Fresh Starts, Gorgeous Mermaids and Leonard Cohen: Words w/ ON AN ON

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Nothing like a story of reinvention to kick off a new year of interviews. This week, we follow up our conversation with PonyHomie’s Brando Feist with a chat with a “new” favorite artist who falls somewhere on the dreamy, electronic rock spectrum. This week, we were lucky enough to catch up with ON AN ON‘s Nate Eiesland to discuss his band’s phoenix-like beginnings, their new sound and what to expect from their upcoming show with San Francisco’s Geographer this Sunday.

Everything we’ve read about ON AN ON mentions the seemingly highly inauspicious start of Scattered Trees breaking up just weeks before scheduled studio time. What ultimately made you decide to move forward with a new band rather than taking one of the other presumably simpler alternatives?

The choice was pretty clear when we were faced with the opportunity to start fresh. The three of us were interested in making music that may have been too far of a leap for Scattered Trees to make sonically. We were ready to make something that was more satisfying to us creatively than what we were doing at the time. It was a perfect storm for us to be able to make a record and to follow our intuition without having any loyalty to a former sound or image. We knew the music that we were making would define everything else for us, rather than the other way around. That was exciting to us.

Was the dreamier atmosphere and fuller electronic instrumentation of Give In something that was going to happen with the next album whether it was Scattered Trees or is the shift something that came from this being a new band?

I think a shift was inevitable, but the freedom that came from starting a new band gave us an opportunity to push further and be more adventurous than we would have been before. The three of us see eye to eye creatively, and we’ve been playing music together for the past 10 years. We work well together, but this was something entirely new to us. Having a clean slate was a challenge, but a really exhilarating one. We were like animals in the studio, we relied on instinct rather than opinion. We were hungry for some immediacy. We didn’t want to self edit too much and end up over processing every decision. We agreed we’d rather have a record alive with vulnerability and flaws than something perfectly executed but neutered. Perfection is boring.

Your lyrics have long explored very personal, often immensely heavy subjects. What themes does the new record cover?

There are a lot of different things going on lyrically in Give In. I’ve been writing about life and death, but from a new place emotionally. It’s been interesting to see my perspective on something so big and important change over time. That shift comes out in Give In. I’m also not as depressed now, and that comes out in the songs too. It’s not a concept record or anything, but it feels like one sonically in some way if that makes any sense. We were really in another world recording this record. We didn’t think about anything else for a month straight.

How did you three settle on ON AN ON as the band name?

A gorgeous mermaid said it to me in a dream.

You mention in the Scattered Trees “Moving on” post that recording Give In drastically changed your approach to making records. How so?

In the past I tended to overwork things I think. I went too deep into my own ideas, and I didn’t have the know-how to make it back out without shredding myself in the process. That’s so much better with ON AN ON. Dave (Newfeld) created an amazing creative atmosphere for us in the studio. There was this sense of urgency, but we knew we didn’t have to prove ourselves to anyone at the same time. We were just creating and exploring. He has an incredible knack for pulling out what’s unique about you as an artist and then capturing those moments when everything is out of the way.

What artists would you cite as some of the most prominent in your development as musicians?

Leonard Cohen is at the top of my list. Songs of Love and Hate changed my life in some way that I can’t really describe. I also discovered the Notwist as a teenager and I haven’t gone 3 months without listening to Neon Golden all the way through since.

We’re shamefully under-informed when it comes to great bands playing in Chicago and/or Minneapolis. Who shouldn’t we miss when they come to Seattle or if we find ourselves in your hometown(s)?

Out of Chicago you should check out Supreme Cuts and Moon Boots for awesome electronic sets. Some good shoegazy bands there are Radar Eyes and Bare Mutants. In Minneapolis there’s Brother Ali, Dark Dark Dark, Dial-up, and if you are ever in Minneapolis on a Sunday or Monday night go to a bar called Bunker’s and catch Dr. Mombo’s Combo for some amazing funk/R&B that will blow your mind.

If you lived in a parallel universe where all bands in 2013 had to become tribute bands, which band would you choose as your new identity for the year?

Great question. I’d have to go with the Beatles. It may be an answer you get a lot, but if I seriously had to perform only Beatles songs every night, it’d make for a good year.

Anything in particular that you’re looking to do with your time in Seattle?

We will probably eat a fantastic meal somewhere and then stick some gum on the wall in Post Alley.

What should people expect from your set this Sunday?

A giant wet dream on Monday morning.

1/13 (Sunday) – Geographer with On An On + Haunted Summer @ Barboza // 8 pm // 21+ // $10

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