Thursday, December 17, 2009

Interview with Saosin's Beau Burchell

(Saosin performs Saturday at SOMA in San Diego and Sunday at House of Blues Anaheim. Photo by Sean Stiegemeier/courtesy of Virgin Records)

A smashed clock face adorns the cover of Saosin’s impressive sophomore effort "In Search of Solid Ground." The image could represent frustration over music biz politics or the time elapsed since the aggressive alt-rock band’s eponymous 2006 major label bow.

Guitarists Beau Burchell and Justin Shekoski first joined forces six years ago in Newport Beach, CA and recorded an instrumental demo with singer Anthony Green, which became the "Translating the Name" EP.

Green left Saosin (the moniker which means “small heart” in Chinese, comes from a 15th century proverb) soon after to form Circa Survive. San Diego vocalist Cove Reber took his place, alongside bassist Chris Sorenson and drummer Alex Rodriguez. Stints on the Warped, Taste of Chaos and Projekt Revolution tours elevated Saosin’s profile, prompting the hard-hitting debut to move more than 300,000 copies and spawn a top 30 modern rock radio hit (“Voices”).

Burchell, 31, has a home recording studio in Orange County, where he spent the better part of this decade mixing, engineering or producing The Higher, The Bronx, Reel Big Fish, The Bled, Envy on the Coast, Underoath, Drop Dead Gorgeous and the Saw VI soundtrack, among others. We caught up with him via phone from a tour stop in Salt Lake City.

Does the band have any new tricks up its sleeve on the current tour?

Dude, we had the guy that does all the light shows for Nine Inch Nails design our show and we have his protégé out running the show for us. It’s rad. Basically, what we’re going for is [people becoming] deaf and blind [laughs].

How has the new material been going over in concert?
I’ve been checking out the message boards on our web site – we always try to keep pretty close with our fans – and a lot of people are [surprised by how powerful] ‘The Alarming Sound of a Still Small Voice’ is live compared to the record.

During tours this past summer and fall, a handful of Saosin followers were invited along with the band on fun excursions. One city would be go karting; another, laser tag. Can you tell me about it?
That was awesome. We had all these crazy fan events. We’d go to a radio station to do an interview and acoustic performances. Then the DJ would announce something like, ‘the band is going to be over at Jim’s Hot Dog Stand doing an acoustic performance and the first 15 people there get free hot dogs.’ Sometimes, there’d be a second event. One day, we showed up to a performance and the first 10 people there got to go paint balling with us. And people that called into the radio station got ringside seats at WWE Wrestling. It was all these really bizarre things.

I’ll bet the fans were excited.
Yeah, they were. The really cool thing about it was we limited it so we actually got to hang out. The fans were a little more comfortable than at a concert, where you do a meet ‘n’ greet and the only thing that comes out of their mouths is, ‘oh my God. I can’t believe I’m here.’ They can’t even really speak. At these things, it was a [more relaxed] environment.

You and Chris oversaw much of the new album at Hurley Studios in O.C., with a web cam set up so fans could watch the progress online. How did that work out?
Whenever you’re around your closest friends and people you live with, there’s no filter on your mouth…so it was kind of hard to joke around. When we’d give each other sarcastic compliments like ‘yeah Cove, that’s a real cool vocal line; sounds like Creed.’ We had to limit those responses to super huge bands that wouldn’t be offended.

After completing music for more than a dozen tracks, the band forged ahead with other producers including Butch Walker (Weezer, All American Rejects) and John Feldmann (The Used). Why did you solicit outside assistance?
On the last record, we figured out that we really don’t need help when it comes to doing the music and arrangements. What we do need is a referee to decide which vocal idea is going to be best for the song. Chris, Cove and I write a lot of the vocal [lines] and it’s a shared responsibility...I was a huge, longtime Butch Walker fan, going back to Marvelous 3. For me, working with him was awesome. John Feldmann was actually a fan of ours since the beginning. He offered to produce our first record when we only had one EP out. It was cool being able to work with both of them. The remaining songs we self-produced just because we were able to come to an agreement on them.

Besides the occasional screamo elements, some songs feature string arrangements and programming, which is a sonic step forward for Saosin.
We don’t really limit ourselves. For instance, when we came in with that eight minute piano jam ‘Fireflies (Light Messengers),’ there was no rule like, ‘dude, we can’t have a song that long and slow.’

What was the mindset behind making that one? Did you want to do an epic tune a la “November Rain” by Guns ‘N Roses to close the album on a mind blowing note?
Chris came in with the basic piano riff and Cove put some vocals to it. We heard it and thought, ‘how do we make this into a four-minute song? The chorus alone is a minute long’…we’ve never had a long song before. We’ve always had these super quick, pop-oriented ones. We just decided to go for it. Luckily, the label heard it and didn’t make any changes, so that was sweet.

The melodic “It’s All Over Now” really shows how much Cove has grown as a vocalist.
Yeah. I think overall that song’s a monster. One thing that we really wanted to do on this record was showcase his vocal ability. I didn’t go for the typically aggressive Saosin mix. I wanted to get his voice out front, let people hear it and connect with that. Even the way we tracked the vocals [was different]. On our last record, there was too much vocal layering and auto-tuning. He sounds like a computer. We wanted to keep it natural for this record. If he didn’t hit a note, he had to sing it again.

Saosin has a previously unreleased song (“Move Slow”) included on the NCIS Soundtrack, Vol. 2. What was its origin?
That was actually a really cool story. It didn’t make our record because we couldn’t decide what vocal we wanted to use. Classic Saosin. For whatever reason, somebody over at ‘NCIS’ heard the demo version and didn’t realize it was a demo. They said, ‘we love the song and we’re scripting it into an episode. Can we put it on the soundtrack and get a mastered version?’…we were in Boston on the promo tour and had some gear we needed to record. We set up shop in a Howard Johnson’s. We turned all the mattresses on their sides and made a little vocal booth. Cove recorded the vocals that night. I flew home Saturday morning, finished mixing and mastering the song and handed it in by Monday. We were able to get it done. We thought, ‘man, we are so blessed.’ Almost any other band would be screwed in that situation.

What’s on the horizon in 2010?
In January, we start a world tour…we’re going to South America and Africa for the first time. I’m super stoked.

You have a massive fan base in Asia, right?
Japan is really big for us, as well as Jakarta [Indonesia]. That was actually our biggest show ever when we headlined to 6,000 people. We’re almost like Korn over there.

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