Jonny 5 of Flobots reflects on the Occupy Movement and talks about the act's new album
We are indeed. Today I was just in what ended up being a lengthy meeting. I listened to the first round of songs and the first round of mixes. So we actually have a bunch of songs tracked, and we're just in the mixing phase.
You're recording up at the Blasting Room again?
Yeah. It's been pretty fun, man.
Do you have a title yet?
The tentative title I was telling people before ... we have several titles, is the real answer. Not only do we have one title; we have several. [laughs] We're like two weeks away from having exciting details for you. But I can tell you it's really awesome.
Have you changed directions a little bit? What can we expect from the new album?
I actually feel like it's a nice balance between Fight with Tools and Survival Story. I mean, thematically, it really picks up right where Survival Story left off. One of the songs is called "The Circle in the Square." It came from looking at the Arab world and how people have always said, "You can't have democracy in the Arab world. You can't square a circle." But then at the beginning of this year, you had a giant circle of people in the middle of Tahrir Square that became emblematic of this energy that's now taken over everywhere.
And so we're sticking with that energy of, you know, we have to sort of stop the apocalypse that everyone thinks is coming, but I think the songs go in a whole lot of different directions. We had some fun with Nathaniel Rateliff. He came for a day to record some stuff. Paper Bird was up there. We worked more with some Denver artists.
Are you guys financing the whole thing yourselves this time around?
"I think the industry as a whole, in many ways, is crumbling. It's not crumbling for artists. It's crumbling for the industry."
Yeah, and that's been exciting just to do it on our own.
Do you just save up money and pool your resources or how are you financing it this time?
We just made it a priority, and now we have this album that's ours. We'll kind of feel it out and see if there's people that want to be involved in the process of helping us put out an album, but maybe we don't need them. Maybe we do.
On this side of things, since you've obviously moved on from your relationship with Universal, what things have you learned from the experience, what things have you taken away, and how does the whole thing look now in retrospect?
Well, you know, I think the industry as a whole, in many ways, is crumbling. It's not crumbling for artists. It's crumbling for the industry. So it feels really good and freeing to be on our time table. I think from an artistic standpoint, it's a psychological game. When there's someone else involved, it affects you, even if they don't affect you. If you're spending your time making sure that you're not making a song that somebody else would want you to make, it becomes this weird sort of mind trip.
And there's no mind games right now. It's all us. It's all about the music we want to make. The Blasting Room is great. They listen to us. They say, "What's the vision for the song?" and they help us implement it. I think, in many ways, we feel all of the perks and benefits and responsibilities of being completely independent.
You've undergone a number of substantial changes, from being on a major label to being independent, like we talked about, and being self-sufficient. You're not doing a great deal of touring. Is that something that's in the cards for the future.
Oh, sure. Our focus has been just making this album. We actually went to Europe and had an unexpectedly great following in Europe. It was people for whom Fight with Tools had just sunk in. I think we started to understand that that timeline is different. Our last big tour in Europe had been -- not just in the U.K. but also Germany - just after "Handlebars" had hit big in the U.S.
There was a burst of people in the U.K., but people in Germany didn't know about it. So this last time back going to Paris and a number of different places, it was really fun. We have Flobots fans in Europe waiting for us to come back. But that's the only tour we did this year. The rest of the year has been focused on the album.
So what are the benefits of being an independent artist now?
We got this flash of attention through our major-label era. They spent quite a bit of money on marketing. So people know our name, or they know our song, or they know our branding, or they know us in some way, shape or form. Now it's our job to follow up with another song and album.
You know, it's interesting: Our second album, once people knew that we were independent, I feel like there was this retroactive effect by most critics saying, "This second album was much stronger, and it really wasn't a major label, commercial thing, and that's why it didn't sit well with Universal." I don't know if that's...
I think major labels are a lot more complicated. That's one thing I guess I learned from being on Universal: Labels aren't sitting there saying, "Don't make political music." They're excited if you make political music -- if it sells. I think, for us, the obvious exciting thing is just to be completely free and completely on your own time and to really know that you are in charge of everything you're doing.
Survival Story really was a much stronger record. Thematically, it was very intricate. There were a lot of layers to unfold and that sort of thing. Did you feel like there was a disconnect with the label, that they just didn't get what you were going for, like it was perhaps a little too dense for them? What's your perspective on that?
I think Fight with Tools was anthemic, and it was designed around slogans, and so it was received that way. So it has the accessibility of an album that is about slogans and anthems. Survival Story, one of our influences, Stephen and I, when we were writing songs, was Borges, the author. We wanted to create a song that was intricate and layered. It would be hard to understand at first, but then you read into it and you found all these hidden treasures. And so we did that.
And now we're doing an album that's actually a really neat combination of those. We've laid down this tapestry of mythology for the hardcore super fans - so there's things where we can just say one word, and people say, "Oh, you're talking about 'giants' and 'phantoms,' we know what that's about. We know the back story."
But the typical listener is going to listen and go, "Oh, these songs are really accessible." So I guess on the artistic arch, I feel like everything we've done has been deliberate in a way that I think will also be very accessible. But I don't know. I've only heard the songs myself. I don't know what people will think, but I really like these songs a lot.
The other thing is you're producing this one yourself, right?
So how is that process compared to making your previous album?
Well, you know, Mario C was pretty hands-off. He was not overbearing in any way. And we knew we needed somebody who wasn't overbearing. So it's not feeling that different. I think one thing that's nice is the folks at the Blasting Room are great, and having them work with us is really good. They're great as co-pilot. Really all we've done so far is we've tracked it. Right now we're in the mixing stage.
So how have things changed musically without having Andy [Guerrero] in the fold?
Every lineup is completely different, but there's opportunities in everything. I don't know. You'll hear it.
Do you have somebody else taking over guitar duties, or is there no guitar on the record? What's the construction this time?
There may be some guitar. It's a little too early to say. But for the most part, it's a little sparser sound. We'll have some songs out there soon. Any attempt to describe the sound, I realize, is always a failure.
Do you have a release date?
We don't. Sometime in 2012. We're really tunnel vision on finishing the album and kind of sharing what we have, maybe create a little buzz around what we have.