Luna Kafé e-zine  Luna Kafé interview
coverpic flag US - New York - Full Moon 119 - 06/11/06

The States
Previn Warren and Joe Stroll A the Qs

Schism in the Nation...izzle

When scanning Myspace Music Nation for a Next Next Big Thing, you will most certainly come accross space-y art punks, The States. Their latest record, 2005's Multiply Not Divide, was described by the Harvard Crimson as "Jimmy Page and Thom Yorke pitted against each other in a Mexican wrestling match, and David Bowie was the referee". A cliche, but high praise for an up and coming Brooklyn act that mashes gross amounts of astrological experimentation with romantic social commentary that strikes a literary rock target between post-punk Mark Twain and progressive Rousseau-rock. Question is: what does it actually feel like to be in the semi-awkward limbo between local band status and mainstream success with such a catchy sound? Previn Warren and Joe Stroll bassist and drummer respectively, and approximately 66.66666% of The States answers these questions and more...

LK: What band has a critic or journalist compared you to that kind of made you scratch your head?

Previn: "It's weird; we actually get a lot of comparisons to bands I've never spent a lot of time listening to. That list would include My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, and Echo and the Bunnymen. From what I know of those bands they're all great, it's just that I've never really sat down to absorb their catalogs. Oh, also, someone once mentioned Audioslave, which I thought was kind of funny. I've always been a big admirer of Tim Commerford's bass playing, so I guess I'll take it as a compliment...?"

Joe: "Mostly every time someone describes, or gives their opinion of us, my reaction is generally ABUUUUUUH?!?!?! Its really interesting what everyone outside of our little circle hears and walks away with."

"Some reviewers have a tendency to give either vague descriptions of what they hear, (bands do this too i.e.: emotive guitars what the hell does that mean?) or immediately search in their 5 band catalogue and compare the band to one or two of them (i.e.: The Beatles covering Led Zeppelin) When we do our thing we just try to keep up the patented States sound, and make music that we want to hear, and what we think would surprise our fans. One reviewer however said that we sounded like The Fine Young Cannibals. I have no idea how he got to that conclusion, or if his Walkman is broken and that is the only tape that he can listen to as a result. He really drives me crazy get it?"

LK: What are some albums that had a big influence on you that you'd be embarassed to mention?

Previn: "The extent to which I'm a John Frusciante fan is probably pretty embarrassing. I've absorbed just about every note that man has ever played, whether solo or with the Chili Peppers, even/especially his crazy, whacked-out heroin-overdose albums where he spends half the time screaming like a satanic goat. People hate that stuff but I've always thought there's some kind of cracked genius beneath the very-difficult-to-listen-to surface."

"As far as actually embarrassing stuff; well, I grew up listening to a LOT of hard rock, and sometimes that included some bands that don't exactly get the critics raving...Buckcherry being one example, Third Eye Blind being another. Frankly, Stone Temple Pilots also goes in that list; critics have always seemed to trash them even though I think they were one of the best bands of their generation."

"And...well, I still love thrash metal, and I always well. Anthrax, old school Megadeth, you name it. Sure it was never a very mature art form, but it kicked ass, and isn't that what rock and roll is all about anyway?"

Joe: "Ha ha ha ha ha. Before I had rent and band financial obligations, I used to go into tower records and buy two albums every week. One of the albums would be stuff that I had been researching and wanted to hear/learn, I discovered a lot of my jazz favorites this way (Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, etc). But I would also buy crap that had sneaked into my brain via my little sister watching MTV after she got home from school. It would never be a full album. I swear. But I will say that I own the Dave Grohl remix of its all about the Benjamins baby. This is ok however, because Dave is a Christ-like figure to me. I am not embarrassed to own it because the statue of him that I own was crying in my back yard, and I was compelled to purchase it."

LK: Like a lot of bands out there - you're mentioning a lot of classic rock as having an influence - Zeppelin, Floyd, Thin Lizzy - as well as a considerable amount of modern contemporaries (Radiohead, Jeff Buckley). What's your reaction to a lot of industry insiders calling the latest explosion in sales of Floyd, Zeppelin and Beatles attire and records as a trend?

Previn: "I'm surprised to hear that's even happening, actually, and I'm pretty encouraged if it's true. I think a lot of the best rock music ever was created in that crucible period between 1966-1972. It always struck me as such a time of experimentation, when people thought anything was possible and didn't honor the traditional limits of what was supposed to just be mere "pop music." Who wouldn't want to study and appreciate those bands? I don't see why artists would want to ignore the heritage that makes them possible. But to be honest, I thought the uber-trendy older-generation bands of the moment are all early-80s, like The Smiths and Joy Division and The Cure. At least in Brooklyn, it's tough to go 5 minutes without seeing someone walk by with one of their shirts on."

Joe: "Well, I dont think its necessarily a trend as much as a reaction to the fact that music is in such a sad state now. Instead of there being any kind of interesting mainstream music (there are a few exceptions) everything is power-chorded mascara rock. Its like candy. Easy to digest, immediately tastes good to you, and if you eat enough of it your poop turns colors. The modern listener is not given much of a choice anymore. Everything is really produced and packaged. Its almost like the lunch box comes out the same day that the record is released. This really and truly makes me sad. As a result, I think people are getting smart and looking for alternatives. Classic rock is amazing."

LK: On the modern ball park - what are some albums from this decade that you've really liked?

Previn: "This is a strange list. John Mayer Trio's Try John Mayer Trio Live; John Frusciate's Shadows Collide with People and The Will to Death; RHCP's By the Way; Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf; Pearl Jam's Binaural; The Darkness' Permission to Land; Dillinger Escape Plan's Irony is a Dead Scene; The Strokes' First Impressions of Earth; Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People; Coldplay's Parachutes; Beck's Sea Change; System of a Down's Toxicity."

Joe: "I really like both of the Mars Volta records, the Desoto bands Shiner and The Life and Times, Everything Aloha has ever done, and Fiona Apples new record rules. But mostly friends bands, like Little Yellow Box, Encrypt Manuscript, Con Amore, Age of Rockets, and The Minus Scale. Everyone should own stuff by these guys."

LK: You mention on your myspace Barack Obama as aspiring you to "animated Diversion" and Beyonce Knowles to "political courage"... explain?

Joe: "I'm going to let Previn explain that to you, but I will tell you this. There is a certain poster of a fabulous girl R&B group hanging in his room."

Previn: "Well, it's kind of a joke... all three of those were supposed to go together, but they're mixed up. Meatwad is the actual animated diversion, Barack Obama is the actual political courage, Beyonce is the...what was she again?"

LK: What music did your parents or relatives impress on you growing up?

Previn: "Lots of South Indian Carnatic music. It's a very different tradition that emphasizes the fluidity of melodic lines rather than traditional Western harmony. It's the root cause of why I wound up playing bass like a lead guitarist, so I have only them to blame."

Joe: "My parents were rock parents when I was growing up and had a huge impact on my musical tastes. My dad used to play guitar in a band called The J Stroll Band with his brother on drums. This was hugely influential on me because I always had a guitar around and a variety of music playing in the house and car. They had a huge impact on my musical tastes. For example, my mom actually got me into ZZ Top, and my dad plugged Van Halen into my head from really early on. Both bands are still staples in my life today."

LK: Your new record is called Multiply not Divide? Does this have any thing to do with the current state of the nation? IF SO: Are u suggesting a philosophy of sexual excapades in lieu of red state/blue state bickering? IF SO: Does this philosophy differ from the Woodstock-era "Make Love not War" idea?

Previn: "It is definitely a political statement, though also a personal one. It isn't so much about fornication/promiscuity as it is the idea that we need to multiply our options and our possibilities, politicall speaking, rather than allow this country to go down the road it's going down -- dividing ourselves from each other - which does mean red state blue state bickering, but also the larger processes of class warfare and racism that are such elemental problems in our country."

Joe: "I'm going to say yes to everything. The bands moniker is Multiply NOT Divide for a variety of reasons. It stands for our position of unification instead of partisan politics in every facet of your life; whether it is this ridiculous red state/blue state fight, or peoples' stance on religion, or caring about how to pay off this trillion dollar deficit that we have given our grandchildren. Democrat or Republican, we believe that we need to work together to thrive as a society. This shouldn't just apply to the U.S. but to everywhere and everyone. There are so many things that we as a nation get caught up in and at the end of the day, we ignore the issues that should mean something. For example: personally I could care less about Paris Hilton. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I think she is an evil and selfish human being simply based on her indifference towards other people. I use her as an example because; America wants to turn to her TV show every week and watch her walk all over other human beings and act like the slow kid at Chernobyl. There are people starving, unemployed, and homeless. We being lied to daily by our media resources, and are being ruled by a group of thieves. Women's rights are being eroded and drug laws are blatantly racist. The list of things that I think are important to focus on goes on, but the bottom line is this: if people spent the amount of time that they spent caring about Katie Holmes pregnancy, and instead cared about helping each other out and getting things done; holding those who hurt us accountable, and just start talking without resorting to violence, the world would be a better place. I think."

LK: What is progressive rock? And are you it?

Previn: "Progressive rock is two unrelated things that have sadly always been thrown together, though I never understood why. One is a love of complex structures and arrangements - shifting time signatures, key changes, and rhythmic patterns - that is derived both from jazz and from classical music. The other is a very bizarre, juvenile obsession with Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek, and Tolkien. For some reason "prog rock" bands like King Crimson, Yes, Dream Theater, even Coheed, always wind up being both. I guess to the extent that we're prog it's the first half - we are interested in pushing ourselves melodically and harmonically - but it will never be the latter. There's too much contemporary crisis in our world for us to focus on Nordic fantasy in our lyrics."

Joe: "Progressive rock is any rock that doesn't adhere to any formula (ex: verse, chorus, verse) or time length. I would like to think that we fall underneath this blanket in some form. Mostly because I love Prog and that would be sweet."

LK: What is punk rock? Are you it? And what's the difference (no one else seems to know)?

Previn: "Punk rock is a spirit, an ethos. It has nothing to do with the style of music you play. You can be one guy with an acoustic guitar and a microphone and be the most punk rock guy in the world. It doesn't require power chords and a Marshall stack and it certainly doesn't require safety pins and buttons on a leather jacket. The States are politically engaged and concerned with changing the world. We are most certainly a punk rock band."

Joe: "Punk rock is similar to prog rock in that it follows these guidelines. But generally punk to me has a more political lyrical guideline and is a reflection of social rebellion or unrest. I feel like we are this too."

LK: If emo nazis started a regime and forced you into concentration camps in which the music was impressed on to you (a situation not too far from today's music scene) which emo band would you not mind being held at gun point to listen to, if any?

Previn: "This is hard because it's such an unfortunate get-up. I'll cop out and refer you to our very good friends The Minus Scale, who are probably still classified as "emo" despite writing music that totally elevates them out of the genre."

Joe: "Yellowcard. I think there drummer is badass. But if I were forced, I would ask for the trigger to be pulled I think."

LK: You see a lot of bands get beleaguered with criticism from press and fans a like when they're songs reach heavy rotation on the radio or MTV (from Fall Out Boy to the Strokes to Death Cab). In a time like this, do you see the possibility of heavy mainstream success as a kiss of death? How comfortable are you with the success as a successful underground act?

Previn: "Nah, forget it. Selling out has nothing to do with selling a lot of records and everything to do with how you manage yourself as a band and an entity. If you start writing crappy pop songs and saying stupid things, you've sold out, whether or not your sales go through the roof or sink your career. If you're still writing from the heart about things you care about, then you deserve nothing more than to become popular for doing what you love."

Joe: "That's stupid (not your question but the principal). People should want to see their favorite bands succeed. There is no reason an artist should not be able to eat and live from the art that they are creating. Selling out is going to happen to anyone that sells their cds for money just on a very capitalist level. There are degrees of success that are completely acceptable like this one. But the whole NSYNC dolls and the Git-R- Done thing needs to stop. That's just evil marketing. You are buying a product not a piece of art at that level."

LK: As an underground act, what's the most rock star moment(s) you've had yet?

Previn: "Driving 27 straight hours from Brooklyn to Austin, TX to play South by Southwest... and arriving at the club 10 minutes before stage time. Then turning around and driving 27 hours back. Hey man - you're not hardcore unless you live hardcore."

Joe: "Um... One time I ran between two subway stops on the tracks... I'm not joking."

Copyright © 2006 Matthew DeMello e-mail address

© 2011 Luna Kafé