For a band, leaving the city you once hailed from can be tough. Miles and scenes can vanish fast, and starting over in a new city with fewer friends to support your gigs can be a scary proposition. Luckily for Letting Up Despite Great Faults, this is less then a problem. The heartfelt dream-pop group, led by primary songwriter and guitarist Michael Lee, recently packed up shop in their home of L.A. and moved out to Austin, TX, a scene (as most scenes tend to be) which stands as both renown and worthy of criticism, as Preston Maddox of Austin shoegaze act Bloody Knives recently explained in a feature.
For LUDGF, the move has been a charitable one, the current four-piece, made up of Lee, bassist Kent Zambrana, backup vocalist and keyboardist Annah Fisette and drummer Daniel Schmidt, have a lovely new record Untogether set for release October 9th with the first single Visions getting steady play and nods from some high-profile sources. We were lucky enough to recently sit down with Lee to talk about what's been happening in their watercolored world lately.
Your music recalls a lot of influences; there's some hazy 80's pop in there, but also a lot of what sounds like 90's indie-pop and you've mentioned the Japanese electronic group Color Filter as an influence before. When did Letting Up begin as a project, and when you set out to find the sound for this band, what types of music, pop or otherwise, inspired you?
I started writing for the project around '05 and released our first EP Movement in '06. The "Great Faults" are self-deprecating, pointing to all my faults as a musician, but the entire name serves as a reminder to myself to let up on any fears I have of releasing songs I make. It's all just stuff I like. I actually set things out to be more of an instrumental electronic project but my love for indiepop melodies and guitars really wanted to come through.
From Paper Crush EP on (arguably earlier) you guys have stood apart from the recent crop of dream-pop bands by making music that's well, actually danceable, "Numbered Days" off the new record being a great example. Was this a conscious effort or did the upbeat tempos just come naturally?
It's definitely more conscious than not - I love listening to upbeat songs, maybe it's because I grew up in LA and had to drive so much. If a song is too slow or drone-y I can get pretty damn sleepy while driving. But also as a live band I love it when we can get people to dance while we simultaneously rock out.
Most of the band recently relocated from Los Angeles to Austin, TX; why the move? Did you finally get sick of L.A.?
I still love LA and most of my close friends and family are still there. I also love the music scene there. It wasn't at all about leaving LA, it was about doing something new and gaining fresh experiences. These days I don't think a band needs to be from any one place which can be liberating but also being in a new city is always great for writing.
On the subject of Austin, back in March, I caught one of your sets at SXSW; I remember one of your members ran off the stage into the street and started serenading people, which was pretty much a highlight of my day. Any good/painful SXSW stories under your belt at this point? Do you think the festival serves a purpose for music or is it just a bunch of bands and bloggers in a group wank?
That was most definitely Kent. Sometimes I catch myself watching him as well when we're playing just because he's so much fun to watch. Every SX experience we've had has been great and really rewarding. I hear amazing stories of when SX just started and how "corporate" it's becoming, but I think these days you can still make SX what you want it to. Sure the lines are longer and the party you're going to is probably sponsored by Taco Bell but you still get to see Miike Snow or Girls in a pretty intimate setting.
Your new album Untogether comes out soon, can you tell us about how these songs were recorded?
Most everything was done in my home studio, but got our buddy Matt Salas to help us record live drums. Alot of guitars actually get tracked as I write, I try to use as many of the scratch guitar and bass tracks as I can just to have that initial sensation I get when writing a new song.
What non-musical things (books, films, other art) have recently inspired your work?
Girls. I think that's the right answer.
Who are some of your loved contemporaries in the music sphere these days?
So many, it is a bless and curse to be able to make/record music so easily, but it really results in this influx of great music. Everything Captured Tracks is putting out is great and Italians Do It Better is finally get more recognition with the success of Chromatics/Glass Candy. Of course we all love Mike at Slumberland - I still can't stop listening to the new Frankie Rose and I need to get my hands on the recent reissues of all the Acid House Kings on vinyl.
If you could get anyone right now to collaborate on a song, who would it be with?
I've been talking with Arne Ven Petegem (Styrofoam) and he might help produce a few songs off our next album which I'm really excited about. But I'd piss my pants twice over if I got to work with Markus Archer (Notwist/Lali Puna).
What bands/people in music or otherwise do you wish to start beef with? (although dream-pop band beef sounds really odd now that I think about it... haha
Obviously Odd Future.
Finally, best piece of dating advice for the young?
Be innocent for as long as you can.
"Visions" is the first single from Untogether, which drops October 9.