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Seismic-Sound Interview: The Spring Standards with Sara Johnson. October 7th at The Sunset Tavern.

October 5, 2012

This Sunday, The Spring Standards will be in Ballard to show us how the East kicks it’s heels up, with Tacoma faves Elk & Boar (Don’t miss either openers) and Melville. But our Sara Johnson took some time to ask The Spring Standards about the road, highlights on the tour and what they listen too.

This is the first time Seismic Sound has interviewed you so let’s start at the beginning: can you tell us how The Spring Standards got started?

We met in middle school, around 8th and 9th grade. The other James and myself met a little bit before we met heather. It was random, my family moved to a house just across the field from him and one day I saw a kid my own age playing basketball outside and I went over and said whats up and we both liked music and then it sort of went from there.James and I were playing the same kind of music. I was learning guitar and he played piano and we were both singing and we were into the same kind of music like Peter Paul and Mary, while our friends were doing garage bands, punk rock and getting grungy-dirty garage sounds and we were just more into The Beatles. Then he switched schools in 10th grade and started going to the school that heather was going to and he came to me and was like “Hey, I’m in this musical with this girl and I really
think we should like audition her” and I was like “I dont know man, I like the band how it is”. This was at a time when we were young and VERY VERY serious about what we were doing and so I didn’t want the change but eventually the change happened and well, she’s pretty awesome! So then we would just play off and on for years. We all went to college and went different ways. I went to Boston University, Heather went to Syracuse University and then James went to Berkeley in
Boston and we all just had our own time in college and then we would come back and play. So we basically just played forever, on and off, for fun and it was never really serious and then we all moved to New York City for completely different reasons and ended up hanging out and the language that we were used to speaking was music so we just got out a guitar and started playing and we were singing old songs, it was fun and then we wrote a song and then we just kept going… It got going really organically. Just about five years ago we decided to take it really seriously and tried to do our best and that is where we are
now.

One thing that I was super surprised about was that you guys are only a 3-piece. I thought there was at least 6 or 7 people up there!

When we record, its like a playround. We try to not let it get too out of hand and that’s why we have producers who are like “lets tone it back, you only need 12 guitars not 50”. We are still learning how to negotiate and how to traverse through the recording process and it took us a long time. Now we are at a place that we are really excited about it and still learning. When we play live, there are four of us. There are three of us mainly but we play with an auxillary musician who is also our tour manager, named Noah Goldsmith. He is amazing! He sort of switches off, he can play bass or guitar and he sort of fills
in the gaps. For the most part, we are a trio but we split up the drums between the three of us. I will be on, say the left side of the stage with a kick drum and a bass or kick drum and guitar, we switch off on lead vocals all the time, and then let’s say on the right side of the stage there are a kick drum and high hats and then in the middle, Heather is playing a snare drum and cymbals and we kind of just split it up so one person will be playing the down beat, one person will be playing the up beat and it just sort of works. We have alot of gear… Every sound guy we have ever worked with either loves us or just hate our guts. They hear it’s a 3-piece and they are like “yeah, alright! Easy night” and then we show up with enough musical instruments and amps and things for a twelve piece band and they are like “This is crap…”. So for the most part there are four live performers on tour except when we are playing radio or something.

How did each of you learn how to play so many instruments? Do you come from musical backgrounds or did you just start picking up instruments?

Sort of… Our parents were sort of musical. My mom can play the piano and the flute, although I haven’t heard her play the flute in probably twenty years. My dad can play one song on the piano and he can play guitar. My sister plays the obo, cello and piano. So we were sort of raised, as much as sports teams were important, music was important in my family specifically to just kind of be well-rounded, I dont know if that’s the right term for it but…. And the same with Heather. Heather’s parents were in a band when they were younger. A very peter paul and mary style band but it was all just sort of tinkering and fun. I actually don’t know how musical James’ parents are but they have an amazing collection of music and play all kinds of
music, all the time. We were in a town that there was not much going on with live music so we had to explore ourselves, which was a curse because there was nothing to do and nowhere to go to see live music but it was a blessing because we had to find it on our own. It was either the radio and Top 40 or we had to delve in and all of our parents sort of guided us in that way. They all listen to very Bob Dylan-esque, Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, all that stuff. And my parents are obsessed with listening to the Cambridge Boys Choir and like a million different things that sort of throws a monkey wrench into the Top 40. When my friends would come over they would be like “everytime I come to your house, there is always really weird music playing”. We weren’t classically trained. We all did chorus and orchestra and band in elementary, middle school and high school. We’ve all had some lessons here or there except for James he took some classes at Berkeley. I was never really taught guitar, I just learned the guitar. And then the bass, bass players would shoot me if they hear me say this but the bass is kinda… You can fake the bass if you play guitar. Im not saying Im an amazing bass player but I can fake it! I think it’s that way with alot of instruments. Like the ukelele, I am not a ukelele player but I randomly had a ukelele one summer and
I was just tinkering around with it and I wrote a song on that. So now we have a ukelele song and that’s not because I’m a ukelele player but it’s just because that was the only thing I had to make music that summer. So we kind of flip and flop and figure it out and sometimes if there is ever a time that we want, lets say a tuba, well I play the trumpet so I can sorta figure out how to play the tuba. It’s not going to sound great but I’m not going to playing some virtuoso tuba piece.

What have been some highlights of 2012 so far?

The highlights… the ones that just stick out to me are the album coming out because this is our first album that all 3 of us really have felt most passionately about. We have felt passionate about each album we have done but this, for some reason, just clicked. We were working with an amazing producer named Dan Milad and he is just amazing and a friend of ours. It’s just a really good feeling. We worked so hard on it and bands are so poor these days. We are so poor all the time but we made it through fan funded stuff and that was awesome, that was an amazing feeling, just that we have enough fans to
do that! And then the other stuff… We had a great tour! We toured with Rhett Miller and then we played Conan O’Brien in mid-June and that was a dream. That was so much fun and it’s fun to just think about that every once in awhile. If my parents ever have to explain what I do to their friends, they can always bring that one up. It gave some validity to all of our parents about what we do!

What about the rest of the year?

Right now we are about to head out on our first national headlining tour that we have done in a very long time. When we first started, it wasn’t a mistake because we learned from it and it was super fun, but when we first started we decided just to go for it and do a headlining tour when we had no fans. No one knew to come and see us. And when that happens no one is paying for tickets and no one is there to buy merch and then you play for the 3 people that know you in each town and before you know it you’re saying “well, gas is expensive, these places to stay are expensive because we don’t know anyone and since
that time when we were very green to it all but I THINK this is our first headlining tour that we’ve done without like co-headling in quite awhile, probably a few years We are heading out to California and back and sort of dotting shows along the way. And that is super awesome and exciting.

Have you played seattle before?

We have played Seattle before! We love Seattle, we love that whole area: Seattle and then down to Portland, Oregon. I am from the other side of the country so I consider that “the same area”. They are so awesome, they are just so cool. You live there right?

Yes, born and raised. I love it too! I lived a few other places around the country for short periods of time and it makes me love it that much more. It is sooo beautiful here. I live here and I still say that everyday!

The nature out there is just insane! When we are driving through it’s like “We’re moving! We are all moving here!”

What’s it like touring with you guys?

That’s tricky, it’s different for every tour. Sometimes when we tour with another band and we will all think of the dumbest things to do and we will take videos of it. So it really depends on the tour and also when we are going. For this one, when we do the entire country we do all sorts of weird things. Heather used to have this blog and she’s not doing it so much anymore but it was a blog of all these cool vegetarian places she would find along the way. And we used to do a thing called the Lead Sled Sid because our old band was called the Lead Sled and we used to do a thing that was from the perspective of our van and we would sort of blog that and do some weird video blogs as well. We just sort of have to keep ourselves entertained because it
really is just waking up early in the morning, driving 6 hours, loading in, sound check, playing a show, getting out late, going to sleep on a couch or a motel and then doing it all again the next day and it’s like that for a month. Other than the excitement for that hour that you get to play, which is the whole reason you do it, but it can get pretty monotonous. Just driving for hours a day so we figure out ways to keep ourselves busy and try not to kill eachother. That’s the other really entertaining thing we do, we just try not to commit murder. That’s the main thing, I just don’t want to go to prison after tour. “No prison” is the mantra for this tour.

What do you like about playing music? What is it that keeps you going
from city to city?

That’s an awesome question. Geez… It’s just gonna sound corny but it’s the people that come to the shows. It just is. Cuz you have people that you realize will come out wherever and will drive for hours. There has been people that we have played closer to than we have ever been but still 5 hours away from where they live and they will STILL make that drive and that to me, is just amazing! I rarely do that for bands that I love so that is such a cool thing. I remember the first time I said to someone “Hey, you guys gonna hang out tonight?” and they were like “no we gotta drive back” and they said some town that was literally 4 hours away and I actually felt bad! I felt so bad! It’s like the first time you see someone singing your lyrics. I remember very specifically when I saw that happen. It was in New York and there was a girl in the front row singing our lyrics and I remember just feeling like “I’ve made it! It’s happened!”. It’s just such an amazing feeling. I mean, this girl has listened to it enough times that she can sing along and I know what it takes for me to remember lyrics so that meant so much to me. Having people sing along when your playing is the greatest feeling and to just cut out all the instruments and stop singing and the people are still singing, that’s an amazing feeling! This business is really hard and it can be pretty heavy at times but at the same time it is the culmination of all those little things added up to make you feel like ‘this is why we are doingthis’. We love playing music, we love writing music, we love performing for people and then you see that people have a response of having a great time and it makes you feel like you’ve done something successful. You’re enjoying, they’re enjoying it, everyone is having a great time… This is perfect! And you make friends, we’ve made so many friends on the road from just playing a show and meeting people and we end up staying in a random farmhouse. And we have relationships where when they come to New York we all get together. We haven’t just made fans we’ve made friends. So as cheesy as it sounds, it’s the people that are my favorite thing. That and every once in awhile there is a show where you just get a little crazy. Those random shows where something goes wrong. Like if the power goes out, we love that! We had a show awhile ago that we played where the power went out and there was a huge lightening storm and the whole block was down and the show ended. The headliners were like “well, we cant do anything now” but we were like “But we can!” and we told the crowd “hey you guys can go or whatever but were gonna just play a few songs”. And we ended up playing a whole set in the pitch black dark with one emergency spotlight and people were dancing and we did some covers and people were singing along. I will never forget that night because something went wrong but it was so much fun!

What is on your playlist right now?

Well actually I am going to go to my computer right now and tell you but I gotta admit, I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora lately. Ive been  doing to old Pandora listen, which I wouldn’t normally listen to. I can deal with the ads, some people don’t like the ads but I can deal with the ads and it’s random, I like when someone is saying “Oh, this is something that might work for you”. It goes back to when people used to make mix tapes. I would love getting mix tapes because I wouldn’t put those songs on that mix tape but the fact that you did is awesome and now I don’t have to work for it, I just get to listen to all these things that I wouldn’t normally. I’ve been listening to a lot of Esther Phillips lately. Do you know her? She is amazing! She does this song “No Headstone On My Grave” and it is UN-believable. And I’ve been doing the ol’ Neil Young and a lot
of Wilco. I’m a huge Wilco fan. Stevie Wonder too. Stevie wonder and Wilco are always my go-to’s on my playlist. Definitely go look at “No Headstone on My Grave” though, its just so passionate. She sings it like she is going to die the next day.

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