Hi Johanna and Owen! Your freakin’ fantastic self-titled album has me bouncing around the room like a spastic kid with a sugar high, to put it mildly. How did you prepare for the October 16th release of TKTTSM on Sumxuni Records?
Johanna: Yay! I’ve spent the last few years attempting to funnel my natural spaziness into our music. It’s so nice to hear we are bringing that out in you! We’ve been attempting not to kill each other while sending the album to radio stations, working on our live show, a video, a remix and responding to all the amazing feedback we’ve gotten already. We are really excited!
Owen: I’m so glad you’re enjoying the album! As for preparation, I’ve been exercising, juicing, and thinking of ways to profess my love to Annie Clark.
The proper way to listen to your album is to crank the amps to 11 and blast your tunes, yet you balance the aggressively energetic, densely textured rock with catchy as hell, sing-song melodies and lollipop-sticky ‘n’ sweet to vibrantly defiant vocals. Johanna, I read that Owen suggested that you change to a much higher vocal register on certain songs or lyrics within a song. How did that go over with you when he first brought this up? How difficult is it to hit that vocal high, or has it become a normal part of your range now?
Johanna: Well, I guess I kinda did that to myself. Owen’s compositions brought that new voice out of me, but I wasn’t so good at controlling it at first. I always thought of myself as more of a belter, so this was new. Owen encouraged me to keep working at it, and we did get frustrated with each other over it, but in the end his pushing made me a much better singer… Yes, it’s just part of what I do now!
Owen: When we first started tracking the vocals, I was just kinda like “Nope, wrong approach. Do it again, but this time do it better”. I think we slowly evolved her style into what you hear on the album.
You co-wrote and co-composed TKTTSM in a self-described ‘stream of consciousness’ process, yet the end result is crisp and airtight for a psychedelic pop-rock album. Did you bring in an outside producer to mix it or were you both at the controls throughout the production? How painstaking or detailed did you have to get to streamline your original output into the final album?
Owen: We produced the album ourselves. Guy Benny engineered a few sessions, Will Hensley mixed the album, and Alan Douches mastered it. Certain aspects of the production were very fluid and natural, while others were incredibly painful. I’m always striving for imperfect perfection, and it’s hard for me to let things slide when they’re not quite right. We would sometimes end up with 50 takes, and realize we’d gone a bit overboard. Sometimes subtraction is an art form.
Johanna: When we were done, I didn’t want to see a Pro Tools screen again for a while! Michael Brauer was a fan of our rough mixes, and put us in touch with the phenomenal up and coming mixer Will Hensley.
You’re both veterans of the music field, with Owen working as a touring musician and Johanna working as a songwriter. How did you two end up meeting and deciding to form TKTTSM?
Owen: I auditioned for her solo project, and ended up playing guitar in her band. At one point on a tour, she took me out to sushi in Indianapolis. Only later did I realize how sadistic that was. We eventually started writing together, and it was really great chemistry from the start.
Johanna: What we wrote felt special and magical. We had a lot of fun together. We just fell into it. It was meant to be.
Okay, you probably get this a lot, but I have to ask what is the significance of your band’s name is. Does it stand for ‘Totally Kick-ass Turbo-charged Tasty Sonic Monster’, because I can totally see that…
Owen: TKTTSM is an acronym for ‘The Kiss Tried To Smack Me’. Love is a terrible, beautiful thing.
Johanna: It makes me think of that scene in Ferris Bueller… I just looked up the quote: “Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.”
Your lyrics hold a mirror up to our fractured modern existence, with a heavy dose of drug references and an anti-authoritarian attitude. How much of your personal experiences with law enforcement and, ummm, self-medication informs your lyrics?
Johanna: I think we are both naturally rebellious. We were listening to a lot of West Coast gangster rap when we were writing the songs. Spent time walking around the LES with 40s.
Owen: Yeah, that definitely seeped into our music, in a somewhat tongue in cheek way. Guns and drugs and pop music, yay! On a serious note, I think every person should ingest hallucinogens at least once in their lifetime, including figures of authority. If I met a cop who was tripping on mushrooms, I have a feeling we would get along just fine.
Going into the topic of authority, I’m assuming that what you are railing against is the abuse of power of perpetuated by certain individuals and/or institutions, and not just the governmental system in general. I guess what I’m asking is, do you believe that a system of order and control should exist and that any corrupt elements within it should be removed, or do you think that the whole system should be dismantled?
Owen: This is a very difficult question, and one that Johanna and I have debated quite a bit. I think the bigger question is, what is the end goal? What is the point of anything? Is the point of government to achieve utopian bliss, where all are equal, where evil is eradicated? Or is the point of government to balance the incredibly lopsided dichotomy of rich and poor, bad and good? There will always be evil, there will always be darkness. I’ve picked a side, and I will fight for it. To answer your question more directly, our government in the US has become such a massive plutocracy, that I think it’s impossible to remove the corrupt elements.
Johanna: It’s not just abuse, it’s our culture’s focus on superficial bullshit. The system doesn’t bother me either, only all the people who run it, who purposefully direct our attention to distraction, angry lies or trifles.
Does your anti-authoritarian viewpoint extend internationally to all forms of government, or is there some type of viable socio-politico-econo system that you would accept to live with?
Owen: To quote Eugene Debs: “In every age it has been the tyrant, the oppressor and the exploiter who has wrapped himself in the cloak of patriotism, or religion, or both to deceive and overawe the people.”
Johanna: I’d like to live in a world where the rule of law says you have to love everyone.
Owen: Johanna is a true optimist at heart. She always finds good in people, and I love her for it. If every so called Christian followed her lead, our world would be a much better place.
Johanna: And I love you for your unabashed pursuit of justice, even when it involves kicking someone’s ass.
Sorry for the heaviness of those previous questions, but you do raise the issue with your lyrics and I just wanted clarification on that. Moving on to a more enjoyable subject, alcohol and other drugs make their way into your lyrics, as well as references to candy. With any use of behavior or perception-changing substances, there’s a fine line between euphoria and hysteria or lethargy. How do find your balance point and is it essential to your creative process? I’m a sugar junkie, so my drug of choice these days is maple syrup, which hasn’t been outlawed yet, although it has been stolen. I read in a recent news article that up to 30 million dollars worth of maple syrup was taken from a warehouse in Quebec recently, and then read that they later recovered the maple syrup. Crazy times we live in…
Johanna: Ha ha! Sugar is my drug of choice as well.
Owen: It’s really interesting that you mention the fine line between euphoria and hysteria, because that’s exactly where we want to be with our music. That space is very exciting. We’re not condoning or condemning drug use. I think you should do whatever you want to do. A lot of great art has been fueled by drugs, and a lot of total crap has been fueled by drugs. My drug of choice these days is adrenaline.
Owen, you employ different type of guitars or playing styles on each song, with serrated guitar cuts on “Calisthenics”, a spinning-out-of-control sound on lead single “Plastic Fantastic”, a ‘90s-era run of bass on the more straightforward “Dear Diary”, and a surf guitar line on “Japanteup”. What types of guitars and/or effects are you using on those songs?
Owen: My main guitars for this album were a vintage Univox Mosrite clone, various Teles and Strats, and a vintage Yamaha AES1500. I have quite a lot of cool effects, but some of my favorites for this album were a vintage Roland Space Echo, vintage Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man, vintage Boss Harmonizer, and a TC Electronics Chorus/Flanger. I also really dig a lot of the Pigtronix pedals. I prefer to get my dirty sounds from natural amp breakup, but I will occasionally use a fuzz or overdrive pedal when called for. As for amps, the majority of the guitar parts were recorded through a Dr. Z Maz 38, and a vintage Fender Bassman.
Owen, who are some of your guitar heroes? Off the top of my head, some of mine are Crispin Gray of QueenAdreena, Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush, Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper of The Church, Matt Bellamy of Muse, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, and Bernard Butler of Suede.
Owen: Well, speaking of Matt Bellamy, I think he’s fantastic. He has really great tone/sounds, and very cool ideas. St. Vincent is also one of my favorite young guitarists. Her playing is so unique and creative. I’ve been listening to Wilco A Ghost Is Born a lot lately. Jeff Tweedy’s guitar playing is so fucking good on that album. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have amazing chemistry. Growing up, I was heavily influenced by Charlie Christian, Jim Hall, Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, and John McLaughlin.
Johanna, while many songs are brightened by your peppy, candy-coated higher vocals, you also get downright confrontational on parts of “Edumication”, “Japanteup”, and “Porcupine”, where you rage against the machine with expressive, riot grrrl-like shouting. Do bands like Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland, or Scarling strike a chord with you?
Johanna: When I’m singing I just try to see what’s there and let it come out. Mostly I’m happy, sometimes I get riled up. I’m obsessed with Abbey Road right now, but I heard “Gangsta” by Tune-Yards the other day and couldn’t stop playing it. Another recent love is the new Swans album.
Owen: As Johanna stated earlier, she’s a belter at heart. The chorus of “Porcupine” is one of the most powerful moments of the album for me. When I heard her sing that take, it gave me goose bumps. And yeah, Swans are so fucking great. I saw them at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple for their reunion show. It was incredible.
The brilliant “Eyeyeye” is a dazzling, surreal, dreamy number, lyrically seemingly in line with “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Can you run through the creation of this song and how you came up with the “Fists punching in the sky” mantra?
Johanna: Thanks! That might be my favorite song on the album. Owen asked me to come in to our songwriting session that day with an idea. I remember I was so deep in thought driving through Queens that I got lost and ended up in the projects. That’s when “Fists punching in the skyeyeyeye” popped into my head. I brought it to Owen and we figured out the rest.
Owen: “Fists punching in the sky” was just this really strong image for us. The whole song is this kind of apocalyptic last stand against the end of time.
Johanna, I read that you’re also working on material for a solo album to be released next year. How is that going and will Owen be involved with your album at all?
Johanna: It’s going great! Owen wrote one of the songs and co-wrote the rest with Will Hensley and me. I can’t wait for people to hear it!
Owen: I also played guitar on all songs. It’s a much different vibe than TKTTSM, but it’s really fun and refreshing to take a break from the madness.
Lastly, can you please list your official site(s) where we can find out more about you? Thanks so much!