Lemonade is a three-man, genre-spanning band. BEN, Alex Pasternak, and Callan Clendenin originate from the greater San Francisco area but recently moved to Brooklyn. Lemonade’s self-titled debut is available now.
Epilogue: How’s NYC been so far?
ALEX PASTERNAK: Cold.
CALLAN CLENDENIN: We came right in time for winter.
Why did you guys move? Was it an exposure consideration?
CALLAN: We used to come here a lot just to hang out. This is the only other city that we thought was a lot of fun that we wanted to live in.
BEN STEIDEL: And I guess exposure too. It’s so much easier to tour from here.
CALLAN: Yeah, but that was more what we discovered, I think. I just don’t want people to think we moved to New York to make it big, or something.
BEN: But San Francisco was proving really difficult, to some degree. I mean, we love it there, we have so many friends there, it’s really awesome…we were ready to pick up our pace a little more, and work a little bit more. In San Francisco, for the most part, the music scene was pretty laid back. We wanted to come here and be surrounded by really ambitious people.
What’s the San Francisco music scene like?
CALLAN: We didn’t really have a scene. I don’t really know if there was a scene.
BEN: We had some definite kindred spirits out there. There’s a real older electronic music scene that we never quite connected with, a big history of House music that I totally like, and I think they’re making great music, it never really translated to coming from a much young, funk background. I think a lot of people involved with the house music scene there didn’t really get that aspect of it. But we found people on similar wavelengths. The guys in Tussle, for instance. Punk guys into dance music, that’s what we’re looking for.
What’s the Lemonade story? Had you been in bands together before?
CALLAN: No. We were just all friends. Alex and I have been friends for a long time. The story we usually tell about it is when Alex worked with someone, and they asked him “Hey, you’re in a band, do you want to play a show.” And Alex was like, “Yes, I’m in a band, and I do want to play a show.” We hadn’t really gotten it together at all. Alex and I did some traveling in Europe, and when we were in Spain we bought a lot of records and went to a lot of nightclubs. Then we came back with these different influences, as well as the stuff we already listened to, and we talked to Ben about it, practiced four or five times, and then we played a show. It was pretty rough at first. Pretty rough, but also pretty similar to what we’re doing now, I can’t really explain why.
BEN: I think it was definitely aiming for the same vibes and feelings. When we started playing none of us had any experience producing electronic music.
CALLAN: We taught ourselves how to do that.
BEN: This band has been about, from the get-go, learning along the way. Alex was a bass player originally, this is the first band he’s played the drums in. I was a guitar player, I had played bass in bands.
CALLAN: I never played music really.
BEN: When we first started playing we wanted to incorporate dance music because we were just getting into a lot of electronic music, he was pressing buttons on a drum machine while drumming. Three loops run through a distortion pedal, or something.
CALLAN: All the influences were there…all the same influences were there.
BEN: It had a more dub-y, post-punk vibe. We definitely got more into dubstep and grime.
What kind of ideas keep coming up? Does the punk thing inform what you guys do?
CALLAN: I don’t think so. That’s just more the attitude we had…well maybe. We definitely had a lot of aggressive sounds. And punk teaches you that you don’t need a lot of stuff going on to make it sounds good. You can play the same thing for three minutes
BEN: And you can crash broken cymbals and it will sound coo. You don’t have to walk out of Guitar Center with brand new, fancy shit to make cool music. It’s an open-mindedness, a working with what you have attitude.
As far as themes that crop up in the music…
BEN: Yeah, traveling and that sense of adventure.
CALLAN: That sort of wonder you get traveling instead of that traveling traveling, that feeling you get when you discover something different.
BEN: Good feelings. Even if our songs aren’t necessarily “happy” songs, it’s about not taking things too seriously and having a good time. I think coming from a lot of self-consciously serious rock music, getting into dance music is something that’s perfect for having a good time. Coming from a mopey indie rock background, it was really refreshing to be into music that was about partying. And I think you get that vibe from not just electronic music, but dance music from all over the world.
What do you make of the wave of early good press?
BEN: It was definitely funny waking up the morning of the Pitchfork review and having like, 15 times the Myspace traffic. Our inbox was like “BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM.” It’s kind of ridiculous, the influence that wields. Great for us. It’s certainly created some opportunities for us.
CALLAN: I think it’s cool. It’s our debut, nobody really knew who we were before that. In San Francisco, we played at a lot of fun, really big shows and parties, but we didn’t really travel, we didn’t really tour, we didn’t really have any releases. We didn’t have any press or publicity or management. So it was kind of fun. For a lot of people, they just discovered us, which is cool, because we’ve been doing it in sort of different phases for a few years now.
What’s your take on the live experience? What kind of expectations do you think people may have if they’ve only heard the record?
CALLAN: We have so many other influences that I think people see when they see us live.
BEN: It has been interesting because a few times people in the press or people writing us think that it’s one producer, one guy, producing tracks under the name Lemonade and they don’t realize it’s a live band. So I think we’re surprising people by being a live band.
CALLAN: At first the live show was everything for us. We didn’t have a record, we’re really hard to record. We tried to record and just did all live takes…we were definitely a live band. I think especially for people in San Francisco, people that saw us, we were just a live band. There was a lot of improvisation, a lot of noise. I know a lot of artists write music and then figure out how to perform it live, but we really figured everything out live. We write a song, jam on it for four practices or so, then play it really rough. Just sort of making it up. The live experience, especially before, was what it was all about.
BEN: Even the newer stuff, the way we tend to write material, we write the electronic elements…recording is not a writing process. Recording is recording what we’re playing in the live set. I think it’ll, more or less remain that way.
CALLAN: The songs sort of build on climaxes, as opposed to verses and choruses. Everybody gets really into that. I’d love to get to a point where we’re playing shows and the crowd is there, you know, getting into it in the way they get into dance music.
I didn’t listen to any pop at all for a couple years, when we were writing it. I do know…when we were recording it we were listening to a lot of improv and noise.
BEN: We found our way back to pop music.
What do you guys listen to?
BEN: We all share a history of punk, hardcore, and American indie rock. That’s certainly what we grew up with. Beyond that…commonly we’re all into a lot of new grime, dub, techno, house, electronica…Alex especially, but we’re all into Latin music and Arab music.
CALLAN: We’ve done a handful of remixes, and they’ve all got different influences in terms of what electronic music is informing them, but the thing that they share is really big bass and lots of noise and reverb, and that’s dub.
ALEX: You know how the guitar, the bass, and the keys in dub and reggae are doing the “skanks?”
CALLAN: We write the “skanks.” I like the “skanks”…I think almost most of my influences are in some way Caribbean, for some reason. There’s the dub influences which informs a lot of electronic music, there’s dancehall, all the vocalists I like are all Caribbean, and they sort of inform the UK scene.
ALEX: Most the biggest reggae bands from the Eighties are all from the UK.
CALLAN: And it’s also about that African drumming thing, which is pretty rad. We don’t do a lot of that, but I still really like it. At first, a lot of our influences were Middle Eastern; Alex can play all that stuff, so that’s kinda why…We do have super disparate influences. Going into our tracks, they never sound like what we’re trying to do.
ALEX: Our remixes are way more straightforward.
What things do you want to keep doing?
ALEX: Push the boundaries.
BEN: We definitely intend to keep touring, because that’s, on a simple financial level, the only way to keep afloat.
ALEX: Rent’s due today and we don’t have it.
BEN: We’re gonna be a few days late and use the money we get from the next three shows. Touring, it’s hard to write on tour, and we need to push to do more of that…Musically, I can’t imagine us running out of ideas. There’s so much music that we’re excited about. That’s the great thing about learning to love dance music, there’s always new stuff. I feel like a lot of the “downer” aspect of indie rock has to be that a lot of the avenues being pretty exhausted. Dance music is recycled, sure, but it’s also obsessed with being fresh. Like dubstep, if you really want to be on top of it, you need to know what came out, like, last week.
CALLAN: We’re going into a post-dubstep phase.
BEN: We need to find a way to be more productive in terms of generating material.
CALLAN: And I feel like we get ideas from so many different areas, for me some that aren’t even music related. From watching cartoons, like, older cartoons, I want to write music. Or maybe if I have a dream where I imagine a lot of dinosaurs walking, a father and a mother dinosaur and they’re walking in a line, I wake up and I want to write a song that will go along with that. We have one song that I feel is really propelled by, like, Sonic the Hedgehog. Thinking about him. We took some samples from the game, but even before we put those samples into the track, it was just sort of like, Sonic the Hedgehog. Just influences from all over the place.
Thinking about, swimming and underwater stuff…that’s a big influence for me.
BEN: Soundtrack for a floating mollusk.
CALLAN: My process is very visual. Lately I’ve been into late-Eighties cop thrillers. I really want horns on the record, if anyone reads this and they play a bunch of horns and they want to just come jam with us and let us record a bunch of loops…we needs lots of horns.
Do you think that you’re a band where the digital age actually suits you better? As opposed to the structure of music business ten years ago.
CALLAN: Oh yeah definitely.
BEN: This is something we’re encountering. As much as I think that we have the potential to be really prolific, as much as I feel like our music is suited for singles rather than an album. Because we are a live band, we still do need to get in to record drums properly and bass properly and vocals properly.
CALLAN: That’s our biggest next step, just getting the equipment ourselves and releasing it as it’s done. I think this next record, I think we’ll find a way to record a lot of it ourselves. We are, in a lot of a ways, sort of in between worlds. In the digital age, but we’re sort of like a rock band. We recorded that last album in a year, and it sat around giving me anxiety headaches for a year and a half before anyone could buy it. We have our own limitations that we deal with.