I recently had the chance to sit down with Will Noon, drummer for Straylight Run at a copy shop, of all places, in downtown Iowa City. What follows includes thoughts on politics, major label shenanigans, and marching drums:
TMC: This is Jeremy from The Milk Carton, and I’m here with Will Noon from Straylight Run. Can I have you say hi?
Will Noon: Sure, hello, this is Will from Straylight Run, even though that’s redundant now.
TMC: So how’s the Mile After Mile tour treated you so far? I realize it’s only been a few dates, but…
WN: It’s been good, it’s been cold with a lot of driving, so we haven’t had too much of a chance to hang out with the other bands, but the little time we’ve spent with them has been good. I’m pretty excited to tour with Lydia
, I feel they’re one of those bands that’s always been mentioned, and it’s always come up as “You should tour with Lydia!”, and we always say “Yeah! We should tour with Lydia!”, and then a year later someone mentions it again and we say “Yeah, we should tour with Lydia!”, so it’s cool to have that finally happen. They’re really, really good dudes….well, mostly good dudes and one good girl. Last night we played the Triple Rock in Minneapolis, which is a great club, and they treat people really well there, so we were able to hang out a little bit after at the bar and talk. I talked to Craig, their drummer, about politics and economics, about mom and pops versus chain stores, and then it started getting into a whole other realm.
TMC: So speaking of politics, ever since Prepare to Be Wrong, you’ve been getting a few political songs in each album. Is this a conscious decision or does it come out naturally?
WN: Well, I don’t want to speak too much on John’s behalf, because he’s our songwriter, he’s telling the story, but I think it would be accurate to say that John writes from his gut, from his heart, from his head, and the fact that some of our music has become more politically oriented, or touches on those topics is just an indicator of how it’s infiltrated our lives and his life in particular, and I think it’s started to infiltrate all of our lives a little bit more. I think that even five years ago, ten years ago people were less aware, but I think it was in the 2000-2008 time frame where people began to get concerned and become a little bit more aware. I think it’s a sign of the times and it’s reflected in our lives, and therefore John’s just singing about what he knows and what he feels, so that comes through as an honest part of his personality.
TMC: Do personal politics ever create a grinding point within the band?
WN: No, we’re all pretty similar, though we’re all from different backgrounds and we have our own opinions about things, but for the most part we tend to be pretty progressive in what we do as far as…you know, military spending, whether we should be invading certain countries, gay rights and gay marriage. We’re all essentially on the same page, we’re all pretty liberal. (Pause) I don’t like to get into politics too much, to claim anything, because I feel that almost takes away from people that really claim to be that. I wouldn’t want to offend a liberal by saying that I’m a liberal if they don’t see me that way. I think what I think, and the other guys do too, but we’ve yet to see the time where John writes something we don’t agree with.
TMC: Speaking of the EPs, the latest one is About Time, the second of the digital EPs that you’ve put out. What was the reasoning behind going digital as opposed to a hard copy?
WN: Well, our last label situation didn’t work out too well and we were treated pretty poorly, and I think that definitely affected us. We didn’t want to jump into another relationship like that again. It’s sort of like getting out of a bad relationship or after a bad breakup, when someone treats you that poorly and your trust is really broken, you don’t want to jump back into it. We needed some time on our own to figure things out and to rebuild ourselves, so we decided that rather than waiting a year or a year and a half to write a new record, and then go through that process, we thought that it would be great if we were able to go away for a month or two, write a record or an EP and then put it out digitally. From the time we finish recording to the time it comes out, it could be less than a month and a half or so, whereas once you finish a record, it’s at least three months if not more of the label’s setup time and all that. We wanted to bridge the gap of when music is new and exciting to us and when music is new and exciting to the fans. A lot of times, if it takes a year to write and record a record, and it comes out thirteen to fourteen months after the initial writing process, the fans just start to know it about a year and a half after the band does, and there’s a discrepancy about who’s excited about the music. It’s either the band plays the old songs that the crowd’s excited about that they’ve been playing forever, or the band plays these new songs that they’re excited about but the fans don’t quite know yet. So, we’ve been trying bridge that gap and lead time so that we put out a new record or a new EP, we go out on tour, and it’s new for the fans and they’re just starting to get into it, and it’s still new and exciting for us. Then we can go back, write a new one, and it’s a shorter touring cycle, a shorter record cycle.
TMC: Do you have any new releases coming up soon?
WN: Actually, I should probably mention that. With the digital releases we do, we still do physical artwork, so we’ve been pressing them on vinyl as well. Our old EP, Un Mas Dos
, is available as a 7” vinyl, and then the new EP, About Time
, we actually just released this week and probably just hit the web today on 12” vinyl. We’re really excited about that, as the audio quality is great on that size of a record, which is what we’re out on tour promoting.
TMC: How much harder as an independent band with no strings attached to a label is touring, printing albums, the business end of the music?
WN: It depends. There’s really nothing better than having a great label that really supports you, that’s amazing. Unfortunately, if you’re not in that situation, it’s kind of heartbreaking to go out there on the road for a month, two months, three months, eight months, whatever it is, and never seeing your family, never seeing your friends, getting sick, sleeping in a van, sleeping on floors, whatever it is, even skipping showers leads to a lot of wear and tear that goes on mentally, emotionally, and physically…and to be doing that and then not getting a call back from your label or to know that they’re not doing everything they said they would or could, or for them to not be doing anything at all kills you. If you have a label that isn’t doing the work for you, then what’s the point of having a label at all? At that point, you might as well just put it out yourself and be a smaller band and maybe reach fewer people, but hopefully doing it more efficiently. But, like I said, there’s nothing like having a group of people that really care about you and supporting you. It’s like having a family network or a group of friends that you can really rely on and trust and work with.
TMC: How has the train wreck of an economy affected you guys as far as touring?
WN: It’s definitely hit everybody, and it shows in everything. Music is easier to download than ever. You know when we put out our first EP, I Googled it a week after it came out, and two or three of the top hits were Rapidfire or Fileshare, or whatever, and the third one down was the link to Amazon.com or iTunes where you could actually buy it. It’s actually easier for someone to illegally download our music than legally. So, that isn’t helping, but that’s fine – we accept that. I think that both technology and the economy have affected that. I mean, kids can’t drive, especially in the Midwest, kids would drive six or seven hours to see a show.
TMC: I’ve been there.
WN: Yeah, in Iowa, I’m sure you know, like, “Fargo….ehhhhhhhh, that’s kinda
far”, where if you saw somebody in New York, they’d say “Nine hours? No.” If you’re in Boston, you can get to Providence in a half hour, or you can get to Connecticut in three hours or you can get to New York City in five hours, or you can get to DC. There are so many options, but people don’t do that whereas out here they do, and you see less of that. You’ll see people traveling the two hours, the three hours, but not as much of the seven-eight. You’ll see people buying a shirt or record or CD instead of the hoodie AND the shirt AND the CD. It’s definitely cascaded a lot, and gas prices have been astronomical. I remember going on my first tour and we got out of New York, down to the Carolinas, I think we saw gas for about ninety-seven cents and we were all excited…”Hey! Gas for less than a buck!”. Sometimes our credit cards cut off because they have a seventy-five dollar limit at the pump, but it takes one hundred and twenty dollars to fill up sometimes with a thirty-plus gallon tank, which is pretty serious when you’ve got an eight hour drive and you think “Wow, we have to fill up our tank twice.” and it costs us one hundred dollars each. God forbid we were in a bus…I can’t even imagine what people in buses are paying right now.
TMC: On this tour you’re hitting a lot of smaller markets. What’s the response been when you play places you haven’t played, or haven’t played in a while?
WN: It’s always different. You always have to be a little nervous when you’re going somewhere, like tomorrow night in Fargo…we’ve never been to Fargo, so we have lower expectations, I guess it just is natural. But, half the time I feel “Yeah, that’s what happens.” You’ve never been there, you don’t have your name or you haven’t built it, then the show happens and it’s alright and you have fun with the kids that are there. Then other times, kids are just so excited because they don’t see that, bands don’t always come to Fargo. Who knows, maybe they get one show a month and that’s it whereas kids in New York or Philadelphia or DC or LA have four shows to go to a week – they have to choose. So, when you get to a show in Montana or Boise or Fargo, those kids come out and they’re stoked. I’ve heard “Oh my God, thank you for coming, I’ve been waiting four years to see you.” Maybe those people in Fargo can’t drive the six hours to see you on top of a ticket. Being able to come to them is cool, and those are some of the best shows. The kids are just so appreciative and they don’t care – it’s not about genre, it’s not like “Ugh, there’s the emo kids” or “There’s the punk kids”. When you go to certain cities, they can’t choose, they just say “Hey, this is a good band, it doesn’t matter what they sound like, they’re playing from their hearts.” It’s good to see that camaraderie that I feel is sometimes lost with the underground “scene” coming above ground and becoming radio-friendly, and I feel that smaller towns tend to bring that out more.
TMC: What got you guys to branch out from the sound of the first record on subsequent record when you could have just banged out more of the same?
WN: I think that it’s something that all of us have felt with all of our musical projects, if you’re not progressing, if you’re not challenging yourselves, then what’s the point? I mean, a good song is a good song, no matter what – that’s the trump card. I would have no problem doing a song that sounded like something else as long as it was a good song. If I was laying back and playing a beat with the right groove, even if it happened in another song, well….there’s nothing new under the sun, you just have to do your best. As musicians, as people, you always have to grow and learn and challenge yourself and be creative, so I think that we took those opportunities. That’s almost what the band was based off of. When all this came together, John and Shaun left their band because they wanted to do something different, and that was sort of the premise of the band. This is what we’re going to do, we’re going to take a chance and play music we believe in, and hopefully people are going to get it. We think with the first record, they did, and subsequently, we’ve taken more chances. Those people that have allowed us to and have followed us can’t be thanked enough.
TMC: The thing that really stuck out for me as far as the experimentation was the inclusion of marching drums on The Needles, The Space. Did you guys call in a high school for that or get the drums yourselves or….how’d that come about?
WN: My friend Bill plays drums – he’s a studio engineer – and I would always nerd out with him about microphones and pre-amps and recording, and he actually taught a drum line for two local high schools on Long Island in New York. I forget how it came up, but on one of the songs I said “Hey, I know this guy who plays drums, it might be cool to put some marching percussion on this because his hands are phenomenal. So he actually wrote all the music and played it all himself. Everything you hear is just one guy, Bill Jahn, and he did a bunch of snare drum tracks, he did some quads, and he did some bass drums.
TMC: How do you translate that odd stuff to a live setting?
WN: Well, we do it a couple of different ways. Even since our first record, we’ve had a few drum loops and electronic samples, and we’ve had string sections and horn sections, so sometimes we’ll sample those and play with backing tracks, which is kind of controversial now it seems. But there’s no way we could bring out a horn section or a marching band or a string section, it’s just unrealistic. Sometimes we’ll use the samples, but most of the times we’ll rework it live and reinterpret it. We’ve always felt if someone wanted to hear the record exactly as it was, they could listen to the record. It’s kind of like rewriting the first record….why would you want us to do that? You have the first record, it’s always going to be there for you. A lot of times we’ll try to change songs live. Maybe we’ll have a song that has a full band and we’ll have John do it acoustically, or we’ll have a song that’s stripped down with electronic, laptop oriented sounds and we’ll play it more organically with drums, guitar and bass. We try to mix it up and make it an experience. I mean, there are kids that have seen us five or six times, every time we come through. We don’t want them to think that it’s boring. If every time we come through and there’s something new, or a different interpretation on a song, we think that’s pretty cool for the audience and keeps us interested as well.
TMC: If you had to give one or two bands that you think people are missing out on a plug, who would they be?
WN: Wow, I guess there’s a lot of bands. This tour has a couple of good bands, and the last tour we did was with Good Old War
. They’re awesome, they do three part harmonies that sounds like Crosby, Stills and Nash, and it’s amazing. Their guitarist, Dan, sings really well and plays guitar like there’s two or three of them on stage. I swear he’s doing rhythm and lead at the same time. Their drummer is awesome, their singer is amazing, and all of them are singing at the same time. They’re really impressive, and I haven’t been impressed in a long while. Another band from South Africa called Civil Twilight
is really good. They just signed to Wind-Up Records, and they kind of sound like The Police and another great band that isn’t around anymore called The Exit, who was also on Wind-Up. They’re similar, they have this reggae-rock-soul sort of sound.
TMC: Alright, thanks for your time.
WN: Yeah, thank you so much.
Many thanks to Dayna and Paul at Big Picture Media, and of course Will for taking the time out of his day to talk to us. You can find more about the band, including Mile After Mile tour dates at http://www.myspace.com/straylightrun.