Maps & Atlases’ Erin Elders Talks Focus On New Album

Maps & Atlases
Perch Patchwork

maps cover hires

After reaching some impressive heights with the complexities among pop-like structures on their first two EPs (Trees, Swallows, Houses and You and Me and the Mountain) Chicago indie-rockers Maps & Atlases released their first full-length album, Perch Patchwork on June 29, kicking things off with a raucus, sold-out release show at Subterranean.

Fresh off a tour with Frightened Rabbits and just a few days before embarking on their first headlining U.S. tour, guitarist Erin Elders of Maps & Atlases took a few minutes to talk about the new album, what he’s listening to now and his stint as a tutor at a “rock-and-roll after-school program” with other Chicago musicians.

Read more of our interview with Maps & Atlases after the jump…

How did the record release show for Perch Patchwork go at Subterranean?

It was really nice to sort of debut a bunch of the songs for friends. Always a good time at Subterranean. We’ve been playing some of the songs for a while, but some of them were really new. There was just some new sort of instrumentation. We were really nervous for about half of the set and really comfortable with the other half.

Do you have a favorite song you like to play from the new album?

I think my favorite right now is probably “The Charm.” That’s also because I get to play snare drum. I get really excited when I get to play that song. I get to revisit middle school band and play the snare drum.

Was that a mini piano you were playing, also?

Yeah, a toy piano.

Where did that idea come from?

We made the record without the live show in mind. We kind of wanted the live show and the record to be two different things. Eventually the time came where we were like, “How are we going to do this live? How are we doing to do verses of these songs to do the record justice?” We were just going through the different sounds that we felt were really important. There’s a couple of toy piano parts on the record that help the songs. So I was like, we have to find a toy piano.

The new album is a fairly far cry from the first two. What was the main idea for Perch Patchwork?

When we started, we had no idea what we were doing. We had no plan or goal. It was four guys getting together and playing. The songs came out of a certain energy that was there when the four of us got together and started playing. I think that’s what Trees, Swallows and Houses came out of, just us, all these ideas being thrown together with a certain energy. Since then we’ve been trying to sort of focus things a little more and sort of write songs more cohesive and adjustable, songs that are more complete ideas that people can listen to and take something away from.

What are you most influenced by?

When we first started, because we didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t have a plan or a path, we did bond over some experimental music or free jazz. But at the same time we’re still really into and influenced by Otis Redding and Van Morrison and some more old soul. As our band has gone along I think the interest has sort of focused itself into more of a songwriting thing than sort of just the instrumentation. I feel like when we first started it was the excitement of instrumentation and sort of something like a song frame around that. Then since then it’s turned into the other way around where it’s like we write a song and pull it into different directions instrumentally.

You were signed to a label after much of Perch Patchwork was already done. But did you have any help from producers on this album?

Perch Patchwork was the first time we had ever worked with an outside producer; Jason Cupp ended up producing it. It definitely helped steer the ship a little bit. It was really incredible working with someone to help us focus our ideas and push them in ways we had never thought about. It definitely helped make Perch Patchwork the album that it became.

How would you describe the idea of the album and what the final product of it is?

I definitely think it’s a layered album. There’s a lot of stuff going on all the time. It’s very onion-like, where you have to get through certain layers before you can digest the whole thing.

Listening to now?

It’s tough. I’m definitely sort of a like old soul classic rock guy. Dave is, too, but I always listen to classic rock. I really still like am obsessed with the new National record, love that band. We all sort of fell in love with Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. People on tour were familiar with it, and we sort of listened to it and became obsessed.

You deejay a little on the side. What other projects do you guys have going on?

I’m not very good at it. It consists of me putting on records; I don’t do any fancy stuff. I like making people listen to music they probably don’t want to hear. Dave has Cast Spells, which is a more active side project, but most of the time it’s a variation of Maps & Atlases members. We’re all definitely busy, but I think Maps & Atlases is, even moreso than before, insanely busy.

Did you all have day jobs?

Yeah, we’ve all sort of done them. I was a high school English tutor for a while, up until the Frightened Rabbit tour, which is funny…I actually worked at a sort of after-school rock-and-roll program. My roommate, who plays in the band Russian Circles in Chicago, and then our friend who plays in the band called Pelican…

Your roommate is in Russian Circles?

Yeah, I live with the guitar player. And our friend Laurent is the guitar player in Pelican. So we were working in this after-school program together. And then Chris, Dave and I have all been dog walkers. And then Shiraz records bands, like a freelance sound engineer.

What’s the plan for after this tour is over?

We’ve sort of been talking about maybe trying to start writing the next record pretty soon. We’re hoping to start writing music again in September. Long term? I don’t know. I guess just trying to put off growing up for as long as we can.

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