Interview with: Justin Kennedy of Army Navy

Earlier in the week I got a phone call from Army Navy front man Justin Kennedy. If for some reason you don’t recognize the name, you may recognize the name of former Pinwheel bandmate Ben Gibbard. Gibbard’s had some wonderful success following Pinwheel and Kennedy and company is no doubt set for the same.

During the call, Kennedy and I discussed the band’s debut album, set for release October 14th, other projects including their inclusion on the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist soundtrack, and plans to dominate 2009. Read on for more:

Jessica, PopWreckoning: How are things working out in New York?
Justin Kennedy, Army Navy: They’re great! We had an awesome show last night. It was really fun. Have a five hour press day today. Breeze. [laughs]

PW: What question are you tired of answering because I promise not to ask it.
JK: It hasn’t been that many interviews. I guess “Where did the name Army Navy come from?” because it’s not really an interesting story.
PW: Avoided, for sure. I’m glad to hear things are going well in New York, though. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it up last night and can’t tomorrow night, either, but good luck tomorrow night!
JK: I think it’s supposed to be pretty big actually. It should be fun.

PW: Have you been to the east coast before?
JK: Yeah, we played at CMJ a few years ago. I’ve been to New York a bunch of times. I have a lot of friends out here. I come as much as possible.
PW: I know what you mean, I love New York. I’m glad you guys got to come out here for press stuff, then.
JK: Yeah, it’s been pretty fun. I think we’re going to be back for CMJ this year. We’re just trying to figure out all the details right now.

PW: Any other plans to tour the rest of the east coast? I’m just down in Philly, so if you guys wanted to come hang out, that’s cool. [laughs]
JK: Absolutely! Actually, we were thinking that if we can get our plans together for CMJ, we’re going to try to hit Boston and Philly and a lot around the area. We just need to get on top of that. There’s been so much other work with press and reviews and stuff. It’s not a nightmare or anything, it just takes a lot of time.
A tour is the next thing we’re gonna be working on. But definitely, we’d love to come to Philadelphia. I’ve actually never been to Philadelphia before. Everybody says it’s amazing.

PW: It’s no New York. It’s smaller, but great. I love it. I’ll give you guys a tour when you come.
JK: Our producer Adam Lasus lived there for years. I think he grew up there. He’s always talking about it.
PW: I had no idea. But enough about Philly. Let’s talk about you, we don’t need to talk about Philly.
JK: OK. [laughs]

PW: It seems as if October is Army Navy month. You guys have your new self-titled album coming out on The Fever Zone label and then you’re also on the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist soundtrack and you’ve got a song on a Cure tribute album coming out.
JK: Yeah, it’s pretty nuts. We have two songs in Nick and Norah’s: one song’s on the soundtrack and we just found out that they’re actually using the song [pause] we released an exclusive track just for the soundtrack, and the other track is off our record.
We just found out two days ago that they’re using the song on our record for the TV commercial for Nick and Norah, which is pretty insane.
PW: Yeah, that’s awesome!
JK: We’ll be like everywhere! That’s fuckin’ nuts!

PW
: It’s crazy. Congratulations, that’s huge! You’ll be rockin’ out at Madison Square Garden next time you’re in New York, I bet. [laughs]
JK: [laughs] Yeeeeah…that’s a lot. Hopefully some of this will help us take off a little bit, definitely. We’ve been talking about putting out a record ourselves and we’ve been talking to labels. Big Hassle came around and we felt like we got it. We had some checks come in and we thought, ‘We can do a better job than some of these indie labels that seem to have no idea what they’re doing.’
We created our own timeline for things to come out and then Nick and Norah’s was coming out, which, you know, they’re putting millions into marketing this movie. So we thought we’d just ride the coattails of their marketing a little bit because they’ll have a lot more opportunities to get our name out there than we would. We decided to just put our record out right after the movie came out since people might know who we are at that point.
The Cure thing came along, which comes out two weeks after our record, which is nuts. It all just kind of came together all at once.
PW: That’s amazing. You can’t even buy that kind of publicity.
JK: Absolutely. It’s like we have Atlantic Records putting out the record. There’s gonna be an iTunes exclusive and, basically, it’s way more than we’d ever be able to do ourselves.

PW: With the Nick and Norah thing, today it’s far more common, but back in the 90s, if a band was in a movie or commercial, that was considered selling out. What do you think…
JK: It was totally uncool. That was what my viewpoint was, as well. It was something I would never do, unless it was something really specific or whatever. I still am. I wouldn’t sell my song to an Exxon commercial or something.
For Nick and Norah, we’re sharing the soundtrack with a lot of great bands and the whole movie is about music. Nowadays, with the record industry so screwed up and no one buying records, you have to find these other angles to make money so we can go out and tour.
One thing about being in L.A., we all have professional relationships with music supervisors and people in and around the industry, so we have a lot of contacts. For us, we have some songs that would be good for that stuff and it’s paid for part of the record and for Adam’s fees to produce the record. All those little things that come and go that people don’t really think about. It’s been a way to make music our only income at this point, which is really great.

PW
: Absolutely. I was going to ask what you think changed the negative stigma that used to come along with this, but you’re right. The record industry is completely messed up and people aren’t buying as many records as they used to. It’s unfortunate because there are a lot of great records out there.
The internet has screwed a lot of stuff up. It’s done a great deal to help a lot of artists just get their stuff heard, but it’s also had a negative affect on the monetary side of the business.
JK: I think us not having much overhead putting out this record, we actually could make some money on the record, because we don’t have a giant label paying for all of this extra stuff. Everything that we make goes to the band fund and we pay for it ourself. It’s just more of a chance for us to make a little money if the record sells copies. We eat and everything on it these days.
Besides, the movie looks hilarious. I saw a little bit of it on a screener. I saw the opening scene and I saw the scene that we were in, it’s pretty funny.
PW: Yeah and it’s got a lot of great kids in it, too. Michael Cera who was in Superbad and “Arrested Development.” He’s so funny.
JK: He’s hilarious.
PW: It’ll be a big movie and it’ll definitely get you guys out there. Especially being in the trailer, now.
JK: Omigod, that’s everywhere – it’s gonna be nuts. I haven’t seen it, but I hear he sells it. It’s just cool that some random people are gonna hear it that wouldn’t have before. Some people are going to hear our song on TV. People find music in really weird places these days. Those iPod commercials, they blow up.
PW: Oh yeah. Every single band that’s had one has just gotten ridiculously huge.
JK: Yeah, huge! They also run up the iTunes charts. Something like this is only going to be helpful for us.

PW
: For the Cure tribute album, what song did you cover for it?
JK: “Jumping Someone Else’s Train.”

PW
: Did you choose that one or had you been playing it before and someone got in touch with you about it? I honestly have no idea how tribute albums or most compilations work.
JK: My friend Paul was putting the soundtrack together. He says, “Hey, you’re a Cure fan. I’m putting this soundtrack together.” He asked us to be in it. We talked to Adam and Adam was stoked at the idea. We were actually going to do another song for it. We were gonna do a doo wop version [laughs] — that would’ve been really amazing — off the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me record. I can’t remember which song it was.
We we kind of worked it out and then Paul said the person he’d offered it to wasn’t going to do it and then they changed their mind. He gave us a list of what wasn’t already taken. It was hard because, for us, most of these songs are kind of jammy. We had to try to find a song that sort of lent itself as close to an Army Navy song as possible. We didn’t want to make it a total Army Navy song but that one has some parts that we felt had a poppiness to it.
Our version is really fucked up. I say it’s like Talk Talk meets Nirvana.

PW
: That is definitely a way to sell this tribute album: “It is really fucked up.” [laughs]
JK: [laughs] Yeah. I love it! I mean, I’m so psyched at how it turned out. We definitely took it as a recording experience. It gave us the opportunity for a song that we don’t ever really need to play live.
We tried it in probably 15 different styles. We just went in and hashed out every different way of playing it to figure it out. We love how the track turned out. We went in with Adam for a couple days and banged it out and fixed it. It will be interesting to see what people think of it.
PW: Yeah, I can’t wait to hear it after hearing that explanation.
JK: I don’t know if that’s a good explanation of it, but that’s totally what it reminds me of. It would be like later Talk Talk with the weird keyboards and really fucked up guitar. I dunno, but I’m really happy with it.
It’s a different outlet. The other bands on there aren’t bands we’ve played with before and wouldn’t necessarily be associated with. Like Bat For Lashes is on there. That’s going to be a really interesting track.

PW
: What are you listening to now yourself?
JK: Ben [Gaffin, bass] gave me a copy of that Last Shadow Puppets record. I really dug that one. That kid’s from Arctic Monkeys and I’m not really a huge Arctic Monkeys fan. Mainly because we played their first show in L.A. and they were assholes to us, but they’re nice now. That record is pretty awesome.
I can’t say I’ve listened to a lot of new records, I tend to listen to a lot of old stuff. I’ve been on a really big bubblegum kick lately. Early 70s or 60s bubblegum, like The Archies. One of my buddies is into making me a bunch of CDs of a lot of really great singer-songwriters of the early 70s. Like all the soft rock-y stuff like Ricky Nelson and Neil Diamond. I’m just a big songwriter fan no matter what style it’s in, that era in the 70s had a lot of great artists and albums. The Carpenters, the Beach Boys all fall into that. A lot of old stuff.
Then my favorite classic 90s stuff: Teenage Fanclub, The Pixies. Wilco was always a favorite of mine, too. I did go to a Radiohead show, although I did kind of stop loving them a while ago. Not for any reason, but I loved the first couple records. I did go to see them last week and it totally changed my mind. I think I really like a lot of the stuff on the new record. Seeing them live really sold it to me more. It was an amazing show, a really amazing show.
PW: I’ve never gotten to catch them live.
JK: The mix is pretty phenomenal. We saw them at the Hollywood Bowl. The light show, the whole thing is pretty incredible. They know how to put on a show for sure.
PW: I should think so. They’re pretty big. [jokingly] People have heard of them, I think.
JK: [laughs] Yeah, maybe. Fuckin’ Jonny Greenwood was playing lead guitar and also playing a lead keyboard line with the head of the guitar. I’ve never seen that before. I was like, “Wow.”
PW: Now I have to go see them! Are they still on tour? I don’t even know.
JK: I think they’re tour is done. I had seen The Bends tour, which is so funny. So many years ago. You can tell they’re still up there having fun and it’s just so incredible.

PW: Do you plan on touring that big?
JK: I would love to! We’re definitely trying to spend ’09 touring as much as possible. We’ve gotta get out there and we love playing shows. When people see the live show, I think they’ll get into it. It’s more of a stripped down version of the record.
We have a lot of crazy lead guitar parts, which is amazing to see live. Louie [Schultz, guitar/keys/vocals] is a really incredible guitarist and he’s been able to transfer a lot of the stuff he does on the record to the live show. Definitely more of a hyped up version of the record.

PW
: For these tour plans, if you could tour with anybody — living, dead, anybody — who would you want to play with on the same bill?
JK: I’d love to play with The Pixies. I think that would be amazing. It’s obvious to pick The Beatles [laughs]. Teenage Fanclub is one of my all time favorite bands and they would just mean more to me than any band. I would be totally stoked to tour with them and hang out with those dudes. It would be pretty amazing.
Oasis would be amazing just because it would just be so hilarious. Be able to hang out with them everyday, go to the bar with Liam [Gallagher] and try to keep up with him [laughs].
Mudhoney, I’m a massive Mudhoney fan growing up in Seattle.

PW
: Yeah! I was at Sub Pop‘s 20th anniversary show so I got to see them recently.
JK: So was I!
PW: Oh, you were?! Did you enjoy it? It was the greatest weekend!
JK: Oh my god! It was good! I just wish Mudhoney had closed the show. How can Flight of the Conchords close a Sub Pop show? That’s TERRIBLE! It should have been The Vaselines, although Mudhoney were so phenomenal. They are still as good as when I saw them when I was a teenager.
PW: Yeah, I was pretty shocked at the arrangement of the line up. I guess Flight of the Conchords are pretty big now, but how are you not going to close with your legends?
JK: That’s what I’m saying! I didn’t understand that. The whole order of bands was a little weird to me. It kind of got lighter and lighter as it went. I thought that Mudhoney would’ve closed it and killed it. On the main stage, too. They played the small stage but they were still amazing. They were so good.
I didn’t go to the second day, though. I really wanted to. I was back home visiting the family so I didn’t want to spend my whole time watching a concert. They’d’ve gotten mad at me. [laughs]
PW: I was there for the second and it wasn’t as good. I got there on time, the morning was strong I thought, but I left pretty early. I did that with the Conchords, too, I left about halfway through their set.
JK: I wanted to do that, too, but my friends wanted to stay till the end. It was a complete nightmare trying to get out. It look an hour just to leave the parking lot.
PW: I didn’t drive, but I had no idea that the last bus from Redmond straight to downtown Seattle left at like 10:30, so I missed that bus by minutes. I ended up taking about 5 different buses and it took 3 hours just to get back.
JK: What a nightmare. It was a beautiful day in Seattle, though.
PW: Oh yeah! That was my first time ever in Seattle and I fell in love with it. It’s beautiful out there.
JK: If you can go to Seattle when the weather is like that, it’s the best thing on Earth. It’s when it’s rainy and gloomy all the rest of the year…
PW: That puts a damper on my plans to move there.
JK: [laughs]

PW: Thanks so much for giving me call, it’s been great talking to you.
JK: Me, too. Thanks for talking to me.
PW: Absolutely! Enjoy the rest of your time in New York and I look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia soon.
JK: Awesome, I’ll talk to you soon.

Army Navy: myspace

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2 Responses

  1. A co-worker of mine sent me a link to your post and I wrote to her I truly liked it.

  2. […] Army Navy: myspace | interview […]

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