Exclusive, Part I: Post-SXSW Interview With Bad Veins

Apr 13, 2009 at 3:39 pm

It’s Monday afternoon. The PROJECTMILL has only been back in Cincinnati for 24 hours, and I have just more or less completed my first draft of the Gorilla vs. Booze write-up when Bad Veins’ “Falling Tide” growls from my tinny phone speaker. It's Sebastien Schultz calling. I hesitate for a moment, the imagined SXSW brush-off still fresh in my mind. I decide to quit pouting and pick up.—-

Seb first asks if I’m well rested, considering the monster of a drive back from Austin. I reply that I am, and he follows up with an apology for the hectic time had trying to get the interview together at SXSW and asks if a rain check penciled in for later this afternoon will work. I tell him I’ll check with my editor and hang up to call Maija.

She thinks it’s a good idea, and I take pause for a moment to consider my rich history with Sebastien. Had I overreacted? I consider my known penchant for post-drink drama and the guilt begins to grow over my gut reaction to not getting the interview I’d wanted in Austin. Tonight, we could put things right. Chalk it up to bad circumstances. C’est la vie as Sebastien’s countrymen would say. I call him back and set up the interview for 5:30 at Northside Tavern.

By chance, he gets off work early and comes to meet me at Shake It, where I'm buying the new Mastodon. We hug and kiss and head over to the Tavern, thrilled to discover margaritas are the special of the day and that our bartender makes them strong. We decide to do as men do, and Seb buys the first the round. Since it's relatively gorgeous out and because we've grown accustomed to it in Austin, we opt to go outdoors to talk, seating ourselves next to the gate on the patio.

We talk about how awful kids are today, about me and my love life and my projected career before launching into first 12 minutes of the interview which will eventually be deleted. I play it off to technical malfunction, but I know the margaritas are creeping up and the blame lies singularly with myself. Seb brushes it off and we keep drinking, talking on the record about other things until Ben Davis randomly shows up and joins in on the interview.

After finishing, we'll head back to the penthouse Sebastien rents with several other dudes to watch the final episode of East Bound & Down. I will go home later that evening to see that Dangerbird Records, Bad Veins’ new home, has put up the story of their very recent signing on its home page. It is, by all accounts, a badass Monday evening.

Perhaps because of my proximity to Sebastien and my concern regarding possible Bad Veins’ naysayers, the interview has a slightly angsty feel that's not reflective of the demeanor that day of either Ben or Sebastien but rather the direction I wanted to pursue. Goin’ deep. Getting answers to the things I was curious about. With no further ado:

Caleb Mathern: So, Sebastien. You know what you’re doing is, at the end of the day, clearly meaningful to you. Is it discouraging, wondering how meaningful your product will be to others?
Sebastien Schultz: You try to do things that can affect people. I honestly can say that part of the reason why I went into music and why I’ve wanted so much of my life to do music is to have an affect on people in a positive way. If Bad Veins can somehow inspire people or make them feel something, provide escapism—what more can you ask for than to affect someone emotionally?

CM: Pragmatically speaking, “kids today” — are you afraid that this generation doesn’t value music like we did? They don’t buy CDs. If you don’t make it onto their mix tape.
SS: Yeah, yeah. I think that puts it more on artists to actually make a fucking album as opposed to a single. An album carries you from start to finish. As trite as it sounds, it’s a journey. You compose this album of how you felt at the time and why. Does it surprise me that iTunes killed the album? No. Because there’s a lot of shite out there being put out because along the way artists have stopped caring about putting out proper albums. Does it challenge artists to put out better albums? Absolutely. Is that a good thing? Yes. Because, I believe in what Bad Veins does and I believe the albums we make are, from start to finish, a solid piece of artwork that will be interpreted as such.

CM: Your songs seem to have a running theme behind them.
SS: Yeah. There’s a context there that needs to be understood. A song can convey a lot, to be fucking honest. I can’t say that songs haven’t meant a lot to me. But with an album, with an artist presenting a complete piece of work—that’s a big deal. It’s an important time in someone’s life or multiple people’s lives.

CM: I remember when Radiohead’s Kid A came out. That was a complete album for me, unlike most music before or since.
SS: That is a feeling and a memory that I have in my life that I can’t describe. It’s funny that you bring up Kid A because Kid A is one of those albums that I feel and somehow understand it and I can’t really explain to you why. That album is an experience. That’s a time and a place in my life that encompasses all of these feelings. I hope Bad Veins can do that for other people.

CM: So the idea of crankin’ out singles has no value for you?
SS: Singles are … singles are … ugh. The point isn’t singles. The point of the record label is to pull out singles. The point for us is to come up with a solid grouping of songs people can identify with. We don’t write or play music for that, we do it because it comes from somewhere. God knows I couldn’t play drums the way I play if Ben didn’t come up with the songs he comes up with. Lucky enough for the two of us, which I don’t think many bands have, Ben is able to convey these feelings that I can’t even convey. Between the two of us we somehow as Bad Veins are able to sit up on stage and play music that people are able to understand and relate to.

CM: As a drummer, you’re mostly self-taught, if not entirely, right?
SS: Yeah.

CM: So you’ve always spoken with a certain sense of pride about how your ability and your passion are in direct correlation. How believing in what you’re doing is essential. You took some time off, didn’t you?
SS: Actually the last show that Cathedrals played in February of, God knows what year that was. '06? I didn’t touch my drum kit or any drum kit from the end of Cathedrals until that first practice with Bad Veins.

CM: You played guitar though, you can do that and sing.
SS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that was just…I played and came up with some stuff, wrote some stuff, but as far as drumming is concerned, I didn’t touch a kit between Cathedrals and Bad Veins because I was looking for the right person to play with. And luckily enough for me, Ben was that right person to play with. So it ended up being maybe a four, five, six month gap. I just resigned myself to the idea that I would not pick up drum sticks again until I was playing something that really inspired me and oddly enough I remember talking with you [laughs], this is not an interview thing but go ahead, put it in, you asked me what I wanted to do [when Cathedrals broke up] and I one day had told you I could very much see myself doing something in the M83 vein. And Bad Veins may not be very M83, but it is grandiose.

CM: Very.
SS: Choirs are there. And the strings are there and symphonies are there. So, oddly enough I remember telling you specifically, that that’s the sort of thing I want to do. I want to do something that’s anthemic and huge and grandiose and somehow I was lucky enough to stumble on what Ben was doing. We’re not restricted by the number of players. We just do what we do. Which is exactly what I wanted to do before I met Ben.

CM: What’s your perspective on what you’re doing? How do you feel you are perceived by audiences, at SXSW or elsewhere, seeing you on stage with a sound that is clearly bigger than you both?
SS: I think that the charm Ben and I have is a result of the honesty and earnestness we have, inasmuch as, not to break anyone’s heart, but most bands these days play with backing tracks. You’ll see one guitarist up there sounding like Thor’s hammer and you’ll hear synth parts, but no synth player and et cetera, et cetera. Clearly Ben and I, as two people cannot produce the sounds of a 40 piece choir or orchestra. It’s impossible. We don’t have that. So rather than hide an iPod, which we very easily could do, that 1970s reel-to-reel player is honestly playing all of the backing tracks. We dump it onto an analog tape and showcase it between us to show people that yes, this is what we do. We make these songs together. We make them with all of these sounds that we can’t reproduce live, but we’re not going to try and hide that fact from anyone.

CM: There is a pride you can take in the aesthetic you’re doing. And, I mean, everybody likes analog.
SS: Yeah, well there are so many bands that play with iPods.

CM: Who? Talk some shit.
SS: I won’t. I certainly won’t. But it’s fine, because those bands can’t do it either. It’s great that people choose to play live with their backing tracks. Ben and I just wanted to be upfront with it.

CM: What do you say to the people who think that’s snotty? There has to be ego involved or else you wouldn’t put that much work into it.
SS: I totally agree. I would say the reason Bad Veins started and is what it is is because Ben’s father was throwing out his old reel-to-reel player and gave it to Ben. Said, “Here. You’re a musician. Do something with this.” And Ben had the insight to realize, “Yes. I can do something with this. I can do something cool with this.” He figured out how to put backing tracks on it and how to make it more interactive for an audience. These parts are physically moving and people can see that. To Ben’s credit, he figured out how make something out of what his father was going to throw away.

CM: One man’s trash is another man’s...
SS: [laughs] No, exactly. Bad Veins didn’t happen because it was contrived. Bad Veins happened because there was a natural progression of things that occurred in Ben’s life and my life that brought us to the point we’re at now. Even the addition of myself as a drummer in Bad Veins was about needing a little bit more.

CM: But you can’t always give that back story to people and maybe, in turn, it doesn’t mean as much to others. So in a sense is it important to put that extra effort in to at least make it meaningful to yourself?
SS: It does take much more effort. Someone in New York — one our first reviews ever, it was a horrible review — wrote, “These douchebags went out of their way to do this and this and that,” and my response would be, well yeah, we went twelve hours out of our way to drive to New York and play for you.

The idea was that, first of all, it had to come out of a natural progression. Why is it bad that a band would go out of its way to hopefully to something memorable for people? Why should Ben or I have to defend ourselves for doing something that hopefully sticks out in people’s minds? We do what we do because we because we love to do it and hopefully the impression we make is positive. That’s it.

CM: You were given two options. You could do it the way many people do or a way that might seem like it’s…
SS: Well, we hope the way we do it is affecting in some sense. If people want to put an iPod on a stand, then do it. So far as I know, nobody’s done that, put their iPod on a fucking stand.

CM: But you’re not anti-iPod.
SS: Of course not. I’m not against iPods, I was telling you earlier to get an iPhone, but I did resent the gentleman in New York who said we went out of our way. Any band goes out of their way the show up at the club.

CM: Do negative reviews inspire you to keep on keepin’ on?
SS: No. Reviews don’t mean anything. To me, at least. They don’t inspire anything. We do what we do because we love it, not because of some motherfucker who runs a blog who maybe gets 10 hits a day or for the guy who gets 300,000 hits a day. I’m still going to keep playing drums as passionately as I do. It has nothing to do with the audience; it has to do with the songs that we play.

Sebastien has to relieve himself as we’ve reached end of either drink No. 3 or 4. He heads off to the restroom, and I venture back to the bar for the next round and, by providence or perhaps by secret text from Sebastien, fellow bandmate Ben is sitting at the bar with his girlfriend Chris. I perk up and tell him what’s going on, and he orders a drink and follows me out to the courtyard.