Nine Pound Shadow consists of Berkeley, CA brothers Breandain and Chris, whose song “Melody” appears on the first compilation from Danger Mouse’s new record label, 30th Century Records, which arrives in stores and online Friday (December 18th). Several elements of “Melody” sound perfectly aligned with the almighty Danger Mouse production filter, which has provided crucial tone and structure for such successes as every Black Keys album since 2008, Portugal the Man’s Evil Friends, U2’s Songs of Innocence, Electric Guest’s Mondo, Beck’s Modern Guilt and, of course, the classic Grey Album, mashup, where he mixed the instrumentals from the Beatles’ White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album.
That vision tends to be reflected in sad, beautiful, introspective pieces of music with recurring production elements like jangly psych-influenced electric guitar, thick spaghetti western bass, psychedelic/dramatic background harmonies (usually in the form of a wordless sort of moaning), and a powerful and impactful chorus, among many other alternating methods.
Danger Mouse did NOT produce Nine Pound Shadow’s “Melody.” In fact, Asa Taccone, lead singer of Electric Guest, produced the song. Electric Guest’s Mondo, however, was produced by Danger Mouse, and it appears that the experience was not lost on Asa, who has managed to bring certain elements of Danger Mouse’s studio finesse, as well as his own sharp ear for the perfect riff and studio knowhow, to Nine Pound Shadow and their output.
I was lucky enough to speak with Nine Pound Shadow over the phone recently (disclaimer: embarrassingly, I did not expect both Breandain and Chris to be on the call and ended up having a bit of trouble distinguishing between the two brothers’ voices…) and inquire about the development of “Melody,” as well as their other music and their history together.
How did you write and record “Melody”?
Basically we were in the studio with Asa recording some other stuff. We had a break and we were fiddling with some (electric) guitar sounds. We had written “Melody,” so I just started playing it on the guitar, a couple of months before we had recorded an acoustic version of it, and then when we heard the electric guitar we were all like, “Oh my god, that sounds really cool!” So Asa was like, “Let’s record that right now.” So we did, and it probably took another two or three sessions to lay in all the other instrumentation and background, harmonies and stuff.
We had played Asa a few songs and then he heard “Melody” and I think Chris and I just cracked up when we saw his reaction. We’d never seen that kind of spontaneous joy around just hearing a song, and for whatever reason it clicked with him on that song. He literally burst out with this kind of joyous shout like “Oh, damn!”
How do you know Asa?
We all grew up in Berkeley, and Asa was kind of a larger-than-life personality in Berkeley. I’d just hear tales about this really funny, charming guy. We kind of just like overlapped and collided eventually through Berkeley and he kind of blazed his musical trail where we did. He’s been kind of guiding us.
When I heard “Melody” I thought, This could be a Danger Mouse song. Did you have the Danger Mouse filter in mind?
That was all Asa. He very much has a style and aesthetic and we had worked with certain people before and never quite got what we wanted, and then a year or two ago we were practicing some songs and we like, “Man, we just really dig his production and aesthetic,” and it’s very in line with our own. I think maybe all of this, including Danger Mouse, sort of gravitates toward this melancholy, beautiful, psychedelic, dark qualities to the music. It sounded like a nice fit.
Is the upcoming material similar? Do you want to make upbeat pop songs? What should we expect from the next few songs you put out?
We just keep writing music, that’s kind of true to where we’re at. You’ll hopefully hear maybe something a little more uptempo, right now the short term goal is an EP. Maybe not (uptempo). We’re kind of sad sometimes!
You started “Melody” on acoustic guitar, what is the general starting point for any given song? Acoustic guitar? Piano? Humming?
I’d say all of the above. It’s very organic, acoustic guitar, melodies, dreaming of melodies like when you hear a song in your head. Hearing a song over a dream and being like, “Man, I wish I wrote that.”
What music were you raised on and what are your influences?
We were raised on what people would call the classics. Definitely a lot of Beatles growing up. Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, we loved all that music. There times where we would just stay up with our dad and he would analyze Bob Dylan music. And then listening to a lot of oldies.
How long have you been playing music together?
Breandain and I are brothers, we’ve probably been playing music together in some form or another since we were probably like 12 or 13. Then we started writing our own songs in our later teen years. We pretty much do everything together, we know where each other lives, and we know each other’s parents.
Do you get together at a house? Do you set a time to play?
We live five minutes away, nowadays we’ll set a time to get together. We’re constantly open to inspiration and playing music and exploring ideas, so that will happen a lot individually, but we do everything collaboratively. Flesh it out (alone), play it on the piano or something and then get together and work on changes and harmonies and that way we’ll kind of be jamming with it and think of lyrical ideas.
Have you been inspired by any albums this year?
We kind of live a little bit of a hermit life. We don’t really listen to the radio at all, we’ll put on old records (laughs). My wife listens to the radio and I’ll hear things now and then and be like “oh that’s really cool.” I know that there’s some beautiful stuff out there that I’m sure we’re missing out on, but our whole process is kind of just marinating and writing what we write, and a bit of isolation.
Do you have a song you wish you wrote?
Maybe “A Day In The Life” (by the Beatles)
(Other brother interrupts) That’s what I was gonna say!
Or maybe “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” (by Bob Dylan).
Would you guys considering moving to LA to be closer to the industry?
That’s something we kind of talk about with Asa a little bit. He made that move several years ago and it’s obviously been very good for him. Just over the course of working with him we’ve gone down there a lot, met a lot of nice people. I think being NorCal kids, we had a natural bias against LA like, “To hell with the Dodgers!” But going down there, just like anywhere else, there are tons of nice people. A lot of the time we get back what we put out. Moving there though, I don’t know if that’s something we have to do yet, but we would if we had to. The more we’ve been exposed to it, there are great people everywhere and there is so much great stuff in LA – great food, great art.
What else should we know about you guys?
We’re just really excited to be writing new songs. We’re riding this wave, it feels like things are happening fast right now and we’re trying to keep up as best we can, we’re just enjoying the ride.
I just think its writing music that’s true to where we’re at, and at this point there’s a lot of feeling and imagery.