Rock Pickups: Silversun Pickups

Don’t pinpoint the music of Silversun Pickups because it’s all just rock ‘n’ roll

"Hide your cradle and a headstone in the watermark when the sea comes," sings Brian Aubert of the Silversun Pickups in "Cradle (Better Nature) which kicks off the bands' most recent full length effort, Better Nature (2015, New Machine Recordings)

The line is an excellent reminder of the fleeting life of a rock 'n' roll band. Silversun Pickups, who hail from the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, California, are 16-years-old this year. Old enough to drive, even though it seems like they've been driving for quite a while now as they achieved national acclaim for their 2006 song "Lazy Eye" off of Carnavas (Dangerbird), but still young enough to continually reinvent themselves to stay relevant in the crazy world of popular music.

"It becomes boring for the listener if you keep on putting the same album out over and over. The first two albums were definitely a lot more rock oriented and were close to that '90s thing: loud guitars, lots of dynamics. We've been doing more electronic stuff (on the last two records) and experimenting on different instruments that we don't normally do too much of. We strive to do something kind of different every album," says Christopher Guanlao, drummer of Silversun Pickups.

Each of the bands' four studio albums have a different feel, which is refreshing to say the least, in a world where the competition for a fan's attention and dollars often drives hardworking and hard-touring bands to follow the latest trends of what is selling or what has always worked for them, i.e., a formulaic approach that can quickly become stale. Silversun Pickups have eschewed this approach and stayed true to their own style, even if the style is reminiscent of bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Muse, and at times, The Shins.

Guanlao's voice noticeably stiffened during our early August conversation at the mention of the Smashing Pumpkins comparison when asked about how he describes his band. This is understandable due to the similarities between his lead singer, Aubert, and the Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, but beyond the voices and both bands being part of the "alternative" rock world, the comparisons between the two become harder and harder to make. For Quanlao, who has been playing drums for Silversun Pickups since 2002, the band is best described generically.

"We're just basically a rock band. We try not to compare it too much, even though all those comparisons are cool. It's just rock music. There's a lot of shoegaze involved, sometimes, there's a lot of rock, there's melodies. Which is good. We strive to not be (pigeon-holed). It's never going to be one, pinpointed thing," Guanlao says.

Prior to our conversation, Guanlao had just finished watching the new Star Trek movie as he was enjoying a couple of days off before the next leg of the band's lengthy 2016 tour schedule kicked off with a few shows in Hawaii.

"It's been pretty much going on non-stop this entire year. It's been pretty typical. Whenever we put out an album, we expect to be out for about a year and a half doing promo and touring. This year, scheduling has been a lot tighter. There's so much more competition out there now, with festivals and stuff like that. We're kind of used to it, (pauses) the daily grind," Guanlao says of Silversun Pickups busy schedule.

While playing the Rialto Theatre on Congress, where the band plays on August 17, is probably not the same as playing in Hawaii, it does mark the first Silversun Pickups Tucson show that is not going to be at the Pima County Fairgrounds. The band has made a habit of playing the Pima County Fair in years past and this has not gone unnoticed by Guanlao.

"We always end up playing the county fair, for some reason. It's actually a lot of fun. Last time, we saw pig races. (Guanlao laughs) Little piglet races, which was actually really fun. We haven't played a proper Tucson show," Guanlao says, before he continues in a voice dripping with sarcasm:

"We love fairs. We try to go to all the county fairs around the US. I think it's kind of a built in crowd already. It's actually pretty cool. We don't play as many county fairs as you would think or hope."

Playing the Pima County Fair is a long way from playing festivals like Coachella, which the band played earlier this year, but Guanlao was quick to point out that the heralded Southern California music festival is pretty much a "a county fair on steroids and (psychedelic) drugs." This thought sparked a lengthy conversation which concluded with the postulation that all steroids used for bodybuilding purposes should include a healthy dose of psychedelics to make things "more interesting."

Guanlao clearly has a pretty good sense of humor. As the band goes into its 15th year with essentially the same lineup, the ability to keep things loose and have fun is incredibly important. Considering the hectic schedule the band seemingly enjoys, Guanlao says they have learned how to keep things loose.

"We also just have way too much fun on tour. We switch to our tour 'caps' very easily. We like to have fun so that takes us away from working on a new record," Guanlao says.

New records seem to come out about every three years with Silversun Pickups, which means the next album should come out some time in 2018. For 2015's Better Nature, the band did something very different for them and released it on their own label, New Machine Recordings. According to Guanlao, so far, it's working out for them to be in charge of their own releases.

"It's been really good. Not much, really, has changed. It's pretty much business as usual. The only thing that has changed is that we're talking directly with the label. We get things done much quicker. If we have something to say or have something that concerns us, we just talk directly to our manager about it, rather than playing 'telephone' with the label," Guanlao says before concluding:

"You can make the argument the industry has changed dramatically in just the past five years. It's so different. It's really fortunate for us to still stay afloat and do what we do. It's so much harder to sell records, it's harder to tour. There's so much more competition. It's definitely different. It's a different game.

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