INTERVIEW: “It will be more universal and less selfish”—A Lot Like Birds on their next album

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It’s an overcast day in Pontiac, Michigan, on Thursday, April 9 as fans eagerly wait outside of the Crofoot Ballroom for doors to open as Enter Shikari make their stop on their Mindsweep tour. Five-piece melodic hardcore outfit Hundredth toured with Enter Shikari until April 1. Immediately after, six-piece experimental group A Lot Like Birds hopped on the tour in support of Enter Shikari, touring until April 28.

Substream Magazine had the privilege of sitting down with all six members of A Lot like Birds—vocalists Cory Lockwood and Kurt Travis, guitarists Ben Wiacek and Michael Franzino, bassist Matt Coate and drummer Joe Arrington—before their set in support of Enter Shikari. Read the exclusive interview below to see what members of the band have been up to, details involving various side projects and what the future of A Lot like Birds looks like moving forward.

First off, your tour with Enter Shikari, Stray From The Path and I The Mighty began for you guys earlier this month. How’s everything on the tour been so far?
JOE ARRINGTON: Yeah, we hopped on April 1, we’ve actually been on tour for a little bit of March too. We did a headliner that started March 21. We routed out here and then got on tour with Enter Shikari. So far though, the headliner and the Enter Shikari run have both been amazing in terms of the people that came out, the crew and the bands that we tour with have been so inviting and awesome.

You guys have recently taken up a cause called Sufferer with some of the guys from Hail The Sun and I The Mighty. What sparked your involvement in that endeavor?
CORY LOCKWOOD: Shane [Gann from Hail The Sun] asked me about it last year while we were on Warped Tour, we had a series of phone calls where he asked me if I was interested in being involved. It’s definitely a project that strikes home for me because anxiety is something I mildly deal with now, but it used to be a frustrating part of my life for a couple years. I told Shane that I would love to be a part of it and we picked up Blake [Dahlinger] on drums and our buddy Forest [Wright.]

Your previous bassist Michael Littlefield left the band back in February. How’s the transition and chemistry been since his departure?
MICHAEL FRANZINO: It was a very difficult thing to do, but moving forward, I met this guy [Matt Coate] back in Boise through a mutual friend and kind of jammed with him one night and was very impressed by his abilities. One day I randomly called him up and was like, “Hey, want to go on a big tour?” [Laughs.] I’m very grateful to have him, he’s an amazing musician.
ARRINGTON: It has helped out a lot in musicianship and in morale; he’s been a great fit.

You guys have begun the writing process for new material recently. I spoke with Ben [Wiacek] earlier and he said it’s in the beginning stages. Do you guys have any details regarding the new material?
FRANZINO: Like you said, it’s in the very early stages. We have some general ideas and some general direction that we want to take and try to capitalize on our strengths further.
ARRINGTON: I think that we would like to be better songwriters first of all. Second of all, I think we would really like to capitalize on all of the member’s strengths more within this band. That’s kind of how I see the next record being.

On your album No Place, a theme was present where each track represented a room in the house. Do you plan on implementing a common theme such as that on your upcoming work?
ARRINGTON: I think our music will always be thematic.
LOCKWOOD: I think the idea of strongly hitting a concept record is something that, if we do again, it won’t be for awhile. Just because it does leave the entire album feeling one way, and I think we, with the next album, want to leave ourselves with more breathing room to branch out and touch on different subjects that may have nothing in common with each other.

You used Bradley Edwards for the eerie album artwork for No Place and for the artwork for Conversation Piece. It may be a little early in the process, but do you plan on using him again for your upcoming album?
FRANZINO: We love having him, I really like the commonality, but we never know, we could write a record that just wouldn’t fit at all. We would love to work with him again.
KURT TRAVIS: It’s one of those things where even with No Place, we had a lot of these almost impossible requests for the artwork, and what we got back was “holy shit.” [Laughs.] There’s no way I don’t think any other artist could have done that or, within our spectrum of who we know. He just continues to blow us away. I think for the next record we’ll definitely hit him up and see, but like Mikey said, I could also see us doing something completely different, it’s just kind of the nature of this band.

You used Kris Crummett to record both No Place and Conversation Piece as well. Is that a person you look to record future work as well?
FRANZINO: It’s about the same as artwork—we care a lot about Kris Crummett, but we don’t know the nature of the beast yet that we’re about to write. It’s more so if the shoe fits

That makes sense, given what you previously mentioned about the album art and that you’re open to new ideas.
BEN WIACEK: We’ve been exploring not only other producers, but even just other processes, because other times we haven’t been as well prepared. Brainstorming with certain people will always help.
TRAVIS: We kind of just want to fix mistakes—not necessarily mistakes, but we’ll go back and look at things and try to improve those things.

You’ll be hopping on tour with ’68 and I The Mighty for some select shows at the end of this month. What are your expectations going into that?
ARRINGTON: A lot of headbanging. [Laughs.] Lots of sweat.
WIACEK: We’re pretty excited for that, we met Josh [Scogin] at South By So What last year, I think it was ‘68’s second or third show ever. We performed, and to make a long story short, he ended up catching our set and dug it and we’ve kind of been in light contact with him so it’s really cool to have something that we’re finally playing shows together. We’re all big fans of him as a performer.
ARRINGTON: He’s just a cool pillar of an underground vibe. He kind of captures something that a lot of musicians strive to be, and he is actually that. A lot of people try to be it, but then end up taking a more convenient route. He manages to stick to his guns, so to speak.

This one’s geared towards you Joe, it looks like you’re giving drum lessons during your tour. How did the idea come about to provide fans with music lessons?
ARRINGTON:
I’ll keep it short: I’ve always taught, but I stopped teaching younger, less motivated students. It’s just a life choice I made. I’ve dabbled in teaching on the road a little bit, but this is the first time that I legitimately advertised it. I thought I was maybe going to have a few hits, but in my personal email I ended up getting overwhelmed. A bunch of people hit me up and I actually had to cancel some, and some just won’t quite make sense. I think the musician community is really important, the drumming community is really important, and everyone that we’ve been with on the road has been really motivated and cares a lot about music.

Do you get people of all skill sets?
ARRINGTON: Yeah, but the nice thing is that all of the drummers that I’ve met so far have been very capable players, and have cared a lot about the foundational stuff and technique. That’s been really refreshing, so that’s been really good for me too because I like studying with those kinds of people.

This one’s geared toward you, Mike. I know you did your project Alone. a few months back. What were your main takeaways from living in complete isolation to write music?
FRANZINO: I can definitely say that it pulled stuff out of me that I’ve never written before, and didn’t know was within me. I actually went back to singing after five years of not being interested in doing anything with it, and I was very surprised at what I put out. I hadn’t actually written full songs vocally and that was really my only singing ever, so that was very rewarding.

Do you think it’s making an impact for writing for A Lot Like Birds moving forward?
FRANZINO: It took longer than I wanted it to, it just became a very in-depth project and it was hard to pull off. Now that it’s finished, I’m full-force A Lot Like Birds again. I don’t know if or when I’ll ever have the chance to do it again. I’ll have to plan more carefully for it.

While in complete isolation, did you end up getting a cabin somewhere through a friend of a friend or something?
FRANZINO: It was very strange circumstances. A kid from high school that I hung out with a little bit but never really kept in contact with other than Facebook resurfaced into my life and was like, “Hey, I know a guy up in the Sierras and he’s very down and he’s a musician.” I didn’t have cell service out there or internet, so it was much different from what I just experienced at Warped Tour.

What do you see for the future of A Lot Like Birds moving forward? 
FRANZINO: Personally I think No Place was a very much indulgent record. It was very much for us as musicians to put something out that meant a lot to us, and was not as concerned about if we would have been or could have been with reaching other people. I hope with our next record to make it more universal and less selfish. It was indulging in things that were very weird and things that we thought were very interesting, but may not be as accessible for other people to feel what we were feeling.

So you wanted it to be more relatable moving forward? I get that.
TRAVIS: I think the whole point of that record was not to be [relatable], and that’s what he meant. The new record will be, I think, more accessible.
WIACEK: Something we could throw out there is just doing what Birds does best, but just making it more accessible. We’re not going to alienate our old fans and piss them off with a Taylor Swift cover or anything like that. It’s still going to be Birds, but it’ll just be an improvement.

Dang, I was really waiting for a Taylor Swift cover.
WIACEK: [Laughs.] Well, I just crushed everybody’s dreams.
ARRINGTON: We definitely don’t want to release the same record twice. I think we will always be really good at releasing something honest, because we’re too self-indulgent to not be honest with our music. However, we do want to bring more people to the party. We want to reach more hearts and minds.

Is there anything else you guys want to shed more light on?
WIACEK: I’ve got one more—a new Sianvar LP this year.
ARRINGTON: A little moment on side projects, side projects are an interesting thing for bands. In my opinion, what they usually show, is that members of bands are just that thirsty for creating songs, which we all are. It’s important that people know that this band is very much a huge part of us and we’re always going to put this band first, but the side projects really help us out. It’s one big family. No matter what the genre or what they’re doing, a lot of people on the internet are like, “Are they going to have time for this?” Bottom line is we find a way to make time. We always promise that all of the music will perpetuate into our music, so I hope that people understand that.
WIACEK: It’s cool to give your fans another avenue to see inside your mind. Another question we get a lot is “What do you listen to, what inspires you?” Not all of us listen to A Lot Like Birds-style music. We have such a varied taste, and that’s what’s cool about the side projects thing is that we show people, “Yeah, we’re into this as well.”