Interview: Bleeding Rainbow on New Album “Yeah Right” and the Balance of Noise and Pop

February 5th, 2013
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Sarah Everton and Rob Garcia are the founding members of Philadelphia band Bleeding Rainbow. They played together as a drums-and-guitar duo (previous named after the beloved PBS program, “Reading Rainbow”) before adding Al Creedon on guitar and Greg Frantz on drums. They just released their third record, Yeah Right, on Kanine Records—their first outing as a full band. We spoke about the band’s history, the new album and all the intense changes of the last year or so.

photo by Zia Hiltey

photo by Zia Hiltey

Had the two of you played in previous bands before you teamed up?

ROB: Yeah, I had always been in bands and stuff. Sarah really didn’t play music that much before we got together. I was in other bands and then we actually had a three-piece band for a while before Reading Rainbow. That was Sarah’s first time being in a band, writing her own music and stuff like that.

So you had experience, but for her it was just something new that she wanted to try?

SARAH: Yeah, exactly. And with the first band that we were in together, I think I viewed it as more of performance art. Because it was really like a super spastic no-wave punk band and I didn’t really have any set parts exactly. It was really kind of a weird stupid conceptual band where we would dress up and stuff like that. So that was the way I was able to approach performing in a band. That was the only way I was able to really finally do it.

So you got your start with the non-musician’s approach to being in a band before you played?

SARAH: Exactly, and it’s funny: Our transition of the last few years is kind of hilarious, ’cause I went from playing circuit-bent Casio keyboard…

ROB: Playing noise basically.

SARAH: And from that to playing a floor tom and a snare standing up, and singing in Reading Rainbow. And then from that to a full-piece drum set, you know? And now I play bass and I play guitar. It’s kind of hilarious, and I feel like it’s the only way I could have arrived at this point. I think I would have psyched myself out if I ever thought about performing music as my real job, you know? Standing in front of large groups of people…

And when you guys finally got rolling with Bleeding Rainbow (or Reading Rainbow, at the beginning) did you have some sort of mission statement or plan for what the band was going to sound like? Or did it just come out of a “let’s jam” situation?

ROB: When we very first started this band it was like in 2007-2008, and it’s just kind of funny that the whole lo-fi thing kind of happened, because back when we started our band we were totally not into any contemporary music at all. We weren’t even aware of any trends or anything but we liked recording. I had experience recording on 4-tracks, cassette players and on reel-to-reel tape. And we love ’60s sounds, you know? Especially for our songs, we knew we were just a two-piece, but we wanted to make them the most full, lush, noisy, wall-of-sound kind of recordings. So that’s what we were really going for—for that aesthetic, like huge guitar sounds and then just really boomy, sparse drums and then these beautiful, full vocals. We kind of had an aesthetic idea first and our very first recording, Mystical Participation, the songwriting really wasn’t there, so it was really just the vibe we were trying to put out. And then for our next album, Prism Eyes, it kind of just developed into a study into writing pop songs, basically. Because that’s super poppy, the album. And then we cleaned up the sound a little more, so that’s kind of like where we started.

That’s kind of what I wanted to ask you also. How do you find your balance between noise and pop song?

ROB: I think the thing we love about drone songs and noisy guitar parts is I feel like there’s just so much energy and raw power and emotion that can be heard in the dissonant parts—just so gnarly and everything—and I love the way it makes you feel. But then we’re suckers for pop songs, too, and a really good hook in a song or a great chorus can make you feel awesome, you know? So I love the idea of the interplay between both of those worlds because you can make the cheesiest pop sound sound totally insane and over-the-top if you just tweak it just a little bit and make it a little weird and add gnarly guitars.

It’s beautiful to see how you guys go between the two. It makes it accessible to someone who might be looking for that, but it’s in no way a verse-chorus-verse kind of thing.

ROB: Yeah, and I think also we want the music we make to still be accessible, like you just said. We want to be engaging. Drone records and stuff: There’s a fine line between doing it really well and then not really being able to follow it, you know? But if you incorporate engaging hooks and choruses it just adds a new enticement to people.

So, in transitioning into a four piece, is a lot of the music coming out of a full band or is it still mostly written by the two of you?

ROB: Our songwriting process is still relatively the same. Most of the songs are still Sarah and I coming up with the guitar parts and all the melodies beforehand and then introducing it to the group and hashing it out that way. But then there are a few songs that we developed in jams and things like that. The songs “Go Ahead” and “You’re Not Alone” on the album specifically happened that way. New stuff that we’re writing is kind of a mix between spontaneous and us still being the principal songwriters. But we’re still the ones that write all the vocal melodies and all the lyrics and things like that.

Yeah, you’re still the people in charge. Rob, I understand that you had a professional career before while you were doing the band, keeping it a nights and weekends kind of thing. Now that you guys have a record out on a label and there’s quite a bit of press and buzz going on for you, do you think this was a good approach to having a ‘career’ in music as opposed to just trying to be starving artists along the way?

ROB: (chuckles) Yeah, we actually started recording this album last January and this entire year has been just one complete head fuck, basically! Being totally thrown into this, we were familiar with going on tour and doing shows and all that stuff, but then once I left my job, stuff really starts to hit you as far as, “Wow, going on tour really is the only way bands make any money nowadays,” and stuff like that. We did a lot of touring last year, and we love it, but still, it’s pretty intense to keep it up—I mean keeping this up and making it sustainable to be in a band. It takes a lot of work, but the payoff is being able to play every night and that release that you get when you’re actually playing is just so exhilarating that that’s what makes it worth it. I mean, answering the question is kind of hard. I worked my ass off to get that job and everything and to go through school, to pay for school and stuff like that. I don’t know, but this is kind of like my true passion, so that’s rewarding to be able to play every night, basically.

SARAH: Oh yeah, I mean Rob would be totally miserable if he continued on with his previous career. It wouldn’t have been worth it to stick with it at all.

Yeah, you’ve got to do what you love. Even the founders of Google say that! In listening to the record, despite it being somewhat dark and discordant musically, I got a very positive vibe from a lot of it. I started to read into the lyrics a bit and they have a lot of frustration and alienation in them. But it’s interesting, ’cause in listening there was what seemed like a lot of positivity. I don’t exactly know how to explain it. Are you guys generally positive people?

ROB: Yeah, I think all the lyrics kind of—well, they definitely do, they reflect our headspace when we were writing those songs and trying to think about it. I still had my job when we wrote those songs, but we knew the impending future was going to be drastically different. So I think we were really hopeful, we were nervous as Hell and…

SARAH: Super alienated and frustrated.

ROB: Yeah, frustrated with our position, to have a band, the music industry and stuff like that.

SARAH: Oh, absolutely. It’s like the fact that we devote 100% of our free time to music, to writing songs and recording and doing artwork and everything. It’s like we have no social life and it’s very alienating! (laughs) It’s cool that you picked up on all of that from the music itself and the lyrics, because I feel like if you surf through an album and the lyrics for each album they have that vibe of being really frantic and freaked out sometimes but overall having an optimistic view.

ROB: Hopeful, positive.

SARAH: Because otherwise why do it? That’s kind of the overarching theme of all our lyrics, I feel.

Yeah, that makes sense. And maybe it’s the pop, too—the pop aspect of the thing, because some of them have such a bright, almost an uplifting quality to them with a big buzz saw guitar coming through it.

SARAH: Oh totally, I feel it’s kind of like everyday conversations that we have with each other. It’s about things that freak us out, but we always like try to put it into perspective and find the positive in things that freak us out.

Absolutely. So what do you think—if you could narrow it down, what’s the most successful thing you think you’ve done in terms of getting your band exposed and noticed?

ROB: That’s tricky.

SARAH: The biggest effect on that is getting on a label that actually has a PR company (laughs), one that actually puts money into that. You need to be on a label with a PR company and to have tons of interpersonal connections in order to get any type of notice. It’s all very political, actually. It’s kind of shitty and off-putting. In terms of things that are within our power…

ROB: Expanding to a four-piece, within our personal realm of actions that we made. Expanding to a four-piece was huge for us because there was a little time period when we were a two-piece and we added Al the other guitar player and Sarah was a full drum kit and we were two guitars, but Sarah and I were still both singing. That was really hard to do. Then while we were writing songs for Yeah Right, the drum parts that we had envisioned became more and more complicated, and then Sarah was singing on top of that. It was so ridiculous. So, by finally realizing that “You know what? Sarah should be in the front anyways, because she’s singing. Oh, she can play bass, too,” and then having that low end and then a really powerful drummer behind both of us, that was just huge and so inspiring to us to write a bunch of songs and stuff.

In listening to the record, I couldn’t picture it without the full band sound.

ROB: Yeah, yeah. It’s super eye-opening, and we just realized that it opened it up so that we could actually explore weird parts of songs. As a two-piece, you’re kind of limited in guitar noodling that you want to do, you know? And then working with Kanine, they’re really sweet people, and we’re really happy working with them. And they believe in the record too, so that helps! (laughs)

Yeah, that definitely helps! Let me ask you one more question about the record: So with it all done and out there being promoted, is there anything that you feel maybe didn’t make it onto the record? Something that’s still missing?

SARAH: Hmmmm. I mean… I don’t know. We had to re-record a couple of songs that turned out as B-sides, because we re-recorded them after the album was in production that maybe would have made it onto the album?

ROB: The B-side to the single, “Drift Away,” was a song called “Wasted Youth,” and when we play that song live now it’s just this awesome force, because we have this whole instrumental introduction section to it. Yeah, that song would have been really cool for the album. We recorded like 15 songs total, and I think we were really happy with what we were able to fit on the actual album.

SARAH: Yeah, I mean it’s funny. If anything, we crammed too much stuff on the record, because on the actual vinyl copy we had to leave off one song because the quality would have been way reduced. So “Inside My Head” is only on the CD release and the digital download. It’s really kind of funny, because the total length is like 54 minutes, and that’s considered crazy long for an album now—which to me is totally absurd that that’s considered long. I always hate it when I’m listening to a record, I’m working on a project or something and put on an album and it’s a new album… I barely listen to new albums! (chuckles) But when I do I’m like, “Holy shit, that was 20 minutes! What?!” and I go find something else to put on. If anything was missing, a secret hidden track—like an answering machine or something like that—that would have been cool. I’ve been pushing for that for the past few days. (laughs)

Yeah, you can always put that on the next record. Final question: What happens from here? What’s the plan for 2013?

ROB: We’re going to SXSW. We’re gonna tour our asses off, and we’re getting songs together to hopefully put out an EP maybe this summer. So, that’s our immediate plans.

SARAH: And then we also want to work on our fourth album as soon as possible. Hopefully we’ll be recording it by the end of the year.

You probably will be.

SARAH: (laughs) I hope so.

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By Matthew Stolarz Posted in Features , ,

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