Last month on indie-rock outfit Lydia‘s headlining tour, MEB staffer Austin Gordon got to sit down with frontman Leighton Antelman at Trees in Dallas, TX to talk about their new record Devil, as well as the music industry, Spotify, John Mayer, a new release, and more.
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MEB: So the North American tour with From Indian Lakes and Sweet Talker just started, and with very good bands to boot. Tell me about your relationship with these bands and why this lineup was chosen.
Leighton: I just met From Indian Lakes; I had heard of them, but hadn’t heard their music. Sweet Talker, we did some shows together late last year. I’ve known him for a little while. All good dudes. I think we put together a pretty good package. I think the bands are awesome.
Let’s talk about your new record, Devil. How has the response been so far?
I think good, I don’t really know. I was just talking to my friend – and I judge it off of friends that I haven’t talked to in a while, and have nothing to gain from them telling me. A few people have reached out to me and told me how much they like the album; they have zero gain and I talk to them very little, so I kinda go off of that, to be honest. People that are your close friends and family, they’re not going to tell you that your record’s shit. (laughs).
They gotta butter it up a little, I guess.
Online, it’s been really great too, but I’m almost a little skeptical, because there’s always haters. I want to see some haters. There’s been a few, but I kind of wish there were a little more.
If everyone’s always being positive, it’s hard to make change right? If everyone’s telling me it’s perfect then how do I know what to improve on?
Not necessarily that, but I just get a bit nervous when nobody’s telling me “I hate your record.” I don’t know (laughs). I personally like when there is a good amount of haters.
If your record has an intended goal, tell me that goal in five words or less.
I actually get asked that question a lot because the Lydia songs are intricate, the lyrics are open-ended. I honestly don’t really have a message I’m trying to get out. Me and the keyboard player Matt [Keller], we just sat down and tried to write the very best songs we possibly could in a month, and this is what came out. Simple as that. We really wanted to write some good songs and put them on an album.
Breaking it down to the simple matter, that’s really what it’s all about. You don’t always have to put across a message, but as long as you put your effort into the songs and they’re good songs.
I think if you’re trying to put forth a message, it doesn’t hurt you, but for me personally it would hinder me rather than help me to try and push a message or something. I just wanna write songs that people like and listen to, and when you hear it you feel happy, or some sort of emotion.
If you had to pick one, what would you say is the song on the record you’re most proud of?
I really like how “Back to Bed” came out; we play it live, it’s the fifth track on the record. I can’t really choose a favorite. I’m biased, I wrote them (laughs).
I’m a musician too, I totally get it. I understand the bias that comes from that.
I really do like how “Back to Bed” came out. I think it’s short and sweet, it gets you to that point. I’m proud of that one.
Why was the decision made to self-release it rather than opt for the “with the label” approach?
We haven’t really done the label thing in a few years, and I can’t really see us doing it anytime soon unless it was a really good offer or something. It’s just not my thing. They don’t have, in my opinion, the right intentions. They have to pay their skyscraper bill in downtown New York City, they have to pay that bill regardless; they will do what they have to do to pay the bill. So, they don’t care about these little artists that are putting out records, they want to see the money.
Yeah, that’s what’s going to keep them going. They’re a business too, they have bills to pay.
Do you think this will be a continuing approach for new Lydia music or just a move that you guys needed to make for the sake of the band?
For the current future, for sure. We will probably do some continued release stuff independently, we are doing fine on our own. The band is going to be fine, especially after this new record. It’s stayed in the top 20 still, for a while. We’ll be alright. If it comes to that point, maybe we’ll make that jump. I don’t see us doing that until we’re John Mayer status or something (laughs). You don’t really need a label unless you’re like Lady Gaga or John Mayer.
What is your opinion on the concept of being totally DIY as a band nowadays? It’s a more abundant concept as bands are becoming so much more self-sufficient with the internet, and technology, and with how everything is growing.
More and more bands are doing that, and obviously everyone knows the record labels are slowly going under. Maybe they’ll figure out a solution to stay afloat, but yeah, for the current future for sure. We’re just going to do it ourselves. You can be more intimate with your fans, you can just do so much more stuff without having to ask somebody to do if you can do it. I don’t want to ask some suit, if I can do something, or release something. It’s a shame, because with our first two records that I wrote the whole thing, I didn’t even know them. I can’t put out a record that I wrote. It sucks, but it is what it is.
That totally makes sense.
What was the progression like coming from Paint It Golden?
It actually was a pretty good-sized progression. Paint It Golden, I literally wrote all of those songs by myself, and then brought them and recorded them with Matt Malpass. For Devil, I had this really good team around me. I had our keyboard player, our guitar player, we brought in a new producer. This is the first record in a while we didn’t do with Matt [Malpass, producer]. I just had a completely different team around me, and that alone changes the sound and structure. I had the songs 60-75% [finished], and then threw out all of these random ideas and see what stuck from an unbiased position – which is a really cool way to make a record I think.
Absolutely. It’s always a bit little more functional, I think. It depends on the circumstance, obviously, but in a lot of circumstances whenever you have a team around you of some kind, there’s tons of different input and things you may not have thought of in the context of the song you’re working on, or even the record as a whole.
What are some things you do to inspire creativity whenever you’re writing?
I don’t know if I could put my finger on one thing that inspires me. I, for whatever reason, tend to strictly write on the road. I don’t know why, but I never really write while at home. I always write in a random cafe in Cleveland, or a random club in Chicago, or in a green room somewhere. Slowly, I’ve been doing this more and more. I try to literally throw out as many ideas as I can, and whether they’re shitty or not, just get them out in to our keyboard player, or producer, or somebody’s ears and have them tell me whether it’s good or not. I think if you hold in stuff, it could be good. I’m super critical of myself, and sometimes I’ll have an idea, and I’ll be like “nah, that’s shit,” then sometimes I’ll have a few drinks and play it, and then Matt Keller will be like “that’s sick, that’s awesome, let’s use that.” The whole time I was like “maybe I didn’t even need to play that,” but then I play it. That’s just how I went about it.
At that point it just makes sense.
What were some of your favorite records growing up?
We were talking about it earlier, actually. I used to be way into The Ataris, when I was like in junior high school – when I was like 13 (laughs). You didn’t see that coming did you?
No, I did not. That was so left-field. (laughs)
That was when I was super young. I don’t know if I could really put my finger on one band that made me get into music, but our guitar player back in the day wanted to play our junior high school talent show, and that was the first time I ever went on stage. I almost want to say we played “Damnit” by Blink-182. Don’t judge me, I was 12 (laughs). I don’t know. I started pretty young in like 7th grade, just playing music in general. It kinda just stuck. We wrote a lot of shitty songs, and slowly started writing better songs. Up until today.
That’s how it always goes. (laughs)
Let’s talk about the music industry for a few minutes. Obviously the industry is going through a pretty large climate shift at the moment, where “indie” music is starting to merge with some of the aspects of mainstream music, and so on. What are your thoughts on it and where it’s going? I’ve had several people I’ve interviewed tell me that they think rock and roll is going to come back into the picture.
Yeah, I mean I guess. Pop music is always going to be pop music. It has been since Madonna, or whatever. There’s always going to be people that want to hear the [makes bass beat sound] (laughs), you know it is what it is I think, really. You can’t change it. People are going to buy what they want to hear. There’s always going to be a 12-year-old girl that wants to hear a dance song.
What’s your stance on software like Spotify that is trying to fight against piracy but in a way where everybody wins?
I personally enjoy the streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora. I think they’re awesome, man. The bands still get payed for that, you get paid for the streams. I think it just gets more attention to the band, and which in turn gets more people out to the show, and in this age that’s where you make 90% of your money – at shows. Nobody is making much money off records; there’s a little bit, but yeah. I think it brings more awareness to the band, brings more people out to the show. I think it’s great man, I’m not against it at all.
Neither am I. Some people are old school in the way that they’re like “people should just be buying, period. Streaming shouldn’t have to exist because piracy exists.” Some people don’t look at streaming as a compromise. With the way technology has moved, even if there wasn’t piracy, streaming would probably still end up coming into the picture anyway.
Totally. I think piracy is kind of one in the same as streaming, not that streaming is stealing or anything. It’s still just both are bringing more attention to the artist, which is going to get more people out to the show. I think to me, [that] is the end goal.
That should be the end goal, really.
Although I know it’s hard to tell what’s next for the future of Lydia since Devil just came out, but immediately what’s coming up? Tour announcements, cool vinyl pressings, or other releases?
We have a lot coming up this year, nothing we can announce yet. We’re going to be super busy. It’s how it goes, you have to be out on the road for quite a while.
The tour cycle.
Yeah, we’ll be on the road pretty much all of 2013. The only announcement that we have is we’re going to be doing b-sides for Devil.
Cool, that’s awesome. Down for that.
There’s a track that both me and our guitar player really wanted to put on the record, but it’s just so different that we couldn’t. Obviously you’re not going to know what I’m talking about, but it’s just almost a silly song; but it’s really cool. We wanted to put it on, but it just almost didn’t fit. There will be a b-sides for Devil, but other than that there aren’t really any other announcements.
Any last words for all of your fans out there?
Thanks for listening, and fucking picking up the record. It’s awesome.