With two studio albums under their belt, Pianos Become The Teeth have become a staple in the post-hardcore scene. Now the band is set to release their third record and Epitaph debut, Keep You; less heavy than their previous efforts. Killyourstereo.com caught up with guitarist Mike York to discuss the new album, new label, and returning to Australia.
So Keep You is about to be released. How are you feeling at this stage?
I think it’s kind of a mix right now. I mean, I’m beyond excited that people are going to finally get to hear something that we’ve worked on for literally almost two years, but I’m also terrified because I think this kind of defines what happens in the next couple of years. I mean, we’re obviously going to tour behind this record whether people love it or hate it, but you know, it’s always going to make touring easier when people love it (laughs). But I feel great; I couldn’t be more proud of the record, and I’m just excited for people to finally get to experience it like we did.
You’ve put up some of the songs and you’ve been playing them live. How have fans been reacting so far?
Really good actually! I mean, we were afraid to play a lot of them live because they are more melancholy and more subdued, and less abrasive and super heavy, but I think people have taken to them really well. I think people are excited for the switch. I mean, for every person who enjoys it, there’s always going to be the people who don’t like it, but I think the people that are embracing it and the people that are enjoying it are largely outnumbering the ones that don’t, so… people really seem to be enjoying it live, which is great.
Obviously there are differences from your previous releases, but you sort of started to go in that direction on the song Hiding, so did you have any idea of what kind of record you wanted to make before you started writing it?
No, I don’t think so. I mean, I think it was just a natural progression; it was never something that was really thought out, or something that was like, “Oh, the record needs to sound like this, it needs to be this.” It was never thought of to be something like that, it just kinda happened. We were really excited about the switch, like how writing songs became, not that they weren’t before, but writing songs became really fun and interesting while we were going. When we heard Kyle start singing on Hiding, we were like, “Man, we had no idea you were capable of that.” I mean, we knew he was a great vocalist because he’s been screaming his lungs out for years, but we had no idea that he was so powerful vocally until he started trying stuff for this record. So it wasn’t a switch that we thought about initially, that’s just how it kinda happened, and the same thing happened with the split with Touche Amore – it kinda happened, it was never a thing that we were like, “Oh, let’s start writing melodic music.” It just kind of reflects the stuff that we’re listening to now and we’re influenced by now. So I think it was just kinda natural that it kinda went that way.
You might not even know at this point, but do you feel like this is a permanent shift in sound for the band?
I mean, I think this is the record and the stuff that we wanted to write right now. And I feel like I can’t imagine… I guess it’s hard to say… I feel like I wouldn’t want to say that we’ll never write a heavy song ever again, or we’ll never write a soft song ever again. But I think as of right now, at least for the foreseeable future, this is probably where we’re gonna be at. It might get weirder, in the same vein as how Brand New have The Devil and God and then the shift that they made into Daisy. I mean, they were still the same band with similar songs, but Daisy was much stranger; it had less hooks but more musical moments. The same as how The National went from High Violet to Trouble Will Find Me. It’s like High Violet was such a dense, very very dense listen, and then Trouble Will Find Me became this very airy listen that had more pop elements but was still much darker. It’s hard, I mean we’re always going to be the same band, like rooted in the same band and the same music, but I think that’s what was the most fun part about writing this record; not limiting us to thinking, “Oh, we have to make a record that sounds heavy,” or “We have to make a record that sounds soft.” It was just whatever came out, whatever we felt was best. So who knows, maybe in two years we’ll be doing blast beats and being a black metal band or something (laughs). Who knows, but as of right now this just felt right.
The Lack Long After had a definite theme. Did you go into this record with an overall theme in mind?
Not particularly. Each record does have a theme, whereas The Lack Long After was the one that I think we all knew going into it. But this record was more the extension of, at least lyrically, how Kyle feels about a lot of the same subjects he wrote about on The Lack Long After, but how he feels about it now, being four years later. And I think that ended up being the theme for this record. We didn’t really know that necessarily, we just wrote songs we felt were the most powerful and the strongest ones we were writing, so I think it kind of became one thing with him. But we didn’t really know it right off the bat, it just happened.
You guys worked with Will Yip on the record. What was the best thing about working with him?
Oh man, that’s so hard, because I don’t think I could actually say a bad thing about working with him. And a lot of people probably say that about the people they work with, but like, we’re very hard on ourselves, just as a band, as people… I mean, I think we always try to stay as humble as we can, and then on top of that we also try not to worry as much about what people are thinking, what people are doing, stuff like that. But we would do a part or something and be really unsure about it and Will would be like, “You got it, you got it, keep going, you got it.” And it was that for the entire record. I mean, he was killer. He always knew how to get the best takes out of us, he knew how to keep everything working. He sat us down the first day and basically explained his vision for the record, and it completely aligned with ours. There wasn’t anything that we weren’t into and vice versa, and I think that was one of the coolest things. He knew what we wanted from this record from the start, and he gave us the exact record and more. So I literally couldn’t say a bad thing about him. My favourite thing about him was the fact that he was just so excited about the record. He was so excited at all times. And it made us get even more excited because, you know, this was a big shift for us, and it was terrifying, but having somebody who was so excited about it made us feel a lot better about it too.
Can you tell me a bit about the artwork for the record?
So, the idea for all of our records is that we never want to use text on the front; we always want to evoke a very powerful image on the front of the record to be kind of enveloping what that record is. So the idea of Keep You was, like the overall theme is trying to tell somebody something and maybe not being able to tell them something because you’re not around them or they passed away, or they’re no longer in your life anymore. So, just trying to tell somebody something. And so the front cover is somebody waving a sheet over a burnt fire to send a smoke signal, as if you’re trying to alert somebody or trying to tell somebody something. So the idea is it’s just a thematic thing, basically the theme of the record, of trying to tell somebody something, or trying to communicate with someone and not being able to; somewhat being incapable of doing that, similar to how you would if you were lost somewhere and wanted to send a smoke signal or something. So that was the theme behind the artwork and kind of what we did with it.
Keep You will be your Epitaph debut. How did that partnership come about?
Well, we had talked to a bunch of different people and labels and stuff like that, and we went out to lunch with those guys and they seemed to be the most interested in what we were doing, as well as had the ability to help us reach our vision, it was within their reach globally, as well as being able to kind of see things the same way that we did. They didn’t give us any restraints; they didn’t tell us we had to go to this studio, had to use this artist, had to do this – I mean, they were just very open to pretty much anything we wanted to do, and they were just awesome about everything, so we just felt the best with them and it seemed like a step up for us. The last couple of records have been on Topshelf, so this seemed like a step up for us to be able to do something bigger. So it just seemed like a natural progression for us and they were really excited about it, so we got a great vibe from them, and they seemed to enjoy the demos and everything we were sending them for this record. So it seemed like the right fit.
So since signing with Epitaph, has that given you any new goals?
I think our goals are always kind of the same. We want to be able to release records and have as many people as possible hear them, and I think with them it’s going to be way more attainable than it ever has been. But even with just signing with them or doing a record with them, it just made us want to do these things that much more, especially since they have such a larger reach around the world. I mean it makes a lot to do the things we’ve always wanted to do more attainable. So I mean, we’ll see, but they just help make the goals that we have seem somewhat more realistic.
Most bands go through several lineup changes, but apart from the early stages there haven’t been any changes in Pianos. If one of the members decided to leave for whatever reason, how would that affect the band?
We wouldn’t do it (laughs).
Yeah, I think that everybody in the band is too integral to what they do, that it would be cheap if we tried to replace them. Which is also very scary, when you think that your entire career has to ride on five people having the exact mindset, especially the older that you get. But I feel like this is the lineup that is what it is, and I feel like we would feel very strange about doing anything with this band without these five people. Because like you said, we haven’t gone through any serious lineup changes or done anything since the early stages of this band, so any time this band has pretty much done anything, it’s been us five. And everybody’s so integral to the writing process, that I feel like with one person gone, it changes the way everything sounds, and it just kind of changes everything. So I mean, I say that I wouldn’t do it, but I feel like it’s hard to tell until a time like that would come. But realistically, I feel like it wouldn’t make sense for us to continue without the members that are in it right now.
You’ve been recording albums for other artists over the last couple of years. Do you have any projects happening or lined up?
I’m actually recording a record right now for a hardcore band in Baltimore, but other than that not really. I used to be really busy with a lot of the stuff that I was doing, but ever since we started doing so much touring and everything, I kind of just put that stuff on the back burner and kind of just did records as much as I could when I was home. But when I started doing records initially, I would just do them all the time because we weren’t on tour and I just love recording bands. But I just feel like there are so many good people in Baltimore that record records and do stuff, that they’ve kind of taken a lot of the work that I would be doing – and rightfully so. I mean, they’re home and they’re doing great work and killing it. So I do records when I’m at home, but I don’t seek it out as much as I used to. If a band really wants to do an album with me, then I’ll be stoked to do it and I definitely will, but it’s rare that I do a ton of it much anymore. But if anyone does, I do a lot of mixing and I do a lot of mastering and stuff now too, so it’s just whenever the work comes up.
So do you think that’s something you’d maybe want to pursue more seriously later on?
I would love to. I mean, if I was ever able to allocate that kind of time, I would love to do that.
And just to finish up I have to ask, do you have any plans to come back to Australia?
Definitely. The exact time is yet to be determined, but we definitely will be back.
‘Keep You’ is out October 24 via Epitaph Australia.