I might as well say it right in the beginning. I think Anathallo are better than Arcade Fire. Don't get me wrong- I'm not saying this to take away from any of Arcade Fire's greatness. Seeing them play last year was an extraordinary experience... It's just that seeing Anathallo play was an even more extraordinary experience. The similarities between the two are in the large number of members each band has, and also in their tendencies to shout as a group and use all sorts of extra pieces of percussion. I remember mentioning this to Andrew after the first time I saw them play. His response- "Oh yeahh, someone was telling me about them." You see, the band he's in was too busy touring their asses off (18 national tours to date!) to even know what the indie kids were buzzing about.
Anathallo are currently 8 members strong, and the action on stage does get quite bustling with most members handling multi-instrumental duties to play the imaginative and complex arrangements of their songs. Anathallo's melodies are as beautiful as they are unpredictable, and they are driven by an infectious sense of propulsion. You may find yourself wanting to stomp your feet and clap along with them. Don't worry- you won't be the only one. It's hard to classify them as rock, and "orchestral" doesn't really do them justice either. Maybe "symphonic" would be a better term- as in the Beethoven's Fifth kind. I mean come on, Beethoven's Fifth rocks, right?
Singer, guitarist, pianist Matt Joynt was kind enough to answer all my questions...
What does the name Anathallo mean?
It’s a Greek word, which means ‘To renew, cause to grow, or bloom again’.
There are so many of you- I feel awful for not knowing all your names- would you mind introducing each member of the band and what they play?
Sure, no problem, here’s the current touring band:
Bret Wallin – trombone, bells, drums, piano
Andrew Dost – flugelhorn, piano, drums, bells, vocals
Jeremiah Johnson – percussion
Seth Walker – bass
Daniel Bracken – guitar, computer manipulated sounds
Erica Froman – vocals, percussion, clarinet
Greg Leppert – trumpet, bells, drums
Matt Joynt – guitar, piano, vocals
How did you guys all find each other?
Some of us went to high school together in Michigan, and played together in a couple other bands. It’s really strange how we all found one another. The original line up came completely out of high school friendships, but as we transitioned into college, some people became interested in other things that were fairly time consuming and couldn’t commit to playing shows, practicing, writing music together, etc. Andrew was attending Central Michigan University, where the majority of us went to college (in our home town, Mt. Pleasant, MI). He came to one of our shows, and lived near some of the guys in the band. When our flugelhorn player left, he seemed like a natural fit both musically and interpersonally. He shared some of the same inclinations as the rest of us, in term of how and why we wanted (want?) to create, both conceptually and aesthetically. Greg and Jeremiah are friends that we met while touring. Greg played in another extraordinary band called Foxhole around the Louisville area. When Nate, our former Trombone player, decided that he couldn’t be on the road any longer, Greg seemed like an interesting addition. He and Nate have very different gifts and playing styles. We convinced him to take an extended pit stop in Michigan, before moving to NYC for his work with Lets Be Quiet Design. I have always really respected his work in visual arts. He has a really frank and articulate way of expressing his ideas. We kidnapped Jeremiah from Atlanta, Georgia after playing with his former band, Since Yesterday, a few times. Everyone in the group found his playing style very unique, and clean. I can remember us discussing his band at length, and how much we liked their songs. It was progressive, but without the wankery breakdowns. We’ve been through a few members over the last six years.
VIDEO: Anathallo performing "Bruised Reed" in New York City, March 5, 2005
What’s your hometown Mt. Pleasant, Michigan like?
It’s a small city, right in the center of Michigan. The old joke is that it’s neither a mount, nor pleasant. Personally, I’m pretty fond of the town. There’s nothing to do but drink or gamble on the local Indian reservation, but I sort of enjoy the vacancy. Fun requires imagination. I have great memories of fabricated holidays, such as ‘Nature Day’ and ‘Adventure Day’, which consisted of ridiculous antics like violent homemade raft races down the Chippewa River, sneaking into an abandon water park, using roller skates to ride down the slides, jumping off Hupshire’s Bridge into freezing cold water in the middle of the night near a gravel pit. There is a great sense of community among our friends. It’s a true gift to be in the midst of such a great group of people,… their hearts are huge. Over holidays we all still get together and laugh the night away. There is a deep appreciation.
A lot of the pieces I’ve seen written about you mention, “marching bands” and at least a few of you seem like you might have had formal musical training. What’s the musical background of the members of Anathallo?
Yeah, haha. Recently we were talking about choreographing field formations for our music. Actually, a few of the members were in Marching band in high school, but more than half of the people in Anathallo are “folk musicians” in the sense that we can’t read music very well, and, for the most part, are self-taught. We all grew up in very different spheres of influence. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but for the most part, the dynamic of having both trained and untrained players is very fascinating.
What artists do you consider as being Anathallo’s main musical influences?
As a group, there aren’t too many bands that we all like. Nate is the most fluent classical and jazz listener. Some of us grew up at folk festivals, listening to traditional Irish music,.. The Beach Boys are in there somewhere, old pop music, musical theater,… it’s so specific to each player. Lately I’ve been learning a lot about the nuances for vocal performance by listening to primarily female artists, Gillian Welch, Laura Viers, Jolie Holland, Regina Spektor, Over the Rhine, Ida, Billy Holiday and Joanna Newsom. Of course, since there are so many of us, we are drawn to groups of our size, and are interested in highly textured sound. The Books are also very popular within our band, along with Aloha. I think we’re influenced by our friends quite a bit as well. There are a few Michigan bands that we really love, and are influenced by immensely, mainly Those Transatlantics, Bunkbed Nights, and Javelins.
What’s the songwriting process like for Anathallo? I imagine it could be very difficult given the number of members and different instruments.
Sometimes it is very difficult. Sometimes it’s a couple months before a song comes together. We’re all still learning how to work together (six years and counting!). It all depends on how the song begins to take form. There isn’t a principle writer or anything. We work best as a collective. Sometimes we begin with a concept that we want to approach, then we move from there to, “How should we do this?” or “What kind of sounds/chords/textures would work well here?” Then someone says, “Lets pop a lot of balloons,” (laughter)… “What? Seriously,… why not?” Then we all start working on it.
On your website, it says that you’ve done 12 national tours in 3 years. I guess the band is what you guys all do full-time now. What was it like making that leap?
We just recently started doing this full time. The first 12 tours were while we were finishing college. Since then, I think we’ve done 6 more. It was nice to look forward to a tour over Spring Break, Christmas Break, traveling around in a van with your friends during the Summer, between semesters. It’s a little weird dealing with the business of music, and music as a lifestyle. I’m not sure that I ever thought we would have to do that,… We’re still kind of surprised that people are interested in what we are doing. It’s scary and exciting. It’s weird when your hobby slowly consumes your life. We’re still learning how to create balance. Balance is so important. I think the whole thing could become very self-consumed if there isn’t a sense of “otherness” to our collective and independent existence.
You must have tons of stories from the road by now. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever encountered in your travels?
Well, there are so many funny stories. On our first tour, we were scrapping for shows, and wound up in a town called Sikeston, MO. The show was at this place called Dirty Bearings. It’s the only time we’ve ever played at a skate park. After eating Chinese food in an old drive through bank, and being informed that the show would take place in the middle of the 12 foot half pipe, we thought we’d seen it all. But alas, there was more,… much more. During our set, a guy named Matt told us that if we kept “Rockin’ so hard” that we would get a “Surprise.” (Side note: Sikeston is the meth capital of the world. MTV did a special report on Sikeston High School’s insane drug problems.) So, a few more songs into the set, a look of horror (and laughter) spread throughout the crowd as they pointed to the top of the half pipe. We looked just in time to see our new friend Matt exposing himself,… bouncing along to the rhythm of the song (which, I should note, was in a sort of complex time signature). Being small town folks, we were slightly dismayed, but continued on with our music as if nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
Danny told me that sometimes you guys spend the night in hospital parking lots because it’s a well-lit, safe place. Have you ever had a truly frightening experience when you couldn’t find a good place to stay?
Well,… there was the Peace Pit in Pittsburgh,… that was a little scary. Grindcore at 5 in the morning, pizza boxes covering holes in the walls. Good times. Bret’s life has been threatened a few times. One time a guy pulled two knives on him in a Richmond, VA alley. Then some kids in Nashville tried to stone him. We still aren’t sure exactly what makes him the primary target for unprovoked assault.
I heard your new record Floating World is coming out in early 2006. Congratulations- I’ve been anticipating this for a while- I really love the songs that I’ve heard live so far! What was it like recording this album?
Thanks a lot. That’s really kind of you. It was a little difficult, because, none of us had done any serious recording projects on our own, and we weren’t exactly sure how to use a lot of the equipment. It was really great, but also taxing. It was nice to be able to work at our own pace, but we also ended up spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to mic things. It was strange trying to figure out how to record songs in mixed meter as well. Overall, it was really fun, and we learned a lot about the recording process.
My last question- my friends and I are all obsessed with food. What do you guys like to eat on the road? Got any outstanding food recommendations in the places you’ve visited?
We usually go to the grocery store and get stuff to make sandwiches. It’s really nice to have a little picnic in the middle of the day. We like to make food! You know, actually, I really liked the Peanut butter, honey, and banana on wheat that I bought at the Pink Pony on the LES Manhattan. Their coffee is really great too. Good creamer.