Electro Group, a shoegazer mainstay of the local music scene in the late ’90s, have managed to stay together and put out several albums in the 2000’s. The latest, Ranger, was out on 1/27. I got in touch with the band–Matt Hull (drums), Tim Jacobson (guitar & vocals), and Ian Hernandez (bass)–to talk about the new album, their history with Sacramento and their plans for a spring tour.
How long have you all been working on this album?
Tim: At least the beginning of 2014 if we include planning. It’s funny; the whole reason we went to a studio and worked with a producer this time was to get it done quicker than we can on our own. We did get it done quickly but it still came out in 2017.
Matt: Yeah, what Tim said. Many of these songs are very very old, but the actual album process itself kicked off in 2014 when our good friend Adam Hervey from Pehr Records and the band Timonium heard some of the demos that we had been working on and offered to help get it recorded.
Did you self produce the last album?
Matt: We recorded our first 7″ at a small studio, but from then on, everything we did we recorded/produced ourselves. This new album was the first time we’ve worked in a proper studio environment.
So how was the process different, working with a producer this time out? And how do you think the album turned out differently?
Matt: So, just about every aspect of recording this album was different to what we had done before. Previously, we had a practice space and lived in the same city, so we were able to write together and then record in fits and starts. And because we had our own space and weren’t paying for time, we recorded and mixed at our leisure. But the big tradeoff was in equipment and technical expertise. So where on previous recordings we would be putting down instruments track by track out of necessity (due to not having the space and equipment to record the whole band live), working in a studio allowed us to play all the basic tracks together in the same room at the same time, and then build out the rest of the song from there. The preparation was also massively different because Tim now lives in Seattle while Ian and I are in Sacramento. So once we had figured out the songs that we would be recording, we created practice tracks with just the basic instruments so everyone could put in a bunch of practice time at home. Ian and I would get together weekly or so just to get used to playing the songs together, and then we had Tim fly in a few days early so we could get together in a practice space and tighten things up. So by the time we got down to LA to record, we were about as well rehearsed as a band living in two different states could be. We split the recording into two 1-week long sessions in July 2014 and October 2014. We would spend the first couple of days putting down basic tracks as quickly as possible, and then spend the balance of the time on all of the vocals, overdubs, and extra stuff that needed to be finished on the songs.
The guy we ended up recording with, Raymond Richards, has been a friend for ages and as such was pretty familiar with the three of us, and what we were going after. And because we’ve known him so long it was really easy to pre-plan what we were going to do and bounce ideas off of each other before we went into the studio. By the time we were there, we all had the basic outline of what we were going to do, and he was able to just make everything run pretty seamlessly. It was a huge difference going from recording ourselves and trying to figure out what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and whether or not the equipment was going to work to being in a studio where someone was setting it up for us, and all we had to do was play.
One of the best services he provided, though, was just being a detached, critical ear. When we record ourselves, there’s a tendency to just say “…well, I guess that was good enough.” and move on to the next thing. It was nice having someone who is experienced in these things stop us and make us do things again if he thought it could be better. It was pretty much night and day from how we usually work.
As to how the album turned out differently? Well, on a purely technical level, it just sounds better than our previous recordings. Imagine that! Better sounds out of a real studio. And in my opinion, the process of weeding through demos to pick the finite number of songs that we would record in a finite amount of time also served to make it a more cohesive album.
Tim: Many of the songs were already recorded with the idea that they would be finished up for release. When we decided to re-record everything with Raymond those recordings became demos and in some cases the tracks you hear on the album have a very different feel from the original demos. We offer some of those original versions on our website as bonus content to folks who buy the digital release.
Matt: Bonus content for folks who buy the vinyl release. Not digital. Gotta sell those things!
Ian: The biggest difference for me, with Ranger, was that with prior recordings we had played those songs live multiple times before recording them so we knew them inside and out. We also new if they “worked” within the scope of the band. Most of the Ranger songs didn’t go through this same vetting process and while we had recorded extensive demos I feel like I didn’t really get to hear the songs for what they were until the first rough mixes started to go out. There were a couple of parts that were unfinished for me that were hashed out in the studio. Looking back, I may have changed a few things but I’m very happy with the finished product as it is.
I have to imagine both the influences and the emotional/personal stuff that goes into the songs have changed a lot even just since the last record?
Matt: The last official record of new stuff that we released was back in 2007 (Good Technology), so it’s inevitable that things are going to change over the course of 7 – 10 years. The EP (Historical Contest) we put out after that full-length was a collection of re-recorded older stuff that was either released as a cassette prior to me being in the band, or songs from that same time period that had never been released.
Tim: Regarding themes in the new album, it’s kinda all over the place because these songs were written over a 15 year span. Some go back to the early 2000s while others were conceived just prior to recording. Overall, I think there is a general theme of alienation and fear of emotional connection lyrically.
Ian: I don’t think our musical influences have changed that much but certainly the things that surround our daily lives have. Whether that be getting married, having kids, changing jobs, moving etc. All these things inevitably make their way into your “art” however that manifests.
Though you’re only 2/3 a Sacramento band now, it does seem like the music scene here has changed a lot in the last 10 years. What kinds of good and bad changes have you seen?
Matt: I’m probably not a great person to speak to about the state of the scene since we get to play at most a couple times a year, and I don’t get out to nearly as many shows as I’d like to. I can think of any number of people with way more informed opinions about these things, and would be embarrassed to try and speak with any kind of authority.
But from what I’ve seen having lived here and participated in bands and music for most of my life, it always seems like we’re lamenting venues closing or getting shut down, but then at the same time there are really genuine people who want to make cool things happen, and they find ways to get it done.
And I’m positive that there are probably amazing things going on somewhere in town that I’m completely oblivious to, just due to being another ‘generation’ (for lack of a better term) on from the people who are organizing and performing.
It will be interesting to how all of this new development in Midtown and Downtown affects things. On its face, it doesn’t seem like it will make life any easier for local bands and people trying to start venues.
Tim: I don’t know what it’s like now, being in Seattle the last six years, but I remember all-ages venues having a rough go which sucks because those are usually the best shows.
Yeah, you guys played a lot of those all-ages venues in Sacto. back in the day. Any good memories stick out?
Matt: There are so many that its hard to choose. We could probably spend the rest of our time here just name-checking all the bands that we were fortunate enough to play with. There were a few years in the early drag-your-own-PA-to-the-show days of the original Capitol Garage location, and then later when Jeff Melendez was running sound, where every month we’d get to play a show with some of our best friends in local bands along with amazing touring bands. A few other cool ones that immediately spring to mind are opening for the Faint, !!!, and the Big D at Joe’s Style Shop shortly before it closed, playing with Static Faction at EMRL.
I hate mentioning specifics, though, because it leaves out so many other amazing shows, band, and venues.
What I really remember from those days, though, was the mass exodus of people when we would start playing since we were just so damn loud.
Tim: Yep. “You guys sound good from outside” was uttered a lot.
Matt: We eventually started giving away earplugs.
Tim: True. Electro Group branded earplugs. I forgot about that.
Matt: Yeah, most of those earplugs just went into people’s’ pockets since they liked the package (and they were free). That picture was sent to me the other day by Joe Ryckebosch whose band, the Rum Diary, we used to play with all the time. He found them in a box of junk. Further proof that nobody used them for their intended purpose.
Ian: Lots of good memories surrounding shows at Capital Garage, Guild Theatre, Cattle Club, and a myriad of smaller venues around town.
So, a spring tour is next now that the album is out. How is that shaping up?
Matt: We’re working on trying to find some dates that will work for all of us, which is tough. We’re old people now with jobs and families and responsibilities. But we should cover the west coast sometime in the next few months. Probably a long weekend up north, a long weekend around Sacramento/Bay Area/Davis, and another in LA. We may actually end up doing a one-off in Sacramento later this month, but we’re still trying to figure out some details.