Mind Equals Blown Editor, Maria Gironas, got a chance to shoot some questions to the mastermind behind LA-turned-Detroit indie rock band Two Cheers, Bryan Akcasu. They talked about the creation of Akcasu’s upcoming LP entitled Splendor, set to release July 21st.
Take a read of the interview below and check out the band’s new track “Splendor” on SoundCloud.
MEB: How does one move from glorious LA to Detroit (totally bias of course, being an angeleno myself)?
Bryan Akcasu: I’ve been getting asked that question a lot. There a lot of reasons; some personal, some practical. My whole family lives in Michigan, for one thing, and my fiancé’s family lives in Pittsburgh, which is right around the corner. For being a metropolitan area, the pace here is much less frantic. It has plenty going on, but it’s a little saner in my opinion. And it’s much less crowded! It’s also far, far less expensive to live here, which is important for someone like me. I don’t have to work as much just to get by, so I can spend more time on the band, which is really a lot of work already. As much as I love it, and I still do, Los Angeles is not really a good bargain for artists because it is extraordinarily expensive to live there.
Actually, that makes Detroit a really interesting place to be right now: it’s so affordable to live here or start a business here that a lot of talented, creative people following their dreams are coming here instead of New York or Los Angeles and so a kind of renaissance is happening. There are challenges, of course, but there is a lot of promise here for people who are willing to be daring, creative, and to think outside the box.
Lastly, I suspect had the weather on your mind when you used the word “glorious”, so let me surprise you by telling you that I actually love cold weather! I love rain, I love snow, and I love ice. I start overheating at around 68 degrees, so I was almost always hot in Los Angeles. I’m looking forward to a cool, crisp fall. Anyway, I’ve been here almost a month and I love it so far. I feel quite at home.
MEB: Would you mind describing your sound in your own words?
BA: Bouncy, eclectic beats. Spooky spy licks and delicate keyboards. Melody on melody. The bass is the anchor. And I suppose my cooing and howling is part of it too.
MEB: What do you think sets your music apart from other LA bands?
BA: I really don’t know. Setting ourselves apart from other LA bands is not something we consciously attempted, and I’ve never really even considered the question until now. I think we just kind of had faith that whatever we did would stand out. Who knows? Maybe it doesn’t stand out. If we do stand out, I hope it’s for something that is hard to explain!
MEB: It’s so crazy to find out that the album was recorded in your apartment, a feat for any level of band. How long did it take to record?
BA: Well, we were all working day jobs back then, so everything took a lot longer than it would have had we been able to devote ourselves to it full time. We were also rehearsing and doing shows regularly around Los Angeles during that period. It took about 7 months to finish the record that way, but I’d say if you add up all the writing, recording, mixing, and mastering hours, it would only add up to a month or two. There was a bit of a learning curve for me because I hadn’t taken on such a big project on my own before. Our last album was recorded in my apartment but I had it mixed by a guy named Justin Newton in Ohio and mastered by Mike Wells in Los Angeles because I wasn’t confident I could handle those tasks. This time I wanted more influence on the final sound of the album. I also wanted to push myself a bit to see what I was really capable of as far as producing a record, so I really buckled down, educated myself, honed my engineering skills, and built up my studio in order to be able to do it all.
MEB: You described wanting to record on your own terms because you wanted to keep “vision” for the album, what was this vision your had for it?
BA: When I talk about recording on our own terms, according to our vision, I am referring less to our vision for the album itself than for how the band approached making the album. Of course, we had some vision as to how we wanted the drums to sound, or the kinds of guitar tones we wanted to use, or the concepts behind the lyrics on the album. But what I was referring to was that producing our album completely in my apartment was kind of a statement about the band. We’re truly independent. We didn’t get an advance from any record label to pay for the recording of this album. In fact, it didn’t cost anything to record it! There were no big name producers or co-writers, so we weren’t sacrificing anything to capitalize on someone else’s success. Actually, we didn’t hire anybody at all to help us make this record, so it’s all our ideas, our techniques, our tastes, and our effort. For that matter, it’s all our limitations, our mistakes, and our lack of experience as well! But we went from coming up with the music in the demo phase to choosing what microphones to put in front of the amps; from figuring out arrangements to setting the compressors and balancing the equalizers; from capturing our best performances to adjusting the loudness during mastering. So, in addition to being an album that we love and that we are proud of, the process of making it was sort of a manifestation of our philosophy. I am not sure that makes sense or answers your question, but there you have it!
MEB: Do you see yourself recording your next body of work in a home studio?
BA: Most definitely! The process of doing the Splendor album really gave me a lot of confidence as a producer. I’m only more experienced now for doing it, and I am going to be bringing everything I learned this time to the table next time. Actually, I have already started producing a few more albums. Mitchell and I recorded a few songs for his solo project in my studio so that is coming along. Me, Al, and Mitchell are also collaborating on several songs that we started in Los Angeles. On top of that, I have about 60 songs of my own that I am fleshing out and writing lyrics for.
MEB: Could you describe each track off the LP in a couple words?
BA: A couple was not enough, but I kept them to a minimum:
Desert Song – a groovy, epic sing-along ode to the Mojave
Splendor – a dance tune about a mystical, out-of-body experience
Explode Boys – a bonkers beat and the only love song
Heart Trip – stream-of-consciousness words, 12 bar blues
Brinka – quirky start-stop riffs, lyrics about going mad
Anchor – solemn rocker featuring Mitchell’s signature riff
Let Me Remember – Lexicon PCM 42 + memories of a fateful day
Life Is Full Underground – the only ballad, mourning for a friend
Super Owls – a freak out all-around, John’s signature drum fills
Strawberry – 90s mid-tempo charmer, playing with synths
MEB: What was the most challenging aspect in the creation of this LP?
BA: Recapturing the spirit and excitement of the demos was sometimes a challenge, especially considering our schedules. Again, we were all working 40 hours a week and playing shows, so the recording sessions happened pretty sporadically during week nights and on weekends. Part of me wishes we’d been able to be a little more single-minded and focused on the album but we had so much going on at the time. But that’s life, I guess. And it is possible to overcook something like this, which I think we avoided. We had to draw the line somewhere so it never reached the point of no return.
MEB: I heard that you have a couple videos for some of the songs coming out, could you let us know some of the concepts of the videos?
BA: The video for Desert Song is a commemoration of a certain location in the Mojave where I had some really poignant experiences, not excluding the making of the video itself. It’s also a metaphor for finding those people in life that you should never let go of. The video for Brinka is a series of vignettes that explore the cognitive dissonance of a few characters played by me and Mitchell in a goofy, creepy way. The video for The Explode Boys is really my baby. It is just a video of us running amok in my old studio in Los Angeles as I was packing it up for the move. It was about 105 degrees in there during the shoot, so we’re all delirious too! The video for Anchor tells the story of a band being guided by their dead friend’s pendant to a magical tree… Or something like that. It wasn’t my idea and I still don’t completely understand it. I was asked to act a lot in it, but I am a terrible actor, so I think I made a complete fool of myself. On top of that, I am not used to singing into a camera, so I have this pitiful expression on my face the entire time. Should be hilarious!
MEB: What are you most excited about in the next couple months?
BA: Getting settled in to the Detroit area, finding new musicians to play Two Cheers shows with all around the Midwest, collaborating more with Mitchell and Al, and recording a bunch of new songs in my basement studio. I am also looking forward to doing BalconyTV in Los Angeles later this summer. Yes, I already have plane ticket back there…