Two Harbors: We made this record so I could tour Abbey Road
Most bands don't dare book studio time at Abbey Road before they've even written a song for their new album. But for local Anglophile indie-rock quartet Two Harbors, working in that hallowed venue was a longstanding dream. So frontman Chris Pavlich booked the studio time well in advance, figuring that the songs would come in due time. And the new material did eventually come together in a major way on their inspired new album, The Natural Order of Things, a confident, guitar-fueled collection that is the best work of the band's career.
Ahead of their celebratory record release show at Cause tonight, we were able to chat with the group -- singer/guitarist Pavlich, guitarist Kris Johnson, drummer Shawn Grider, and bassist Jeremy Bergo -- about how these new songs coalesced, what inspiration they draw from the Britpop era, how they got the striking artwork for their new album, and whether they got their picture taken in Abbey Road's famed zebra crossing.
Gimme Noise: You guys took a bit of a break from the local scene after your last record. What initially got you writing, playing, and recording the songs that would end up on the new album?
Chris Pavlich: We started writing tunes for this record the summer before last with the intention of putting it out on vinyl and having the mastering done at Abbey Road. We decided to write 20 songs, demo 12, and pick the best 10 to record at Flowers Studio with Ed Ackerson.
Kris Johnson: After putting out our EP we really wanted to focus on a cohesive full-length record. We began writing for about a year before we headed into my project studio to cut demos.
Did that step away from the stage and the studio renew your focus on music and help energize the sound of the band at all?
Pavlich: Maybe, we've always had a big sound, but I think we're playing better as a band now. The process of making really good demos was key for how the songs turned out on the record. We managed to play a few shows here and there while making it though.
Shawn Grider: For me, it was important to have that focus. It can be hard to write songs when you are also practicing for the next show. Then, you sit down and start writing again, but another show comes up, so everything goes on hold and you're practicing the old stuff again. It's a cycle that takes away from the process, when you have to try and remember where you were in a new song after a couple of weeks away from it.
Johnson: Definitely, we really needed to focus on writing instead of live performance, it took some time but we really hit a stride at a certain point. We've never been particularly fast at putting together new material, but the longer we worked the quicker and easier it came.
How quickly did the songs transition from early jams to more fully realized songs that you brought into Flowers Studio to record?
Pavlich: That's the time-consuming part. We get together once a week for a few hours, so it takes time to write the tunes, work out the arrangements, and tweak lyrics. I'll typically bring in ideas to get the ball rolling, and then everyone makes their own contributions until it's a song.
Even in the studio, we're tweaking arrangements and open to Ed's ideas.
Grider: We like to deconstruct songs/rearrange/dump parts that we don't think serve the song. I think the early jams are the fast part, it's the ripping apart of the song, and rebuilding it from the raw materials that can take a while.
Johnson: It took about six months of writing and rehearsing. We started recording demos in July 2012, and spent a better part of the next year off and on demoing and reworking the material.
What role does experience play for you in your collective songwriting? Has it gotten any easier for you over the years to have your musical ideas coalesce into a song?
Pavlich: I think songwriting has gotten easier since our first record, but it's different for each song. Some tunes, like "Fall to Pieces," just come to me right away and don't require a lot of tweaking, and then it's done in 20 minutes or so. Other songs take more time and effort. These guys always have great ideas though, and hear the songs finished the same way I do.
Johnson: I feel like we get better at our "craft" as time goes on. I think our experiences together have increased our chemistry, especially in the past few years.
Obviously, you're old friends with Ed [Ackerson], and he produced and played on this new record. How did he help you refine and realize the sound you were after?
Pavlich: Ed knows exactly what we're going for. He loves the same music we do, and he knows how to get that sound.
It's funny, I'll write a part for a tune and think to myself, I want to sing this like Tim Burgess (the Charlatans) or something, and I'll record a take and Ed will say, "I really dig that, sounds like the Charlatans!"
He listens to more music than anyone I know, and he can play anything. Any instrument, any song, he's a wizard. I'm constantly learning from him.
You know those amazing people you come across and you think to yourself, man, I'd love to hang out with that dude for a day. Ed's one of those people. He always has the coolest clothes, coolest records, coolest guitars, coolest gear. Now imagine you get to make a record with a guy like that. It's an absolute thrill.
Johnson: What Ed really brings to the table is a high ability to refine material, especially making sure that things don't interfere with each other. He's really the best guy in town at that and many other things. I really feel he is criminally underrated. He made sure that all the "T's" were crossed and the "I's" were dotted. Most "recordists" can get good sounds, but that's engineering. Ed is a real producer and there is a big, big difference.