Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Interview with A.M. Overcast's Alexander Litinsky

Album artwork for Pellow, A.M. Overcast's latest release

Alexander Litinsky created A.M. Overcast as a solo project for an explorative multi-instrumentalist.  In this first of a new interview series on Plenty of Swords, I got to know more about Alex's various musical projects, writing process, and performances in unlikely locations. Catch him at a show and you'll find out that the lighthearted, polite Canadian stereotype is not lost, even on the twentysomething indie musician.

P.o.S: So, lets start with basic stuff. I mean, I know your name, but tell me your name, how old are you and where exactly are you from?

AL: I am Alex Litinsky, I am 23.. I think. Yeah, 23. It's funny, man, you hit 20 and it just all just goes out the window.

I'm also 23, actually, and sometimes I find I have to think about it before answering. 

But, yeah, I'm from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada - born and raised. Never really moved around, I'd like to though. We just got snow yesterday. 

Did you? Wow, it's like hot here. 

Yeah we got a bunch of slushy snow, it just sucks. Summer's never gonna come. 

Yeah, you're probably tired of it. I mean, a couple hours north of here has snow until around April or May. So why don't you, if you can bring it all to mind, give me a rundown of your gear?

Well I started off as a drummer, so I'll start there. I use the Sonar Force 3000 series, I think it's maple. It's a four piece. I use Dream cymbals. I don't know if they're available anymore, but their just nice, handcrafted, wishy-washy sounding, kinda jazzy cymbals

Yeah I'm not too familiar with those. Usually when it comes to cymbals you see people using Zildjian, Sabian, maybe Paiste, and that's pretty much the general choices. So that's cool. 

And I play a Telecaster and use a Vox amp. My dad plays bass guitar in a cover band, so I use his bass on the recordings. It's a Musicman, and I just always D.I. that or mic it up on a little amp. 

So you like micing smaller amps as opposed to cabs? 

Yeah its a 2X10 combo, Vox Valvatronics 

Yeah I could kinda pick that up from your recordings. There's a somewhat noticeable difference in micing a cab and micing up a smaller amp with-

And just cranking the shit out of it?

Right, right.

Yeah, with my other band Grand Beach, I use an amp that before Michael Soldano started Soldano amps, he made a model for Yamaha called the Y... er... I don't know the model number, but it sounds really awesome. But I stick with Vox because when you pair it with the telecaster it has this awesome tone to it that I really dig. 

"If you don't have the drummer - your band sucks."

Nice, cool. So I'm gonna venture a few guesses here, and ask about your musical influences. You've got some real short song times on a bunch of tracks which gives me sort of a punk rock feel, but some of the gloomy chord tones and your drum style remind me of heavy metal, your drumming specifically of Converge somewhat. Fast paced while still holding down a strong groove and lots of accents. Am I close?

Man, that's quite the compliment; I'm a huge Ben Koller fan. When I was like 15 (laughs), it was Travis Barker and Ben Koller who, you know, I wanted to emulate. You try and set up your drum kit, like, exactly how they have them, put on the album and try to drum it the full way through. 

Yeah, I don't know a drummer who doesn't like Travis Barker at least a little. 

Yeah, and even if you hate metal but can get past the vocals, most musicians will just eat Converge up because the guitar playing is crazy too. They're just so precise and I've always been such a big fan of them, yeah. 

Well, I mean, I just guessed but, if there's anyone else you'd like to mention that you're heavily influenced by, please share. 

Yeah, I mean I haven't listened to them recently so that's probably just like some subconscious stuff from a long time ago. But the whole math thing I think really came from Hella. When I was exposed to Zach Hill and that whole thing. The duo with the kinda major chord, happier, poppy stuff that is still rhythmically crazy, you know? 

Uh huh. 

Tera Melos, of course. I don't know if you're familiar with Tera Melos, but Drugs To The Dear Youth came out right around the same time that I was trying to form my sound and I just remember feeling like, 'Man these guys are tuned into the same frequency! We're trying to achieve the same thing!'

Meeting of the musical minds..

Exactly, yeah, from a long distance, but the same approach to songwriting and stuff. They're definitely a lot more spastic, but just having the kind of summer time Beach Boys chords matched with really fast, crazy drumming and whatever kind of song structures that just jump all over the place. Keeps you on your feet and excited, but at the same time its easy to digest, not just screaming and noise that you can't really decipher. That's why I like a cleaner tone on a guitar too, 'cause it's easier to pick out the notes, you know?

Yeah I feel the same way. I don't always need clean tone but even with a dirty tone I like the details to shimmer and let you pick up on new stuff every time. So does A.M. Overcast do shows? Do you have a live band?

I did for awhile, about a year and a half or two years ago. I had my sister on vocals and couple of friends, one on bass and one on drums. It was like a summer and a fall that we played 10-12 shows. Maybe a whole year. That was, like, the Shepherd Moon material a few albums back, so it was quite awhile ago, but I haven't done anything recently. I've just been focusing more on Grand Beach, but I'd like to. I don't know, I have this new release. I wanna say it would be easy to get some people together but, I don't know. 

It isn't though. You could say that, but you'd be lying. 

(laughs) Yeah, exactly, I wouldn't want to lie to you. It's just one of those things that is definitely on my mind to play the stuff live again, but it's just logistically such a hurdle. 

So even though you're in another band, my next question was going to be is there extra pressure as a solo songwriter, or is it a necessary choice? Like some people just have a hard time working with other musicians because they hear it all sounding a specific way. Since you're in your other band, I guess its not a conscious choice, so is this just stuff that doesn't mesh with the sound of Grand Beach? 

Well I think when I started A.M. Overcast I was a lot more selfish, not to say I'm not selfish now, but at the time I was really inspired by The Mars Volta. And I remember reading Omar and Cedric interviews saying that at jams one of them would orchestrate everything and everything had to be his way. And I was like, you know what? Fuck that, I don't want to have to tell people how I want the stuff to be. I'm just gonna do everything myself so I won't have to answer to anyone, but it's still the way I want to do it. So that's what started A.M. Overcast, and as the years went on I wanted to play live more and assembled a live band to play shows. But then you start to get the itch to play with other people, and I had a handful of riffs I wanted to put somewhere else. They didn't really fit into A.M. Overcast. They were similar, but they had a different feel. Then I met my friend Jo and we started writing together and Grand Beach was born. Now we have about 11 songs that we're probably going to record in the next month or so. 

Awesome. So do your riffs come as a result of improv? Or are they deliberate? Listening to the stuff, it has its haphazard moments - so do you sit down with a recorder and fiddle? Or do you hear everything in your head as perfectly messy and clean?

No, I know 100% what I'm going to do when I record.

Well, I mean more during the writing process. When you're recording I'm sure it's all down pat but...

Oh okay, 'cause in the past I've just hit record and improvised something and written to that, but that's just a different approach. When it comes to writing, nine times out of ten I just hear a melody in the shower or something and I'll grab my acoustic and sit on my laptop and record a quick video of it. That's my method of writing. I can't remember stuff that well, so I'll go into photo booth, record it, then build songs one piece at a time. 

So you'll start with the meat and potatoes of the song and the other parts come in to play afterwards. 

Yeah, I'll end up having a riff from, like, a couple months ago that fits into the middle section and I'll bring that in because that chord fits with this chord, and that rhythm is around the same pace as this riff. I'll have a collection of all these different ideas and I just kind of put them together, you know? Like a collage or whatever. 

Cool. So your album artwork varies fairly widely. It's all pretty interesting. I spent just about all day at work on Friday or Saturday listening to all the A.M. Overcast music and, I should have said this to begin with - I really dig it, it's very good. 

Thanks man. 

Of course. When I saw that stuff, I saw your credit to the artists that did the drawings and everything. Did you tell them what you want, or are they just artists you know and you asked if you could use their stuff? 

Well, both guys are from Winnipeg. The one who did artwork for Shepherd Moon a couple albums back, I met him in person and we talked on the phone a couple times, and I gave him a rough idea of what I wanted and a color scheme or palette or whatever. Then he sketched something up, went back and forth between emails like five or six times and then it was - 'Okay, that looks perfect to me.' Because he's the artist and I don't want to tell him exactly what to do. I want him to put his twist on it, because there was a reason I asked him in the first place. I wanted him to do his thing with with just a couple ideas to push him in the right direction.
Then on the newest one, Pellow, the artwork that Ben did, that was just me loving the artwork from another local band call the Electro Quarterstaff. They're amazing, you need to check them out. They're an instrumental, I don't want to say metal because they're not metal, but they are heavier. Like an instrumental progressive metal band that's just incredible. Anyway, Ben did artwork for them and I was good friends with Drew who plays in Electro Quarterstaff, and who also plays bass in Grand Beach with me, and I was like, 'Man, how do I get ahold of Ben?' Then he gave me his email and it turned out Ben liked A.M. Overcast and I was like, 'Great! Maybe we can figure out some artwork." Then he asked what I had in mind and I told him. And honestly we went back and forth maybe 3 times and I was like - 'That's perfect.' 

So when you told him what you had in mind you said, "I want fish-people and clouds..."


Really? That's how it went?

Yeah, it's kind of based off of some of the lyrical themes on the album. So there's definitely reasons for all the things in there, but he actually threw a couple of his staple characters in too. I told him I wanted blue, yellow and red and we tweaked it until it looked good. It was about 50/50 between me giving him ideas and him hashing them out and going back and forth like that.
An album to me is like... it still kind of blows me away how many people were actually involved in it, and I don't think I could ever repay them, you know? Like my friend Aaron [Simoes] who mixed it and my friend Craig [Boychuk] who mastered it, my friend who did the artwork and my sister sang on it. It's like a movie and you watch the credits at the end and its like, 'No way! All these people made this thing possible?' Anyway, sorry I'm going off topic....

No, no, not at all. So then is that you and your sister on the Zebra EP

Yeah. Oh, yeah. 

That shit is hilarious dude. 

(laughs) That's one of those, like, Wal-Mart photo booth type deals 

You can so tell, too. It's that shiny curtain background and stuff.

That shitty early 90s aesthetic, you know?

Yeah, yeah. It's almost as if you guys know it too. That's what it seems like in the picture, like you're all, "We can't take this bullshit seriously."

I'm glad you dig that.

It's classic, man, it's a gem. I guess this next one applies to whatever band you want to apply it to, but do you have a really stand-out memory or a good story about being an opener for a big band? Or just a really terrific show in general? 

Honestly, I wish it was A.M. Overcast but the last Grand Beach show was really good. I can't really remember a couple years back when we were playing as a band. I'm torn because I'm considering playing A.M. Overcast songs with Grand Beach, but I don't know yet. Every time A.M. Overcast played, it was for local acts so there were a bunch of awesome shows. It's the shittiest ones that you remember.

(laughing) That should have been the question, what was the worst show you've ever played? 

Some guy booked us at a daycare. It was a community center, but it was a daycare by day. And we showed up and there were like big fake Barbie houses everywhere next to the drum set and stuff. 

Why would they think that would be appropriate? 

It was kind of great in a way. There were like five people there and they were from the other band, it's on the other side of the city. It was a total disaster. I've actually had a few of those where there's been zero promo and they're like "Vocals? Oh sorry, we didn't get a P.A., we didn't realize there was vocals." 

That really should have been the question. What was the lamest, weird, random show you've played? Well since we've been on the subject, talk about Grand Beach a little bit. Seems you've been pretty focused on that these days. 

Sure. It's a four piece. We call ourselves a riff band because the songwriting approach is pretty similar to A.M. Overcast, just a bunch of riffs kind of smashed together. The writers are me and my friend Jo, who I met through a bunch of weird connections and we somehow hit it off one day and have been hanging out ever since. And we got Drew from Electro Quarterstaff on bass and my friend Neil on drums..

Can I stop you for a second and make sure I can hear you when you say that band name again? Was it Electric.. what?

Okay alright, it could be the accent, but that just slipped by me every time. 

You find I have an accent? (laughs)

Oh yeah, totally, I'm pretty in tune to that kind of stuff. I think it's interesting, I could tell you were Canadian from a mile away. 

That's awesome. 

So it's a four piece between you, your songwriting partner, the guy from Electro Quarterstaff and who?

And my friend who played in a band called L'viv. Like the city from the Ukraine. I played guitar in L'viv a couple of years ago. It's an instrumental, really low-tuned kind of college rock, pop type stuff. The occasional odd time signature here and there, but it's a lot more straightforward than A.M. Overcast and Grand Beach. So we got Neil because I have such a musician crush on that guy. He's like the dad of the band. He's a firefighter by day and a musician by night; he's such a great dude. 

And he's the drummer?

Yeah and he's just an amazing drummer.

The dad figure is a good backbone as a drummer. That's the heartbeat of the band, really. 

Exactly, yeah. If you don't have the drummer - your band sucks. Even if you have amazing voices and are all good at your instruments, if the tempo is going up and down then people are gonna walk away. 

Yeah, you can't get into it. 

Then there's me saying that with all kinds of fuckin' tempo changes and stuff (laughs)

Well you're a great drummer, though. You hold it together. 

It's different when it's conscious, I guess. So yeah, we wrote about ten songs and we started jamming last summer. Now we've accumulated those ten as a full band and we're looking to be in the studio with a local engineer guy who has done Comeback Kid and Figure Four and Textbook Tragedy and stuff.

Wow, really? Comeback Kid is one of those bands that, like, gets people hooked on a genre. Just, "Wow, okay, I guess I'm into hardcore now." 

(laughs) Yeah, for sure, we're excited. 

Anything specific you want to put out there to end on?  

Check out Electro Quarterstaff, check out L'viv, and thanks for calling, man. Thanks for your interest, it's flattering. 

It's our pleasure, totally. This is my first interview so thanks for being a good one. It was fun.

Hope I didn't embarrass myself.

Nah, I'll make you come across extra cool, don't worry. 

(laughs) Well, whatever. Thanks man.  

interview by PonyHawk

1 comment:

  1. Cool Interview, but not the biggest fan of the tunes.