Friday, November 13, 2009

Music: Alvin Band

Alvin Band is comprised of Rick Alvin Schaier. That’s it. So when you hear the layers and layers of vocals on his songs, it’s all him. He’s the drummer for the group Miniature Tigers, but when he has some free time, I mean a lot free time (as he discusses below), he creates what we hear in his Lady Portrait EP and the vocal composition of Mantis Preying, which come packaged together.

Mantis Preying, which lasts about twenty-three minutes, is completely vocal – there are the occasional drums, finger snaps, and handclaps, but every melody and layer is done with Shaier’s voice. You will hear some influences; especially Animal Collective, Panda Bear, and some of The Beach Boys harmonies, but the Alvin Band is more than the sum of its parts. The first song “Temple Pressure” is about the struggles of Hebrew School – not exactly something you’ll hear on Pet Sounds. A friend of mine said he thought that “Ate” sounds like a Justin Timberlake song; it does at first, until it turns into a chorus of backing vocals that are unmistakable to this album. “Shabby Thermal” sounds like if The Beach Boys hung out with a beat boxing barbershop quartet and it’s great for it. The album ends with a surprising and beautiful medley of songs from The Phantom of the Opera that sounds strange only on paper.

The Lady Portrait EP, which lasts about twenty minutes, is more traditional in that it actually uses instruments. You’ll still hear the harmonies and vocal layers but now guitar, synthesizer, and more traditional percussion support them. Standout track “Tijuana” gives us a unique warm feeling that only summer can grant. Read below and find out why the album Schaier is currently finishing has one of the most exciting concepts ever.

Have you seen, heard, or read anything that you would like to recommend to our readers (film, art, music, literature)?

Well recently I've gotten really into these two Van Dyke Park records. One is called Song Cycle and the other is called Discover America. I’m also reading this graphic novel by Alison Bechdel called Fun Home and I’m loving it so far.

There are so many vocal layers on your songs - how much free time do you have? How long did it take you to record Mantis Preying and the Lady Portrait EP?

I have a lot of free time when I’m not on tour. If I have my vanilla chai fix in the morning I just lock myself in the band room and record all day. It took be about three months to record Mantis Preying. I mostly recorded very late at night, around midnight to six in the morning. I recorded Lady Portrait about a year before I recorded Mantis Preying. That took about two months or so.

You're the drummer of Miniature Tigers, which must be a different experience all together from the Alvin Band. What are your feelings about working in and balancing both?

I love the balance of the two. With Miniature Tigers it’s more of a social thing, going out into the world and experiencing things with my best friends. With Alvin Band it’s just creating music in the comfort zone of my house and my little world in Laguna Niguel. One thing I like is being away from recording for so long that when I get home from tour I love to record a bunch, and it feels fresh and new.

What is your songwriting process like?

The song writing process is normally the same. I don't pre-write anything. I just go into the band room and start messing around with little ideas. And keep building on them. And before long I have a verse or maybe a chorus. And then I’ll just keep doing that to different sections and then I’ll start figuring out how to put it all together.

Are you working on anything else?

I’m working on the next album, which is about done. I have about 16 songs recorded but I think it will end up having about 13 songs on it. It’s called Rainbow Road. It’s about all things Nintendo. Everything from Dry Bones to Bowser’s Castle to Wario bleaching his hair.

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