Monday, January 28, 2008

Meet The Shackeltons

Last fall, I had the pleasure to meet The Shackeltons from Chambersburg, PA. They were some of the most sincere people that I have ever met in this business and their live show was so mind blowing, that I named them best live act of the year. Their self-titled debut drops on Loveless Records on Tuesday. They will be supporting it with some regional touring, including a stop at DC's The Red and The Black tonight. If you get the chance to check them out, I highly recommend doing it.

In anticipation of the release and touring, I sat down with guitarist Dan Schuchman. Our interview is below, followed by a live video (just watch it and tell me that you aren't intrigued), an mp3 and their regional dates.

IA: You are named after Sir Earnest Shackleton, the Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer. Where did that come from?

Before we were The Shackeltons, we were a different band really... different sound, different name. Our sound started changing and we thought that we should just change the name. None of us really liked the old name anyway. Mark read a book about Sir Ernest Shackleton and how his ship became stuck in the ice, how they had to row 800 miles in the Arctic winter and hike over mountains to get back to civilization. Surprisingly, all of the men made it. Even though they didn't successful explore the Arctic, all of the men made it back alive. It was an uplifting story to the people in their time and we wanted to do that, but with our music. We want to do something uplifting and give people something to believe in.

IA: Why the misspelling?

A small mistake was made on Mark's part. He got the domain name registered and realized later that it was misspelled. The joke is that The Beatles spelled their name wrong, so we don’t feel so bad. It’s now our own name. The Shackeltons from Chambersburg who honor Sir Shackleton from Ireland.

IA: Your debut on Loveless Records comes out on Tuesday. How did that partnership come about?

A few years ago, Mark was enjoying listening to Ambulance LTD at our local coffee shop and he decided to give their management a call. He never thought they would call back. Surprisingly enough, they called back and said they thought what they were hearing was "brilliance". They then asked for us to send our music to their NYC office and helped us get noticed in New York a bit and they get our foot in the door at KEXP, America's finest indie radio station. KEXP loved us so much, that they had us perform live on air during CMJ06. They loved our performance and someone from Loveless saw us. It's funny because there was a band on Domino Records that performed after us. Mark was talking to their label rep and said "If you sign us, we'll make you rich." Someone from Loveless heard this and ran to Mark saying that they wanted to meet with the band immediately.

IA: Where was the CD recorded and who produced it?

We recorded at Beer Wine Fish in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. Sam Jones produced it, while Tom Biller co-produced and engineered it. Sam Jones is a great photographer and he directed I'm Trying To Break Your Heart, the big Wilco documentary. Tom has worked with Jon Brion on many lovely movie soundtracks, Punch Drunk Love, I Heart Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine, Magnolia... and he's worked with artists such as Sean Lennon, Silversun Pickups, and Karen O

IA: One of the first things that you said to me when we met last summer was "see us live first and then I'll give you a CD." It's obvious that you pride yourselves on your live show. How much of a challenge was it to translate that raw energy to a studio recording?

Not so difficult really, Sam and Tom really knew how to get great moments out of us.

IA: In this era of over produced bands that are surrounded with an almost circus like atmosphere, you are a bit of a throwback. You are a loud and powerful band, yet you seem to have a simple, clean and minimalist approach to recording. What made you decide to do that?

Tom really had some great insight. He thought this should be a classic sounding album...a live feel almost. Sam just wanted raw, intense realism. I think a lot of bands today hide behind their effects, their Macs, their big amps, their cool boots, and their tight jeans.

IA: How does your writing process go? Is a song built around a lyrical idea or are the lyrics added after the fact?

Lyrics are added afterwards. Mostly a song will start with a melodic idea, a piece of something and we build on that. Everyone writes their own parts, someone might say try this or what if you do that, but ultimately every band member writes his part. Mark usually has a sack of lyrics that he just pulls stuff out of. Other times he'll just speak freely, saying, singing whatever comes to mind... and he'll remember what lines stick. Our writing process is an achievement within itself, I think. Most bands would kill to write like we write.

IA: Mark's lyrics are very open to interpretation. However, there is definitely an underlying theme of finding hope and beauty through all of heartache and pain. That theme also seems to define the band. How did that come about?

It's again with the story of Shackleton: hope through the heartache and pain.

IA: When you play a show, you don army jackets, cover the stage in flowers and drape the amps in Christmas lights. It really adds to the overall package and creates an atmosphere that exists before you ever play a note. How did that start?

Flowers started with our first show. We donned army jackets and put flowers on the stage to give us a distinct aesthetic. The feeling of war, love, funerals, first kisses. The lights, we used those because every place we played around Chambersburg would have bright florescent lights that had no mood and created nothing special. We wanted to give people something different.

IA: You are a very professional, very business-minded band, which is pretty rare these days. Do you feel that coming from the hard working, little town of Chambersburg, PA helped instill those instincts into you?

No, it's just that we see other bands' pretentiousness in selling merch, cds. We're poor, we have no money and no daddy's credit card. We want to eat. Someone better be buying a CD or t-shirt, so we can get a damn sandwich. We are concerned about our and other's futures, so we have to be concerned about the business. We don't have a fall back plan. This band is it.

IA: Your sound is very diverse, yet totally refreshing. You can hear influences ranging from Radiohead to Rage Against the Machine to Fugazi to Joy Division. There is even an element of soul singers like Otis Redding and Al Green sprinkled in. Who really influenced you?

All of those bands. We love music, all music. I should say we love all music that has been created by real musicians, real people struggling, real people dreaming. We'll listen to Captain Beefheart, Buzzcocks, Busta Rhymes, Can, Magma, Yes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Four Tops, The Clash, Ramones, Oxes, Arab on Radar, Talking Heads, Pixies, and so much more. Every note they play inspires us. We never hold one band above another or strive to sound like one band. If we feel like a song does, we scrap it and move on.

IA: Did you intend to mesh all of those sounds into something new or did it just happen that way?

It just happens when you have 5 guys who listen to so many different styles of music.

IA: There is a sense of urgency about you. You make it obvious that you know what you want to do and then you execute it with precision. You lay it all on the line and leave everything on stage. That must be exhausting. What do you do to get ready for a show and recover from it that allows you to continue doing that night after night?

Mark sleeps a lot. He's definitely the one that displays the most energy and gets the most bumps and bruises. Mark is actually quite concerned to how he will keep the intensity. He pretty much gives everything he's got each show.

IA: Mark is all over the place on stage. He marches around, dances, jumps, falls backward, slides around on his back… I know that he must get his fair share of cuts and bruises. What are some of the most painful memories?

The most painful is when he chopped most of his head/hair off with a ceiling fan, while jumping around at a show. There was definitely blood.

IA: Now that the CD is finally releasing, what are your touring plans?

Tour smart. Go everywhere and anywhere we can, as much as we can with what little money we have. We have about enough to pay for our gas.

IA: Is a follow up CD a topic of discussion amongst the band or is that quite a way off?

We need to give this CD as much attention as possible right now, but we have so much material that we could write one new album and an EP today, if we wanted to.

IA: Thanks for taking the time to do this. Congratulations on the CD and best of luck with this week's shows. I'll hopefully see you next weekend.

Thanks Joe, we really appreciate it. Thanks for believing in us.

The Shackeltons - The Breaks

mp3 - The Breaks

Regional Dates:
1/28/08: The Red and The Black, DC
2/02/08: Gullifty's, Camp Hill, PA
2/15/08: The Abbey @ ABC, Harrisburg, PA



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