Davey Pierce and Pat Sansone have some weird parallels. They’re both multi-instrumentalists who grew up in the South—Pierce in Tallahassee and Athens, Georgia, and Sansone in Mississippi, New Orleans, and Nashville (he now lives in Wicker Park). Both are “studio rats” who were “absorbed” into critically acclaimed bands. And both have musical projects of their own; Pierce is one half of Yip Deceiver and Sansone’s the front man for the Autumn Defense. They’re also similarly obsessed with a certain psychedelic, circle-of-life album from the 80s—but we’ll let them get to that. Of Montreal plays the North Coast Festival on Sun 9/4 and the Autumn Defense plays Lincoln Hall on Wed 9/7. —Mara Shalhoup
How’s living in Athens? It’s kind of a fairy candy land in the middle of a bunch of crap. My friend and I are building a studio in this late 1800s cotton mill. It’s amazing what you can do down here.
You’re obviously a studio rat, like me. I lived in Tallahassee most of my life. I got really into recording bands using tape machines. Then I realized that I hate recording other people, so I started recording myself. Now I do a lot of electronic things on my MPC. It’s just magic, man. When I first started doing the electronic thing, I didn’t really know how the hell people did it. Then I got an MPC, and I was like, “Oh, that makes sense. It’s a box that writes songs for you.”
It has its own feel that’s hard to put your finger on. With the computer, you get stuck in this weird mode where you’re looking at a grid and it sucks all the life out. With the MPC you just start playing these pads. It’s a whole different instrument.
When Prince was making those classic 80s records, he was playing the drum machine—but giving it this human, soulful feel. It’s like XTC. You listen to it and you swear that a lot of those programmed beats are a guy playing drums.
I’ve been listening to Skylarking nonstop for the last couple of weeks. It’s a masterpiece. The last tour we did we pretty much went through the whole XTC catalog. Skylarking is the pinnacle.
Wilco did a festival in Japan a few weeks ago, and Todd Rundgren did a set. I got to meet him afterwards. I regretted not asking him about Skylarking. I know there was tension between him and Andy Partridge when they made that record, which is why I was reluctant to bring it up. And truthfully, he probably gets asked about that more than anything else. It’s one of those things where it’s probably better that you didn’t. After a while, people go, “I just don’t want to hear about Skylarking anymore.”
I connect that record with Prince stuff from that period. My favorite records were Skylarking and Around the World in a Day; they melded modern sounds of the time with Beatles psychedelia, real strings mixed with drum machines. I hear that running through some of the recent Of Montreal stuff. Blending the electronic with more traditional instruments is a huge deal for Of Montreal. We have a violinist now. He’s a classically trained musician who has this amazing ear for pop. That’s something that I’ve always wished I could do, strings and stuff like that.
Actually, I was in the studio last night recording some cello for a record I’m producing. It’s so satisfying when you hear the sound of real strings coming back through the speakers. It has this life to it that you just can’t replicate. We have a violinist in the tour every night, but not with a full string section. We’d love to, but there are so many people in Of Montreal right now that to bring on a quartet would be impossible.
With your live shows, do you try to replicate the records? It’s funny, we were just talking about that over breakfast. We do try to replicate the records. Then you go back six months later and actually listen to the original recording—and it sounds nothing like what we’re doing live.
We’ve got songs where it’s the same thing. You tour them for a year or two, then you walk into a coffee shop and hear the song on the stereo and it sounds like a completely different band. Yeah, you’re like, “Who is this? Oh, that’s us. That’s the song we’ve been opening with every night.”
So you play bass and keys in the live band? Yeah, and some percussion. We all can switch up.
I do a lot of switching back and forth in Wilco between keys and guitar. How long have you been playing with Wilco?
Since 2004. I’ve been friends with John Stirratt, Wilco’s original bass player, since the 90s. We started the Autumn Defense in 1999. I was already part of the extended Wilco family, so when Jeff [Tweedy] revamped the lineup, I just got absorbed. So there was no awkward getting to know people, to see how they play?
I’d already been in the studio with Jeff and John. And I’d spent some time up at the Wilco loft, which is where the last several albums were made. So there wasn’t a letter, an audition, and a dinner. But there was a period of learning. I had about 80 songs I had to get familiar with. Same for me. I was teching for Of Montreal around 2006 when Hissing Fauna was becoming huge. I was guitar-plugging and selling merch and setting everything up and running slide projectors. It was constant for six months. When the old bassist quit, I got a phone call two days before the next leg of the tour, like, “Hey, we need you to learn these 60 songs.” I was like, “Cool, when do I need me to learn ’em by?” And they were like, “Well, we’re playing Pitchfork in two days.” I actually did it. I learned almost 40 songs in two days. I can’t write or read music, so I have to remember it all. It was hell, but it was worth it, obviously.