With Ease, With Time: An Interview with The Sour Notes

by Brian J. Audette

It’s easily a hundred degrees out when Jared and Amarah of The Sour Notes meet me on the patio at Spiderhouse off Guadalupe. As compensation for 26 years living through New England winters, I’ve embraced the Texas summer in a way that most natives would find absurd, but Sour Notes bassist Amarah Ulghani is on my level and Singer/Guitarist/Maestro Jared Boulanger (having recently trimmed his ‘stache) is at least willing to oblige. At the very least the round of drinks we’ve ordered should cool us down.

Having been a fan of The Sour Notes since I first moved to Austin over 5 years ago, I’ve seen the band evolve from the ambitious bedroom recordings ofThe Meat of the Fruit to their most recent pop rock tour-de-force Do What May. In that time the band has gone through many different lineups, sometimes gracefully and sometimes sudden, but Jared’s personal tenacity and vision for the band has made sure that The Sour Notes have always persevered. As I sat down with Jared and Amarah, The Sour Notes had recently returned from a quick tour of several nearby states for what has become their customary summer tour. When asked about their favorite stop on this tour Denver easily surfaces as the most fun, due in part to the hospitality of their locals bands, but Amarillo, TX (a first-time-playing location for the Notes) is worthy of note as well.

The Sour Notes

Photo by Georgina Kross

Jared Boulanger: We sold more merch at that show than we’ve ever sold anywhere else. Everyone who came to the show bought something.

Perhaps it’s just a bit of southern hospitality, but it puts Amarillo squarely on the list of places the band will need to return to in the future. As they spun back around to Austin to a decently packed house at Mohawk Indoors this past August 2nd, The Sour Notes were again a three-piece, backed by drummer Erin Howell and minus Jessica Kim who had played keyboards for the band over the past year or so.

Brian Audette for Ovrld: So, are you guys just a three-piece now?

Jared: Well you know us, we always have guests. We do like to incorporate lots of different people [and] I wouldn’t say that there’s a set number of people in The Sour Notes, but performing live now we are gonna do the three-piece. Less people, more instruments.

As anyone who’s seen The Sour Notes live over the past year or so can tell you, the band has been prone to some instrument swapping, with Amarah and Erin swapping drum and bass duties and even Jared getting into the mix with Erin on guitar. Jared says to expect more of that now along with more keyboards.

Brian: So could we consider that last show at the Mohawk a sort of a test run?

Jared: At that last show we were starting to strip down a little bit, but we hadn’t incorporated the new keys or stuff. But definitely a test run, yeah.

Back on the subject of the band’s changing lineup, Amarah recalls a recent period where the band went through something like three changes in one year.

Brian: This would be the period after Last Looks and around when the split with Marmalakes came out?

Amarah Ulghani: Even before that, [the band’s] always been in constant flux and we’ve always been so eager to just pick up and keep going. You know, it’s kind of hard in Austin, being a college town. You have people that finish college and even though we’re like “well, I’m gonna do this forever”, they have their own lives. They want to get a job, buy a house and so on. We had been doing pretty well when we were a six-piece about two years ago and then we had that tour where we had a bandmate go nuts and we haven’t really added anyone to the band since then.

Brian: And I guess you’ve also since had a few other members leave for personal “life happens” kind of reasons.

Amarah: Right, and I guess we’ve been a little nervous about adding people to the band, but we think we can pull it off as a three-piece. We’re not against taking on any other members, we just don’t want to make that a focus of our energy.

Brian: True. You see a lot of bands in that situation that would just take time off to rebuild for several months or just disappear completely.

Amarah: Yeah, not stopping was important to us.

The Sour Notes

“Not stopping was important to us.” Photo by Georgina Kross

That constant drive to keep going has been one of the things that myself and a lot of others the local community have admired about The Sour Notes. Hardly a month goes by where it doesn’t seem that they’ve played a show in town or nearby and up until Do What May they had been releasing a new LP almost every year. Even in the break they’ve managed to put out a split with Marmalakes and a solo cassette, both containing previously unrecorded material. When I ask Jared about the change in pacing and what seems like a new focus on promotion surrounding Do What May he mentions that it’s something the band has been concentrating more on lately, up until recently working with a publicist that had approached them earlier in the year regarding the album. It’s definitely an experience that’s caused them to change how they think about releasing their work.

Amarah: We just needed to slow down. We were just coming out with so much stuff…

Jared: Unprepared. We were coming out with a bunch of stuff, but we didn’t have the promotional backing.

Amarah: It was to the point where we were going to pick up the CD’s the day before the release show and people were like “you need to get people to listen to it first!”

Jared: This is the first time that a Sour Notes album has had more write ups before the release and will also be on Spotify and iTunes before the release and all that stuff. It’s like we’re trying to set our ducks in a row a little bit.

Amarah: I mean, it’s kind of agonizing when you make something and you want to just put it out.

Brian : You want people to see it, yeah.

Amarah: Yeah, that and you want to move on. I mean, it would be awesome to be able to put out stuff multiple times a year with the promotion, but when you talk about the time and money involved in that it’s a choice between wanting to put the energy into [promotion] or wanting to practice.

Jared: It’s a big part of why it’s been two years between albums because you want to generate that buzz.

Speaking specifically about the process of crafting Do What May I asked Jared and Amarah if the lengthy amount of time it took to come out was intentional (given their recent focus on promotion first) or simply a matter of “shit happens.”

Jared: It was both, but because we had changed the lineup three times during the album it gave us a kind of freedom, there were no egos involved.

Amarah: We didn’t have to wait until people were ready to record. It was almost like working in a session musician kind of way where we could say “I want to record this song today” or “I want to finish up this song today” and just call up whoever and they’ll just show up and do it.

Jared: Totally. Austin’s great in that way in that there are people who are just hungry to make music. That’s why it’s such a diverse album.

Brian: On that topic, what can we expect going forward for The Sour Notes musically? Have you started working on the next album?

Jared: Well one thing that’s going to be different on the next album is that there’s going to be no female singers.

Brian: That’s interesting, especially since that’s been a staple since even the early days of the band.

Jared: Yeah, there may be harmonies, but no leads. Otherwise the next album is definitely psych pop. Pop arragements with like noise and you know… atmosphere.

Amarah: And more in line with what we can pull off live.

Brian: So does the changing lineup affect how you look at recording music and writing songs?

Jared: Definitely. I think we always strive to sound the way we do live when recording, which for us limits the way we play live. Say a song [from Last Looks] like “As Crude as Watercolor.” That used to be a staple, but now we’ve kind of put it on hold because with our current lineup there are other songs that are stronger. It also makes things exciting for us because we’ll say “we’re gonna put this on hold and bring this one back.”

Brian: And with five albums to draw from there’s plenty to choose from.

Jared: Exactly.

Looking beyond the September 6th release show at Cheer Up Charlie’s, The Sour Notes were honored this summer with a spot on the Orange stage at FunFunFun Fest this November. As our second round of drinks arrived, I inquired how that all came about.

Jared: Well it almost didn’t happen because I didn’t check my email. I was locked in all day working on music…

Amarah: And I had just started a new job and I was nervous about checking my email or texts on my phone and when I got home I was like “Why haven’t you replied to this, it’s like the most important email ever?!” It was a real last minute thing. They were going to announce the lineup like two days later. I guess that’s how they fill in the local bands. And they were really honest with us like “You’re probably going to have to play very early, but we’ll also give you an after show…”

Jared: And [since we’re early] we’ll also get the best sound check. We’re gonna be the first band on that Orange stage that Saturday.

Brian: Is there anything special planned for the FunFunFun Fest show?

Jared: Well we’re going to have a special guest and we’ll probably play at least three songs we’ve never played before, probably stuff that will be on the next album.

Amarah: Maybe an old one?

Between questions I had brought up the subject of The Sour Notes first album The Meat of the Fruit, an almost solo recording by Jared that’s rarely (and perhaps never in front of a formal audience) revisited. Amarah had confessed to wanting to do at least one of the album’s six tracks live at some point. Jared seemed reluctant, but open. When asked if we’ll hear any of the new, unreleased material for the show on the 6th, Jared says that it’s possible.

Amarah: Right now we’re on overdrive learning all these key parts and we’re not going to have backing tracks, but we’re going to have samples…

Jared: Samples and loops, yeah…

Amarah: Weird pedals and stuff that make things sound different…

Jared: Yeah, I’ve got this one pedal that I just got a couple days ago, that whenever I’m playing my electric piano it’ll turn into an organ, so that’ll be different.

As we finish our drinks and just shoot the shit for a while, I get the sense that as much as The Sour Notes have been through and as versatile as the band has been, overall not much has changed or will change in how they approach music and how they conduct themselves as a band. While band members may come and go, Jared has held a steady course for The Sour Notes over the years and by rolling with the punches, established them as one of the hardest working bands in town, one that venues and other musicians are happy to be associated with. While it may be tempting to see Do What May’s diversity, the band’s new philosophy regarding promotion and releases, and the embrace of a smaller lineup with a more engaging live show as a new era for The Sour Notes, it’s really just the latest chapter in the story of a band that continues to mature and persevere despite the myriad of obstacles the life of a local band throws their way. Regardless, this Saturday’s release show will be the culmination of a long process for the band, but ultimately just another step on a journey that shows no signs of ending any time soon, not if Jared and Amarah have anything to say about it, and they do.

Be sure to catch the Sour Notes at Cheer Up Charlie’s this Saturday, September 6th, for their Do What May release party.