A conversation with singer/songwriter/synthesist Kyle Williams of temperamental indie-pop group, Primary Structures. Read on, as we discuss… music?
Dingus: The new Primary Structures LP seems like it has a large range of influences, what was the band thinking when they set out to write these songs? What aesthetic were you looking to embody?
Williams: Before we made this recorded, we had recorded and then discarded a whole album’s worth of songs with an additional guitar, keyboard and voice on every song. The whole thing came out as a kind of overwritten and overly-emotive pop sound that was just bland and unsatisfying to each of us. When we came back to rewrite the songs we didn’t have a specific vision, but we cut those other vocals and instruments and Jason, Brian and Matt wrote straighter, more driving, more interesting arrangements. Personally, I wanted people to hear the vocal melodies without hearing an affectation or emotionality that would color them, so as we were doing something simpler and clearer with our arrangements I tried to do something similar with my voice. So, along those lines, we each have pretty different influences, but I think those influences meet with bands like the Talking Heads, Pavement and the Smiths that can write interesting, beautiful music and melodies using the noisy, collaborative sound of a band.
Poetically, what is this album about?
Well, most of the lyrics describe scenery or situations. What I really want is for the lyrics and melodies to fit together and convincingly set a scene or a tone without really being about anything. Or maybe a better way to say it is that I’d like the lyrics to be evocative of a place and situation but also simple enough that they can just fit into song.
I don’t want the songs to feel autobiographical, and I want to stay away from emotional or metaphoric lyrics, or even catchy or clever lyrics. And I dislike lyrics that are overtly poetic or cool sounding. For me, these all take me out of a song. I just heard a great interview with Stephen Sondheim where he was saying that great lyrics are able to be poetic while still being very simple and straight because they are inseparable from a melody that is doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I don’t think anyone is accusing me, or Primary Structures, of being poetic, but I do like that role for lyrics.
What track off the album is your favorite and why?
Well, I don’t know. I think my favorite parts of the record are places where we’re able to get a lot of riffy or percussive motion out of the instruments mixed with a kind of restrained or loungy vocals.
What is the bands relationship with the concept of “jamming”? Does Primary Structures unshackle their arrangement in a live setting or do you guys play as tight as the recordings sound?
Well, we use a lot of jamming to arrange songs and write parts, but no, once we have it written we try to get it tight, and then play tight arrangements for live shows.
Have you guys ever played in NYC? Do you have any interest in traveling to the Big Apple?
We haven’t played New York – so far we’ve stuck pretty much to the west coast, but now that we have the record out we’d love to get out there.
What are your shows normally like? What kind of audience is your favorite?
Our shows are small and loud. We don’t banter or make jokes; we dress nice. Someone recently told me that my stage presence was like a Bret Easton Ellis character. So hopefully that is entertaining to audiences.
If you could offer one musical philosophy to sum up the personality of the band, what would it be?
I don’t know, making pop music is a strange. It’s certainly not making art, and I don’t think it’s really about being a musician in a true sense. I think, for us, it’s really about being a crafts-person. I’m not sure that everyone can connect with that. Doing something artful or experimental, or with musical virtuosity, or creating a non-stop party all are ways of being a band. But whatever of those elements your have, at the core of it, it needs to be well-made. It needs to be completely well-made even though the result is frivolous pop entertainment — that’s what I connect with and that’s what I aspire to. It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it.