Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hey Ice Machine Interview

Jonathan Ulman, drummer of Hey Ice Machine, took some time to answer a few questions. Check out their music HERE.

What's the story of how you came upon the name for the band? Did everyone agree with it immediately? You're all from a lot of different bands (some with very unique names) - how important is the name you choose for your band? Why?

The band initially started as a pretty relaxed project. We would get together once a week and hang out and play music. Eventually we had written a good amount of songs and began to start playing a some shows. As our schedule began to pick up we decided we probably needed a name. It took a while to pick on one, but we finally settled on Shelterbelt, which is the name our lead singer used back when he was in high school. In between shows we recorded our album and put it out in August. Two weeks later we were issued a cease and desist from a band in the Midwest with a similar name who inferred that we were causing "Confusion in the Marketplace...."

After some deliberation we decided to go ahead and take down all our sites and come up with a new name. Since we wanted to avoid running into any issues with name similarities we needed something that was pretty unique but also had personal meaning to us. We chose "Hey Ice Machine" which are lyrics from a band that we are all big fans of, The Minutemen.

The cease and desist took a little wind out of our sails as we had to work to get all of our websites back up and running and let everyone know of the new name, but we slowly got back on track and building up our schedule with our new identity. The only problem was we now had a box of CDs with our old name and information. The bright spot being that we have found that our CD sales have been higher since our friends and fans want them as "collectors items."

So that in a nutshell has been our band identity adventure over the last year. We all definitely had our opinions of what a good name would be and there was some back and forth, but we also went into the process with open minds and on both occasions collaborated to come up with something we were happy with. There was an understanding that a good band name would only be benefited by good music associated with it, so we picked something meaningful to us and went with it.

The Minutemen, eh? I'm not sure I'd say they're that noticable in your music. Would you consider them influences musically or do you just like them?

I agree there aren't a lot of similarities in their music to ours, we just love the band and their songs.

How much does/can another band truly influence music without it just being a copy or rip-off anyhow? Where does originality come from?

It's always interesting when a band describes what their influences are and then comparing it to how the music sounds. As individuals in this band we all have a pretty broad range of influences. Anything from The Rolling Stones, The Band, Built To Spill, The Walkmen, Television, The Louvin Brothers, Charles Mingus, The Remains, Don Cherry, OV Wright, Dinosaur Jr., Alice Coltrane, The Wipers, Al Green and Bill Callahan (to name a few). But one of the best things about our group is we are always introducing each other to new music. I became a huge OV Wright fan just by hanging out with Winston (Bass) and spent a good amount of time getting a feel for some of the drumming styles of that era. When we were writing some of the songs for the album we certainly drew influences from some of our favorite artists but tried to keep them unique and fresh.

I think originality is something that all bands struggle with from time to time, it's pretty rare that you listen to something that's never been done before. However, as a band if you obsess over whether or not something is original its probably going to have the opposite affect. I think its important to draw from your influences, challenge yourself and really enjoy the creative process. You can't go into it being afraid that someone else is going to think you sound like so and so because its inevitable that people will use comparisons to describe the music. If the music sounds good, than its good. Anyone who criticizes it for being to similar to something else has the wrong attitude about it.

Well, what about situations where it sounds great, but there is no originality? How important is it that something new and original is part of what is being made?

This is a good question. In our situation its really important for us when writing/playing songs that first and foremost we are having and good time. Nothing is worse than feeling like music is a chore. Once it gets to that point, its probably best to move on to something else. We definitely work hard to write music that is fresh and original and while it may have influences at its foundation we really focus on bringing some uniqueness to the songs. Especially being our first album, it was very important to us that we created a sound that people could associate with our band in a sense giving us an identity that we could grow on. There are so many bands out there and so much music its important that we came up with a sound that was memorable to our audience. Most people have short attention spans so if you don't spark their interest quickly, you might not get another chance to keep them wanting more. But, to answer the first part of this question, in regards to music that sounds great with no originality, I still think if the musicians enjoy what they are doing, than who's to say they are doing it right or wrong. Music, just like any other art form will always have critics and in reality we all should be doing it to please ourselves first and hopefully others second.

As a band, what does your songwriting process look like? How does that differ from the (plethora) of other bands that you've all been in?

Our songwriting process for this band is pretty easy going. We really had no expectations in the beginning, just to get together every now and then and play music. With that type of atmosphere, it is easy to explore different sounds and eventually hone in on one that worked best for us. Tom, our lead singer, brought a lot of material to the practices, some songs that were pretty close to completion and others that were just a riff and we would try them out and see what worked and what didn't. I think the best part of our process and most successful is that everyone has an open mind about the music. There are no bad suggestions and everyone's ideas get a fair shot. There was also no timetable to get things done for this album, so if we couldn't figure out parts to a particular song we would come back to it a few weeks later. We actually started tracking songs before some parts were even written, but it worked for us and it kept things fun and interesting throughout.  I don't feel as though there is a correct way to do anything when it comes to music, bands just kind of find their way and go with what works best. Some people like working under pressure and in our case the less stress there was the more productive we were. Between all of us, I think our processes within all the bands we have played in has been similar. Everyone in this band has a relaxed mentality and open mind so when we started playing together it was an easy transition for all of us. The fact that we have all been playing music for a long time and are still enjoying all these years later is an attest to our feelings that you can't have expectations, you just got to remember why you play music in the first place. Cause you love it. 

Alright, so there's a relaxed mentality now. What happens when you start drawing a larger audience and it's time to record a second album (something I'm sure you've all done in another band at some point) - how do you try to keep that same mentality? Or do you change with the change?

It's great to watch our album grow in popularity and while we aren't quite ready to work on a second album we certainly have talked about what we might do differently when the time comes. I think the great thing about each of us as musicians is that we are all very modest and take each stage of the process for what it is and enjoy it. Some of us have accomplished a lot in music and it has opened many doors over the years but our mentality remains pretty consistent. We all enjoy the experience and the opportunities that playing music brings and so when the time comes to start working on the second album I think we will go at with that same frame of mind of keeping the process relaxed and fun. I think it works best for this band in particular.

As a drummer, your view of your contribution is likely different from the view of many listeners who hear a singer or guitarist first (as that's what you're sort of taught to focus on...unless you're a musician and not a singer or guitarist) - which songs are you most proud of your contributions?

As long as I can remember I have always watched the drummer and bassist on stage. There is something about the camaraderie and harmony that is evident when the rhythm section is in the pocket. That to me is more exciting than anything else happening on stage (no offense to the singers and guitarists..) I have always had the mentality that my role is to keep the band together with a steady pace and solid groove, especially in this band where the guitar work and lyrics really deserve the focus of the audience. With that being said I think the contribution I'm most proud of is on "Make Me Feel Good." We really wanted to let Brett's guitar and Tom's vocals shine on it and so I worked on putting something down that would compliment Winston's bass part and create a good ebb and flow with the rest of the band. I think it was very successful. 

Furthermore, how do you make your instrument more meaningful/matter more in a world where people in general seem to have a hard time focusing on more than just one person, and therefore tend to focus on the singer of the group?

I think my outlook when playing drums is different than most. I'm the opposite of flashy and I tend to keep my head down with my eyes closed so I can really focus on how everything is sounding on stage. I enjoy being in the back of the stage and feeling out the songs as they are being played and if I look out in the audience and see some foot tapping and head bobbing I like to think that is an attest to how the drums and bass are doing. There are so many good drummers out there but good lyricists are hard to come by so its exciting to be a part of a band in which the audience rightfully should be focused on Tom.  

Sure, there are some great lyricists out there, and there are a lot of god-awful ones, and some of the worst end up with more exposure than the best? How do you explain this? And how do you feel about it?

Ha, well I think it's like anything else, why do bad things happen to good people? I don't think we'll ever know. I mean the music industry is a confusing and frustrating place for musicians. I've come across hundreds of bands that should be way bigger than they are, but it is all who you know and being in the right place at the right time, just like anything else. I think if you are constantly asking yourself why one band is big and yours isn't then you're probably playing music for the wrong reasons. I think we all go through instances where we wish for something bigger to happen but you can't get down when it doesn't otherwise you start taking music for granted. I stopped listening to the radio a long time ago because there was so much crap out there and I couldn't wrap my head around it. So for now we'll keep working at it and hopefully someone will take notice and in the mean time we'll just have fun doing it.

I've asked a lot of people questions like, 'is the hope that someday you'll be able to play full-time with this band' but I guess the question I'm really curious about is do you love this band and making music to the point that you want this to be full-time?  

Absolutely. If I had to pick a band that I would want to play and write music with full time then this is the one. I think we all agreed that it's pretty easy to find a band. You can go on Craigslist and in 10 minutes find plenty of options to join up with someone. But it takes a long time to find the band that you really want to play in. The kind of band where not only are you playing music that you love, but you're doing it with your good friends. It's hard to explain but its not very often that all pieces fit together and there's usually something missing, but for us this band has everything positive going for it. I think it's a rare thing to find these days and it makes playing music so much more enjoyable.

What are the benefits of being in a band for a really long time and what are the benefits of starting new as you're doing now?

I would have to say the benefits of being in a band for a long time are the relationships that you build with your band mates both personally and musically. As those bonds strengthen so does the music and the confidence of the band grows. I don't think anyone can predict how long a band will last, but if you can start with a stable foundation (i.e good music, good friends, positive attitude) than the chances for longevity become inevitable. While we may be a new band on paper, the guys have all been friends for a long time and have played in various projects together. So the transition for us to becoming a band was seamless and we had all the right momentum working in our favor. We are all pretty psyched about the opportunity.