Interview: The Shondes
By Tiffany Daniels
Britain better watch out, The Shondes are coming. Or at least, so they hope. Now familiar within their local Brooklyn scene and famed for their arresting Grrrl rock, the four-piece have made fans out of everyone from Entertainment Weekly to Spin Magazine. With new album Searchlights doing the rounds and gaining the band comparisons to Sleater Kinney and The Raincoats, their time to cross the Atlantic is fast approaching.
Always keen to catch a band on their way up, DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels speaks to violinist Elijah Oberman and drummer Temim Fruchter about their life, loves, and recording between bouts of chemotherapy.
How did the band form?
Elijah: Louisa and I had been in a band together before called The Syndicate. When that band broke up in 2006, we convinced Temim to learn drums and start a new band with us, which she did with incredible skill and determination! Fureigh also took on the daunting task of replacing our original guitarist in 2008 with similarly awe-inspiring commitment.
Your music’s been described as gritty 90s grunge, traditional Jewish music and having a sound akin to the Nashville scene. What influences you to use so many genres?
Temim: Well, we don’t exactly set out to – we just draw on all of the music that we love and that inspires us and what comes out ends up telling all different kinds of stories musically, I think, and evoking different things and different genres depending on who’s listening for what.
Is fusion, or finding a sound not used before, important to the Shondes?
E: I suppose it is, though it’s not something we intentionally try to create; it’s just something that’s there and comes naturally. Sometimes we think we’ve written the most unadulterated, poppy pop song, and then someone will say something like, “Oh my god I love that song. It’s soooo Shondes and I can hear all the Jew-y melodies”, and we just have to laugh at ourselves.
Coming out of Brooklyn – an area with so many bands – do you associate with any of your peers? Is there a community around you?
T: New York is obviously pretty huge and diffuse, so in some ways it’s hard to feel the sense of community sometimes, but it’s also so packed and teeming with good people making awesome art, so yes, definitely. It’s always cool for us to be able to support local organizing through our music and to collaborate – we play a good deal of benefits, and have played book releases, cupcake cookbook releases, and even a heartbreak-themed ball. It’s also really cool to collaborate with the same bands more than once, because it means there’s this sense of relationship and continuity. We’ve also played a couple of shows recently with the New York branch of the feminist collective Permanent Wave, and that’s also been a cool thread through the kinds of shows we’re doing.
How does your local scene influence you?
E: Honestly, I don’t particularly feel like part of a local scene. We’ve toured a lot in the U.S. and I definitely feel a sense of community that we’ve built with bands that we’ve played with all over the country, but I don’t feel like that’s particularly bound to a local New York scene. I’m inspired by watching other bands we play with experiment musically, make the old new and the new old, and let their true, whole, complicated selves come out through their music. That’s stuff that inspires me across genre and across geography.
Where did you grow up, and do you think that’s affected the style of music you make?
T: Personally, I grew up in the suburbs of DC. I grew up in a small Orthodox Jewish community so I wasn’t actually connected to the thriving punk scene mere minutes from where I was living! Of course, I was fostering a love for music through other things – the Jewish tunes I loved so much growing up, the Simon & Garfunkel and Mamas & Papas records in my parents’ LP collection, the extent to which we used to sing in my family at home – but it wasn’t until later that I went to see Fugazi (for example!) for the first time and learned a bit about the DC scene. It blew my mind a little, and I think that where I’m at musically today comes from a combination of my deep and earnest love for the music most familiar to me and the awesome mind-blowing exhilaration you feel when your ears are challenged by something you haven’t quite heard before.
Have or do you perform with any other bands?
E: All the time! We’ve gotten to share the stage with people we love and respect like Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag), Joe Lally (Fugazi), MEN and Electrelane. Plus lots of amazing bands you may or may not have heard of like Lovers, Led to Sea, The Degenerettes, Lachi, and Silence Kid.
You’ve been covered by independent, highstreet and online publications alike. In keeping with your DIY ethos, do you favour a particular outlet?
T: It’s been cool for us that so many different kinds of journalists and bloggers are responsive to our music. We get a lot of thoughtful and meaningful reviews and to me, that’s the highest praise, whether it’s coming from Entertainment Weekly (which we were pretty geeked about, I admit! It’s such a great magazine.) or from the desk of a music blogger with a small readership. I’m really invested in the importance of independent media of all kinds, and love support from queer and feminist outlets (it means a ton to us) but also unashamedly welcome big old mainstream coverage –we just want to be getting out stuff out there as broadly as possible! And no, I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite – I’m just grateful that people are paying such close attention.
Your new album Searchlights is out now. When and how did you record the album?
E: Writing and recording Searchlights was intense and emotional for us. I was going through chemotherapy at the time, so practice and recording sessions were always up in the air depending on how I was feeling. Despite that, it’s a pretty upbeat record – we really needed it to be. We recorded it in a beautiful studio in upstate New York called Art Farm, and mixed it with the always genius Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) at Studio G in Brooklyn.
How does it differ from your previous material?
T: It’s definitely more ‘pop’ than anything we’ve put out before. When we were writing the songs for the album, we kept returning to this feeling we wanted to get at, the feeling when you’re driving at night with the windows rolled way down, that kind of exuberance and sense of adventure and possibility – we wanted to get at that musically. We also talked a lot more about some of the poppier influences in our sound – The Go-Gos and The Cure, for example, came up a bunch. I think, too, that the sound of this album comes a bit closer than we have in the past to capturing some of the energy from our live shows, and that’s something that’s important to us, too.
Does it hint at your next direction? Where would you like the band to be in a year’s time?
E: I think that it hints at our next direction in that we will continue to embrace a joyful pop sensibility in our brand of rock music. But the set of songs for the next record is well on its way and definitely sounds different from Searchlights, too, since our sensibilities and process are always evolving. Next year I hope to keep doing what we’re doing now! Writing music, playing lots of shows, touring and recording. Hopefully the new album will be out by then.