A gothic metropolis in sunny California, San Francisco suffers from a schizo split. It has bred hippies, Hell's Angels, and the Zodiac Killer.
And five years ago, old San Fran gave birth to a certain psych-pop trio called Lemonade that luxuriates in the idea of swirling together sonic extremes (happiness and doom, screaming guitars and cool drum synths) and then making you dance till dawn. In 2008, though, band members Ben Steidel, Alex Pasternak, and Callan Clendenin grew bored of the Bay Area and fled to Brooklyn, a new utopia in one of America's ancient cities.
Last week, New Times called Clendenin to talk about leaving San Fran, international smooth jazz star Sade, and the band's commitment to dancing.
New Times: When and why did Lemonade decide to relocate to Brooklyn?
Callan Clendenin: Well, we recorded a lot of our first album [Lemonade (self-titled)] out in Brooklyn, and we had friends out there. And at the time, a certain kind of music had this spiritual, transcendent vibe. Our music had it, and a lot of our friends' music in Brooklyn had it. There was a feeling of kinship. It was like everybody had moved beyond angry punk stuff and started listening to free jazz, Sun Ra, and more cosmic-sounding music.
But I don't know if that alone would've been enough to make us move. As a band, all of us grew up in the Bay Area. If anything, it was playing in the band and enjoying it that made me stay for those last few years, 'cause I was really ready to move.
From Lemonade's early material to more recent recordings, has there been a major sonic shift?
Yeah, the sound was way different. Looking back, our early stuff was kind of a cross between Liquid Liquid and krautrock, new-age experimentalism with a lot of noise, and sort of ethnic percussion. The first album had remnants of that sound, but it was more of an electronic record. And then the EP [Pure Moods] was just a bunch of songs we wrote while still in San Francisco, and it was all uplifting, happy music. But this next album is not going to be like any of that stuff.
Most of your songs seem to be a blend of analog and digital sounds. Is that an illusion?
No, that's true. There are live elements. We've used analog synthesizers. And we've also used softsynths. It's a mixture. But where bands have always had roles and rules, we kind of look at it more like producers. We do whatever we want to do, really. I mean, there's a lot of stuff out there right now, like the minimal-synth thing, that's all about analog synths and old drum machines. I don't need that hardware to get the drum tone that I'm looking for. I do sample them, and I do use them. But it's not about [that] sort of preservationist approach.
I was trolling around your MySpace page, and I could make sense of all the listed influences. But Sade... Is that ironic? Or do you guys have a real love for "Smooth Operator"?
There's no irony. I just really do like her voice. And actually, you might hear it more on the new record. I've had someone say to me: 'You know, Sade, she's all right. But I just can't deal with the production. It's just too much.' But that's the best part. And it's not too much. At times, her tracks are so minimal and perfect — almost shockingly minimal. So yeah, I think her music's amazing, her bands were solidly cool-looking, and her live performances were incredible. She's something to aspire to.
Earlier, you call Lemonade's music "happy." And it could be classified as tripped-out, ravey indie rock. But it's not especially blissful or hippie-ish. There's a lot of darkness and doom involved. Is the moodiness intentional?
It's not. For me, Lemonade was my attempt to sort of get away from the darkness, anger, and violence of things that were done in the past. It was supposed to be lighthearted. But I think it's just us. Everything we do seems to come out with this edge to it, whether that's darkness or just yearning. And compared to music that's actually made for a summer beach party or reggae, it's not so happy. But this was supposed to be fun and lively, even though there's that doom, or whatever, mixed in.
Even with the dark stuff, though, a Lemonade song still sounds engineered for dancing. Do the crowds usually respond?
Yeah, totally. I mean, some of the songs have slower, more abstract tempos. Or they're fast and they just seem slower. That can kind of throw people off. But when we play in New York or somewhere, people dance to every song. And that's kind of what it's always been about — just dancing.