As we've been following Electric Citizen's releases since their self-titled EP, on through Sateen and their most recent release, Higher Time, we were excited to finally have a chance to interview the band and ask them a few questions about their creative process and inspirations, along with what they see the future holding for them.
The Burning Beard: Hi, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I want to start off by asking: what was it that inspired the various members of the group to become musicians?
Nate: Metallica. I was obsessed.
Ross: Jimi Hendrix. I had a friend with a bass, his older brother played guitar, and they let me jam with them.
Randy: My dad bought me an electric guitar in high school and I started a band.
Laura: When I was little I would ask my mom "when do I get to be on stage?". I participated in drama club in school, but I wanted to be a singer, I admired so many singers. I was really shy about doing it in front of people, which really held me back for years, I didn't start singing in bands till 6 or 7 years ago.
TBB: Have any of you had formal musical training?
Ross: Not formal, but I took a year of guitar lessons early on.
Randy: A year of trumpet and piano, self-taught on guitar and bass guitar.
Laura: When I was getting started I took a few lessons with a friend who's an amazing singer.
TBB: Are your songs written by the band as a collaborative whole, or by individual members of the group? How do you approach forming the ideas of the album?
Laura: Ross and I primarily write the songs, but Nate and Randy play an important role in forming the songs. Typically Ross will write a guitar part, bring that to the band to jam on, and I'll improvise over it until I finish the lyrics and melody.
TBB: Is the live performance of your songs a consideration during the writing and recording process? Do you write and arrange any specific songs with live performance in mind?
Laura: We (mostly) record live in the studio, so the translation is quite simple. We don't always have a keyboard player at shows, so we try to keep that in mind when recording.
TBB: Are there any particular inspirations for your lyrics that you'd like to talk about?
Laura: I write about all kinds of things. The state of the world is insane. On one hand we are seeing these incredible advances in technology and medicine and on the other hand we are destroying ourselves through violence and pollution. It's a wild contrast, we're in a time of extremes, and I love exploring that in my songs. "Golden Mean", for example, might sound like it's about a troubled relationship, and in a way it is, but it's about my relationship to the world, and me trying to find balance in the good and evil.
TBB: Does anyone in the band have aspirations outside of the music industry?
Randy: Someday I'll have other aspirations but this is it right now.
Laura: Not right now, I'm very happy doing this, my backup plan is to move to the middle of nowhere and become a cowgirl.
TBB: Have any forms of media other than music (film, fashion, etc.) had an influence on Electric Citizen? If so, what were they?
Laura: I think we're very influenced by art, film and fashion. I've always been attracted to the bizarre. Our first album, Sateen, was named after a character from this '70s film The Visitor, it has a strange plot but it's visually awesome.
TBB: How did you get signed to Riding Easy Records?
Laura: We were a very new band, we hadn't really done any shopping for a label. A mutual friend sent Daniel Hall our first (unreleased) album, and he asked to sign us. I'm really glad we did, RidingEasy has done great things for us.
TBB: Some heavy rock groups now sell more on vinyl than any other format. Is anyone in the band a record collector?
Ross: Yes, it started when my dad gave me his Jimi Hendrix records in high school.
Laura: If I had more money, I'd have more records. Every time I go into a record store I look for this band Frumpy on vinyl, you can buy their records on eBay, but I really want to just find it in a store one day.
Randy: Yes, my favorite find was The Beatles' white album on white vinyl.
Nate: I enjoy collecting Zappa records, and the records of bands we tour with.
TBB: On a related note, does the prevalent culture of highly limited edition items aimed at the collector's market appeal to you or put you off as a band? Certain labels seem to be putting an emphasis on the collectable nature of music, and specifically records, with deluxe editions often being released in very small numbers. Is this emphasis on the collectable side of music something that appeals to anyone in the group?
Laura: I don't see anything wrong with it. In this age bands have so few ways of making money. We don't really go over the top with this stuff, but I don't mind it, to each his own.
TBB: Do you ever feel it's difficult to innovate in a style as enduringly popular as heavy rock?
Laura: No, not really. Authenticity leads to innovation. Just be yourself, draw inspiration from what moves you, and do it in your own way. I think the worst thing modern music has done to itself is turn its back on influence. I think what really helps me is that I draw influence from so many different types of music and art. Music is a continuous movement, nothing has ever been created in a vacuum. Art inspires art in all forms. I recently visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The entire museum was set up with his works, and hanging next to them were the works of his influencers; it was celebrated, and that was refreshing. I'll never stop being inspired because I'm not ashamed to be so.
TBB: What are the most challenging aspects of being a recording and touring musician?
Laura: The money. All our stress comes from money. How we're going to pay for this or that, we're always scrapping by. The rest is fun, we love writing and performing music, and thankfully we don't care too much about being broke.
TBB: Have any of the members of the band been in other groups or had solo projects?
Laura: We were all in local bands prior to this project, that's how we met Nate and Randy. Nothing that ever took off, and for me personally, nothing that ever recorded an album.
TBB: Are there any specific recently released albums that you've enjoyed?
Laura: Oh yes, many! Our eyes have been opened to so many cool bands over the last few years. What we are amongst is really starting to feel like a movement, it's exciting. We really respect all the RidingEasy bands, they're all doing cool stuff. And we really dig all of the albums from bands like Fuzz, Charles Bradley, Budos Band, Goat, Graveyard, Horisont, Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid, Danava and Purson. Cincinnati has this really cool wave of Riot Grrrl style bands happening right now that I really dig too.
TBB: Some recent psych and heavy rock bands have been making a move towards using all old-school '60s/'70s equipment both live and in the studio when possible. Is this something Electric Citizen do (or would like to do), or are you happy to use modern equipment and instruments? Was Higher Time recorded using analogue equipment?
Laura: We always record analog, we love the warmth of tape. We used a bunch of cool vintage gear in the mixing process on our second album too, like a nine-foot reverb tank. We have some vintage gear that we use live, but some stuff is just too fragile to take on the road, so it's a mix. We just use what sounds good to us, new or old, we don't really have any rules.
TBB: Although Higher Time was only recently released, many are already hungry for a follow-up. Has any new material been written yet?
Laura: Oh yes, we never stop writing. We aren't doing a ton of touring this summer, so we're focused on album #3, most of our touring this year is hitting in October and November.
TBB: What are Electric Citizen's plans for the near future?
Laura: Playing a few festivals this summer, writing the next album, touring Europe in October and USA in November.
TBB: Many thanks for doing this interview!
EC: Thanks for having us!