Philadelphia’s Literature play smart, catchy, knowing pop music. Chorus, their second album, is at times rambunctious and at times cleanly blissed-out, with hooks that at times put me in mind of The Field Mice at their most upbeat. I checked in with the band via email to learn more about the album’s origins, the sources for some of its more stylized aspects, and–given the band’s name–some book recommendations.
The new album is called Chorus. Do you mean in the sense of a musical’s chorus, the chorus of a song, or the way it’s used in classical drama?
Kevin Attics: Nathaniel and I were working on new songs immediately proceeding the release of our first album. We were throwing around different production ideas and began discussing the “chorus” audio effect, wherein an identical sound is delayed by milliseconds and “bent” slightly to create a shimmery, majestic unified sound. This parlayed into a discussion of the chorus as a structural component of a song, the often “transcendent”, repeated refrain in a work that carries the most meaning. Suddenly, the power of the word struck us. Once we settled on it, it seemed to come complete with a visual aesthetic, a style of writing… It was like the album was already written, embedded in stone. It was just up to us to chip away at it until we revealed the work that was trapped inside.
In “Court/Date,” there’s the line “To laugh to love to fight for God and the church.” There’s an almost archaic quality to the last part of that–what brought you to this particular choice of words?
Nathaniel Cardaci: My sister and I had a mild obsession with the fact that my mother’s maiden name is Cromwell. We would sit and ponder for hours if we had any relation to Old Ironsides. This naturally found its way into my writing and I decided to do a thought-experiment wherein I tried to come up with lyrics that may have been written by Oliver Cromwell (or in this case a potential descendant).
In “Dance Shoes,” you sing “Dear subscriber I tried to write you.” To what extent do your songs draw inspiration from the quotidian and even automated aspects of daily life?
Nathaniel: I have always found the quotidian to be mesmerizing. It is often overlooked yet it’s the communicating power which drives us forward in everyday life. For me, it’s these little pieces of fragmented speech that hold the most meaning.The mundane and banal are aspects of our life that are inescapable. As a writer/ musician I hope to to add a bit of mystique; to give second-thought to even the most automated and trivial things one can encounter.
What were some of your goals with Chorus relative to Arab Spring?
Kevin: Arab Spring was definitely an attempt to capture lightning in a bottle. We were four power-pop indebted kids playing multiple shows a week for years before we decided to record any of our music in a professional capacity. As such, that record was a good approximation of our live performance. With Chorus, we wanted to create something a bit lusher… something more mysterious… We wanted to learn to use the studio as an instrument. We also wanted to understand the basic concepts behind some of our favorite audio effects, so we spent a ridiculous amount of time experimenting with analog tape flanging, automatic double tracking, feeding instruments into early synth filters, and such. There are plenty of wonderful digital approximations of these effects but, in our quest to find our voice for the first time in the production process, we definitely felt a need to “rediscover” what was happening at the core of these techniques.
Where did the party audio that opens “The Girl, The Gold Watch, and Everything” come from?
Kevin: I love that Gary U.S. Bonds song “Quarter to Three” and that was our little homage. Toward the end of tracking we brought drinks into the studio and just let loose.
Given your name, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask what you’d all been reading lately. Is there anything particularly notable in your recent reads?
Nathaniel: I have been reading a collection of articles from “Mother Earth” and Seth recently loaned me the Miranda July book it chooses you.
Seth Whaland: That Miranda July book was very good, and a reminder to me of how great print is. Also recently read the His Dark Materials series, which was great. Just make sure you don’t see the Golden Compass movie. Barely starting to read Rough Stone Rolling because for some reason I love reading about Joseph Smith & the Mormons. Unfortunately I get carsick reading in the van and there isn’t a ton of free time on tour. Free time alone especially.
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