TAP Exclusive Interview – Richard Wouters of Civil Twilight

Hot on the heels of the release of their second album Holy Weather and just before the start of their two and a month long tour, drummer Richard Wouters of Civil Twilight spoke with our writer Cassandra Paiva about the band’s writing and studio process, the addition of a new member, favorite tour memories, and plans for the coming year.

Your second album, Holy Weather has been out for almost six months now. Compared to the debut, how does this one feel in terms of promotion and reception?

Well the debut we recorded a long time ago, we recorded it before we got signed and it was a very gradual release process and we were a very new band. It was hard to kind of gauge the reception when it came out because there wasn’t really any reception when it first came out because we were so new. We put it out independently first and then we got signed with Wind-Up and it started, after a while it started gaining traction and certain songs got picked up and put in films and on TV and those songs got a really good reception. But the second record is the first one we’re putting out that we actually have a fan base already established and waiting in a sense to hear the new record. So that was like a new experience for us, which was really cool. It’s kind of interesting writing with that in mind as well. You sort of feel people’s expectations a little bit. And the fact that people are now comparing you to something you’ve done before. But it seems to be really well received. We went to try to make something that was a little different from what we’ve done before and focused a little bit more on elements of groove, and melody, and song structure a little more than the first record. And also sonics to kind of make it sound interesting and experimented quite a bit with the sound. But, for the most part, it’s been a good reception from our fans. It seems like, almost like people really like it. And most people seem to think it’s a good progression from the last record. So, we’re really happy with it and happy that people seem to like it.

What made you choose “Fire Escape” as the single?

You said what made us choose that?

Yea, or was it record label dominated?

(laughs) That song was actually written before all of the other songs and certain people in our team heard it and really liked it and thought it to be a single. And the version that ended up being put out was actually the demo that we recorded in New York. We tried to record it in the studio again, but we weren’t able to capture the same energy, so we ended up using the demo version on the record and that was put out as a single. The choice of it as the first single was a joint decision; it was definitely a song that everybody kind of fancied from the beginning, even before the record was entirely finished. But all of our artistic decisions are collaborative with the label. We have joint creative control, so no one makes executive decisions; we kind of talk about things and work it out. And they gave of a lot of freedom, the record company, gave us a lot of freedom on this record. We were kind of free with what we wanted to do, experiment a little bit. So that was cool.

Do you have plans for a second single?

We do actually. I think “River” is going to be the second single. That’s the first song on the record. We all like that song. That one we sort of, told our label that that’s what we wanted and they were like, ‘ok.’ I don’t know if that was their pick, but they liked the song too. (laughs)

So, you wrote most of Holy Weather on the road when you went into the studio, what was going through your minds?

It happened pretty quickly, during kind of breaks in the middle of touring, when we were stopped and we spent some time in New York and we spent some time in Nashville. We just wrote a bunch of songs. And we ended up recording the record in London and New York.

We were pretty excited about the songs that we had. I think before we were writing it was kind of “What do you want this to sound like?” You sort of feel a little bit of pressure and expectation because now you have to follow up and do something better than the last thing you’ve done. But all of those kinds of thoughts are just confusing, so we just tried to block that stuff out when we were writing. And we always try and just make music or art in any form that we’re excited about and that we enjoy making, and make something that we all want to hear. So when we picked producers, we worked with two different producers; Dan Carey, who’s an English producer, that’s why we recorded some of the record in London; and then John Congleton, who’s an American producer from Texas. He’s worked with some cool interesting bands like St. Vincent and Explosions in the Sky. He’s doing a lot of cool stuff, actually more recently. We were fans of his work and fans of Dan’s work, so that’s why we picked those producers. When we went into the studio, we were really excited because firstly we liked the songs we’d written and we were excited about producing them and then we were excited about working with the people that we were working with. So there’s actually a really cool process. It came together pretty quickly and pretty easily. It was a lot of fun, especially being in the UK. It was a blast working in London with Dan and we spent days experimenting with sounds and he’s got a great studio there with a bunch of old, analog synthesizers and drum machines, all of this gear that we’d never really tried before, which we really excited about trying. It was a great time. And he really brought a cool element to the record, a little bit more of an electronic edge to the songs, which we liked as well.

Civil Twilight started as a three piece and you just recently added Kevin [Dailey]. How and what has he contributed to the band?

We added Kevin after this record because we couldn’t play any of the songs live with just the three of us that we’d recorded because we put so many things on them. So it was an interesting process discovering how to perform each of the songs. Kevin’s brought, he’s a really great musician and he’s got a lot of production and recording experience as well, so he’s just really good with sounds and different instruments and arrangements. It’s fun playing with him. And I think he’s added a different perspective that we haven’t had because he’s American and has grown up in America where as we grew up in South Africa, so he’s had a different musical heritage. He’s just a really good musician, so we enjoy playing with him and I feel like he’s added a cool element, a little more but more sensitive approach to playing, like a little more strategy as opposed to energy. And those are things that we were wanting to develop a little bit more. We’ve always had a lot of energy live. And we were wanting to focus a little more on strategy and dynamics, and sensitivity I suppose, which we tried to do on the record and we tried to do in our live show, not exactly sure on how well that’s going. (laughs)

You said that he has production background, and I noticed that he co-produced Harrison Hudson’s album. Are there any plans for him to produce any Civil Twilight works in the future?

Yea, I think so, I think we’d all like to produce some of our own stuff in the future and definitely have Kevin involved in a major way. We’ve already worked on stuff together, it’s been pretty collaborative. I mean, all of us have pretty good instinct; we have produced stuff in the past. Not major artists, but we’ve produced some of our own stuff, some of our friends’ stuff. When we all get together, we all kind of collaborate on a production level as well. Kevin brings a lot of the engineering knowledge, which is pretty helpful because we don’t really have that. And we really respect Kevin as a producer. It’s really cool to have him, and we definitely would really like him to be involved in production in the future. We’re not exactly sure yet, how, or if we will continue to use outside producers, or try to produce our own stuff, so we certainly we’d like to produce some of our own stuff.

So it’s basically, what happens in the future happens?

Yea, we’ll definitely be experimenting with producing ourselves. We can’t say for sure like if we’ll start producing the next record or not, but we’ll certainly be trying.

It could happen.

It could happen, you never know, yea.

You’re doing a remix contest for three songs on the album, how did that come about?

The contest is actually an idea from our record company, and we like remixes, and we like electronic music to a certain extent, certain electronic music and we’ve been listening to. We’ve been getting into artists like James Blake and Flying Lotus, and Andrew, our guitar player, is really into electronics. We thought it would be a cool thing, people’s remixes. We’ve been remixing ourselves; we’ve all been trying our hand at making remixes of our own songs. It’s a kind of cool project, excited about that one.

Moving to your live aspect, you’re about to head out on about two and a half months of touring. How are you preparing for that?

We’re actually putting together some stage production stuff. We’ve been working on getting our set, like our live set up, so we’ll have some stage stuff and working on lights. That sort of thing. So we have a little bit of production items that we’re bringing to our headlining shows. So there’s that element. And then we’ve been rehearsing a lot as well. We usually mix up the setlist a bit, we don’t do the same songs every night. We try to mix in some old songs, some new songs, and see which songs work the best. We continue to refine our live sets and incorporate some new sounds and instruments, buying some new keyboards and stuff.

And then for the fall, we’re out with MuteMath and we’re supporting them, so there won’t be as much production. That will be a little bit of a shorter set, probably 40 or 45 minutes. So I’m not sure which songs we’ll play, we’ll play mostly new songs and a few old favorites. We’re just kind of working on production and rehearsing in Nashville before we head out.

What’s your favorite tour memory?

Man, I have to think about that. I think some cool festivals that we’ve done. Playing Bonnaroo was really fun, just being a part of that whole festival. We played there last year. That was definitely a highlight. And Bumbershoot, that was really cool playing there. Let me think. It’s kind of like, certain shows stand out of the shows we’ve played. Last year when we headline the Highline Ballroom in New York, that was a very special show for us, because it’s New York City and we always enjoy playing in New York City, and it was a sold out show, a kind of big sold out show in New York City, that was really special. So that’s some of our favorite memories.

I know back at home in South Africa, you didn’t really get to see a lot of live performances, so when you came to America, who were you excited to see?

I was really excited to see Radiohead because I’ve been a fan of them my whole life, and I’ve only got see them once. I saw them on their last tour, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and that was really amazing. And, trying to think of what other bands I was excited to see. We’ve played with some bands that I was a fan of, Arcade Fire, I’m a huge fan of theirs, and the year we played Bonnaroo, they were playing. Jack White, I’m a big fan of. I got to watch him play with The Raconteurs from backstage at Voodoo Fest; that was really cool. I got to see The Pixies at Voodoo Fest; that was really amazing. Band of Horses also at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans. I’m sure there’s a ton of others that I just can’t think of right now, but it’s been a really amazing thing. Opening for Florence and the Machine was really cool. We played with them in New York at one show. I really like their music. That was just a fun show to be a part of. So, yea, it’s a totally different world where we’re from with live music. More bands are trying to come to Africa now, but when we were younger, before we moved here, because Africa’s so far away, it’s a little bit off the map for most bands. We didn’t really get to see too many live shows.

Moving on from your idols, you mentioned a lot of bands you were excited to see, you’ve covered Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and you’ve sort of made Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” your own, what made you choose those covers?

Massive Attack, we were all just big fans of that song for a long time. When we first heard that song back in South Africa and discovered Massive Attack, we were like, “Oh that song’s so amazing!” One day we were just jamming, and kind of playing it in rehearsal and we thought it sounded cool, so we tried it out live and everybody liked it. And we just kind of kept doing it live, and then we decided to record it and put it out as a single at some point, and that’s done pretty well too. That’s become like a fan favorite I suppose, and we usually do that song live, like most nights.

And “Come As You Are” we actually recorded, we’re also Nirvana fans when we were starting out. We recorded “Come As You Are” for a Nevermind tribute album. We were actually asked to pick a song from Nevermind that we wanted to cover and “Come As You Are” was one of our favorites, so we picked that one. And that’s how we ended up doing that song. We haven’t actually played that live too much. Then we also cover Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” live. Then the last cover we did was a song off Beck’s Sea Change album called “Golden Age” and we did that a covers feature that Billboard was putting online, this thing that we did with Billboard and they recorded us playing a song, and that was actually a lot of fun. So, kind of done a few cool covers, I suppose. It’s fun to mix it up, occasionally.

What would you be doing if you weren’t making music?

Hmm, I’d probably be a teacher. My dad is a university professor, my mom’s an elementary school teacher, and my brother’s a high school English teacher. So it’s kind of in the family, so that’s probably what I’d do. Not sure which subject, maybe English?

What age, high school, or middle school, or Kindergarten?

Probably high school, not younger than that I’d say. High school or college, if I could manage it.

Maybe a music teacher?

Maybe, yea. I have taught in the past. But I had some good teachers too, some good music teachers. So that would be really cool being able to share what you’ve learned and help someone else, very rewarding.

Civil Twilight is currently on a west coast headlining tour. Next month, they’ll support MuteMath on a national tour. The band’s second album Holy Weather (iTunes) is out now on Wind-Up Records. Civil Twilight will be playing a special fashion show after-party next Friday September 7th for designer Yuna Yang. Yang’s new Spring/Summer13 collection was inspired by the band’s music.

Check out CivilTwilightBand.com and www.facebook.com/CivilTwilight tomorrow for Ra Ra Riot’s remix of “River.”

08/28 – Sacramento, CA @ Harlow’s w/Morning Parade, Vanaprasta
08/29 – San Francisco, CA @ The Independent w/Morning Parade, Vanaprasta
08/31 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge w/Morning Parade, Vanaprasta
09/02 – Seattle, WA @ Bumbershoot Festival w/Mac Miller, Big Sean, Blizten Trapper
09/03 – Vancouver, BC @ Centre for the Performing Arts w/Keane
09/08 – Orlando, FL @ Soaked Festival w/Travie McCoy, more.
09/13 – Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre w/Mutemath
09/14 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theatre w/Mutemath
09/15 – Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep w/Mutemath
09/16 – Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theatre w/Mutemath
09/18 – Des Moines, IA @ Woolys w/Mutemath
09/20 – Madison, WI @ Majestic Theatre w/Mutemath
09/21 – Bloomington, IL @ The Castle Theater w/Mutemath
09/22 – Atlanta, GA @ Piedmont Park, Music Midtown Festival w/Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, more.
09/25 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre w/Mutemath
09/27 – Ottawa, ON @ Bronson Centre w/Mutemath
09/28 – Montreal, QC @ Cabaret La Tulipe w/Mutemath
09/29 – Pawtucket, RI @ The Met w/Mutemath
09/30 – Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground w/Mutemath
10/02 – New Haven, CT @ Toad’s Place w/Mutemath
10/04 – Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom w/Mutemath
10/05 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Altar Bar w/Mutemath
10/06 – Baltimore, MD @ Ram’s Head Live w/Mutemath
10/08 – Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater w/Mutemath
10/09 – Raleigh, NC @ Lincoln Theatre w/Mutemath
10/10 – Chattanooga, TN @ Track 29 w/Mutemath
10/11 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club w/Mutemath
10/13 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Music Festival w/Red Hot Chili Peppers, more.
10/14 – San Antonio TX @ Back Stage Live w/Mutemath
10/16 – Waco, TX @ Common Grounds w/Mutemath
10/18 – Springfield, MO @ Gillioz Theatre w/Mutemath
10/19 – Memphis, TN @ Minglewood Hall w/Mutemath
10/20 – Birmingham, AL @ WorkPlay Theatre w/ Mutemath
10/21 – Knoxville, TN @ Bijou Theatre w/Mutemath
10/23 – Baton Rouge, LA @ Varsity Theatre w/Mutemath

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