by Glennon Curran
Post-Trash recently caught up with Chicago two-piece Earring to discuss their forthcoming full-length, Tunn Star. Bluegrass music twiddled its way through a near-empty bar/café while Jason Balla (Guitar/Vocals) and Alex Otake (Drums) unpacked the “patient discovery” that churns about Tunn Star.
POST-TRASH: The new Earring record is called Tunn Star; can you give us the basics?
JASON BALLA: Yeah. It’s a full length. It’s coming out June 10th (2016) on a label called Fire Talk in New York.
POST-TRASH: How did Earring get hooked up with Fire Talk?
JASON: We played with Palm at Palisades two years ago. And Trevor (Peterson) was there that night and said, “I’m going to put your record out.” He was great. I feel like we caught him at this amazing time. We met him at a point where he decided that running a label is something he was going to do seriously. And meeting him was an important part of the reason for us to believe in the cause of Earring. We play in another project called Ne-Hi, and it would be pretty easy for us to spend all our time on that. Earring is a project that has always been very important to us, and meeting someone else who believed in it was exciting.
POST-TRASH: How is Earring different than your other projects?
JASON: We have the freedom to get a little bit weirder. With just the two of us, we don’t necessarily have the checks and balances of other projects—like, maybe you shouldn’t play this part for three straight minutes? (Laughs). For better or for worse, you know? And we definitely play really slow. It’s just a different animal.
ALEX OTAKE: Playing live we want to make the biggest possible sound that two people can make. We want to fill the room with sound.
POST-TRASH: How does Earring approach creating a sound like that?
ALEX: We like to use repetition in a way that makes our songs hypnotic in some way or another.
JASON: It is like trying to balance songwriting with music that is a bit more formless. We try to find a happy medium between the two where we can deliver the familiar musical things like a chorus or a hook, but have them be a vehicle for this other type of experience.
POST-TRASH: Are you trying to imply pop music?
JASON: It’s fun to see how far removed you can get it, while still making something that can get stuck in your head.
ALEX: Creating a song where you hear it the first time and you think: what was that? But an hour or two later you think: damn, I can hear that again in my head. I think that is something that is possible in our music.
POST-TRASH: Let’s Talk about Tunn Star. How was it recorded?
JASON: We recorded it with our friend Dave (Vettraino) at Public House Recordings.
ALEX: Dave makes it sound the way the band wants it to sound, but also has great input while never being pushy.
JASON: We could go to a typical engineer, but we are already doing so many things wrong that it would be a constant fight. For this record I was singing everything through an amp with a reverb pedal. There is a bunch of studio faux pas, and you need someone who is interested in giving that shit a shot rather than trying to fit it into the mold of what things should sound like. Dave gives you the space to be what you want to be, and then he finds the best way to capture it.
POST-TRASH: Did you record live?
JASON: Yeah. And we overdubbed vocals.
POST-TRASH: What does the album title mean?
JASON: It has multiple meanings. It is like a play on the concept of balance: the balance between the weight of life, and the weightlessness of the celestial; between dark and light. Whatever box you want to put it in.
POST-TRASH: That concept fits nicely with the interplay between formlessness and structure you mentioned about the songwriting process earlier.
JASON: It’s nice when you misspell something because it lends itself to a bit more digging.
POST-TRASH: Is there anything about Tunn Star that you think is worth noting, but is not obvious?
JASON: It takes an open mind, and closed eyes.
POST-TRASH: Do the lyrics have any specific message? Like a greater political or social meaning?
JASON: Only in the sense that they are trying to approach being real or human. Which is maybe a political issue because there is a scarcity of that.
ALEX: I wouldn’t say that we have any political message at all. But it is emotionally very important for us, and we try and convey that in our live performances as well as in the songs.
POST-TRASH: The song “Smile Like Hell” stands out because it is more up-tempo and poppy than the rest of the songs.
JASON: That was our attempt at making a radio hit.
ALEX: That was our rock song.
JASON: That was a song we wrote for Kesha. And it didn’t wind up working out.
POST-TRASH: She was only willing to pay one million and you wanted three, huh?
JASON: We value our creative work.
ALEX: She thought it was too good.
JASON: She asked if we could be trashier than that. She said it’s too poppy.
POST-TRASH: What’s that song about? Is it about all the high concept cosmic tensions between balance and whatnot?
JASON: It’s about being trapped in a situation or being stuck. It’s about wrestling with a certain situation you find yourself in. There are good parts and bad. I don’t know. Love is hard, man.
POST-TRASH: Tell us about the album artwork?
JASON: I made it. I was trying to embody what we’ve been talking about. I have always been inspired by people who make their own album artwork. There are several bands that I like that do that. I was never someone who was making stuff visually, but the band members are maybe the best candidates to make something that looks like how the music sounds.
POST-TRASH: Is this the first instance where you created album artwork?
POST-TRASH: How do audiences respond to Tunn Star at live shows?
ALEX: On this past tour we were in Hamilton, Ontario, and this guy came up to us and said that he felt like everybody should have their own yoga mat, and that everybody should have laid down and listened to the set. And I thought, “that’s fair.”
JASON: There are two reactions. It’s either really zoner music, or it’s heavy. We played this college town and kids were moshing—but more like—moshing in slow motion. It was really cool. It doesn’t happen that often. It was in Williamsburg, VA. We’ll take it.
ALEX: We have noticed we play with such a vast variety of different bands.
JASON: We were out for three weeks recently, and one night we’re playing with a bunch of pretty damaged noisy rock groups. The next night we were playing with all drone bands.
ALEX: When we’re on tour we play with everything from metal bands to folk music.
POST-TRASH: Was the metal show the one with the moshing?
JASON: You’d think so, but it was flipped.
ALEX: The metal show was the one where the guy said everybody should get a yoga mat.
POST-TRASH: It sounds like Earring was able to restore some balance to the world.