After being given a tumultuous ring-around by record labels and nearly six years after the melodic, experimental noise trio’s acclaimed debut, Future Perfect, dropped, Autolux took matters into its own hands and have finally returned with Transit Transit, a new album that belongs to the band alone. Recorded at the Los Angeles-based troupe’s studio dubbed Space 23, the album shares a glimpse into that hectic time through balmy croons, woeful-yet-sweet lyrics and tranquil melodies that at times explode into bursts of eclectic instrumentation. Autolux drummer and singer Carla Azar took time out whilst on the road to chat with Paste about the struggles of engineering an album, getting signed to TBD Records and how PJ Harvey was an influential force behind Transit Transit.
Paste: There’s been a significant time lapse since the release of Future Perfect, were there any factors that caused such a big time gap?
Carla Azar: There are a lot…yeah there’s some factors. We had some obstacles. We stopped touring in 2006 on the first record, and I think a lot of people…someone asked me yesterday “Why did it take six years to write a record?” But we obviously didn’t start writing our next record when our first one came out, which was in 2004. We started the process of figuring out what we were doing in 2006, which is when the touring for that first record ended, and we also had a label issue. Our record label [at the time] was going through changes, and then we were stuck being moved around from Columbia to Epic. We were originally on T-Bone Burnett’s label, DMZ, but his contract was up suddenly and then they didn’t know what to do with us, so we were sort of stuck, and no one would really fund for us to record. It was kind of a mess. That process was a year and a half of being completely unsure of what we were going to do, and then we just decided to take matters into our own hands in 2007, and start recording ourselves. Just screw everybody, you know, we’ll do it ourselves.
Paste: You guys had released the single “Audience No. 2” in 2008, and I thought that it resembled the tracks on Future Perfect a bit more than this current record. So did you record the other tracks for Transit Transit around the same time or was that a bit later on?
Azar: Yeah, that was the first song we wrote, and that was the first song we recorded for the record, and we just decided to put it out because so much time had passed. Our manager suggested we just put it out and then keep going, keep writing and working on the record, so that’s what we did.
Transit Transit seems to be a lot more mellow and slowed down than Future Perfect, so what brought about this shift?
Azar: You know, I don’t think it was intentional, I just think it was just where we were as humans at that point in time. We didn’t set out to make a slower record; that was just the emotional system we were operating on, I think, and it just came out that way. Now, we’re sort of on a different path. I think probably the next batch of music, everything that I’ve been doing and everyone has been doing, is faster than anything we’ve done before.
Paste: What was the creative process like this time around?
Azar: Well, it varied, there were all different ways as far as writing went. We were all playing together and writing music, and songs would come from that. Or, for example, the last song on the record that was written, Greg and I had been playing this music [while] waiting for Eugene to get through rehearsals, and we recorded it and months later I stumbled across [it]. So, I called Greg, and he was in Denmark, and I said “I just found this music with you mumbling ‘Transit, Transit’ and I think it should become the song. I think we should make it more of an intro, not a more standard song with a chorus and a verse.” I just loved the melody and the idea of it. So, I sent that accordingly to him and there happened to be an upright piano where he was staying, so he created a sample of a sound of a refrigerator door shutting, that he liked, and just sort of put the basic foundation of a song together there. And that was another way we wrote the record, so it varied. I mean, that was the last song we wrote for Transit, Transit, and it wound up being the intro to the record. You know, there’s other ways too. I sometimes am in the rehearsal space listening to things, and I’ll stumble across some weird nosy progression that Greg had made, and I’ll write a whole song idea from it. I did that on this record, as well.
Paste: With which song, if you remember?
Azar: “The Bouncing Wall.” Yeah, that was written fairly quickly as far as the lyrics and melody.
Paste: That’s great, and all of you contributed vocals for this record, so how do you figure out who sings which songs?
Azar: It’s just a song-by-song thing. “The Bouncing Wall” was my voice because I wrote a whole idea for it by myself, and you know whoever opens their mouth first, I guess [laughs], then they’re singing it all of a sudden.
Paste: And you all also sing in very soft, smooth tones, which I think works well with the lyrics and melodies that you produce. Was there a decision behind creating that aesthetic?
Azar: I think that’s sort of how…there are other parts to our voices, which might show up on the next record. But, I think for this, with the place we were in, it just sort of…this record somehow, even in it’s loudest moments, it’s quiet feeling. I don’t mean in volume necessarily, I just mean that there’s a softness in general, and we were in a very fragile place making this record and a very vulnerable place, and I think that just came out.
Paste: The lyrics are kind of sorrowful, but they also have this sort of mellifluous feeling to them at the same time. Was there a particular theme you had wanted to create throughout the album?
Azar: No, you know, it’s funny because the record, we didn’t set out to create any kind of theme, but it was just very honest as far as where ever we were at the moment that something came out of us, it just came out very organically and naturally. It wasn’t sought out. Nothing was planned out, as far as the incarnation of the beginning of every single song that was written, that was just more of a natural thing. Then the work came after the inception of it, after the core was sort of sessed out, we would sort of come up with the arrangements and that’s where most of the work was. It also went into recording, which was a difficult process because we had never done an entire record before, and had to actually engineer a record.
Paste: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that because I had read that Greg engineered it, so I’m sure that added extra pressure to recording, as well.
Azar: It was, it was a lot of pressure. It was very difficult. I, personally, would never want to make an album like that again, ever.
Paste: What made you guys decide to engineer it yourselves, then?
Azar: Well, we decided because we were waiting around, and were stuck on the other label. And we just didn’t want to wait and we surely didn’t have the funds to go into a big studio and pay someone. So, with the money that we did have, we bought our own studio equipment and then we decided to just record it ourselves, so we didn’t have to wait for other people’s schedules. By the time we were ready to actually start recording our record we thought it would be best to just do it. We tried to meet with engineers and producers, but then their schedules were saying “okay in three months from now,” and we just decided no, we’re just going to start now, no matter what.
Paste: Were you influenced by any musicians while creating the album?
Azar: Well, I think indirectly in a way, but also you know during the making of the record…you know actually, I just remembered this and I didn’t think of it until just now, but we’re friends with PJ Harvey, Polly is a really good friend of ours, a close friend, and she actually suggested at one point that we record the record ourselves. We had met with her for dinner, and we’re having dinner and talking about the dilemma of trying to find somebody to record our record, and she was asking us what kind of record we wanted to make. And we launched into all these ideas and everything, and she said “You guys need to produce and you need to make your own record. You know exactly what you want.” So, you know, we were around her, and I truly was around her a lot, I actually did some recordings with her, and she influenced me quite a bit just in the sense of being around that great of a singer and watching her work. So, I could say there was some influence there, and any other influence was probably based on listening to records and wanting our record to sound like records we loved the sound of. I remember when we were recording “Audience No. 2,” I was listening to a Can record and I was making Greg run around the whole room trying to get this shitty drum sound [laughs]. I was like “I love that drum sound,” and he was like “Well it’s actually kind of a shitty drum sound.” So he was trying to get that.
Paste: You landed on TBD Records, so how did that come about?
Azar: We had met Phil Costello, the owner of our record [label], at a Radiohead after party at one point and he said he was a big fan of ours, and that was in 2006. And then we hadn’t really seen him since then, and Thom Yorke was doing some solo-shows in L.A. and Phil Costello was just always around at the shows. Eugene and I had gone to a couple of the Thom Yorke shows, and we saw Phil Costello, and at one of the shows he just came up to me and said “I really want to hear you’re new record.” And I said “Sure I’ll make sure to get it to you.” Our record was finished at that point, we were almost finished mixing it, so I sent it to him the next day, and he called a week later and said he wanted to sign us.
Paste: Awesome, and you guys have played shows with the likes of Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey, Beck, The Shins and the White Stripes. Have you learned anything particularly memorable from those experiences?
Azar: Yeah I’ve learned that Thom Yorke is a better singer than me [laughs], and so is PJ Harvey [laughs]. No, yeah we’re just honored to just have played shows with them. It’s an amazing thing to just watch those guys do what they do. They’re pretty heavy musicians, and they’re incredibly talented. Super talents.
Paste: And now you’re transitioning from opening for these influential bands, to becoming a headlining band yourself. How are you going about doing this? Is it a difficult transition?
Azar: No, it’s really not. We’ve headlined in L.A. for a while, so I mean it’s actually great. There’s more pressure for sure, to be the headlining band, it’s a lot more pressure on us. But, we’re having great shows, it’s been really fun. We love it, we love playing music. It’s fun watching us struggle at the beginning of the tour, and to slowly start getting our stride, which we’re just getting into now. We’re like mid-way into the tour and we’re really starting to, I think, play really great shows.