Interview: Pattern Is Movement’s Chris Ward
The Key: Pattern Is Movement has been in a pretty serious hibernation since September 2010—just over a year. What led to that decision?
Chris Ward: Well, we had never taken time off. The band had been full-time since 2005. We were either on the road playing shows or conceiving something—conceiving a tour, conceiving a record—since 2005. It was like that for five years. We realized that we had never stayed at home and made a record. We’ve always gone somewhere. We’ve either gone to San Francisco, or we tracked our last record in Charlotte, North Carolina. But it was like, “We’re going to stay home, we’re going to take our time, and we’re going to track this record by ourselves. We’re not going to rush it.” It’s just, let’s make a record without tons of shows and stuff like that.
TK: So the band didn’t actually take any time off? You’ve just been working the whole time?
CW: Oh yeah. I never actually looked at it that way. It definitely wasn’t a hiatus. During that time, we were making a record. On tumblr I posted videos of being in the studio and tracking the record. And on our Facebook I mentioned it and stuff.
TK: According to the band’s tumblr, you finished recording the album in mid-March, then starting mixing in late May, and finished mixing in mid-June—which was the last update on the website.
CW: Yup. We mixed it in like the middle of the summer. I’m actually one of the engineers on the record, the other engineer is David Downham. We were mixing it together and there were some elements that weren’t working for me. The thing that came up the most was the bass. I thought the bass could use some work. So we took some time to talk about bass sounds and then we found this software program called Trilian that actually samples bass guitars and synthesizers. We started writing the bass lines with that and it’s transformed the record.
TK: It sounds like you’ve been giving yourselves plenty of time to work things out.
CW: That’s essentially what we wanted this process to be. Let’s figure out what we want this record to be, rather than rushing it to the label, or rushing it to the people. Let’s just take some time, because every record we’ve ever done has been like, “We’ve got to finish it by this date because we want to go back out on the road. We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that.” Which is great, but we’ve never taken any time to make a record and let it, for lack of a better word, marinate. Just sit for a while. And that’s what happened. We took our time over the summer. Andrew and I are saying we’re about 90% there. Now we just need to finish the bass tracking and then kind of tweak the songs and we’re done. That’s it. I mean, the songs are done. It’s really just the bass guitar.
TK: How long had the new songs been in the works before you first started recording?
CW: Andrew would know that better, because he’s generally the main songwriter. But I think like 2010.
TK: So you were already working on them before you went into full-on songwriting/hibernation mode?
CW: The songs were already skeletons. This is what happened, if we can kind of go back a little bit. We put out All Together, our last record, in the spring of 2008. We went on tour in the spring of 2008, and we went on another tour in the fall of 2008, and then we went on tour again in the beginning of 2009. Then we did a six-week tour with St. Vincent in the spring of 2009. And then we were like, “We’re gonna take a little time off because we’ve toured so much. And we’re going to start working on a record.” That was the summer of 2009, and then we started talking to The Roots’ management company—that’s how we got hooked up with The Roots—and they were like, “We want you to play some shows with us.” So we were like “OK,” and we played a couple shows with The Roots, which obviously got a lot of other interest flowing, and it was like nothing could slow it down. It was awesome, but it was also like, “We’ve got to slow down and make a record here.”
TK: Where did you find the time to do that?
CW: We went into the studio in the fall of 2009 and we tracked two new songs. We put those out on a tour-only EP, Light Of The World. That got released and we went on tour in the beginning of 2010. And we went down to SXSW. We wanted to put out new material and we did. That was the idea: we were going to put out that EP and then follow it up with right away with a new record. Then all the touring caught up with us. Just saying it all out loud makes me kind of tired. [Laughs.]
TK: The day-to-day grind of touring can definitely take a lot out of you.
CW: It’s a lot, you know? Touring is just…a lot. It takes a lot of time. And it takes you away from everything else. So it’s hard to write and tour at the same time—especially with our band, because we’re not four or five dudes who can collectively make music. It’s just the two of us. Andrew is the primary songwriter, I write percussion. Then Andrew and I edit the songs. Historically I’ve been on the side of tracking and mixing. So it’s just a slow process with two dudes who also like to incorporate lots of instruments into their songs.
TK: Seeing as how the band has been abstaining from live performances during the majority of the songwriting process, are you worried about missing out on the opportunity to hone the new songs on stage?
CW: It’s hard for us. We’ve had that conversation. But our live show, a lot of times, actually grows out of a record, in a sense. When we made All Together, we didn’t know if we could pull it off live. We didn’t know because we hadn’t done it yet. So we kind of learned that record on the road and it turned into a lot of different things because we were learning it as a two-piece. When we made this record, we sort of decided we didn’t really care if we could play it live or not. We just don’t care. Let’s just make the record—and, if it’s the right record, if it’s the record that we want to make and it resonates with people, then we’ll pull it off live. We did it with All Together, and we can do it with this.
TK: So, from a songwriting perspective, a lot of the fine tuning came from inside the studio, as opposed to the stage?
CW: Andrew and I came up with what I think is a really ingenious idea, which was to track the entire record—Andrew’s vocals included—without drums. Then have me track the drums last. The idea of that was, with us being a two-piece, Andrew’s vocals and my drums are just as much the lead instruments. Vocals generally are never tracked to bare-bones demos; they’re always tracked to the final product. I thought it would make the most sense to track my drums to the whole emotional weight of the song. I think my drums on this record are much more expressive than any other recording we’ve done, because everything else is already there and I got to respond to that. And then Andrew went ahead and re-recorded some vocals in response to my drums. Now we’re just putting bass to those vocals and the drums. There a lot of responding going on, which I think is what’s giving it the feel that we have live. There is a lot of interplay between Andrew and I live.
TK: So you’re actually responding and reacting more to what’s already in front of you. Normally, you’d think of the drummer as the musician providing the foundation for everyone else to build on.
CW: I’ve done that, too. Not only have I done that on my records, I’ve done it on Oh! Pears records. I’ve done it on Arc In Round records. I’ve been that guy who’s, like, the one laying it down. I’m cool with that, too. I’m cool with tracking drums first. But in my experience, tracking drums to a demo is pretty boring as a drummer… But we as a band can’t do that. Because Andrew plays piano and keyboards but those parts are not necessarily written in a very rock and roll fashion, you know? [Laughs.] So it’s like, we can’t sit in a room and record a whole orchestra at the same time. The only way to resolve that was to track it all. It was either play it all live together, or track it all and let me play drums at the end. The engineer was a little skeptical. He was like “I don’t know.” But I think when I started playing the drums, he was like “Oh, OK, this isn’t going to be too hard.” And I felt the same way. I felt pretty confident.
TK: After taking such an extended amount of time off from performing live, what’s the rationale behind the surprise opening appearance at KFN this weekend?
CW: We got asked by Hermit Thrushes to play a show. We pretty much we get asked a lot to play shows and we usually say no. But Tera Melos is on the show as well, and we’re actually booked by the same booking agent. So we know that they’re nice guys. I had the idea, I was like, “We don’t really want to play a show. We don’t want to headline it, and we don’t want to have our name out in public. But what we could do if we wanted is to play and just get the word out, tell our friends.” That was the rational. We don’t have our record out. We’re not ready to headline, we’re not ready to put out all this new material. But we are ready to get out there and start testing the waters again.
Pattern Is Movement performs with Tera Melos, Hermit Thrushes, and Banned Books at 8 p.m. Sunday, October 30th, at Kung Fu Necktie; tickets to the 21+ show are $10. —Matthew Borlik