It’s been a year since Via Audio released their woozily gorgeous “Natural Language”. Funded through the support of their fans, friends, and family through a successful Kickstarter campaign, the album sat for two years before being released in 2014. Now the band is on hiatus, living on separate coasts and finding out just how far they can stretch their talented wings.
The indie duo, comprised of Jessica Martins and Tom Deis first met in 2002 while studying at Berklee College of Music. They began as a quartet, then became a duo, first living in Boston, then Brooklyn, then half in Philadelphia, and half in Los Angeles.
They were a four-piece through their first three releases, becoming just two for Natural Language, producing the album with Via Audio’s original drummer Dan Molad. The release show, held at Glasslands (RIP), was both a “hello” and a “goodbye”; it was here, on a stage filled with flowers, that Martins announced her impending move to the west coast.
ATYPICALSOUNDS caught up with Jess and Tom to find out how life’s been treating them, and what we’ll be hearing from them in the future.
Your album Natural Language was released about a year ago. How do you feel the response was, compared with your 2010 album Animalore?
JM: The two records are completely different, from the songwriting to the budget to the way they were recorded, right down to the team involved in getting them out to the world. At the time Animalore was released, we had spent two weeks in Austin with Jim Eno from Spoon crafting a high-quality, expensive analog (to tape) album, which was released with help from a small label.
With Natural Language, time had elapsed, interest in the band seemed to be waning, and a lot of the team had fallen off the wagon by the time it was released – no longer did we have management, a label to represent us, or a booking agent to help set up shows. So to clarify, after our gracious friends and families helped us raise enough money to record and press Natural Language on our own, we couldn’t pay for PR as the budget was depleted – we really had our backs against the wall as to whether we should just release the record ourselves and do what little PR we could on our own, or to never release the record at all because we couldn’t promote it as well as we would have liked.
We had been sitting on the completed record for almost 2 years, one of our key members had decided to leave the band, resulting in Via Audio becoming a duo, and I was getting ready for a change in my life, which ended up with me moving to LA. In the end, we made the decision to just do what we could to put it out into the universe, having no expectations for what the future would hold. Because of the differences in all the behind-the-scenes, it’s hard for me to compare them fairly, but the awesome fans we’ve maintained seem to really like Natural Language, so it would’ve been really great to have gotten more traction with this record.
TD: We had positive responses from our fans for both records. There were some songs that critics weren’t ok with on Animalore, but it was all part of what we wanted to do as a band, which our fans have always supported. We didn’t pay for PR for Natural Language, so I only saw a few online reviews which were quite positive! Most of what we heard from our fans was that Natural Language was their favorite. So, I sometimes wonder what would happen if we got a more public response from critics.
Natural Language is more subdued than Animalore, which had more elements of dance music. Was this a conscious shift, or a part of your evolving tastes as musicians?
JM: Via Audio has always been a very open, collaborative democracy and it’s what I believe makes it so special. The evolution felt natural as we grew up and expanded our tastes.
TD: Natural Language was more personal, and that just happened due to us as humans. There was never a moment that we got together as a band and decided on any direction. That’s what made the band feel like a free space to write whatever.
What changes have you seen in indie music since you started the band in 2002?
JM: Though it’s hard to believe, the Internet wasn’t really a huge resource yet for musicians in 2002. You had to do more digging to get to the good stuff – today it feels really convoluted and like a lot of stuff passes for indie when maybe it really belongs in another genre. I guess it’s expanded though, which is great for the acts who can break into the higher echelon and fall somewhere between truly “independent” and backed by a label, but still maintaining the “indie” quality.
TD: There are a lot of exciting things going on all the time. SXSW has been an interesting cross section of the indie music scene of the USA. I’d say that it has become more welcoming. More and more bands are doing what they want. It was nice to see the rise of a band like Dirty Projectors, who probably wouldn’t have achieved that level of success when the current indie scene was still in adolescence in 2002.
Many albums, like Natural Language, are being released on vinyl in addition to CD and MP3. What is your opinion on the appeal of vinyl? Has it become expected for indie bands in particular to release albums on vinyl?
JM: There’s certainly a charm to vinyl that will hopefully never go away – it really makes me happy that so much of the world understands the importance of tangible, analog things, all over again. Nowadays most bands record digitally and transfer it to an analog record, which somewhat defeats the purpose – and financially speaking, it’s somewhat a waste if you really break down numbers – but besides the improved warmth in the sound, having that product to offer helps the overall message of your band come across, that this is something you worked hard on and now you can hold it in your hand and listen to it or break it or melt it down into a cool bowl or whatever you want to do with it. A vinyl record of my music could potentially outlive me, and that’s cool. Not to mention it helps your idols take you more seriously when you sheepishly hand them your record on vinyl.
TD: Indie bands are expected to release on vinyl. There is a certain ritual to putting on a record that feels like we’re taking time to appreciate music. Something has to be sacred in our culture. There’s also the sound of vinyl, which is charmingly imperfect, more organic sounding. I believe the current culture treasures both of those elements as they add meaning and physical reality to the experience of music.
You’ve toured pretty extensively throughout the US and Japan. How did you keep your shit together?
JM: Touring can be less difficult if you have the money and resources to make it so, but when you’re in your salad days and you’re driving yourselves around, sleeping on floors and living off gas station meals, it’s hard to remember how fulfilling it all becomes for those 45 minutes you’re on stage, and the couple of hours around that where you’re exploring new places and meeting new people. When you’re traveling with another band, it can really be fun getting to know them and their set and swapping seats in vans and just having a musical adventure together. Perspective is always skewed though – now that we’re not touring, I long for that life again; but put me back in the van for 3 weeks and I’ll be ready to come home to my cats.
TD: We toured month on, month off at the most. We all felt good about not touring constantly, and it would’ve been hard to take all that touring. We love playing shows, but home is something that gets pretty appealing even after 3 weeks on the road.
While touring, did the combination of sleep deprivation and unfamiliar surroundings culminate in any unique situations or experiences?
JM: We once ended up in a ditch in Montana during a snow storm…
TD: The first real outside promotion we got was from kids who mostly promoted Emo music. We played many shows with Emo/screamo bands, once found ourselves playing in a skate park. I think that counts as a unique situation for a band that sounds like us.
What advice can you give to a band that is getting ready to tour for the first time?
JM: Bring a book and other things to keep busy in the van. Learn how to snack well and stretch so you don’t fall apart eating gas station junk. And of course, appreciate every single person who listens to you play and wants to talk to you after the show. The life is unglamorous, but the love it brings back is not.
TD: Make the most of any situation you’re in. When one person shows up in some random Midwestern town, be their friend.
Do you read reviews of your work that get posted online and printed in magazines, or do you prefer not to know? Do you think a less-than-stellar review could change the way you write?
JM: I wouldn’t say we necessarily care if someone has a negative review, because it certainly is just as valid as any other. It’s good to know what your feedback is – while Say Something and Animalore were a bit more eclectic, Natural Language felt more focused, and I think that has to do with the response we received on the first two records. That might have more to do with the production and less with the writing.
TD: I read as much as I can find. I think all feedback has some kind of subtle effect on anyone. To me, it’s the feedback of people I know and respect that I think counts for the most. There was one time when Dan Molad told me to write lyrics in a certain persona that showed up when I wrote him weird emails, and I liked that idea. That fed into a Via Audio song called Lizard Song. So there are specific situations where you get hints as to how to write from the world. But mostly it’s just “what do I want to hear” that drives my writing.
Do you find the inspiration for your songs changes based on where you’re living (e.g. California vs New York)? Also, don’t you miss the pizza here?
JM: I’ve been writing some stuff out here [Los Angeles], and I would certainly say my surroundings are informing it – though I don’t know if it’s 100% geographical as it also feels based on how my life changed moving out here. California is such a beautiful place to live, and I’ve only ever lived on the east coast before this, so the change definitely helped move along a writer’s block I had been experiencing, and inform it a bit. Tom is actually still on the east coast [in Philadelphia], so maybe the time spent on opposite coasts could be a good influence on future Via Audio sounds. While the pizza in LA does leave something to be desired, the taco trucks on nearly every corner somewhat make up for it.
TD: Songs come from everything in your life. I’m sure surroundings work their way into your songs. I once heard an escalator making a repeated rhythmic thump and click, and sang it to myself all the way home. When I got home, I made it into a song.
How are you keeping yourselves busy now? Any new music coming?
JM: We put out Natural Language without saying too much about what the future would hold, because I think we weren’t sure either. It feels good to work on other stuff, to get back in touch with my own songwriting so I can better collaborate with others. If Via Audio does continue to make music, which I have complete faith it will, it might become something different than what it has been due to all the changes that have happened over the last 13 years, which on one hand feels okay as the band has evolved, but on the other hand feels like it might end up that we’re working on something that could be energy better-served on something new and fresh and differently inspired. Via Audio was such a wonderful, unique thing for so long that I almost don’t want to tamper with it now that so much has changed. I’d like to let the music that made it out into the world speak for itself and not try to force anything else if it isn’t meant to be. Either way, Tom and I will continue to make music, whether together or in different capacities, and that feels inspired enough to me right now.
TD: Jess and I have both been writing music for other projects. I may record some of mine as a solo album soon. A bunch of work has gone into my band Lazercake. Jess has some really cool music posted on the Internet under the name Land Art.
Watch: Wing & A Prayer from Via Audio’s Natural Language: