Over the past nine years, Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s have managed to create six albums – each significantly different from the last. Not to be mistaken for a case of identity crisis, their sound is intentionally created with this sense of constantly departing from itself. What ties it all together is the gut-level courage of their songs.
It’s this method of madness that makes Sling Shot to Heaven feel both unique and familiar. It is a collection of songs that have their signature wandering spirit, but with a more subtle inflection.
We caught up with the conscientiously reserved band and had the opportunity to speak with guitarist Ronnie Kwasman and bassist Tyler Watkins about songwriting and the new album.
NYMM: This album has some pretty incredible songs. How long has it been in the works?
Tyler: We had a pretty big chunk of songs were in the mix – maybe 18 or 19 songs. We fully recorded all of them.
Ronnie: And there were more that we didn’t even get to. It’s not something that just came up overnight. It’s something that we worked on for a while.
Tyler: It’s tough sometimes to figure out what songs are going to make the cut. There are a lot of songs on the album. There are some that I just wouldn’t let go of, and some Richard wouldn’t let go of.
NYMM: What did you do to make this recording sound different from your previous albums?
Ronnie: We started this one off with an analog mindset and decided we wanted to make it as pure as possible. It was recorded straight to two-inch tape with no computers involved. We followed that thinking to the end in terms of every aspect of the recording. That approach is different from the previous albums, where we’ve done things using more traditional recording methods. This was completely analog.
The other difference with this record is that we didn’t use an outside producer to help or advise us on sounds and arrangements. It was basically just us working together, and Tyler did all the engineering. In that sense, it’s more of a homemade affair.
NYMM: At this point, I take it you’re no strangers to the studio.
Tyler: Yeah, I also record some other bands. We definitely do a lot of writing and working in the studio. We actually started this record with Richard, myself, and Brian [Deck] playing drums.
It started as an entirely different beast. It was going to be a rock band album, where the approach is to rehearse the songs a lot and then go record them. Brian ended up not being able to do it, and we got our friend Kenny involved.
He was interested in going a different direction as well. That’s when we started building it with just acoustic guitars.
Every time you make a record, you learn something. Maybe part of what makes this different from, say, our first record – if you go that far back – is taking on a new mindset about how to keep things moving and not get stuck. I mean, I was working on that earlier record as a 25-year-old, and I’ve made so many more by now.
NYMM: Your sound has changed quite a bit over time.
Tyler: We try to make every album unique from the last. We try to push ourselves as musicians to do new things and experiment. We also play with different musicians. It’s a constant rotating cast of friends who play on these records. That keeps us all in check. We don’t want to get in a rut.
Ronnie: We’re trying to do something a little different from your typical garage rock band.
NYMM: Did that same experimentation with an analog mindset apply to the Tell Me More About Evil film as well?
Ronnie: Yes, we’re all big film buffs, especially Richard, and I work in the film industry in Chicago. So through some connections, we had access to this awesome camera from the late ’60s called an Eclair. Richard did a bunch of research and got a hold of some 16mm film.
We decided to do an alternative interpretation of the album, straight to film. We tied in dream and nightmare sequences with live performances of the songs and also recorded that on analog medium. We didn’t want to mess with it digitally.
NYMM: Tell me a little about how you guys handle songwriting as a band.
Tyler: Richard always starts with the core of the song. He typically writes by himself, mostly in his bedroom or on his porch. He brings the songs to the table, and for the most part they’re fully thought out. After that, it’s up to all of us to work on what kind of instrumentation goes into them and what changes we add.
Ronnie: For this album, we took Richard’s skeleton of a song, and Kenny and I did the sort rhythmic, dueling-guitar thing that runs throughout the record. Our friend Heidi Gluck did some vocals on it. We got into the sound of mellotrons and decided to add that.
There are recurring themes throughout the record that tie it together and make it a whole. Richard had the idea of the songs going into it, and the little arrangement touches were on-the-spot ideas that we came up in the heat of things.
NYMM: Do you guys look back on the older material much?
Tyler: No, we just keep moving. We’re already talking about the next record. When we get done with this tour, we’re probably going to start recording right away.
Due to health-related issues, MNSS had to postpone the West Coast leg of their tour. Healthcare is a constant worry for artists and support is hard to come by. You can help the artists you love by making donations to organizations, such as MusiCares, who assist musicians with affordable healthcare options at www.grammy.org/musicares/donate.
Photos by Jon Karr
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