AN INTERVIEW WITH BIRTHDAY CLUB
Shimmering and glittering Birthday Club brings you back to summer in the 80’s. With their psychedelic influences and power pop roots, the Houston based band's debut ep Lighten Up lives up to the title. Ethereal chords, swirling outros, and an 80’s flair you’re guaranteed to listen to it with a smile. I had the opportunity to speak to the lead singer Stephen Well’s about having too much fun, the Houston music scene, and their latest release...
YOU’RE CURRENTLY IN THE MIDDLE OF TOUR. WHAT’S THE MOST MEMORABLE SPOT YOU’VE PLAYED SO FAR?
Ah! We’re having a great tour! I think the coolest spot that we’ve played on this run was the Sofar Sound Session we did in Philadelphia at the Center for Art in Wood. It was this beautiful giant art space filled with all kinds of wood art and about 100 people came out to the show and sat patiently as we did our thing. Everyone there was so nice and it was just such a weird scene looking out at the huge crowd sitting carefully and quietly next to these ancient (and expensive) wooden artifacts. Won’t ever forget that one.
DURING THIS TOUR YOU’VE PLAYED TWO VENUES IN SOUTH CAROLINA (MAKEOUT REEF AND PABLO HOUSE). HOW WAS THAT?
This was our first time through those venues, and we had great shows at both. Makeout Reef was a super fun gig that was completely packed with the best crowd of dancers I think we’ve ever seen. Really fun. The show at Pablo House was honestly completely bizarre and also a little hilarious. Every year, Pablo House conducts their infamous “Pablolympics” ceremony, which we were fortunate enough to witness. It’s basically a huge series of competitions ranging from grilled cheese making to belly flopping where participants win something called “pablo points.” I’m not really sure what you can win with the pablo points, but it definitely involves alcohol. Right as we pulled our van up to the house we saw a large group of people watching two fencers furiously battling near the garage. That’s just life at Pablo.
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE HOUSE SHOW VENUES LIKE THOSE VERSES SOME OF THE OTHER SPOTS ON TOUR LIKE THE SOFAR SESSION? IN WHICH SETTING DO YOU FEEL IT’S EASIER TO CONNECT WITH THE AUDIENCE?
One of the trickiest, but fun, parts of being in a touring band is learning how to play to a room. As you can imagine, playing a house show tends to be a very loud and high energy sort of thing, while something like our Sofar Session in Philadelphia, which took place in a big space, presents a bit of a challenge. We really enjoy turning our amps up, but in a situation where you’ve got a bunch of people watching quietly, you have to learn how to dial it back a bit. I’m not sure if we did that successfully, but every show along the route presents a new challenge in that way. I personally find it much easier to connect with a room when the audience is really paying attention, because it helps nudge you into putting a ton of focus on what you’re doing.
“LIGHTEN UP” IS THE OPENER AND TITLE TRACK OF YOUR LATEST ALBUM. WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE?
When I was writing and recording the album, that song actually unintentionally served as the overall theme for what I was experiencing at the time. I had just left my old band, and was really struggling to find my way to the next thing, and it sort of just became the focal point of what I was doing. I really felt like it set the tone for what was happening and it just naturally fell into place as the title track.
THE HOUSTON MUSIC SCENE?
The Houston music scene, like any music scene, has its pros and cons. I think it’s really important for any songwriter or musician to keep what they are doing & where they are doing it in perspective. Houston is now the most diverse city in the country, and I think because of that we get a pretty wide spread of talented artists from rap to electronic to you name it. There’s also still a wide variety of proper venues and DIY spaces to go around, but it’s becoming more and more common to see artists putting on shows in untraditional venues, like warehouses. Houston is such a large city, there are so many unexplored buildings and locations. It really feels like the city is your canvas and that gets me pretty excited. It’s really hard to say who, exactly, is shaping the music scene in Houston since there are so many great bands, but I’d definitely say that some of my favorite acts in town right now are Holly Halls and Pearl Crush!
YOU GUYS RECENTLY PLAYED DEAD FOLK FESTIVAL. WAS THAT YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE PLAYING IN THAT FESTIVAL ATMOSPHERE?
We’ve done our fair share of festival dates like SXSW, but Dead Folk was very, very different. It was held on a ranch out in the middle of Texas and it was the type of thing where we were woken up at 5 am by the sound of a sitar covering “Here Comes the Sun” while 30 people did yoga. It was an experience, dude.
YOU ENDED YOUR EP WITH THE TRACK “INFINITY MIRROR.” WAS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE TO THIS?
“Infinity Mirror” is actually a looped verse section from another track on the EP called “Nothing New.” I wanted to re-introduce a theme of the album towards the end as a subtle transformation, and it ended up being a little mantra loop I wrote around a string section for the song. It’s sort of a resolution track to the album that nods at no matter how things may turn out in the end, “real love goes on.”
“HAVING TOO MUCH FUN” HAS A PRETTY IMPORTANT MESSAGE. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE SONG AND WHAT IT’S TRYING TO CONVEY?
That song is indirectly about an experience I had with an ex-friend of mine which inspired me to write about a snarky little character that still deeply loves someone in spite of being rejected or hurt by them. Friendship is weird and hard sometimes and songwriting is a really good outlet for those experiences. My friend’s mom used to say, “Music is the tool by which the grip of obscure emotions are loosened from the heart.” I think I agree with her.
YOUR SONGS HAVE THIS ETHEREAL FEEL TO THEM. HOW DO YOU CREATING SOUNDS LIKE THIS? WHAT IS THE OVERALL PROCESS OF CREATING MUSIC FOR YOU?
I typically write most of the music for the songs, and then present them to the band so we can really hash them out together. I like to have around 90% of the songs written before we go into the studio, because nothing kills the vibe for me more than not knowing what we are going to be doing. It’s really important to have some sort of framework to work within. As far as the actual sounds go, a lot of the space-y vibes that come across on the album probably have to do with how our engineers, Aaron Bastinelli, Justin Douglas & Erik Wofford, mixed and integrated a sneaky amount of reverb into the tracks. Gotta have some verb!
HOW DO YOU BALANCE CREATING A BEAUTIFUL SOUND LIKE THAT WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY CONVEYING A MESSAGE?
Great question. The way that my process works, I’ll usually get my songs in bits and pieces. Sometimes it will be a little melody, other times it will be an entire chorus. Throughout the day, usually as I’m not paying any attention to writing a song, the pieces will sort of fall into place on their own, like a song that starts playing in your head. It’s kind of frustrating because you end up trying to find ways to trick your brain into giving you songs. I think there’s also a lot of self-trickery involved in songwriting for records too because of the psychological nature of the recording studio. The more I work with producers and engineers, the more I’m learning about the endless ways of using the studio as a tool to express more than you would be able to with just recording the basic songs and instrumentation. It’s an endless path of experimentation that honestly gets me really, really excited about music.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR BIRTHDAY CLUB?
We’ve got a few Texas dates coming up this month, followed by a festival appearance at Mondo NYC in October! In between those dates, I’m going to be cooking up some new tunes and doing a bit of traveling to get the creative juices flowing. Stay tuned!
interview by SAMANTHA SULLIVAN