People Get Ready is: Steven Reker (vox/gtr/keys), Jen Goma(vox/keys/gtr/bass), James Rickman (bass/gtr), and Booker Stardrum (drums). Their second album, Physiques, came out on Brassland in June. They have presented their music and performance work at the Watermill Center, the Kitchen, BAM, the Skirball Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, Glasslands Gallery, Death by Audio and others. Follow them here.
It’s an early afternoon in late July, and we are driving from New York to Philadelphia in a 2003 Honda Odyssey. We play End Times Undone, the new album by David Kilgour, the former singer and guitarist for the renowned New Zealand band the Clean, front to back with very little talking. None of us has heard it before, although Steven Reker, who’s driving, and Jen Goma, who’s navigating from a back seat, are big fans of the Clean. The album ends, and Operation Ivy’s “Hoboken,” burned onto the same CD, starts playing.
JAMES RICKMAN: Got a really good mix after this.
OP IVY: I’m in this prison/you built for you!!!
JAMES: That’s for later. [Turns stereo off.] So it’s just a 35-minute album. Short songs — they just kind of stop.
BOOKER STARDRUM: The big moments were kind of small, which I didn’t mind. It’s not bombastic in the way that I expected. If I were the one making it, I would have been like, “Let’s make this section big!”
JAMES: Do you guys, when you’re listening to music, do you ever try to imagine yourself writing the song you’re listening to?
STEVEN REKER: I guess I think more about the choices being made and if there’s a kinship there — like, “Oh, that’s a choice that I can relate to.” Or if it’s something that’s out of my instinct.
JEN GOMA: It’s definitely a really meditative soundtrack that allows you to do what you want. It doesn’t really take you away from whatever it is that you’re doing. James, as far as imagining yourself in this person’s position, it kind of seems like you don’t have to take yourself too far away from your own thoughts when listening to this music.
JAMES: I was thinking, it’s like we’re in a driving montage right now. Sunny day, trees, phone poles…
JEN: It’s like a cleaner version of the Clean, which is classically good for driving.
STEVEN: Yeah, I feel like this isn’t really a Clean record.
JEN: Like it’s unclean, or it doesn’t sound like the Clean?
STEVEN: It doesn’t sound like the Clean.
JEN: But it still has that strummy quality, like, durrr dee-durr dee-durrdee….
STEVEN: I think the Clean was much more adventurous. And it was really direct songwriting. Pop songs. Choices were being made. This is more languid.
JEN: It’s interesting to think — who are the contemporaries now of this guy who inspired so many young bands? This wouldn’t be out of place on a bill with Real Estate or Woods.
STEVEN: It sounds like a young Brooklyn band.
JEN: But those bands took their cue from this guy.
BOOKER: Did they?
JEN: I’m pretty sure they were fans of the Chills and the Clean and Flying Nun stuff in general. It definitely sounds like it, at least with the songwriting and production. Are those younger dudes this guy’s contemporaries now, if he’s still making the same kind of music that they are? Now that this type of music is having a resurgence of popularity in the last five years? What was really refreshing about bands like Real Estate and Woods was that it was nice and uncomplicated.
JAMES: I thought it was telling that in one of the songs he says, “Everybody needs a rest.”
JEN: Funny thing is, I still think this would weird my mom out.
JAMES: She would say, “I can’t understand the words, Jennifer.”
JEN: Yeah. She would not like not understanding the words. She would not like not being able to consistently tap your toes to it.
JAMES: It’s pretty toe-tappin’. I mean, as an Eagles fan, surely your mom could appreciate that. She raised you on good music.
JEN: She raised me right.
BOOKER: Velvet Underground.
JEN: You thought it sounded like the Velvet Underground?
BOOKER: Well… [long pause] no. But I was just thinking, I’ll put on a Velvet Underground record and I won’t listen very hard, but I’ll enjoy it.
STEVEN: The thing with a Velvet Underground record, though, is if you want to listen to it, you can. Lyrically, something’s going to be happening. You can listen to the drums, and how weird and late they are sometimes. I feel like you can put on a Velvet Underground record in the background — I mean, depending on which one — and just be cool with it, but some of those records you can put on your headphones and be like, “Whoah, there’s a lot of nuance and strangeness going on.” This would not be a very captivating headphone listen, in my opinion. Maybe it sounds good in a big room.
JAMES: Y’know, it’s also weird to me that the track that sticks out the most is the one that’s just one long, terrible guitar solo with some very lowdown vocals in the middle [“Crow”]. There wasn’t even a structure to it; just solo/vocals/solo, and that was it. It’s on the borderline of a sort of Ween appeal.
STEVEN: It sounded like, “OK, I’m just going to hit ‘record’ first time I’m listening to this and riff on it,” and he just kept it. Definitely has a special liveness to it, but in another way it kind of feels just unpolished and confused.
JAMES: That goes back to what I was thinking about: I often try to put myself in a songwriter’s shoes and the choices that writer is making. That’s a song on an album. So what are the choices behind that? I’m sure there are very thoughtful choices behind it, but I couldn’t really figure out what they were.
STEVEN: It’s a very youthful record in a way — the decisions in it. It’s not complicated at all.
JAMES: Although that can work either way. If you’re a young pup and you’ve really got something to prove, or you’re eager to please, you’re going to make some big choices. This is so simple, it’s like, “Wow, you must be a zen master to have such a slight melody and bury it under guitars.”
STEVEN: I think about Elliott Smith in that way: like, man, that guy can rip! He was an amazing guitarist, but it was more about his practice of restraint just to make a song that’s perfect.
BOOKER: [Reading signs in an unplaceable accent] Bwob Evans. Rwed Rwoof Inn.
JEN: You still recording, James?
JAMES: Yeah. This is the good stuff.
JEN: We could take a step even farther back. Why are we doing this piece?
BOOKER: I don’t know. ‘Cause James told me to. Is the album good or bad?
JAMES: No, Booker, that’s not how we do this.
JEN: Is that not the point?
JAMES: Well, you can say if it’s good or bad. I’m not going to give it a 6.3 and say, “What they don’t have is a unique vision” or some bullshit.1
STEVEN: I wonder how hard he worked on this, you know? Feels like it was, “Let’s track this, do it in a week, boom, out.”
JAMES: So do we, the listeners, get that sort of spontaneous, easygoing feel, and that’s the connection?
STEVEN: Yeah, definitely. You don’t have to draw too much from it; it’s just in the moment.
JEN: Maybe we should write this piece in the same way, and command our readers as much as this record is commanding its listeners. Like, “Listen, it’s 35 minutes, it’s not going to take you that long. I mean, we could tell you about listening to it, but you guys should just listen to it.” Done.
JAMES: That would save me a lot of transcribing time.
1.James is paraphrasing the Pitchfork review of PGR’s first album.