THE LO DOWN: THE 21ST CENTURY Is Shouting At You (Earnestly)
My friend Bevan is in a local band called THE 21ST CENTURY, which means he’s kind of a big deal. Actually, we’re not really friends (yet, cough) â€“ he was my checker at Trader Joe’s until two weeks ago when he decided to make it big and record a new album. And actually, he’s not just in the band â€“ he writes all of the songs and sings and plays guitar and probably gets all of the chicks. We discussed music while he bagged my frozen mango pieces. Sounds sexy, but it wasn’t. Ok maybe just a little.
My friend Emily wants to take your music on a road trip, circa 1969. She wants to cuddle up to the tambourine and I want to share a blunt with the harmonies. Your music makes us want to be nicer to people, which is uncomfortable for us. What do you want people to feel from your music?
I like to write songs in batches with a common feeling or sentiment that run through each. This batch [The State Of Our Parade, Essex Music] had a warmer tone – one of youth and friendship and laughter and the belief that everyday life is poetic. In many of the songs that idealism was met with the pitfalls and compromises of adulthood. The feeling that I got out of them was an attempt to reconcile the two. To be confronted with these serious frustrations, but not allow them to overshadow or subdue the joys in your life. With that said, take what you want from them.
I understand that THE 21ST CENTURY is written purposefully in all caps. Do you feel like you’re shouting at people every time you write it, KIND OF LIKE THIS? WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE NAME?
Yeah, that’s a funny way to put it. I do feel like I’m shouting it at times. The name and this band came out of a last ditch effort for me. I’d spent many years in bands that, for one reason or another, never lived up to their promise. I’d reached a point where I was deeply frustrated, but was also unwilling to call it quits. So I decided I’d give it one more try and, as this was likely going to be my final attempt, I decided to be un-apologetically ambitious. The name captured that attitude and that enthusiasm. It’s not meant to be an arrogant testament, more an attempt to reclaim the present and be a part of our own time period. It makes me sad when people think it’s ironic. It’s earnest. I think many people that I know are eager to contribute something to our culture and not be simply defined by the previous generation. If nothing else, we’re trying to be a part of that sentiment.
You’re currently in the studio with Grammy-award winning producer and former Trident Studios owner, Stephen Short (Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Echo & The Bunnymen). Who did you have to sleep with to Congratulations! How did you connect with Short?
It’s one of those stories of luck and relentlessness. A friend of a friend had just finished their record with him and was fawning over how fantastic it was. I thought, now that sounds like something we should do – and then I proceeded to pressure him to give me Stephen’s cell phone number. He rightfully refused and we settled on an email address. He made me agree that if he didn’t respond within 24 hours, then I wouldn’t contact him again. Apparently, that’s how Stephen works. If he’s going to work with a band, he contacts them immediately. I spent a week trying to find something charming or witty to write and then gave up and just wrote a late-night email. I sent it off at about 2am and an hour later I got a response that said, “I like what I’m hearing. Call me at 8am tomorrow.” It felt kind of like a secret agent assignment. And the rest followed suit.
On a scale of suicidal to fan-f*cking-tastic, how’s the recording process going? (You can be honest, I won’t tell anyone.)
On that scale, I’d have to say somewhere near the latter. It’s exhilarating, insightful and sometimes a little daunting to work with someone with that type of experience at a studio where their are so few limitations. I think all the music that I’ve ever made has been a result of limitations. With cheap guitars and microphones, you have to find ways to be creative to get the sounds you’re chasing. But at this studio and with an expert helping you along, you get a chance to do all sorts of things you never even considered. It’s a blast. I’m really happy with what we’re walking away with. [New album drops in Spring 2011.]
You guys have played a lot of great Bay Area venues â€“ Slim’s, GAMH, Bottom of the Hillâ€¦ Â What’s the absolute dream venue for THE 21ST CENTURY? (Emily says her living room, I said the Hollywood Bowl with She & Him so I can tell Zooey what a shit second record they made. Wait, Emily changed hers to “SPACE.”)
Ha! I’m sitting here with one of my bandmates and before I finished reading the question she said, “The Hollywood Bowl.” I guess that will be our final answer. Space sounds lonely. But peaceful too.
You’re playing a great show at the Great American Music Hall this Saturday, November 27th, with Maniac and Man In Space. Are you familiar with the game “Marry, F-ck, Kill”? Go for it â€“ your band included.
It’s been awhile, but I guess it’d go something like this: F-ck Man In Space — they’re handsome and charming. Marry THE 21ST CENTURY — we’re good to take home to mom during the holidays. And I guess I’d have to kill Maniac. I’m sorry fellas, I don’t know you so there’s less of a personal attachment. Yikes!
Do you plan to do that on stage?
Hmmm. Well there’s nine of us in the band, so on any given night there’s a chance that at least one of those things might happen. Perhaps on Saturday, we’ll tie the knot.
Come eat Trader Joe’s frozen mango with me, Bevan, and THE 21ST CENTURY at GAMH this Saturday, 11/27. Doors @ 8pm, show @ 9pm, $13 – more info here.