New Media Interview: The Silversun Pickups

This interview was published on The University of Amsterdam’s New Media blog in 2009. It is part of a collection of interviews on how the Internet is affecting the business of being a full-time musician.


 

As I was preparing for my interview with the Silversun Pickups I received a Tweet acknowledging that they had just rolled into town. Later that day I chatted with the Brian, Nikki, Chris and Joe of the Silversun Pickups before their show at the Melkweg in Amsterdam to discuss what it takes to be a successful musician in the new media climate.Silversun Pickups Amsterdam

You guys use Twitter quite frequently, can you tell me about your experience as a band using Twitter:
Chris: It is nice to have the photo option, it’s the best, the fact that you can just take a picture and put it out there. It’s so immediate.

Brian: It’s also, at one point we had a journal on our website and it became daunting, we were all daunted by it cause we thought we had to write these masterful paragraphs. But the Twitter thing, it’s like cliff notes. It makes it really easy.

Chris: Cos the twitter thing we can just put one line.

Brian: “hey we’re in Amsterdam.”

What was your motivation for using Twitter?
Chris: I checked it out to see what it was about and if anyone I knew was on it. And then I noticed our booker was on it, so then I kind of followed him and I was like “oh your on this?”. I didn’t touch it for 3 months, then one of our label guys found me on Twitter and was like, “lets have a meeting about this, you should do this more often for the band”, and I was like OK I’ll give it a try. And so we eventually got onto it.

Do you also maintain a Facebook accounts?
Nikki: Chris and I do

Chris: It’s definitely not a personal thing anymore. It’s like we understand people are going to come in and they know who you are through your band and so they add you as a friend. And then all of a sudden they accept you as a friend.

What was really nice about it was, on my birthday about a month ago all these people were saying happy birthday to me. I made sure to say “Thank You” to everyone and people were surprised like, “OMG my friends don’t even write on my wall.”

That was going to be my next question, it seems like it must be difficult to stay in touch with fans this way?
Brian: It does get a little overwhelming. Also, privacy is important too.

Joe: The band is an entity to itself. You have to work hard to keep it separate from your personal life.

Brian: Nikki and I were just talking about this. You’ll be waiting for a movie in line, and you really just want to see this movie and the guy in front of you in line will turn around and be like, “Hey man”. It’s cool at first, but then after an hour it’s like, ”…well, so you going to see this? Cool man cool. Expensive huh?” Yeah…… and it’s like “……awkward”

Do you feel that you are forced to be friends with people that your not friends with?
Brian: NO….we always try to meet people as much as possible. You just kind of notice it getting more intense, which is fair enough. But it gets hard.

Nikki: You meet so many people every day, it’s hard to remember.

Brian: I’ve started to just feign recognition. In LA. Someone just looks at me in a coffee shop and I’ll be like, “HEY!” and they’ll look back all confused thinking, “What??” It’s hard I almost feel like there is a little friend quota in your brain.

Yeah actually there is, it’s 150 friends.
Brian: Really? Yeah that makes sense though. In context, like at a radio station or in the same kind of room where we first met it is easier. I’ll see “Ed” and I’ll be like, ok, “radio station Ed.”

How much money do bands make these days? Or to rephrase that, what does it take to be a successful band?
Brian: We really thought we were successful before we had records out, like when the band started to feed itself. When we actually didn’t have to put any of our personal money into it – we were like, “This is it!”.

Joe: If you can go on tour and come back and not have to look at your empty bank account then it is good.

Brian: I think it’s a world of blue-collar rock stars now, which is totally fine, really. If you can get by and play music.

Nikki: We feel successful that we don’t have to get another job.

Joe: Yeah, the fact that we can do this for a living is pretty much as awesome as we could have hoped it would be.

Brian: At this point we’re living larger than we’ve ever have before, we have three or four cars each, and our own blimp…and so we’re broke.

Nikki: (laughs) Yes the blimps are expensive to upkeep.

Brian: As long as you can travel around and play and make records. Than that is pretty much fantastic

So you guys don’t have jobs anymore?
Brian: No…
Nikki: …we would be fired

So you aren’t all going back to work at Disneyland?
Brian: Hehe, yeah that was a funny one.

Joe: But yeah, I think the blue collar thing. It is possible to make a living and do this without that sort of extravagance of rock bands in the past. You don’t have to be The Who to make a living and travel. You can do it economically and smartly – we can all make a living and pay our rent back home.

Brian: I mean, there are still going to be the Kayne Wests and Lady Gagas, but the middle ground is much bigger. It’s amazing. People are really hip on what bands need. For example, now a days if people hear your song in a commercial they don’t get up in arms and say you’re a sell-out . They say “Great now they’ll be able to play my town.”

Joe: Yeah the way bands support themselves now…People are pretty knowledgeable about how bands get paid, it is more transparent.

I think people are willing to accept that there is a lot of free music out there and there needs to be a way for artists to make some money. For example, I know “Lazy Eye” was included in Guitar hero?
Brian:  Yeah that was really just for fun. It was pretty awesome, a lot of  kids like that game.

So that’s the coolest way to sell out I guess?
Joe: Well and that’s just another venue to get your music out. Because not only are people hearing your song, but they can play it if they want. Which is even cooler. They can play “Lazy Eye!”

Brian: Yeah and it’s hard! I’m not very good at it.

But you play guitar!
Brian: That’s why I’m bad at it.

Joe: Turning 6 strings into 4 buttons, it actually is kind of complicated.

Brian: We’re trying to work our way into scoring the next Legend of Zelda

Are CD sales important anymore?
Brian: CD sales are important, we still get some money from that.
But most of our money comes from shows, merchandise and licensing. But that’s something you got to be careful about. We get pretty strange stuff. And we turn down a lot of things, like TV shows. We’re just like, “Wow that kills me inside.” But then hopefully you get to the point when you don’t have to do that anymore.

Has the vinyl deluxe package been successful?
Brian:  Yeah, actually it has. Vinyl is going up now. Actually there are two new shops in Silverlake, LA…one of our friends has one of them and he was on the news, it was like, “The one shop now making money in this economy…Oragami.” I have no tears for CDs, I’m like fine, just vinyl and digital downloads for vinyl.

It seems like some people want it cheap and quick, but other people want to treat the album like a piece of art. That’s what is interesting about the limited edition set, it’s not just something overproduced on the rack – you can really appreciate it.

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