Pitchfork Music Festival: Shawn Rosenblatt of Netherfriends Interview

    What were you doing the summer after you finished college? I don’t claim to speak for everyone here, but I’m willing to bet that precious few of us spent that time in the same the way as recent college grad and Netherfriends frontman Shawn Rosenblatt. On the heels of their accomplished psych-pop debut LP, Barry and Sherry, Netherfriends is maintaining a rigorous touring schedule and recording a song in each state, and the band nabbed a plum spot opening Saturday at Pitchfork Music Festival. We caught up with Rosenblatt shortly after the band’s set to discuss the evolution of Netherfriends’ sound, the importance of both perpetual motion and stop-motion, and why your band sucks.

    How do you think your set went today? You had a lot of people there.
    Yeah, it was pretty crazy. I kind of had nightmares about playing to five people, and everyone’s like, sitting down. And then I saw Michael Showalter and Eugene Mirman on that stage, and they had such a hard time doing their sets because it was so loud at the other stages. So I was a little worried about that, too, but I thought it went really well. I don’t get nervous when I play shows; I get nervous about silly things.

    You’re in the middle of this one-year, cross-country tour where the goal is to write and record one song in every state. Where are you in the process, and what have you learned about yourself and your songwriting during this time?
    Well, I started three months ago in Philadelphia and did all of the East Coast. I have 22 states down, and I’m going out to Seattle in August and living out there, doing Alaska in September, then winding my way back to the East Coast. It’s really lame to say, but I don’t get writers’ block like a lot of musicians, and I don’t really spend a lot of time recording. I kind of just do it, and that’s it. I can understand why more bands don’t do this, but it’s such a simple process, writing songs and recording them at the same time.


    I recorded the full-length the same sort of way. I did it in 10 days, just wrote and recorded everything at the same time, then went back and edited and mixed everything. It’s been great. And it’s been nice being homeless. I didn’t realize how much I’d like it, not having to worry about paying rent and bills and maintaining a room [and] always staying with new people.

    You say you don’t get writers’ block. Is the song fully realized in your head when you start recording, or do you go in the studio with an idea and see what happens?
    Sometimes I’ll show up at the venue or house or wherever we’re playing with a guitar or keyboard and just write the song before the show. Then the next day, I’ll wake up in the morning and record it. A lot of my friends are really critical of my stuff, but they’re surprisingly impressed by some of the songs. They’re like, “You wrote and recorded this song in one day?” But I’m going to go back and edit them and add some things so it’s not just like keyboard, guitar, vocals and drums. Trying to do that before I leave in August for Seattle.

    Your songs sound intricate. It’s odd to have that sound coming from such a quick recording process.
    All the songs kind of start like singer-songwriter things. I don’t really listen to Wilco, but I guess they do that, too. They’ll write a basic song, go in and delete everything, then add new stuff on top of the vocals, which is a really interesting idea. I’ve always been down with that, really intrigued by that.

    I really like your “Why Your Band Sucks” advice column. Do you see that more as a voice of wisdom for other musicians, or a log of things that you’ve learned through your experience?
    I watched an interview with Jamie Thompson [of Islands and the Unicorns], and the guy was like, “What’s your advice for bands starting out?” and he was like, “Don’t start a band.” Really serious and stern. I don’t ever want to be that cynical when it comes to music. I’m kind of a cynical person in life, but when it comes to music I like to be as nice as possible to everyone. Everyone has a goal in life, and in music especially. But there are so many faux pas when it comes to playing music. Maybe there’s no payoff, and so many bands think there’s some ultimate payoff. It never ends, and as long as you can realize that, you’ve already made it. I hate that expression, but…

    There’s never a finite end to it.
    Yeah, that’s what I say about life and art. There’s really no payoff to anything you do, because you’re always going to strive for more. I don’t want to be that guy who’s racing against the clock to finish this whole thing. You can do all this stuff whenever — but there is going to be a point where you’re going to want to settle down, and I’m aware of that. Right now I don’t want to have a family and don’t see myself having a family, but maybe 10-20 years from now I’m going to. Maybe I will get writer’s block.

    You just now graduated from college.
    Yeah, last May.

    Were you going to school full-time? Was it difficult to try and balance that with being in the band?
    It was, but it wasn’t. I think people make college seem like it’s the hardest thing ever, and you can’t do anything but college. But there are breaks. You have spring break, you have winter break, you have a summer break that’s three months of downtime. It’s unbelievable that bands never tour because they’re in school. But do you go to school on the weekend? No. There are so many things that bands don’t understand. I’ve talked to students…Columbia College has paid me to talk to students about touring. So I’m talking to these kids, and they’re just blown away: “I can tour while I’m in school?” It’s like, really, you didn’t know you could do that?

    I wanted to talk a little about your other project; you’re also making one stop-motion video a day for a month. You’ve got the 50-states project, and then this. Is this serial-type creation something you respond to artistically, or is it just a good way to force yourself to adhere to a schedule when it comes to creating things?
    I needed to do something before I left on the 50-state thing. I had a new lineup in Philly, and I needed to condition myself toward this idea of doing something every day. Writing and recording a song every day — it’s a huge, daunting task. My friend [had just] showed me how to do stop motion on a normal camera; it’s a time-lapse setting that no one really knows about. I just liked the aesthetic; it’s really cool. My friend Thomas works at Biz 3 and was doing promotion for a series of stop-motion DVDs, and he showed me this video and said, “We should do something like that every day.” Each of us would do one and start posting them on our blogs, and then we’d start incorporating each other’s. We did one stop motion with our friends where we’re all sitting on the couch, and we did two different angles of the same stop motion. People would slowly start sliding through the floor, and everyone’s hat was changing and moving across. It was really fun.

    How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist from the Calling You Out EP to Barry and Sherry? You seem like you really pride yourself on moving forward and always evolving and changing as an artist. What’s next on the horizon for you?
    Well, I’m going to try and find a new label to put out these songs. I don’t want to be that band that’s sitting on something. I know when you get into working with labels you’re going to be [doing that]. Music should be free now anyway, so I don’t want to sit on stuff, and I want to do as much as possible. I don’t want to be that band that sits back and waits for things to happen. Which is kind of what the industry does, I guess.

    Well, and the students you were talking to, too. It’s not going to happen if you don’t get out there and work.
    Yeah, you have to stay busy. There are so many different outlets, and so many bands rely on the Internet. The Internet’s a great tool, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of music. Press is one thing, and going on the road, and making sure that you get written up in the daily paper. Creating name recognition. I think it’s just about staying as busy as possible and meeting people. I didn’t learn anything about how to book shows from the music department [at college]. I think I learned more about playing in a band outside of college than I did in college. It’s nice to know how I write things, but it’s also nice to learn outside things that will help me in the future.

    Artistically, do you anticipate a change coming?
    It’s always changing. I don’t have a steady lineup; that’d be nice to settle. But I almost like it that way. I hate relying on other people and expecting them to do certain things for me. I just want to do everything myself. What I want to write is going to change, hopefully — I don’t want to be tied down to the same thing. I think a lot of people who heard the two albums think there’s a huge difference. So I’m hoping the next album will sound even fuller and larger, although I don’t know that I’ll ever be in a studio unless someone’s paying for it.

    That’s tough to do, just financing it on your own.
    Exactly! Especially if everyone’s illegally downloading it anyway!