Catching Up With... Modern Skirts

Music Features Modern Skirts
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Hometown: Athens, Ga.
Album: Happy 81 EP
Band Members: Phillip Brantley, Jojo Glidewell, John Swint, Jay Gulley
For Fans Of:
The Whigs, The Shins, Wild Light

A year and a half after releasing the darkly charming LP All of Us in Our Night, Athens, Ga., pop quartet Modern Skirts returned this July with their seven-track Happy 81 EP and plan to follow it up with a new full-length album this fall. It'll be the band's third album and their first fully-D.I.Y. effort; the foursome recorded the music themselves, and raised all the money needed to release the record via Kickstarter earlier this summer. The new material promises to take the band's quirk-prone music in a new direction, and the promise of change has invigorated band members and long-time fans alike. Paste recently spoke with vocalist/keyboardist Jojo Glidewell about recording the new songs, going even-more-independent and polishing rocks.

Paste : As the Modern Skirts have been trying to raise money to make this album, you've mentioned a number of times how different it is from your previous work. What's changed?

Jojo Glidewell: Basically the EP [was] purely recorded at home, by us, and the record started from the same group of cassette recordings, which we took into the studio to expand. The songs were recorded over a period of three years, and we worked on the studio stuff first. We went into the studio not even knowing if we were making a record. We took the songs from the cassette and just played with them. The stuff we put on the EP was stuff we liked a lot the way they were, with the imperfections and all. We have the original versions of songs on the EP. Some of them appear on the record in the studio version. ... We've still got probably 80 recordings that we haven't even touched yet. It's Jay [Gulley, lead singer/songwriter]. Back from before we even recorded our second record, we have songs Jay was recording in his room just for fun. We'd go on the road, and he'd be like, "Hey, I made a tape this week!" Every tape had a song or two that was just really fantastic. Over the past three of four years, he's recorded this massive body of work and he's nice enough to let us use it.

It's been a process, convincing Jay that his songs are good enough to use. Throughout the course of our band, we've always thought really carefully about everything we've done. It's been good in some ways and bad in some ways, but these recordings were done without him thinking anyone was going to hear it, so its really raw, and that's the charm of it. It's really been me saying that we really need to do the song and him being like, “It's really out of tune,” and me being like, “That doesn't matter. That's not the point of the song. The point of the song is this.” Now we're learning how to do them live. It's backwards. We record the songs in the studio and do whatever we want and then figure out how to make the sounds happen onstage.

Paste : You recently parted ways with you former manager. How has that affected things?
Glidewell: We're not touring as much. It's caused us to have to step back from a lot of the public part of being in a band to figure out the business things. We want to figure out how to run it so that we know how we want it run [when we hire another manager]. I think the problem is, and the biggest thing we've learned through this, is unless you're paying somebody, you can't count on them to do anything. Even if you are paying somebody, sometimes you can't count on them. Sometimes people will help you along the way, but you can't expect it. Then any help you do get it just a plus.

Paste : You've mentioned before that a lot of your fans are surprised to find out you're not an a label. Is that a goal?
Glidewell: If a label comes along that can augment what we do, that's ideal. It's like saying, “I'm going to find the perfect girl and fall in love and get married.” Sometimes that happens and that's awesome, but you can't just settle for what's there. That said, finding a label we could work with is definitely the big goal.

Paste : Back to all the talk about how different this material is—what's changed about the Modern Skirts' sound?
Glidewell: The songs are written by the same people they always have been. The shift is much more a superficial thing. We still have the melodies at the center, though it's a lot more minimalist. There's less counter-melodies and harmonies. The surprising thing is how much our old fans like it. People tell us all the time how excited they are that things are going in this direction. It's a little more challenging, and it's got more depth. The arrangement pushes our boundaries a little bit. This is a vessel for artistic freedom and breaking out of the pigeon-hole that we were in.

Paste : What pigeon-hole is that?
Glidewell:about us was, “Oh, if you like Ben Folds, you'd like Modern Skirts.” We felt we were pigeon-holed as a safe band: 'This music is great for everybody, but if you really want something interesting, this is not your band.”

Paste : The lyrical content on songs like "DUI" and "Happy 81" seem to push you away from that "safe band" label.
Glidewell: It's the way that we did the lyrics. Before, if there was anything in the song that anybody in the band didn't like, we would change it. It was like polishing a rock, so the lyrics got really smoothed out and watered down. There were so many songs that the [original] lyrics, even though they didn't make sense, had so much more passion and punch than the things that wound up on the record. One thing on this record that I really put my foot down on is that we do not change one single lyric. We could add stuff, but we couldn't take anything away.

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