Enjoy a new exclusive interview with Philly’s modern hardcore mainstays, Paint It Black, as vocalist Dan Yemin and bassist Andy Nelson sound off and go in-depth on the making of the band’s latest EP, Invisible, which hit streets via No Idea Records in March and was recorded by renowned engineer Will Yip at Studio 4. With members involved in various projects that often spread Paint It Black throughout different states and continents, Dan sets the record straight on PIB‘s current happenings, working with different studios, the band’s writing processes, and what we can expect in the coming months.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Dan and Andy..
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world. Let’s kick off this interview by having you introduce yourself and your musical weapon of choice with hardcore punk mainstays, Paint It Black.
Dan Yemin: My name is Dan, and I’m responsible for vocals.
Andy Nelson: Andy. I play bass and on occasion make noises with my mouth.
Joshua BTS: Let’s dive right in. You have a new E.P., Invisible, which just dropped on No Idea Records in March. Please bring us up to speed on this latest recording. What did the writing process look like for Paint It Black with members spread out all over the US and active in a range of bands such as The Hope Conspiracy, Lifetime, Ceremony, etc? Is there a main riff fabricator or do you all play an active role? I know you mentioned “This new record has been in the works for what feels like a long time. So long, in fact, that it seems like a lot of people, us included, stopped believing it was really going to happen.”
Dan Yemin: Generally, I come up with all the riffs and the song configurations, but I try to leave a lot of room for restructuring. I do all the demos at home, with drum machine, bass, and guitars, and email the demos to the rest of the band. The songs get sent out one at a time, as they’re created and completed. Then it takes anywhere from 1-3 years to get everyone together for a two week stretch, which should be long enough to rehearse, re-arrange, and record.
Jared, Josh, and Andy generally re-work the songs without me for the better part of a week, which serves two functions: They have total freedom to rework the songs without me looking over their shoulders, and I don’t have to neglect my family or my work during this part of the process. They rework the arrangements and generally bring the songs up to a new level, so when I rejoin the band for rehearsals its always really exciting for me to hear what the songs have become. I love hearing a song that I basically thought of as a Swiz tribute get imbued with subtle elements of Los Crudos and Propagandhi, or some new way of playing a guitar part (that I couldn’t even play on my best day) gets integrated into a song, or some transition that I couldn’t figure out ends up getting transformed into a crazy Jesus Lizard stomp. The lyrics and vocal cadences I just obsess over in my head forever until I can’t sleep. It was especially frustrating scheduling these particular rehearsals and recording sessions, though, as Jared’s been in Europe for much of the past year.
Joshua BTS: I’d like to focus on the actual recording process for a moment. Who do you trust at the helm turning knobs once the material is finalized? What does your recording process look like? Do you track to a metronome? Do you track together in a live setting or separately? How much emphasis do you put on editing and mastering?
Dan Yemin: It takes a lot for us to trust someone on the boards. Our first experience in the studio (for CVA) wasn’t great. Our second experience was awesome in terms of working with J. Robbins, but we were under-prepared, because personnel-wise we were not in a good place. Our third LP was a trip, and a real act of faith, because we were in two studios with two vastly different processes and personalities, but we were incredibly well-prepared and we’d already had long-standing relationships with both producers/engineers (J.Robbins; Oktopus).
The two EP’s we recorded in 2009 were easy. We were very familiar with, and in generally in awe of, Kurt [Ballou]’s work, Jared had recorded with him before, and I’ve known him since the mid-90’s. Our most recent experience was awesome. We didn’t really know Will [Yip], but many of our close friends had worked with him, and he came highly recommended. We needed to be close to home, because our current situation no longer affords us the luxury of traveling out-of-town to record. There’s just no time, and we have to deal with really intense work schedules. Also, he’s recorded and played drums for Lauryn Hill, which tells me he knows what he’s doing, and can stay calm under pressure. He’s definitely the most laid-back person with whom we’ve recorded, and he knows his shit. We got our sounds sorted out really quick without any extra bullshit, and he has a way of making things seem really calm, so even though we were dealing with crazy time constraints, it felt like there was no pressure at all.
We generally don’t use a metronome, because we don’t need it, and it can really suck the spontaneity out of everything. We record drums with Josh and Andy playing along in the same room, but then we re-record the bass and guitars. Vocals got done a few weeks later, which gave me time to obsess even more about the placement of every single syllable. We don’t do much editing, but are very attentive to mixing and mastering. Those folks have the freedom to do their thing without us breathing down their necks, then they email the sound files to us, we comment, and they revise, this keeps happening over and over until we’re satisfied.
Joshua BTS: Where there any recording techniques or approaches that you applied to this Invisible E.P. that was a first or saw you step out of your comfort zone?
Andy Nelson: The mixing process transforms me into a drooling idiot, so I was personally relieved to trust Will this time around. He nailed it, although we constantly find ourselves asking for more low end, and this time was no different. That’s more an issue of taste, , but it is always a little funny to visit with that hilariously little truth –that almost all “heavy music” in this modern age lacks any actual presence of actual weight.
Dan Yemin: Not being present for mixing was a little outside our comfort zone. I played some guitar on this one, which I hadn’t done since Paradise. That was scary, since Josh is such a better player than I am. I felt pretty inadequate.
Joshua BTS: I’d like to focus on some of the motifs surrounding the art direction and lyrical content. How did you settle on the cover art, (which depicts an image of fire along a line of trees, one of which has a bicycle leaning against it, apparently about to be engulfed in flames)? Does this correlate with the title and the lyrical direction of the E.P.? How involved is the band in the creation process of the cover art?
Andy Nelson: Credit where credit is due, the artwork on all of our records since the first two LPs has been directed by Clint Woodside who is a former member of Space 1026 in Philadelphia and a dear, old friend of ours. Dan and I are involved in selecting the photographs for the sleeves, and while there is never a direct correlation between image and lyrics, I’d like to think the tones always match. We seek out visuals that are striking and eschew simple or literal interpretation. All text layouts are clean and minimal, which we think is both a classy and modern approach to a hardcore punk record. Clint could probably answer this all better than me, though, I admittedly lack the vocabulary to be fully articulate on this subject.
Joshua BTS: I know Josh Agran has mentioned Paint It Black “happens when it can” in reference to amount of time the individual members can dedicate to the band for touring or other activities. Yet the band described “a renewed sense of purpose” upon the announcement of Invisible. Can you give some specifics behind this “renewed sense of purpose” and what this means for PIB? Do you have the “What’s next?” discussions, or is the current ambiguity concerning touring and long term plans a conscious decision or preference?
Dan Yemin: The renewed sense of purpose refers in a lot of ways to the emotional high of making a new record. But we all really feel like we raised the bar with this one, so that experience is amplified. Let’s just say that everything is very deliberate and carefully planned.
Joshua BTS: Andy and Josh reside here in Philly, while Dan is over the bridge in Jersey and Jared lives in LA, but given that your “Hometown Record Release” is in Philly, it’s obvious you still consider this your home turf. What are your thoughts on the current Philly music scene and who is exciting you these days? I know many of you spend a fair amount of time abroad-What artists are exciting you outside of Philly?
Dan Yemin: : Hahaha! I don’t know where you get this stuff from! I’ve lived in Philadelphia for the past 21 years. Jersey? Seriously? No disrespect to the Garden State, but I haven’t really lived there since I was a kid. Our scene has been really strong for a long time. I really like Congenital Death, Attitude Era, Restorations, Xanax, Trophy Wife. Swearin’ and Waxahatchee moved here and I love those bands! Andy’s more tuned in than I am though…
Andy Nelson: Paint It Black is and will always be a Philadelphia band. I hate answering the “what do you think of the Philadelphia scene” question; as inevitably The Scene is what you make it. We’ve been lucky in that Philadelphia has mostly been kind to us, but then, we’ve always been kind to it, you know?
Joshua BTS: Anything set in stone for PIB as we head into the Spring and Summer months?
Andy Nelson: We will perform at This Is Hardcore fest in Philadelphia in August as well as at The Fest in Gainesville in November. Two hometown shows. Apart from that, it’s impossible to say what the future holds. I am endlessly frustrated and exhausted by certain obstructions to PIB‘s ability to do more, but the reality is what it is. At this point, I frankly can’t believe people who book shows or festivals still have the patience to put up with us. Hopefully Paint It Black will play California again before 2014.
Joshua BTS: I know Josh has some new projects in the works and that Andy and Dan have teamed up for a new project as well. Can you share any details about these budding projects and where fans might best follow updates?
Dan Yemin: All will be revealed in time. KYEO.
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world as we look forward to touching base soon! Any final thoughts?
Dan Yemin: I’m aware that it takes a lot of patience and energy to support this band. There are a ton of bands out there that make it a lot easier. It’s impossible to express how grateful we are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your encouragement and attention.
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T. Cohen