INTERVIEW: WIPING OUT THOUSANDS (ST. PAUL, MN)
St. Paul and Minneapolis have historic rivalries dating since the explorers first chose sides on the banks of the Mississippi. It’s the founding myth drove the two cities to constructing elaborate churches to rival the other, declarations of one being boring while the other riddled by ruckus, and even kidnapping attempts of census workers to skew population numbers to the other city’s favor way back in 1890. Up until recent, with the superb addition of the Amsterdam Bar and Hall, you mostly had to trek it across the river to Minneapolis for music. Well, times they are a-changin’ and St. Paul seems to be headed towards a music renaissance fueled in part by the new venue and McNally Smith College of Music. But what really could give St. Paul a push is a new duo of self-described ‘electroclash’ that, one night in February, managed to eclipse the nationally known headliners…a duo that scrambled last minute before to piece together a set long enough for the 7th Street Entry. Wiping Out Thousands, who’ve been teasing the Twin Cities with short glancing blows of their music on vimeo, had only a heavily talked about EP until the last week when This Came First hit bandcamp for the price of free. Now, Friday evening, it’s time to headline alongside LaLiberte (feat. Cecil Otter of Doomtree, Ben Clark, and 2010’s Best Female Vocalist of City Pages‘ Maggie Morrison) and Sloslylove to celebrate their record release. Tickets are available here ($5 advance, $7 at the door).
Thanks to Taylor and Alaine, as well as Kent, for the chat over superbly refilled coffee in St. Paul! Before we start, high def this single and crank the speakers!
Earlier this year you opened for YACHT at 7th Street Entry, and it was your second show. What was the first one?
Taylor: We played at Nick & Eddie on December 30th, a Saturday night. It was way different than the YACHT show because it was literally us just testing to make sure it works. It was just a laptop and her playing keyboard and me playing guitar. Literally, just a laptop in front of me and I hit play. [laughs]
The YACHT show we got a little bit more stuff involved. We were actually controlling what was being played live instead of just playing the multi tracks of the album. Quite a bit of a turnaround in a month and a half.
Alaine: The setlist was way different.
Taylor: A lot of the songs that we played at the YACHT show were on the new album. When we played at Nick & Eddie, it was just the EP and a few b-sides. So pretty short set.
So what was going through your heads just before YACHT?
Taylor: One, I didn’t think there’d be that many people there. Honestly I hadn’t heard of YACHT until we found out about the show and I looked into them. I did see that they played with The Chemical Brothers and bands like that before, so I was pretty surprised. Normally when you’re a new band and you play a show, there aren’t people standing at the front of the stage. So that was a surprise. We didn’t know how it was going to sound because we had just practiced on really small PA systems.
I guess getting through the set without disappointing people was the main goal. It ended up being a lot better than hoped, so that was really cool.
I heard that people were pretty happy with how it turned out.
Taylor: People didn’t know who we were.
Alaine: When I think about it now, I wish I could be in the audience watching it. I’m sure that we don’t even compare to that anymore, which is kinda funny.
Taylor: Yeah, looking back at it, it’s so much more matured now the way we perform and how it actually works than then. To think that that impressed people, I’m hoping the release show is a whole different…a lot of people that were at that show, I hope they come to this one but I don’t think a lot of those people have seen us since then.
Alaine: Aside from our parents. [laughs]
What did your parents think?
Alaine: Great. My mom’s really into it. My dad is. It’s just different.
Taylor: It’s a generational thing.
Alaine: Yeah. My dad’s a Neil Young guy. But apparently he’ll play it on the computer at home and let it go and take the CD to work to listen to it. So that’s kinda funny, but I don’t know if it has anything to do with the music. [laughs] It’s just the fact that my name is on it.
How did you two meet?
Taylor: So you’re familiar with McNally Smith? I had been a student there. She had recently started taking classes there. Adam Tucker, who’s the guy who did the mastering and vocal recording for this new record is a long-time friend of mine. He and I actually started a project together and actually “More than Five Millions,” which is the opening track, was the first song that I wrote under that Wiping Out Thousands title. We were both interested in having a female vocalist on it, and not have just electronic instrumental music. I had asked around at school to some friends to see if they would recommend any vocalists there that would be interested in singing over that kind of music.
One of them said Alaine would be good for it. I did the classy thing and Facebook messaged her, not knowing her [laughs]. So I’m the creepy guy sending her a Facebook message.
Alaine: “Do you guys know who Taylor is?” to my roommates.
Taylor: And I basically said, “Here’s the bands that I like. Do you like these bands? Would you want to sing over music that sounds like these bands?” I think I said Radiohead, Portishead and Massive Attack. She said, “Yeah, I love those bands.”
So it was like sending a 21st century mixtape?
Kent (their manager): It was a Spotify playlist! [laughs]
Taylor: And she agreed obviously, I didn’t force her to do it. We went down to the studio, which is in Richfield, and spent a really awkward four hours in the studio. She had a keyboard in her lap. We were playing the demos that we had, and were like, “So what do you think about this?” She said, “It’s cool…” [laughs]
People weren’t really ready to share openly yet, so it was a really awkward start. But we actually got to the point where it was a four-piece band with drums and bass, me playing guitar and her singing. That was Wiping Out Thousands for two months. The drummer, who’s in a bunch of bands locally, had to dip out because it was just too much. Adam’s already busy running a studio, so we realized at that point it should just be the two of us. That’s where it all really started.
When I was listening, there was much more than a two-piece going on…the drums and bass. I had no clue where it was coming from because I didn’t expect that.
Taylor: Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff…there’s a lot of stuff going on. We’ll see if that trend stays. We’ve actually had a little chat about what we’ll do next album because I feel like it’s a very produced, big sounding album. But it works live, as weird as it sounds thinking about it and expecting it to sound that way. It works well.
Speaking of a lot of things going on, want to explain “Follow Me Into The Wake” a little bit?
Taylor: Because it’s the instrumental weird track?
It’s the instrumental weird track just before “Below Tripping,” which is just: ‘What’s going on-I don’t care-this is great!’
Taylor: I think “Below Tripping” was the very last song added to the album, or worked on. “Follow Me Into The Wake” had been around for a while. There was always the intention of making it a full song; vocals and sections. But as the production of the music part, which we usually do first and then add vocals at the end. I felt going into it there room for it, because there’s so much stuff going on. We had never done an instrumental track. I like bands that put at least one on there, if it fits. Since the album is only eight songs long. You have the three opening songs, the two weird ones where it gets into the deepest cuts, and then it goes back into the finishing section. I liked the way that flowed. I think it made it feel like an album.
Those two songs back-to-back are probably my favorite part of the album.
What’s lyrically going on with “Below Tripping”?
Taylor: That is your answer!
Alaine: So I have four other siblings. One of them writes really profound, awesome stuff. There’s one that’s called, “The Invasion of the Humanists” It’s this poem that she wrote a couple years ago that I’ve always gone back to. I like to read her stuff. We knew for “Below Tripping” that we wanted strange lyrics that was going to be spoken and sound robotic. But I couldn’t come up with anything. So I asked her, “Can we feature that poem? Or parts of that poem on this track?” It just made sense to fit the mood. It’s my sister’s poem called “The Invasion of the Humanists.” It worked out!
What did Adam teach you in recording the album?
Taylor: So the EP was literally done in a basement. She actually sang all the vocals through a laptop. The point was, “Let’s see how much we can do without using anyone else’s help.” So I don’t wanna go to a studio. I don’t wanna pay money for anything. I just wanna see what we can do with my laptop to produce everything, and your laptop to record vocals, and see how it works.
It sounded really good. I was really impressed with it. Obviously it doesn’t sound like a studio album, but for the tone of the album and the way it all fit together it really worked. Getting the attention that that EP got kinda put the pressure on us to sound much better. The intent of going into the studio was that it’d be good to get her singing into a nice, expensive microphone to get her voice up front instead of hidden in the mix. I’ve always been a fan of vocalists who can put their voice ahead of everything else that is happening and have it intelligible. Because it’s a confidence thing.
Going into this, I was entirely self-conscious and doubting my abilities to mix it. I was tempted multiple times to give all the multi-tracks to Adam and have him mix it in the studio. But I trust his opinion enough where if he tells me something sounds good, I’ll believe it even though personally I think it sounds like crap… So the learning experience was learning that we can mix it and produce it, and it can sound fine. Until I can get my own studio space, vocals and guitar should still be done in a standard studio.
So did you do all the panning that I heard where the sound wipes to one side?
Taylor: We spent hours and hours and hours grooming over every inch of the album without really manipulating her voice much. “Below Tripping” is a exception. All the other songs, I tried the hardest to leave her voice untouched.
What were you two doing just before meeting up at McNally?
Alaine: Absolutely nothing. I was just going to school. [laughs]
Taylor: This is your first band, isn’t it?
Taylor: I was in a band called The New Monarchs. We just released an album back in the spring and were just starting that album when we first met. We’ve been writing music together for two years. Wiping Out Thousands as a public entity didn’t exist for more than a year yet. I’ve been in a band for years, the studio thing, and her not having done anything like this before…it’s nice to have that innocence and experience to come together. That allowed us to do something completely new.
Alaine: As if I had known any better! “This is too weird. Can’t do it.” [laughs]
Why did you decide to go the free route with the album?
Taylor: A lot of bands when they start off assume that they have to do the band thing, and the record thing, like everybody else has done. So we need to make a record, then we need to bring it to our shows and sell it to people. Obviously that doesn’t work, and it’s unfortunate that a lot of bands don’t realize that until it’s too late. Unless you are someone who can come out of nowhere, and then you’re playing shows on the East Coast opening for people at the Bowery Ballroom, you can’t sell CDs. It doesn’t matter how good the music is. You will not sell a CD to someone who hasn’t heard of you before. So the intention was if we have our album up on the internet, it’s free, and someone stumbles upon it, they’re going to download it. If they see $5 as a request as the only way to get it, they’re going to say, “Well, I don’t really like it that much. I’m not going to listen to it.”
The more important thing is to get it into people’s hands and have them listen to it. We didn’t really spend anything to make it. There’s no expectation for us to expect people to pay for something we did like that. The pay-what-you-want model has worked really well. I think that starting off free and then slowly moving towards the other route would work. I still would assume that no matter how many albums we put out, it would be free first, then if someone wants to pay for it, they would have the option to.
After the record release, are there any plans for playing outside of Minneapolis?
Taylor: Hopefully. We’ll see. We’ve been interested in going to Chicago and playing a show there. It would be really cool to have a band that’s coming through Minneapolis and heading to Chicago to play with them here, then with them in Chicago as well. It’s a challenge because in Chicago, nobody knows who we are. So how do you do that? I know a few bands that have done that. It would be cool to do that with a higher profile band. I’ve played in Chicago at the Empty Bottle before. I love that place.
I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Just assuming we could sell the record right away. I don’t wanna assume that we could go to Chicago and just play right away. But if the opportunity presents itself, I think we would absolutely do it.
To wrap up, if you were going to go into hibernation with only two cassettes these days, what would it be?
Taylor: What setting would I be stuck in? Stuck in a cellar? Is this a cozy place or am I forced to live in solidarity? [laughs] So…Meat Beat Manifesto‘s Actual Sounds + Voices. That is one of my favorite electronic albums of all time. …would we be stuck together or separate? Because then we’d get four albums!
Alaine: I’ve got one that you would hate, actually…Hazards of Love. The Decemberists.
Taylor: Ugh! I just don’t like his voice.
Alaine: They’re just one of those bands that I was introduced to in middle school. That and Ok Computer.
Taylor: It would either be Goldfrapp‘s Supernature or Seventh Tree. One of those albums. I would go with Supernature. I wanted to pick a Radiohead album, but we can’t both be stuck with Radiohead.