While at Coachella last month, we were able to catch up with Ryan Hahn and Nik Ewing, who had been impressing crowds with their new album Sunlit Youth, as well as a stomper live show. Taking some time out backstage, Larry chatted with the guys about their experiences on the growing festival stage and how their own live presence has continued to develop with time.
Well, welcome to the second weekend of Coachella. You have conquered the festival for the third time, or I guess if you count both weekends, the fourth or fifth time.
Nik: How does that work? Are you allowed to count the two weekends?
Ryan: No, it’s separate.
Nik: Yeah, there’s a lot of problems with that.
Well, it’s like you played SXSW that one year, but you did 27 shows at that event, so you didn’t play SXSW 27 times.
Ryan: Right, right.
Yeah, it is semantics at that point. Growing up in Southern California, I mean I did as well for part of my childhood, I remember ’99 when Coachella first came on, I was too young to go. But Rage and Tool, and my older friends, older brothers of friends were going and I’ve been wanting to go ever since. And this is my first time here and it’s incredible to finally be here.
For you guys, you’ve been here many times. How is the festival in your third appearance compared to your first and maybe even when you were here just as a punter?
Ryan: I mean it’s crazy. It’s really ballooned. Not to sound like old grumpy man, but it’s really changed, you know?
It’s not as cool as it used to be!
Ryan: It’s not as cool as it used to be and kids, get off my lawn. It was like in 2007, I want to say, the first year that I went. I think it was just two days, it was one weekend. Radiohead headlined one day and then The Cure the next. It was magical back then but I feel like, you know, it was only maybe a third as many people. Definitely not as much cultural cache as it has now. It’s pretty insane actually to look at it.
Nik: Yeah, I feel like when we were kids, I don’t know if you did – I snuck in. I remember sneaking in the first year. Like, didn’t have enough money to get tickets. You couldn’t buy single-day tickets back then. And I feel like I remember people just, I sound like an old guy, like running. Like, “Oh shit, this band is playing at 4PM, I gotta make it there.” Now it’s a little bit more of see and be seen; it’s an experience. Anyways. Everything sounds better on vinyl.
It’s a very LA festival now I guess.
Ryan: It truly is, yeah, yeah.
Nik: But it’s still special.
Ryan: It’s still special, it’s crazy because you know, we played the first year in a tent. And then we made our way to the outdoor stage, and then to be on the main stage is pretty mind-blowing.
And yeah, you hit the main stage today, really hot day though.
Ryan: Oh, boy, yeah.
Crowds were slow to fill the arena, but they did, they came out.
And it seemed like the set at the moment is pretty seamless in terms of jumping between songs new and old. It looks really comfortable for you guys now switching up between the three records and everything just fills the gaps really nicely. Is that how you’re feeling as well about the sets?
Ryan: I’m glad that you think it sounds seamless. We fight a lot about the set list, so that’s good to hear.
It looks like you change it up.
Ryan: Yeah, we do, and I think some of the older songs we’ve updated a little bit. Just to kind of, like you said, keep it all in the same world. It’s been really fun to play this new record, because I do think a lot of these songs feel like they’re made to be played live. It didn’t take as long to feel comfortable playing them live as it did maybe on our second record. It’s been really cool. Today was the last day of a five-week, six-week tour, so it was kind of the finale.
Nik: I think maybe that’s part of it too. This is the end of the six-week tour and I was already feeling like I’m missing tour and reminiscing as much as I want to be home. You just hit a groove; you’re playing the same song or you have a couple transitions that fit like a glove. It’s gonna take another month of touring to feel that comfortable within our own- or just relying on like, “I know Kelsey‘s gonna do this at one point and Matt‘s gonna…” That’s an unexplainable quality where you’re vibing off each other really well. Just by playing hours together every day.
Yeah, I imagine unless you’re literally on a nonstop run for eight months and you’re just so over it by the end point, those kind of briefer runs where you get at the end it must be frustrating where it’s like, you’re finally in a great rhythm with it and you don’t want to kill that momentum, but you’re back on the road in a couple of weeks, aren’t you?
Nik: Yeah, so.
Ryan: Yeah. But I guess it’s more they’re gonna be one-off festivals and things like that.
Heading over to Lisbon, and all over the world.
Ryan: Primavera’s crazy, so yeah.
Have you done Primavera before?
Ryan: We did in 2013? 2014, yeah. So that’s another amazing festival.
Incredible, it’s a great festival. We did it last year.
Ryan: Oh nice, nice.
Radiohead were there as well, so-
Ryan: Of course, yeah.
That’s one thing about this festival too. I couldn’t believe that I pretty much walked up to the front of the stage half an hour before Radiohead came on.
Ryan: Yeah, man, I mean. Here we go again. It’s just one of those things and you’re like, “This is Radiohead, this is like, one of the most influential, the best band in the world,” and you know, they don’t draw as many people as some of the … Whatever, I don’t want to be so negative. But it was really cool to see them and yeah, they played well.
“Fake Plastic Trees” last night was really cool.
Ryan: Pretty crazy.
And some really good songs in that set. It was good fun. One feature of the set seems to have been as well that you’ve been bringing in a guest vocalist here and there for “Dark Days”.
Has it been interesting exploring other sounds and sounds that influence you anywhere? I can’t imagine Fleetwood Mac aren’t some form of influence even if it’s off in the peripheral distance.
You know, what has it been like playing around with some of these covers and giving your take to them?
Ryan: It’s really freeing in a way because the song’s already there, the main part of it, you get to just throw the pieces on the table and figure out how you want to put it back together. Each time we try to do something a little different and interestingly, our band, we usually take a long time to do everything and write songs and collaborate with each other, but all the covers you mentioned, we did very quickly. The Kanye one came together I think the day of.
And then the “Tusk” one we did in two days. Yeah. The Beyonce one, same thing. I think it’s our new MO is to embrace, maybe not the improvisational quality, but more not overthinking things and it kind of all ties into the collabing on “Dark Days” too, it’s just opening things up and being more open to the different influences in the music that we listen to already and the way we write songs, and so it just feels like the band is this living organism that’s growing and doing different things each record cycle and all that.
Nik: I think maybe to elaborate on that, we’ve just become a tiny bit less precious, and so these happy accidents happen a little more frequently. Whereas before, I can imagine doing one of these covers, we would all have strong opinions and it could go a bunch of different ways but now we have the ability to…I think it goes even to our covers are one thing but then even songs, like we’re releasing new songs, we’re writing already, we’re just less precious and just following what makes us all super excited.
And collaborating on an audio visual level as well with that “Eyes Closed” experience, digital experience I guess is the best way to put it. How did that one come about?
Ryan: We had that song, we were really excited about it, and we wanted to do something special for the release of it. Through someone at our record label, they had heard about this technology and you could tap into the webcam on your computer. It sounded almost too good to be true, just because of the name of the song and everything, it was just like, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
I love the thought that you have to sit and be present and close your eyes and really be there with the song. Yeah, I don’t know, it was just so fun to see peoples’ reactions to that and we definitely want to do more things like that.
What was your reaction to that?
Ryan: I loved it. We’re still, I think, we’re album nerds. We love sitting and being present with music and yeah. I don’t know. I think if a band that I loved when I was coming up had done something like that, I would’ve been super stoked. It’s a little gimmicky, it’s a little kitschy, but I think it’s kind of fun in that way. It’s not just, “All right here’s more of the same, here’s your Youtube link, go for it.” It’s a different event, you know?
Well there’s so much that can be done now with technology, but also there’s all these people out there like with the greatest projects and all these things happening, doing things with Arcade Fire, and that are mind-blowing, and if you can tap into that then all for it.
Ryan: Yeah. You’re cutting through the noise a little bit you know? Obviously you never want it to overtake the actual music and the stuff that we make as a band, but I do think it’s just really fun to, like you said, collab and bring other people into the fold and do stuff like that.
And like you said, I mean, what all this leads to with the AV experiments and the collabs and the covers, what that could lead to for the next record is really exciting. It opens up so many new doors.
Nik: I don’t even think we know where it’s headed, but that’s kind of the fun part. Especially when we’re coming home, we’re just trying to do a bunch of stuff that we wouldn’t normally do and when album making, album four comes, maybe we’ll have a better idea of what stuff we want to do.
The author travelled to Coachella from Australia via Honolulu with Hawaiian Airlines. For bookings and more details head to http://hawaiianair.com/