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Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

A perpetually busy musician, Adam Schatz let his Landlady band develop slowly, an evolution that captured different sounds along the way to blend with his improvisational background.

The resulting second album “Upright Behavior” has earned wide praise, with no less than The New York Times saying that Landlady “joins a lineage of New York City art-rock bands that transmute existential questions and primal fears into exultant songs, bands like Talking Heads, TV on the Radio and Dirty Projectors.”

“Reading anything like that makes me feel very, very proud. It’s a tremendous compliment. It’s also something we never consider, which is good,” Schatz says. “We didn’t get in a room and say ‘Hey these are our favorite bands let’s try to sound like them.’ We never talk about that.

“It’s really just about me trying to write songs from the heart with a timelessness in mind. You try to keep them as unreferential as possible. Everyone has their own little influences that factor into how we play and how we sing. They come out in a pretty unique combination.”

The combination includes Schatz’s work as part of the experimental Philadelphia band Man Man, what he calls the “zombie jazz” of Father Figures, and as a hired gun for indie groups like Vampire Weekend (saxophone on “Diane Young”) and Those Darlins. And if that’s not enough, he also co-produced the NYC Winter Jazz Fest. Landlady is rounded out by Mikey Freedom Hart, Ian Chang, Ian Davis and Booker Stardrum.

“We have really wide tastes in music and all have improvisational backgrounds and take all of that and it comes out naturally because that’s who we are,” Schatz says. “It doesn’t feel forced. We don’t even have to avoid it. We can just do what we’re already great at. It’s really wonderful when it can feel as effortless as it does. We all know that we’re trying to build toward the best possible result.”

Landlady has slowly become the focus for Schatz, which allows him to focus on songwriting as much as performing.

“When you go to write and perform music that you call your own, the biggest challenge is to be as honest and vulnerable as possible and engage with as much of yourself as you can,” he says. “In the act of making music we’re trying to mimic the human experience of walking though life and engaging with everything. Your perspective is going to be different than everyone else’s.”

“Upright Behavior” traces its roots to the inception of Landlady, rather than a recent burst of creativity.

“It really happened over a long stretch of time, a bunch of years in New York when I was playing in lots of other bands. This is just one of the things we were doing, studying music along the way. I was just trying to get more and more songs together,” he says. “There are a lot of common threads that run through it.”

“The Globe,” for example, was one the earliest songs Schatz wrote, early in the beginning stages of Landlady in 2010.

“I wrote it when I was writing a whole bunch of songs. Before I put the band together, I wanted to have an album’s worth of songs written and that was one of those. But when it came time for the first album, I didn’t want to include that,” he says. “We were making the album with almost no budget. We were recording it in my house on a tape machine and Pro Tools. It was very homemade, but I wanted to save that one. I thought in the future we’d get better and better playing it and it could have a higher production value.”

For “Upright Behavior,” Landlady recorded at a studio in upstate New York, and in three uninterrupted days with no limitations, finished the basic tracking.

“Everything is a bump on this album production wise, which is exciting. When I revisit the older one, it feels like the bigger picture of the band, which is nice,” he says. “I can see evolution. And it’s very, very satisfying that song can live so long after I wrote it.”

As for the art-rock term, Schatz says, “It’s a great thing to be called by somebody else.”

He expects everyone to hear something different, to interpret the music on their own terms.

“I just see us making rock ‘n’ roll as personal as we can make it. Fans who find Landlady through Man Man are going to interpret the music through that lens and people who come to it out of the blue are going to approach it in that way,” he says. “It’s really different for each person and I like that.”

Published Oct. 16, 2014 in the Tucson Weekly. 

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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