In-Time Interview: SPEAK

Welcome to the long-awaited third installment of In-Time Interviews. In this series, we chat with artists about their albums while both listening to the work. Back in August we featured Marc Perlman and Jon Loyens of The Midgetmen discussing their album Loud Enough. Before that, in June, we met up with Abram Shook of the Great Nostalgic to get to the bottom of Hope We Live Like We Promised. This time around, SPEAK frontman Troupe Gammage gave us insight into their recent release, I Believe in Everything. You can read our original review here, and as you go through, each song title links to a copy of the song on YouTube. And if you’re so inclined you can buy the album on Amazon, among other places. What follows is a nearly unedited account of our conversation. Enjoy!

Carter: Why is “Wars” the first track?
Troupe: It has the most hardass intro, and I think it’s the best song.
Carter: Cool! Even better than “Carrie”?
Troupe: Yeah, I don’t think “Carrie” is the best song at all. It’s just the most immediate, I guess.
Troupe: I do think that string intro [in “Wars”] has an iconic quality to it. And the song goes so many places, it just made sense to put it first.
Carter: What about the string intro makes it so iconic to you?
Troupe: I think it’s very pretty, but the glitchiness gives it something… special. It just sounds like us to me.
Carter: Many of the songs on this album are about relationships in various stages. How autobiographical do you get in your writing? How true is “Wars” and what is it based on?
Troupe: “Wars” is a very impressionistic version of real life, I guess. But yeah, it’s based on relationships obviously, and also the idea of war in general of course… but it’s definitely a personal song.
Carter: Are you explicitly tying war to relationships? Is this like political commentary?
Troupe: I usually like to throw a few things in a blender and see what happens. The metaphor isn’t necessarily intended to be explicit. I would definitely avoid saying it’s political commentary, but… current events… affect… writing….

Carter: When writing “Carrie” did you have a feeling it would become your first flagship song?
Troupe: Definitely not. The chorus in the demo version is incredibly spectral.
Carter: Spectral?
Troupe: Like… it sounds ghostly and haunting.It’s not FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS-explosion-“Carrie.” More like, distant-“Carrie.”
Carter: Do you like that version better?
Troupe: I stole this drumbeat from Gnarls Barkley, by the way. “Going On.”
Troupe: I like them both, depending on the situation. I wish maybe this version had more of that one in there somewhere. It actually does surface in the bridge a bit – that’s pretty spectral.
Carter: I can hear that for sure… You’ll have to put that demo on the 10th anniversary re-release.
Troupe: Hahaha, we’ll see. My demos always end halfway through… This guitar sound is amazing. Frenchie [Smith] drove the preamp mercilessly so it broke into pieces. Not literally, but the sound is just so busted.
Carter: It’s got a bunch of different melodic leads at different points in the song? Do y’all collaborate on writing the music? How do elements like that come about?
Troupe: I wrote most of the elements in this particular track, but the various melodic parts both vocally and instrumentally are really collaborative.

“You Know As Well”
Troupe: Like the bridge of this tune is just 100% Joey. Melody, chords, lyrics… Ironically, I wrote the bass part on the demo and he played it wrong on the recording ;_; So he adds in a couple extra notes when we play it live.
Carter: Nice, he makes it his own.
Troupe: Yes sorry, he played it “in his own way” on the recording 😉 It sounds great!
Carter: “You Know As Well” is where the album’s title comes from. What does “I Believe in Everything” (and by extension, this song’s chorus) mean, and why make that the album’s title?
Troupe: It just felt right…I don’t know exactly. That’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think i really ever considered another title.
Carter: It was always that?
Troupe: It wasn’t anything else. I think that was the only title that was seriously considered.
Carter: It seems to convey an openness to possibility.
Troupe: That’s the perfect way to say it. It’s not really a mission statement, but I’d say that’s perfect. It’s just an openness to possibility. I was trying to avoid saying I wanted to make a statement, because that’s not really it. But yeah, it’s just sort of there, like “we’re not trying to be exclusively one thing.”

“You Are Louder”
Troupe: This song actually came from a tune I was working on for Scene It? on Xbox 360
Carter: Scene it? – the movie trivia game?
Troupe: Yeah, I was doing the music, and this verse bit was a song for that. I decided it made a better SPEAK song. So we worked it up, and Frenchie changed the arrangement all around and made it rock.
Carter: So it’s not on Scene it? – what was the context of the part of the game that it arose from?
Troupe: It’s for the “casting” area of the game. What does casting sound like? Now you know.
Carter: Haha, cool – it’s one of the more positive seeming songs on the record: “You are enough for me.” Is that fair?
Troupe: That message is meant to just kind of cut through, it’s only tangentially related to the song, really.
Carter: Fair enough.
Troupe: Or, it’s just like, “There’s a lot of complexity here, but it’s not really THAT important.”

“Stand By Us”
Carter: “Stand By Us” has all kinds of cool vocal elements – choruses, effects, falsettos – how did you decide on that when writing? What was the process of recording like?
Troupe: I was trying to write a sultry Prince-esque song and I sort of failed. This is way more layered and upbeat than what I had intended. Frenchie added in the sort of vocoder-y effects, and that’s me and Nick trading vocals in the verses.
Carter: Yeah, I can hear the Prince influence at points… Do you worry about replicating it live, or do you just have a separate live version?
Troupe: This one is pretty tough to sing but I’m not concerned with replicating the exact elements, like vocoders and stuff. We do it somewhat differently… This bridge was extended originally and we cut some of it out.
Carter: Yeah, it’s a quick song.
Troupe: So that version will end up on the anniversary edition as well 😉

Carter: You’ve brought up Frenchie a lot so far – what was it like working with him? What kind of influence did he have on y’all?
Troupe: Yeah, he did a ton on this record as far as the overall vibe. Our earlier efforts were a lot more texture-y and a lot less rock-y. More sounds, less parts, I guess.
Carter: What do you mean, “texture-y?”
Troupe: I was doing a lot of layers and manipulation, and obviously this is a very layered record but you can hear the parts pretty distinctively here – like synth, drums, bass, guitar, vocal. There’s no IDM percussion and acoustic guitar fading in and out, and little synth explosions or something.
Carter: True, but it’s still quite polished, like on this track with the backing vocals and synths blending together so well, and that kickass bass line standing out but in a really organic way.
Troupe: Hahah, yeah I programmed that and I told Joey he could just play whatever – be inspired by what i programmed – but he actually learned it! So that’s about 90% accurate to the RIDICULOUS thing I programmed out of bass samples. I can’t believe he can actually play it and sing and move around.
Carter: So do a lot of the songs start as programmed demos you do?
Troupe: Yeah that’s pretty common. Occasionally it’ll be acoustic or I’ll sing something into my phone or whatever.
Then it usually goes to the computer and then we build it up from there either live or in the studio.

“A Little Way”
Carter: In “A Little Way” you talk about being 18 years old last time (and eight, too). You’re not that far removed from 18, right? Where does the nostalgia come from?
Troupe: I’m not sure how much I want to explain about these particular lyrics… but 8 years old is looking back on a particular event and 18 is just more of a general feeling of nostalgia and youngness… newness. That’s kind of a time when “the night” becomes a thing in a non-slumber-party way.
Carter: Well, that’s for sure.
Troupe: Also the second verse of this song has the lowest note I sing on the record. Just, for the record.
Carter: Where?
Troupe: “…and it’s hard but let’s ACCept…” I think it’s an E2. “You Know As Well” has the highest at the end of the last chorus, E5.
Carter: So does this nostalgia mean the song is kind of regretful?
Troupe: It’s not regretful as much as it is…looking toward the future with caution.
Carter: Based on the past.
Troupe: Aye.

“I’d Rather Lie”
Troupe: I said “Wars” was probably the best song, but “I’d Rather Lie” is my favorite.
Carter: Why’s that?
Troupe: It just has a bunch of things that work together well, I think. The verses are kind of grooving, the chorus is a bit more thoughtful, the whole outro bit is more rock.
Carter: So it kind of showcases the band’s range?
Troupe: Yeah, I think so. Vocally too, although I like the stylistic diversity more…and little touches like that glitch coming out of the bridge…The way the mellotron choir sound starts the outro and then the full vocal chorus singing the “Ooh” starts…
Carter: This is one of four songs carried over from your first EP – Hear Here. How did you decide which ones to bring onto the new album? And why not re-record any of them?
Troupe: We had recorded the entire album before the EP was released, so we didn’t really have to make any decisions except which songs to include on the EP.

Carter: Gotcha – but no “Foreign Love” on the full-length…
Troupe: Oh right, that’s true. We had several versions of that EP. “Foreign Love” got cut on the third version, I think.
Carter: Damn, that’s a good one.
Troupe: It’ll be around someday.
Carter: So, what is “81”? Is that referring to the year?
Troupe: The year and the age. Also there’s a freaking song called “81” by Deerhoof AND Joanna Newsom too, I think. And I didn’t know either of them when I wrote it. I wrote it before Joanna Newsom’s.
Carter: Yeah, that was on her recent album.
Troupe: For some reason “81” just works as a song title, I guess, and concept.
Carter: Yeah, I was always curious, because you were born after the year and you’re clearly younger than the age…
Troupe: It’s looking toward the future…or looking back from the future actually.
Carter: It sounds like there’s a lot on this record about the future.
Troupe: Well, the future is much longer than the past, so there’s a lot more to draw from.
Carter: At 4:03, this is the epic on the album. And it sounds like an epic – the triple meter, the tempo, the chorus. Why not close the album with it?

“Too Afraid”
Troupe: Good question. That might have been a good ender. “Too Afraid” was actually originally even longer than “81.” It had a raging outro bit too, which it contains actually in it’s Jupiter-4 incarnation.
Carter: Oh, you recorded this in your previous band?
Troupe: Yeah it goes way back. It was something my friend ST (Stefan Ternemar) and I had been working on. He sent me just those first two chords back and forth, and I recorded some vocals, and he was like “Hmm… I’m done with this.” So I asked if we could use it for Jupiter-4, and he said “Sure, just don’t credit me in any way.” So I obliged. And it was the only holdover from Jupiter-4 that made it to SPEAK, song-wise.
Carter: The sudden cold ending is pretty cool. You don’t hear that often.
Troupe: It’s so huge and then BAM! And you get like a second of slapback too.
Carter: Yeah, I can hear now that there could be more. It leaves you hanging, maybe wanting to start the record over again.
Troupe: Sure, I’m fine with that!
Carter: Sweet – well anything else you want to add about the album that we didn’t get to talk about?
Troupe: I’m sure we could easily run through it another 10 times before I’d run out of stuff to say, but we covered some good stuff!
Carter: Cool, well then we’ll leave them wanting more just like the record.
Troupe: 😉