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In this never before published in English interview from 2003, Tommy Gunnarsson talks to Decemberists and Norfolk and Western member and Portland, Oregon musician about her early indiepop band Boycrazy
I still remember when I first heard Boycrazy. My brother made me a mix-CD with some current favourite songs of his, and among them was 'Stark Street' by this American indiepop duo calling themselves Boycrazy. According to my brother, one of the members used to play with the Minders, a band that I liked, so I decided to check them out a bit more. It turned out that they had an album, 'Foreign Words' out, which I bought and was absolutely adorable. It got to spend lots of hours in my CD-player.
Then, some years later, I wanted to know more about this band, so I e-mailed them at the address stated on the website of their label Magic Marker Records, not really expecting a reply, as I supposed the band had split up by then. Well, it took some time, but eventually I got an e-mail from one half of the band, Rachel Blumberg, who told me that Boycrazy had split up two years earlier, but that she would love to do an interview about it anyway.
PB : Tell me a little about how Boycrazy formed. Where you in any other bands prior to Boycrazy?
RB : Boycrazy began when Bryce Edwards and I met here in Portland. That was, I think, in 1996. I remember he was wearing overalls. We met at a New Year's Party. We hit it off immediately and talked about playing some music together. When we finally did play music it went really well and felt very natural and the band progressed from there. We played as a two piece for about a year. Then at some point we became a four piece with the two of us singing and playing drums and guitar, our friend The Jed playing keyboards and singing, and our friend Johnny Cakes playing tambourine, singing, and dancing. We released one single on Magic Marker Records while in this line up, which lasted for two years. After those two years we took a several month break, essentially breaking up the band for that bit of time. Then we reformed with our friend Jeff London on bass and singing, and our friend Alan Harris playing guitar, keyboards, and singing. That is the line up that recorded 'Foreign Words', which was our only album.
I was in quite a few bands prior to and also during the period of Boycrazy's existence. When Bryce and I first formed Boycrazy I was playing in a band called Sissyface which I had been in at that point for about three years. Prior to that I had played in several bands while in college. While in Boycrazy I also played in Six Foot Sloth, the Minders, Honeybunch, and more as well I think. I played keyboards in Six Foot Sloth and the Minders. Otherwise I played drums, and I always sang.
PB : How did you write the songs? Did you write them together or separately?
RB : Bryce usually would initiate a blueprint for the song, a general outline, and then we would work on arranging the song together. I wrote a few songs for the band on my own.
PB : I really love the vocal harmonies on the 'Foreign Words' album. Did you work a lot with those and do you think those sort of things are important?
RB : Thanks for saying so. Bryce and I spent a lot of time working out the arrangements for the vocals as well as the instrumentation for all those songs. At the time I owned a digital 8 track, so we made demos of all our songs first, something I don't necessarily recommend ( and I know engineers are often against demos), but in this case it worked out well. We felt that spending a lot of time with the arrangements and specifically the vocal parts was important and we wanted to also challenge ourselves by thinking deeply about the music, instead of just playing off the cuff. This was something we admired in other bands and performers as well. Some of the bands inspiring us at this time had stellar vocal arrangements and harmonies such as the Free Design, the Zombies, the Left Banke, and Emit Rhodes.After the record was done and we were practicing these songs for live performance we would have vocals-only practices on Bryce's porch. It was really fun. Just four voices and a guitar. People would walk by and sometimes stop to listen.
PB : To us not living there, Portland seems to be indiepop heaven, with a lot of bands and labels releasing great music. How do you, living there, experience it all? Is it a good place for pop bands?
RB : Portland is a really good city to live in in general. It's very pretty and green. There is a lot of political awareness and activism and environmental consciousness. And there is a great music and arts community here. There are lots of pop bands and shows, especially lots of house shows. We have a list called the pdx pop list where people post info about house shows and other pop and general music-related events. There are also a lot of labels both here as well as in Olympia, Anacortes, and down in San Francisco releasing great local music. There is a big connection between the pop scene here and in San Francisco and in Anacortes and it's great because it's very community oriented.
I also love that there are people in Portland who appreciate creative collaborating between styles and scenes. There is so much good music here in many genres. So many people play music here. It's pretty amazing. A lot of people move here just for that reason, so we end up with bands and bands and bands. The only negative side of this is that there are too many bands and not enough audience, so sometimes I will go to an amazing show but the audience will be very small.
PB : As far as I have understood, Boycrazy was really just you and Bryce, but on the album the album both Jeff and Alan play with you. Were they part of the band or just "studio members" ?
RB : When we recorded 'Foreign Words' we did it in two sessions at two different studios. When we first started recording it was just Bryce and I and so the first session songs are mostly us playing. But part way through the first session Jeff and Alan started to play with us and by the second session of recording they were full band members so those songs were recorded just how we played them live. In fact a lot of those vocal harmonies were done with all four of us around one mic! But through all three line ups it was really Bryce and myself's vision and the other band members supported and respected this.
PB : To someone who has never heard Boycrazy, how would you describe your music?
RB : Well, I guess I would say it was quite poppy with lots of intricate vocal harmonies and instrument arrangements. I guess I would also say that while the music is upbeat the lyrics are a bit dark. I would probably also reference other bands, and say we had a definite 60's influence. But this is always a funny question isn't it? I could describe our music with a haiku perhaps.....
la la la la la
in the happy guitar woods
voices stream around
Um...is that a proper haiku?
PB : Hmmm, well. We'll call it a haiku, anyway. You said that the music was quite happy and the lyrics were kind of dark. Who wrote the lyrics and what were your major lyrical influences ?
RB : Bryce wrote most of the lyrics, though occasionally he and I collaborated. I don't know if I could answer the question about major lyrical influences for him. I know in some ways he was influenced by just observing the regular every day odd behaviour of human beings.
PB : Will there ever be another Boycrazy record?
RB : I don't know. I think it would be so fun to do. I am trying to get Bryce to come visit and if he did we would definitely go into Type Foundry studio and record just for fun. We've talked about it. I suppose if something came of it perhaps Magic Marker might release it. But nothing is in the works right now.
PB : The band split up when some members moved to New York. Did they form new bands? What are they doing now?
RB : Bryce and Alan both moved to New York for career reasons. While in Portland and during Boycrazy they were both working for Will Vinton studios doing production for an animated television show. But then the show was cancelled and they were laid off. Both wanted to keep working in that field and New York seemed the logical choice. So now they are there, which is nice because I have people to stay with if I visit. Bryce is working in advertising doing some sort of production work and sound work. He had been playing bass in a band called Shoes and Ryder. Now he is also playing drums in a band called the Isotoners. Alan is working for MTV, though he says it is sucking his soul. He records here and there on his own and plays out solo sometimes. He is also doing improvised comedy! Jeff London has been living here in Portland this whole time and plays as a solo artist. He just released a new CD on his own called 'Harms Way", though his previous releases are on Hush Records out of Portland. His music is really beautiful. I play drums with him sometimes and am on his CDs playing and singing. Also for the last few years he has been a Professor of Sociology at Portland State University. He is moving to New York in two weeks to get his PHd and to play more music.
PB : I know that you are playing with Norfolk and Western and The Decemberists. Tell me a little about how you ended up in these bands. Are you a full-time member of both bands?
RB : I started playing in Norfolk and Western when I was still playing in Boycrazy. The band leader and song writer in Norfolk and Western is Adam Selzer. He is also the owner and engineer at Type Foundry recording studio where Boycrazy recorded the second session 'Foreign Words' songs and mixed the entire album. So I met Adam at this time. One day he asked if I would sit in with Norfolk for a show because their drummer had a show with one of his other bands. So I did and after the show everyone said, "You have to keep that drummer." And I wanted to stay too because the music is so beautiful, plus I had developed quite a crush on Adam. So that is how I joined Norfolk and I have played in that band now for almost three years, and incidentally Adam and I are a couple and have been for two years. So I guessed it worked out well. We have several records out and recently toured Europe with Sparklehorse. We have a new record being released on Hush in September and possibly a release date in January with a French label.
I joined the Decemberists a little over a year ago when their drummer quit two weeks before a tour. They asked me to fill in and I agreed to do it, but with the understanding that I was certainly not going to join another band. Well, you know how that turned out! It was nice to play pop... I had missed that. Plus we got along famously. It's working out very well. We also have a new record being released in September on Kill Rock Stars. And I hope we too will be touring Europe. I think in spring time perhaps.
And yes I am full-time in both bands.
PB : Can you make a living out of your music or do you have a "regular" daytime job?
RB : That is a good question. Something I am thinking about right now. I had a "regular" daytime job for three years up until last February organizing and facilitating arts and music project groups with kids and teens. I was laid off in February. Since then I have taught art and music at a middle school and also I have been teaching music theory to kids at a local community music school. But I am starting to make some decent money from playing and recording, and I am touring a lot so I can't get any kind of regular job. About a year ago I started teaching drums. Now I have about five students. It's my dream to get more students and then just teach in between tours. So if I can pull that off, yes, I guess I will make a living from music. I also paint and just had an art show and I actually sold a number of pieces and have dreams of selling art at shows when we tour, so that could help out too and it's something I also love to do.
PB : I am really fascinated with the Decemberists' civil war-image. How did that come about ?
RB : It's funny because before the Decemberists took those photos Norfolk and Western's last record entitled 'Winter Farewell' was released and all the album art and some music imagery also centred around a civil war aesthetic, so it seems to be a theme I guess. Both bands have a certain fascination with things that are historical in content and form. Both bands I think also conjure up some idea of something old-timey. Also the Decemberists tend to have lyrics that weave stories based on fictitious and real historical ideas and figures. So I think that is where it really came from.
PB: Thank you!
It is worth noting that this interview was made back in 2003, so a lot of things have happened since then. Among them is that Rachel left the Decemberists in 2005, to be able to concentrate on her work with Norfolk and Western. They recently released a new album, called 'The Unsung Colony', and the Decemberists released their new album, 'The Crane Wife', earlier this autumn.