Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Take Five: An Interview With The Lower 48
Formed in Minneapolis in 2009, The Lower 48 made the all-too-familiar pilgrimage West to Portland, OR, after releasing their debut EP Everywhere To Go. Now comprised of Ben Braden (Vocals/Guitar), Nick Sadler (Vocals/Drums/Harmonica/Trumpet), and Sarah Parson (Vocals/Guitar/Bass/Piano), the trio makes melodic, lively tunes that evoke bonfires, backyard barbecues, and carefree reverie. The band’s first full-length, Where All Maps End, was released in 2011. I spoke with Ben Braden in anticipation of the band's May 4th show at the Cedar Cultural Center.
Based on the band's name and song lyrics from your latest album, geography seems to play an important part in your music. Could you speak to its influence?
Ben Braden: That's mainly me. I'm fascinated with maps and moving, how you can move so little on a map yet the distance between places feels so far. The band name has nothing to do with geography; I just thought it was a really cool idiom that not enough people use anymore. The record name, Where All Maps End, came from when we moved out here--and by "out here" I mean Portland. We were still stupid kids--we're still stupid kids now, hopefully a little less stupid--and we'd never done anything like that before. I'd always had a map for life: school, summer, school. Moving out here meant there would be no map anymore. This is where all maps ended.
One of your bios describes your band as "organic". What does that entail?
BB: We record ourselves. We don't have a producer. We use all real instruments. We play simple songs and we play them beautifully. The music is not dressed up or fancy. It's not auto-tuned or synth-y. A lot of people can pick up their guitars and play our songs. People can do what they want with the album; learn the songs and cover them.
Many musicians have gone back-and-forth between Minneapolis and Portland. Talk about how the scenes are different.
BB: A lot of people ask this question and I never have a good answer. People expect it's going to be the same, but it's different. The Twin Cities has three good radio stations where it's possible to get your music played or get interviewed on (The Current, KFAI, and Radio K). Radio is an amazing resource because it focuses on local bands and gets people out to shows. The Twin Cities has so many entry-level music venues, like the 7th Street Entry, the 400 Bar, the Cedar, the Varsity, the Triple Rock. There are not as many entry level venues with good sound that people can go to out here and there's nothing you can listen to on the radio--except college radio, with a limited signal--that will tell you about local shows. I think that's just the culture of this town. It's harder to build a fan base in Portland, though our following in both places is similar now. We can get 400 to 500 people in a show in either place, though it took 2 1/2 years out here, whereas it took 9 months in Minneapolis.
Does that ever make you want to move back?
BB: There are other, personal, reasons keeping us here. There's a song on the new album, which we wrote after moving, called "Miles From Minnesota". It's cheerful and upbeat, and while I still like that song, real life, which has been a fun and exciting experience, isn't like that. I pay my own bills now, which was a big undertaking. It's tougher and harder out here. It's not all roses and buttercups.
Have you ever run into a musician that left you starstruck?
BB: There are a lot of big bands in Portland and I've had personal run-ins with big names and it's like "Holy crap!" But when we're a band, onstage, I feel like we can take on anything, like nothing can faze us, and I don't say that to sound arrogant. My first instinct when I run into another musician is to treat them like anyone else. Some people think it's important if a big person likes your music, but it really doesn't matter to me. There's no quick way to fame; there's no short-cut. You just have to work.
Are you doing music full-time or do you have day jobs?
BB: I'm doing music full-time. Some of us still have day jobs. We're in a weird, transitional stage right now. [Yawns] Forgive my voice. I turned 21 last night.
As I was looking over your Facebook photos, I noticed a lot of neck ties. Is that a "thing" for you guys?
BB: Ties, yes. I like ties. It's a burgeoning theme. Me and Nick always want to wear black neck ties.
What was the inspiration for that?
BB: Some bands can pull off that "I don't give a damn; come as you are" thing and look cool, but we can't, so I had the idea to come up with some sort of uniform, some sort of look. It might sound like a cheap gimmick, but I wanted to store that familiarity in our image. It's like the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Beatles had the suits, the ties, the haircuts. The Stones looked like "whatever" and it worked for them, but not for us.
What's your goal for the band? Is it fame or to be self-sustaining?
BB: That's a big question for me. I'd like to take it as far as we possibly can. We're really motivated. We're close to being self-sustaining. In a year, we'll be living crappily off of it, like Ramen noodle living off of it. I don't know if we'll ever play an arena, because we aren't that kind of band. I guess we're going to find out.
Tune into "Live From Studio 5!" every Wednesday from 10 PM to Midnight on KFAI radio for more local acts making their way home!
- Erica Rivera