Aaron Marsh on the Seven-Year Road to the Lulls in Traffic

LullsinTraffic

When Copeland broke up in 2010, frontman Aaron Marsh was left without an outlet for his musical pursuits. It didn’t last for long. Through a mutual friend, he soon came across the work of Ivan Ives, a Russian-born rapper from Los Angeles. The two connected over a remix and got along so well they decided to start a group together. Now, seven years later, the duo’s official debut as the Lulls in Traffic has come to fruition.

Seven years is a long time to be working on an album (unless you’re Tool or Guns N’ Roses), and there are a couple reasons this particular process was so stretched out. For one, Marsh and Ives began without a specific vision in mind, and it took trial and error to find the project’s natural voice and direction. Rabbit in the Snare proves a cohesive success in that regard, as songs glide from Ives’ spoken word into Marsh’s distinctive singing, mixing in dreamy orchestrations, electronics, hip-hop and rock along the way.

The other reason for the delay is how busy the pair’s schedule ended up. While Ives did solo music and made films in L.A., Marsh opened up a recording studio in his Central Florida hometown and produced artists there. And then Copeland got back together in 2014 for a new album and multiple tours, which understandably shifted to Marsh’s central focus once again. Before work ramps up on the next Copeland record, he finally was able to put the finishing touches on the Lulls in Traffic, and Rabbit in the Snare was released last month.

Below, Marsh speaks to Behind the Setlist about his journey with the Lulls in Traffic and more, including working with Talib Kweli, being grateful for Copeland’s second chance, his early days in the Florida scene, and the impact Chris Cornell’s music imprinted on him as a musician. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How does it feel to have the Lulls in Traffic album finally out? That’s been a long time coming.

It feels good. We worked on it for about seven years. We started when Copeland broke up. We didn’t have a specific vision for it, or a vision we were going to stick with, I guess. We reworked stuff, kept switching directions and changing our minds.

The idea of the project for me was to do something that was not bound by genres as much as possible. Working for 10 years in indie rock had me wanting to do something where all the rules are out the window. It wasn’t so much about making something in the hip-hop genre as it was getting as far away from all the indie rock conventions I felt like I had to stick with.

That said, we didn’t have a specific vision for what we wanted it to be. It was more about what we didn’t want it to be, which was a Copeland record. That’s why it took us so long. We both had other stuff going on. He makes films in L.A. I had other musical projects I was producing, and then eventually more Copeland stuff came up, too.

You first connected over a remix or something like that, right?

Yeah. He did a track that had a shout-out to a friend of mine, Stacy Clark, and then that song ended up getting an animated video. The animated video ended up having this caricature of Stacy Clark in it and she posted it. She was like, “Oh my gosh! There’s a cartoon version of me in this song.” So that was my introduction to him.

I reached out after listening to more of his music and wanted to do a remix. Through working on the remix, we became friends. When I started to do my own stuff, I wanted him to do a verse. I loved that verse and threw him another one. Eventually, I kind of just wanted him to be in the band and do a group together. We were vibing really well and getting a vision.

How much was done remotely, with you two being on opposite sides of the country, and how much were you able to work together in the same space?

Most of the tracks, as far as musically, were done separate, and then he would come here to do vocals. A few of the vocals he did in California, but a lot of it he would write and track here. He didn’t have too much to say about the music. That was mostly my department. He dabbles in production a little bit, too, so we were connected with those elements.

I think the first song I remember hearing was the Christmas song “Silver Bells Are Ringing Only Grey.” Was that the first song you did together?

No, that was just a one-off, last minute. I was feeling the holiday vibe and had an idea for a sad spin on “Silver Bells.” I was like, “Oh, ‘The ringing only grey’ would make a cool hook.” I did it quick and sent it to him. The vocal he did in L.A. and we put it up for the holiday. We had done a few before that. The first one we did was “Regret,” and then there are some earlier ones that are on the record.

The musical textures on this record, you can definitely tell they are from you and are Copeland-esque in places. How different was this than making a Copeland record and trying to make it stand apart from that?

When we first started the project, I was trying to get away from that sound as much as possible. Copeland wasn’t a band for most of the time we were making the record. Eventually I pulled back some of those influences because I didn’t have an outlet, I didn’t have a Copeland at that time. The songs that have more of a Copeland feel were made later on when I was more OK with my indie rock influences being present in the record.

I had to come to terms with it. I wanted to do something different, but then I also wanted to work with my strengths and not completely be a fish out of water. Eventually I came to terms with there being some indie rock influence. It makes stuff more interesting when there’s a broader spectrum of influences. It made the record a little more rich than if I had just done an electronic record or just a hip-hop influenced thing.

What were some of your non-indie rock influences that you wanted to pull from?

Madlib, Dilla, and then some U.K. electronic stuff. Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. Radiohead is my favorite band of all time, which is not shocking, but what they do electronically is interesting to me, too. That’s most of it. The Streets is a U.K. hip-hop thing and that was a big influence.

As we went along and our music became less hip-hop, as we brought in the indie rock influences, Ivan brought in more of the poetic type of vocalizations, versus the more rappy style. The poetic delivery paired well with the indie rock style. His delivery evolved as we made the record, too.

You recently put out a video for “I Can Hear Your Laughter on the Wind,” which is probably the closest thing to Copeland on the record. What can you say about that song?

That was one that was done way after Copeland was broken up, so there wasn’t a Copeland to push that song to. My main project was the Lulls project. A buddy of mine made a short film. I don’t even know if it’s available, but he asked me to write something for the end credits. I wrote that song for that short film and then pulled it into the fold for the Lulls record.

What was it like to take part in the video?

It was cool. We hung wires in the studio and then had them painted out in post. It was as DIY as it gets. My dad is a tree climber. He can climb trees and cut limbs way up high. He did some kind of training up in the Blue Ridge Mountains to climb trees, so he had a couple tricks for making harnesses out of loading straps. This was super, super DIY. We literally had my dad, one other guy to help shoot and us. It was a barebones production.

Where did you get the Rabbit in the Snare title?

It was so long ago, I don’t even know if I remember where the title came from. The song is about coming to terms with your mortality and delving into the thoughts you might have right before you pass. The title of the record just came from that song.

What was it like lyrically for you on this album? You and Ivan are both doing your own things. Did you talk about themes and general vibes you wanted the songs to have? How did that work out?

We would play off each other a good bit. Obviously, as a rapper he’s really good with words. He’s very visual, and that’s something I love to do. Whenever I get stuck on a lyric, I try to be as visual as I can. We worked together well on the lyrics. It was nice to have another lyricist around because that’s always the hardest part for me.

How did the Talib Kweli feature come about? That must have been a really cool moment.

It was crazy. We made a list of our ultimate gets and he was at the top for me. He’s one of my favorites. We had a friend of a friend of a friend who knew him and somehow got him the track. He was awesome to work with and killed it. I think he might have been on tour when he did it, so we didn’t actually get to work with him in person. We did it remotely. It was a huge honor that he even was interested in doing it. It was great, especially with that being the first person we reached out to. To have him want to do it was pretty sick.

Getting him on this record, do you think that will open the door in the future for getting other guests to come onboard?

I don’t know, I hope so. Another reason I wanted to do something in the hip-hop realm is there’s so much collaboration in hip-hop. I love that. I would obviously love to work with other people. He has a dude on his label named NIKO IS. He’s a Brazilian dude who lives in Orlando. I’ve really gotten to dig his work and I think we’re going to do something together hopefully soon. We keep talking about it, and he’s real close to me. I hope we get to do more collabs. That would be awesome.

Are you going to be playing any live shows for this?

We don’t have any plans to, but we’re not opposed. We wanted to get the record out and test the waters, so we’ll see. There are no plans at the moment. Right now, I’m trying to write a Copeland record. That’s my current project, but if the right opportunity came up I’m sure we’d do something.

You have to at least do one or two hometown ones.

We should. Ceschi is the guest on “Regret” and wants us to come out on tour with him. So I imagine at some point if we do a show, it will probably be with him because he’s a homie. He’s been super supportive.

You mentioned working on a new Copeland record. How far along are you in that process and what has been your general takeaway from this second life of the band?

Grateful. I’m still in the writing process. We haven’t moved into formal production too much, so it’s really early on. But how many bands get to come back after being away for that long and be taken seriously? Or have one successful tour, much less a few? It’s been really cool.

I’m shocked at how different the game is now. We didn’t come up in an era when things were so social media driven. Social media content has become such a currency, and that wasn’t something that we naturally do. We’re not super active on social media, aside from me cutting up on Twitter. We’re not the type to think we need to be photographing and videoing and documenting things the way bands do these days. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment with that.

Mostly, these days, we appreciate that we’re able to do it. There’s so much less pressure now. It’s not make or break. This isn’t our be all, end all. We all have other lives and families and other things going on. It’s not like we feel a pressure to write singles or make Copeland records particularly commercially viable. We can do whatever we like and write what we feel. That’s really nice.

So I have a few questions about Florida and your background there. What I understand is you were born in Oregon but grew up in Lakeland, which is in Central Florida. What do you remember about the music scene when you were younger and started to get into music versus what was going on down south, with bands like New Found Glory and Further Seems Forever?

Florida is big. South Florida and Central Florida are five hours apart, so there wasn’t much connectivity between the South Florida bands and the Central Florida bands. Further Seems Forever played in our town one time. A bunch of my friends were there but I didn’t see it.

Up where we were it was Anberlin, Underoath, Copeland, a few others. A band called Denison Marrs was really hot and well respected in Florida in general and the Southeast. That was our scene, and there were some heavier bands, too, like Underoath. South Florida had a little bit more of the pop-punk and up-tempo indie rock, emo thing.

It was really cool. We were pairing up and doing tours. There was a lot of hustling and hard working bands, working jobs to pay for the van, and then taking off and doing tours. It was a cool time.

Being in Florida, you are geographically separated from the rest of the country and almost in your own little bubble. Did you feel that you could do whatever music you wanted and weren’t paying attention to what was going on elsewhere? Was it rare that bands would come that far south on tour to where you were?

That’s probably the kind of impression you would get from being outside of it, but if you’re in it, you’re just doing your thing. I don’t know that I necessarily had any concept of us being isolated. If you’re swimming with your school of fish, you’re seeing fish all around you. You’re not zoomed out enough to see you’re isolated and a little school of fish.

There was definitely a scene and it was tight knit. Lakeland is right between Tampa and Orlando, so we would hang out with Tampa and Orlando bands and do shows. When we were coming up, social media also wasn’t really a thing. We had mp3.com. That was like the most you could message a band, but it wasn’t connected like we are these days. We were just doing our thing, hustling and working hard.

Was it difficult to get your music outside of Florida?

By the time we signed to Militia, we had a following in most of the Southeast. We were doing two-week jaunts, hitting all the big towns and small towns in the Southeast. We did an EP on an even smaller indie label before Militia Group called Theory Eight Records. They were based out of Nashville. So we were already semi-known in the Southeast, as far as the scene was concerned.

Who was the first big band to take you out on tour?

It’s hard to remember the order. The first couple big tours we did were Early November and Juliana Theory. Actually, the first big tour we did was with Elliott. Well, to us it was big [laughs]. Elliott is nothing in the grand scheme of the world, but to us that was like we’ve made it. We’re on tour with Elliott.

One of the fascinating things about Florida is how there were those three movements right after each other. It started in Orlando in the early to mid ‘90s with all the boy band stuff. You were probably well aware of that, being not too far away.

That actually affected us. All the studios in Central Florida were geared towards that, either that or hard rock. All the indie rock bands would go to Atlanta to record. There’s a studio there that was more our vibe.

Yeah, and then right after the boy bands it was blue-collar rock. Creed was from Orlando.

Seven Mary Three.

Right, and then up north you had bands like Limp Bizkit, who kicked off the whole nu mental scene. And then after that was the group you came up in, the more punk, hardcore, indie rock stuff. Did you get a sense you were responding to what had come before or intentionally going in a different direction than what was popular at the time?

We definitely didn’t consider ourselves part of the Seven Mary Three thing. That was my high school era, so it was before we were doing our thing. The tide was turning, I guess. We were into the Get Up Kids and Jimmy Eat World. That kind of stuff. The emo thing, when it came along, was definitely refreshing. Sunny Day Real Estate was definitely refreshing after being around lots of Creed man rock.

I don’t feel like I have much of a relationship with that macho rock. It was here in Florida, but I didn’t connect with it that much. I did own a Seven Mary Three CD, and I saw Matchbox Twenty before they blew up, opening for the Lemonheads. That was kind of tight.

When you were starting out, were there any Florida bands you looked to for inspiration?

In our area, the two bands that were kind of hot shit right as Copeland was starting was this band called Denison Marrs, which their drummer actually ended up being Copeland’s drummer from our second record on, and then this other band called My Hotel Year. I think they were on DreamWorks or something, but they had a really cool record on a big label. They never caught on, but they were a really great band. Those were our forefathers.

Is your studio there in Lakeland, the Vanguard Room, still going good? What’s the latest on that?

Yeah, everything’s going OK. I’m here now. I’m working with a band called Speak Low If You Speak Love. They’re on Pure Noise. Then I have Emarosa coming next month to do an EP and I’m working on the Copeland record. There’s two other producers here and they’re both real busy, too. Everything’s going pretty well.

Awesome. Well, I’ll close this up with one last thing. So on the morning Chris Cornell died when I was checking Twitter after I woke up, your tweet was at the top of my feed and that’s how I found out. What was it about his music that impacted you so much?

I was all into R&B and soul music in middle school. I went to this classical music camp and my roommate was the meanest bully, the most awful kid. I wanted this kid to stop talking, so I put the radio on to the pop station or whatever I normally would have put on. He insisted that we put it on a rock station, so I put it on a rock station. All I wanted to do was put on some music so this kid, who was super mean and making fun of me, would stop talking to me.

So I put it on this rock station to get this kid to shut up and I heard “Black Hole Sun.” I don’t know if it was the seething anger of this kid and the insecurity boiling up in me, and then I hear this song, but from then on after the camp was done I would only listen to the rock station waiting to hear “Black Hole Sun.” I got the record and dove in so hard.

For a lot of people my age, Nirvana was their big grunge band, but Soundgarden was absolutely my band, more than Nirvana or Pearl Jam or anyone. Did you see the video of Chris singing “Redemption Song” with his daughter?

Yeah, I saw that.

I watched it so much. I was just weeping, especially because I’m a dad. Watching that video crushes me. Chris Cornell’s death is crazy. I still don’t completely understand it. There hasn’t been anyone to come forward and say, “Yeah, he was really having a rough time.” It seems like everyone is like, “It was the best we’d seen him in a long time.” I hope someone figures out something. You always want to know why. What the hell was going on? It was a big one for me, and a huge loss.

For me, too. Next time Copeland tours you’ll have to bring back your “Black Hole Sun” cover.

Yeah, but I don’t know if I can do it. It has a heavier weight now.

Originally appeared on Behind the Setlist

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