Paul Velten, lead singer and guitarist for uprising Chicago indie rock group The Silents, took the time to talk with me about the band’s DIY attitude and upcoming album Sleepwalker.
Bethany, PopWreckoning: Can you tell me a little bit about your band’s formation? You and Jake [Fish] kind of already knew each other, right?
Paul Velten, The Silents: Yeah, how we formed was Jake and I already knew each other from high school in the suburbs of Chicago. When we left high school, we kind of split off to do various stuff. We met up. Well you know a lot of people when you live in the suburbs, you make the progression and you move to the city. So we moved to Chicago and we decided to form the Silents. We knew Eric [Cacia]. Eric was somebody who had played in other bands in the Chicago music circuit and we thought that he was one of the best drummers that we had seen around so we kind of recruited him.
PW: Were the other bands of similar style to the Silents?
PV: Actually, he was playing in more of metal bands. They were pretty good metal bands and people who were out selling out shows around the city. So it was always the scene. You always know somebody in a band and you go check them out and he was in like four or five bands, so that’s kind of how we had seen him in those different cases.
Although, the Silents did, when we started, have some more heavier influences and other things that we were into at the time. Then, they evolved to be more pop influenced songs. We saw Aaron [Vaughn] and he really liked it. We had a few other bass players, but Aaron was somebody who visited from Michigan and we were looking for a bass player at the time. A friend of a friend referred us to him and we thought he was awesome. He right away moved to Chicago, joined the band and we were out playing.
PW: So you guys all have these different bands and influences that you listen to, how did you decide on the Silents’ style?
PV: A lot of it, I think first of all, is that I’m the primary songwriter, so I’ll bring in the skeleton of the song and then everybody comes in and compliments it. It starts off maybe in one direction, but people who come from different influences whether the drums are more, you know, the tones of the drums, whether they’re more dry or reverberated. Kind of like dry like a Queens of the Stone Age or reverberated like Led Zepplin, those are things that just get put on by the other guys.
PW: What are some of the bands you listen to? Queens of the Stone Age then?
PV: Yeah, I think they’re fantastic. As far as their first three or four records are really good and I think the last five are fantastic. What do we like? Queens of the Stone Age. I like the pop influences of The Killers a lot, which was a band that it took me awhile to get into because I wasn’t into some of the first singles that they had. But then I heard the album and I thought that was fantastic. Interpol is a pretty big influence for our bass player. That’s kind of what the bass arrangements are. Yeah, that kind of would be a good start right there.
PW: I really like your band name. How did you choose that name?
PV: It came from when we were trying to get a cinematic feel for the band and we were really into the images of silent movies. It was first originated from the silent movies. What I liked about it was there was a sort of romance, a sort of untold story following it around like the 800 lb gorilla in the room. So I kind of think of the Silents as this sort of cinematic scene, an unseen scene thing, that’s always following you around.
PW: So you guys have your first full length album coming out soon and it was kind of a long process. It took you two years. What was involved in getting this done?
PV: When we had formed we had started playing out shows and we got a good amount of attention. We started opening up for really big bands coming through and all the people who ran the venues really liked us. So, we started opening up for bands like Local H, Fu Manchu, Mudhoney and bands like that, and so through that scene we met Andy Gerber. Scott Lucas of Local H introduced us to Andy Gerber who has a studio called Million Yen, so we started recording the album almost as a set of EPs.
We didn’t have much money so we’d record a couple songs at a time. It sort of coincided, well, our full intention was to record a few songs and get the album picked up and finishing it from there. Well, this was in the last few years when everything went to hell with the record business. We had a few offers on the table from a few labels that either a). weren’t thought out or b.) weren’t fair to the artist signing. They lock you up for 10 albums and you’re not getting paid stuff.
They’d front you a little money, but you were liable for everything and they’d have all the rights. I figured at that time we should keep going with the do-it-yourself method, which a lot of artists are starting to do anyways. We realized quickly that this wasn’t going to get picked up. It wouldn’t be a business agreement that we wanted to be a part of. So we slowly but surely recorded two, three more songs at a time and got them a little bit in circulation so people could hear things and know what the Silents were about. It would get people excited at shows. But eventually we were able.
One thing is money. You just don’t have enough cash to do it all, especially with some of the studios we were going into. We finally, over about a two year period and just recently, we wrapped up the final three or four songs, and just mixed the entire record. So I’m really proud of it, but didn’t know if it would eventually get done. We finally got it done and it was a really good time for us.
PW: I heard something about a secret album you recorded Areous Ledesma.
PV: Yes, Areous Ledesma. He actually ran a studio in Chicago. He works with a lot of good bands. He did Muchacho and Local H and stuff like that. When Jake and I first started the Silents, we had two other members in the band-a drummer and a bass player, and we knacked out an album in, like, no time in the basement of the owner of this Lounge, so it wasn’t even in the Lounge.
It’s really cool, but we recorded it and eventually just moved on. And eventually when you start getting new band members, Eric and Aaron, that became the foundation of the Silents. So we kind of moved on and started recording more. Of course, you always think your next song is better than your previous one. We started recording what would become Sleepwalker and used the money that would have been used to put out that full length, the secret album, we put that toward recording Sleepwalker. So, there is a secret Silents’ album that’s about 11 songs. I hadn’t heard it in awhile, in a few years. I just listened to it recently. I think it’s fantastic, so we’ll have to figure out what to do with that someday. It’s just an early recording that got shelved to record Sleepwalker.
PW: You’re still looking at Sleepwalker as your first full length debut?
PV: Yeah, Sleepwalker is. This was unofficial and just a collection of songs. Sleepwalker is our first official release. We never released that secret album and it just sits on a shelf in my house.
PW: Sleepwalker comes out September 9. What can people expect from it?
PV: I think you’re going to find that it is good edgy songs and edgy subjects with pop melodies. I think we’ve got some good driving drums on it. I think they’re just really good, catchy rock songs. They’re really good, catchy with a pop edge to it. When people ask about the songs, they’re a darker quality because of the darker subject matter, but we put a sexiness over it, so it’s sort of like a sort of dark, edgy, sexy pop sound that we’re going for.
PW: Yeah, I saw on your MySpace it said something about being described as a “sexcrash.”
PV: That was, somebody had just written an article where they had just heard the first few songs on it and they called it a “Sexcrash car commercial,” which I think they’re just saying it is an edgier pop sound. It’s not Justin Timberlake, but it’s not just a sit in a dark hall either.
PW: You’re already getting some praise and radio play for your single, “Dream on Empty.” How did you choose that as the single? Why that song?
PV: It’s just the management who decides that. When you record an album over a couple years, granted it took us maybe 18 months and then there’s the mixing process, so they’re all good and you have enough time to weed out the bad songs. It’s not like when you’re recording an album in a month and then a few months later you’re like, “Oh well, that one’s not great.” They’re all fantastic. It’s part of the process. There’s like 10, 11, 12 songs on Sleepwalker and it’s not like that’s all we recorded. We recorded more, but some of them you’re not so crazy about or they don’t fit the concept of the album.
So as far as “Dream on Empty,” I think we listened to it and our management liked that song the best or thought it would be the best first song introduction into the Silents. I agree. I thought it was good, but there were a few others that could do it, but really that decision to be the single is management as long as the artist agrees, which in this case I do.
PW: I’m really impressed that you guys got songs on MTV without any label support and without a completed album. How did you guys do that and how did it effect you?
PV: When you start getting notice, word spreads quickly on this local scene in Chicago. There’s this drummer in a pretty big indie band back in the day called Triple Fast Action, Wes Kidd, who now is a manager of several other artists. It was just through word of mouth that we ran into him. He was friends with a music supervisor at MTV and it’s just as simple as getting into the hands of a music supervisor. All of a sudden we were getting these calls saying, “Hey, we’re going to use some Silents’ songs on this show, that show.”
As far as how it affected us, not much. It’s nice to get some checks in the mail for it, but you’ll take the exposure. It’s not a ton, but hopefully it gains us some new fans. But overall, it doesn’t effect you too much. It’s just another form of exposure.
PW: What’s next in the future for you guys? A tour to support this album?
PV: Yeah, we’re actually going to go out and take it probably in smaller regional stuff. Going off for like a seven day here, a seven day spell. We’re going to concentrate on the Midwest, then probably the East coast. Right after the release we’re going to play a festival in St. Louis play at the festival, which will be really cool and then a couple of shows in Missouri. I think there’s a couple of shows that we’re waiting to hear back. There might be some Iowa stuff. We’re going to stick regional and do some short stints and go from there and see what else we can get picked up. Whether the tour can get sponsored depending on how it lays itself out for us.
PW: My last question. I saw that you guys like to think of yourselves as “escapee underwear models.”
PV: Haha. That’s just a bit of our sense of humor. We really don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think that little bio thing that you read is from when we first started off and the journalist was pretty happy and excited about the music and we were having fun, too, so I said we just kind of think of ourselves as escapee underwear models just trying to laugh it off.
PW: So Calvin Klein is not sponsoring the next tour?
PV: Exactly. We’re just a bunch of underwear models on the run. Who is trying to catch us, you never quite know because you’re just paranoid when you’re an escapee underwear model. People are always just eyeing you. Maybe it’s because you’ve got just your underwear on out in the street, so people are always eyeing you. Somebody is always after you and you have to escape. It’s defense.
PW: So boxers or briefs?
PV: Yes, of course, not like the tightie whities. Briefs. We do have some class.
Official The Silents photos courtesy of the band.
Filed under: interview with | Tagged: Aaron Vaughn, Andy Gerber, Areous Ledesma, bethany, Burden Brothers, Calvin Klein, Eric Cacia, Fu Manchu, Interpol, interview with, Jake Fish, justin timberlake, Led Zepplin, Local H, Muchacho, mudhoney, Paul Velten, queens of the stone age, Scott Lucas, the killers, The Silents, Triple Fast Action, Wes Kidd | 1 Comment »