Q/A: Climber makes music for Climber
by Chris Young on October 1, 2010
What’s a rock star’s worst nightmare?
Growing up. It happens to us all. One morning you wake up and realize you’re getting old(er). You’re quickly approaching 30, you’ve got a wife, a house, a family, kids… and not the illegitimate, rock star kind. Gone are the days of packing up everything in van and touring the country. It’s time to reconsider what “making it” means to you.
But for Climber, “making it” means making music to please yourself. Making authentic music. And making the best music of their seven-year career.
On their third album in six years, Climber has finally found their sound with The Mystic. And it’s not one particular sound. Rather it’s an evolving soundscape of fresh experimentation full of layers that morph from rough Radiohead (“We Are the New Man”) to Muse-esque, piano-rocking balladry (“The Risk of the Middle Way”) to disconnected Menomena (“The Simians Speak”). Plus there’s the loving, meandering pop of their first single “I Have Seen Everything” (below).
As they sing on the album’s second track “Stepping Into New Rooms”: “That thing isn’t giving me the thrill it used to.”
But Climber’s Michael Nelson (vocals, piano, Wurlitzer, organ, programming) has found something more substantial to give him and his band new thrills.
The last album you released was in 2007. What happened during these last three years?
Michael Nelson: A lot has happened for us personally in the last three years. Most of us have had kids, we’re all kind of getting older, getting towards our thirties, and living a more and more conventional family life. I think as a result of those things, we’ve had more restrictions on our time, and instead of making us less creative because we don’t have time, I feel like it’s inspired us to be more creative because our time is so short and the opportunities to play are fewer because of all our other commitments. We’ve all felt that we don’t have any excuse to do exactly what we want to do. We don’t want to be wasting our time playing music that we think is going to appeal to a certain group or that we think is going to be successful. We just wanna do exactly what we wanna do. That’s why the new album represents a little bit more variety for us and a little bit more experimentation and that’s why we’re really happy with it because we feel like we did something that we wanted to do without really worrying about the results.
I’ve definitely noticed that with this album. It seems like quite a bit of a departure from the stuff you’ve released in the past.
I think it is your strongest stuff because you were really trying to please yourself rather than someone else out there.
It’s really funny how trying to please yourself is kinda what you should do and is usually the most fruitful thing, I think. Or maybe it’s just the only authentic thing.
Just looking at the new album’s artwork and website, it’s a psychedelic, cartoony departure from your previous simple, clean Climber imagery. Who did your art?
The website people that have designed and programmed are the same [from the past]… Josh Kneadler does the Flash stuff and Steve James does the technical stuff. They’ve both been super generous with us and willing to collaborate… it’s been awesome because we’ve always been super thrilled with the way our websites have looked. We’ve always felt they were a strong point for our band. I did the artwork for the new album–I’ve always been interested in visual art but I’ve never had any particular professional outlet for it and I didn’t really know if I had the skills to do it. I had been getting into drawing on the computer and the guys said, “Hey, you should really do the next album because we like what we’re seeing.” It was really, really fun and I felt like it was freeing to do visual art instead of music because I don’t have any ego about any of my skills or have any expectations for it.
And this little fuzzy character has a trippy Where The Wild Things Are look…
Yep, definitely. The hairy the better.
What were your inspirations and influences for this album?
We were trying to get a little more in touch with the fun-loving side of music, like the Talking Heads–they are a major one [influence] for us because we had just gotten done watching Stop Making Sense where they do all their crazy theatrics on stage. It was such an immediate connection for me because they’re kinda tacky, they’re kinda nerdy, but they’re still doing a rock show. I really connected with that. I thought they looked so free that I really wanted to create music that really grabbed you on the rhythm end and that made you feel happy. That’s translated to a lot of the songs that are on the album. Who else…? I’ve just been noticing that all the music I really like, from the Beatles to Muse to Gorillaz, they’re all just so unabashedly going for what they’re going for.
Do you feel like in the past you have tried to make really cohesive albums? But with this one you put out exactly whatever came out…
We’ve actually always kind of done it the same way and there hasn’t been a message–just these are the songs we have and these are the ones we like so they’ll go on there. I think with this one, the way that we recorded, the process sorta lends itself to creating more of a disconnected album feel. So many of the songs I would start myself and then send along to someone else and they would work on it. Half of it would be recorded before we ever tried to play it. All these different songs were just floating around disconnected from each other and then we just picked our favorite ones. Truthfully, that’s something that we want to do, we want to create a cohesive album, and I think that the next album we’d like to focus more on getting sounds that work together and songs that work together but we didn’t do that for this one.
I don’t think the album is incohesive but all the songs are so different from one another, and it’s funny that you mention your particular recording process on this album. So much has been made of Menomena recently and their “dysfunctional” recording process. I felt that in a few of your new songs, you had this Menomena-esque sound that I had never noticed before. And discussing a similar creative process in the way that some of the songs came together…
They’re a huge inspiration to us too and I admire what they do so much… sort of envy the way their songs sound when they play with such abandon. It’s probably no surprise if we’re taking some of their ideas.
What’s happening with you right now before your album release?
We are just frantically trying to get everything together on the promotion end. We’re rehearsing some backup singers that are going to sing with us on all the new songs. We’re getting our costumes ready, we’re just trying to prepare a stage setup that looks visually engaging–something that we’ve never given any attention to before. We’re having fun making stage art and props and costumes and trying to make it a special show. That’s a different step for us instead of just playing our songs, saying “Thank you,” the end.
Since you’ve all grown up a bit in these past few years, what are your plans after this? Are there plans to tour or will you be strictly a Portland/NW band? What are you aspirations?
I think at this point that’s kind of the reality of the situation, you know, Portland, Seattle occasionally, and maybe in the summer down to California or something. We’ve been focusing a little bit more on writing songs for licensing and trying to create some more composed songs for different projects that come our way for films or commercials. That might be a more realistic goal for us in the future. We love to write music, we love to record it, but you know, we’re stuck here. Definitely more albums but probably no touring.
Anything else to add?
Come to the show and check out our Lite-Brite art. It’s the first time we’ve ever created stage art so we’ve got some of the characters from the album art. We drilled holes and put Christmas lights around them so they look pretty magnificent.