Public Access with EZTV
This week we're speaking with Ezra Tenenbaum of EZTV about Captured Tracks, Dungeons & Dragons, current influences and their sophomore album, High in Place. (Header Photo Credit: Daniel Topete)
BODE: How did you all meet?
Ezra Tenenbaum: We all came to New York for school and various bands that shared bills and members. Shane and Michael are both from the Northwest, so they bonded over that. And I owned a cool looking 12-string guitar, which was enough for Shane to convince Michael I was okay.
B: I’ve noticed that a lot of your merch was designed in collaboration with some pretty talented illustrators, such as Pete Gamlen and Charlie Hankin…How did these relationships come about?
ET: Charlie is a longtime friend. He's also a comedian and had us on his Comedy Central show New Timers (playing a post-apocalyptic cult band). He's a very funny guy and we were happy to have him design something. Pete is my random roommate. They both post great drawings on their Instagrams (@mecharliehankin / @petey_royale).
B: You worked with Jenny Lewis on High in Place. What was that like?
ET: She hit us up out of the blue after hearing one of our songs and we ended up opening some of her tour this past summer. She said she'd be into singing on something and then showed up unexpectedly one day. She's the best and it would be a dream to hang out with her more in the studio, but she's a busy lady.
B: You’ve mentioned Chris Spedding and Big Star as influences. Can you mention any other inspirations for the band?
ET: Some things that have been in rotation lately are: Sandy Denny, Blue, Mercury Rev, Honeybus, The Courtneys, Proper Ornaments, Monomyth.
B: What was signing to Captured Tracks like? How did that relationship come about?
ET: Michael started Widowspeak a few years ago and they were one of the earlier bands on the label. So, Mike Sniper heard our band and got involved fairly early on. Michael is also married now to Pam who works there, so it very much feels like family. They're a great label and deep heads who are constantly exposing me to interesting music, both new and old.
B: You also worked with some other incredibly talented artists on the album-Chris Cohen, Nic Hessler, Martin Courtney and members of Mega Bog, among others. Do you have any interesting stories? Was this your first time working with most of them?
ET: I’d played in Mega Bog for a short time and we collaborated with Nic on a 7" of Milk N’ Cookies covers that Captured Tracks released. But this was the first time collaborating on EZTV music with everyone, and I'm hugely grateful that they all did. Erin from Mega Bog was perhaps most elusive in nailing down since she's always traveling, but I got her to sing in my closet literally the day before we mixed the record. We'd been talking to Chris Cohen for about 2 years about doing something and he just happened to have a wedding and be in town, so that was a lucky break.
B: The way I see it, your work covers the entire emotional spectrum with grace. That said, the word that first comes to mind when trying to describe it is euphoric…In a scene marked largely by bands that seem to aestheticize and/or romanticize cynicism and other bleak themes, what is it that lead the band in this direction?
ET: I just write about how I'm feeling or how I wish I would feel. If I'm feeling too cynical or bleak, then I wouldn't write anything at all.
B: When this was first a solo project, did the music channel the same sound? Did Shane and Michael allow you to flesh out your solo ideas? Or, did the music start to deviate from the original sound or intention as the band grew?
ET: When I write music by myself, it often comes out pretty mellow and mopey. Having a great and gregarious rhythm section and playing shows makes you realize it's fun to be loud and upbeat.
B: I’ve read that your first performance together was actually an audition for Spiritualized’s American touring band. Can you tell us a little more about that?
ET: I was with Shane in Montreal on a trip when Michael sent him a message that Jason from Spiritualized had fired his whole band and was looking for a replacement for an imminent tour. We tried out with our friend Marshal, who honestly did better than any of us, but after everything was all done Jason was clearly not impressed. I remember him saying, "I was hoping for something a little more free jazz." Meeting him was all in good, strange fun.
B: In the time that you all have been touring, has there been a favorite venue or location? Or, any show that was particularly memorable?
ET: I’d say our collective favorite show recently was Codfish Hollow Barnstormers (w/ Jenny Lewis & Frankie Lee). It's an incredible old barn in rural Iowa and folks come from miles around and camp out for these shows. Also, someone drove us on a tractor to the stage, which was a first.
B: Were you set on making music from a young age? Or were there other, initial interests? Be it academic, other artistic ventures, etc…?
ET: My first love was role playing games. I wanted to design the next Dungeons and Dragons or something. I think I still have a habit of retreating to self-invented fantasy world, at times. I've never really had practical career goals.
B: I always enjoy your music videos but the tour video for Racing Country was particularly fun and charming. Was that a pre-meditated move? Or did you just take the footage for yourselves and then decide to use it for the music video after the fact?
ET: Our touring guitar player, Christian Peslak, put that together. We took a camera on tour, so we knew we wanted to make something, but it came together in a pretty organic way.
B: Any plans for the next album or new collaborations in the making?
ET: There are some new songs in the works and we're hoping to get into the studio in the next couple of months. Nothing official though. I'd love to collaborate with Jackson from Sheer Agony. I'm a longtime fan of that band and just saw them a couple nights ago, reminding me how good they are.
B: I was looking at your bio on the Captured Tracks website, it mentions New York and the trappings of modern city life, citing the demise of early patrons and lyrical content on “States of Confusion”. Has the band ever considered re-locating? Or, do you see the City as a permanent home?
ET: States of Confusion is just about being heartbroken, it's a simple song. We've all been in New York about a decade. Shane's got a home and a dog he loves. I don't think we're leaving any time soon.
B: Do you notice a difference between college shows vs. public shows?
ET: It depends on the school. We've played some strange ones, like a college in the midwest where we basically performed in a cafeteria with Ultimate Fighting playing behind us. But we also did a show with John Andrews and the Yawns at the Terrace Club in Princeton recently and everyone was super nice and attentive. It's hard to generalize.
B: Your aesthetic feels very clean, lean, smart. How important is this visual element to the band?
ET: For any band, visual aesthetic is important. Michael does nearly all the graphic design, he's obsessed with fonts and works archivist at NYU where he often finds obscure images and things he uses for fliers or artwork.