The Small Cities’ new album With Fire is due to drop on March 3 and if you can make the release show (@ the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul on the same date) you’ll be treated to appearances by Zoo Animal and No Bird Sing as well. In the following interview, drummer/vocalist David Osborn talks about the making of the album, working with the ever affable Brian Moen (who produced), and the preternatural allure of fire. And if you can’t wait until March 3, the entire album is streaming on their site right now.
Caleb Price: Given the caliber of this record, I imagine putting it together took a considerable amount of time and effort. On the whole did you find it an enjoyable experience or is it a relief to be finished?
David Osborn: It was really enjoyable seeing it come together the way it did. We’ve been playing these songs live for some time, and it was pretty exciting to see them take on some new life in the recording process. Scheduling conflicts caused some delays, which was a little frustrating, but that also gave us more time to spend with the recordings, which definitely ended up working out okay in the end.
CP: What was the songwriting process like? Does one of you take the reigns or is it more-or-less democratic? What were some of the main sources of inspiration for this album?
DO: (Vocalist/Guitarist) Leif and I bring most of the songs to the band initially, but from there it is an ultra collaborative experience. Rarely does one of us bring a fully formed tune to the band, which results in songs coming together painfully slowly. Conversely though, it also means that we are usually very stoked about new tunes by the time we finally play them out or record them.
As to what inspired the record, I would say the desire to get tunes out there that we want to play over and over again, and that hopefully people will want to listen to repeatedly as well. That’s why we’re doing this.
CP: You describe the new album as being “brash” and “immediate” compared to your first EP. What spurred this change in your sound?
DO: I’m a sucker for nice warm reverb, but we just wanted to try something different this time out. And I think a more “direct” approach works better for these songs and what they’re about.
CP: Besides denoting the band’s shift to a more intense sound, what is the significance of the title With Fire?
DO: Fire is beautiful and terrible. For all its bite, it eventually just burns out and cools off. I think it does a nice job of tying together this bunch of songs.
CP: One of the album’s major themes is childhood, whether in the form of reflection on personal experience or exploring the relationship between parent and child. How did this subject come to be such a focus of the record? In what way (if at all) does it relate to your current situation, as individuals or as a band?
DO: I guess I’m interested in being young and care-free, and the things that start to happen that open up the universe tiny bit by tiny bit. Seems like youth is packed with these moments, though I think most of us are pretty oblivious to them at the time. Though this probably doesn’t change much as we get older.
CP: I see that “With Fire” was produced by Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier, Laarks). How did you guys meet and what was it like working together? What did he bring to the project?
DO: We met both Brian and Zach [Hanson] after playing with Laarks, whom we love. They expressed some interest in recording our album after we’d gotten to know them pretty well, and we could not have been happier about it. We really love both those guys. We knew Brian did great work after hearing that [An] Exaltation of Laarks record, as well as the first Peter Wolf Crier album, and he really killed it. He has such a wonderful, distinctive voice as a producer. We were really lucky to have him on board.
CP: Which track is your personal favorite? Which are you most looking forward to playing live?
DO: I really love how “Last Winter” turned out. I think it’s probably the wildest thing on the album, and I really love that about it.
I think I like playing “Laughter Song” the most live. Love playing that beat!
CP: Anything else you’d like to add? (i. e. crazy experiences, funny anecdotes, political diatribes, Norwegian Lullabies, this is a blank slate here.)
DO: Just that we always love playing Eau Claire and need to get back there soon as we can!