Pianos Become the Teeth

Interview: Kyle Durfey of Pianos Become the Teeth

Next week, Pianos Become the Teeth will release their fourth full-length, Wait for Love. It takes the band even further down the path their 2014 effort, Keep You, blazed and expands upon it, taking the band’s sound in totally new directions. I recently spoke with vocalist Kyle Durfey about the process of writing the album and following up such a radical change in sound.

How was the writing of Wait for Love different from Keep You, if at all?

I think we approached the record the same way we always do, with Mike and Chad coming up with riffs, bringing them to the table, then all of us constructing and deconstructing the songs. I would say it wasn’t all that much different from writing for Keep You except that we wanted it to be a bit more dynamic this time around. I think Keep You was a little more subdued and streamlined from start to finish and with this one I think we wanted to be a little more dynamic with louder louds and softer softs. But I think overall we approached it more or less the same way.

Would you say that it was any easier or harder to write than Keep You, being that it was the second album following the change in sound?

I think Keep You allowed us to write this record. We were talking about this, and I almost feel like Wait for Love would make more sense between The Lack Long After and Keep You instead of after. But I think since Keep You was – not for us, but for a lot of people – so out of left field, if you were along for the ride for that record, I think this one is maybe a bit easier to digest than that one was.

Yeah, I can hear that.

Yeah.

Was it a deliberate choice not to have any heavy moments on this album? It’s more upbeat than Keep You, for sure, but there’s nothing on this album even like “Old Jaw” or “Say Nothing.”

I wouldn’t say it was deliberate. There’s always multiple takes of tracks and stuff. Sometimes in the studio the songs are a bit more aggressive. You just go with the best mix of what you think the song calls for, you know? We didn’t make a point to say, “Oh, let’s not have any screaming on the record.” We just tried to take the best vocal mixes, the best guitar and drum mixes without focusing on, like, “Is this as heavy as it can be? Is this as aggressive as it can be?” We just tried to let the songs be what they were, not really stress over it too much.

If I could just go back to Keep You for a minute – and this might be something you’ve mentioned before so I apologize – was that shift in sound intentional or what it just what happened after The Lack Long After?

I think it’s just how it happened. Obviously we’ve been a band for a little while now and I think the more you write music with the same people, the more you want to stretch your wings, if you will, and approach different songwriting styles. We all still love aggressive music, but the songs the guys were writing, it just didn’t make sense for me to scream on them, personally. It would’ve seemed forced. The mood on the record struck me as different from the mood on the other records. I think if I would’ve screamed all over that record it would’ve been forced and just strangely out of place. I think, subconsciously, we knew it was time for a change musically, but we never sit down, like, “This is what it needs to sound like,” we just go into the writing process and try to be open with things, not force anything too much. Just get a little loose with it.

I’ve got to be honest, now I wish there was a post-hardcore version of “Late Lives,” with you just screaming over that soft intro.

[Laughs] It’s funny, people always tell us – and we agree – we’re a way heavier band live than we are on record. I prefer it that way. I hate when you see a band live and they’re so aggressive on record and then they’re just weak. I’d rather it be they’re more subdued on record and then when you see them live they’re so much more powerful and there’s more punch to it. I think in a live setting songs should be allowed to become what they’re going to be and not just be exactly what they are on record. Like, we’ve played “Late Lives” – which is actually hard to play live, it’s really difficult to make that one come across – but we’ve played it heavier live. So it’s funny you say that.

How did you go about writing the lyrics to the record? I could be wrong, but I feel like they’re a bit more hopeful or optimistic than in the past.

Yeah, it’s for sure more optimistic than past records, but I wouldn’t say it’s an optimistic record. I think, with the music too, we allowed ourselves to be a little more upbeat and just focus on writing a catchy tune and not just write a morose record. I always try to match the mood of the songs, and I think these just felt more upbeat and optimistic so I tried to approach it the same way.

Also, whenever I write lyrics, whatever comes out, whatever I’m feeling, I just try to let that be what it is and not force anything too much. If any optimism did creep in, that’s not something I want to shy away from. I don’t want to write a super negative record or morose record just for the sake of writing a morose record. I think that comes across as BS too. I think when bands try to write these insanely depressing, moving records, you can just tell.

Yeah, it feels forced and unnatural.

Yeah, and who knows? I’m always very aware of what I’m writing about but I try not to let it creep too much into my psyche, like, “Oh, is this too deep? Is this too happy?” I try not to worry about that stuff too much. I feel like it’ll be a detriment to the song if you focus on that stuff too much.

On the topic of lyrics – I don’t think I picked up any on this record – you talk about sand a lot. Could you talk a little about what sand represents to you?

Yeah, I like sand a lot and I like it when bands revisit certain themes. Sand can mean a lot of things. It can be the passing of time, like an hourglass, and how things change. Or it can be, like, having sand, like grit. If you’re tough, you’ve got sand. Or it can be something from your youth – it seems like kids are always involved with sand. It’s always been something I could phonetically latch onto and work with and I think it’s fun to go back and revisit certain themes. So, yeah, that’s what sand’s about. [Laughs]

I wanted to talk a bit about “Bay of Dreams.” I think that’s the most different song you’ve ever done.

Sure. [Laughs]

Could you talk a bit about how that one came to be?

Chad actually had that one on this – I forget what it’s called, not like a MIDI keyboard – this weird board that makes a bunch of different crazy sounds and he was just working with this chord structure and we had it floating around for a while. It was one of those demos none of us really knew what to do with but we all really liked. I had this vocal rhythm I sang over it and it always got stuck in our heads. Like you said, it was really different from the other songs – from anything we’ve ever done – but that was why we kept coming back to it. We thought it wouldn’t stand out too much on the record, we thought it had its place, so we ran with it, and we all really loved it. Then we were trying to put a tracklisting together and we just couldn’t let it go, we had to have it on the record. I think it works well. It’s also exciting; I feel like that’s a song that allows us to do different sounding songs, you know?

For sure. It’s one of my favorites on the record and I think it’s a really cool change for you.

Thank you. We feel the same way and hopefully other people do too. But if not, well, we love it, so… [laughs]

Just one more: how do you think you and the band from, say, the Saltwater era would feel about Wait for Love if you were hearing it for the first time back then?

Ooh. That’s a good question. [Laughs] Honestly, back when we were writing Saltwater, Mike and I were the only people in the band at that time. If you would’ve told us back then that we’d still be a band and be on our fourth full-length, I would’ve had a hard time believing that, like, ten years later. But I think if I heard the record – it’s hard to say, because my musical tastes have changed so much from when I was working on Saltwater to working on this – but I think I would like it. The songwriting’s better, just from a mature standpoint [laughs]. I think I’d like it, but I’m biased, because I wrote the record. I can’t have an unbiased opinion, but I think I’d be stoked on it. I definitely wouldn’t think it’s the same band. [Laughs] I don’t know, that’s a hard question. I would definitely have to sit and think about that one for a while.

Anything else you want to say?

I’m excited for people to hear the record. I hope people sit and really digest the record. I hope people just really let it sink in. That’s always my goal with our records.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with me.

Zac Djamoos
Zac Djamoos Zac Djamoos is a contributor at chorus.fm. He can also be found at @zacdjamoos on Twitter.
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