©2011 Master Seven. All rights reserved.
Interview with Treading Lemmings
Master Seven Interview by Tom Beninate
Copy Editor: Susan Castellano
Congratulations on releasing your “Cliff Notes” CD.
This is certainly a live and exciting record.

Thanks.

Thank you. A lot of years of development went into this.

How did you capture this live and tight sound in the studio?

The most important thing is that we found Marco Delmar, who is a phenomenal producer. We actually go back with him. We knew that it was a good match. He can take what we’re doing and really bring it out even more…. With that said, the process was that we would go in and he would record everyone together to … capture the energy. Then he would keep the drums and we would go back and overdub everything else.

He tries to get the real emotion of the song…. If it were any other producer, they would probably just let me sing the way I would normally sing and it might not have that urgency or that passion.
Feb 7, 2011
Treading Lemmings website:
treadinglemmings.com
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You can hear the liveliness of The Who and the Ramones. You can hear the songwriting quality of Elvis Costello on “All at Sea.”

We hear those comparisons a lot…. I think there are a lot of similarities in our styles and the way we construct songs. Andj, Ricky and myself are the principle songwriters in the band.

Since it is a joint effort, take me through your typical songwriting process.

So far … either myself or Ricky comes forward with a musical idea on the guitar. Now with me, either it can be a complete idea with a melody line that I give to Chris or sometimes I’ll have the lyrics. With Ricky he’ll have a musical idea but rarely gets into the lyrics… There have been some other spontaneous ideas. As a band we sit downstairs jamming and all of a sudden we say, “That’s it!”

When Andj writes something, he … has a vision of what it might be and more of … the entire song, whereas Ricky tends to have a riff and then Andj and I will help him finish it.

Chris, what process do you go through once Andj or Ricky presents the song idea?

Well, I usually start with the title. I have literally pages and pages on a legal pad of song titles. I usually have an idea what I want to do … should the right music come along for that particular title. One (song) that we are working on now is called “Our Little Kismet.”  Andj brought me the music and it just felt right for it…. The song is about how two people are meant to be together…. There’s another one that’s on the back burner now that’s called “Cybil Splits Again” and is loosely based on … how some people are fragmented and have different personalities. Typically … it’s how the music makes me feel. I apply the title … and then put the words around it. There have been a few occasions where we started working on a song under one title and I decided that I couldn’t go anywhere with it so I switched the title and … that made all the difference.

Do you write your lyrics in one session?

No. I couldn’t possibly. One of my great regrets …is that we didn’t (include) the lyrics (with this CD). I really think people should see them. They are as much a part of the songs as the guitar work, the drums or bass work.… I hope some people will go to the trouble (of looking) them up online…. I think there’s a benefit to putting your best idea down and letting that mature a bit.

Do you continue to improve your lyrics even to the last minute?

They’re all different. Sometimes they can be rather quick. In the case of “Prostitution with a Twist” … one of Ricky’s songs, I had an old lyric that I had never used. I adjusted a few things and it was done. With “All She Wrote” … it came together pretty quickly…. I know (with) 2 or 3 of them …I was scrambling at the last minute. I’ve also found that in certain circumstances I could work pretty well under that pressure.

Chris, I noticed that you use Shure SM58 microphones on stage. What did you use in the studio?

Chris has a (Shure) beta 58. In the studio I know that Marco uses Neumanns. His approach is usually that whatever he uses for the main vocals, he’ll switch it up for backup vocals. He wants to hear something different. He’ll do that with miking the guitar amps as well. I can tell you as a guitarist that he’ll …(put) one mike on the amp up front, one in the back of the amp and then one in the room to get that liveliness. Then he’ll mix the 3 together.

Andj, did you use the same setup in the studio as you use live?

I brought in an additional amplifier and guitar that obviously on stage won’t be possible. Primarily I’m a Fender person. I did use a Reverend guitar and then I went between a 1966 Fender Bandmaster and a Suhr Badger amp. I use a 2 X 12" Port City cabinet loaded with Weber Blue Dog and Silver Bell Speakers. Ricky uses a Rickenbacker as his main guitar and uses a Peavey Classic 30 amp.

… Andj used an Ebow on that song “How Green was My Envy” that kind of soaring sound that you hear…. When I first heard that take… it just blew me away…. Unfortunately we cannot reproduce that live.…

How involved were you guys in the mixing process?

I would say that I was probably down there for every single mix for the most part. The trick was … when we first started working with Marco was trying to get a tempo. Initially he’d say things like, “Oh what do you think of this guitar?” And I’d say, “Well, it’s too busy here.” He’d get kind of flustered with me and go, “No, no, no. That’s not what I’m asking.” I’d say, “Fine.” At some point, when he has actually done something and he’s ready for me to chime in, I’d go, “This is good.… Now I see what you were trying to do.”
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I noticed that there was less than the typical 2 seconds in between many songs on the CD. It seemed to sustain the excitement throughout.

That was Marco’s idea.

I remember him asking me about that. I assume he asked you the same question Andj?

Yeah.

He (asked me) …”How do you feel about that?” And I said, “I like the shortest time possible.” And he said, “That’s what I like.” And I said, “Great….” He did (that with), “Tempest in a Trousseau” (leading) into “A Roar from Boring Alice.”  He actually created that sound going from “The Unbelievable Truth” into “All at Sea.” I just thought they were awesome…. It works so well.

It works very well. How do CD sales from your live performances compare to sales at iTunes or CD Baby?
The bulk came from presales. We have great fans, friends and family, including … (our mutual friend) Dan Regan. We put the word out that we … (could use some) help in finishing this … (album). We presold CDs ahead of time … at an elevated rate of $25 a pop. With that, folks would get their name mentioned in the credits, a thank you and a signed and numbered copy of the CD when it became available. People were just great. I think we sold 60 before there was ever a CD. That helped us raise cash to finish the thing…. Some people offered us some cash.… That really helped us. Then we had a CD release party … (where) we sold 30…. If we were to play the 9:30 Club in D.C. opening for somebody like Guided By Voices … I can see us playing to 2200 people there and selling 100 CDs. That can easily happen. It’s just a question of getting that gig. We’ve sold between 120 and 150 CDs….

What are your lead songs from this CD?

Well, this is a hard thing Tom because what we think and what other people think is usually a disconnect. I think some of the songs that have … come to the fore have been “All She Wrote” and “A Roar from Boring Alice.”

We’ve been quite surprised by the popularity of “Prostitution with a Twist” and “All at Sea.” When Andj first presented me with “All at Sea” he wrote … the first lyrics … and I … finished it and gave it the title I wasn’t wild about it. But it really grew on me…. It really came home to me when we played it in front of an audience and they responded to it. I said, “Wow.” I really appreciate this song now…. I have never liked “Prostitution with a Twist.”  I still don’t.  I would say … our most commercial song is probably “All She Wrote.” We’ve had it on web sites where people can review (it and) had some embarrassingly good reviews on the song….

The audience always knows what the hit is. I cannot recall hearing a record in which the hit song was not on the radio.

For me it’s the opposite. I tend to like deeper tracks on an album … not that I don’t appreciate whatever has become a hit or whatever has been popular on the radio….

I agree with you Chris. There is great music on a lot of albums but it may not be in the form of a hit.  I meant to say that hit material is typically on the radio.

Maybe growing up in the seventies or eighties that would be correct. It would be hard to find a good song that hadn’t come to the fore…. There’s a lot of good stuff out … but it’s not going to be on Clear Channel or the larger controlled radio stations…. It just falls through the crack.

You know Tom … I put the Treading Lemmings … together in 1990 and it has gone through several different incarnations…. Our idea was to play covers from (the eighties with) stuff that should have been hits … and if we played them very, very well we would create an audience … and people will love us. Well, that doesn’t work. We had fun along the way…. We don’t do that anymore.

We’ve established that there is great music on albums. We know that the big record labels have a stranglehold on radio. So how does an independent artist or band break through to get their music heard?

That is the question.

We agreed to this interview hoping you would tell us!

EVERYONE: (laughing)

You know … my sense is that the whole industry is changing both for positive and negative. The positive being that we can go out and … post our music (to) let’s say … 300 sites. Supposedly people will listen to it and rate it and in a perfect world it would rise to the top of the heap…. All of a sudden people would say, “Hey, the Treading Lemmings are number one on so and so station….” It’s lovely and wonderful that we have a couple stations out there that are really … promoting us. Whether that actually translates into sales, I couldn’t tell you…. We look at every aspect, and try to have each one support the other. For example, we’ve been working on the social media … our live show … streaming radio … (and) college stations…. There’s no way you’re going to get it played on a major market station. It certainly helps with name recognition. Ultimately I don’t know if it’s going to result in us being rock stars. I don’t know if that is our goal anyway.

Here’s another perspective Tom. In the first incarnation of the Lemmings … we were getting local college radio play. A guy who was an intern at East West Records got our stuff in an A & R’s hands…. We had a meeting at Rockefeller Plaza (in late ’93 or early ’94) and we were all excited thinking that we were going to be on our way…. We got that call from him a couple of weeks later. He said, “Look guys, for what it is, I love it. It’s great but it sounds like “The Queen is Dead” outtakes. In this day and age in America I just can’t sell it, but thanks.” It killed (our band member) Andrew Padula - he was gone. When we first got on MySpace in 2006, I got an email from that same Andrew and he said, “Can you imagine if we had (MySpace) 15 years ago?” That’s it! The Internet is the great equalizer…. The fact is, as older guys, we did the hard work. We got the album done. We’re here playing gigs and promoting it the best we can….
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The Internet will eventually allow good music to percolate through. Radio is still a vehicle controlled by the big record labels in order to sell hit songs. For example, years ago, you always heard the Allman Brothers hit “Ramblin’ Man” but very rarely heard the much better song “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

That’s funny! We actually played Elizabeth Reed in one of my earliest bands. Even back then I … was drawn to finding stuff rather than just listening to what was being spoon-fed on the radio…. My favorite band in high school … was Mott The Hoople. Last fall I made a pilgrimage to London … to catch 3 (of their 5) reunions shows … at the Hammersmith Apollo…. Those guys were hugely influential in their time.
Andj, what is your typical process for creating a song?

Well I’ll just … start playing the guitar and try to relax and see where it goes. I don’t pressure myself too much. Sometimes I have luck and other times I end up playing scales…. As I’m writing the melody line, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m not regurgitating something that I just heard on the radio. For example the other day we were in rehearsal. Ricky played this thing on the guitar and I said, “That’s really great we should do that.…” Then we all said, “Yeah, that’s one of our cover songs.” It’s scary that you come up with this really great riff and you’re thinking - Do I want to be like Coldplay who got sued by Joe Satriani over one of their songs? Do I want to be someone like that? I‘d rather not.

Do you take notes on an MP3 player or similar device?

Yes. I have a little Boss recorder. I can play and record on it. I’ll lay down a quick idea. It has 4 tracks if I need to flush out the idea. I’ll put the guitar on one track and maybe a la la la on another track to give Chris an idea where it’s going melodically.

Did you mike the drums or use triggers in the studio?

The drums were mostly miked. Marco’s way of doing things is only replace (or augment) if necessary. There were times he wanted to have a little bit more of a pop on the snare. In that case he would take a triggered snare and maybe mix in 5 or 10 percent of that triggered snare to the live snare to give it a little bit of a backbone.

How was Marc’s Fender Bass recorded?

Marc … (plugged his bass) directly (into the mixing board).... Every producer has their own way of doing things. Marco is awesome.... He records the guitars … without any effects. When I say effects, I mean no reverb, delay or chorus. If the guitar is distorted naturally in the song, then that is fine…. I can guarantee you that when the Edge is recording the next U2 album, whoever is recording him, Daniel Lanoit or whoever, they’re going to let him put on the delays. They’re not going to say, let’s play it dry and then we’ll add delay after the fact. That’s something that is just a little weird because you’ve been playing these songs for a couple of years and you are used to hearing it a certain way and then you are going to record it dry. But that gives Marco a lot more control. Let’s say that I set my delay and the delay is not quite on top of the beat. That will be a real problem because you can’t go back after the fact.

What is next in the pipeline for the Treading Lemmings?

We have, would you say (Chris), about 8 to 12 really great viable ideas coming up?

Yeah. There are a couple that are pretty much finished right now that we are hoping to debut at our next live show in a couple weeks. (Then there are) a couple more that will be right behind it. There are some others … that got side-tracked … (because of Cliff Notes) and some newer ideas…. We are all in agreement that we want to write. I’d love to see a situation where we had twenty new songs and … (when) it’s time to go into the studio we could pick 10 or 12. The one thing I don’t want to do is cheat any of the songs…. Ideally I like to see us … record another album at the end of this year or … (the beginning) of next year.

So this is a collaborative effect. How do Marc and Joe know what bass and drum parts to play? How is the song concluded?

I don’t think a song is complete until the whole band has played it. Marc and Joe can have some input on arrangements and things like that. Marc has had some great input on arrangements…. Andj, Ricky and I can sit here in my basement and think that we’ve finished a song, but I don’t think it is truly finished until we’ve all played it.

… Chris finishes the lyrics and … you have to think is that enough? Do I need a bridge? Is it a little boring? Do I need a rhythmic breakdown? How do you end the song? Do you want it to end the same way that you ended all the other songs? So all these things kind of come together … especially those aspects that really require the band’s input.

As a matter of fact “Tempest in a Trousseau” is a great example. I think we thought it was finished, but the middle bridge was … a little too jerky. It didn’t flow right. I came down in the basement … (and) the guys had already been working on this change.… The whole middle part changed very much for the better.

Do you tell Marc what bass notes to play, or give him a sketch or chord progression?

We usually let the guys run with it unless there is a very specific thing going on. For example, let’s say I write a reggae tune (which I haven’t done yet) and Marc plays a funk bass. I would say, “Play a reggae bass.” We’ve all been playing long enough to know that you get the best performances from people when you …let them do what they do. If need be we’ll reel them in and … (say), “You’re going down the wrong road here. I want you to do more of this.” Then it will be fine.

Andj will do that with me as well. We just fixed the melody line for this new song, “Our Little Kismet.” I would have fought him on it except … (he ultimately came up with a better melody)…. It really worked. I think the song is going to be that much better for it. By the way, Andj and I were in an original band in the eighties….

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Are you referring to your band Wax Poetic?

Yeah. He wrote the songs, the melody lines the lyrics and the bass lines and I think he did some drum direction. He locked horns with our bass player a few times.

Well, you know, you live and learn…. As the composer you have an image or idea how something should be. And then you have to trust people to see your image. Thankfully, everyone in Treading Lemmings is on the same page…. In that regard I feel very fortunate that I’m putting my idea occasionally into these guys’ hands and I don’t feel that they’re doing anything that is inherently wrong. If I feel that it’s not really my vision, I may nudge them in a general direction. Sometimes they nudge me too.
One of the joys of this band is that … these 5 people (have) enough in common on the one side from songwriting, but also on the whole from a performance perspective. There’s just real respect for each other’s taste in music…. I’ve been asked a few times … “How do you keep a band together?” One of the most difficult things in life … (is) to keep 4, 5 or 6 people focused in the same direction. We’ve definitely had our problems, but they tend to be the occasional personality flair up or something over money. The joy has really been the music and what we all have in common.

That comes through on your record as a tight sounding band. What does the name Treading Lemmings mean?

… I named most of the bands I was ever in including Wax Poetic…. Lemmings (comes from) the old wives tale that lemming go into the sea in vast numbers and drown…. (I put together) Treading Lemmings. If you know what I’m talking about, it’s clever…. I tried to change the name of the band (to) the Lovely Parting Gifts. We sent our stuff off to WHFS -... there was a DJ there who loved us…. (Her name is) Kathryn Lauren. I called into her show and she put our conversation on air. She said, “I’m sorry. The Treading Lemmings is too perfect. It’s a great name and you’re not changing it.” So I didn’t change it.

Having gone through the band name change many times in the past, it was a comfort to me knowing that no one possibly could have that name.

What other goals do you have for 2011 besides working on your next CD?

We are trying to set up some regional tours in Philadelphia, New York and Richmond. We are going to be spicing up our show with new material and maybe some interesting things.

Do you perform any covers at your show?

We tend to do obscure covers. We do a couple of the Dentists’ songs because they fold seamlessly into our stuff….We do a really rocked up version of “In your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. People tend to really respond well to it. We do a great version of “Ruby Soho” by Rancid.

The interesting thing is the mind set…. If we go back four years where we played a total cover gig, people … looked for us to come as close as possible to how the original is done…. Now that we play an original venue, people are much more receptive to (cover) music. If we do a version of a song that … they’ve heard of but with our own take on it, they just go crazy. It’s totally different.

The Internet and social networking are great tools for independent bands and artists who have the ability to write good songs. Are you finding that artists must also try to be entrepreneurs?

Well as you said, we have to be our own and our best advocates.… Social networking and the Internet are great tools. We believe in networking with other bands…. Actually I should say that Andj has done so much of the leg work on this…. If it’s a case of sharing a gig with a band in New York and getting them to play down here in the Rock and Roll Hotel or something, that’s awesome…. To the degree that you can connect us to folks up and down the east coast and who knows beyond that, we are wide open and we certainly want to keep communications open between us and you.

I suspect the momentum that is building among independent artists today is similar to what happened just before Woodstock. We all know that a number of unknown artists broke out into big acts after that experience. As we close the interview is there anything else that you guys would like to share?

…People asked me what I expected by doing the album. It took almost two years to make … a lot of money, (and) a lot of blood, sweat and tears…. The only thing I couldn’t handle was if the thing was released to a colossal thud…. If nobody cared, it would kill me. The fact is that has not been the case. We are not overnight sensations. We haven’t sold out of our 1000 CDs that we printed. The world is not beating a path to our door, yet. But the response has been great. We have won some Internet radio awards. We have been nominated for 4 Washington Area Music Association awards. We’ve caught the attention of certain people. We are talking to you tonight. That in and of itself is validation. It’s a wonderful thing…. It doesn’t have to happen overnight.

As you know Chris, it didn’t happen to the Beatles overnight, though some people thought so.

Yeah, I know. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles especially the early Beatles. If you go back to (and before) their Hamburg roots … those guys went through hell and worked their tails off.

Every label turned them down including EMI, who handed them over to George Martin whose specialty was circus and comedy acts. The rest is history.

I’m still amazed that they stuck with him as long as they did. You would have thought when they got all chesty and … big they would have moved on. He really helped to create that sound.

Tom, having … embarked on this whole thing of hitting college radio stations … we got the traditional response…. The fact is we can be the biggest thing in DC, but a Disk Jockey in California doesn’t care. So there are other factors involved. If you’re lucky and they like you … they will play you. Or if you have another five or six thousand dollars, you can hire some company like Planetary or other record promotion company. Some of these college stations will only play something they get from the promotion companies. It’s payola all over again.

Andj, that’s a great perspective and insight.  Guys, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences tonight. Thank you for your time.

You can purchase the Treading Lemmings "Cliff Notes" at:
CD Baby - http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/treadinglemmings



Click here for our February 2, 2012 update to The Treading Lemmings interview

Nominated for 4 Washington Area Music Association awards, the Treading Lemmings are building quite a buzz in the D.C. area. There is never a dull moment with Chris Quinn belting out the lead vocals, Andj Stainer on guitars & vocals,
Ricky Hunt on guitars & vocals, Marc Roulier on bass & vocals, and Joe Szadkowski on the drums.

Today we “talk shop” with Chris and Andj and discuss their recent CD release “Cliff Notes.”
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