2015 Artist Survey: EL VY (and The National and Ramona Falls)

Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf on 2015's Fantasy Best Albums, the Election, Being Fired, Taylor Swift, and Disastrous Dates

Mar 07, 2016 Photography by Koury Angelo Issue # 56 - Best of 2015 - Father John Misty and Wolf Alice
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For Under the Radar's 13th annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to 2015. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2015 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions.

Check out our Best of 2015 print and digital issues for answers from Arcade Fire's Will Butler, Julien Baker, Blanck Mass, CHVRCHES, Dan Deacon, The Dears, Dutch Uncles, EL VY, Everything Everything, Father John Misty, Field Music, The Flaming Lips, How to Dress Well, Sondre Lerche, Low, Luna, Mew, NZCA Lines, Cullen Omori, Natalie Prass, Small Black, Surfer Blood, Tamaryn, Telekinesis, Vampire Weekend's Chris Baio, The Walkmen, Youth Lagoon, and others.
 
Here are some answers from Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf of EL VY. Berninger is also in The National and Brent Knopf also records as Ramona Falls and was previously a member of Menomena.

A shorter version of this interview ran in the Best of 2015 print issue, which is still on newsstands now. This is the full unedited version of the interview.

Top 10 Albums of 2015

Matt Berninger: Hard question. Did Kim Deal release anything this year? If so, that.

Brent Knopf:
 
Top 10 Records I wish were released in 2015:
 
1. Martin Gore: Sad SatieCo-produced by Alan Wilder and Flood. The famous French eccentric minimalist pianist's compositions are given words and melody by Depeche Mode's primary songwriter Martin Gore.
2. PJ Harvey and Talk Talk's collaborative album: % (pronounced Zero Divided by Zero)Produced by Brian Eno. A masterpiece in minimalism, this album is released only as a looping digital stream of one song, which lasts (and repeats every) 33 minutes and 33 seconds. The work has no beginning nor ending point, as each listener is assigned a random starting place to begin listening. Critics argue over how many instruments were used in the recording, some say one (an upright bass performed percussively), other insist all of the sounds are merely Harvey's voice re-sampled and contorted.
3. LCD Soundsystem: Blash (bootleg)James Murphy reconstitutes his ensemble for a secret show at Bowery Ballroom in NYC. Despite security precautions, a bootleg recording surfaces, and the 13 songs (none longer than two minutes long) redefine dance music for the next decade. People forget about Daft Punk. Murphy denies the concert ever happened, and insists the bootleg is an impeccable forgery perpetrated by a rabid (but masterful) LCD Soundsystem fan.
4. Sly Stone & Bruno Wizard: UmultagediumphProduced by Pharrell. Although several attempts to tour are canceled due to drug relapses, this album (though written in 24 hours, and performed/recorded singlehandedly by Pharrell over the subsequent 24 months) defines a new genre: avant-post-funk. It displaces Adele for the #1 billboard chart on December 24th. It's a Christmas miracle.
5. Nina Simone & Dusty Springfield: Zeanithz (lost 4-track recordings)Abandoned before it was ever finished, this partial album of half-finished songs sets a new Guinness World Record as most consistently inducing "goosebumps." Law enforcement officials consider banning listening to the album while driving, as most people find it more enthralling (and distracting) than their smart phone.  
6. The Zombies: Odessey and OracleI know this album already exists, but it's so good, it should get re-released every year with equal fanfare.
7. Micachu and the Shapes: LuffduProduced by Karl Blau. No one ever dreamt that love songs sang over prepared piano and prepared guitar could sound this timeless. From the sounds of it, Mica has fallen more in love with someone than anyone ever has.  
8. Neutral Milk Hotel: Spot RunnethProduced by Stephin Merritt. This collection of nursery rhymes and songs for children paints a surreal alternative universe which is equally heavenly and nightmarish. It's as if The Dark Crystal had a soundtrack baby with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
9. Cat Stevens: Surprise (constituting 7 full-length albums)Produced by Annie Lennox. In the most controversial prank ever pulled by a musician, Cat Stevens declares his decades-long religious conversion as a smokescreen so that he could focus without distraction on making new albums. When pressed for his actual religion, he reluctantly admits to being "lapsed Baha'i" but now nobody knows what to believe. Seven full-lengths turns out to be too much of a good thing, and fans make condensed one-album-length playlists that pull together their favorite 11 songs from the 77. Others re-score Harold and Maude with these new tunes, and swear it reveals hidden meanings and secrets in the movie.
10. John Maus: Treatise Parts 17-21All of the vocals are backwards. And somehow it's still great.

What was the highlight of 2015, for either you personally or for the band? What was the low point?
 
Matt: High: Halloween. It was the first Halloween in four years I haven't missed because of touring. My daughter was a sorceress and I was her raven. I rented a big penguin head and just acted like a creepy raven. When people answered the door I would start singing "The Rains of Castamere," nobody knew what I was doing or why. Low: don't remember.

Brent: They're connected: The low point was the months my mom went through chemotherapy for breast cancer. The high point has been seeing her make it to the other side, I feel so lucky.

What are your hopes and plans for 2016?
 
Matt: I'd like to get more television singing work and build some upper body strength.
 
Brent: I'm hoping to get the chance to keep making music with the people I love, either with a new Ramona Falls album or new sketches for EL VY.

With the launch of TIDAL and Apple Music in 2015, there are more streaming music options, but the same issues of adequate artist compensation persist. What are your current thoughts on streaming and which service would you most like to have your music on?
 
Matt: I honestly don't pay tons of attention to all that. I'm a shitty business person. I think good songs should cost more than the crap ones. Prices should be set by a joint Wall Street/government panel.
 
Brent: Grindr.

What are your thoughts on Friday being the new global release day for albums? Is it helping or hurting album sales?
 
Matt: Don't know. Are movies still on Friday too? Are they pissed at records for moving in?
 
Brent: I think it was very prescient of Rebecca Black.

Mainstream pop music is increasingly embraced by indie rock musicians and listeners, as well as serious music critics. At this point, do you draw any distinctions between Top 40 pop and indie rock/pop? Are you comfortable with this shift?
 
Matt: I am comfortable with the shift but the distinction between pop and indie is pretty blurry to me. I think U2 and R.E.M. were some versions of indie or alternative or college rock before they because giant pop bands. I think EL VY and The National are pretty far outside of what people call pop today but the definition always changes. The borderlines of these categories are constantly being redrawn. Maybe someday we'll be gerrymandered in.
 
Brent: They resonate most with music that an artist wrote herself. That's usually the distinction I draw, and probably why I listen to more off-kilter and DIY music than "mainstream" music, but I also recognize the artistry that's increasingly found in bigger profile releases. Robyn is a good example.

What are your thoughts on how the 2016 U.S. Presidential election is shaping up?
 
Matt: Good pivot. I'm undecided. Don't take that to suggest I'd even consider one of the morons the GOP has flopping around right now. They're all so simultaneously hilarious and disgusting. It's really gross but I can't stop watching.
 
Brent: It seems to me that reversing the Citizens United ruling with a Constitutional Amendment that prevents the richest among us from dominating political speech would a no-brainer across the political spectrum. And yet. 

Ryan Adams covered Taylor Swift's 1989 (and then Father John Misty covered Adams covering Swift). If you were to cover another artist's album in its entirety, which would you pick and why?
 
Matt: I'd never do it. I like doing the occasional cover but I can't really devote myself to something if it's not about me.
 
Brent: Probably Guns 'N' Roses' Chinese Democracy, as long as it were hotly anticipated for 15 years.

Have you ever been fired from a job (be it a day job or musical one)? Why were you fired?
 
Matt: Yeah. There's some stuff I wasn't good at. Or they "didn't get me." Being fired mostly sucks but it'll usually lead to something better.
 
Brent: Yeah, years ago they took me off the schedule at a restaurant where I was a server because I was on tour with Menomena too much.

What's your earliest music-related childhood memory?
 
Matt: Staring at Annette Funicello on the back of my Mickey Mouse Club record. Soon after I switched to staring at Olivia Newton-John on the back of my Grease soundtrack. I was girl crazy before I paid attention to the music.
 
Brent: Probably seeing my mom play piano. Or becoming obsessed with "Axel F," the instrumental synthy theme song to Beverly Hills Cop.

What outrageous request would you most like to put in your tour rider as a joke?
 
Matt: I always ask for a "thinking closet."
 
Brent: A private room with an old upright piano and 45 minutes of solitude.  

What's the most disastrous date you've ever been on?
 
Matt: I've been working on a screenplay about my dating years called Apocalypse Eventually. I actually have really fond memories of dating, even the disasters and heartbreaks.
 
Brent: It was a first date. She didn't ask me a single question the whole night, then later texted me to ask what I did for a living. After Googling me she became obsessed and flooded my cell with "you're a genius" texts at 3 a.m. and it was such a turn-off.

Which Star Wars character are you most like?
 
Matt: Lando, probably.
 
Brent: Probably Chewbacca, because I'm tall, nobody really cares what I say, and I'm always working my ass off.

Where do you see yourself in five beers?
 
Matt: Still not quite perfect yet.
 
Brent: Hopefully at dusk in the outdoor patio of Inter Urban, my fave PDX bar, crushing out on a server and crying with laughter along with the original cast of Ramona Falls, who remain some of my favorite people ever.

What's the lamest breakup excuse you've ever given or been given?
 
Brent: "I changed my mind and want to have kids."

FFS (Franz Ferdinand + Sparks) proved that collaborations can work. What other two bands would you like to see unite as one new entity?
 
Brent: Deerhunter and Atlas Sound. I would love to see two Bradford Coxes in a band.

If you could have named yourself as a baby, which name would you have picked instead of the one you have now?
 
Matt: Mark.
 
Brent: Papa. I think it'd be funny to have a baby named "Papa" also then my name would be pronounced "poppin' off."

How prepared are you for the apocalypse, zombie or otherwise?
 
Matt: Very unprepared.
 
Brent: Why do you keep asking about Trump?

Which moment from your past most haunts you?
 
Brent: Janet Jackson's Superbowl wardrobe malfunction. Or that moment when I stopped believing in magic. It's a toss-up.

2015 is the year that Marty McFly traveled to the future in Back to the Future Part II. Beyond not having hoverboards, what most disappoints you about 2015 now that we're here?
 
Brent: The lack of time machines.

Taylor Swift has been celebrated by indie rock fans and mainstream pop fans alike. Is she truly this generation's pop genius or is she a talented, if overrated, songwriter? 
 
Brent: I've been defending her for years to the haters, so I gotta go with genius.  

If your house were on fire, what would you grab as you were running out?
 
Brent: The hard-drive archive of all my song sketches. And the matryoshka doll a Ramona Falls fan gave me in Russia.

Which actor or actress would you most love to have in one of your music videos?
 
Matt: Bob Newhart or Denzel [Washington].
Brent: Taylor Swift.

What's been your best ever Halloween costume? What were you for Halloween this year? 
 
Brent: One year I went as a foosball man. This year I was a dragon.

What song will most unite or amp up the tour bus or van (à la "Tiny Dancer" in Almost Famous)? Which song do you love that the rest of the band or crew refuse to let you put on?
 
Brent: To unite: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears is a safe choice, I don't know anybody that hates that song. I probably don't put "Lateralus" by Tool on because it's an acquired taste.

With Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, Full House, and other classic shows returning, what other TV show would you like to see come back with its original cast?
 
Matt: Lonesome Dove.
Brent: MacGyver.

What's the biggest goal for your life that you have yet to achieve?
 
Brent: Co-writing a song with Taylor Swift.

In which way would you least like to die?
 
Brent: Slowly.

Following the terrorist attack at the Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris do you think that security at music venues should be improved and do you now worry about something similar happening at one of your shows?
 
Brent: I'm heartbroken about Paris. It's hard to even think straight.  

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