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Innerpartysystem: The Kotori Interview
Electro-rockers talk about their crazy light show, eclectic genre mixes, and their critique of major labels.
I was only able to catch the last two songs of electro-rockers Innerpartysystem's set at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. As I scurried to catch the show, the heavy rain caused me to have a near-death experience and a late arrival. Being from L.A., rain is more rare and dangerous than gunshots. I almost got into three accidents thanks to L.A. drivers. When I arrived, I noticed that most of the barely-moving line was wearing trash bags over their heads to substitute for rain coats!
I walked in when "Not Getting Any Better" was being performed, and I was impressed at how the band was able to recreate every little noise and sample onstage, with only three people manning a drum kit and six synthesizer-keyboard-noise machine contraptions. The visual setup was very simple but effective, with five versatile square-shaped lights placed in two staggered rows - three in the back, and two in the front.
The lights were programmed to create patterns that would emulate light moving from one side of the stage to the other, glowing in unison or even splitting up into three columns per square and flashing around. At one point, I thought the band members were disappearing and reappearing because of the way the lights were flashing. Innerpartysystem was definitely armed for a trip-out-worthy light show, and the head-bashing band members delivered.
The set ended with "American Trash," and the packed house was jumping up and down with excitement screaming, "I'm just American trash, stupid American trash," at the top of their lungs along with front man Patrick Nissley, who was trying to hear himself amid Jared Piccone's bashing drums and the dense whirring of the noise robots.
All in all, the show was a well-executed blast, a feast for the eyes and ears. The set lists were perfect for getting the crowd jumping whether they knew the song or not, and the audience was completely satisfied by the end of the night.
I was fortunate enough to get an interview with Jared Piccone after the show. He spoke about their crazy light show, eclectic genre mixes, and their critique of major labels.
That was quite an effective light setup you had onstage. I swear you guys were disappearing and reappearing at some parts of the show!
Jared Piccone: That was only 20% of our lightshow! We have a lot of lights to fuck the audience up, but we couldn't use everything this time because openers have to be able to get off the stage quickly enough for the main act to have enough time to set up.
Tell me how you and Patrick went from being in an emo band to an electronic dance music group?
JP: The idea of liking only one genre of music has always been foreign to us. Patrick has actually been programming music the whole time, making dance tracks but keeping them to himself. We were in an emo band when we were in high school in the late '90s, early 2000s, when bands like Thursday were the shit.
Innerpartysystem didn't happen until around four years after our previous band ended, so there is no conjunction between the two projects. It wasn't like we were in an emo band, and we were like, "We want to make dance music."
I heard you guys say that there were no dance music influences in your scene. How did you get into dance music with no influences around?
JP: Right, there wasn't any electronic music in our area in Reading, Pennsylvania. We would drive an hour-and-a half to Philly to party at their clubs where there was electronic music.
Your sound is such a mix of rock, emo, electro, and breakbeat. Who are some of your influences?
JP: Dave Grohl is my strongest influence as a drummer, but we were really, strongly influenced by the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, and '90s older house. And we were really into Justice and all those French electro house producers that came up with chopping up samples. We also have our pop influences such as Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears.
I don't know of any other dance party music band that has lyrics like Patrick's. Is this mind stimulation part of the Innerpartysystem plan to change the world?
JP: We actually aren't a political band at all. "American Trash" is really just about being a better person. We just wrote the song because that was just how we were feeling at the time, but there's no intended overlying theme.
But we don't usually sing songs about happy things; we just like stuff with substance. I mean there are only so many ways to spin going to a club and getting drunk.
"Don't Stop" was the first hit on our first album, and that is a social commentary too. So I guess we have one on each record, and they are both hits. So people must think we are pretty political. But we wrote "Don't Stop" only because we were so obsessed with how nutty and fake a lot of the music industry can be at that time.
How did you go from being on a major record label to an indie label?
JP: Getting a record deal was a dream come true at first, for three months. That's what all kids who want to be rock stars dream of. But there is tons of red tape, and if you don't make a hit immediately, the record label will throw you away. We weren't doing well with the major label system. We knew we were going to get let go a month before and we were relieved.
Moving to Red Bull Records is awesome; there are only six people working there so you don't have to run in circles just to get your questions answered. People aren't always getting you to write a song that fits a formula to make money. You can feel the difference in vibe at the different systems.
Were you guys classically trained?
JP: Kris and I were always band nerds. Kris actually shreds on guitar. Patrick's parents are multi-instrumentalist musicians, so he grew up with music. We can all read music and play.
How do you achieve such a complex sound with so many samples and sound textures?
JP: If you were to give all the equipment I have now to me five years ago, I wouldn't have known what to do with it. When I first started learning to use Ableton, I was like, "This is too overwhelming," but now I spend eight hours a day on it.
It's definitely an addiction if you are spending more than eight hours on something, and you don't even realize that much time has passed. I can easily spend more than eight hours on a kick-drum and then I'll stop and think, "Did I really just spend my entire day listening to PFF PFF PFF PFF?"
How does the songwriting process happen with Innerpartysystem?
JP: We've been jamming more recently, but historically, 90% of our songs happen where somebody will work on a loop or a crazy sound from a keyboard instrumentally, and then we'll build upon that and lyrics come last.
I see that you have a lot of remixes online and they are from a very eclectic group of artists. How does this happen?
JP: 18 out of 20 remixes are usually people from a label throwing us the files from the original artists because they know we are producers, and they like our work. We'll remix it and send it back, and sometimes it's accepted, sometimes it's not. We are essentially a band of producers; that is what we do before anything else. Especially on the road; we have eight computers on the road with us. This is the first tour on a bus, and we can just spend all the time in the back making sounds.
I see that you have a lot of videos on your website that all have a very creepy, horror movie-esque feel. Are you trying to scare us?
JP: 80-90% of our online videos and all music videos are made by Stephen Penta. He's like our visual band member. We've all been friends since we were 12 years old, and he has been helping us the whole time. There's a running theme in our videos. The cut-up choppy style is all Penta.
When were you able to quit your day jobs and pursue music full-time?
JP: We never really had day jobs. It's almost impossible to have a day job and be in a band. How can you be in a band full-time when you are spending eight hours of your day doing something else?
We knew that we were going to be poor, stink, drive shitty cars, eat at home and not have money to take girls on dates to do this. But that's the sacrifice you have to make if you want to make it work. I don't think it would have worked otherwise.
We live so lightly that we could get by just playing a few shows a month, and that's how it should be done. We're still kind of in the same boat. I don't have many clothes. I don't have a car. I don't have my own residence because I'm touring so much.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
JP: Aside from stretching, Patrick does vocal warm-ups. Kris and I take a couple swigs of Jack Daniels. But a lot of times I'm on my computer making music up until three seconds before the show.
Have you met any inspirational artists on the road?
JP: We toured with POS, the rapper from Minneapolis who was emotionally and spiritually in tune. He reminded us, "To hell with what everybody else thinks, do what makes you happy" when we were still on Island records and musically going in a direction we didn't like.
Pendulum, the way they mix their tracks with live instrumentation, and the way they send sub-basses to make different parts hit harder. We have been watching them set up every day and learning so much. As far as fusing live music with electronics, they are above and beyond anybody I've ever seen. Their setup and sound is massive. They demand your attention; you can't do anything else when they are performing.
Have you met any of your heroes since becoming a professional musician?
JP: We toured with a lot of metal and screamo bands before Innerpartysystem, and we actually toured with Thursday and Under Oath in Europe. We were actually on the same bus as Thursday, which was awesome, but I'm holding out to meet Dave Grohl. I don't get too starstruck, but Dave Grohl is going to totally make me whimper like a kid.
What is the craziest thing that has happened on this tour?
JP: We never remember crazy times until we are sitting around in a group reminiscing. It was an icy night out when we played Kansas City, and this drunken girl drove her car straight into one of the band's trailers. It was such an intense collision. She also hit a stop sign, which flew out of the ground and hit someone. The crazy part is that if that trailer had been just five yards further back (out of her way), her car would have plowed right into the venue we were playing at and killed Patrick, Kris and everyone else around them.
But the real crazy thing is how quickly everything is happening for us. I remember starting the band, playing five shows, getting signed to a major label, andtwo months later flying to a different country and opening for Linkin Park for 50,000 people in England. It was so fast; it was literally in a season. I met Jay-Z that day. It was like, "Dude what happened? I was selling used cars three months ago!"
Do you write a lot while on tour?
JP: We were writing so much before we left to go on tour. We are going to release a record over the summer. We flip-flop; Patrick has to take a break after writing nonstop 12 hours a day for a month. Remixes are a lot more mindless. You just have to make something else sound awesome. We do a lot of those on tour.
What do you want to tell the world about the upcoming record?
JP: Our first album was rock and electronic. This EP is dancier. We are mixing even more things for the new album. It will be more experimental and whacky. The envelope is going to be pushed even further. Our producer heard some of it and is calling it "future pop" so just keep an open mind!