A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Ben Daniels is the same age as me and grew up in the next town over. We had never met before the night I interviewed him and cohorts Josh Meakim and Annie Frederickson in Portland.

Since the club was filled with the soundcheck noise of the opening band, the four of us squeezed into my car for the interview. Over the next half hour we talked about Michael Jackson, Australian beer, classical music and found even more congruences in our lives. I am pleased to present the Spectrum Culture interview with A Sunny Day in Glasgow.

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Are you guys into movies?

AF: It’s funny you should ask. Apparently, I haven’t seen any movies because now being on tour everyone is like, “Oh! Movie, movie, movie,” and quoting movies and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

BD: Basically I have no original sentiments. It’s all movies phrases that I am speaking.

AF: I don’t know when Ben is saying something from himself or when he is quoting a movie. As a result, I’ve been exposed to more movies recently.

Anything good?

AF: Well, we watched Singles yesterday. In Seattle (all laugh). We’ve been watching a lot of Hal Hartley films. I enjoy those.

BD: 10 Things I Hate About You we saw. I kind of like all films. I am really critical of music and hate lots of music but I’ll watch anything.

AF: Yeah, Ben has no filters. It’s kind of amazing.

BD: She’s never seen The Karate Kid.

AF: Or The Godfather.

JM: I haven’t seen The Godfather.

AF: Let’s watch it! Dude, we have a 10 hour drive tomorrow. Three Godfather movies!

So how do you guys feel about The Hurt Locker winning best film?

BD: Oh, I didn’t see it. I didn’t even know it was a film (all laugh).

JM: What is it called?

The Hurt Locker.

JM: Who’s in that?

AF: It’s about…

BD: A locker that people abuse…

It’s a movie about Iraq. About a bomb disposal squad. Guy Pearce is in it for the first 10 minutes.

JM: Oh, that guy. Does he got blown up or something?

AF: Was it a play? Or a book? Or was it an original screenplay? I haven’t seen it, obviously.

A woman directed it, which is kind of a big deal. She won Best Director too.

AF: I did see that. Kathryn Bigelow.

That is correct.

BD: What else did she do?

She did that vampire movie called Near Dark.

AF: Was that one…Corey Haim was in a vampire movie.

BD: Lost Boys!

He died today!

AF: I know; that is why I was thinking of him.

She also directed that Strange Days movie with Ralph Fiennes.

JM: That was good.

BD: That was all right.

And some submarine movie with Harrison Ford that I never saw.

AF: When were in Seattle yesterday, there was this famous strip club called the Lusty Lady, which we did not go to, but their marquee said The Skirt Locker, which I liked.

BD: I didn’t catch that.

If you like strip clubs, this is the town for you.

BD: That is what we heard.

AF: Ryan said the nicest strip club he had ever been to was in Portland. I don’t know what that means.

BD: I’ve never been to a strip club.

JM: Ah, you’re not missing much. Except awkward…Well, it’s better on hallucinogenic drugs probably.

(Silence)

AF: Yeah, probably.

(All laugh)

BD: I lived in Montreal for a year and I think it’s like the North American capital of strip clubs. They are really famous for their strip clubs.

You live in Australia now?

BD: I do.

You’re not having a good time with it?

BD: It’s okay. It’s gotten a little better.

Where are you?

BD: Sydney.

I used to live in Brisbane.

AF: You guys are like the same person.

BD: Yeah, sweet.

I’m not in a band though.

BD: I haven’t gone to Brisbane yet. I hear it’s nice. You don’t have seasons there, right?

It was hot, but in June it was cool. The first time I ever drove on the other side of the road was in Kings Cross in Sydney.

BD: Yeah, that’s busy.

What brought you there?

BD: My wife got a job there.

What do you miss about Pennsylvania?

BD: Oh, lots of things. There is no good beer in Australia. Did you find that?

There is plenty of good beer in Australia. Try the Coopers red label.

BD: Oh, Coopers is horrible! I did find one brew I really like. It’s some American guy who moved there and started it. He used to work for Sierra Nevada and that beer is really good.

Toohey’s Dark is okay…

BD: Ugh..Toohey’s is…ugh. I don’t like Toohey’s.

XXXX is horrible.

BD: I never had that but I believe you. VB…

I have a VB T-shirt.

BD: I kind of like the logo, but the beer is not good.

You other guys can’t add to this, eh?

BD: You are so lucky you can’t. It’s so expensive there. Sydney is probably the most expensive city there.

I was there a long time ago.

BD: In Australia, everything is like double what it costs here. The Australian dollar is very close to parity with our dollar. So it’s very depressing in that way. It’s an adjustment. I much prefer snowy, cold places. I don’t really care much about the beach.

So you’re not a big Bondi Beach fan?

BD: I am becoming more of one. The summer there was really nice and I went to the beach a lot. I went surfing a couple of weeks ago and that was really fun. It’s all this stuff happening here with the band and I am not here.

Do you miss anything else?

BD: A million little things. It’s weird. I’m from Philly and grew up there. I love it, but it’s also like, “I gotta get the hell out of here.” I was just doing the same thing over and over and over. I’ve gotten out a few times. But I had a good life and then moved. It’s not all bad.

So you guys still live in Pennsylvania?

AF: Yeah.

JM: I am.

Are you guys in the city?

AF: Yeah.

JM: I live in Abington still. Temporarily, anyway.

How is living in Philadelphia versus living in Minnesota for you?

AF: Well, I love Philly. I came out to Pennsylvania for school and I had never been to the east coast. I had never been on a train. Which some people can’t believe.

BD: Really?

AF: Yeah, country bumpkin who came out for school…

BD: Country bumpkin from the biggest city in Minnesota.

AF: Yeah, I liked Philly so much that I stayed there.

Did you guys go to college?

BD: Yeah, I went to Drexel.

JM: I went to Temple for audio engineering stuff.

BD: You went to Tyler too, right?

JM: Yeah, I went there for painting for a year and a half.

BD: I did my masters in Scotland and Montreal.

Where?

BD: In Glasgow.

I was in Glasgow in 1996 and I remembered hearing stuff breaking all night from my hotel room.

BD: It was pretty rough apparently. But in the ’90s things turned around. There was big movement to get rid of glass pints and bottles in the city because people were getting the Glasgow Smile. But yeah, Glasgow is rough. But as an American they like you more than the English.

Do you prefer Glasgow or Edinburgh?

BD: Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen but Glasgow has real character. Glasgow is not as striking as Edinburgh but it’s where the “real” Scottish people live.

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I know there is a real dichotomy there between people in Edinburgh and people from Glasgow.

BD: I think people from Glasgow don’t like people from Edinburgh because they’re posh and a lot of them say Edinburgh is an English city and not a Scottish city. I don’t know if Edinburgh thinks about Glasgow at all. It’s fun. The people there are great.

Moving on, I read an interview with you that said Stereolab is one of your top three bands. What are the other two?

BD: Oh gosh, I don’t know. Formative years? Probably the Cure and Magnetic Fields. I haven’t heard their new album. I kind of gave up on them. That old stuff is fantastic.

What was formative for you guys?

JM: There’s so much. Well, there’s the teenage stuff like Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine. I think the first records I got were the B-52’s first album and R.E.M. Murmur. Later on it’s been a mish-mash of whatever…Ben and I have a lot of similar music tastes. I think that is why recording the last album worked out so well. Stereolab is a big thing for both of us. I think Ben got me into Stereolab actually.

I used to have Emperor Tomato Ketchup.

BD: The vinyl for Emperor Tomato Ketchup is supposed to be really nice but I haven’t been able to get it.

JM: It’s really expensive.

BD: It’s like gold.

JM: Dan got it for like $80. It’s like transparent red vinyl.

How about you?

AF: I grew up playing cello and I was trained to be a professional cellist until I was 17 so there’s a pretty big lacuna in my knowledge of music and movies. Basically I was just practicing five hours a day. I am more influenced by classic music more than anything else. But my knowledge is expanding exponentially and that’s very exciting.

So no movies and no popular music.

AF: I lived in a cave for a very long time, so this is exciting.

Are your sisters on tour with you?

BD: No, the sisters are all gone.

All gone?

BD: From the band.

AF: There’s this interview that made it sound like they were dead. That was awful.

JM: Robin is a very accomplished yoga instructor and bought a house. Lauren is going to school for animal therapy. She has horses and lives in Boulder.

AF: We saw her in Denver.

JM: Yeah, she played a couple of songs with us.

Do you see the band as a constantly revolving lineup?

BD: No, I want it to stop. That was never the plan.

So it’s not like the Who or something like that.

JM: They revolve by death. I hope it doesn’t work out like that.

(All laugh)

Okay, a question about titles. How do you title a song that doesn’t have lyrics?

BD: Which songs don’t have lyrics?

A lot of the shorter of ones.

JM: Some of them had to do with place or what was going on. “West Philly Vocoder” was recorded in West Philly. Ben was replaying “Evil, With Evil, Against Evil” inside of a room so it was like vocoding that through space.

BD: I think I called it “Life’s Great” because that’s what it sounded like.

JM: There were a lot of sentiments hanging around while we were recording and they ended up as song titles when they didn’t have lyrics. Like “I Miss My Friends” because we spent every weekend and every weekday recording the album and not seeing people.

BD: Yeah, I didn’t hang out with my friends for months. I think “Panic Attacks Are What Make Me ‘Me'” is because I was having panic attacks around then and that song has a sample of a heartbeat going in it and I was like, “Oh! Let’s call it something about panic attacks” and it sounded kind of manic. But I don’t know. I don’t really how songs get titles. I remember how “Close Chorus” got its title.

JM: I don’t even know that.

BD: Remember when we sang that part? (Sings “Carried away.”) I was thinking about a Greek chorus and it just didn’t work out.

AF: It was “close.”

(All laugh)

BD: That song was just about relationships and things like that. I didn’t want to call it “Closer.” That sounded too Nine Inch Nails. So yeah, “Close Chorus.” But then the chorus kind of dropped out. I don’t know. I guess I should have changed it.

JM: It’s better than some of the titles we had going at the start.

BD: What were they?

JM: We just had so many code name titles before we started recording them, like “this song sounds like this.”

AF: It took me so long after we finished the album to learn the names. It was like, “Now it’s time to rehearse ‘Passionate Introverts,'” and I was like, “I have no idea what that song is.”

JM: Well, we just called that “Dinosaurs” for so long.

Well, some your influences are so disparate. You do reference Arvo Part for example.

BD: I had this idea for Ashes Grammar right after Tout New Age got done and I thought it was going to be really minimal and really choral. Lots of vocals. By that point I had figured out my sisters’ voices and how to mix them, EQ and work with them. I had never done anything like that, so I thought I should start listening to that music. So I got some Hindemith, a lot of Monteverdi and I got an Arvo Part CD. I just really loved that CD. That song is a horrible attempt by me to rip-off one of his songs and that is why it’s only 10 seconds. The rest of it was garbage.

JM: My interest in classical, besides the stuff you learn in school and college, is more minimalist composers and ambient stuff. Like Arvo Part, Mahler. Steve Reich is definitely a huge influence. Stockhausen is a big thing too. I read one of his books about spirituality in music. That was a big influence.

Yet people still like to apply the shoegaze title to you guys. That always seems to come up.

JM: Yeah, it’s because of the vocals. Lots of reverb and delay and people like to jump to that.

BD: It’s an easy one to go to.

People like putting things in a box.

JM: Well, My Bloody Valentine is an influence we share to a certain extent. At the time, electronic music is just as important to us as anything else. That was definitely a huge influence on this album.

BD: Right before the album, I got into Kompakt Records stuff.

The Field is really good.

BD: Yeah! And this guy Ulf Lohmann. His record was really great. It’s 13 songs and none of them have a title. I think he was on Kompakt. And Marcus Geitner, he’s pretty good too. That was all I was listening to. And I said this in one interview a few weeks ago and it hit me that I don’t listen to any of that now. Which is good. It’s like I’m moving on to something else.

So the next one will be Nas and Eminem influenced?

BD: That would be awesome.

JM: They’ve been listening to a lot of ’90s pop music. They listen to Mariah Carey a lot.

BD: Janet Jackson. I’ve been really into Rhythm Nation lately.

I was listening to Hot Chip and one of the songs on the new album sounds like a Madonna song. I was thinking that if Madonna sang this song, it would be popular but not cool.

BD: It’s just a hallmark of this age that everyone is into everything.

Yeah, Pitchfork likes both Justin Timberlake and Scott Walker. It’s amazing. One word I keep reading about Ashes Grammar is “sprawling.” Back when CDs came out, people were making 74 minute records to fill up the space. Then there came a return to 30 minute albums. A lot of people are making a big deal that your record is 22 tracks and really long. Now that you’re removed from the album itself, are you satisfied with the end result or would you have liked to go back and pared it down some more?

BD: I like it. It was what it had to be. We did pare it down. When we started recording we had a lot more songs. I didn’t really appreciate the length of it until we had the songs mastered and I was laying it out. I was like, “God, it’s 64 minutes long!” We weren’t working on it as a whole. Just individual parts. Well, you keep the whole in mind as far as a consistent sound for it.

Well, I think you said we should listen to it like four EPs.

JM: It turned it out nice. Like a double record. When I listen to it, or even my friends that I give it to, it’s just one record at a time.

BD: It’s a shame the re-press is taking so long because it is a great record for vinyl. You can look at it like each side is an EP.

Is there a way you could have demarcated that on the CD?

BD: I suppose I could have.

JM: Lazer Guided Melodies is sort of like that. It has four different sections. I don’t know. Why make it complicated?

AF: Yeah, you can experience it in different formats.

So even though you are making forward-looking music, is a lot of it based in your ’90s upbringing?

BD: I don’t know. I couldn’t even say.

JM: We’re huge music nerds. We listen to tons of stuff. The fact that we hang out with each other makes it even worse because we’re constantly like, “Oh! You have to listen to this!” We spend a lot of time driving back and forth to the recording studio and be like, “Ah! Listen to this new thing I have.” It would be scary and Halloweeny so we would cover the Misfits. Then we would put on a Misfits song. I think a lot of bands are afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve or admit openly that they are influenced by the music they listen to. I think it’s silly to do that because that is where you get your ideas. You don’t necessarily rip things off. Sometimes you’re like, “I really like what this person did here and I want to make a part that reminds me of that.” There’s a part on “Nitetime Rainbows” that could be the Fleetwood Mac part. There’s a part on “Close Chorus” where Ben said, “Look at this keyboard part I wrote. It sounds like a Michael Jackson thing.”

BD: Yeah, we listen to a lot of Michael Jackson.

JM: Yeah, lot of Michael Jackson to get us pepped up.

Which album?

JM: Lots of them actually.

BD: Thriller more than any, I think.

JM: We were very into “Human Nature” during that time period.

What have you heard recently for the first time that you have been really sucked into?

BD: I like that band jj from Sweden. No 3 isn’t that good as No 2.

The xx is really good too.

BD: Yeah, the xx’s music is really good but I just wish they were more melodic and less monotone.

JM: I think the last moment I had like that was the Panda Bear album that came out awhile ago. I really like the self-titled High Places album too.

AF: I made a classical music mix for Ben and I haven’t listened to classical music in awhile and it was great to re-experience it again. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mozart opera. It’s so good.

Are you into choral classical music?

BD: Not so much. That was my original idea for Ashes Grammar but it kind of fell apart when my sisters went their own way.

by David Harris
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