When the Wrens released Secaucus, in 1996, contemporaries like Pavement and Built to Spill were still in their prime–and if you were some kid from the suburbs, you needed a cool older brother or a SPIN subscription to even know they existed. By the time they followed that up with The Meadowlands, in 2003, Pavement had broken up, Built to Spill had lost its touch, and seemingly thousands of online outlets had sprung up to tell suburban kids exactly what they should be listening to. And that year, they were all saying the exact same thing: Listen to the Meadowlands. Now.
That album saw the Wrens transform from hook-a-minute indie-pop-punks into something a whole lot more solemn. It’s been eight years since that release, and since then we’ve heard absolutely nothing from The Wrens. Which is fine–these are regular guys, with regular jobs, and if they can find the time to make a record as great as The Meadowlands every decade or so, that’s cool.
Well, the time has seemingly come. Last summer they announced that they’d be calling their next album Funeral (more on that in a moment), and that we should expect it soon. We recently spoke with Charles Bissell about the upcoming album, the state of the blogosphere, and what would happen if this upcoming record made them superstars.
The Meadowlands was released into a musical world that bears very little relation to the one we’re in now. Have you kept up with the last near-decade of online developments?
I was really staying on top of it for a while, but I’ve definitely slowed down since we had our first youngin’ a couple of years ago. I hear most of the major stuff that goes on, and we’re on Facebook and Twitter, the usual crap. I think there was a period where I found it really interesting how quickly it was moving. It’s just so weird, how much quicker things move from the time your eighteen to twenty-four, or twelve to twenty, or certainly thirty to forty. In one sense it feels like The Meadowlands only came out like a year or two ago, ridiculous as that probably sounds, yet at the same time it came out like two months after iTunes. When you say that, suddenly it’s like “It came out with the fucking cotton gin,” you know? It just sounds obscenely old.
When you finished recording the Meadlowlands, did you think it would take this long to get another release out?
After the Meadlowlands, I was like “we are never making a record like that again.” Ironically it took us six years of work to ensure that we’d never have to spend four years making a record. We didn’t really have a plan, but we tried to re-tool the whole way we go about making records–taking over our own website, taking care of business stuff, and then also allowing everyone to finally lead normal lives. Marry, buy homes, have jobs, have children. So it’s kind of been a relaxing of priorities, I guess.
There’s not a lot of information out there, regarding what Funeral will actually sound like.
When I put out there that the next record’s going to be called Funeral, I was kind of kidding (laughs). I have fantasies where I grow an extra-large ball that fuels macho moves like that, where I go “Yeah, it’s called Funeral–the next one’s called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” But in reality, no, we’re probably not going to call it Funeral.
Should we be expecting another Secaucus-to-Meadowlands stylistic 360?
That was something we kind of talked about as we were getting started last summer, finally, after a couple mis-starts. It was one of those things where, like: “Do we go about making a record the way we would normally make it and see what happens, or do we deliberately try to take some ‘next step’?” And I think if anything, it seems like this one will be a logical continuation, not really that far off The Meadowlands. Sonically, maybe a little better, kind of in the same ballpark– it’s still all homemade. We’ve gotten a little better at some of that stuff. But we’ll see. We’re actually kind of at that crucial part right now, where I think we’ve kind of drawn a line in the sand, and we’ve got this many songs and, only just this weekend did I really put them together and listen to them all.
When will we finally be hearing the album-that-people-think-is-called-Funeral?
(Laughs) The album formerly known as Funeral. Well, Abbey Road, as we’re calling it, will be coming out…I think we’ll be done or close to it before summer starts, today being the second day of spring.
Do you guys plan on touring behind the new album?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we toured maybe almost a surprising amount for the Meadowlands–of course we dragged it on for like six years, so it depends how you look at it. People always seem to be surprised that we were playing as often as we were on the same stupid record (laughs)–a couple of weekends a month for like six years.
Have the ages of the people at your shows changed?
Right when the Meadowlands first came out, it was definitely disproportionately younger, just because that’s when the press stuff ran, and it tends to be geared towards the younger reader (laughs). Most of the people at our shows are still definitely younger than us, but I think maybe more than some indie rock bands it’s kind of spread across the age continuum.
Do The Wrens have any friend-bands?
What you’re really saying is “Do you guys have any friends?” (laughs)
Yeah, you guys seem like losers. Sad sacks.
(Laughs) I mean we certainly do, all across the spectrum. My wife’s band is Palomar, we’re certainly very good friends with them, and Cymbals Eat Guitars, Joe studied guitar and recording kind of stuff with me for a couple of years, and Nada Surf, and The Hold Steady–we’ve known a couple of those guys for fifteen years. It’s also one of those things with being a band: being kind of a non-going out/scene kind of band for as long as we have, we get to know so few bands over time that many of them have broken up or passed on.
Album leaking and illegal downloading were far less pervasive when you guys released the Meadowlands. How do you feel about that kind of stuff?
I don’t really worry about it too much. We were on other labels, and records would be sold, and you wouldn’t make any money from that anyhow. The best you could hope for is that over time, physical copies of the albums we’d put out in the ’90s–and even the Meadowlands–would eventually get sold by people that didn’t like it, but bought somewhere used by someone that did like it, and over time they kind of trickle down and find people that like them, and you’d find an audience that way. And in a weird way, it’s kind of still the same with, like, file-sharing and illegal downloads. It’s theoretically possible that we would just make money from selling records in this day and age, but you know how it is, it’s more about driving interest for people to come to shows.
How do you know if people are actually listening to the music?
I’ve often thought about it from the other way, which is, like: You know when you listen to an album, when you put on a Pavement record, or a Deerhunter record–maybe let’s go with Pavement, ’cause it’s older. There’s a weird thing that happens on really great records, where it seems like it’s happening right now, like when you listen to that music–especially focusing on it, with headphones on–Stephen Malkmus is playing those songs all over again. But the funny thing is, the real Stephen Malkmus is waking up in a hotel somewhere, or he’s waiting for his appointment at the dentist–he doesn’t really know that your re-living that moment again. It exists on two different levels. You never actually know–I guess unless you Google’d yourself every minute of the day–who’s actually listening to your record.
There have been plenty of moments where I’ve been listening to the Wrens and you’ve had absolutely no idea.
Actually, we did.
Oh…well. So let’s say that Abbey Road comes out and shoots to the top of the Billboard charts, snags the number one spot on every year end list, etc. Would that affect your life, as it is now, in any meaningful way?
We’ve been so non-careerist about the whole thing. We definitely could’ve–and if we were younger, we probably would have–jumped all over what happened with the Meadowlands and put out another record a year later, and stepped up from there, and would probably be in a very different place now, for better or worse. I imagine that–just knowing the other guys in the band, and kind of knowing how we all work–I think it wouldn’t actually be all that different. It would enable us to make music easier and more often and that kind of stuff–maybe someone would quit a job, or something–but we’re no longer chickens of the spring. I’m doing this interview with a seven and a half month old strapped to my manly bosom. I can’t picture not being around him for more than, like, a long weekend. In a weird way, I think it wouldn’t change all that much–maybe it would be more weekends away, but I can’t see us leaving for six months at a time, which is really what you kind of have to do at that level. Or we’d just play one gigantic concert from the surface of the moon, dwarfing all other musical presentations of the century, and leave it at that. So that’s our goal: One super-lunar concert, and then we get on to making Sgt. Pepper.