Saint Motel: Making dream pop mosaics
Two years ago, the Los Angeles-based rock act Saint Motel made its label debut with the EP, My Type. The EP delivered the catchy, retro-leaning title track, which is also featured on the Paper Towns soundtrack. The song has received over 46 million streams on Spotify and was a top 40 favorite overseas too. In addition, the music video directed by Saint Motel frontman A/J Jackson has drawn more than 12 million views at the band’s official YouTube channel. The band’s new studio release, saintmotelevision, arrives in October. We spoke to guitarist Aaron Sharp and drummer Greg Erwin when they were backstage at Lollapalooza in Chicago.
I liked that set you just played. Tell me about the tiger stage prop.
Sharp: It’s not a real tiger, if that’s what you’re asking.
Erwin: That tiger was made to rock and that’s why we got it. That’s why it’s now an integral part of what we do. It’s a rock tiger.
Some of the members were in film school when the band formed. What’s the story there?
Sharp: We were just goofing off. We all went to the same university and met each other. Ten years later, we’re still chilling in the band.
What was the making of your debut album, 2012’s Voyeur, like?
Sharp: It was an interesting process. We did it in Pasadena with Eric Lilavois. Some of it we did ourselves. It was a lot of different ideas we had and it was mixed and produced in different places and it all came together. It’s a grab bag of different recordings and songs. It’s a real mosaic.
You have horns on your albums and show an interest in R&B and jazz. Talk about that side of your sound.
Sharp: We all listen to a lot of different music. Greg and I really like dance music and [singer-guitarist] A/J [Jackson] does as well. We’re all into the history of music and the history of rock ’n’ roll. For us, it was a natural progression to start incorporating horns because it’s such a powerful element you can add and we like to dance and horns are part of dance-y music. I think people hear horns and automatically think of a retro thing. But for us, we want to modernize that and bring it into modern music. It doesn’t have to feel like it’s a soul or Motown or R&B thing. The riffs in our music that are horn-based aren’t necessarily a throwback. They’re an integral part of the song. We’re always walking the fine line of the fence where you do one thing and it sounds modern and one thing and it sounds retro. You can’t put your finger on it. Is that soul? Is it Latin music? We don’t want to be pigeonholed as retro. Once you get into the retro realm, it becomes stale and boring. We’re not interested in that. We listen to a lot of electronic music. There’s so much happening in that realm and we really respect that. We want to incorporate those ideas into what we do and also have horns.
The band has been described as “dream-pop.” Is that accurate?
Erwin: That’s been floating around for a while. We kind of like that. There’s no question we’re influenced by pop music, whether it’s modern or really old. Pop music is an automatic negative for many people. But pop songs are catchy and they stick in your head and you can dance to them. That’s kind of our thing. There’s pop to our music, but it’s weird enough that “dream pop” works.
Sharp: When you hear the word pop, it has such a negative connotation but the Beatles were pop and the Stones and Sabbath were pop music. When I think of pop, I think of the entire smorgasbord of music throughout history and what it means to write that three-minute-and-30-second set song that just hits you. It’s that moment when you hear that song and you want to hear it again.
Are you insiders or outsiders in L.A.?
Sharp: We’ve been in that scene for a long time. I feel like early on, we were super in it. We only played L.A. and that was our scene. Even though we don’t play there as much as we did, you can hear that music in our roots. We’ve all lived there for ten years and it’s home.
Tell me about the new album.
Sharp: The process of making the record was more drawn out because we had more time and more resources than in the past. We had a good process of working with the label and it came together. The cream really did rise. There were highs and lows. We were on the road most of the time so the genesis of the songs happened on the road. We tried to come up with cool ideas at soundcheck and it was difficult to make new music because we were so busy. Once we got back to L.A., we had time to decompress and get our wits about us and see what we had. We took the best stuff we had.
Is this less of a mosaic than the previous album?
Sharp: I guess everything we do is a mosaic. We did go to Joshua Tree and record for a week so we got that feeling of being isolated but for the most part we were pushing the envelope of what we could do sonically. We wanted it to be fun and we wanted other people to have fun. We took and borrowed from other people hopefully without making it like we were stealing their sounds.
The video for “My Type” looks like it was shot on the set of Mad Men.
Erwin: That was shot in L.A. The location did look like that. It was kind of cool. I think they did some photo shoots there, but they never did a music video like that.
Sharp: It was perfect for what the song is about.
What’s the rest of the year look like?
Sharp: The new tour starts September 15 and then ends on Halloween weekend in New Orleans. It’s a full American run. Then, we’re back in December for U.S. radio. It’s full gas — here we come again. We’ll be staying busy.