- April 2015 -
HAVE A BEER WITH AYOH
Chicago indie pop rockers AyOH have had a busy start to spring, including the release of their second EP Dangerous Questions, a sold-out show at Schubas Tavern and multiple gigs at Austin's SXSW. They've also got three local shows on deck, including an upcoming gig at Martyrs' on April 10. We chatted with the guys over some beers before their March 7 show at Schubas, where we got the lowdown on working with Steve Gillis at Transient Sound, their thoughts on Chicago's scene and music as a passion and profession.
The Gig: AyOH with The Future Laureates, Jarryd Scott Steimer and Kiernan McMullan at Martyrs’
Drinks of Choice: Avi Dell, vocals/guitar (Root beer float or Not Your Father’s Root Beer); John Arrotti, drums/vocals (shot of Rumplemintz); Lin Takrudtong, bass/vocals (Jim Beam and Diet Coke); Austin Russell, guitar (Ice Mountain water)
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Your EP, Dangerous Questions, came out February 24. Previous to the record, you released an EP Take it to the People, which you mentioned was mostly solo stuff. How did you navigate that creative process — moving from solo material to a full-band sound?
Avi from AyOH: It happened naturally. It was what we wanted it to be. I know I said in a few interviews that Take it to the People was solo material, but it really was a collaborative thing. It was just composed of original ideas that predated the band.
Kristen: In terms of songwriting?
Avi: In terms of song writing, yeah. And then once we were in the band, in the thick of it playing shows and recording demos, we were constantly writing. It's crazy. Every rehearsal we've got a new song to work on, and there's so much to do. We needed a record that could keep up with that, and recording Dangerous Questions was a result of all of that team work.
Kristen:Do you still serve as the primary songwriter/lyricist or has it become a more collaborative process?
Avi: I still think of myself as the main lyricist of the band, but even that is beginning to get grey because we're all together so much. We're playing so much that we're constantly influencing and changing ideas. John has really stepped up in his writing capacity, so on a lot of the new album, John really came to the forefront in terms of writing great musical movements.
John from AyOH: Yeah, that being said, I do not write lyrics. When I met Avi, it was like a godsend. I thought, "Finally. Someone that I can show a song to, and he's going to accept it, not be egotistical about it, get excited, and write lyrics to it." Lyric writing is one of those things where that talent just blows my mind. I don't know how people do it. Songwriting, on the other hand, comes easy to me. I sit down at a piano and mess around and if something sounds cool, I keep working on it. Musicians, and especially songwriters, can be very egotistical people. There’s this mindset of, “No, this is my song. Don’t touch it,” or “I don’t want to work on a song you wrote. Avi —and the rest of the band — are the complete opposite. I’m by far the hardest to work with and the most stubborn. It’s just so much easier to write great songs when it's so easy to work with these guys.
Avi: When it's collaborative, yeah.
Kristen: I think a lot of times, too, there’s a personal attachment to creative work. And that’s when ego gets in the way. People are too proud of what they’ve done to let it go.
John: Well, you get super attached to these things. You write something, you're so excited about it, and then you show it to these people who are like brothers to you and they’re like, “Eh, it’s all right.” And you think, “What the fuck! This is amazing. What are you talking about?” It’s really hard, but we get around it. Something Avi emphasized early on was that if we don’t like something, instead of simply saying “no,” we say, “Okay, well how can we change it? How can we make it so that the four of us do love it? We never just throw a song out.
Kristen: Were there any particular tracks on the record that you stuck with and worked through and they ended up surprising you?
Lin from AyOH: I think the track that surprised me the most was "Shake Down.” It ended up wholly different from when we started the writing process and performed it in the early days. We worked with Steve Gillis in the studio, and he really helped shape and mold that song into what it is right now. I have to admit that I love this new version we have on the record so much. Originally, I hated that song…
Avi: You were so against it.
Lin: I was because I loved the original version of "Shake Down" the way we originally did it. It was one of my favorite songs that we played. But as it turns out, with the recording process and how Steve shaped it and turned it into a song with a more electronic feel to it, and it turned out amazing. I think that's my song that surprised me really in a really positive way.
John: “Lion to the Lamb" also went through a lot of changes. The original version of the song had a completely different chorus, and it was one of those things where we showed Steve, our producer, and he said, "This song is amazing. That chorus is not happening." Which, when that happens, you're kind of like, "Okay, now what?" When we scrapped the chorus, I sat down at the piano, and the guys stood around it and we literally wrote a chorus together. It was the first time that ever happened, which was awesome. It ended up being this amazing chorus, so for me, that song really, really transformed and really took its shape through the recording process. What’s on Dangerous Questions is nowhere near what I heard when I wrote that song.
Kristen: How did you find Steve to begin with, and what led you to work with him?
John: I had just moved back from Nashville and had interned at a studio there and loved it. I got up here and decided I wanted to keep doing that. One of my buddies was in the middle of talking with Steve about possibly doing a record with him, and Steve had just finished building Transient Sound, which is this gorgeous studio up north. My buddy said, “You should give this guy Steve a call. You guys will totally get along. He's an amazing drummer. He used to be the drummer for Filter. You guys would totally hit it off." So I called him. He was such a nice guy and was so receiving. So I interned there for over a year, and Steve and I became very good friends. I eventually moved on and I stopped working there, and that's about when I met Avi. A number of months later, I reached out to Steve, letting him know that Avi and I were getting a band together and wanting to get a few songs recorded. And Avi, tell me if you think differently, but I feel like he was pretty skeptical about it.
Kristen: He was probably sizing you up.
John: He was like, "Uh, why don't you guys come on in some night and show me…" And of course, the night we went in, Avi was so sick, he had no voice. Do you remember that? We were like, "Fuck, what should we do?" And somehow the genius of Steve came through. He said to Avi, "Listen, dude, you sound like shit, but I can tell just by watching you sing that you're an amazing singer." That's the genius of Steve Gillis, you know what I mean? He was like, "I love these songs. Let's do it."
Avi: I'm glad you reminded me of that story. In the arts, people are creative so they’re often flaky. So many times there are excuses. Everyone's got an excuse: "I don't feel well. This isn't good for me. I can't do this." At that point, John and I were still very young in our relationship, and so much about a band is trusting each other in the moment, right? Steve had cancelled on us once, and we had rescheduled. This time, Steve was going to make 30 minutes for us. This guy: he was a hero of mine, the drummer of Filter, and the idea that I was going to meet him and play him a song…And here I am, I wake up the next morning, and my throat is gone. No voice. And I'm sitting there thinking, "Should I call John right now and cancel? Or should I just fucking bite the bullet, go in there and just sing?"
Kristen: Because you knew maybe the next time, he might flake out again.
Avi: Exactly. And I think the fact that I showed up and that we took the song as far as it was able to go…Steve saw that in us.
Kristen: Yeah, I interviewed a band earlier this month who said that the two most important things in music are number one — show up — and number two — say “yes” to opportunities, which makes a lot of sense. What are your general thoughts on the Chicago music scene?
John: I don't have anything bad to say about Chicago. I'm not trying to rip on Nashville at all — Nashville is an amazing city and it's a very cool place to be a musician — but having recently moved back from there, I really don’t like how things have evolved down there.
Kristen: How has it evolved?
John: Everyone's a musician, so it's just a huge battlefield. Everyone is fighting each other, you know what I mean? Because of that, everything is pay to play. You pay to play shows down there. You don't get asked to play shows down there, because everyone is fighting to get in every venue down there. So when I got up here, I thought, "This is amazing." There are so many venues, so many music fans and so many opportunities. And up here, if you play, you're a good band, and you bring people out, you get paid for that. That being said, Chicago is a big city and there’s so much going on that it’s hard to get people to give you a chance.
Kristen: It's hard enough for me to get my friends to meet me for a drink on Friday night, you know what I mean? Everyone's got so much shit going on, so I feel like in any major market, that’s the case for live music.
John: For sure.
Avi: I also feel like a lot of the industry that was here in the ‘90s has kind of been driven out. A lot of the record labels and the opportunities that could've existed would have been really nice at this point… But the truth of the matter is: we’ve made it happen. We've made everything happen, and we're doing fine. It’s been good and I’m happy about it.
Kristen: That’s risky business. Final question for you guys: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
John: This is super cliché, but I was a music major in college, and I had an amazing drum professor. He taught me so much and really shaped the way I look at music and the way I see being a musician as a profession. I've known since middle school that I wanted to play music for a living and I needed to figure out some way to make money doing it. So I asked him all the time for advice on that, and I remember him telling me this: "The second that playing music feels like a job, you need to change something." Not change your profession, but change what you’re doing musically. The best musicians in the world are the ones that would rather be playing music than anything else. That's how fun it is to them. The second it becomes like a job, you need to change the music you're playing, start doing some other things on the side. You need to make it fun again, or else you're going to go straight downhill real quick, you know? Luckily, I have not hit that point.
Kristen: I was going to ask: have you hit that point yet?
John: No, no, it doesn't feel anywhere near like a job to me, but I'm sure it's eventually going to hit me. I'm going to wake up one day and think, "I really don't want to go play this show." And then I'm going to be like, "Fuck! I need to change something!” I always try and remember that, because when it does happen, there's not a chance I'm going to stop playing music, so I’m going to have to figure something out.
Avi: When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I was in the car with my mom and we were driving home from school. I was complaining about some girl in my class who kept telling the same story and it was annoying. I feel like a lot of people would’ve said, “Well, then stay away from her,” or “That’s the kind of person you shouldn’t be friends with.” But instead, she said, “Listen, Avi, I’m going to teach you something that’s going to shake your world.” She was like, “I love you more than anyone on this earth. I put you on this earth. No one will ever love you as much as I love you in the way that I love you. And I don’t care about what you have to say as much as you do. That little girl in school wants to share this information because it’s important to her, and she can do that, and other people in the world will continue to do that. But I want you to remember this: no one on earth cares about what you have to say as much as you do.” She wasn’t trying to make me feel like what I had to say was unimportant, but it was sort of the lesson of: “Figure out how to make people care. Unless you do that, no one will care what you have to say, or what you think, or what you have to share.” And it’s true. It’s totally true. Nobody cares what you have to say.
Kristen: Do you think making music was a way for you to get people to care?
Avi: That's a really good question. Probably. I was the youngest of four, and all three of my older sisters — one just outshined the next. They're incredibly wonderful and successful people. They set the bar really high, but it was all for good, because it caused me to choose a path that they hadn't chosen. For me, music became an outlet of just wanting to tell stories.
Lin: I think one of the best things my dad taught me was to never cut corners. You need to work through it, even if you take the longer path, and it'll be more satisfying. It'll be more rewarding at the end.
Austin: What comes straight to mind for me is: don't have a plan B. If music is something you want to do, you have to invest in that 110 percent. And if you try to set yourself up to say that, "If I fail, I can just do this instead," ultimately, you're a lot more likely to fail, because you're essentially expecting that. If you want to do music as a career, which is something I'm really striving for, that's what you have to put everything into.
Kristen: Let’s do a series of “Who in the band would be most likely to…” questions. Who in the band would most likely get into a fight at a bar?
John: Probably Avi.
Lin: I’d say me, for sure.
Austin: Depends on how many drinks Lin's had. I've been with Lin before when he's had a few too many and says, "Should I go fight that guy? That guy keeps looking at me. Do I have to go fight that guy?"
Lin: I'm like, "You got my back, right?"
Austin: Oh, yeah. He comes to me like, "If I go push that guy, you got my back, right?"
Kristen: So only if you have back up support would you enter into a fight. How about this: who in the band would be most likely to strike up a conversation with a random person at the bar?
John: Well, that's Avi's profession.
Austin: Yeah, that's Avi's main role in this band. "Go talk to people. Go make something happen."
Kristen:Who in the band would be most likely to fix your van if it broke down?
Avi: Probably John.
Austin: Definitely John.
John: No, I'd look it up online. I'd be like, "No, this cost three hundred dollars, I'll go get it for fifteen." I won't pay for anything that I can pay for myself. I refuse.
Kristen: That's a good thing. Who in the band would be most likely to…
John: I feel like I'm in middle school right now.
Kristen: Who is most likely to work out the next morning after having a heavy night of drinking?
John: Avi. Avi would do seven hours of yoga.
Avi: I do love yoga. I do about three to four hours a day.
John: His main goal down at SXSW is to organize a yoga class.
Lin: The problem is this, he wears these super short shorts. Can't do downward dog in those things.