Catching Up With Letting Up Despite Great Faults
On Oct. 9, Letting Up Despite Great Faults released their second full-length album, Untogether, on Rallye Records. Though they’ve only released one other LP and a pair of EPs since forming in 2004, their infectious electronic dance pop has garnered them a sizable following throughout their hometown of Los Angeles and around the country.
Earlier this year, however, frontman and songwriter Mike Lee followed bassist Kent Zambrana to Austin after having lived in L.A. his whole life. The pair quickly found a new drummer and bassist just in time for SXSW, and the group has since been thriving in Austin’s nurturing musical community.
The catchiness of Letting Up’s music has certainly made acclimating easier. “Visions,” the first single off Untogether, is a shimmering, synth-driven pop gem that looks to follow in the footsteps of “Teenage Tide,” their breakout hit from the 2011 EP Paper Crush.
Earlier this summer we caught up with Lee to discuss the move from L.A. to Austin, the new album and how he has responded to his songs’ appearances on TV. Read the interview below and click here to stream Untogether.
Paste: You moved from L.A. to Austin at the beginning of the year. What prompted the move?
Mike Lee: It wasn’t anything in particular. Kent, our bassist, moved out here about a year ago. His family is from Texas and he just wanted to come back. We met in L.A. We played out there together for maybe five years, and he just felt it was time to move back, which I totally understood. It kind of got to a point where I grew up in L.A. and had lived there my whole life., I went to East L.A., I’d been there for ever. I just got to a point where I didn’t have anything tying me down to L.A. so I figured I’d give it a try. I kind of think I just needed something new. It didn’t necessarily need to be Austin. I wanted to do something new and have some new, fresh experiences. Obviously Austin has a great music culture. And I moved right before South By, which was neat.
Paste: How would you describe Austin relative to L.A., as a place for musician?
Lee: We’ve only played a few shows, which have been really great. It seems more like everyone from Austin is very proud to be from Austin. They’re super supportive of almost any kind of musician. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or not. They’re just super supportive of the local arts and anything creative. So that is refreshing. It’s not necessarily more of a competition in L.A.—there obviously a bunch of really great supportive bands and people there, too.
Paste: Do you think the move from L.A. to Austin manifested itself anyway on the new record? Was this transition something that you were thinking about a lot when you were writing and recording?
Lee: There might be some sense of the move on the record. I think maybe, moreso for me, it’s about separation. Whether it’s a separation from a relationship you have with a person, or a city. It’s about begin removed from something or someone you’ve been comfortable with for a very long time. I think I definitely had to deal with a lot of that.
Paste: Is the whole band living in Austin now, or is it just you and Kent?
Lee: It’s me and Kent. We actually found a keyboardist and a drummer out here who are really great. We basically found them right before South By, and our first show was our South By official showcase. Since then we’ve all become really good friends quickly and easily. They’re amazing musicians and I think we got really lucky with it all.
Paste: You typically have written all of the band’s material. Has it at all become more of a collaborative effort now that you’re living with Kent and have a new band?
Lee: For Untogether it was still mostly my stuff. I definitely start things. I always try to bounce all my ideas off Kent. I think moving forward we’ll have more of a collaborative process, but I still sort of think of it as my personal journal, I guess. I always like to start [the songs] myself.
Paste: “Nostalgic” is a word that has been used to describe your music. Do you agree with that? What do you think people mean when they say that?
Lee: I definitely think a few songs in particular feel that way. Maybe people are thinking about those songs in particular. I do tend to write about youth and I think there’s just so much energy when we’re younger. That kind of innocence is really special. When you get a little older and get into your thirties, things become not as exciting or dramatic.
Paste: You guys have actually had a few songs that were featured on TV—“Teenage Tide” was on 90210 and “Disasters are OK” was on One Tree Hill, for example—what is that experience like for you? Is it weird seeing stuff you’ve written set to something that might not be what you had in mind when you wrote it?
Lee: I think at first it was a little weird for me. Now— maybe because I don’t watch much TV—I don’t feel that much of an impact toward any future songwriter or anything like that. To me it’s more whimsical than anything else. It’s just a neat thing that quickly passes by in my life.
Paste: What kind of music have you been listening to lately?
Lee: Ooh, a whole bunch. I just gave a friend of mine the new Chairlift album on vinyl, which I really love. On Friday Tycho is playing out here, which will be really cool. The Ice Choir album is pretty cool.
Paste: What do you guys have on the horizon following the album release?
Lee: We’re going to CMJ in October, so that will be right after the album comes out. Then we’re doing a Japan tour in November. That’s kind of all that’s planned for now.