The Madison chamber-pop/indie-baroque group Pale Young Gentlemen is on a tear of late, thanks to the October release of their sophomore album Black Forest (Tra la la). Its melancholic, lushly string-suffused, very smart tracks have earned raves locally and beyond, once again racking up good reviews on Metacritic. To promote the release the band is on a fall tour that has taken it from Burlington to Lubbock to Los Angeles, and many more points in between.
The band will perform a tour-concluding show at the High Noon Saloon on Saturday with Amo Joy! and Science of Sound labelmates Sleeping in the Aviary. The noise-folk combo are likewise stopping at home in the midst of a national tour for their new release Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel.
The Daily Page caught up with Pale Young Gentlemen front man Michael Reisenauer via email at an Iowa City cafe and shot the breeze with him about the music business, cheeseburgers and the murdering of bandmates.
The Daily Page: Are you getting decent food and rest out there? We're concerned.
Reisenauer: Yeah we are. And thanks for the concern. We've been fortunate enough to stay with a lot of friends and family. We may not always have beds to sleep on, but who really does these days? We eat a lot of ham sandwiches and sometimes we spring for a couple of items off of dollar menus at the various fast-food restaraunts around the country. If you're ever in New Mexico, you should get a Green Chili Double Cheeseburger -- if you like green chilis and double cheeseburgers.
Which songs from the new album are getting the best response with club audiences?
It differs a lot depending on the audience. While nothing's been predictable, "The Crook of My Good Arm" usually gets people moving around. "Goldenface, Morninglight" also tends to quiet the chatter. And "There is a Place?" definitely has had a consistently good crowd reaction. These songs operate on different planes, but they seem to achieve similar things. It's taken some time, but I think we've found a good dynamic mix of songs for our stage show.
How's the esprit de corps? Everyone in the band getting along?
Surprisingly and unsurprisingly yes. We've found ways to maintain sanity -- either by reading in the van or zoning out with our headphones on. All tension has been tethered to whether or not we've eaten recently or slept enough, so we try to keep those things in check and don't have too many issues. Did I mention that I've killed everyone in the band and am now on my second generation of tour mates?
Please describe where you are as you answer these questions.
I'm sitting on a bench seat in "Java House" in Iowa City, Iowa. It must be mid-term time for the students or something because the whole place is filled with young folks flirting with each other or poring over textbooks. The whole band is here. Beth and Gwen are writing in their journals and I was just re-working some lyrics for a song we plan on recording for Daytrotter tomorrow. Brett has had a curious way of disappearing on the tour and cannot be found at the moment. Matt is talking on the phone. The van is in desperate need of an oil change, so we're also looking up the nearest Jiffy Lube. We're all just trying to keep up with things...
Do you have faith in the music industry? Do you think the major labels have a future?
I have a lot of faith in Music. It's pretty obvious that there has been a huge shift in how people are purchasing music -- which has been talked about at great length pretty much everywhere, so I won't bother -- but there are still great musicians out there and an audience who wants to hear what they have to say.
The days of the multi-million selling album might be waning (unless you're affiliated with Disney), but I think most musicians realize that they're likely not going to make very much money anyway. With so many options and with such easy access to most of it, I can't imagine the major labels ever regaining their earlier clout.
The neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music, The World In Six Songs) says music is the result of evolution, that humans came up with music as a survival tool for teaching, for creating kinship bonds, etc. Do you think music has a Darwinian function, or is it just fun to dance to?
Crap. I don't know. I think music has a different function for different people. I think the best music reveals something to you, either about yourself or human nature or whatever. Do I think those who like to make music are more likely to survive? No. But I think there are a lot of people to which music is an essential part of life.
I've sat in a circle with a slew of 3-4 year olds belting out "going on a bear hunt" or "Old McDonald" who are obviously gaining something valuable -- whether in kinship, as you mention, or learning social skills or their abc's. Some use dance as catharsis or a stress reducer -- so maybe there are health benefits too. I guess it just depends on what you're after.
Are you writing new songs? Anything you can share yet?
Definitely and nope.
And the mandatory hack music writer question...
Who are your influences?
Don Giovanni, Ludacris, & the whale in Pinocchio.
Catch up on the road experiences of both bands with the Pale Young Gentlemen tour blog and the Sleeping in the Aviary tour blog. Their homecoming show at the High Noon Saloon has a sensible cover of $5 and starts at 5:30 p.m. sharp on Saturday, November 22.