Catching Up With In Tall Buildings
On Day 2 of Daytrotter Downs, the Chicago-based group In Tall Buildings played a beautiful afternoon set. Afterwards, the man behind In Tall Buildings, Erik Hall, sat down with me to talk about what he's been up to since the release of his second album Driver, which he released in 2015. We chatted about what's next for 2017 as far as music and tour, working with other bands, Chicago venues, the art of recording and producing your own music, and more. Here are 7 things I learned from catching up with In Tall Buildings...
He Has A New Album Coming Soon
During In Tall Buildings' Saturday afternoon set at Daytrotter Downs, Erik mentioned that they were trying out some new songs during the set, which was only their second time trying them out live. "[Tomorrow Never Knows] was the first time I played a couple of those new ones. Tonight we kind of brushed them off and tried them again," Erik revealed when I asked about the new material. "There’s a new album that’s practically done. It will be coming out, later this year," he continued.
Along with the album, we can also expect a tour from In Tall Buildings. "We'll certainly do some playing once this record is out. I'd like to do some dates in the Fall, and then maybe let the record exist for a while. Maybe go out again in the Spring next year. Nothing’s on the calendar, but we’ll definitely do some touring," Erik says. Since In Tall Buildings has never played on the West Coast, Erik also mentions one of their goals for the new album is to make it out there.
The new album was recorded at his home studio, as usual, but there's one thing that's different...
For Erik's previous two records as In Tall Buildings, In Tall Buildings and Driver, he recorded them at his home studio as the artist, engineer, and producer. For his third album, he enlisted in the help of another Chicago-based producer. "The main difference is that with this album I’m working with a producer. He’s been working with me at my place, at my home studio. This record includes his input. In terms of just kind of getting the songs to the finish line, and shaping the sounds...and also just the kind of honing the song themselves, the song craft," Erik says.
Elaborating on his righthand man for this record, Erik says, "His name is Brian Deck. He’s in Chicago as well. He’s worked with Modest Mouse, Califone, and Iron and Wine a bunch. So it’s been really cool, it’s been really fun, and just kind of a load off to have somebody else make some of the decisions."
The songwriting style of "Album 3" is a departure for Erik, but not a drastic one
"There’s not any drastic change in where I’m driving influence for my songs. It’s just the main change with this new record is I'm trying to really reduce the amount of time between when I start writing a new song and when I finish that new song. So, not letting myself sit for so long with a song in progress. And just really trying to act on impulses, and not be so utterly precious with every single decision that needs to be made. It’s kind of a serious leap to take," Erik says.
Although it's been a big leap, Erik says he thinks it worked out well. Continuing on that subject, he says, "I’m psyched about the record... I can't wait for people to hear it. I think it sounds different from Driver. I don’t know if people will necessarily think that it’s such a departure, but for me it is."
Balancing his time between In Tall Buildings and his other projects has been surprisingly easy
Erik is involved in a few other bands, but the main one he works with is Wild Belle, who are also from Chicago. Despite touring with Wild Belle, Erik was able to complete the next In Tall Buildings album fairly easily. "It’s actually amazing how well it works to have both projects...that are so different and that take such different energy on my part. I’ve made my last two records now while also being on and off the road with Wild Belle. I think if I didn’t have those tour dates creating structure in my schedule, I don’t know if I would have gotten a record done," he says.
Erik continues on to say he's found a really great match with Wild Belle, adding, "Luckily there haven’t been a whole lot of times where there’s actually a conflict of schedule. They, being my best friends, and Quinn, who’s in both bands with me... it’s just so easy to coexist."
He also says he'll be heading out to Austin with Wild Belle to play one show as Wild Belle, so if you're heading down there as well, make sure you check it out!
He's out of the loop with Chicago bands, but he's a pro when it comes to Chicago venues
When I asked Erik if he had any new favorite local bands, it kind of stumped him. "I’m so out of the loop with Chicago bands. The amount of bands that are here [at Daytrotter Downs] that are from Chicago that I’m discovering is just staggering. I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that question. Part of it is that I’m just blanking, but honestly a big part of it is that I just am kind of a hermit when I’m in town. When I’m home, I just don’t pay enough attention of what’s going on around me. I stay home a lot. My wife and I just love our home life," he says. Given the fact that he's been working on a new record between touring with another band, we'll let him off the hook.
When talking about Tomorrow Never Knows, Erik mentioned that he loves playing Lincoln Hall and Schubas. "I love them both. Love The Hideout. Those are all rooms where I feel very much at home. The Metro lately has been so fantastic to play with Wild Belle. We just played at the Aragon [Ballroom] with Wild Belle. We opened for Band of Horses. That was a venue that I grew up going to shows. I was remembering while we were there that I saw Metallica with my brother. Then practically the next time I went there was to play there. So It was kind of surreal," he continued.
Between all of his bands and projects, Erik has played such a variety of venues around the city, so he was able to shout out some of the smaller venues in town, as well. "I also just love some of these smaller stages in town that we’ve really made quite a home at. I don’t know if you know, The Whistler has a record a label and they put out my first album. Absolutely love playing The Whistler. It’s just such a good, cool space and such good vibes. Billy, the owner, is a good friend and I just love what they’ve done. Also Quinn, Elliot [Bergman], and I have another group called Metal Tongues, that’s more of an experimental, instrumental, kind of psych, noise, jazz. It’s hard to describe. But we’ve been playing a lot lately at the California Clipper. Which is fantastic. It’s super warm and kind of dim, and the cocktails are great. The stage is in the corner and it’s nicely elevated. It’s just this really cool kind of old school place," he says.
Producing his own work can get difficult, but luckily he has a mentor
As mentioned, Erik has his own home studio where he records everything for In Tall Buildings. He's been into recording since 13 years old. Talking more about his start with recording, Erik says, "I was given a 4-track cassette recorder by my dad for my birthday. That was the dawn of my love for recording. Just the ability to record one part and then add to it and record more parts, was just the coolest thing to be able to do. Just so exciting and so engaging. It’s kind of a classic tale, but literally that was when it started and I just never stopped. I’ve had a few different systems since then, now of course it’s much more elaborate. But it’s still just contained within my home."
As for being his own producer when he's also the writer, Erik says it can be difficult, but he's been able to do it by listening to his work in a new light once it's recorded. "I was actually just recently reading this interview with Brian Eno, where he just hits the nail on the head. He says you’re a completely different person as a maker as you are as a listener. And it couldn’t be more true. That’s why in the past, I’ve been very deliberate about getting out of my studio to listen to what I’ve been working on in a different environment. To take some time away from it at times. To listen with fresh ears. It can be very hard to do that all yourself, but I’ve liked doing it myself," he says.
Erik also says he was able to find a mentor who inspired him as an artist and producer. "Our old band NOMO, we were recorded by a guy named Warren Defever. His band is called His Name is Alive, and he’s been putting out records since 1991 I think. He is a good friend and mentor in terms of audio and recording of all kind. He recorded and produced all of the NOMO records. Between those experiences and being a part of some of the His Name is Alive records, I would say that he’s kind of the biggest influence in terms of learning about recording and kind of how to not only capture the best sound and manipulate it in good ways, but also just running a session. And working with other people, working with bands. He was a big influence."
His advice for getting into making your own music is...
Given the amount of work that Erik has done with a number of different bands, I had to ask if he had any advice for an artist looking into making and recording their own work. "I would say it’s easy to think you need way more stuff than you actually do need. My advice would be...advice that I myself am trying to follow lately, which is to really listen. Actually listen. And not just apply tools that you like that you think sound good that you think you need to apply. Often times something just sounds best completely naturally, just as it has been recorded. And not manipulated. I’m realizing this more and more and it’s so freeing. Because then the work is already done! If it sounds good then the work is done," Erik advised.