I met up with Blair at Case and Ctrl’s practice space; a house that doubles as a practice space for 3 other bands. The living room walls were plastered with show flyers from many local shows and bands they’d played with, the basement was loaded with gear and soundproofed as much as possible, and there was a tour van sitting out behind the house.
It was a music house. And it was great.
So Blair and I sat down in the backyard, caught up, and the went on to talk about Case and Ctrl’s new full-length:
putabirdonit (p): Seems like you guys have been working on this full length for a bit now, right? Do you have any sort of official release date or general idea of when people can expect it?
Blair (B): Well, we have CD’s available now and we’re gonna do online release probably mid-May and we’ll have downloads available at shows and t-shirts and things like that too.
(p): Is it gonna be like Bandcamp or iTunes or…
Blair (B): Probably Bandcamp and iTunes. Ya, we’re gonna go through Bandcamp to start with and then we’ll get the iTunes up and running as soon as we can.
(p): I’ve already listened to the album a good number of times; probably enough to be considered a fanboy. The one thing that really strikes me is that whole ethereal, ambient kind of sound. But moreover, how that ethereal sound doesn’t take away from the heavier parts. So I read in another interview that you consider your band to play “Space-Rock” which I find pretty fitting. But with regard to that kind of sound, do you think any particular influence shines through?
(B): Yeah, definitely. We all were into Radiohead back in their heyday. You know, like, I mean, we really cut our teeth in bands in the 90’s. And at that time we listened to a lot of post-rock like Hoover and Jawbox and also some Brit-pop stuff. So I think that by “Space Rock” what we mean is that…we do a lot of layered guitar parts and we do some mathy stuff but we still want it to be accessible and we enjoy playing stuff that feels good to play which isn’t always the mathy stuff. So the ambient and the pop element I think is influenced by some 90’s post-rock. The American stuff as well as the Brit-pop stuff. But the Brit-pop stuff tends to be more of the ambient influence. I mean…obviously if you listen to OK Computer there’s tons of layering going on and heavy reverb and delay. Really, that’s what it comes down to. We just use a lot of reverb and delay (laughs). Our bass player brings a lot of that too. When he plays bass, he’s got…I think three delays on his pedalboard that he uses. And then when we recorded we also added mellotron tracks and some synth parts to give it more space.
(p): Can you think of any song in particular where these influences really stick out?
(B): Music for me is a continuum. So the past informs the present. I shouldn’t say our influences are limited by the 90’s post-rock and Brit-pop stuff because it goes well before that too. I mean there were guys in the 70’s and 60’s doing that kind of stuff too…just not necessarily as cohesive as some of the bands that do it these days. So ya, I can’t really tag a particular song that would relate to our sound as far as the ambient stuff is concerned. I think that the influences are a bit more spread out.
(p): …I think I mean more like a particular song of yours where you can hear an influence really stick its head out…It sounded like you took the question as ‘Is there another song you can think of that sounds like your stuff,’ but I mean it more like ‘Is there a particular song of yours where an influence really sticks out.’
(B): Yes. (Laughs) I think I can answer that. So this band Hoover. They have a song called “Breather Resist” and its just incredible. I mean, it’s the only post-rock song I’ve heard from the 90’s where a guy uses slide guitar to such great effect and its like anti-bluesy slide. It’s great stuff. And they have kind of a mellow, ambient vibe working into it and it builds quite a bit and we use that quite a bit. And we use that a lot. We usually start kind of soft and then build up into some kind of culmination in the end over time.
(p): That’s really funny because I was thinking of a way to describe your guys’ sound and it seems like that good mix of kind of post-rock but like you said, accessible…like when I think of post-rock I think of this song that layers and layers and gets bigger and bigger and smaller and rises and falls, but with your guys’ song it has that vibe but…I don’t want to say structured, but kinda, you know what I mean? I guess accessible is the right word (laughs). Does that make sense?
(B): Yeah. I mean, we don’t strive to be accessible necessarily, but we enjoy playing music that people want to hear. We’ve all played in different bands that play abstract music before and its great. And some of its masturbatory to a degree…
(B): But um…with this particular band, we have great chemistry and it just kind of comes out. We have no preconceived notions about writing a song that people are going to like, but I think we’re all at a point in our musicianship where that’s just kind of where things are at.
(p): Was there any song in particular that was the hardest to track or gave you the most trouble?
(B): (Looks at my notes) You have really nice cursive. (laughs)
(p): I actually get that a lot (laughs).
(B): That’s excellent. Um…(laughs)…anyways…um…no the recording was great. I think that probably my playing, my guitar playing took the longest out of anything to track besides the drums just because I’m a little ham-handed. Like when people ask me what I do, I tend to say I’m more of a song-writer than a guitar player just to cover up my lack of guitar skills (laughs). You know, like Josh is great, Josh Grapes on guitar, he practices like every day and I don’t so he’s our go-to-guy for the tough stuff. But no, the recording process was lengthy and we were really fortunate to meet up with the producer that we worked with. Paurl Walsch is from X-Ray Press…I really respect his music and what he does and we became fast friends during the recording process; to the point where we were just working into the wee hours of the morning, you know for several weeks working on the musical interludes that are in between some of the tracks…like the beginning of track eight (“Disappearing Act”) and the one that immediately follows track 3 (“Lonesome Son”) and bouncing ideas off of each other for synth parts for mellotron parts. Really, the whole album took a lot of energy and there really wasn’t one particular song that was a speed bump for us, but we took our time with it and I’m really happy with the results.
(p): Is there any song on the album that you would consider like the ‘single…’
(p): Or…which song would you recommend to a first time listener to grab them?
(B): Well, its difficult to answer that question because I’ve had so much input from other people about songs that they like. I get a lot of feedback about the bridge parts in “Ganymede” which is the second track…the (sings) ‘ooo ooo ooo ooo oooooo’… it’s a hook so…people gravitate towards it. As far as a ‘single’ I think our strongest track at the time that represents us overall is probably the first track, “Management.” And that’s why we put it first. It was also one of the newest tracks we had when we recorded the album. But we’re kind of all over the place as far as the feel of some of our songs. Some of them start kind of slow and soft and then build up to this culmination which is probably a result of whatever classical training any given member has had you know, it just feels natural…and then some other tracks start more upbeat in tempo and they just stay that way and get heavier and heavier. But I’d say our banner song on that album is the first track. I think that it’s a good stopping point between where we were when we did the album and the new stuff that we’re working on now. So it represents us pretty well.
(p): What’s your favorite song to perform live and why?
(B): That’s like asking me what our influences are (laughs). It’s a hard question to answer with any kind of certainty.
(p) Or maybe…What are particular reasons why you like performing certain songs. Different reasons for different ones?
(B): We always play “Management.” It seems like a good anchor for us when we play out live. We like performing “Free Your Voice” quite a bit. It’s a song we love to end our sets with.
(p): I love that song.
(B): Thanks. Just ‘cause of the way it progresses. And it’s a longer song too so it’s a good way to sneak a couple extra minutes into the set, you know at the very end. It’s almost like you’re lying to the crowd and bands. You’re like, “We have one more song,” and then you play this 8-minute long song (laughs). But really, I’m really at a loss to say what our favorite song playing live is. We have a couple that are kind of the nucleus of our live set and that’s kind of evolving as we write new material as well. We’re actually writing a lot of new stuff and we’re recording a new EP in June at Redroom with Paurl, our producer on the full-length, and with Robert Cheek who’s from By Sunlight and has worked with Tera Melos and some other people. We’re really looking forward to it because we’ve heard some really great albums come out of Redroom. So that’s gonna be a lot of fun.
(p) What’d you say is your favorite part about this album? The writing process, the recording process, or just performing the songs outright?
(B): You know, I think just coming together as a band like…this albums is just the culmination of so many different things. A lot of the songs…well not a lot, but I should half of the songs I had mostly written either vocal melodies for or had orchestrated entire sections for…so just seeing that come into being was really satisfying. And also the satisfaction of writing new stuff with the guys and the chemistry that we have is really pretty incredible and not something I’ve experienced in the other bands that I’ve been in. Recording it was great as well. Like I said, Paurl and I and the rest of the guys in the band became pretty close. That was a really pleasurable experience and we were able to really dial in the sound that we wanted and the feel of the album and that was equally satisfying. So really from point A, before the band was even realized when I was still living in Detroit…you know, twelve…fourteen years ago and writing these random parts that I thought would never be used, to present day where all of that stuff is realized, and not only that, we have such great chemistry going forward and writing these new songs…the whole process really helped to establish our own musical identity and where we were headed and its all been incredibly…it’s been a blast.
(p): In the previous interview you mentioned how this album encompasses the ‘first phase of the band.’ Does any of the music you’re working on make a departure from that signature ethereal, ambient kind of sound. Are there newer influences that are taking a stronger role in the writing process with the newer stuff? And just generally, what kind of direction is the newer stuff going towards?
(B): I feel like we’re more comfortable in our own skin as a band. We’ve played a lot of the bars and medium-sized clubs in Seattle that most people go to see shows at. We’ve really gained a lot of confidence. To me, our new songs are…before it was more of an amalgamation between the tracks that I already had written and the new stuff that we worked on together as a band. So it was kind of like putting a puzzle together where you had to make the pieces fit and it worked out pretty well. With the new stuff it’s all fresh and its all from the four of us as a band writing together. And I think that that helps everyone to relax and to be…it allows the space to be more creative in some ways. So I think the new stuff…I mean it still sounds like us. I don’t know. I guess I’d leave that up to the listener to decide, frankly. It’s hard to have a concept of that. I will say that some of our new stuff is a little bit more melodic and we’ve tried to incorporate more back-up vocals because I think that’s a really nice layer to add and its gets people’s interest in some way and it feels really great when you’re doing it live too. So there’s more of that involved and that may make some of it sound a little bit more poppier but I don’t think…we still have…one of our new tracks, the drums start in six and the guitars start in seven so we’re still up to our old tricks…to go back to our previous question, I think that the biggest difference for us is that we were kinda figuring out how we fit together when we were writing the material that’s coming out and now it’s just a natural fit and I don’t think we’re second-guessing ourselves as much. It just feels more natural, the writing process and playing the songs live. That’s the main difference to me.
(p): I didn’t ask you this last time. It’s actually a pretty basic question. Where does ‘Case and Ctrl’ come from?
(B): It doesn’t mean anything. We like the sound of it, you know, the rhythm of it. That’s kind of how it came about. I had some coworkers come up with lists of names and I think we widdled it down from about 400 to about 30; half of them which were joke names (laughs).
(p): (laughs) What were some of the joke names?
(B): You know, the best ones I don’t really want to say on record (laughs). But I’ll tell you after the interview (laughs). But that’s how it came about. It was a pretty simple process.
(p): Well, that’s all I got.
(B): Can I tell you about some of the shows we got coming up?
(p): Oh yeah, for sure.
(B): We’ve got a bunch of shows coming up in May. We’ve got on on the 6th of May which is a Sunday at the Comet with our friends from Portland Team Evil and What Hearts and they include members of Point Juncture, WA which is an awesome band. They played with Blind Pilot at the Neptune a few months ago and sold it out and it was an amazing show. And then we’re playing Quadstock (May 19th at Seattle University) and then we’re also playing on the 26th at the High Dive which is a Saturday with a bunch of local bands and that should be a good show as well.