Chan's Interview with 507 Magazine November 13 2017, 0 Comments

Interview with Chan Poling by John Sievers from 507 Magazine:

1. This year marks the Suburbs 40th anniversary, and you’ve released a new album called Hey Muse!  What was the process of putting this album together like?

It all started around 2010. My wife had been ill (hence the many visits to Mayo) and she taught me, encouraged me, to live as fully as possible. She always said to me that The Suburbs was one of my greatest legacies; and why not celebrate that? I started writing rock songs again joyfully and have been doing so ever since, first with "Si Sauvage", now with "Hey Muse!".

2. Hey Muse! Includes some tracks that seem to be a bit of a departure for the ‘Burbs like the ballad “Butterfly.”  How has the band evolved with this new album?

One can't help but evolve, hopefully.

3. One of my favorite tracks from the record is the up-tempo “Our Love.”   It has some great lyrical surprises like the comparison of love to “Cheerios crushed beneath the leg of a kitchen chair.” (I hope I heard that right, if not forgive me).  What comes first for a song like this?  The music or the lyric? What’s the song-writing process like for the Burbs? How has it changed over the years?

That song came together sort of all together. When I realized the lyrics (yes, you got them right) were sort of surreal and free I was allowed to go more 'off the cuff'. Some songs (like "...Can't Take You Back") are more succinct, maybe have a little story. In general, I start with music, but oftentimes I find a title in my notebooks that triggers something. It's always been that way.

4. “Our Love” is also one of the horn-heavy songs on the album with a great bari solo and some cool section licks.  How does composition of the horn parts work?  How does it expand the band’s musical palette?

I often write the horn licks on keyboard. Lately I've been working with Stephen Kung who I trust implicitly to flesh that stuff out and make it sound more "horn-like"! And of course Max and Rochelle are soulful geniuses, who you can just let go and blow. I think The Suburbs has always had (especially since "Credit In Heaven") a jazz element.

5. What kind of a response have you gotten to the new record on your supporting summer tour?

Excellent! And radio has picked it up in a big way all around the world. Top 20 in the national Modern Rock charts, etc.

6. Can you share any funny or moving stories from your tour (maybe that stop in the “foreign lands of Des Moines”)?      

Well, it's hard to think of all that goes on, on the road. The story in Des Moines was me being recognized on the street. Admittedly I'm not a huge rock star, so that was very cool. The funniest thing is just being with a gang of 40-50 year old people roaming from town to town in vans and trucks! We don't call them "tours" anymore. We call them "trips". Maybe "excursions". That sounds more grown up.

7. You made sure to put your new record out on vinyl.  Why do you think it is important to put your music out in this form?

Vinyl is the fastest growing physical product out there now.

8. Hey Muse! and your last record Si Sauvage were both crowdfunded.  What is your attitude to crowdfunding to produce new music?

The idea of controlling your own operating capital is always intriguing to me. We don’t make music that competes with Taylor Swift. We make music for a more unique market and you need to find ways of funding that like any other business. When we realized people actually wanted to be part of these crowdfunding things, it was a relief. There’s a stigma that you’re 'asking' for money. The fact of the matter is, we’re making a product. It costs out-of-pocket cash to make a good record (with the studio time and the musicians and the manufacturing and the marketing etc). When I found out we could control our own destiny by simply offering our record for sale before it’s made, I said let’s do it. It’s more empowering, it’s about community and it’s a closer tie to the fans.

9. What was the process of making the video for “Je Suis Strange” like?

We gave Deacon Warner a call at IFP and he had some young film-makers do it for us: Thomas Solowiej and Lea Redding.

10. The final track of Hey Muse! “When We Were Young” seems a bit biographical looking back at earlier times with the Suburbs.  Is this a fair assessment? How have some of the losses you’ve experienced over the years like the passing of your guitarist Bruce Allen, or (forgive me and ignore if you find this offensive) the loss of your wife had an impact on the music you’re making now?

That's a fair assessment. Loss is hard. Hopefully you take some sort of empowerment from it to live on, and more fully.

11. Some of your music has taken on a life of its own.  For example, “Love is the Law” became a part of the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage Minnesota.  What do you think this says about your music?  What effect has this had on you?

I'm very proud of this. It's that sort of thing that keeps me going!

12. The Suburbs are often credited with helping create the “Minnesota Sound.”  What do you think you’ve contributed to this sound?

I think we contributed a sort of bridge between the "art" music of the coasts, the glam-ish 70's rock of the UK, and the Midwest ethos of humor and fun. Plus we loved James Brown and club dance music and brought that in too.

13. What achievements are you proudest of during your time with the band?

My kids & loved ones, the great collection of tunes, my friendships, learning to produce bigger shows, my connections around the world of theater and jazz and other kinds of music, making people happy!

14. What’s the biggest change in the music business you’ve observed in your years with the Suburbs?

Major labels have shrunk. Physical product (records) have disappeared. Sales have plummeted. The business side has changed immeasurably. The art keeps on! Thankfully. Honestly: The Suburbs are in an esoteric niche of the music business world, and I'm just very happy that we've established ourselves there and people are still finding us and appreciating what we do.

15. How have your other projects like the New Standards had an effect on your music in the Burbs?

I've reached more people. I've learned a lot. I'm a better piano player.

16.  Does your interest in jazz find its way into the Suburbs music? How?

Yes! You can just hear it... I think... I think a lot of songwriters have been experimenting with a larger chord palette, etc. but we also like to leave room for improvisation. It keeps the gigs fresh, and some nights you can hear things you'll never hear again!

17. What Burbs’ song is requested most frequently when you play live?  Are there any of your songs that you refuse to play?

We don't take requests. Ha. And I'll play anything!

18. What advice would you give to yourself if you could send a message back 40 years in time to when the ‘Burbs started?

Don't smoke.