Welcome back to the continuing saga that is Some Kind Of Muffin’s interview with The Deafening Colors.
What are your hopes and dreams for this album and for The Deafening Colors?
John: My hopes for this album are that people cherish it, listen to it, and love it the way that I do my favorite albums. My hope for The Deafening Colors is that we spend the rest of our lives making music as best as we can. If we focus on that—the making of the best music we can make—all the rest will take care of itself.
Cris: Everything John said, and really: I just want more people to hear it. Sure, it’s nice to get recognition or make money or something, but what I REALLY want more than anything is something I’ve gotten a little bit already with Carousel Season. For the first time, people have “gotten it.” They’ll say, “Oh man, this made me think of that time I….” and it’s not the same thing I thought of when we made it, but it’s similar. It’s an aesthetic that people latched onto in the same way we did making it. It gives you this electric feeling of true and literal connection: like this thing that you can capture sonically can make someone feel the same way you’ve felt, even if you’ve never met this person. It’s what keeps me waking up and doing this stuff every day. Trying to get an answer to the question: “Maybe you’ve felt this way, too?”
Listening to Carousel Season I was immediately hit with a wall of emotion. I know that the album is a nostalgic look back, but it also feels immediate. It doesn’t feel wistful or regretful, as so many nostalgic pieces do. Where does that emotion come from and how are you able to convey it so effectively?
John: First, this is a wonderful reaction and I’m overjoyed that you felt this way when listening to the album. I think a lot of the creation of art comes from a mysterious place lurking somewhere between what might be called our conscious and sub-conscious. So answering this question is tough—but my guess is that the emotion comes from the realization that life is fleeting and that looking back on our experiences with anything other than some combination of joy and wonder would be useless.
Cris: YES!!!! That’s so cool! That’s the kind of thing I was talking about above. This is a roundabout answer, but it’s true so bear with me.
Here’s a secret: I’m deeply afraid of localism. This works on a few levels. For one, as a surfer, there is the constant question of local authenticity. Being a guy who grew up near the beach and now living across the river from Manhattan, every time I come home to paddle out, I wonder if someone is eyeing me up because I have a shirt tan or something stupid like that. Or even the way I surf. Or that I’m on a longboard instead of my shortboard because I’m out of practice or whatever.
Also, this is the same thing with where I live. I’ve been living and working in North Jersey for about a decade now. I’ve been home for extended stays in there, but my permanent residence has been in Morristown, Hoboken, Weehawken, and more for years now. For those are not from the area, it may sound stupid (and it probably, truly, is. But…) those places are decidedly more “New York” in accent, attitude, clothes, pace, and more. So even though some of this might be in my head, when I come back for a holiday or something, it’s as though I’m now the “other.” The difference. But where I live and work now, I’m always the other. You know what I mean? And people don’t move around between North and South Jersey often. The cliche is that they ought to be different states, but it’s actually a little more than cliche. It’s not animosity really. It’s, at least in some cases, a different way of life. It’s Philly vs. NYC. Slow vs. Fast. The beach vs. the city. I’m a diehard Philly sports fan but I live three blocks from the Hudson River and drive by MetLife Stadium and Red Bull Arena on the way to work every day. Go figure. John is much the same way I think. We live in this strange in-between world of New Jersey. We have probably lived in 10-15 cities and worked double that number in jobs between the two of us, so I think we have a firm grip on what it means to live in the Garden State.
So now, here’s the conclusion: when we wrote this thing, we were in a cool spot. Since we grew up here, since we have our families and our friends and our high school and our experiences and memories and childhoods here, we’ve been away long enough to write objectively about it. We can criticize and not feel like some jackass outsider or vacationing tourist (as a lot of recent AC-based songs can certainly feel) or some critical voyeuristic journalist looking to say “look at what a disaster this place is!” We can objectively say (and sleep okay at night saying) “this is our home. This is what it feels like for us. It’s messed up. It’s beautiful. We grew up operating carnival rides on the boardwalk and surfing at sunrise, but we also grew up knowing too many kids who died of heroin/opiate overdoses before we were of legal drinking age. We also saw good, hard-working people lose good jobs because of mismanagement and bureaucracy. We saw two island beach resorts with ludicrous socioeconomic disparity. We saw long summers, but we saw longer and more desolate winters. It’s flat here. It’s featureless. Pine trees and sand and pine trees and sand and cattails and bay grass and low tide and the same bar for the same happy hour with the same people…and we (or they?) like it that way. It’s not cool because it’s different from everyone’s experience. It’s cool because it’s our experience and it’s probably yours. It’s 100% not special. That’s why it’s special. We love where we grew up.” It’s everyone’s story of localism and the conflict in your heart when it comes to going away or coming home. In a weird way, I hope there’s something sort of American about it! Do we owe it to those who stayed or to our conscience to dwell where we please? It’s nostalgic, sure. But it’s OBJECTIVE. Or at least we tried to be that way. It’s good and bad like anywhere else is. Yikes. That was a lot longer than I wanted it to be.
What are the greatest challenges as songwriters?
John: To avoid cliché, and to say something universal as concisely and simply as possible.
Cris: To explain a feeling people have been trying to explain their whole lives, though they didn’t even know they were trying to explain it.
What haven’t you done yet that you want to either with your music or in life?
John: I want The Deafening Colors to make a masterpiece so undeniably great that it holds its own with the greatest albums, or works of art in general, of all time. To aim any lower seems a waste of time.
Cris: I 100% agree with John. I think his answer is perfect. As audacious and naive as it sounds, grandiosity doesn’t happen without foolishness if you ask me. If the worst thing that happens is someone thinks we’re talking out of turn, well, good.
What has been your darkest moment as The Deafening Colors and what has been your brightest?
John: The darkest moment was probably somewhere between our first full-length album, Upstairs, and Carousel Season, when we only practiced sporadically and recorded even less. The brightest was the whole recording process for Carousel Season. Those were some of the most fun days I’ve ever had.
Cris: We’ve had 20 or so people play in our group over the years and not all of them have been the kind of nice, kind, friendly folks you like to have around the family. With that said, many of them have been, too. Also, John has had some remarkable stability with his wife, and I…well…haven’t sometimes? I don’t recall having even a mild disagreement with John really ever, so the dark moments that have influenced a lack of output or less-than-stellar stuff have really been a symptom of personal stuff rather than TDC.
How do you play live? Is it just the two of you? Do you have additional musicians live or prerecorded tracks?
John: We have played many shows with a full band–usually three guitarists, one bassist, and a drummer. Lately we’ve been doing an acoustic duo/trio depending on who is around, and we’ve also been practicing with a full band. We have never used prerecorded tracks live. We’ve also played with dozens of musicians in our various incarnations over the years.
Do you plan to tour? Because I can’t make it to New Jersey, but it’d be great if you made it to Portland.
John: We do. Do we know when? Not necessarily. Part of it depends on finances, and our work/life circumstances. If circumstances and finances allow, I’d like us to tour anywhere that would have us!
Cris: Agree with John here too. I think that the two of us struggle inherently with a simple concept: we spend so much time getting the right sound on our recordings, and that is a discovery process. So there’s a lot of “trial and error, listen, take time, listen some more, try something else” going on that you can’t really have in a live show. So ultimately, we (unfairly, and maybe inaccurately) feel as though our live show seems like it doesn’t measure up to our records. Also, the real rush of it all at least for me (but I think for John too) is that we get to actually make something NEW when we are recording. We’re not treading over something we have worked to perfect, we are making something. We like that.
I know John is married. Do you both have full-time jobs in addition to the band? How do you manage your time?
John: Yes, I am married, and yes, we have full-time jobs. I am a librarian. I manage my time by filling it with all the things I care about–I love my job, and when I am not working I am playing guitar, or writing to bloggers about The Deafening Colors, or driving to Cris’s place to record music. We record late at night, or very early in the morning, or all day on weekends, or all day on holidays, or whenever we get a chance, really. Cris has been doing all of the instruments himself–which means that whenever I get over there he has a track for me to sing over. It’s been a great arrangement and we don’t plan to stop.
Cris: I am not married, but I have a wonderful girlfriend who is infinitely patient and compassionate in addition to being a gorgeous and strong person. I am a full time 10th/11th grade English teacher at a public high school in northern New Jersey. I have been doing that for five years. I absolutely adore my job, my school, and everyone I work with…not to mention the students who are unquestionably awesome. I also coach girls soccer at the high school, play semipro soccer with a local club, cook at The Little Grocery Uptown in Hoboken during the summertime (the owners are lovely people and the food is incredibly good. I know, because I make it!), I surf as often as possible, and I try to see my family, see my friends, read, and write as often as humanly possible. I’m pretty obsessed with recording and listening to music though. I sort of strangely look at it as studying as much as I look at it as doing something for strictly entertainment purposes. The management of all of this time is a bit of an insane juggling act, but it never seems that way. It’s just what we’ve been doing as long as I can remember. It’s strange: since I’m fourteen or so, I always think that whenever I have free time, in my head, it’s always “I should be recording… I should be recording… I should be recording…
Thank you both so much for taking the time to share about your new album, your process, and a bit about your personal lives!
John: Thank you for taking the time to interview us!
Find The Deafening Colors at these fine locations: