Gearing up for a show Friday night at Metro in support of Dum Dum Girls, I spoke with Ex Cops vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Harding about the band's new Billy Corgan produced album Daggers...
Ex Cops return to Chicago following a number of recent area appearances, including suburban Daggers recording sessions with album producer Billy Corgan as well as an appearance with him this past September at Ravinia.
Pushing the boundaries of psychedelic, indie rock by infusing more electronic elements amidst a heavier push toward pop, I spoke with vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Harding about recording in the Chicagoland area, working with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and the many misconceptions that often accompany a band making "pop" music...
Q. Your new album, Daggers - Ex Cops’ second - was produced by Justin Raisen and executive produced by Billy Corgan. What was kind of the role of each during the recording process?
Brian Harding: Billy is Executive Producer so he worked with us for two weeks in the studio in the suburbs of Chicago which was really incredible. He helped us kind of shape the sound and he helped me get certain guitar tones I never really thought about really getting. We took six songs up there and he elevated them to a different level and really helped us with that. He kind of served as our spiritual mentor through two weeks and it was incredible.
Then we went directly to L.A. and recorded with Justin Raisen who is an awesome producer and helped us get some really cool beats and ideas. And we co-wrote a few songs with him as well.
Q. So you actually spent some time in the Chicagoland area working on the new album?
BH: Yeah. We brought the six songs and we actually demoed a bunch of stuff with [Billy] and his crew there – which are really awesome guys. And we actually used [some] of that on the album with other layers so you can still hear some of our Chicago demos on the [new] album which is kind of cool.
Q. How did that pairing of Ex Cops and Billy Corgan come about?
BH: Our label Downtown [Records] just kind of basically asked us, if we could work with anyone, who would we want to work with? And we just kind of jokingly, wishingly said [Billy] Corgan. And somehow it happened. They got us in touch with him via email. We kind of had like a three week courtship of talking with him off and on and we hit it off. Then we ended up there in like a month. It was amazing.
Q. Did you grow up as a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins? Because I feel like I can hear elements of Pumpkins-like stuff on the new album. I’m thinking along the lines of Adore…
BH: Oh yeah. Amalie and I were both huge Pumpkins fans. We both thought that Adore was a severely underrated album. Outside Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie [and the Infinite Sadness], I think it might be kind of his peak work. I think it’s just incredible. And I think it’s cool that people are starting to realize how great it is years after it’s been released. So we wanted to take that kind of futuristic element and put that into our music.
Q. How did the writing process for the songs on this record go: Did you approach your producers with the songs or were the songs written kind of with the producers in mind?
BH: It was totally scattered. We had a bunch of songs and ideas that weren’t totally fleshed out. We took some to Billy. We took some of those to Justin [Raisen] and Ariel [Pink]. We worked with this really cool girl called LP. We wrote a song called “Sh-tty,” with a guy named Jesse Harris who’s amazing.
So these songs kind of travelled all across America which is, I think, interesting. I think pop is really kind of an American thing and I think that this really represents kind of a road trip across the states to music.
Q. Obviously the new record nods in a decidedly more pop leaning direction. Was that a concerted effort or more of a natural progression?
BH: I don’t think it was an accident at all. I think it’s just the music that we’ve always liked since we were kids. We just always loved pop structure. Our parents are involved with music and we both grew up with pop and that kind of stuff. If we were to put on mixtapes as kids, that’s what we loved.
I’m super proud of the first album that we did and I’m happy that we put that out but this one is, really, I think, where our hearts were always kind of lying.
Q. As a fan of pop music, what are some of your favorite pop records or pop artists?
BH: Oh gosh… I mean, growing up, I was really obsessed with… I guess I first started in fifth grade with Guns N’ Roses - which I was completely obsessed with and read all their books (which is pretty f---ed up to read in fifth grade, the Guns N’ Roses autobiography).
And then I really got pulled into like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Pumpkins… And that kind of turned into things like Pavement and Guided By Voices and then that kind of opened the door to everything else.
Q. The big story, from everything I’ve read, is that this is a quote-unquote “pop" record. But I think that can be misleading because I’ve heard you say you’re a huge Beatles fan and that Amalie is even kind of a metal fan… And having listened to the new album, I personally hear elements of rock, the psychedelia that fans of your last album have come to expect, and even, to my ears, electro-dance. So while "pop" is the easy word, how would you describe this record?
BH: I mean, it’s such an open thing. It’s like saying something is a “comedy movie.” There’s all kinds of comedy movies: There’s dark comedy and slapstick, etc. You can call “pop” anything. You can call our first album pop if you want to. As long as it’s not some weird, avant garde, like Coltrane record, I think everything’s pop. This one is certainly – structurally – radio friendly pop. But I think that we’re still making something a little weirder and a bit more psychedelic and dangerous than most pop.
So, yeah – it’s completely pop… But I think everything is pop. So, whatever.
Q. Daggers is only the second Ex Cops record and the band has really only existed for what, three years? I would imagine in that short of a time you’re really still discovering your sound. Do you see things continuing along in the pop direction or is it really kind of anybody’s guess?
BH: I definitely, really don’t see it getting weirder. I think that we want to keep writing songs that we love. It’s the only direction I can really guarantee. We’re always going to write songs that we want to hear on the radio. That’s what I can guarantee.
- Jim Ryan (@RadioJimRyan)
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(Details on Friday's Ex Cops show below)
Friday, October 24, 2014
Doors open at 11:15PM
Show starts at 11:30PM
18 and over
Also performing: Dum Dum Girls
Click HERE to purchase tickets