Silversun Pickups grew up in East Los Angeles and started doing the DIY club scene there in 2003. Six years of hard work later and the band has become one of the hottest in the country.
“We started going to shows and a lot of our friends had bands. It became this universe where playing music was actually tangible. It took the myth away,” lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert recalls. “It gave us confidence to really start playing music.”
Looking back on it now, he credits the experience for helping mold the band into what it is today and is nothing but grateful to have a job playing music.
“I think the moment we thought our band was successful was the time where we didn’t have to put any money into it,” Aubert says. “We weren’t making any money from it, but it didn’t cost us anything to do. We were so happy.”
The band, which also consists of bassist Nikki Monninger, drummer Christopher Guanlao and keyboardist Joe Lester, saw its debut album, Carnavas, sell more than 350,000 copies and “Lazy Eye” end up a rock radio hit. Little did the group know this was only the beginning.
“Once we started writing the new one, we sort of left all that behind and forgot about that a little bit,” Aubert says. “Clearly, we knew there were going to be more people listening to this one than maybe when the first one came out, but we had no idea it was going to grow further.”
KROQ started playing “Panic Switch” literally the second after the record was mixed, and the single soon reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Chart. Silversun Pickups were just the third independently released band to capture that honor, joining the Offspring and Everlast.
“That was a pretty big shock,” Aubert admits. “The response that it’s gotten and everything that’s happened, it is a massive shock. We feel really lucky and humbled.”
As it turns out, “Panic Switch” almost didn’t make the record. It was one of the last songs Aubert wrote, at a time when the band members were emotionally drained from recording their second album, Swoon.
“It was just something that represented some sort of nervous breakdown to me,” he explains. “I thought that if I’m getting that from it right now, then I think there should be something on the record that probably shoots that point more than any of the other songs do. So I started writing ‘Panic Switch.’”
“It’s funny because near the ending of your run with the record you’re writing, just before you have no more metaphors left and before you’re really cast out, there’s this little moment where you really pay attention to what you’re thinking,” Aubert continues. “The latter stuff you’ve put into the album is probably the most critical to it because you’re so ingrained in it now.”
As he did with “Panic Switch,” Aubert pulls directly from his own life, although he admits he’s a little too timid to write in a directly fundamental way.
“It’s not so specific from my life that I’m the only person who can go through it,” he explains. “It’s something that everybody generally goes through, but to describe the meaning I use really minute details of my life which you’d only be able to know if I told you.”
“Because of using small details to color a song, sometimes people will think, like, ‘Oh, man. That sounds like drugs or something.’ It’s like, ‘No. There’s no drugs in there. It’s just shit that happens,’” he laughs.
In fact, writing Swoon turned out to be a critical process Aubert needed.
“It’s definitely a snapshot of my life from February to October of 2008. I really feel all those things, but I’m not in that same place,” Aubert says. “There’s a lot of different things going on, a lot of insane self-reflection that was pretty awful and amazing overall. It was very therapeutic and cathartic.”
Now that Swoon has been out six months, the band is touring nonstop with plans to continue until the end of 2010. Silversun Pickups started as a live band years before they started recording and find that setting is where they thrive the most, even with all the ups and downs.
“Playing music is an interesting experience because just when you’ve probably had a little too much of it, just when it’s run its course, the whole thing changes, and you’re now quiet and getting creative by making an album. It’s a whole different universe, and you get really involved in that,” Aubert says. “Then just when you begin to want to tear your head off, it flips around again and you’re out on tour playing shows. I think that yin/yang of those two things really balances out the psyche.”
Originally appeared in Campus Circle