Los Angeles post-rock aficionados and contributors Beware of Safety are releasing their third studio album, Leaves/Scars, on July 12th. They have been pillars in the niche community, called upon to headline The Silent Ballet‘s post-rock festival West Without a Word in 2009, and have been frequent guests on the podcast (and former UCLA weekly radio show) Post-Rock Paper Scissors.
Earlier this month, they released a video preview of Leaves/Scars with some curious commentary about how the band had taken on a new writing process and how they barely survived making this record. Naturally we had to conduct an interview with one of Beware of Safety’s principle members, Steve Molter, for probing. When asked directly about this situation that nearly broke the band up, Molter gave me a politically correct, vague answer. Surprisingly, when I told him that answer was unacceptable, he alluded to the crux their band’s issues. Fortunately, they worked through them. Leaves/Scars is the culmination of their efforts, and Beware of Safety can’t help but sit back and grin when they listen to it.
Since I was getting down and dirty with Steve Molter, someone who would qualify as a “middle-management”-esque personality in the post-rock arena, I took the opportunity to get his opinion on where he thought the future of the genre was going. Check out the conversation below, and pre-order your copy of Leaves/Scars today.
Steve, give me a short history on Beware of Safety for the readers who don’t know about you. How did you all find each other. Why did you decide to focus on instrumental rock. You’re all such talented musicians, you could have gone in any direction.
SM: Adam Kay and I went to high school together in the mid-to-late-’90s and played in a band back in Boston post-college in the early ’00s. Jeff Zemina and I went to college together in the late-’90s and wrote some music together. In 2003, the three of us moved out to Los Angeles from the northeast…just before winter, in fact. Excellent timing. Shortly after we arrived and unpacked, we decided to form a band.
I remember specifically choosing to go the instrumental route back in 2002. That was a time when I couldn’t find any inspiration in what was going on in the music scene to which I was exposed to for years prior. It was all flat, boring, and unauthentic. I was determined at that point to find musicians who felt the same and wanted to pursue an instrumental project as much as I did. Thankfully, two of those folks were two of my closest friends who happen to be really talented musicians and genuinely open people. Adding Morgan and then Tad was icing on the cake. Again, two wonderful people with unique and knowledgeable musical input.
Leaves/Scars will be your third release. In your video teaser, you mentioned that you didn’t think your band would survive making it. Please expound on that.
SM: When I saw the video for the first time, I noticed that Ben Cross (the creator of the video) used that part of my interview. Shortly after, I heard my voice recall the difficulty of the writing process, I heard Morgan’s voice echo that thought. We did the interviews with Ben individually due to scheduling and neither of us had really expressed that sentiment to each other. The next rehearsal, I said something to Morgan about the similarity and we shared a brief chuckle.
When communication erodes, problems arise. There was a time during the writing process when walls were built up and thoughts, emotions were not clearly expressed; sometimes they were not expressed at all. This is a major issue when five creative people are trying to make music. We weren’t exactly Metallica in Some Kind of Monster–great movie, by the way, as it shows how a truly dysfunctional and ego-driven band fails to see themselves from a healthy perspective, even when they bring in a therapist–but we seem to have learned from the pitfalls and mistakes we made.
The album truly captures those mercurial emotions and interactions we had. The release of this record holds quite a bit of emotional weight with us as a band, and we’re truly happy with the final product.
I’m sure your fans will be happy with it too! In the album teaser, it sounded like this record was a first for Beware of Safety’s individual members to contributing to the writing process. Who was the principal writer before, and why did you make the shift in the creative process with this record?
SM: This go around was the first time we were a five-piece, so it wasn’t that we had one or two folks writing everything before, but that we had never written any material from scratch with this line-up. It Is Curtains was more or less written prior to Morgan joining the band, dogs was written prior to Tad joining the band. When we walked into the rehearsal space to write a new album from scratch in January, ’10, it was anyone’s guess where things were going.
That makes sense. Changing the direction a bit, I’m glad to see Beware of Safety is still making music. There aren’t many new post-rock bands being formed, and the number of older bands are dying off. What has kept the band together/writing?
SM: The longer we stay a band, the better chance we have of staying a band. Understanding why you’re in it is all the difference in the world. When you do it for superficial reasons, money, fame, attention, ego, etc., it’s easy to walk away when things get tough. But when you’re in it because you want to express and share yourself and your view of the world with folks who are kind enough to listen, then you see beyond the frivolous disagreements and strive to shake off the thorny exterior and get back to the truth of your endeavor.
Do you think we’ll see another wave of post-rock bands since we’re getting new music from icons Godspeed You! Black Emperor (new album rumored to be coming out in 2012), Explosions in the Sky (Take Care, Take Care, Take Care 2011) Mogwai (Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will 2011), and Mono (in the writing process)?
SM: You’ll have to call me with details about new GY!BE! I haven’t heard anything about new material! I must be under a rock! I did, however, get to check them in Pomona and LA a few months ago. First time I had seen them. Absolutely wonderful. They certainly do it for the right reasons.
Bands will always draw inspiration from inspiring bands. As long as inspiring bands put out music, newer bands will feed off of and learn from them–hopefully not simply imitate them. Conversely, bands will also be inspired (intentionally or unintentionally) by bands that do it for the wrong reasons and put out music that reflects said reasons. It’s up to the listeners–who in this case are the members of a newer band–to decipher why they themselves create music and to navigate their way through the positive inspiration as well as negative information that exists in the music world. Inspiration can be misleading.
What do you think about the wave of lyrics/vocals evolving into the genre?
SM: The human voice is one of the most beautiful instruments on the planet. Its addition to music can be glorious and heart-wrenching. Certain bands do it well. Others don’t. Two of my favorite bands who use vocals (whether they’re considered post-rock or not) are Gregor Samsa and Sigur Rós. They intertwine melody so tastefully without overwhelming the other instruments, but still offering their listener the chance to feel the human quality dancing throughout the songs.
I also really dig how our friends and Mylene Sheath label-mates Gifts From Enola work in vocals to their music. They subtly mix them on the album. we’ve played with them, they don’t even use a mic to amplify them on stage. Nate (Nathaniel Dominy) just belts out at the top of his lungs. Rishi Arora from Signal Hill does this too. Man…that maneuver holds an emotional weight that rivals a traditional singer in the live setting, but holds a sense of personal reflection that is quietly, but powerfully shared with the audience.
Steve, don’t make me fall in love with you. Along those lines, where do you think post-rock is going?
SM: Some post-rock bands are challenging themselves. There are plenty of artists who are creating art in different ways and from different perspectives. This is the truest form of emotional communication. When I find an inspiring band, I latch on to them with a sense of purpose as if they’re going to help me make things in life better.
Some post-rock bands are simply getting lazy. Too many bands get praised because their laziness is mistaken for ingenuity. It’s like in the Simpsons when the Malibu Stacy doll is marketed as new and super awesome so all the kids will buy one, but the designers of the doll simply gave her a new hat. Smithers says, “Look! A new hat,” and all the little girls run over to buy one. Too many artists are praised for simply giving old art a new hat. It’s ridiculous.
Hopefully we’ll see some new hats on new dolls. The dolls are changing shape.
Last question: How excited are you to go out on tour, see some old friends, make some new ones?
SM: Touring is awesome. In August, we’re heading to some places we’ve played, some places we’ve never played, and some that I’ve personally never had the pleasure of visiting. We’re also linking up with old friends (You.May.Die.In.The.Desert, Joy Wants Eternity, Theta Naught), as well as meeting up with new folks. I also get to meet you for the first time, Nikki! After all these years of correspondence, finally a face-to-face greeting!
SM: But the best part about touring is meeting our supporters and sharing our music. I love interacting with our audience and encourage them to come say hi before or after shows. I’m grateful to have the experience to meet so many like-minded folks from all sorts of different places.
We’ve also got something exciting in the works for pre-tour that I think our supporters will really get a kick out of, so stay tuned for that.
Thanks a million for the interview Nikki.
Thank you so much, Steve! You’re a doll. You’re a doll with a new hat.