Hailing from a place like Long Island, New York and being in a band is no easy task. People around you and the world over are expecting some sort of Billy Joel influenced sound or "screamo" style music. Yet, for Long Islands ambitious As Tall As Lions, who have broken down the conventions of what a "Long Island artist" is supposed to sound like, they have taken the world by storm and are looking to sink further into the hearts of fans and new listeners around the globe. Much like a beautiful crashing wave hitting the shores of their home place, the bands sound is as unique and powerful as Mother Nature's force hitting the sand. As the band readies its much anticipated third album, You Can't Take It With You, I had the opportunity to speak to drummer Cliff Sarcona about the latest record, the bands recent trip to South by Southwest and the difficulties in coming from a place like Long Island. Take a look at my interview below...
1) What can you tell us about the new record?
I can tell you that its different, new, and will be fresh to everyone's ears. Do you remember how different our Self-Titled was in comparison to Lafcadio? Think it in terms of that, a total improvement on what we had, taken to the next level. It's a maturation - it will be easy to recognize the music right away as As Tall As Lions, all of the elements that people love about our band are there, they are just even more apparent this time.
2) Sessions for the new record began in Long Island then ended in California. Has the change of atmosphere effected the new album?
But the atmosphere definitely helped us keep a positive attitude when things were getting rough. Staying happy through the process is harder than you might think, even when we have the best/dreamlike job in the entire world. There are a lot of picky people in this band to keep happy! In the end it absolutely helped. We are the type of people who don't like to feel stuck in one place, and removing us from NY helped us there.
3) The title of the new album is called "You Can't Take It With You." Does this have any significance to the overall theme of the album or anything that has gone on personally that made an impact to the music?
The title does refer to an underlying theme in the lyrics that relates to the overall picture of our lives or anyone's for that matter: We need to focus on what's important. Life is too short to become obsessed with things that are fickle, that will absolutely mean nothing in the end. We tried to take that wisdom in several different directions lyrically - and the result are a bunch of songs with a bit of wisdom beyond their years. That's important to us!
4) Many people have compared As Tall As Lions to Jeff Buckley fronting Coldplay. How do you respond to such high comparison?
Being in the band, hearing that comparison definitely gets old and a bit frustrating, especially since we don't even listen to Coldplay. And while Jeff Buckley is definitely one of the best artists of our time, we by no means obsess over 'ripping him off' or trying to repeat a sound that he has. It just turns out that its what people see in our music. We try to write from our hearts and it just ends up translating that way onto record. It's a huge compliment but we also know deep down that our music is unlike either of those artists so its hard to relate sometimes.
5) You just got back South By Southwest, tell us about that experience?
SXSW is always an amazing experience for us - the shows are usually crazy with people and the festival itself is such a positive vibe altogether. You get to hang with a bunch of bands you are friends with and meet new ones - everyone is such good people. When you are all in the same boat together at that point, its nothing but being about brainstorming and inspiring each other - and that goes a long way!
6) You hail from Long Island, but you clearly do not sound or fit into the traditional Long Island mold of bands that sound like Billy Joel or screamo bands. Was it difficult being the odd band out?
It definitely has been difficult being the odd band out there - long island lacks that eclectic mix of music that you see coming from say Brooklyn or Manhattan, and there are absolutely no venues to play shows. We feel bad making some of our biggest fans travel to NYC to see us play but there is such a lack of music venues in Long Island (generally) that it makes it impossible to connect with other unique bands like us. Funny part is that I know that there is an incredibly strong music scene on long island, and its a shame that nobody has taken a big step forward in trying to bring it out into the open. DIY shows are all we've got.
7) After the success of your last record, do you feel a lot of pressure on the new album?
We made sure we placed no real pressure on ourselves there- because no matter how good you think your last record is, there is always ways for you to improve, whether you sold 50k records or 500k records. It's a matter of perspective. Any type of success, big or small can go to your head very easily, but why let it? You started creating music for your passion in what you do, why should any other outside factors effect your craft? A true musician knows what he wants out of his music, and that should never change based on success. Easier said than done, I suppose.
8) Where would you like the new album to take the band?
England, Europe and Japan. I believe we are going to conquer the first of those three this June. Very excited to continue to travel and share our music with the world. There is something about seeing your music connect with people from other countries that is definitely exciting, it just makes us happy that we can musically break down any barriers that are needed to reach a 'universal' audience. Requirement: you are a human being. It's a beautiful thing.
"Stab City," Live from Highline Ballroom Summer 2007 (Above) / "Break Blossom" Live from Long Island December 2008 (Below)
Special thanks to Cliff for the interview! Look forward to the new album!