Hi Jenna and JJ! It’s so sweet to be doing this interview with you both for your debut self-titled album which came out this past spring. I found out about your band only recently while I was perusing the Team Love roster at SoundCloud and listened to your tunes. I was immediately hooked by your slow-burning and building, guitar-based sound and Jenna’s coolly assured to plaintively aching to sharply keening vocal delivery. So, apologies for being late to the party, but there’s always time to celebrate a great album and band. What was the reception to your album like at the time of its release?
Jenna: The reception was actually really incredible. I guess, initially, it didn’t really occur to me that other people might appreciate it the way that some did. I just knew that what we were doing really struck a chord with me more so than other music I’d been a part of in the past. We were so into it that it wouldn’t have mattered what the reception was, either way, but we are really glad that it has grabbed other people in a similar way that it took ahold of us.
I know it’s been a while now since Conduits dropped, but are you still in promotion mode, playing shows and maybe making more videos? I noticed you have an official video up for “Last Dirge” on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YAN7d6Z6H0
Jenna: We are still in promotion mode. We took a short break from shows, videos, etc… after touring with Cursive in the spring, but now we are back in the saddle. Actually, literally back in the saddle for our next video that we are about to shoot for our song “Misery Train”, which will be shot and directed by Jesse Hassler and Josh Foo, both of Omaha. Josh and I have been working on the concept and we are hoping to shoot in October, just before we are scheduled to tour Europe.
I read that certain band members were previously in Cursive, Son Ambulance, Neva Dinova, and The Good Life. Who is currently in Conduits besides the two of you and were you part of any of those previously-mentioned bands?
JJ: I wasn’t a part of those particular bands, but had played guitar/bass in a few touring bands before starting this one. Besides the two of us, our current line-up includes guitarist Nate Mickish, drummer Roger Lewis, who played in Both Neva Dinova and The Good Life, bassist Sara Bertuldo, and keyboardist Patrick Newbery, who also plays with Cursive.
Jenna: I played and toured with Son Ambulance, on and off for about 6 years.
Conduits is based out of Omaha, Nebraska, although I’m not sure if you all actually reside there. Did you both grow up in this locale? Have you considered relocating to hot spots like Brooklyn or Silver Lake, or do you have all that you could musically want in Omaha?
JJ: We are all currently living in Omaha. I grew up in Lincoln, which is about 45 minutes away, but when I was a teenager, I would come up to Omaha pretty regularly for shows. Some of our band members have pretty strong ties to this city, so we probably won’t be moving to either coast any time soon.
Jenna: I grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, moved to Harlan, Iowa for high school, and then moved to the Omaha area when I was just 17. At that point, the Omaha music scene was already fairly well established, and I came in as sort of an outsider. It wasn’t long, though, before I was singing in bands. I, personally, would like to live in another city, at some point. But, for now, Omaha is definitely my home.
The promo info at your record label Team Love mentions influences like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive on your sound, as well as Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin. I’m also detecting shades of other artists like Fields, Cocteau Twins, Sinead O’Connor, Interpol (in the loping, rhythmic thump and bass line of “Misery Train”), and Matt Bellamy (with Jenna’s yearningly reaching vocals on spectacular album-ender “Well”). Would you consider some or all of those artists as ones you admire?
JJ: I have definitely heard a couple of those comparisons before. Surprisingly, no one has ever mentioned the Interpol one. I think we probably share something with them in terms of mood, structure, and bass guitar carrying a lot of melodic weight, and have certainly thrown their name around as a dream band to tour with.
Jenna: Everyone in the band has various influences. I can actually say that Sinead O’Connor and Cocteau Twins fit into those, as well as being a fan of Fields and Interpol.
JJ, what type of guitar and/or effects are you using on “Top of the Hill” to get that sky-scraping, wavering, My Bloody Valentine-like sound?
JJ: Nate and I both use Electro-Harmonix Memory Man pedals pretty extensively on the whole record, which is an analog delay with a great overdriven sound. Nate likes to find the “fun zone” on his pedal, which is a specific spot on the feedback control, just barely before the delay starts self oscillating; that combined with the weird ominous reverb on his Traynor custom reverb amp, a tremolo, and a vibrato effect. We’d joke that it sounded like a dinosaur roaring a mile away.
What I find interesting about your songs is that instrumentally they are balanced with almost equal measures of drums, bass, and synths, with of course more emphasis on guitars and vocals. Most bands focus only on the guitars and bury the other instruments and even vocals, so it’s refreshing to hear this democratic arrangement. Is this intentional on your part, or is it just the way the songs have worked out?
JJ: I think that was always intentional. Nate and I came at it with the mindset that the guitars were there to support the other instruments rather than overpower them, and you can hear that where we will choose to support vocal melodies, or accent the rhythm section rather than go off on any guitar heroics. Also, during the writing process, I often start with a melodic bass line and build the other instruments around that, so we definitely wanted to give the bass a very real presence in the mix.
Several of your songs are long, slow-building, and don’t have the quick, but transient, pay-off of a snappy pop song. Listeners have to be willing to immerse themselves in your sound, but when they do, they’ll end up drawn in and emotionally attached. Is this the type of song that flows through your veins or have you considered creating shorter, more pop-oriented numbers?
JJ: I feel like I personally go in waves. On this first record, we made the decision that we were going to test the audience’s patience a little, which is a little terrifying in the ADD music world right now where you have to grab someone’s attention in the first 5 seconds or they’ll jump to the next thing on Spotify or whatever, but it just makes the payoff so much sweeter. So far, the newer things I’ve been writing are more concise, which is a different kind of challenge, to write within a pop framework, but still keep the same sprawling feel.
I’m thinking that your songs play great in a live setting, where you have the leeway to improvise and bring in other sonic threads. What are you shows like?
JJ: I really feel like we’ve always been more of a live band than a studio band. We did a live one-take video of “The Wonder” for Love Drunk Sessions that I think is better than the recorded version of that song.
Here’s the link to that live take at Love Drunk’s official profile at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Daxcu_ErrpU
I just wrote up a video review for a Saint Etienne song where various music fans hold up their most fave album, and I was wondering what would each of you pick?
JJ: Neil Young – Harvest
Jenna: Bjork - Vespertine or Beck – Sea Change… Probably Bjork, though.
Who did the artwork for your album and who is featured in the image?
Jenna: The artwork was done by an artist named Jason Malmberg who works out of Sacramento, CA under the name Decabet. He used to live in Omaha, but we hadn’t met until after he had moved away. In the last year he has done show and tour posters for some of my favorite bands (Mazzy Star, The Walkmen, Cut Copy, etc…). So, when he heard us online and offered to help with artwork if we ever needed it, we jumped at the chance. The photo was taken by a photographer out of Tampa, FL, Rebeca Marshik. The lady pictured in the photo is actually someone very dear to me. She was my best friend in High School in Harlan, Iowa. I had never fit in there after moving there, and she and I had met and sort of clung to each other. Kindred spirits, I guess.
What’s next on the horizon for you as Conduits? Are you working on any new material yet? Would you consider putting out an EP before a sophomore album?
JJ: Just getting ready to take Conduits over to Europe for a month. Jenna’s never been, so I think it’ll be pretty exciting. We do have some new material, and I was thinking an EP might be a good idea. What do you think Jenna?
Jenna: Why, golly gee! I think that would be a fantastic idea.
Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) where we can find out more about you?
and the more recently updated http://conduitstheband.blogspot.com/