Today I am very pleased to feature part one of a two part interview with John and Cris of The Deafening Colors. The second I heard their music I was immediately transported out of my living room and into the minds and worlds of these amazing song writers. You can find their new album here. Be sure to crank it on a good sound system or put your headphones on, there’s a lot to take in.
What is your name?
John: My name is John Arthur. I am in The Deafening Colors.
Cris: My name is Cristofer Slotoroff. Everyone calls me Cris, though. Even my mom. I am in The Deafening Colors.
What is your quest?
John: My quest is, to quote Tolstoy, to add my light to the sum of light.
Cris: I took a career quiz in the eighth grade. In a moment of preteen sincerity, I wrote “to paint my masterpiece.” Not sure of the medium, but I’m still working on it.
Tell me about your journey to Carousel Season. How does it differ from previous efforts?
John: It started with Cris’s early versions of “Diving Horse’s Ghost” and “Carousel Season.” It differs from previous efforts because it is so focused. This was probably the album that we’ve been trying to write during the dozen or more years since Cris and I first started playing music together in our parents’ basements in high school.
Cris: It differs, as John mentioned, in the realm of focus. Like, I can passably (and poorly) string vocals together, but they won’t be very good. John can play a bunch of instruments too, but this time, it just sort of turned out that John (who is an uncommonly good singer, and I’m not even just saying that) did all of the vocals and I did all of the instruments. It wasn’t a stated aim or goal or whatever. It just sort of started turning out that way. That’s more of an explanation of the process though rather than the journey.
To more accurately answer your question, I think the journey is, at least personally speaking here, borne out of necessity: I had a rough 2014 and I hadn’t made anything (musically, financially, personally, artistically) in a long time. I didn’t feel like myself. Wrong girl, wrong town, wrong people to surround myself with. Blah blah blah. Finally, something clicked and it seemed as if I had to look backward to go forward if that makes any sense. Looking back here, this all seems a little pretentious. Whatever. It’s true.
Reading the “About” section on your site makes it sound as if a minor fender bender may have started all this?
John: That was Cris’s fender bender. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
Cris: Sort of. I was home visiting my family. I had already intended on recording a ton of stuff, so it wasn’t as though the idea wasn’t in my head. I didn’t mean for it to sound so dramatic, because it wasn’t. Let me set that straight for future reference. What happened is that I was driving to get a cheesesteak for lunch at Rose’s Garden Grille in Northfield, NJ, where John is from (and where he used to work in high school). John’s town is adjacent to my town. Anyhow, on my way there, I see this fender bender on the side of the road. It looked like the cops hadn’t gotten there yet. Nothing serious, but everyone looked a little uneasy. So I pulled over and then I realize it was actually someone I knew really well. I hadn’t spoken to her in so long, and we had a bit of a relationship when we were kids. She was there with her mother, and I’m really good friends with her older brother, so I run over and ask if everyone’s all right. They were, but they both didn’t recognize me until later in the day after I got in touch again, and then we kind of spent the whole rest of the winter break talking to one another while I was recording all of this stuff. I had forgotten or maybe misplaced in my memory all of these experiences. Also, I’ve been out of high school ten years as of 2015. So as we were talking it was kind of like rediscovering myself in some strange way. It was really cool to make something and rekindle an old friendship. I think the two had a lot of bearing on one another.
What do you think would have happened if Cris hadn’t had that experience?
John: We would have kept on recording and making music. Both of us constantly have recording, and the creation of art in general, on our minds.
Cris: I agree with John. We have been making stuff for years and we won’t stop. Like John sort of insinuated, we have been trying unconsciously, I think, to make this album for a very long time.
I need to know who Mary-Anne and Jerry Ryan are.
John: Mary-Anne is the girl you wish you had asked to the movies in 11th grade. Jerry Ryan is a philanthropist, music enthusiast, festival organizer, father, humorist, and all around good dude from Atlantic City, NJ.
Cris: Mary-Anne is the best kind of disaster, but you can only feel that way in retrospect – a person genuinely awful to the core, but nonetheless essential to helping you figure something out about yourself. I had one of those in my life at one point. I think it’s important to be optimistic, so that’s the way I choose to see that whole thing. Her name wasn’t Mary-Anne, but Mary-Anne has this classy old ring to it, so it kind of had to be “Mary-Anne.” “Maggie Anne” was considered too, because my roommate’s dog is named Maggie and she’s fantastic, but it wasn’t to be.
As John said: Jerry Ryan is a philanthropist, music enthusiast, festival organizer, father, humorist, and all around good dude from Atlantic City, NJ.
I’d like to add, he was pretty instrumental in our developing an early audience. Though John and I had been making music for years and playing the occasional show here and there around NYC, Philly, NJ/AC, etc. we were inherently not so good at promoting ourselves. We’re not very “band-y,” if you know what I mean? But we take the creating music part of things very seriously and Jerry was one of the first people to sort of say “hey, you guys NEED to play at my new festival and you NEED more people to hear this album.” Also, the lyrics of that song are almost 100% literal truth.
I absolutely hear a Beach Boys influence in your harmonies and even some of the production choices? Is that something that is conscious or instinctive?
John: I think it started out as instinctive but we picked up on it quickly and then it became conscious.
Cris: Hm. One of the things I like about the way that John and I record is that it’s not very “serious.” I don’t mean that in a way that contradicts what I’ve written previous to this. What I mean is that we are very serious about the music we make and extremely dedicated, but the process of doing it is entirely one of exploration. I imagine it’s probably a lot like telling some kid at an amusement park, “okay, we want you to make the greatest roller coaster of all time. So here’s all the tickets you want. Ride them all as many times as you’d like, see how much you can handle. Then, draw up the best roller coaster possible, it doesn’t matter if it’s crazy and doesn’t make any sense. We will try to build it!” We didn’t really model it on anyone else’s work. John did a lot of those harmonies first take. Like it’s almost all improvised, which is sort of crazy good, if you really think about it. Like, I’m still outrageously impressed with all of that and I was sitting there and clicking the buttons and all.
John and I were just having this conversation the other day: “Why do people keep saying beach boys?” or “why surf rock?” Neither one of us thinks of music in terms of genre, you know? We have a hard time categorizing other people’s stuff, so it’s nearly impossible for us to accurately describe our sound. I mean certainly we love Pet Sounds and the like, and I’m sure it played the role of a conscious influence along the way, but I think I was listening to more Run The Jewels and RTJ2 than I was Pet Sounds! In terms of Surf Rock, we have been listing that as a genre where applicable because it’s what other people seem to say about us. I think that’s because of the guitar tone I kind of prefer, which is actually really simple – just a few pedals and amps and all. Lots of spring Reverb. But actually, as much as I like equipment, my stuff sort of pales in comparison to what I want. We have made the most out of our gear. Believe me. I did some weird stuff to my guitars, I guess, but it’s nothing revolutionary or whatever. We keep things (cheap and) simple on the whole. We become restless easily too, so what happens next may be entirely different. Who knows?
In terms of production, I like being surrounded by music. I like bathing in it. I want it to sound, literally, like waves of sound are picking you up and tossing you around comfortably and maybe not so comfortably. So, more so than Brian Wilson, I think Loveless (My Bloody Valentine), You Forgot It in People (Broken Social Scene), and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot were influential production touchstones. Oh, also a lot of Dave Friedmann’s stuff with The Flaming Lips. In particular, Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi. Finally, (sorry for rambling here,) I think that it sounds a little Beach Boys or surfy or whatever because it’s about where we grew up, and well… I surf. I love surfing. I’m going surfing in a few minutes actually! There is a lot of kitschy BS associated with surfing and music around here, so I think I kind of wanted it to be as cool as I think it can be. Jersey Surf Rock, maybe? Like dirty water, crowded lineup, dodging jetties and shoobies and drainage pipes and all. That’s what the album sounds like to me.
The Beach Boys connection is maybe (…and somewhat ironically, given what people have said about it,) more Van Dyke Parks than Brian Wilson in that the subject matter is cyclical and reflective of a hometown aesthetic (if I can be so presumptuous). I can see where it comes from though, because of the harmonies and the guitars…but like, there was Carl, Dennis, Bruce, Al, Brian, and Mike. And probably others. John did literally every vocal on that album. I didn’t work with any session people. I don’t say that to brag, because I’m not exactly Mr. Proficiency on my instruments. I mention this because the line between vision and creation is not even remotely obscured when it comes to the two of us. We don’t have to relinquish anything to the creative or commercial whims of anyone else. I’ve heard of a certain Hoboken native who liked to remind the world just whose way he did things, and I think it’s admirable when anyone blazes his or her own trail in the arts. I think that someone more important than me once said “if you’re going to fail, it should be spectacularly…” or something like that.
What has the reaction to Carousel Season been?
John: It has been overwhelmingly positive—I’m thankful every day that we have people listening to and sharing our music. The best thing, for me, is that some of the songs are taking on a life of their own—”Jerry Ryan” was recently performed by a bunch of students for an Elephants For Autism charity music camp—watching the video of those kids performing a song we wrote probably made me happier than anything else has in my life (except of course my family and my wife)…hi, Khush. Hi, mom.
Cris: More positive than I could have ever imagined. It’s sort of surreal. Like, I remember just sort of mic’ing everything up and then playing the instruments, recording John, mixing it, mastering it, buying gear, restringing guitars or whatever, blah blah blah, and there was no audience for that, you know? Like, no one was expecting anything from us except for those really close to us. And then again, we’ve been recording music a long time so when we would tell our friends “no really, this is pretty good…” I think a lot of them were sort of skeptical. It’s funny – we used to tell people that if they didn’t want to listen to our 7” or our CD-R EPs, they made great drink coasters. We never took ourselves seriously and I think that kind of rubbed off on the music we made and the way people interpreted it. Also, I think that we may have been a little afraid to say something genuine… sort of like “who are we to say _____ ?” A lot of things clicked, though, this time around in a way they haven’t and I think we’re onto something even bigger.
Be sure to join us next week for the exciting conclusion of our interview with John and Cris of The Deafening Colors.