Drummer Sam Loeffler discusses the band’s latest album Sci-Fi Crimes, following your own path, compromising in the music industry, and what’s next for the group.
You’re a couple weeks into this new tour. How’s the Carnival of Madness so far?
Actually, it’s been great. We know everybody on the tour, so we’re all friends. We’re doing our own thing, and then afterwards everybody hangs out in the parking lot, drinks beer and tells war stories, I suppose. It’s been really, really good.
What’s the audience been like?
We’ve actually had a couple of the best shows we’ve ever had before in Baltimore and Mansfield, surprisingly, because the Boston area usually is not that excited [laughs]. We’ve had some of the best shows we’ve had in a long time on this tour. I think people are really getting the whole idea of the festival tour. It’s not like it’s a new idea, but I think it’s showing that with the way the industry’s going, it’s really becoming a popular thing.
At this point in your career you have five albums out, so it must be pretty hard to whittle a set list down. How do you do that these days?
Well yeah, it is a little bit difficult. What we try to do is we try to put singles in that people expect to hear, and then we also try to put in some songs that we want to play. From our new record there’s so many songs that we want to play, but people don’t know them as well. You have to mix and match. We’re only doing a 50-minute set, so we’re playing 11 songs on this tour.
It gets a little hairy sometimes, what to play, especially when you consider we’re playing in front of 10 to 12 thousand people. Half of the shows have been that big, and the smaller ones are five to seven to eight thousand. There’s going to be a couple thousand people in there that don’t really know the band but only know the singles, so we really want to pick and choose how we represent our band pretty carefully.
It’s still just the three of you guys doing the live shows, right?
There’s probably only a handful of bands that still do that these days. Is that something you take pride in?
How do you mean? I’m not really sure.
Well, a band like Green Day has added extra touring members and stuff over the years.
We’ve thought about doing that. I don’t know. It’d be difficult to throw somebody into that dynamic. After a while, I could see why Green Day would want to have somebody come in and play a couple songs with them here and there. For our band, it really frees Pete up to be able to move around the stage a little bit more instead of having to be stuck behind his microphone playing guitar. That is the bane of the three-piece existence, you know, that the singer really does have to hang out in front of the microphone.
You recently announced some special hometown shows for the end of October. Can you tell us what those are going to be about?
Well, we’re essentially doing a 10-year anniversary DVD. We’re playing two shows at the Metro in Chicago, which is one of the first places that we really aspired to play many, many years ago when we were a band starting out. It’s really rad to be able to play there, so we’re going to do two nights with probably about 30 different songs. Some of the songs will be the same both nights, but we’ll play about 30 songs and shoot a big old DVD. It should a really, really cool thing. I’m excited about playing a bunch of weird stuff and some stuff we’ve never played before. So that’ll be cool.
Are you going to be playing some stuff from Point #1?
Yeah, for sure. We really haven’t been playing stuff from Point #1 on this tour because less people recognize it, but we will definitely be doing that for that anniversary show.
Your current album, Sci-Fi Crimes, has been out for almost a year now. Are you pleased with things turned out and how it’s been received?
Oh, yeah. It’s my favorite record. It’s such a different record from the other ones. It’s really cool to have put out a record that is as close to our sound live as we could get. It’s cool because it’s a little bit of a rift because a lot of the rock records put out nowadays are really Pro Tools stuff and mixed perfectly, and this one is not at all. There’s no Auto-Tune on it at all, and that’s really how it should be. You should sing it until it’s right, in my opinion anyway.
You’ve had a pretty distinct drum sound for each individual record. What did you want to do with this one?
Legitimately, honestly, I would like to get some shuffles into some songs. I think that would be cool and different for us, and I don’t think Pete has really ever written anything with that kind of idea. That would be the technical side of what to do with drums on this record.
When the band is writing are drums a focal point early on?
Yeah, without a doubt. Some of the songs are completely driven by a drumbeat that we’ll come up with playing, which is awesome. That makes for a different song than just starting on acoustic, or something like that. I think it’s good to have a mix of all those kinds of songs.
With Dean being in the band, who’s a pretty good drummer in his own right, has that helped or changed what you’ve done since he’s been in there?
Oh yeah, definitely. We’ve written a lot of parts together. We’ve worked on fills and verses, and all kinds of stuff together. With having two drummers, two heads are definitely better than one when it comes to that.
So what exactly is a Sci-Fi Crime?
It’s kind of tongue in cheek. When you think about science fiction crimes, you think about someone saying they were accosted by an alien or captured. That kind of thing. Or a ghost in a house closes cabinet doors or opens them. The artwork went with the title and a couple of the songs, like “Roswell” and “Highland’s Apparition.” It’s sort of a coincidence, but it’s a happy thing that happened.
Are you a big science fiction fan yourself?
I do love science fiction, absolutely. I like the really, really weird stuff. I was never much of a Trekkie, although I get it. I do like the weird stuff, more of the actual film science-fiction stuff.
Are you going to be releasing another single from that record?
“Shameful Metaphors” is the single right now. There’s a chance we might release another single, but we don’t really know until we get to that point. The label comes to us and says, “OK, here we are. This is where we stand. What do you guys want to do? Do you want to release another single? Do you want to go forward and start writing?” If we release another single, they’ll want us to tour, which is fine. Everything just has to work out right. So, we’ll work with them and figure out what’s best for the band.
How much input do you have as to what comes out as a single?
How we choose the single is as we’re writing the record we’ll have demos finished and things like that. We’ll be with our A&R person from the label, and we’ll be with our manager, and everybody will listen to stuff as it’s being recorded. We’re picking it then, like, “I think this could be the first single. What do you think?” Usually some songs stand out, like that’s an obvious album track and that’s an obvious single. It just kind of comes together pretty naturally.
I remember reading a quote where one of you said something along the lines of how you will write a few radio friendly songs and then the rest of the album you feel the freedom to do whatever you want. Is that still true in a way?
I think probably more than anything we just write what we write, and if it ends up being radio, then it ends up being radio. We’ve never actually written something just for radio because I don’t think you would be able to tell. I don’t think you can fake it. I think that the reason our songs connect is because we write fairly melodic rock songs. They’re not super complicated.
There’s a lot of amazing, complicated bands out there. That stuff may not translate to as many people, and that’s OK. If that’s what you do naturally, then you should do it, and that’s awesome because those are the bands that keep raising the bar. We try to do that but in our own way, and not make any exception for anything.
For this record, you recorded a couple instrumentals, “The Gist” and “Interlewd.” How did you decide which one ended up on the record?
Well, “The Gist” we wanted to leave off the record because we really thought it’d be a cool fit for a video game or something, so that one we really wanted to leave off. “Interlewd” was literally that. It was just supposed to be a transition between two songs. That’s all it was on there for. It was something cool Pete came up with, like, “I think it’d be cool to set a mood in the middle of the record or whatever.” I hope it did its job.
Then we also used that “Interlewd” part in the Carnival of Madness. In between bands there’s all these things playing up on the screen that you can text into and stuff like that. It’s some of the music that plays there, and it works really well.
As far as lyrics go, I know Pete can be a pretty cryptic lyricist at times. How much does he tell you what a particular song is about?
He doesn’t tell us very much usually. I also don’t ask that much. I like the whole mystery. I like that I don’t totally understand exactly what it is, but sometimes I’ll ask him, like, “Dude, what does this mean?” Sometimes the answer is pretty awesome, but sometimes you don’t really want to know because it’ll be like, “Uh, I don’t know. I wrote these two different lines six months between each of them and they just fit.” It’s like, “Aw, crap. Really? Maybe this means I shouldn’t kill myself.”
I will say I like how he pretty much never rhymes, which is cool.
We first did that completely intentionally on This Type of Thinking (Could Do Us In). I think there’s maybe two words or two different parts of the record that actually rhyme, or something like that. It’s pretty cool. It was intentional. It was absolutely intentional because a second grader can write a rhyme, but what is it like to take the English language and actually make something artful of it that’s not obvious?
I guarantee you that all those really, really big stars in the past couldn’t do it. They wouldn’t be able to think any further than that. I think that’s unfortunate because I don’t think it’s OK to let everybody sit around and not be smarter. That’s not a very good way to say it.
Was “Letter From a Thief” loosely inspired by the guy that stole your equipment?
Yes, loosely. The content of the song doesn’t all have to do with that but certainly the title does, but that happens. It is what it is.
How much of that were you able to recover?
We got some stuff back. Not a lot but some of the important stuff, so that was really good.
I’m just curious but do you know what is Joe up to these days?
Oh, I don’t really know actually. He has whatever he has going on. I haven’t spoken with him in several years, so I don’t really know.
So it’s still awkward between you guys then?
It’s always been awkward, so it’s nothing new.
You’ve written a few songs about the music industry, one of them being the title track from Wonder What’s Next. More than a decade in how has your perception of the industry changed?
I think that the people who have the worst things to say about the music industry are not in it. No matter what you say the music industry is a business, and businesses are in business to make money. There’s going to be compromises. If you aren’t going to be a business, you’re going to have to compromise something at some point. Hopefully, it’s within reason for you that you won’t compromise too much.
I don’t think it’s a bad business. Right now, it’s a fading business, but that does happen. As a result, you need to change your business to find new ways to make money. I don’t think there’s a problem right now with finding ways to get bands out there. There’s a million ways to find out about new bands, so now what is a major label going to offer that people can’t get somewhere else? I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. I know what bands offer that you can’t somewhere else is there music. That’s one thing that’s always going to be there.
Do you see yourselves as always being a major label band, or do you think at some point you’ll go back to the indie route?
Oh, yeah. Like I said, the only difference between indie and major label is who’s signing the check. That’s really all it is. An indie label is doing the same thing as a major label. The difference is that major labels can usually do it a little bit bigger, or at least that’s the way that it used to be.
We will eventually probably not be on a major, and that’s fine. That’s the evolution of being in a band. You learn how to do things, you create an audience, you fulfill a contract, and then you go and do something different. I think that’s a positive thing.
Do you know how many albums you have left on your contract right now?
I’m not sure. I’d have to go look it up.
So what do you lined up after this tour is over?
We, of course, have our big DVD shoot that we’re doing at the Metro in Chicago. We have a couple one-offs and things. We’re doing a show in Hawaii and one in Denver. We’ll probably do some Christmas shows, some Christmas touring, which will be great. That’s always fun, doing those Christmas festivals, and then we’re always writing. Keep making music is where we’re at.
Do you do a lot of writing when you’re on the road?
Not as a band, but Pete does a lot of writing. We’re never sure whether it’s going to be a verse, a bridge – any of that stuff. We don’t really know until we sit down as a band.
Do you play around with stuff during soundchecks?
No, we usually just rehearse songs that we want to play in the set that we haven’t played in a while. Like today we went over “Shameful Metaphors.” We went over “Emotional Drought.” Things like that. “Still Running.” Songs that we don’t get to play every day, we like to run over them during soundcheck. But the Carnival of Madness tour we don’t get soundcheck because there’s just no time. Today we’re at our own show, so we had a nice, big, long soundcheck.
Do you have any idea when you want to start recording your next album?
I wouldn’t say exactly when because I guess it all depends on whether we do a fourth single or not. If we don’t do a fourth single, we’ll start earlier. We’ve been on the road for quite a long time. I imagine we’ll go home for a while and start preproduction, probably in October.
Originally appeared on Decoy Music