by Pawl Schwartz
Paul Schwartz interviewed bassist Nick Theineman and lead vocalist/guitarist Evan Patterson of Young Widows for UR Chicago one week before their tour for their new album In and Out of Youth and Lightness at their practice space in Louisville, KY. They played in Chicago on May 14th at the Beat Kitchen.
UR Chicago: Is there a certain philosophy that guides the songwriting process? Is it mostly trial and error? A lot of jamming?
Evan Patterson: Not really. It’s more that we have an idea for a couple of songs and then an idea for a record. We just want to make sure the songs evolve towards that idea or overall feeling.
UR: Are you recording as you write?
Evan Patterson: We are. We actually rarely document practices. Usually just for writing. A lot of times the songs happen from jamming. We’ll sit here for like…
Nick Theineman: Hours.
EP: Yeah, literally. A song could be from one practice, or it could have taken hours of jamming on an idea. There isn’ta definite theory or idea behind the songwriting. I think we are at a point now where it is more about the myth or the idea of writing a song.
NT: We have never set out to sound like band A or band B.
UR: Wow, from listening to the last three records I always thought that the songs were so well put together that they had to be set in stone and written before a practice.
EP: There’s certain parts for sure where I say “here is the drum beat” or “here is where this vocal part has to go.” But I would say that it only happens about 30% of the time, tops. Never whole songs planned out, just an idea or riff to build on.
UR: So was there a guiding idea or goal with In and Out of Youth and Lightness?
EP: It actually kinda started off as a concept record. I wanted it to be an EP that was all songs that had the same parts, but presented in such different ways that listeners couldn’t really catch it. They might say “oh, there’s that bass riff again!,” but it wouldn’t be obvious. Then I would have lyrics that reflected on the sound or lyrics of one of the other songs on the album. Like taking a ton of parts out of context so that every song becomes it’s own thing while still being made of the same stuff. I think I wanted to do this mainly because I was so surprised that there wasn’t already a similar record out there. There are still elements of that idea in the album. Within In and Out of Youth and In and Out of Lightness there’s a chorus line that creeps in that they share.
There’s a song that didn’t make the record called "Roots of the Leaves" that had the same bass line as "Future Heart." So, with this record we were working towards the goal of that EP and then other songs just kind of reared their heads.
UR: Are the songs driven by a basic interest in percussion, or percussive things?
EP: Yes, at times. I wouldn’t say that we set out to do that, but if the bass and drums weren’t so locked in and doing what they were doing, then the guitar would sound thin. I guess what I am trying to say is the bass and drums would be empty if they were on their own, and so would the guitar. They need each other. Together the two things make a whole new third thing. As a three-piece rock band you have to have a tough balls to the wall rhythm section. If the beat or low end isn’t there, you’re kind of like “well, what do I follow?”
UR: What does the phrase “in and out of youth and lightness” mean in regards to the album, and in regards to you as author of the lyrics?
EP: It was a coming-of-age idea of growing up and the loss, at times, of the brighter side of life — the thing that happens when you grow up. More and more responsibility and on occasion stress and depression, but it’s part of life.
“In and out of youth these wild dreams are wrong all you want is a few more guns to show what damage you can do. You’re gonna run everywhere and run. Hit the satellite. Hit the good life. Hit the doomed. And the moon. In and out of youth, what’s the use. These wild dreams are done.” The lyrics drift back and forth between hopeful “go for it, shoot for every target!” and “what the fuck is the use.” My goal with this record was to have the lyrics be a little more complex and textured, showing not telling.
UR: Favorite city to play in?
EP: Philly and Chicago are my favorites. It really depends on the night. The Bottletree in Birmingham, AL has to be one of my favorites though. Everyone should check it out; people should travel there to see shows. There aren’t many people in Birmingham, so there are always tickets available. The Melvins constantly play there, and you know that’s a good sign because they have been around forever so they know what’s good.
UR: Have you been working on any new material?
EP: We’ve been working on one song, really. It’s in the middle stages. We’re pretty much just getting ready for tour which starts next week.
UR: A lot of these lyrics seem to be written as metaphorical narrative. Was adding narrative to the lyrics done on purpose for this album?
EP: It was my goal with this record to have the lyrics be a little more like I was painting a picture, giving you visuals instead of just saying “this is how I feel.” Instead it is like here is a scenario and it will make you feel a certain way. I kind of got the idea for the phrase “in and out of lightness” midway through writing the lyrics — thinking of people and relationships as birds. We’re all just flying around chaotically from one place to another with no real purpose or direction. Similar to how a bird builds a home somewhere, lays eggs, breeds, then leaves that home and moves on somewhere else. The whole animal side to the very human social interaction we think we have.
UR: Does this tie in with the wolf sniffing the flower on the back cover of the album? I noticed he stole it from the face on the front.
EP: I had actually asked the artist Kathleen Lolly to draw a wolf because there is a reference to a wolf in ”Young Rivers.” She went in a whole other direction and honestly, what she did was great. His bags are packed so you can tell that it is a moving-on kind-of-thing; he almost looks like a businessman. He’s marching off with purpose, but all these things are flying out of his suitcase into the trees and vines, so much he can’t hold on to.
UR: The art style reminds me of Angels of Light’s We Are Him.
EP: It reminded me of that too! I was really happy about that because it is one of my favorite records. Swans and Michael Gira — I’ve been a fan of that stuff for years. Swans are such a powerful band, so far ahead of their time. To be in that same era as Sonic Youth and making such heavy music that is not metal. It’s such a hard thing to do!
UR: Would you say that Young Widows then is trying to make a new kind of hard music? Not metal, not hardcore, just hard?
EP: Oh yeah, definitely. The goal is to make new music. If we were making a sound or genre that had been done before, it wouldn’t be satisfying.
UR: A lot of the praise I’ve read for the new record seems to pick up on that. They are saying that the band has “stepped out of the shadows of their influences.”
EP: We never set out to sound like one band or another, but it’s so hard to not only pull off writing music that doesn’t have deep roots in something else, but to make sure that people don’t just categorize it that way when they hear it. We’ve only been a three-piece for about five years. We’ve really learned to play off of each other really well, and I think a lot of that unique sound people are talking about comes from that interpersonal dynamic. We really write together, and given that this was Jeremy’s first record writing with us (the drummer, not present), I think that he helped a lot. He approaches the drums more like a percussionist instead of a rock drummer. He can fill in the gaps and do a lot of intricate things with the toms. He came to practice with the drum line on In and Out of Lightness and we were just blown away. We had to figure out how to make it work.
UR: Will Louisville continue to be Young Widows’ home?
EP: We’re gonna be here always.
NT: We thought at one point we would move, but we pretty much figured out then that it isn’t going to happen.
EP: Sometimes you drive through another city and think that moving to a big city would be beneficial or somehow easier. But I don’t buy it. Louisville is such a small city though. Every band that comes through here plays to 400 or 500 people when they are used to over a thousand in other cities. It would be nice to play in our hometown three times a year and make around $2000 because that would be great fuel to continue the band. But that isn’t the case here; we would have to move up to NY or something to pull that off. But other than that, I don’t want to be in a big city.
UR: Is Louisville an inspiration for the songs then?
EP: If I didn’t live here, my perspective on life would be completely different. Every place I go on tour that I like, I like because it reminds me of Louisville. Everyone is just so slow and chilled out here, friendly.