Silversun Pickups’ Joe Lester discusses ‘Widow’s Weeds,’ Butch Vig and playing Aspen
Special to The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Silversun Pickups
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Thursday, Feb. 13, 8 p.m.
How much: $55-$145
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
With original band members forming in 2000, the alternative rock band Silversun Pickups evolved from the Silverlake/Echo Park music scene after all having shared stages at clubs around the city.
“We were all deeply invested in the indie rock scene, and just sort of fell together,” said Silversun keyboardist Joe Lester.
The band, still at it 20 years later, will headline Belly Up on Thursday night.
“We’re just genuinely happy we still get to do this for a living,” Lester said. “We’ve managed to navigate the weird waters of the music industry for almost 20 years, and we still love making music and playing shows. We’re very lucky that we get to keep doing this, and we’re very grateful for that.”
With five studio albums, Lester thinks their most recent album, “Widow’s Weeds,” released in June, is more upfront and less cryptic lyrically than previous records the band has produced.
“I think every album we do starts from a place of us just asking ourselves whether we have something to say,” he said. “And I think there’s always a process of working stuff out, tinkering and tweaking and then we decide, ‘Yeah, we have some new stuff we’re proud of.’”
While the band was working on the demos, they decided to ask Butch Vig — best-known as the drummer for Garbage and the producer of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” — if he was interested in producing.
“Thankfully he was into it,” Lester said. “He’s a goddamn pleasure to work with, and just a well of knowledge about what works when making records. He’s incredibly low-key, but also really focused.”
“In a sense, I think we went back to some of the more organic elements with the string arrangements in this album,” Lester said. “But I think everyone who listens to it will find whatever meaning they want in it, which is the way it always should be.”
The band’s biggest hit — and its most listened-to song on Spotify — is “Lazy Eye” from 2006. Asked if the band anticipated it to be such a success, Lester answers, “Oh god, no.” It was one of the first songs that Silversun ever wrote.
“It was initially almost 10 minutes long, and much slower than it is now,” Lester recalled. “It was tweaked and sped up before it was recorded for the first record, but it was still almost seven minutes long at that point.”
A DJ named Aaron Axelson at Live 105 in San Francisco started playing it on his indie show and made his own edit to try to get it played on the regular rotation. He sent his edit to the band and asked if it was OK. The band said “sure.”
“The fact that it took off is still a bit of a wonder to us,” Lester said. “To hear people sing along with it when we play it live is really wild after all this time.”
The band’s sound is frequently compared to that of Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, according to Lester.
“I don’t think we intentionally tried to sound like anyone, but as we’ve said many times, Silversun’s music is what happens when the four of us are in a room together,” Lester said. “I think it’s the sum of all the things we’re into at any given moment, and things that have always stuck with us. Whether that be bands we love, or film soundtracks, or whatever. I think it changes from album to album.”
But the purest Silversun experience is in concert.
“We’re a band who cut our teeth as a live act, it’s literally how songs were written and rewritten, and how we found out who we are,” Lester said. “So, us playing live is still the most important part of who we are. The recording process is an amazing and difficult animal, and one we really enjoy, but playing live is and has always been our bread and butter. We just want people to enjoy the time we share together, to be in the moment, and to feel all the things that music makes them feel.”
“Also,” Lester adds, “it will be loud.”
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The literary nonprofit Aspen Words is restarting its writers-in-residence program that had been on pause during the pandemic. Residents include “Call Me By Your Name” author André Aciman. Public events begin June 15.