Talk Talk: Justin Kennedy of Army Navy (Part 2)
Our talk with Army Navy's Justin Kennedy was lengthy enough to (hopefully!) justify two separate blog posts--last time we talked about the LA band's return to Orange County and the acts that helped shape their refined pop sound, this time we talk about their excellent self-titled debut record, their appealingly wacky videos and Kennedy's musical past with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie megafame.
Army Navy play tonight at the Yost Theater in downtown Santa Ana, headlining at 10:45 p.m. Also playing: Long Beach's the Valley Arena and Orange County bands the Jakes and the Colourist. Show starts at 8, is $8, and is presented by KUCI.
A: It's been great! It's been better than expected. We started our own label [Fever Zone Records] to put this record out, with our sort of small resources we put a small team together. I feel that we had a pretty strong record and we got it out to the people we needed to, and the people working for us believed in it. People actually bought the CD! Most of it's online, but people are actually buying it, which is amazing. These days. you don't expect to have any sales. To have a decent SoundScan every week, it's like "Alright, some random people in America are buying it!" The word of mouth does get out, the little bits of press spread. People turn their friend onto it or whatever. The Pitchfork thing came at a great time. The album had been out for a couple months. We had sent it to them a couple of times and heard nothing. At the same time, we'd rather them not review it than give it a shitty review. Sure enough, out of the blue, we got an email saying they had reviewed it, and obviously spent time on it, becaues a lot of the stuff they talked about was really on point, it wasn't like they just heard some indie pop record. They kind of got what we were going for, which is nice. It gave us a little bump. If Pitchfork gives you the OK, it gives a lot of people the thought that you might be legit. People all aorund the world read that.
Q: Definitely, I even saw the record for sale at Best Buy.
A: You did! Holy crap. We have a really good distribution company. Someone else said they saw it at Best Buy, which is shocking to me. It gets your name and your CD to different places where people might see it, and spread the word a little bit more.
Q: So are you at the point now where you're working on new stuff?
A: Yeah, there's sort of two next steps: We're releasing a 7" through Club Fandango in the UK in a couple weeks, which is really exciting, because the UK market we feel we can do pretty well in. We're releasing the album in fall or October over there. We're doing the UK thing, and then setting up a tour over there. We've kind of already started recording the next record. We're doing it with the same producer, Adam Lasus. We went in just to sort of get flowing on stuff, so we started working on one song last month, and he had another project he was working on for a while. We're going to get back in the next couple weeks, early to mid-July, and start recording the next thing. We've got a ton of songs, so it's just taking the time and getting it locked in. We're pretty excited about the new stuff, and just looking at what's going on to be on the new record. Our plan is to have the record out early 2010; first quarter, February or something. We definitely feel like we want to follow up quickly, and having our own label, you want people knowing who you are, the buzz that's going on, and the next record's going to take us to the next level.
Q: Have you given any thought to using your label to release something by other artists?
A: We've talked about putting some other stuff out. At this point, it's been so much work just doing the one record. We've learned a lot. I feel like through this whole process we've learned how to run the label a little bit, and maybe now we sort of have the skills to put somebody else's out. There's definitely a couple of bands that we're friends with that we feel like we could put something out with down the road, it's just that finding the time to do it within our own stuff. But we'd love to do it. Maybe next year we'll try putting something out.
Q: Even though it didn't do so hot at the box office, I imagine "Silvery Sleds" being on the Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist soundtrack helped you pick up some new fans. Lots of cool acts on that record.
A: It was nice to be associated with some of those bands for sure. Absolutely it was great. It gave us a little money, which we needed for the label and touring and stuff and just got it to a totally different audience. Definitely the teenage audience, the all-ages audience that have seen the movie, and love Michael Cera. The soundtrack sold pretty well, so you can definitely tell that people looked for us on MySpace and found out who we were. The "Silvery Sleds" acoustic version we have on YouTube has a ton of hits, and that's definitely because of Nick and Norah. it definitely helps to have a movie promote the music, where we have very little money to promote.
Q: The videos for both "Saints" and "My Thin Sides" are really funny, which I think is a smart move. Since people only watch music videos online now, what's the point in trying to make them anything other than funny?
A: Exactly. That's the only kind of video that I would ever watch. From the start, we were like, "we don't want to do some corny video, that's so boring, and no one's ever going to watch, because the only place people are going to watch it is on the Internet, and if it's on the Internet, it's got to be entertaining." We don't want to try and look cool. We came up with the ideas and treatment with the directors, who are both friends of ours. We produced it with our friends, and lucked out getting Paul Scheer for the first one, who's a total genius. The second one was just another friend of ours, who was the director [Ben Cresciman]. We had a lot of treatments, a lot were along the lines of a typical music video, which is us trying to look cool. The music video for "Saints" was kind of our backlash against that--videos that mean nothing, and just our skewed perspective of the thing. The Paul Scheer video was hard to follow up on, that one got a lot of places and did a lot for us. Stereogum, Videogum, Funny or Die. You just try to outdo yourself somehow. It's just fun, shotting a video with all your buddies.
Q: So are you totally sick of people asking you about being in Pinwheel with Ben Gibbard?
A: Yeah, definitely people are interested. Obviously, Death Cab's huge. Ben and I, we went to high school together. We were buddies because we both loved Teenage Fanclub, Lemonheads and Spinal Tap.
Q: A great combo.
A: Yeah, exactly. Pinwheel was a great band, we had that for years. Then we went our separate ways. He actually started Death Cab a few months after we broke up, sort of a side project. He was raring to go after we split up, and I took some time of--like being in a long relationship, you kind of need a break. But Ben's great, we still keep in touch.
Q: So what did you do during your time away from music?
A: I was always writing. Just worked a few different jobs. This is all up in the northwest. Moved to LA, just on a whim. Ended up playing music with Anna Waronker [singer for that dog.]. I played in her solo band, just because it was fun to play someone else's music for a while. But after doing that, it made me want to get back playing my own music, and really get excited performing again, playing shows. That was a really fun experience. Playing with someone else made me realize I needed to work on my own stuff again.