“Better” — The National Pool
Sharx is stoked to bring you another band interview as well as some great new music. Today we have an interview with electro-rock band The National Pool. The band consists of Bradley White and Kyle Cornett, who formed the band in 2006. So far, the band has put out three records, each seeming to build off the last – from a more vocal heavy, rock and electronica sound to an increased focus on electronic sounds – with a chillwave groove that pushes the band into new areas of expression.
The band’s latest single, “Better” officially hit the airwaves Dec. 3. We were able to get a few minutes with Brad and talked about how the band got started and the evolution of their sound. So take a minute, check it out and read what the band has to say.
Tell us about the band, how you got started and what prompted the move from Nashville to Baltimore.
It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll try to keep it cut and dry. I’m originally from the Baltimore, Maryland area, and I moved down to Tennessee in 2001 for college. Kyle, he’s originally from Washington, Kentucky, and he was down there for school as well.
I studied music business at Middle Tennessee State University and Kyle was doing the production and technology end of things. I was playing in other bands while he was playing in an acoustic pop group at the time, and I was helping him book shows. Then we ended up forming this group, moving in together and just started recording. Eventually we developed a sound we were happy with.
We did two records in Nashville, a full length album around 2006, and we put out an EP the following year in 2007.
I decided to move to Japan for two and a half years, and when I came back, I moved in temporarily with my family and ended up getting a job in Baltimore. I was actually trying to move to Austin, as a matter of fact, for the whole music scene out there, but after looking around for so long, I had to take the job in Baltimore.
Kyle is still in Tennessee, and we just write, send out ideas through MP3s and send out DVDs of WAV files.
Talk to us a little bit about that process of creating music with Kyle in Tennessee and you in Baltimore. How does that collaboration happen?
It’s definitely a lot more difficult without having him right there in the same room and being able to bounce ideas off each other.
It’s a weird thing. It really is. The way I write, I tend to throw away lots of ideas. I’ll do three or four tiny little themes of songs that I usually just end up getting bored with and moving away from. It’s tough for me to actually finish stuff, and I relied on Kyle to stop and pick out the good ones and give me focus.
It’s tough. I was actually trying to get some work in Nashville as well, and I considered moving down there. But I would love to be closer to be able to get back what we had in 2006 where it was just me and him in a room and hashing out ideas. It was a great experience.
If there’s any plus to it, though, it’s that if there’s an idea that I want to see through, I’m able to do explore that idea.
All things considered, we’re doing the best we can at the moment.
Especially with this new release, the sound has seemed to evolve to a more electronic-based sound. What is driving this exploration?
It’s a multitude of things. I don’t really go out to many shows around here in Baltimore. In Nashville, as I’m sure it is in Austin, there’s such a huge scene where there will be 10 shows every night. I can only speak to my personal experience, but with the streets not being all that safe here, and the weather, and there not being the abundance of local music that Nashville had, I don’t really get out to get a taste of the local scene.
With the electronic stuff, I’ve always been a huge fan. I heard drum and bass for the first time in 1999 and it blew my mind. I’ve always been very, very interested in electronic music.
I find that with guitar—I started out as a guitar player—there’s only so much you can stretch the sound. No matter how hard you push, it’s still going to kind of sound like a guitar. With with electronic stuff, there’s so much depth you can add to the sound, the flavoring and the different directions you can go in terms of effects. It seems like there’s just an infinite amount of possibilities.
That’s definitely part of the appeal. You can pick a direction that you want to go in. It seems like there are a lot more sound choices you can choose from with electronic stuff and really really sculpt the sound and direction of what you want to do.
Moving forward, I’ll probably continue to go further into that electronic stuff. Kyle is a bass player, and I’m predominantly a guitar player. He doesn’t really mess too much with the MIDI and electronic programming as much as I do, so I suppose that I’ve got free rein now to go head first into that kind of stuff.
In your third single release ‘Better,’ you mentioned that it had an interesting verse-verse song structure. Tell us how you settled on that structure and other unique elements of the single. We really dug that song and the groove that it sets up.
It’s weird because in college I took commercial songwriting courses, and I know how to write a proper song that’s about something. It’s all kind of set in stone before you write a single word. Because of that, I’m more attracted to things that are outside of that scope where it doesn’t have to have a million words to fill up a page for a song that’s about something. I like the appeal of just kind of going in a different direction.
I heard some stuff around 2011 that went in the same direction, as well. I started listening to Arthur Russell. He was a cellist that did a lot of 13 minute pieces, and he did one song called “This is How We Walk on the Moon.” It’s about five minutes long and going through the song, its really just two sentences that he’s saying but as a listener, the way the song is structured, you don’t even notice that there’s not a lot of different lyrics.
I was really attracted to that, and I wanted to try going in that direction. The vocals are just kind of another instrument in the mix and become part of the whole. Russell’s music allowed me to go into a more abstract direction and inspired me to see what the hell happens if you write a crazy song. I was just trying it out, and one rule I try to go by as a songwriter is if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just write another song.
Some of my favorite artists, I appreciate the way they take risks, and I try to do that, too.
The repetition of musical themes and phrases is a regular aspect of chillwave and a lot of electronic music. It allows the listener to – literally – get into a song. How do you keep the song interesting to the listener while still repeating these elements?
I think where I was coming from, once I kind of realized the lyrics weren’t going to be the focal point of the song, I tried to keep the music moving. Both with the instrumentation and the vocals, I tried to make them sound as interesting as possible and really just drilling down to the fine points of the song. Even something as boring as the kick drum, just sitting there for an hour just finding out which different kick drum is going to fit the best for this song.
I spent a lot of time on the texture of the sounds, making sure they all fit together. Just making sure that every element combines together well to reach the end goal.
The band has seemed to move away from featuring those heavy vocals and blending them into the sound. Are you really looking to explore these new tonal areas?
I think that’s an area I feel called to explore more. I don’t want to lean too heavily on that vocoder sound. The last thing I want to do is repeat a thing I did in one song to another.
But I do want to explore that kind of minimalist vocal thing a little bit more. Probably in another song or two. But it could turn out that I write three songs, and if I’m not feeling that great about them, they’ll probably never get released.
I really like the idea of trying not to be too in control of the music, of just letting it go where it wants to go.
One thing I strive to do is to make the most honest music I can. It’s tough with the chillwave thing and the electronic stuff. I hope it doesn’t appear as though we’re jumping on some sort of trend. It’s a great thing for electronic music, that it’s so huge right now, but even on our EP “Home,” I incorporated a lot of electronic elements in there as well—some kinds of spacey sounds. And I guess that’s when we started to push the guitar a little bit further.
We don’t think it’s that far of a leap to go from an electronic rock like your earlier work to more electronic chillwave. Listening to it on SoundCloud where everything bleeds together, it sounded like there was a progression in your music. With that in mind, what’s next for the band?
I didn’t write very much music this year, toward the end of the year, I took stock in that and realized I had to get my ass in gear. So I set some goals, and I really want to get some music placed in TV or film by the end of next year. If nothing else, than to just set a goal and accomplish it.
I think I’m going to continue to do the single thing. Eventually, I really want to make another full-length record, but I want to make sure it’s able to stand the test of time. I don’t want to put out something just because it’s time to put out something. I’d like to continue to put out single songs and explore some different directions.
It has been a little while between my living in Japan and Kyle and I doing some rap stuff for a while. It’s been a while since we’ve really got back into the groove of what The National Pool was and what the sound was. So I think we need to check back in with ourselves, see where the sound is, and see what feels like home base. Then we’ll probably go in that direction on a full-length record.
But for 2014, I don’t know, maybe I’ll just release a shit load of single songs and just go crazy with it.