By Mike Bax
Carving out their own niche in a musical tapestry that is full of bands and musicians all sounding derivative of someone or something else, there is Autolux. Consisting of musicians Carla Azar, Greg Edwards and Eugene Goreshter, Autolux has put out an album every 6 years since their debut of Future Perfect in 2004. It can be said that their music is reminiscent of some shoegazer bands from the early 1990s, but only slightly so.
For the most part, Autolux creates challenging albums, each one unique unto itself. Their material delivers some of the best aural sculpture in the music industry, and the band maintains an incredible Rolodex of celebrity talent as their fan base. Autolux is one of the few bands that can over-deliver in concert, bending and evolving their material in a live environment, building on their studio material to dizzying effect time after time.
Autolux recently released an album entitled Pussy’s Dead, on the Columbia subsidiary label 30th Century Records. Comprised of ten songs, Pussy’s Dead see’s the members of Autolux exploring a slightly softer tapestry of material than their previous two albums. Utilizing some wildly erratic drumming, computer-generated beats and mummers along with some atmospheric guitar and bass, Pussy’s Dead is a haunting 40 minutes of music, sure to please anyone into music that is going to ask a little bit more of them than a cookie-cutter album of indie alternative fare.
Autolux drummer Carla Azar was kind enough to fit in an interview with Lithium Magazine prior to the Autolux Toronto concert at Lee’s Palace. The band fought their way through some poor weather, a flat tire, and an intrusive border crossing prior to their later-than-anticipated arrival in Toronto. That interview is presented here:
Mike: Hi, Carla. Would you mind reiterating how you and Eugene and Greg met 15 years ago?
Carla: Well, Eugene and I met when we got asked to do a play, to score it. We scored it and played it live every night for five weeks. Greg, he was playing in a band called Failure and I really liked him as a musician. I didn’t really have an admiration of Failure. I just saw Greg, mainly – his musicianship when he was in the band, he was the person that I watched. I saw him playing the keyboard and singing and I just thought he was an incredible writer. And I loved his voice. When Eugene and I wanted to put a band together back in L.A., which is also where Greg lives, I said that the only person I really want to play was this guy named Greg. Coincidently, a few months later Greg found me and said that Failure broke up and he wanted to know what I was doing. The stars aligned that way.
Mike: I was steered to Autolux because of Failure. I wanted to see what Greg was doing post Failure. And now I’m an Autolux fan. I’ve been drinking your Kool Aid for twelve years now, I guess. And it’s always great when a new Autolux album comes out. I find they all have a kind of signature to them. They have a similar sound, but each album does sound different. Pussy’s Dead has a different vibe to it. But it’s totally you guys – another great Autolux album. How did T-Bone Burnett get involved when the three of you were all starting out.
Carla: He was actually hiring me to play drums on various things, some film scoring and his own solo stuff. And I had told him that I had a band and I was playing a show. He ended up coming to the show and, after seeing us he wanted to sign us to a label. It just started from there.
Mike: That’s cool. Do you reflect on your time with him at all? Is there something you would say that influenced Autolux to this day that you pulled out of T-Bone?
Carla: I think he influenced us, me especially, in a way of being fearless and trying not to second guess – of being in the moment and not overthinking things. That’s T-Bone Burnett.
Mike: Pussy’s Dead is the first release on 30th Century Records, which is Dangermouse’s label, is it not?
Mike: How did you wind up getting together with Dangermouse (Brian Joseph Burton)?
Carla: Well, his engineer mixed our last record, Transit Transit. We loved working with Kennie Takahashi on that album. He mixed our last record so we asked him to engineer this album. We went into the studio and started working on it. We were producing ourselves with Kennie engineering. We’ve always felt we needed a producer, but we just started working because we didn’t know anybody that we felt would be right to work with us on this record. Boots contacted us (Jordy Asher) when we were in a place where the foundations were all recorded. But we still had some work to do and were still unhappy with things. He just came into the picture and finished everything. It worked out incredibly. And right around that time we started mixing. Kennie was mixing a song in the studio, and he’d been working on some Dangermouse project, something that Brian was working on. I was told that Brian came into the room and asked Kennie “What’s this?” And Kennie said “This is the new Autolux”. Then he asked “Are they signed?” Kenny told him that we had record deals with a couple of small labels, and then Brian asked to hear the whole record. So we ended up coming to the studio and playing Brian our entire record from top to bottom and that day he told us that he wanted to sign us after he heard the whole thing.
Mike: That’s very cool. You have a working relationship with Jack White, Carla. Was there ever any incling about possibly going to Third Man Records?
Carla: No. I think at that point we were on different labels. We were thinking we’d just put it out through one of those labels. If Brian hadn’t heard the album, that was just a coincidental circumstance where the engineer happened to be playing our music. But also I think what really did it for us was that it wasn’t just about being on another label. The combination of him being asked to be the director of Columbia Records, which was an incredible move on Columbia’s part to have this person who is extremely artistic and a great producer and songwriter who has made incredible records – to have a guy like that overseeing all of the A&R at Columbia as well as letting him have his own label. The thing that appealed to us was we’ve never really had a person believing in us with a label that has a lot of money and listens to the person who believes in us and who is putting money behind us.
Carla: You know, for music like ours? Right now I think music in a crisis situation. People are either doing things that sound like the nineties, or some era from the past that is derivative with everybody jumping on board and loving that for a second. Or there’s some hip hop that works. To me anyway, there are a couple of hip hop records that are great right now. Kendrick Lamar, pushing the envelope. For the most part, bands are not doing anything new at all right now. So if there is something new, a band like us for instance, which, in my mind, is completely original or unique, a band like us would never be pushed by a major label under any other circumstance. Columbia has been so gracious to us. They seem to actually love us. And with Brian leading the way, we are just in a great position.
Mike: A good position is a good place to be, especially right now. I think the music industry, as you alluded to, is a confusing place to be.
Carla: Yeah. It is.
Mike: Is it possible for you to articulate the Autolux writing process? How do you all come together with some of your ideas and then cull them into the songs that wind up on your albums?
Carla: Well, there’s no singular writing process.
Mike: I figured that would be the case.
Carla: Any way you can write a song happens in this band. On this record, most of the ideas were Greg’s demos. And then us getting in a room and jamming endlessly on music which is what happened on our first record. It just happens by circumstance. Greg is always writing. He had a bunch of ideas and I came back from tour with Jack and I did a film. I was looking at all of the things Greg had been writing and he had a bunch of great ideas, so that was the starting point. And then I wrote a song – the idea for ‘Brainwasher’. I sat down at a drum set with this idea of a beat in my head. Then I doubled it on drums with a baseline idea and then a vocal idea. So that song was written like that. Greg’s ideas were sketches, really. ‘Becker’ was an old song that didn’t have a chorus. That was written before the time of Transit Transit. Finally, he had come up with a chorus for that song. And then there were some others where we jammed. ‘Listen to The Order’ and ‘Reappearing, those were collaborative efforts. For the most part, we have no rules for writing. Those are the ways that we have written, and that could change tomorrow. But that’s the gist of it.
Mike: I’m not the type of person that will listen to one song off an album. I’m not a singles guy. I tend to play whole albums. I’ve played Pussy’s Dead through a few times now and I’m finding it’s the middle of the album I’m drawn to. ‘Annonymous’, and you mentioned ‘Brainwasher’ earlier. Also ‘Reappearing’. I feel the album really seems to peak at around song 5 through 8. And I find that interesting. Commercially, most albums don’t do that right now. Those tracks are generally termed as ‘buried’.
Carla: Right. Well, when we sequence the album, it’s no different than when you make a set list for a show. The has to flow a certain way. Greg sequenced the album, by the way. Except for maybe one change. The way the songs finish and play out after mixing, I feel that dictates things. When you are sequencing an album, you aren’t just popping them in song after song with no attention to order. How a song ends and how another begins, the mood of that relationship determines how you lay out all the songs so it flows from top to bottom. And this was literally the only way we could sequence the album. If we put those other songs first, there would be nowhere for it go. It would just get weirder and go up and down emotionally. I think the idea was that we front-loaded the album with relentless beats. Just relentless, relentless, relentless, and then ‘Annonymous’ happens and things come down a bit. And then it comes back up a bit later on.
Mike: I like the title for ‘Selectallcopy’ as well. It’s very much about right now. That is where we are at, isn’t it? Take everything we can, copy it and contribute nothing.
Carla: Exactly. That’s exactly right.
Mike: I know that you are involved in art, literature, film and I suspect that your answer to this question is likely going to be these things. But where do you find you are drawing your inspiration from right now? If it’s not much musical, what sparks you to create?
Carla: Well, yeah. Anthony Lister, who did the cover art, he inspires me a lot. That world, he does shows and galleries. Pretty high end shows but he is also still a street artist. I have a lot of respect for those guys because they put up something that they believe in. To paint something that you love under the guise that somebody is going to paint over it in 24 hours. So you have to be able to let go of it. And I love the idea of that. I love the idea of not being pressed about something. In music, obviously no one erases or tapes over your work. But the idea of the immediacy of putting your best work out and believing in what you are doing and then letting go of it and not second guessing yourself too much. As well, I like Dylan Thomas – he’s a huge inspiration for me. In everyday life, people and the human condition. I’m really into science. So what’s going on out there in the universe is a type of inspiration to me. Elon Musk – probably one of the biggest inspirations to me right now. He’s an inspiring person.
Mike: When you were younger, did you believe in a music scene? Did you attach yourself to a certain genre of musical scene and go out to clubs and see bands?
Carla: Mmm. Well, not really. I’ll just say no. I grew up on classical music in my house because of my parents. And there’s not really a scene in that world. Then the first thing I really got into in rock would be David Bowie, just because of the way he looked. That was the first thing that caught my eye. And then there wasn’t any real scene that I was into ever. Everything was mixed together. I never really liked just one thing. That was the thing, I’ve never been that person – attached to one thing.
Mike: I think most people who are really into music would say that. Not being able to adhere to one genre or type of music. Try a bit of everything and formulate your opinions after the exposure.
Carla: Yeah. And I went through phases for the most part. There are so many different things to love from the past. Hopefully the future too.
Mike: Now, are you cognizant of where Autolux is fitting into respective scenes, or non-scenes, in the right now of 2016?
Carla: No. I don’t think we are a part of anything. I can honestly say that with complete confidence. I have no idea where we fit in and I don’t think anyone else does either. I think we are confusing a lot of people – not knowing what to do with us. I think that the world right now, and it used to be like this in London years ago, but now the whole planet is like this; everything is scene based. They don’t know what to do with you if you aren’t in some sort of scene or style.
Mike: Crazy. Knowing that as musicians with a product to market, for lack of a better word, how does that make you guys feel?
Carla: We don’t think about it. We don’t care. We don’t give a shit about that. We just make music. We do our job. We go on tour. We try to play the best we can. The label has ideas for promotion, and we either say ‘yes that’s great’ or suggest our ideas. We are just doing our thing, that’s it. That’s how it used to be when music started and rock started to happen, I don’t think there was much more than that. Rock was a genre, sure, but there was more individuality to music. I think even in the eighties if you look back at all of those old videos there were all of these different styles of music happening all at the same time. Prince, Culture Club, there was everything. When Prince came out, what category was that? I have no idea.
Mike: Right. Yeah.
Carla: Today, there is no room for stuff like that. For whatever reason, people just get confused. They don’t accept it: “Oh, it’s just their thing.” That’s not everybody. We have a great amount of followers and supporters. I think that the idea of it in the public, especially when it comes to blogs and certain websites, they get really confused by us.
Mike: Have you been or played at Coachella since your first show 10 or 11 years ago?
Carla: Yeah. We played there 6 years ago, too.
Mike: So you will have played there on every album. That’s pretty cool.
Carla: Yeah. We have also DJ’d there in between. One of them, I want to say it was in 2009, we did a DJ set there. They have asked us a lot but we have only wanted to perform there when we have a record out.
Mike: Nice. Can I finish up with a few quick answer questions?
Mike: What’s your all-time favourite snack food?
Carla: Oreo cookies.
Mike: What is your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to music?
Carla: Um. I don’t know if I have that. I don’t know if there is a style of music or an artist that I would say that I feel guilty that I like. (laughs) I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel guilty about it though. That song ‘Blinded by The Light’? I heard that in a movie recently.
Mike: Oh, the Manfred Mann song?
Carla: Yes. I really like that song.
Mike: Cool. What is the first thing you pack when you travel?
Mike: What’s your favourite movie?
Carla: Doctor Strangelove.
Mike: A deceased musician you wish you got to collaborate with?
Carla: David Bowie.
Mike: Name one artist that you buy everything from.