A week ago Monday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Jared Bell of Lymbyc Systym before their show at the Empty Bottle here in Chicago. Jared is the keyboardist in the Austin/Phoenix duo that is breaking molds of what an instrumental pair can do both in the studio and on stage. His ability to fill the room with layered instrumentation is amazing and his brother Mike, the drummer for the duo, moves flawlessly between drumming styles. Together they create a sound that breaks down genres. The live show is a demonstration of how to build a tangible energy and then leave the crowd standing on the edge, filled with anticipation. I talked with Jared about things ranging from childhood rap groups to the current state of music and its effects on the live music medium to his love of touring. Follow the jump to the interview…
~ When did you guys begin to play instruments as kids, were your parents an influential force in your musical interest?
Our parents had artistic tendencies that they maybe never chose to develop and I didn’t even start playing the keys until I was thirteen or so; I just had a little Casio and played Beatle’s tunes and stuff with one finger. We started just playing in our Mom’s living room. We did have a rap group together when I was seven and Mike was ten.
~ What was it called?
Rappin’ and Rhymin’, I wish I had the tape because its really great.
~ Hysterical, so as a kid it was mostly learning through a lot of trial and error?
Right, and then as time went on I got slightly better at the keyboards and slightly better but Mike has had more formal training. He played drums in school, stuff like that.
~ Was it always Lymbyc Systym or did you each branch out before making you way back to the duo you have now?
Lymbyc Systym has been a band roughly since 2001 but I’m not really sure if that fits because we’re brothers and we’ve been playing music off and on together since we were little, with Lymbyc Systym we were essentially just putting a name to us playing music. We made a CD of songs we had put together and called it Lymbyc Systym and it’s what we gave clubs as a demo. But our first album, Carved by Glaciers, and tour didn’t come about until 2005. Then we recorded Love Your Abuser in 2007 in what we called Tempe but really is South Scottsdale. What’s great about that area is that you can get a really big house for nothing and we had a whole huge room that we used to record the album.
~ Your dynamic is interesting, there are a lot of bands that are a family affair but you guys are just two brothers, any attempt to incorporate mom/dad/sisters other musicians or did this just fit?
Yeah, I guess it’s sort of our our gimmick but what makes it work is that were pretty good at composing for other instruments so, for example, all horn parts I’ll write out. When we have guest spots on the album it’ll be written out unless we really trust them like our friend Dylan Christie who played some vibes on Love Your Abuser. I gave him some of my composed stuff but also told him to record one track of whatever he wanted and we ended up using that one. But we basically keep it just us. Especially live, we’d rather have both of us make as much sound as possible and find creative ways to do just that rather than, you know, write a guitar part and then have a guitar player.
~ Does it help to have your brother right there playing with you any more in the live setting than in the studio?
Yeah, we definitely have a really strong connection musically. I think live in terms of energy we connect that way but we have a pretty set show we play every night so in terms of variation or improvisation that doesn’t necessarily come into play. One thing that we do get away with I think is not practicing as much. We do tour a lot so that keeps things tight but even with new songs we work on them together so much that when we come to the live setting I know where he’s gonna go and vice versa. We really can find the right sound pretty quickly, so when we have limited time to work out a song that connection really comes into play.
~ Do you guys both live in Austin?
No, Mike lives in Austin and I live in Phoenix but I spend a lot of time there because one its an awesome city and two we keep all the gear and van there.
~ Does it live up to the tag of “live music capital”?
Uhh, pretty fitting, there’s SXSW, which I’m not really sure how I feel about anymore and Austin City Limits. Definitely some of my favorite bands have come out of Austin like American Analog Set, the Swords, and Explosions in the Sky. Also, our friends This Will Destroy You who we’re doing a split album with are from Austin.
~ What are your favorite live music venues or cities to play?
Definitely in the top five, probably in the top two is the Empty Bottle. Its kind of divey but at the same time super homey because everyone here is really nice to us. Plus the sound is awesome. Also, the Doug Fir in Portland is a pretty sweet place to play. Its underground and the walls are a built out of logs; the best sound live I’ve ever played with. But I enjoy any venue that’s legit in its own music scene. For example, Modified Arts in Phoenix is great because it essentially made the Phoenix music scene yet the PA is always blown and its essentially a converted art space. All of my favorite bands played there at one time and it gets hot and sweaty so it has its upsides too.
~ What was the last band or specific show you saw that sticks out in memory?
Umm, my memory is terrible. The problem with touring so much is that it all blurs a little. The thing I like a lot is touring with a band and seeing them night after night. Sometimes I initially won’t get what a band is trying to do and then, especially if the band plays the same set, I’ll begin to pick up on all of the subtleties. When we toured with the Album Leaf they’re really impressive because they simply know what their doing, its really tight. But I guess one of my favorites that we’ve toured with is this guy Montag, he’s amazing. On that tour we had a few mellow shows and he put huge amounts of energy into every show regardless of the situation, it was inspiring.
~ Are there limitations that you guys observe in the live setting that you don’t encounter when in the studio? Is it difficult to produce some of the album sounds live?
It’s definitely a challenge but I think it works in our benefit in a way. Its fun to find creative ways to pull it off. For example, about a year ago we started playing some new songs that were a bit more guitar heavy; I brought a guitar along on tour and was just switching between the keys. I sort of realized that it wasn’t a part of our thing, in a way its about keeping a really simple set-up. Especially when working on new stuff, its really fun coming up with creative ways to make it work live.
~ Does everything come with you, what’s onstage?
Not much really, all of the new stuff we recorded was done in a studio called Uniform Recording and I made a rule to only use what they had. I brought one keyboard and Mike brought his snare and symbols, we used all of the really nice gear in the studio. I was inspired by an article I read about Air and the fact that they used different keyboards for every album. So much of instrumental music is about tones and developing new and different tones. So a lot of the stuff that I used for the new album couldn’t come with us on tour because they either too big or I wouldn’t be able to reproduce the sound. But in the live setting that makes it fun. You know, I’ll either use my Korg Synth to try to recreate the sounds or if I can’t I’ll just make a new one.
~ You guys use samples, loops, pre-manipulated music, a lot of music thats there that not being actually played. How much would you say is there when you start and how much are you guys playing during the show?
Our rule with the computer is let it pick up some slack but anything that’s a main part we play. Major melodies, bass lines and things like that we find ways to pull off; whether its a looping pedal or sometimes its rewriting a melody, combining two melodies into one and stuff like that.
~ We at LMB have an ongoing discussion on what live music is fundamentally; where it starts or stops. I put everything that can be played in front of people in the bucket, DJ sets/live PA sets, while others would cringe at the aspect of playing pre-recorded material or having a lap-top on stage. What are your thoughts?
For us, we try to make it so you can’t tell what the computer is playing. I think a band with a laptop only gets bad when you see a hand in the pocket or someone just standing there or when you see someone playing one note on a synth and you hear an obvious guitar part. Its kind of like suspension of disbelief, if you can keep people feeling entertained you can get away with throwing in more and more on the laptops.
~ What’s your take on the current market for music, the fact that bands can get their music to people through the internet without having to tour first? They then have a following when they get out there not trudging through the two fan nights? Do you think some bands are missing an important aspect of band life?
This is something I think about a lot and I don’t want to speak out against anyone’s success, but there are bands that do get unnecessarily big. There are also bands like Joanna Newsome or Grizzly Bear that I love, which had that type of hype. Animal Collective is a big example where I think its great. For me, its scary because in the mainstream people are basically spoon fed mediocre music and its erie because its found its way into “indie” music. For example, I saw Make Believe down at SXSW, it was the best show I saw and there were forty people in the crowd but then Vampire Weekend has a line out the door and I’m not sure if people even know why they’re there.
We’re a total DIY band, we just toured like crazy and things like getting a booking agent didn’t happen until recently. We always managed ourselves and booked ourselves, even things like street teams were coordinated from the road. That stuff I feel is important, it developed a love for music and a love for touring. Though sometime its really hard to gage where we are in the scheme of things because its been three years and we’re still nobodies, at the same time we have really dedicated fans. It awesome to have that.
I see us as a band like the Album Leaf and Tortoise. They are a good examples because they made an album got a little bigger and toured. Its almost like a right of passage and that’s why I’m not begrudging bands that make it overnight but its sort of the fun of it, sleeping on people’s floors and meeting new people. I’m not sure if I’d like to, you know, have a manager who’s just like “Okay, you’ll be on Pitchfork today and then this thing tomorrow and Spin band of the day.” I really admire bands more that have put in the time and generally those bands have more interesting music. You can see why it took time and its more meaningful.
~ A lot of instrumental bands including yourself have been getting a lot of good press and seen an increased fan base in the last few years. Do you think this has anything to do with live music being more influential due to the rise of digital music and the fall of the blockbuster album?
Downloading is a really rad thing, the Daytrotter show we did yesterday is one of those things that we find helps a ton. But its a mix, we did a lot of touring in the past few years but we hit a point and then our last album came out and got really good reviews. So, we tour our butts off and then we let the album work to build a larger fan base. Some bands rely on all touring or all albums but we seem to fall right in the middle somewhere.
~ What is it about instrumental music that you find to be more appealing than lyrically based music?
I think so much of instrumental music is energy and feel that comes across different every night and sometimes Mike takes more of the music that way. I think that’s one of the nice things about having a two piece band is we let the drums speak just as much as an instrument. He can be really melodic with the drums.
~ You guys are on tour supporting a remix album, how did that come together?
The cool thing about the album is its really natural, everyone who did remixes are friends of ours and we happen to respect all of our friends music. The way it was inspired was that we did a tour with the band The One AM Radio and to promote the tour we each remixed a song from the other band. We really loved the remix and decided to collect more. So we got all of these people together to make this album. We felt it was good in between project to split up time between albums. A cool thing is that we made all of the album art by hand out of recycled material.
~ Just to wrap things up, what are you favorite bands with at least two brothers and your favorite duos?
Bands w/ pair of siblings:
1. Blonde Redhead!!!
2. Boards Of Canada
3. Cap’n Jazz
Favorite duos… too many to name:
1. Mr. Show (Bob & David) – comedy, not music, but
still my favorite all time duo
2. Mates of State
3. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Beach House, Air, Simon & Garfunkle, Outkast, the list
Lymbyc Systym is on tour for another week or so then they will take some time this summer to get the split album with This Will Destroy You and a solo LP into our stereos. We here at LMB can’t wait for the new album. Read below for the upcoming tour dates.
MAY 13 – MONTREAL QC @ ZOOBIZARRE
MAY 14 – HAMILTON ON @ PEPPER JACK CAFE
MAY 15 – TORONTO ON @ SILVER DOLLAR
MAY 18 – FREDERICKSBURG VA @ FATTY J’S
MAY 20 – KNOXVILLE TN @ PILOT LIGHT
MAY 21 – MEMPHIS TN @ HI-TONE
MAY 22 – FORT WORTH TX @ LOLAS
MAY 23 – AUSTIN TX @ STUBBS
MAY 24 – HOUSTON TX @ MINK