Silversun Pickups roll into Mondavi Center

By From page A7 | September 06, 2012

Alternative rock band Silversun Pickups is on a nationwide tour in support of its epic third album, “Neck of the Woods.” The band makes a stop in our neck of the woods at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis.

From the suburban home on the cover, to songs of childhood games, “Neck of the Woods” has a familial vibe to it; particularly, a family growing up.

“We had growing pains making this record,” drummer Christopher Guanlao said in a recent phone interview. “It was such a different experience from our last. The drummer is usually the first to start and finish, then kind of gets pushed aside. This time, we were all recording together every day. We had this camaraderie and we’re a better band now.”

Part of growing was the decision to use a new producer — famed Irish producer Jacknife Lee, of U2 and R.E.M. fame.

“If it wasn’t for Jacknife, we would have stayed in our safe zone,” Guanlao admitted. “We didn’t want to make a record people would assume we’d make.”

So they chose not to use Dave Cooley, producer of “Carnavas” and “Swoon.”

“He understood and was supportive. We said, it’s not you, it’s us!” Guanlao said. “But this is just one record. We don’t know who our next will be with.”

The band went into the studio in Topanga Canyon with 13 songs and worked on the album for six months.

“The first day we met with Jacknife, he tore our song ‘Skin Graph’ apart. Seventy percent of it was gone. At first we thought, wait a minute, did we make the right choice? Why is he destroying our work?” Guanlao laughed. “But we got over it quickly. He was doing something different and it worked. Once we knew none of the songs were set in stone we started jelling.”

The band learned that sometimes less is more.

“He simplified a lot of our arrangements. If you let us do our own thing, we’ll have 10 parts and changes on one song,” Guanlao said. “He was more about taking away than adding.”

For example, on the single “Bloody Mary,” the chorus was originally just the pre-chorus. “He told us we didn’t need it. At first we were in shock. That’s the chorus, how do you take it out?”

The band had to trust him.

“The producer doesn’t want to mess it up,” Guanlao said. “They’re not always right. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But if it does, awesome.”

Thankfully, it did work. The new album is more straightforward, with a fuller sound but with the same emotional punch Silversun Pickups is known for.

Rather than have complicated song structures, Guanlao said, “the melody and sound layers were the complicated parts of the song.”

On previous records, Guanlao stuck to his drum kit. “I never messed around with too many things. This time I was using shakers, cymbals, hitting rusted pots and pans. Anything that sounded cool, we’d put it in there. We had the time to experiment with different sounds.”

Was it difficult translating the songs live?

“It was. Because I was adding percussion here and there during the recording, I’d need eight arms to do it live,” he said. “It was tricky trying to consolidate it all on one drum kit. It was either we leave things out or bring in three drummers.”

The band decided to simplify: “We want it to be organic live.”

Silversun Pickups has come a long way, from a small L.A. band to one of the biggest alt-rock acts on the scene. Back in 2006, before they hit it big with “Lazy Eye,” the band came through the Central Valley and played a show at Harlow’s in Sacramento.

“I remember that show. We love that place!” Guanlao said. “We tried to go back there. We hadn’t played in almost a year and we wanted to play some small warm-up shows. We were talking about going back to Harlow’s. It’s fun to play with people five feet in front of you.”

Luckily for Davis, Silversun Pickups has grown into a high-profile act, big enough to fill the Mondavi Center. The band isn’t complaining.

“We’ll play a small club with 200 people or a festival. We just love to play,” Guanlao said.

Atlas Genius and School of Seven Bells will open the show. Tickets are $32.50 and are available at www.mondaviarts.org or (530) 754-2787.

Landon Christensen

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