interview with Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony

What's the name of your band? Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony

How was the band formed? We all grew up in the same little town in Northern California together but were in separate bands.  So we've known eachother forever.  Later, Dylan and I played in a band called The Look.  Dylan was on bass and I played guitar/keys.  After The Look broke up, and with a few scattered projects under our belts, Dylan and I formed a two-piece, just drums and piano, called The Terrible Two.  Shortly thereafter, Dylan's brother Kevin suddenly moved back from France, and we, with no band name, started working on some of the songs you know today.  Kevin then turned around and moved back to Paris, because Paris is awesome and both brothers are dual-citizens.  At some point Kevin moved back again.  Dylan and I were like, "we can totally be a band again, but this time you can't suddenly move back to France."  He agreed.

Can you tell about your band? I think most of it is pretty boring.  Every band is like its own little culture in a petri dish, but most of the chemical interactions just aren't noteworthy.  From an outside perspective, I think we represent ourselves pretty directly.  You can basically cruise our facebook or twitter or meander around our website and what you see is what you get.  Also Kevin is a heroin dealer.  I work for the CIA (just administrative stuff).  Dylan is an inventor.

Where are all band members from?/Who does what in the band? I'm (Nick) from Crockett, CA and I play piano.  Dylan and Kevin have lived a bunch of places.  But the lion's share I believe they spent in Port Costa, CA (right next door to Crockett, and an even tinier town).  Dylan plays drums, Kevin plays guitar and we all sing, with Kevin taking most of the lead melodies.

What was the ambitions of the band when you started? Make music worth listening to and winning a Grammy.

Could you explain your music to someone that haven't heard you? I usually say things like "Weezer meets Mary Poppins."  Or "Freddie Mercury in a high-dive competition with Tom Waits."  Or "Danny Elfman making out with Indiana Jones while they play Dungeons & Dragons."  And of course I have no idea what we actually sound like.

Where was your first gig? A matinee on the back deck of a German restaurant in Richmond, CA, called The Baltic.  Like 30 or 50 people showed up, all friends and family, to hear what the goddamn fuck we were up to.

Where was the latest gig? We just played up in Sacramento, CA and Grass Valley, CA.  We've made some great friends there over the last couple of years.  Just before that we headlined a thing called The Edwardian Ball in SF.  It was huge and freaking amazing.

Who writes your songs?/ who writes the music who writes lyrics? I write the songs at home on an upright piano.  Then Dylan and Kevin join forces to turn them into rock songs.  They have lots of structural input, but it's me writing most of the initial music and lyrics.

Who has the best sense of humor in the band? Dylan has a stand-up comedy routine. 20 minutes of material.  Most of it's in French. If we ever make it to Boxholm, Sweden you'll have to request it.

What's good/bad with the band?/What genre do you feel you are? Good: we all think we're excellent high-fivers.  Bad: we aren't actually that good at high-fiving.  Genre: Adventure Rock™.  

Why did you pick that particular style?/What are your songs about? You're asking a lot of questions, kid, but I'm answering every god damned one.  The style comes out of being influenced by a bunch of weird shit growing up, in addition to growing up in a weird place.  Geographically, we were about 20 minutes from San Francisco, a historical revolutionary liberal stronghold of sorts (except now that all the Twitter/Google tech-lords are moving in and driving rents into the ionosphere, the spirit of the city is evaporating with alacrity: it's turning into Marin South).  So we're out in this total bucolic factory town, but also like a trebuchet-shot from the welcoming halls of the cosmopolitan revolution.  I think that plays tricks on your psyche.  Makes you a fucking weirdo.  On one hand, you just want to do meth, clean guns and be awkward, and on the other hand you fancy yourself an enlightened metropolitan academic, just by proximity.  I call it the Emo-Hick Effect.  I think our style and the content of the songs are the soundtrack to that shit.

Do you write your own material or mainly covers? We cover our own material.

Have you made any albums?/If yes what are they? Yes.  They are We Became Monsters, a 13-song album freely downloadable on our site here.  We released two singles last summer on a 7", available on our website as well, minus the whole "free" thing.

Do you have any clips on YouTube? Boy do we.  Go to our channel!  One of the videos was on the front page of The Pirate Bay.  That was amazing.  It got us in touch with thousands of people all over the world in one weekend.

How old are you?/What got you started in music? RUDE QUESTION.  Just kidding.  I'm 32.  Dylan just turned 29 and Kevin is 27.  Dylan and Kevin's parents were in the music industry.  Their American mom played bass in an amazing SF band call Leila & The Snakes.  Wikipedia them.  Their French dad is also a musician and a recording engineer.  Dylan and Kevin couldn't avoid it.  My family is also musical.  My step-pop played trumpet forever, his heyday in the 60s and 70s playing for Aretha Franklin and Archie Bell & The Drells.  Those are the only two names I remember off hand but some seriously big acts.  My mom sings and plays guitar, my uncle is a piano man himself who played in bands for years.  Couldn't avoid it.

How old were you guys when you first stood on stage? Dylan and Kevin I think played a gig with their mom (mom on bass) in Port Costa when they were like 12 or something.  My first real experience was when I drummed in a pop punk/emo band right out of highschool.

What year was the band started? Major Powers started in mid-2011.

Best/worst gig you've played? It funny.  We've played plenty of shows to like 3 people, but those 3 people were super into it and we became buddies and and they come out to other performances and stay in touch to this day.  I wouldn't trade those kinds shows for the huge ones where there's a sea of people singing along to our songs.  But yeah, that's pretty amazing, too.  We've had a few shows where the first ten rows are singing along with every lyric.  That's humbling and brings a tear to the eye.

What places will you be playing in in the immediate future? We have so many tours being worked on right now it's daunting to list.  Just visit this page every so often (just March gigs are up right now).

Which band is the best you've seen? Gosh.  Dylan and Kevin would have different answers.  Not sure what they would say.  But I, as a little kid, got to see Dizzy Gillespie at Yoshi's in Oakland right before he died.  I remember it vividly.  I knew it was amazing then.  I got his autograph.  Locally, I love a ton of bands.  El Elle puts on a visual/sonic clinic.  Everyone Is Dirty has all the right stuff.  French Cassettes slay.  Bend Sinister from Vancouver blows my mind live.  I want to kill the lead singer and insert his vocal chords into my neck.  If you are from the Bay and haven't seen Tiger Honey Pot, the time is now.  EV Kain are gods.  Foxtails Brigade makes me want to cry tears of joy.  There are many, many more.

Is it always the same songs live? We play like the same 7 or so any given night and sprinkle in other shit from our catalog.

Have you had any bigger tours from start to now? The longest we've been out is under a week.  We're still trying to find a booking agent who will work with us, and don't want to destroy our bodies and minds on a self-booked long-ass tour where you come back in debt and little else to show for it.  So we're building out from the Bay Area in concentric circles on weekend-warrior trips until we have more markets firmly established.  Who knows.  Everyone's got a theory on how this shit's supposed to work.  You just have to follow your heart, work hard and as Lisa Light of El Elle told me in front of Amnesia in SF, "there are no short cuts."

What are the plans for the rest of the year? New album.  Tours.  Many music videos.  Winning a Grammy.

Where do you usually play? NW U.S., SW U.S. and all over NorCal.  I'm going to answer every one of these questions, Robex, even ones that repeat.

How do you get psyched up for a gig? Dylan drums on his thigh for like 45 minutes.  Kevin finds people to make out with.  I drink.  I hope it's not becoming a problem.

What are your goals with your music? Winning a Grammy.  Making hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And creating something to be proud of before we all die.

When did you decide to go all in for the music? 2011.  I can't speak for the Brothers Gautschi, but I'd been pussyfooting around most of my 20s vis a vis music.  In a state of denial-and-justification about how hard it actually is and how seriously you actually need to take it.  I wish I'd had my epiphany when I was 21.  Believe me, I would go back in a time machine and slap the shit out of myself if I could.  But it just wasn't in the cards.  I think that's normal though: it takes everyone wildly different amounts of time to figure out what the fuck things mean, and how to go about it once you figure it out.  One thing I can say for sure is that everyone in a band (or any project) has to be "all in" to a certain degree.  Straglers and know-it-alls need to be shed like dead weight immediately.  Unless they can change their tune overnight, they will always be an anchor dragging on the ship.

Is it easier to get your inspiration from older bands or from bands more modern? We listen mostly to older shit, so that's the easy answer.  But if we listened to a lot of newer shit, too, I think there would be plenty of influence coming from there.  The fabric of inspiration is a manifold entity and it's tough to accurately dissect.  And it doesn't even really have a ton to do with bands.  Watching the mailman drive by serves as inspiration.  Falling down on the sidewalk serves as inspiration.  The class war being waged on us by the wealthy is inspiration.  Talking about beer is inspiration.  "We're the sum of our moments" kind of thing.  Sorry I'm getting drunk on these questions.  I just looked ahead.  Dude there are like 70 more.

What are your sources of inspiration? Look, the soundtrack being played to a dreamworld of magic inspires the fuck out of me.  I think we all like to get lost in music, so for whatever reason I decided that getting lost in fantasy or superhero movie music was pretty important.  But everyone in the band also grew up on hip hop, which is in many respects the opposite of fantasy soundtracks.  You're listening to people who are suffering the most in the power structure sing and rap about it.  So in an abstract way I like to think our music is at some sort of cross section - as far removed in timbre as it is  - between hip hop and Pirates of The Caribbean or whatever.  I know that sounds far fetched.  Like, I think of Vallejo rapper E-40 all the time when I'm writing lyrics.  I don't think I write anything like that, obviously, but there's something about colloquial storytelling that gets me off.  Conversely, let's say that band Rush or whoever, those fucking 70s bands who sang about adventures to Xanadu while they are dressed like wizards?  That shit is painful and unhelpful to me.  And look, I'll be the first to admit that I don't know if we've even remotely achieved some cross section in genres or storytelling, but it's worth noting that it's in our minds.

What's the first step when making a new song? Piano notes.  There are twelve notes in the Western scale.  So clunking around those notes until a thing jumps out and moves you.  Some sort of riff that calls up some sort of emotion that feels real.  In my process, and I know everyone works very differently, the lyrics come dead last.

How do you feel about the downloading of music instead of buying albums? I think whatever vehicle artists can use to get their art out should happen.  I think sculptors should start sending 3-D printer files to customers, if it's not already happening.  I romanticize holding and smelling a vinyl record like the next girl, but I'm a fan of everything that empowers artists' distribution.

What would be your dreams for the band? Winning a Grammy and making hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides your own music, what genres and bands do you listen to? Hip hop, bebop, swing, classical, pop, metal, rock, grunge, punk, dubstep, beatbox videos on youtube, videogame music, birdsong, the hum of consciousness, country, tejano, mariachi, folk, blues, klezmer, drum'n'bass, acapella, drum circles, goth, opera, Portuguese warsongs on bagpipe, Weezer, etc.  I think more people listen to more genres of music than they let on.  People should let on more.

What do you hold most dear? If I was being honest, probably myself.  Close second: my five year old daughter.  I don't know what Dylan and Kevin would say, but I'm secretly hoping they'd say me, too.

When you are on stage, what do you fear most then? One time a dude threatened to punch me in the face on stage because he thought I was indoctrinating children with "fascist" ideologies.  Not sure if it was the song Ode To Russia or Rich Kid Show.  I tried to start a dialogue with him but nothing happened.  So I think probably getting punched in the face for brainwashing our youth is up there.

What songs and what years were they released? Click the "Track Lists" at the bottom of this page.

Have you been part of any other projects? Yes.

Have you been in any other bands? Yes.

What do you work with outside of the band and the music? I build websites.  Dylan works at a company that builds sets for photography.  Kevin is an immigration paralegal.

What would you do if there was no music? The funny thing is I don't listen to music that often.  So I think I'd probably make it through ok.  I'd probably just play more Dungeons & Dragons or Wiffle Ball or something.  Travel the world a whole bunch (not listening to music) with my wife and daughter.

How important are your fans? To us, or in general?  In general, like, "their importance to society," on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give them a 7.5.  To us, a clean 10.

What's the funniest/most memorable thing a fan has done for you? A guy stuck one of our band pins through his chest flesh (all the way and clasped it), took a picture of it, from multiple angles, and sent it to us.  I am both terrified of him of and love him dearly.  Actually he's going to come to my house soon to help me with a project.  So it's mostly love.  Also this really great musician and awesome dude named Rick once told me that the phrasing of the arpeggiation in our song We're All Gonna Die was genius.  That was super memorable and felt hella good. 

How often do you rehearse? Thrice weekly.  More if there's a deadline.  Less if there are video shoots or tours and shit.

Where do you rehearse? Richmond, CA!  In a converted Public Storage unit.  It's amazing!  There's a bunch of other artists there.  Great community.

Name 2 of your own songs you like at the moment? We've got some new ones no one has heard; we're working on our next album right now.  We're digging "Vanilla Boy" and "I Think I Love You" right now.  Of ones you've heard (if you've listened to the whole album), we're falling back in love with "Goodbye Music," which we don't play live often, and "Mr. Mysterious" is always super fun, it develops like a showtune over 5 minutes and has a strong narrative arc; it's really fun to play.

What do you feel is the best live band you've seen? I feel like I've answered this before...

Do you have any webpages? SO MANY WEBPAGES.  You can start here.

Any pearls of wisdom for all other bands out there? One in a million bands (or at least one in ten thousand) gets some short cut to the upper tiers of band income.  Unless you get lucky or are actually that magically awesome, DO NOT RELY ON SHORTCUTS.  You have to work, and if the work isn't fun, get out and do something else.

Describe your show, visually and musically We play the songs.  We aren't flashy stage dudes.

How do you view the musicindurty of today? A dystopian hellscape of scams, self-doubt and depression.

What advice would you like to give other bands? Yes. Quit.  All of you, all at once.  THEN THERE WILL BE ONLY ONE.  We'll play all your gigs for you.

What are the biggest obstacles for a band? Self-doubt.  Asshole band members who know it all.  Being "too busy" to do band shit.  Oooh wait, most important: not sucking.  That's a big one.  And then probably some other shit if you're famous that I don't know about, like dealing with all these different people trying to part you from your money and stuff like that.

What is best/worst with playing the clubs? The best/worst with playing the clubs is here/there.

Tell us about upcoming gigs and why we should be at them? We're playing the Phoenix Theater tomorrow night, but this probably won't be published by then.  So come see us in Santa Monica, CA on March 8 and Scottsdale, AZ on March 9!  Check our website.

How would you describe your sound in one sentence These are Polaroid snapshots compared to the 3 dementional graphics of sound and human suffering at the live show. Via @Folder_Rock.

What is your favorite crappy instrument? No such thing.

What was one of the most quarrelsome times for you in the band? We don't fight and tell.

Whats your Pre-show ritual? Recently Kevin separated all the M&M colors from a 2-pound bag into different cups.  I hope more stuff like that happens.


1 Bill Dane:

Du har gjort det med stormakterna nu!
Ingen orsak.
= = = = =
Oh dear.
You have done it with Major Powers now!
My pleasure.

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