The excellent New York quartet Locksley opens for Rooney tonight (along with the Bridges) at Revolution. Still unsigned, thanks to their catchy Brit-inflected power pop, and a fierce penchant for self-promotion, the band already boasts an enviable string of high-profile television appearances and tours. Here's what I had to say about Locksley in this week's print edition of the Miami New Times:
"Opening act Locksley hails from the opposite coast; the band formed in Madison, Wisconsin, but solidified in New Yorrk. The group mines similar [power pop] turf, though. However, its brand is slightly more Anglo-tinged, with strains of the clean jangle-pop of, say, the Hollies and the Kinks. The sound is hooky and bright enough to have snared the grizzled critics at Billboard, Alternative Press, and the New York Daily News, and eventually won the band rotation on MTVu — the first unsigned act ever to do so. If soaring melodies, handclaps, and shaking tambourines are your thing, Locksley is totally your new favorite crush."
I caught up with frontman Jesse Laz by phone the other day as the band drove southward from Jacksonville. The full Q&A follows after the jump. -- Arielle Castillo
So how long has this tour been going on so far?
There were two weeks about a month ago which was actually still technically still part of this tour, and then we had like three weeks off or something, and we went and did another tour, and then we're back on this one now. On this particular leg of the tour there's been maybe like seven shows so far.
What was the other tour you did in between?
We did a tour with the Hives around the Midwest and then up into Canada, and then down into Washington....
I wanted to clarify your band's biography a little. Your bio and Wikipedia entry mention the band moved from Wisconsin to Brooklyn. But I know we both attended NYU at the same time and have friends in common. So who in the band came to New York when, exactly?
I went to NYU for two years, and then I dropped out because the rest of the guys moved out to the city. We all went to high school together in Madison. The bass player is my brother, so obviously we grew up in the same house. Sam, the drummer, actually came out the same time as me -- he went to SAE, an audio engineering school in the city.
And then the other guys -- one of them was the guitar player, Kai, who went to school in San Francisco, and the other guy went to school in Madison. And so we were all in school a little bit, and no one was really crazy about it. So we thought we'd give the band a shot. We had played together, but not really seriously yet.
So the option was west coast, where the guitar player was, or the east coast, where we were. We didn’t want to stay in Madison and become big fish in a small pond. And we figured if we went to L.A. or San Francisco, well, our music is already really poppy, we didn't want it to get even more sunshiney power pop. New York City at the time was like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Strokes, and we wanted a little bit of that in our music.
Do you really think your physical location influenced your sound that much?
I really feel like it was an influence, to be honest. Partially because we ended up having a big connection to CBGB's. Our first major city show we were promoting was at CBGB's. It was us, Bishop Allen, and We Are Scientists -- before they had signed anything. We were pumped up that the show was gonna be so amazing. It was CBGB's, we were pretty cocky about it. We'd ask people the best show they ever saw, and then we'd give them a flyer and be like, this is gonna be the new best show you ever saw.
And then in New York we were not really part of a scene because we did all our shows at CB's, because they were one of the last places that had 16-plus shows in the city. You've been to 21+ shows, how much fun is that?
Um.... I don't know, I'm 24, so I have fun at them?
I'm 24 too, but when I moved out to the city I was 19 or whatever. I like a show when more people get into it. Also the kind of music we play, it's loud, faster, really uptempo, so when you're at a Mercury Lounge show in New York, for instance, everyone's standing their arms crossed and it isn't really fun. I mean, I do the same thing when I go to a show -- I'm not gonna put my drink down when I clap my hands. But it's fun for me to see shows where there are younger kids getting really, really into it.
So we played CB's because of that, and with that we started getting really into the early punk stuff like Richard Hell, which we hadn't listened to really much beforehand. And we all ended up working in some capacity there.
Aaron, who was the bass player before my brother, was an assistant booking agent at the club next door [CB's Gallery], and Sam ended up running sound. Me and Kai had odd jobs. We painted the floors, helped bartend, did extra "security" sometimes. It was really a community kind of a place.
So how did it affect you guys when it closed?
In a way it was kind of good when it closed, because it forced us to kick it up a notch, because we didn’t have a place to play any more. The CB's shows were good; they were really well-attended, so we really never made an effort to push out as much.
We made an effort to start touring after that. The embarrassing early tours where, if you get lucky there are 50 people there, but usually it's like five people. But that helped us sort of build up and define what we wanted to be. Because instead if we had -- there were some other bands that got signed, and they become whatever, because a label or somebody wants them. And then what happened too is we started meeting some bands. We played with the Rapture, and OK Go, the Dandy Warhols, and we started moving up a level a little bit. We thought we should start planning long-term.
You mentioned you defined what you wanted to be -- what was that, specifically?
I guess it was more just like the energy of the songs. We sort of -- especially because we were listening to a lot of diff things, we could have gone one way and sounded like the Libertines or the Strokes. But we found that the songs themselves were the foundation of what we were doing. As long as we were writing quality pop songs, we didn't exactly care how we did them. I guess everyone probably says that. But the idea was more about basing everything around the songwriting, instead of a sound.
A lot of what's been written about you mentions an influence of a British Invasion sound. Was this a conscious effort on your part?
I don’t really think so. We all grew up listening to oldies and British invasion stuff. Getting to the end of the first album [Safely from a City, 2004] we started listening to the Strokes and the Libertines. And the album out right now [Don't Make Me Wait, 2007] has a lot more like, I'd say, Rapture influences, the Hives, a lot of Motown, a lot of swing, even.
I definitely think that it still sounds like a logical progression, but the basslines are more like James Jameson, Motown-wise. The guitar parts are more sparse, and some of the harmonies are a little different because we're listening to different things.
What about the Garage Sale EP that you released this year? Is that new material?
I think a lot of people got confused about that. It's old stuff. We had done that first album -- we're working on our second album right now -- and a lot of things were getting pushed back because our first bassist left the band last year. We kind of get that resolved before we started working on the next album.
We had self-recorded an album in our apartment right when we moved out to New York, and the EP came from that stuff. We called it Garage Sale becase that’s literally what we thought, we were getting rid of old stuff that people might be interested in. We took the best songs and remixed and remastered them. Now we get a fresh start with the new stuff.
I have to ask you about the deal you got with the Starz network, where they paid for you guys to shoot a video.
We just got one of those happy timing things. Guy, our manager is also our producer. He has a studio, and we were gonna self-produce an earlier EP there, and he ended up being really into what we were doing. He said, If you let me produce it, I won't charge you for your studio time. Those recordings ended up being the basis for Don’t Make Me Wait.
Then he said, Oh do you guys have a manager? And would you be into it if I managed you. He hadn't managed anyone before -- he had had a successful business on Wall Street, and he decided he wanted out so he could do music. And that meshed with us, because we had gone to these good schools and quit to do music.
Literally he started managing us a couple days before we got this call from this guy who found us on Myspace, who wanted to pitch our songs -- he puts together a catalog of independent songs, and goes and pitches them to movies and TV shows and things like that. He gets a cut for it or whatever. We followed up immediately, and started trying to figure out how to get things rolling. That guy said he had a meeting that night, and the meeting happened to be with Starz, and they ended up really liking the songs. So they decided, Maybe we'll put the band in the channel's ads. So they shot a video for our song "Don't Make Me Wait," and once we got that, it led to a lot of other things. We did a bunch of commercial placements and things after that, and then we got a bunch of tours.
Was that related to your later MTV licensing and your rotation spot on MTVu? It's fascinating that you guys are still unsigned and you've already gotten these major exposure deals.
That was actually a different guy at MTV who had seen us play a really small festival in Delaware. This was before we even recorded Don't Make Me Wait, but he wanted to use the songs as background for some MTV shows and stuff. He pitched to someone at the network for a show called Why Can't I Be You? which only ran for one season.
Like the Cure song?
Like the Cure song, but they couldn't get it. We had these two other songs they liked, and they were like, Can you write a song like those two songs put together, and can it be called "Why Can't I Be You?" We ended up putting it on our album because we liked it so much! They used that song and ended up shooting a music video for that song as promotion for the show. I'm not entirely sure but I think it might have been a first where MTV paid to shoot an artist's music video.
Then through that we were able to enter this MTVu thing, which was just like a voting thing to get a video into rotation. We had done a lot of promoting at shows where I was really aggressive about getting people to sign up for our mailing list. So when we got out on that show, we sent out mailings asking people to help us out by voting. And they came out in droves like that and we ended up getting in rotation!
That's funny, you've had two major videos shot and aired on cable and you haven't paid for either.
It is pretty funny! We've been able to do a lot for very inexpensively. We also had another two videos shot that we didn’t pay for. Adam Lear, who also went to NYU, did a video for us. And then another guy, Mark Phillips, did a video that's gonna start airing in MTV in September, for a song called "All Over Again." He animated the whole thing.
With artwork and things like that, we don’t need to pay some name professional, because especially in New York, there are all these film students and people who just want to build up their reels or their portfolios. It fits our aesthetic too; I suppose every band couldn’t do it. Our sound is not super lo fi, but it's consciously not very produced and slick-sounding. So our videos aren't very slick, and the art is not super slick, and because of that we've been able to save a lot of money and then put that back into promotion and touring.
You mentioned you're already working on your next album. When did you start working on it, and how much of that is done already?
It's sort of just in between. One of the things that also been really nice is that like I said, our manager Guy owns a studio, so we're able to record and rehearse for free whenever we have a moment back in town. To be honest, it's not necessarily the most fulfilling way of recording an album, maybe, because it's a song here, a couple songs there.... We've got maybe six songs down, you know ... I can't say exactly when we started working on it.
We're always writing. We've got three songwriters in the band, and it's getting time to sit down and arrange it. That’s how the last album happened too, it was over the course of a while. It's kind of nice because it keeps the album from feeling too, um, where it all sounds the same. There's a little space in between, like a couple of little EPs connected. And because we spend so much time with the songs, we get a chance to really filter ourselves.
That's interesting, because a lot of bands like to get it done sort of all at once rather than going back to the studio over and over again, because then the songs sound old, and there's a danger of too much self-editing.
When it comes down to it we would prefer to do it all at once, because of what you said. On this album none of us have any mixes of any of the tracks, because we don’t want to listen to it to death. So later we'll keep adding things on, and in the end we'll finish it up and put it out. I think if we had our way, we'd be able to hole up in a studio for a month away from everything and get it done, but it just doesn't work that way for us. Maybe somewhere down the road if we have more money.
Do you get to write much when you're out on the road?
A bit. Also just like whenever we are home. Because sometimes we'll write songs collectively, but a lot is just individually. We just use Garage Band on the MacBook to demo stuff up. We kind of write everywhere. It keeps building up I guess. We're always trying to do stuff and keep it fresh, and we're in a pretty good postiion where we're not stressed to release songs.
Are you looking for a deal for the next album, or are you going to release it yourselves again?
We're sort of in talks right now for the spring, and doing a re-release of Don’t Make Me Wait in the fall, like September, because we've got a couple things happening with MTV, and we'll be getting more coverage on the album. We're gonna try to make it really clear to everyone that it's the same album. There will bee bonus tracks, but they'll be available separately on iTunes, not just as an album-only kind of thing.
The idea is not really to try and re-sell albums to people who already bought it, but we've got new artwork because we've got a new band. It's really for us because we're getting more exposure than we have, so we'll present it again and get it to more people. We're trying then to have the next album ready to go right after that. We're in talks right now to see if we can partner with someone to put it out. But if it ends up being a self-released album, that's okay, too.
What are you working on with MTV this time?
They have this thing called "52," which is where they put your band -- like Vampire Weekend did it on the network -- it's one band for a week, they push it in between shows. We're gonna be doing that in September, so with that, there will probably be more attention to the first album. We also really didn't get very many print write-ups at all. We got a fair amount of blog write-ups on the last album, but even most of the bigger blogs and things didn't review it. So we figure there's still a fair amount of people we want to hear it.
Is there a lot of pressure for you guys touring with Rooney this time, or a band like Hanson, before, who get a lot of media attention?
This Rooney tour is, as far as fan reaction, maybe one of the best we've done. Rooney just got off tour with that band Jonas Brothers, so the kids who are coming out to the shows are very young, and very excited to kind of discover new music. The Hanson fans were really good to us too. The Hives fans were really incredible.
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It's a good chance to just go out and play as well as we can. I definitely don't think there's pressure, really. We also understand the importance of an opening act, so we definitely put on the best act we can, but there's a reason a band has openers, which is to warm up the crowd. But the response has been tremendous on this Rooney tour especially.
What are your plans after the tour?
I'm actually getting surgery. It's fine, just some vocal cord stuff -- they've gotta straighten me out a bit. That's right after we get off the tour. Then we'll be working a bit on the next album, and then getting all our ducks in a row for that re-release.