it to be, and hopefully we’ll know who our new drummer is going to be in a month or so.
NT: Are you guys getting to the west coast at all on this tour?
TS: [Tucker] We really wanted to, but it all came down to time and logistics, so we have time to do the Midwest, the east coast and great lakes area, Chicago, St. Paul, and the farthest we’re going is Minnesota, and the farthest south we’re going is like, Virginia, and then Baltimore, and hopefully later in the summer we’ll be able to hit the west coast.
NT: I understand that you toured with Eric Johnson—is this accurate? That you toured with him
for quite a while?
TS: [Tucker] Yeah, it’s very accurate. That was the old me… that was the Tucker Rountree that
doesn’t exist anymore. He was amazing. I have nothing but fond memories of that: it was a very short period in my life, maybe a year and a half to two years, off and on, and what happened was that I became really good friends with Eric. How it all started out is that he let me record in his private studio, and I did some sessions with his bass player Roscoe who is currently Leonard Cohen’s bass player, and we did some sessions with original jazz ideas I had, and I don’t know what happened but Eric said, “Hey, I need an opening band for my upcoming tour” and that was like, 2007, 2008, so I went out and did it, and it became a thing that I did for a while and it was really cool, but I realised that I just wasn’t playing to the right audience. I wasn’t playing to my audience, and I had to reinvent myself to find out who my real audience was, and now I feel like
I’m playing to people who understand and empathize with what I’m personally trying to say.
NT: What was it like? Did you have a band with you?
TS: [Tucker] It was mainly like a jazz quartet, but a really, really modern, almost free jazz
quartet. It was bordering on freestyle, postmodern kinds of things… I don’t know. It was really kind of improvisational, and there were no vocals, but I feel like during that whole time, I was trying to figure out how to put vocals into it, but didn’t know how to combine them without sounding really cheesy.