Q&A: Ear Pwr's Sarah Reynolds On Getting Back To Nature, Sweaty House Shows And The National Parks
If Ear Pwr's 2009 album Super Animal Brothers III (Carpark) was a supremely dizzying act of extroversiona string of cherry bombs celebrating cats, shiny sweaters, dumb jokes, and electro-pop over-ambitionits successor is so mild, by comparison, that it registers as the work of a completely different band. Simultaneously a retreat, an act of entrenchment, and a quantum leap, Ear Pwr (Carpark) finds its namesakevocalist/instrumentalist Sarah Reynolds and instrumentalist Devin Boozeadopting a more relaxed, mature posture.
In decamping from Baltimore's blighted concrete canyons for the wilds of North Carolina, the duo has supplanted the MS Paint extremism of old for a sort of smudged-bleep pastoralism that celebrates life's more picayune moments. On "Lake" rippling synth streams frame an unencumbered, simple sense of romance, while conga-line rhythm statement-of-intent "Mountain Home" plays offense with a thrown-bow defense. Pealing, piston-punching waves of synths power self-empowerment anthem "Your Life Is Important." Yet all of this is positively twee in compared with "National Parks," a swirling matrix of weightlessness so airily ephemeral and complexly disorienting that it's enough to take your breath away.
Sound of the City emailed with Reynolds about the band's stylistic shift, its beginnings and how "National Parks" was inspired by PBS.
When your debut came out, you and Devin had just moved to Baltimore; you guys are back in North Carolina now, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. What brought you back south?
We grew up in an area where you could drive a couple of hours one way and be in the mountains, and drive a couple of hours in another direction and be at the beach. Although living in Baltimore put us in closer proximity to bigger cities and more opportunity, it actually left us feeling trapped. We lived in a crummy neighborhood and were scared to go out by ourselves at night, and leaving Baltimore meant sitting in traffic. Basically, love of nature and the perks of Southern living brought us back to North Carolina.
The new album reflects thatit seems to come from a calmer, less frantic place, maybe a more contemplative place, than your debut.
Definitely. When we were writing SAB III, we just had dance parties and house shows in mind; the faster and crazier, the better. We just thought of the album as something that people could take away from a wild show as a momento. We weren't thinking about people listening to it who had never seen us perform. This record is definitely more introverted and reflects where we are in our lives right now.
It's interesting that you say that: the notion of an album as a live-performance momento. That seems to be the norm over the last few years. For you, what's more important: the album proper, or the experience of playing before a crowd?
Performing live. Hands down. We've learned to take those who are listening to the record into consideration, but overall we got into this to excite people and that's still our motivation. We don't always achieve that goal, but when we do, it's very rewarding.
Tell me about the Ear Pwr sessions. Where and when was the album recorded? Was the experience significantly different than making SAB III?
We recorded this album in Durham, North Carolina, over a couple of weekends in late 2010 at the home of recording engineer/genius/nurse Jay Murphy. He has converted his house into a recording studio, with the first level being the performance space and the second level being the control room. We had access to lots of nice equipment and it was awesomea lot different from SAB III. We recorded that album by ourselves in various apartments and spaces over a long period of time with only a microphone and a crummy computer.
Often, when a band titles a non-debut album eponymously, it's because there's the sense that either an artistic corner has been turned or the essence of the band's sound is crystallized therein. Why is your second disc self-titled?
Well, initially we had a title for the album, but it seemed to set the tone and tell people what to make of it. We decided it'd be best to leave it open and let listeners decide for themselves what to think. It also felt like more of a fresh start this way. There was nothing that we could title the album that would encapsulate what we went through while working out these songs or what they mean to us.
What kind of reactions have you received from fans so far?
The reaction from fans has been mixed. I think a lot of people who really enjoyed our silly songs are put off. I guess that's part of the human condition, to resist change. Other listeners understand where we're coming from and really like it. We just tried to be authentic and in doing so it's been pretty liberating, because we don't much care what people think.