Conversation: Princeton

Jessica Milton was kind enough to talk to our favorite band from Eagle Rock, Ca. Topics covered include (but not limited to) chamber-pop, basketball, and Keynesian economics.

By Jessica Milton

My first introduction to Princeton came this past fall at the monthly Vol. 1 event at Bar Matchless. I was stationed at the door when a very polite young man asked where the band, made up of twin brothers, Matt and Jesse Kivel, and Ben Usen, could put their instruments until it was their turn to play. Polite, named after a town I associate only with the Ivy League and the Princeton Record Exchange, and fronted by twin brothers? I was expecting either the best or the worst from their set. Happily, when it came time for them to play, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Princeton’s last album, Bloomsbury, was smart pop music composed entirely of lyrics about the members of the Bloomsbury collective (Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and John Maynard Keynes specifically). The band is currently putting the finishing touches on their newest effort, a departure from the direction of Bloomsbury. I was able to catch Matt before he headed out to play a game of basketball this past Sunday and ask him a few questions.

Where does the name Princeton come from?

We grew up on Princeton Street in Santa Monica, so it was pretty arbitrary and seemed like a benign name. I feel the name has lent itself to a? more academic notion, which is alright I guess. We were just really trying to have a name with no connotations; I wish people had no preconceived notions from the name at all.

I read that Princeton was formed after watching That Thing You Do; is being in Princeton just like being in the Oneders?
It is not as glamorous and everything happens much slower. Things have always moved very slowly for us but I think that’s good in the long term.

What is your writing process like?
Me or Jesse, my brother, we write a song, fully arranged and then bring it to the group; it’s not very collaborative. One of us is usually leading the vision for the song. Occasionally, someone will write a song and be unhappy with it. In these cases, someone who wasn’t involved in writing the song will rework the arrangement; most of the time though, we write alone, all the lyrics are and music are written solely by one member.

What do you feel the difference is in being in a band in London and being a band in L.A. is?
It’s hard to say; when we were in London, we weren’t working in full capacity, minimal instrumentation, scraping by trying to play as many shows as we could, so that we could really work out how we wanted to function as a band. Here in L.A., we played a lot of shows, but the set-up was more definitive. The shows in London were more of a compromise. L.A. is a different city; it’s a friendly environment. I may be wrong though.

What do you do outside of the band?
Well, play basketball, I work at Variety, it’s a newspaper, other than that I just listen to a lot of records, watch a lot of movies.

So, do you think you lucked out writing an album about the economist whose theories are being put into action to save the economy?

Yeah, it’s very interesting to me; my main area of focus in senior college was Keynes. It’s great to see resurgence in interest in government intervention but there is a danger and blindness to how people read his work. It was written so long ago; if he were alive today he might have a different approach. Actually, I think he would have a very different approach. The world’s economy has changed so massively in the last hundred years that to try to use old theories to fix the present state seems silly.

It makes me happy to see his name in the paper. People also don’t understand that the economy can never be definitely solved or fixed; it’s not molecular biology. Human expectations change and then the way you fix economic solutions changes.

What bands have you played with recently that you really enjoyed?

Our last show was with Bodies of Water and No Little Kindness, in my opinion, two of the best bands in L.A. It was our first headlining show at Spaceland. We play basketball with David from Bodies of Water.

Ra Ra Riot was great when we toured with them. That’s as far back as I remember.

Are you guys working on a new album?
We’re almost done with it. We’re having trouble scheduling horn players now. We’re mixing right now. The songs are not as focused on Bloomsbury. This album is like our greatest hits of all of the songs we wrote over that last four years; a lot were written in the last year, but some are older. It’s not as cohesive as Bloomsbury: there are more styles, each song is unto itself, each song can be consumed on its own. Most of the songs deal with romantic relationships, dysfunctional relationships. There are a lot of characters whereas the inhabitants of Bloomsbury’s songs were nonfiction.

Are you afraid of Virginia Woolf?

No. Should I be?

Listen: “The Waves”