Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Venice Is Sinking talk Sand & Lines and rising above

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 2:37 PM

Venice Is Sinking inside the now-empty theatre
  • Venice Is Sinking inside the now-empty theatre

Today, a year to the week after the Georgia Theatre in Athens was gutted by fire, the town’s native dream pop quintet Venice Is Sinking release Sand & Lines, the album they recorded in it. Produced by Athens’ prolific David Barbe, it’s an LP recorded wholly live on two microphones suspended above the theatre’s stage, and in light of the building’s fate, has become a de-facto historical document of what it once sounded like. Beyond that, it’s a watershed moment for VIS, whose previous studio recordings were painstakingly scalpeled into place over the course of many months. Sand & Lines, conversely, was recorded and wrapped in a week, features three covers and demonstrates the group’s ability, with the help of a slew of local friends, to cut loose.

I joined them at guitarist and vocalist Daniel Lawson’s home on the last day of May to talk about the album, the Theatre and their musical town over a table of tacos. Then we went and shot a BB gun in the backyard.

Julia Reidy: Who wants to tell me about Sand & Lines and how the project got started?

Daniel Lawson: Well it’s kind of weird because we didn’t just do it. We did it two years ago.
Karolyn Troupe (viola, vocals): Two years ago today we celebrated the end of our recording session.
DL: All records are kind of like that. It’s like you’re always behind it somehow. When Sorry [About The Flowers] finally came out, we were way beyond those songs.
Lucas Jensen (drums): The record session came about when Wilmot Greene, the owner of the Georgia Theatre, approached Daniel after a show that we played there in January of 2008 and said, “I love the way you guys sound in the room, and I really want to record a record that’s kind of like The Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Session.”
DL: We were just loading out and it was like three in the morning, and I think everyone had been drinking a little bit and we were like, “Yeah, that sounds great!” but I didn’t really take him that seriously.
KT: We were also in the midst of still recording AZAR at that point.
DL: Then we played another show at the Theatre, and he had set a date and asked Dave Barbe to do it. He said, “We’re closing the Theatre for this week, you guys in? Let’s make a record.” And we were just like “We don’t have a bass player!”

[Everyone laughs]

DL: “We don’t have ten songs!”
LJ: There was a bunch of scrambling going on. We had to find a bass player. Jeremy [Sellers] played the last show of [the band’s month-long] Flicker residency, so at that point he was up to speed on some songs.
Jeremy Sellers: I barely remembered anything that night.
DL: He had to jump straight into the fire because we started rehearsing. Wil opened up every Sunday and sometimes other days for us to practice on the theatre stage. Because getting the sound of it was a really important part of the process. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We had two mics above us. At the time, we thought it was going to be one mic, actually. So everybody had to kind of figure out where we wanted to sit and what we wanted to play, and it was a great practice space.

JR: Those were the only mics? Even vocals and stuff?

DL: We had vocal mics and we were singing out through the PA. And then the two mics were capturing that. They were just vocals, there was nothing on amps.
LJ: The mics were extremely sensitive. It affected me because I was the drummer, and it was right over me, or pretty close to me, so I had to play way quieter, and I ended up not being able to use sticks for the entire record.
DL: So there was one over the stage where we all were, and then there was one in the middle of the room. Sometimes we would have the string players go stand out in the middle of the floor and do string stuff. Everything was always dark. The cool thing about the mics is they’re omni-directional, so they’re stereo. If you listen to the record you can here where we’re standing, or where our amps are.
LJ: You can hear it on headphones, in particular.

JR: So it sounds like it was a very different recording process from anything that you guys have done in the studio. I was reading something about AZAR and how painstaking a process that was. How would you guys qualify those compared to each other?

James Sewell (keyboard, trumpet): The recording of AZAR was pretty weird because a group of us would drive all the way up to North Carolina to record for an extended weekend any time that we could.
DL: All the holidays. New Year’s Day…
J. Sewell: We spent what, a year recording up there on weekends?
DL: I think that’s part of why we wanted to do the Theatre record, because it was the exact opposite of AZAR. I don’t think we were in shape to do another studio record at all. I think we were all really excited about the idea of making a record in four days that’s going to be done and we’re going to play live together, because none of that happened on AZAR.
KT: It sounded like so much fun because we were going to get the Theatre shut down and we were getting a whole bunch of scotch, and we were going to stay up all night and just record. That’s just awesome. We would hang out there on Sundays and just explore the basement.
J. Sewell: They took the opportunity, while the Theatre was closed, to do renovations. So that was when they painted the new façade. The marquis outside said “How you like me now?” That’s one of the pictures they’ve used on the T-shirt they’re using for fund raising.

JR: So talk to me about covers. You guys have, what, three on this one? How did you pick them? What makes a cover appeal to you?

KT: The “Jolene” cover was brought to us by Steve [Miller], our old bass player, and he rarely brought any sort of suggestions to the band, so when he did, it was like, “Let’s take them seriously.” He had this really good idea to do a new time signature, make it really dirge-y, waltz-y song.
J. Sellers: With like this Black Sabbath bass part.
LJ: “Jolene” is kind of an obvious Dolly Parton song to cover.
DL: We did feel conflicted about that.
KT: It just sounds so different from the original and the White Stripes cover and a lot of other covers that have been done of “Jolene.”
DL: I think that’s one thing that we do try to do with covers, especially ones that appear on albums, is do ones where we can really have an interpretation.
LJ: Like “Tugboat”—I hadn’t heard it in years and I couldn’t remember the drum part, so I just sort of made up my own drum part.

JR: The next elephant in the room, I guess, is that the Georgia Theatre burned down. What does this mean to you now, that having happened? Does it take on any different meaning?

DL: It felt awful when it happened, and I remember getting a text from Jeremy and everyone trying to go down there. But it was kind of weird, because I think maybe a week before, we had started a Kickstarter.com campaign to try and raise funds to press the album, and then it burned down, and we were like, “Can we go ahead with this campaign?”
KT: We didn’t want to be the jerks to bank off of a tragedy.
J. Sewell: It’s just hard not to sound pretentious about all of it, but we really did have a fondness for the Theatre, after spending so much time there and seeing the inner workings.
DL: But I think we decided that day, anything we potentially make from this we’re just going to give back.
J. Sewell: Just walk the fine line of not begging too much. And it’s not like we can help that much at all, we’re not Perpetual Groove, we can’t donate a whole show’s worth of money. It’s like, “Here’s 200 bucks.”

Listen to "Falls City" by Venice Is Sinking:

(Photo by Mike White)

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