It’s not everyday you get to hang out with a band while they’re jamming in their studio, but that’s exactly what happened on a cold, winter Chicago night. The band is Antony and the Tramps, an extremely talented and energetic group whose music is “worth your time.” So when a long night of rehearsing ended, we got to sit down with Antony Ablan (lead singer/guitarist) and Chris Palmerin (drummer) to talk about the band, their upcoming new album, and much more in a fun and engaging Light Post Conversation.
Light Post: So how long have you guys been playing together?
Antony Ablan: 4 years...but it’s been a timeline. Chris and I were back in early, pre-historic kind of stuff. We started playin’...
Chris Palmerin: 2010, 2011...
AA: That’s when you and me started playin’, right?
CP: Yeah, I originally started as a percussionist.
AA: That’s right! The first Tramp show you were playing percussion!
CP: Yeah, for the Martyr’s show.
AA: I forgot about that, with your flame congas! There they are! [points to the corner]
CP: With the flame congas and the tambourine...
AA: [Laughing] That’s right!!
CP: And you called me up and you were like, ‘Yo, Ryan is leaving. You gotta play the drum set, in a week!’ I was like OK, let’s do it. We had a gig...we played at the Elbo Room, that’s what it was!
AA: The Elbo Room, oh my God man...you ever been to the Elbo Room?
AA: The place is a trip...it’s an underground dynasty. You want some dark chocolate?
LP: I’m good, but thanks.
CP: I will, yes...I love dark chocolate.
LP: Now you guys refer to the style of your music as “American Gypsy”...how would you describe that sound to someone?
AA: Well, like the slogan says...it wanders but isn’t lost, cause it’s a tramp. It’s a gypsy. It’s really an excuse to go wherever the fuck we want any time, and then we just named it something cause that’s what we like to do.
LP: You put a label on it.
AA: Yeah, ‘cause people ask what we do, and it’s like, fuck, we do whatever we want. And sometimes we get some shit for that, to be honest.
CP: Yeah, it’s always hard when someone asks. I don’t want to tell them a reference to a band. I wanna have my own...I want my band to sound different. So, its pretty hard to describe it. I usually just tell them to come to a show and see for yourself. And, you know, let the music speak for itself.
AA: But that’s the thing though, people really wanna know if it’s worth their time.
CP: That’s the hard part, yeah.
AA: That’s what the response should be...it’s worth your time! That’s it. What kind of music you play? It’s worth your time...[deep voice] easy baby, come on now...come on listen to the music. Yeah...that’s my new response to it.
LP: So for your first album, you guys recorded with portable recording equipment, and you recorded in recital halls, warehouses, bedrooms, wherever...what made you take that approach?
AA: Um, well...that was a concept, and we were working with Matt Livensparger who engineered that. And we were trying to make it like a movie. So we were inspired a lot by these 70’s flicks that were Hollywood movies, but they felt like they were documentaries. And they would just follow these actors around and you kind of got what was happening, and there wasn’t a lot of post production. So we tried to get some of that by picking a location, getting whoever needed to record, putting them in the room, and seeing how they were inspired by it. So we had a lot of different sounds on that one.
LP: Is your new album recorded in the same fashion?
AA: No, it’s all recorded right in this room. It’s all in this room. For a year.
LP: Why the change?
AA: I wanted a different sound for this record and we wanted to write tighter, more succinct stuff...more definite, stuff with stronger angles. So we wanted a controlled environment to do that.
LP: Where would you say your sound comes from?
AA: It’s just all of us. It comes from all of us. Everyone just brings their own thing to it, and that’s how we get our sound.
LP: Now, songs from the first album feel like individual scenes.
AA: Well, like I said we were trying to capture different moods. And when we talk about music a lot of times, we’re not talking musically, we’re talking about the cinema of it. So there’s a lot of flying in the first album, a lot escapism. Did you ever have flying dreams as a kid?
LP: Oh yeah, but I felt like I was falling.
AA: Oh, you had falling dreams. That’s the worst kind of flying. Did you?
CP: Yeah, I still have them.
AA: Do you really? God, I miss them so much! Those are the best, man. The flying, it’s always like the moment when you realize that you’re still going up and you’re not gonna go back down. Like that’s the most exciting part of the dream, man! We tried to recreate that so many times on the first record, where it just like sends off and just keeps going up, up-up-up. That’s the whole feeling of the first record...trying to go from a small place, and go up.
CP: Very epic.
LP: Well, the pace of the album does vary...Gold Rush is a stand out track because its so upbeat. But I’ve Got Soul...it really slows things down.
CP: Yeah man, that’s one of my favorite songs.
AA: Is it really?! I didn’t know that!
CP: Yeah, its one of my favorites cause, like you said, it brings everything down and it makes you think for a minute about stuff, about your life. I’ve got soul...its such a cool ass line.
AA: We don’t do that enough with our sets anymore.
LP: Do you wanna keep your sets lively?
AA: Yeah, cause a lot of the time you’re fighting up stream in live shows. You play a shitty bar, with a shitty sound system, with a shitty sound engineer that doesn’t wanna be there. And then you’ve got TV’s happening...with the fucking baseball game. And you’ve gotta blast through that shit and fight through it and get to these fucking people that are stuck in it.
CP: [Laughing] Yeah, you gotta fight through it.
AA: So you have to kind of battle. There’s an arms war with volume sometimes in those places.
LP: So what hurdles have you guys faced being a newer band in today’s time?
CP: Well, I think a lot is creating the scene...getting people to come out, and come out to your shows, getting them motivated to kind of grow your own clan, if you will. It’s tough, cause people don’t have to buy a record, they can just download it. They don’t have to really go out, they just listen and download it on the computer. And as a musician, it’s tough to really break that barrier. There’s a ton of other bands doing the same thing and there’s not a right or wrong way. Everyone’s trying to get to the top and get some spotlight for a little bit. At least for me, the experience of being in bands, it’s been tough to keep hustling, over and over, playing shows consistently. Antony has been great at getting shows and our management getting bookings, and consistently doing that gets pretty rough. It can be a little bit stressful. I saw Antony writing this record and producing it and trying to get into it, having to book and make sure everything is OK. That’s a hard thing as a young band...having support is tough. With record labels not giving out money, we’re not particularly going that route, but when you do it yourself, you gotta do everything yourself. And now in this age with the industry kind of not being so openly like ‘hey, let’s get a record deal.’ It doesn’t work like that anymore.
AA: I think that’s what’s cool about right now, though. I think of right now like the Wild West, where it’s kind of like anything goes. But if you fuckin’ put your flag in the ground and make something, build your house, and sell something that people want and that’s meaningful, you can fucking be successful. Like you can do it, right now. You don’t have to wait for someone to hand you something. So we’re able to make records, we made that last record for a few thousand dollars, which is nothing, man. You talk about pop records where they spend a couple million. We’re able to, with modern technology, record on our own for a couple thousand bucks, that’s fucking awesome! We don’t have to wait for a huge handout to make what we wanna make. No one is telling us what to do, that’s got it’s pros and cons, you know what I mean? Some of the shit just doesn’t cut through the noise because of that, but we get to make what we wanna make. So in some ways right now is a really awesome time to be an artist, being a musician. The truth is the music industry are small labels that are grinding it from the bottom up. There’s a few huge corporations that own a lot of the labels, but aside from that, it’s grassroots right now. It’s people that are just wanting to make music and putting out a record and maybe people connect with it. That’s really the industry right now. The problem is there’s not a whole lot of money in that just yet. The idea is how do we keep this grassroots thing and build it and be able to make money off it so we can, maybe, perpetuate the creative process. So that’s where we’re at right now. It’s like, how do you flip that thing?
LP: So what kind of pressure have you put on yourselves, creatively, in making this new album?
AA: [Laughing] That is...yeah, we’re laughing because I was fucking miserable. Making a record for me is such extreme joy and extreme misery. There’s no clocking in and kind of getting it done. It’s usually like, I leave on top of the world or I wanna fucking...jump on the tracks [laughs]. So that was like a year of just that.
LP: Highs and lows?
AA: Yeah, I guess. I’m starting to get used to roller coasters.
CP: It’s interesting when you’re in recording mode. Everything is all detailed and you’re listening to everything and you go in the studio and it’s different. You have to figure out parts. Particularly, my parts. Going into the studio, the drums are usually the first thing that gets recorded, and it’s like, what I’ve learned and what I thought was gonna work, doesn’t, and then having to change on the fly. Playing each component on the drum set one at a time, and to make it sound like it’s been played exactly in one take is pretty tough.
AA: We pulled more production tricks on this album.
LP: Sound-wise, is it a departure from the first album?
AA: Yeah, I feel like everything we’ve done is a departure. But yeah, there’s cleaner edges. The last record rolled like a river. This one is a more linear, like a building.
LP: As musicians, do you guys feel any sense of responsibility? To fans or anyone like that?
AA: Definitely. But more like my peers and people I respect. It’s like, I can’t put that out, man. That’s not gonna get any respect [laughs]. I gotta fuckin’ work on that, make that better, that’s not good enough. But it’s peers, cause I don’t really know who else thinks shit. I only count on people that I trust.
CP: Yeah, I’ve been doing this for a while and at times it’s like, you know, I gotta step it up. I don’t feel pressure of having to compete...but, maybe it's a competition with myself, to try to bring myself up to the next level and be a better musician, always going higher and not kind of...plateauing. I think for me it’s trying to be better every time, and there’s nights where it doesn’t feel like that. But for myself and my own being, and the way I feel when I play, doing that and focusing on that, I will have a better product and I will have a better recording with the band.
LP: Which of your songs would you pick to best represent Antony and the Tramps?
AA: I wanna say The Warrior.
CP: The Warrior, baby! Yeah, The Warrior is the shit!
AA: I want our next record to pretty much have that kind of vibe. It’s like wild and electric.
LP: What is it about that one?
AA: Those things - wild and electric! You know, that being said, it can’t be all that because what makes The Warrior feel so good is all these other moments that hold tension and don’t release it. So by the time we get to The Warrior, it’s like, tear your clothes off and fuckin’ run to the ocean.
CP: The Warrior is pretty special to me when we did the record because when we were doing the tracks I had a pretty tough time nailing that...well, actually that was Mother Nature’s Tree which is the first part of The Warrior.
AA: That’s right, that was epic! We were in hour 15! You were recording drums for 15 hours, which is a fuckin’ marathon! And we got to the hardest part of the record and he was getting his ass kicked for a little bit. For like an hour you got your ass kicked.
CP: I did. I did get my ass kicked for quite a while there. And part two of The Warrior is such a liberating part because we did that in a few takes, and we did in the moment. I mean, we obviously played it and rehearsed it, but the takes were just...we just went for it, and it came out really awesome.
LP: OK, now...favorite album?
AA: I can’t even...honestly, I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t know if I have a favorite. I’m just kinda tryin’ to float around right now to find some new stuff. I’ve been listening to the new Sean Rowe record lately, been diggin’ that.
CP: Well I’ve been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, but I’ve been listening to them for the drums, trying to get inspired. I’ll listen to an album for a few months then go into a new album. Back in the day I would play heavier music, so, Tool. Danny Carey was very inspirational to me. Aenima, that’s a cool one.
LP: Favorite concert?
AA: I saw Tom Waits in Knoxville, and it was fuckin’ awesome. At the time I was really into Tom Waits, and I drove down there and spent $100 on a ticket, and at the time $100 was a fuckin’ world of money to me. But I did it, and it was at a theater, and he did it for two and a half hours...he was like 60, and for two and half hours he played and just crushed one song after another. I’ve never been in an audience that was so captivated by a performer before. Like he comes out and channels the entire room in a way I’ve never seen anyone do. It was amazing...it was amazing, and he did not lose you for two and half hours. And to sing like Tom Waits sings for two and half hours!
CP: Mine, for however funny this sounds or not, was my first concert...I saw the Foo Fighters when I was young. And it was just so fuckin’ cool. I saw them at the Aragon. I must have been like 12 or 13. They came out, I was a young kid so I don’t even know what the hell is going on, never been to a rock concert. And the Aragon is fuckin’ packed, and I’m in there...and I’m a short dude, so younger I was even smaller [laughs], and I’m in there and I’m looking and all of a sudden I hear [makes drum sounds], and here is Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins both playing the drums to My Hero, and they were just fuckin’ jammin’ dude, and these big ass drums just [more drum sounds]...oh man, just awesome. Another cool concert was Jack White at Lollapalooza, that was pretty cool. He came out first set with his normal band, his backup band, and then the second set came out with all women and...
AA: And they fuckin’ sucked [laughs]! Wouldn’t that be funny?! They were terrible [laughing]!
CP: [Laughing] No man, they were slammin'! It was really cool!
LP: If you could have one musician join you on stage to play any song, who would it be?
AA: There’s a book we have in a cabin in Wisconsin, and it’s called If...and the whole book is filled with what if questions like that. If you could have dinner with one president who would it be, and everyone answers it - Really? You’d pick Taft? Get the fuck out of here! That’s ridiculous! That’s what this is! But John Lennon, that would be mine.
CP: Yeah, The Beatles...
AA: Just all of them?! You greedy guy!
CP: All of ‘em man! If I’m getting to play with Paul and John, they can tell me whatever, man, I’ll play whatever they want me to play. Whatever Beatles song it is, doesn’t matter to me, just to be in the same room and play a beat...a drum beat, that’d be my favorite.
LP: OK, finish this sentence. You should listen to Antony and the Tramps because...
AA: We’re the bomb dot com.
CP: You will get a great listening experience.
AA: [Laughing] That’s it - you will get a grrreat fuckin’ experience!