In just a few short weeks Two Cheers are releasing their new album Splendor, a summery, deceptively upbeat album, featuring major chords with major angst. If you've got a taste for The Wombats, The Strokes, or Neutral Milk Hotel, you'll want to get your hooks into Splendor. I recently got to talk to vocalist Bryan Akcasu about their music, their writing, and their new album.
(Photos by Shab Ferdowsi)
1. First, please introduce yourselves!
My name is Bryan, I am the singer of Two Cheers and I also play rhythm guitar. Mitchell plays lead guitar, Al plays bass, and another plays Bryan the drums. Our good friend John O’Reilly Jr. also played drums on the record.
2. When you sat down to write this album, what were you hoping to achieve?
We sort of knew we were probably writing songs for an album, but most of the time we were just playing with ideas for the sake of it. In the past, we used to write songs in a very crafty way, kind of from the top down, and we wanted to break out of that and capture more improvisational, off-the-cuff elements. Sometimes we’d build a whole song around a tiny fragment of a riff. The entire song "Super Owls" was built around the brief chromatic power chord riff right before the chorus… It was a weird little thing that Mitchell was playing during one of our girlfriends’ play dates and I thought it would be fun to try to make a song out of it - kind of building a song from the inside out. I don’t have very lofty goals when I set out to make a song; my songs often start out as curiosities and only later do they become meaningful to me. Most of them do, anyway.
3. The entire album was created in an apartment, how was this different from working in a studio?
I’ve actually only worked in a proper studio a handful of times, and I’ve found that I am way more comfortable recording in a non-traditional studio environment. I find it very unpleasant to be on the clock when I am trying to capture a particular emotion or performance. Plus, I know what kind of microphones, preamps, compressors, and reverbs I like to use for each instrument, and I have them all set up and ready to go in my home studio. There is no prestige about it. For instance, I recorded the vocal for “The Explode Boys” in the middle of the night, right after I brushed my teeth before bed.
That said, there a few producers I’d like to work with if my budget ever allows it…
4. How did you achieve the unique musical tone of the album?
We used only a handful of instruments, amps, and effects for the album demos, and so they all kind of shared an aesthetic. I think the song that became “Splendor” was the blueprint in that regard. For example, we used Mitchell’s Fender Jaguar through a small Vox tube amp and some classic Lexicon reverbs and delays for most of the lead stuff. I used those same reverbs and delays on my vocals as well to give them the same vibe and authority. I also used only a small handful of organ tones from an old Roland JX-3P.
On top of that, we came up with all the songs in a relatively short amount of time, maybe four or five sessions over the course of a few months, so our tastes probably didn’t change too much during the demoing stage. Then, throughout the whole recording/mixing process we referenced our demos a lot to make sure the final recordings had the same flavor and excitement as the original sketches. But I think the fact that we were in complete control of every technicality from the demoing to the recording to the mixing to the mastering gave us the opportunity to craft a distinctive, pure sound without any compromises.
5. The album feels like a story- what story were you hoping to tell with the songs?
Well, the story isn’t an explicit one; it’s only a story in the sense that there is a spiritual, emotional progression that takes place from the beginning to the end. I mean, the details come from my life, but only in a very mixed up, asymmetrical way -- kind of like a collage of flashbacks. I can’t really explain it too much. That said, it’s vaguely a story about a series of cataclysmic experiences in my life that transformed my whole psyche.
6. How do you reconcile such melancholy lyrics with the upbeat music?
I don’t think the lyrics are particularly melancholy! I think that many of them deal with death, loss, insanity, and mourning, but even in those that do, it is in the spirit of facing those things, embracing those things, healing from them, and restructuring reality in order to deal with them. That's the gift of death -- it reminds me that nothing can be taken for granted and every moment I remain alive is sort of a revelation. Of course, life is still going to be harrowing, but I feel like there is a way to embrace the hardship. “Let Me Remember” and “Life Is Full Underground” are both about that: I’m telling myself to go ahead and hurt as badly as I can, to mourn with zeal, to remember everything about the dead as intensely and vividly as I can, but to do it all in the spirit of celebrating the life about me. Despite all that, the whole thing is still a fantastic, wondrous array. That’s why the album is called Splendor.
7. What surprised you most about making this album?
I was surprised by how naturally it came about. The music, the lyrics, the tones, the arrangements, and the concepts all seemed to just happen of themselves. The few times I had blocks on the lyrics it was because I had started trying too hard, so I picked up on that and just walked away for awhile. The hard part was in all the technical aspects of capturing it, particularly reproducing the energy and vitality of the demoes, and that is something I worked pretty intensely at and even fretted over a bit. But I think Mitchell and I tapped into something and it happened to be very deep and very generous! We are in love with these songs.