Traversing the states in support of Albatross, the Standard’s third full-length and second for Yep Roc, singer and guitarist Tim Putnam talks with Prefix about enlightened hermits, big birds and why he feels we’re living through one of the most fascinating times in human history.
Albatross is a title rife with suggestion. To what or whom does it refer?
It’s a loaded title for sure. There’s not really a direct correlation to anything. The element of weight and guilt, atonement, wearing [your] grief around your neck – it seems like a symbolic act, a righteous act, but also a little self-involved. Or it’s just a cool word for a big bird and we ran with it. Probably a bit of both.
The Standard’s sound is culled from multiple genres. How did it come about?
Our band is very open while writing. “Hills Above” is a good example on the new record. I came up with a simple idea on guitar, the basic melody and lyrics, but it’s now a much different song, a better song. None of us has ever been very internally precious about what we write and how each member may change it. That has possibly been the single most important aspect of our sound as a band, and why it may sound like there are many different influences in [our music].
Are there any specific influences at work?
Trying to emulate other music has never been the motivating factor for us. I think we are always trying to do something that we feel is relevant in direct relation to our lives and what we see around us. I believe we live in one of the most amazing times in human history, and the vast majority of music I hear doesn’t reflect that. It seems like escapism. None of us want our band to fall into that.
Do you recognize a need for escapism? Or that escapism is a necessary part of a more complex whole?
I don’t have a problem with escapist music as long as it doesn’t try to be anything but that. It is annoying when I hear the majority of what makes radio or TV, which dresses up in the guise of relevancy. For my tastes, “indie” music as of late is no better. It’s boring and contrived. I don’t necessarily feel that artists have a duty to chase a higher calling, but it sure would be nice if they had a bit of taste.
Talk a little more about “living in one of the most amazing times in human history.”
Socially, we are so connected through technology and information that distance has become an almost negligible aspect of communication. Someone could spend a lifetime in their home and be more or less equally as informed as anyone else. Maybe this is really the age of the enlightened hermit. I find myself in a constant state of awe with our world and the people in it. For me, it is both terrifying and thrilling to be alive today.
The cover art for Albatross is striking, as is the art for Wire Post to Wire [released by Yep Roc in 2004]. What’s your process in finding the right art?
We are very particular about the art we use, or I should say the artists we use. For Wire Post to Wire we commissioned our friend Robert Nelson to paint two images for the cover and the inside. For Albatross our good friend Tyler Stout made the cover.
We approach the artwork very similar to how we do our music. We find someone we trust and respect, give them our music, and let them create without trying to control the result. We give ideas but let them make what they will. As of yet, we have always been surprised and exceedingly pleased with the results.
Do you write specifically for the Standard or is there a solo album sitting in notebooks somewhere?
I actually spent quite a bit of time up in Seattle just after finishing Albatross with [a good friend] recording a number of songs that I had written that weren’t for the Standard. It was something I had wanted to do for a while, and I’m very excited about it. We plan on finishing it sometime next year.
Everyone in the band has that extracurricular life, right?
All the guys in the band have side projects. Jay [Clarke, keyboardist] did a soundtrack to a film this summer and plays in a few other bands. Rob O. [Oberdorfer, bass] is in another band with our touring guitarist Ritchie Young called Loch Lomond, and he also runs his studio. We feel it is a very healthy for us and keeps things moving.
The Standard seems to be a silo on the landscape. Not fitting neatly into any genre or movement, have you ever felt that?
I think it is fair to say that [as a band] we have felt like a silo at times, which has been both a good and bad thing for us. Bad financially. Good creatively.
Let’s talk about art versus commerce. Which is winning?
Commerce is winning.
Is it that the focus is not making good music but getting music heard? That the battlefront has shifted from artistry and expression to marketing?
It makes me really sad to think that it has come to doing things like putting a song on The OC or in a Gap commercial to have a career. I guess if that is what you need to do to be a band, then we won’t be a band. Maybe it’s okay for other bands, which is great for them, but it would ruin us. It would ruin me to hear my voice used that way. Doing what you loathe in order to do what you love does not make sense.
There are a lot of good bands that are falling by the wayside due to a lack of support. For the most part, magazines don’t write about what they feel won’t readily sell magazines. Radio stations don’t play what they feel won’t sell ad space. It is a vicious circle, and very few people champion anything outside of the norm. Any working band will say the same thing. The CMJ music festival is a good example of this mentality at work: Invite 1,000 interesting bands from around the country to play and write about the ten most well-known. What good does that do?
Do you feel that complicated statements suffer in the current state of the recording industry?
Sure. I hope the record industry eats it. It’s a joke. They complain about lack of sales due to online theft. Fuck that. Put out some interesting music. It can all burn for all I care. Maybe something good will rise out of the ashes.