Catching Up With Pursesnatchers
Last month, we debuted the song “Wet Cement” off of Pursesnatchers’ upcoming album A Pattern Language. The Brooklyn-based home-recording project of former Dirty on Purpose member Doug Marvin and Au Revoir Simone’s Annie Hart, Pursesnatchers recently filled out their lineup for the record, which is out next week.
Since they’ve recorded their album, the group recently wrapped up a video for “Wet Cement,” which was filmed around Marvin and Hart’s Greenpoint neighborhood. They also plan to play around New York City, and feeling out the interest before embarking on a bigger tour. Paste caught up with Marvin to chat about the upcoming album, his D.C. influences and his son’s appreciation of Iron & Wine.
Paste: I read the piece Paste did for Father’s Day that we did with you about your son. It was funny to read about his knowledge of NPR.
Doug Marvin: Yeah that totally blew my mind! [Laughs]
Paste: Has he expanded his repertoire at all?
Marvin: You know, he loves music, we always have it on around the house and we’ll play songs for him every night, when he goes to sleep I get out my guitar and play. There’s this one Iron & Wine song I play that he just knows and every time I do it he’s like, “Ok, time to go to sleep, I know what to do.” [Laughs] It works like a charm, it’s pretty amazing.
Paste: Which song is it?
Marvin: “The Trapeze Swinger.” Good song. It’s got like 20 verses and, you know, there’s no way I can ever remember it all, I’m just making up words as I go, and it’s a long song and repetitive and quiet and peaceful, I’m like “I have no idea what the words are ” [Laughs] I’m just like, fudging it, and he doesn’t seem to mind.
Paste: [Laughs] I’m sure he doesn’t mind the difference. So what’s the story behind Pursesnatchers? What inspired you to and Annie to start a band and get the other guys to join you?
Marvin: Well I’ve always had an interest in home recording, and I was like one of those four-track kids when I was in high school and got to college. Even when I was playing in a band I’d always have something going on at home on the side, so it kind of all got started with a band called Dirty On Purpose, which I did for like 5 years. We were touring a lot and that was the main focus, and then it started winding down and I thought maybe I could do something with a home project.
It just made perfect sense to include Annie in the project too, she’d always be sort of behind me with ideas and things so it kind of just evolved naturally out of that. And then maybe like a year and a half ago we’re like, maybe we should try to play some shows, and we got the two guys who were old friends of mine who I’d played projects with and we’d known each other for years, and it was all just kind of pretty natural. Just a bunch of friends who were like, “let’s just do this, let’s just go play a bunch of shows.” And then once we got that under our belt it just made sense to go into a studio and document what we were doing.
Paste: Was it all recorded in your own home, or did you do it in a professional studio?
Marvin: The record is a mixture of… I think six songs we recorded like drums and things in a proper studio, and then maybe four songs on there that I did pretty much on my own at home.
Paste: Are you all New York natives, or do you have different backgrounds?
Marvin: Harold, the bass player, and I are both from Virginia, but we didn’t know each other from there. Jared’s from Boston, and Annie’s from Long Island. But we’ve all been in the city going on 10 years or so.
Paste:What’s the story behind the name of Pursesnatchers, how did that come about?
Marvin: Yeah, how did the name come about? [Laughs]That’s one of the things I need to figure out ‘cause people are gonna ask. It’s just something I tried, about five or six years ago back before I ever even thought about this band I think I liked just throwing around the word “purse” I honestly don’t really remember. [Laughs]
Paste: We were talking about “Wet Cement” earlier, it’s on the Paste website, and has gotten some nice feedback so far. It has a very lo-fi, home recording feel. Can we expect that from other songs on the album?
Marvin: Yeah definitely, that’s sort of the vibe we’re going for. We did go to a proper studio for like a day and a half, just sort setting up a bunch of mics to capture drums and stuff. But then I took it back into the bedroom to do a lot of vocals and guitar and stuff, I was more comfortable and more in my element and didn’t need to worry about being on the clock. The joy in sort of all my songs is like this. I always feel things sound too clean, I always keep adding things and adding things and adding things until there’s some sort of moment of “Ah, that’s what I’ve been looking for,” which makes it sort of fucked up and lo-fi. But I’m always just like trying to dirty things up and keep them from sounding too clean, especially in the age of digital recording, which I’ve gone from a four-track to a pro-tool setup which is hard because I’m used to having this natural conduit to the lo-fi with the four track. There was always some natural distortion, so I’m trying to recapture that, lead to something that could add that would make the song a little weird.
Paste: Did you have oversight of all the songs or was it a group effort, with equal contribution from all members?
Marvin: I’d say it’s definitely kind of more my domain I guess. You know obviously we’re working the songs out, playing live, all sort of bouncing ideas off each other and working ideas, but ultimately I’m the songwriter and, you know, I don’t want to feel like my decisions are final but I’m definitely the one who puts the most time in everything. And then we sort of all bounce stuff back, I’m like “What do you guys think about what I did with this?” Not that I didn’t listen to everything before things were finalized, but I’m the one who’s been holed up with the record for several weeks, trying different things. So there’s definitely an element of, we work on the songs together and then I mess with them for a little while.
Paste: Did you butt heads with anyone during the process?
Marvin: It was pretty smooth. I mean Annie has pretty strong opinions on things, and I tend to trust her on things, we’re really good at talking. If she honestly feels strongly about things, it’s very rare that I don’t end up going along with what she says. And her track record with Au Revoir Simone, she has a good ear with these kinds of things and I definitely trust her.
Paste: In terms of songwriting, you said you write all the songs?
Marvin: Yeah I mean, like you know I generally will bring a song in, like, here’s what I got, but I give everyone credit with coming up with their own parts. So it’s not like I’m writing parts for other people, but I come in with a song, go, here are the words, here are the changes, and we all come up with stuff from that point.
Paste: What are the inspirations behind the songs? Do any have a story behind them?
Marvin: You know, some of the songs… I’ve had them down for years, like I’ve never had a project for them. There’s a song called “Baseball on the Radio” that I pretty much wrote in college, a bunch of years ago, I’ve just always liked the riff. I think with even Dirty On Purpose, we even played like a couple shows. We tried it, but it never got in the repertoire, so it was a song kickin’ around and I wanted to do something with that. Every song has a different story—that one it just came out, it just came to me. Literally almost the entire song is like, “Whenever you’re at home, it’s like baseball on the radio,” which I just thought is really sweet and nostalgic in a weird way. Everything else that goes on in the song is kind of like, different, things shifting under those lyrics, but it’s a pretty simple sentiment. And other songs are definitely like more, complicated. As far as every song, it has its own story.
Paste: You said that song was from college, so have you always had a musical background? When did you focus on music, or has it always been part of your life?
Marvin: I mean it’s definitely since I was a kid. I have an older brother and sister and we all had to do piano lessons. I was the only one who actually enjoyed it and practiced. Drums were kinda like my main instrument, what I got the most mileage out of. So I’ve definitely been doing music as long as I can remember. You know basically I worked a regular job after college a couple years, but then I was able to make a living out of the music industry doing various things.
Paste: Do the other members have a musical background as well?
Marvin: Annie, I think she didn’t have as rigorous of training, like no lessons, but messing around with keyboard at a young age. She was more self-taught, she was really into the music scene in Long Island where she was from. Jared’s been playing drums since he was young, he’s an amazing drummer. And Harold I don’t know, but he’s an amazing bass player.
Paste: Who do you count as your own musical influences?
Marvin: I’m from the D.C. area, and the whole D.C. scene in high school was a huge inspiration to me, I was obsessed with it. You know like the mid-90s, there are all these great record labels, like Dischord and Fugazi, and the whole indie-pop scene with Simple Machines’ record label. I was obsessed with having every 7” record those labels put out. Hugely influential on me. I didn’t realize until recently, looking back, I don’t really listen to those bands any more, I listen to more current stuff, but those bands did make an impression on me. My style playing guitar is kind of like, comes straight out of that.
Paste: What’s been your go-to album of 2011?
Marvin: Archers of Loaf, they played like a reunion tour last week at Webster Hall, so the month before that I’m listening to Archers of Loaf’s All the Nations Airports. Not that everything I listen to is from the mid-’90s! [Laughs] I also got the Bon Iver record, been putting that on a whole lot ‘cause we’re going see them at Prospect Park in a few weeks.
Paste: Awesome! Yeah, they’re coming to play in Atlanta later this summer, I got tickets and am really excited.
Marvin: Yeah, I’m so excited. The Brooklyn Park concerts they have there are just magical, I just had to snag up those tickets. It’s weird to actually buy tickets months in advance for the show, but when I saw Bon Iver was playing I was like, I have to get tickets. So we’re like, getting a babysitter, gonna make a romantic night of it.
Paste: Oh, wonderful. You should learn some of their songs on the guitar so your son can have some more lullabies to fall asleep to.
Marvin: Yeah, you know actually just the other day I started messing around with “Flume” from the first record. It needs a little work before I debut it, not quite there yet. I can’t pull off the falsetto, you know he sings so high. I need a lower key so I can sing them.
Paste: Even though music is such a big part of your life, is there anything else you would focus on if you weren’t doing music?
Marvin: You know, I always imagined I’d be a writer of some sort. I remember a summer in college I was a speech writer for the parks department here. It was weird to write a speech for like a park opening or something like that. Maybe I’d be doing something with that
It’s funny how I do a lot of tour managing for bands, and I spend so much of my life, loading gear in and out of vans. Yesterday we were moving stuff out of the practice space, they’re like, “ever think when you’re in college how many years you spend lifting heavy equipment in and out of vans?” You know, that’s how things ended up, and I’m pretty happy with it.
Paste: Well here’s to hoping there’s not much more heavy lifting in your future. So what can we expect from Pursesnatchers after your album drops?
Marvin: I really do hope that we continue touring. Nothing is set in stone yet, we have to see what the response is. I’d love to do maybe another video, like DIY, maybe something with Annie and I, putting together footage we’ve gotten from our digital camera and stuff. Make a video out of that for one of the songs. I’m sure we’ll be playing a bunch in Brooklyn and Manhattan during the summer and fall.