Talk Thursday to Me – Wife Patrol

Today we talk with Wife Patrol about their new album, playing online shows during the pandemic and the opportunities brought forth from this unique moment in history.

We initially had some issues getting connected via Google hangouts for this interview, which lead to some good old fashioned shenanigans that we’ve left in for your enjoyment. Actual interview starts after the first video embed if you’re in a hurry. – PE

Nicole O’Neal: Anyone able to get in?

Greg O’Neill: We did iiiiiiiiit!

Natasha O’Neill: Yes, I’m here. Thank you!

Postcard Editor: I’m in. Sorry, I thought I sent out the right type of invite before – thanks for the save Nicole.

Nicole: It doesn’t help that Google has been claiming to get rid of Hangouts for like two years and instead keeps it but promotes other similar products. Who do they think they are?

PE: You know I was going to ask you about the new album, but I think instead we should just take down Google with this piece. Google? More like BONDOOGLE!


Greg: My guitar gear is sponsored by Google, so I can’t participate.

PE: All your effects are in the cloud. It’s very future rock.

Greg: I play a 150w, plexi-Google head, through a 4×12 Google stack.

PE: Real punx play Bing guitars.

Greg: (I’m actually Googling ‘google CEO’ to keep riffing on this) – hahaha, Bing.

Natasha: We collaborate on demos using Google Wave. They brought it back just for us.

PE: I don’t even know what Google Wave is. Is that like New Wave, but with a built in ad revenue algorithm?

Natasha: I don’t think they knew, either.

Nicole: Guys think I’m making google-y eyes at them, but it’s all technique for bass playing.

PE: I’ve heard of bass face(book) but Google eyes for bass? That’s thinking outside the Xbox. Ok, I’m done.

PE: Let’s talk about this great new album of yours. Did you have the album completely finished before the pandemic hit or did that effect the process of getting it made?

Greg: It only affected the mastering. We spent a GOOD DEAL of 2019 recording at P. David Hazel’s.

Nicole: (the P is silent)

Greg: So all tracking and mixing was done. All that was left was to use this incredible expanse of spare time to figure out how a record gets mastered and manufactured…which turns out, does not happen overnight during a pandemic.

PE: I know this is the first full length for the band, and the first with a physical release, but is it also a first for you as individual members? 

Nicole: First album for me!

Natasha: For me, yes! Wife Patrol is my first band, too.

Greg: I am a wizened old rocker, with many self-produced and semi-profesionally produced albums to my name.

Nicole: Pro-Tip, I definitely listened to this podcast episode to try to understand what Mastering actually is, because it seems so tricky to explain: But the first time we heard the mastered tracks I was like “WHOA, IS THAT US???”

PE: Great tip – thanks for sharing. Now, you say that you spent most of 2019 tracking the album, was that intentional? The decision to spread it out like that or is it just how it sort of happened?

Greg: It’s how we basically have to do it, since all three of us were working full-time jobs. We wanted to take the time to do it right. Plus, recording is fun, so the longer it takes the happier I am.

Nicole: We set out to spend a little more time on it, and we enjoyed the more relaxed pace so much the time kept expanding.

Greg: Taking time means you can make more creative, non-pressured decisions, as well as play with a little more risk. It’s all more carefree. 

Nicole: It was nice not to feel pressured to finish it quickly. It gave us a lot more time to think about what we wanted to do, and add things that we can’t pull off in a live show.

Greg: Haha — yes. We started in March. Once October rolled around, I was like, “OK, who are we, Steely Dan? We should get this done.” That much time can be a double-edged sword. Take TOO much, and you won’t commit to anything. 

PE: So it sounds like you were doing quite a bit of writing in the studio as opposed to in the practice space like a lot of bands do. How fleshed out were the songs when you took them in to record?

Greg: These are all songs we’ve played for varying lengths of time live. But they definitely shaped up during recording. Nicole was adding harmonies all over the place. It really livened up songs and arrangements that had gotten very familiar for us.

Nicole: Actually, nearly all the songs were done pre-studio. Some were years old, some were weeks old. But it was the extras like adding more harmonies, guitar overdubs, trying out some different instruments, and then mixing that ultimately took up the bulk of time.

PE: Gotcha, the Steely Danification of your sound. It’s interesting you talk about taking a leisurely pace recording giving you more opportunities to be adventurous in your playing, because adventurous is definitely an apt description of your sound.

Greg: For sure. Producing a record — in the traditional sense of developing sounds and songs — wasn’t something I’d done before to this degree. We all had a blast coming up with things. We like to roam! We need to play what inspires us. Sometimes that’s some heavy stuff. Sometimes it’s some country or ballad-y stuff. 

Nicole: I like to consider the added vocal harmonies the Michael McDonald moments. Particularly on the song “Spyro.” Really stacked ’em in on that one.

Natasha: I think some of it, too, is just not recognizing how things are “supposed to be.” We’ve been playing together for some years now, but I’d never been in a band and didn’t start learning my instrument until we became a band. So the runway was long from early writing, to me learning the most basic things about playing shows (like literally learning how to take my drums apart and put them back together at the venue), to figuring out how to drum and sing at the same time. Like to me it’s all adventurous because before joining this band, I didn’t even listen to music (let alone play it) with a conscious focus on the musicianship.

Greg: A lot of the rock I enjoy listening to is played by people clearly inspired and still learning. Once you master a sound or develop super-chops, bands and artists tend to lose that initial point of interest.

Except for, again, Steely Dan.

PE: Since you recognized that as an aspect, not recognizing how things are “supposed to be”, did you embrace that as an ethos in any way? I think for example how the opening track “Why Do I Keep Doing This To Myself” it goes from a METAL (caps intended and needed) intro to a stutter step punk verse to a new wave influenced chorus. It’s crazy on paper but it works.

Greg: That’s a good example. That song touches pretty much all the bases, but it wasn’t written to. …I actually am not sure why MORE bands don’t sound a little bit scattered and all over the place stylistically. It’s not good or bad, but for whatever reason, the three of us just prefer spontaneity and variety.  

Nicole: I like the impact of that punch on the start after the riff. It sort of hits you in the face unexpectedly. I feel like going for the unexpected is something that has really resonated with us as a band. A lot of times people just look at us and don’t know what to expect. Sometimes I don’t think they even expect us to be the people in the crowd who are about to get on stage.

PE: I mean, I would think the matching spandex outfits would give it away….

Nicole: And yet they seem to also walk away pleasantly surprised by us. Whether it’s how much sound we create as a three-piece, the different styles and genres, the fact that we all sing.

Greg: ….the matching spandex.

Natasha: I think there’s a big overlap in terms of influences we all have, but we also all, individually, have distinct interests and tastes. With that wide-ranging variety of musical interests, I think it leads us to bring ideas to the table that are surprising, even to the other members of the band. Like Nicole often brings in harmonies that make me think, “Whoa, I never would have thought of that, but I wish I had!” There are also several examples of songs we’ve written where my idea for a vocal cadence feels “off” to Greg initially, probably because I’m breaking a “rule” I don’t even know about, but we work on it and work on it until it fits. It’s cool to surprise each other!

PE: I love this idea of doing things “incorrectly” but then still figuring out how to make it work. That seems the essence of punk and diy music. Has there been times where an idea is just too out there and you all can’t make it work?

Greg: That might be happening with a song right now, actually. We’re trying to jam two ideas together that happen to be in different time signatures. Doing a transition without just cold stopping would be awesome, but may be impossible. Usually, though, it works. “Your Mother” was a song that was in two time signatures and just flowed without anyone breaking a sweat. 

Natasha: Yeah, with “Your Mother,” Greg didn’t realize he even wrote the riffs in different time signatures. It only became clear when we added drums, and I was trying to count.

And with regard to the new material: It’s been fun listening to bands that pull off that time-signature transition well! I was working out the other day, and mid-way through, a song popped up on my playlist, and I was like, “Oh, well here’s an example of a band switching time signatures pretty seamlessly. Cool!” I’m surprised I even noticed in the moment because it wasn’t top of mind, but then was excited to have another inspiration to draw from.

Nicole: I was skeptical about covering Carly Rae Jepsen, but we made that work.

Greg: Haha, true, the Carly Rae and the Old Town Road covers were tall stylistic orders that came off pretty well. 

Once, we tried to all go out to lunch in Bloomington and couldn’t settle on a place. That idea never really came together. 

PE: Lunch. It’s what ultimately did the band in.

Greg: It very nearly did. Three hungry people with competing food allergies. 

Nicole: Yes, that was more due to competing food allergies and hangry-ness.

PE: Unexpected is another good term for the album too. Because it’s not just a creative mix of different styles of rock but there’s also a hint of country on a few tracks and some more quiet meditative moments too. How difficult was putting together the track listing, to balance the elements and give it the right flow.

Natasha: Greg took care of the sequencing. 

Greg: Sequencing is super fun to me. I love when one song naturally just hits up against the next in a way that almost suggests the following song.

Natasha: I don’t know what all went into that because all I had to do was sign off on it. Now I want to know.

Nicole: Ultimately it came down to the order it would start and end on each side of the LP.

Greg: That’s true. But even if someone isn’t listening on record, I like to have Side 1 and Side 2. I won’t lie, I used some of my wall-to-wall albums as inspiration for how to carry momentum from start to finish.

PE: What were some of those wall to wall albums you used?

Greg: Nevermind was an early favorite of mine, and it so perfectly splits in half and keeps you going until the end. While I don’t know if they had a direct influence, Erykah Badu’s last two proper albums are seamlessly start-to-finish albums. I think I even looked up 11 track albums and tried to 1-to-1 the sequencing. Like, ‘ok, this starts with a loud song, then a pop song, then a quiet song, then…’

Nicole: Another Nevermind shout out. The ending of “Electric Blizzard” was a reference to the ending of “On A Plain”. I have always loved the way the music fades away and all you are left with is those harmonized vocals of Cobain and Grohl. It seemed like a really appropriate way to move from such a heavy song to the stark openness of “Absolute”

Greg: Yeah. Meanwhile, some bands don’t even seem to consider sequencing — like Pixies and Fugazi. Their tracks just instantaneously fire up without any breath between or coherence. Which, I’m sure is a choice. 

PE: There is a healthy bit of 90’s grunge and alt-rock influence in your sound, other than Nirvana are there some obvious touchstones from that era that feel influence your writing or playing?

Greg: I love Kim Deal. The more distance I get, the more I think she might be the single hugest influence on how I play and what I like. Nicole brought Sleater-Kinney to my attention and I’ve been listening to them more and more.

Nicole: PJ Harvey. Hole – such great song arrangement and the vocal harmonies of Melissa Auf der Maur. Yes, lots of Sleater-Kinney. I cannot get enough. We actually listened to them for the last EP too using “Step Aside” as an example to fit saxophone into punk style songs on “H.A.” Sleater-Kinney is also one of the inspirations I look to in terms of our band having no lead singer. Also Letters to Cleo

Greg: Yeah, really, any band that has great backing vocals, I’ve been paying closer attention to. Big Star, Go-go’s, Hole’s ‘Celebrity Skin’ album…

PE: Obviously traditional touring in support of the album is a no go currently, so what is next for the band?

Greg: Doing more of these streaming shows. We’re playing the Lincoln Calling festival via our basement studio. It’s an interesting way to do shows. It’s still evolving, obviously, but I think it can be sort of viable post-COVID.

Nicole: Yes live streams have been an interesting surprise for 2020. In the wake of no shows, it’s opened the door for us to connect with audiences we probably would not have been able to reach with physical shows anyway.

Greg: I know, it’s weird. In a way, that arrangement has led us to awesome people outside of town like PunkBlack in Atlanta and Festival Lingua Franca in Canada. 

Natasha: Yes! For instance, connecting with Daniel from Festival Lingua Franca. I’m not sure if our paths would have crossed if not for pandemic Instagram takeovers. And now I’m listening to a bunch of artists he’s recommended and have watched films by Don Letts, a director he recommended.

PE: Can you see the attendees of the streaming shows? Like in little zoom windows, or are you playing to the camera and hoping for the best?

Greg: The latter — hoping for the best. It’s a bummer that way, but if it’s on Facebook or instagram, you can go back later and read all of the flattering compliments. It’s like applause you can screen cap. There’s really no replacement for playing at the Melody Inn. This time has a lot about it that separates you from your various communities. But these stop-gaps are ways to keep connections going in the meantime.

Natasha: Haha! Yeah, I wish we could see folks. Another thing that’s new is sharing physical copies of our music outside of shows. That may sound like no big deal, but we’ve never shipped our CDs (and now records) before. Snail mail is a whole other cool way to connect with folks.What used to be merch-table activity is now something we do from our houses.

PE: Screen cap-able applause is the mental health trick we all need right now.

Nicole The most nerve-wracking thing about live streams is potential tech glitches, but we’ve done a pretty good job of practicing beforehand so that we can know what to expect.

PE: How exactly are you doing that? Not to gear geek out, but how do you capture a good live sound for streaming?

Natasha: The live-stream setup has truly been ever-evolving for us.

Greg: we started by discovering that Facebook live only accepts a stereo signal — right and left. Two channels. So we couldn’t mic all our instruments individually. The first solution was to hook up my buddy Mitch’s old Tascam casette 4-track, then send THAT signal through a USB interface with two channels for Facebook. Now, we invested in a better mixer that doesn’t involve wedging a book underneath cables to prevent 40 year-old connections from shorting out.

Natasha: And we’ve gotten used to monitoring our sound via headphones. Again, doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we’ve always rehearsed with instruments hooked up to amps and a PA for vocals. The newfound audio clarity is astonishing! 

Nicole: That helps A LOT.

Greg: Yeah, it’s the damnedest thing, being able to hear yourself improving one’s singing. I was content to stuff toilet paper in my ears and crank a broke-ass PA four inches from my skull. 

Nicole: This year has also opened a lot more conversation and light on looking for and giving space to voices that have been largely ignored or marginalized in mainstream music, particularly when it comes to BIPOC voices. Also adding that space is being made for women, nonbinary, and LGBTQ+ voices. Representation and visibility is long overdue and I hope to see this energy and consideration continue.

Greg: Yeah, like a lot of other spheres of society, music-booking and local scenes are being scrutinized in a way that will hopefully alter the way they operate. If not, we’ll start a new scene with all the rad people we’ve met on lockdown. 

PE: Are there particular movements in the music scene that you’re a part of that are doing the work to make it a more representative space for all? Any organizations that you’re working with that people should be checking out and supporting?

Nicole: First, I want to get away from the idea of movements, because I don’t want it to be a fad or phase, or give folks the idea that they have to join something to make these changes happen. I think a great place to start doing this work and seeing these changes happen is within yourself. Decide that it’s something you want and consult resources to learn and start putting what you learn into practice.

As a band, I really appreciate that we have had a lot of internal conversations about race and gender and how it impacts us on and off stage.

Natasha: Some organizations and individuals we’ve connected with as of late: 

Get In Her Ears (London)
Festival Lingua Franca (Toronto area)
Angry Grrrl Music of the Indie Rock Persuasion (U.S. podcast)
She Makes Music (UK)
Punk Black (U.S)

Nicole: Decolonise Fest in the UK is also a great space. She Shreds has been another really helpful resource and voice in terms of fueling my confidence as a musician.

Greg: That’s a good list — and yeah, the biggest change is getting done within people. Especially people with power and influence in this industry. It’s a ‘change or die’ moment.

Nicole: I think that is vitally important for any group, because it allowed us to learn about things that were happening, especially when others were not around. For example, there have been things said to me when my white bandmates are not near me. There have been things said to Natasha and I when our male bandmate is not nearby.

Us talking about those things brought it to light and allowed us to start looking out for each other more closely, developing safety plans to help each other out, and start looking at what we can do as a band to play an active role in what we want to see in the scene. Examples being, recommending other bands with diverse membership for shows with us or shows we can’t play. Paying attention to lineups we are asked to join, are they safe, is it going to be a dudefest? Do the other bands promote ideas that we are not okay with?

Making a clear and direct suggestion of adding other bands with more gender and racial diversity is something that has also been educational for others who may not have considered it before when we bring it up.

Greg: A lot of the worst of stuff that we’re talking about happens unconsciously. Or, rather, happens in the absence of conscious action. We can be ‘a pill’ for some bookers, but you just have to actively promulgate good and equitable behavior, because otherwise, inertia carries the day.

PE: This is an important conversation but I also want to be respectful of your time as we’re coming up on the 90 minute mark (would’ve been less awkward for me to try to end the interview during more Google jokes). In addition to the streaming shows and using your voice to help move the needle in the music scene – what’s next for the band? Is there a plan to do some touring once the pandemic is not an issue? Go full Steely Dan on the next album? What’s in the works?

Natasha: A new album, for sure. And, yes, shows as soon as possible. I’m really excited about getting an opportunity to fully dive into the new song ideas that’ve been on the back burner.

Nicole: Yes, we’ve got some demos of new songs that need fine-tuning and I’m looking forward to having time to dive into those. It’s so hard to make any plans for post-pandemic world because we’re just so deep in it and have no idea what the world will look like when it’s over. “Safe” is such a loaded term now. But it would be nice to get out and play again, maybe start small with some midwest touring

Greg: And some better microphones! Tell Google to start a record label and sign us so I can buy better pre-amps!

PE: I’ll get right on that Google hook up. Speaking of which, have you guys heard of my favorite band? Google Bordelo?

Greg: Hahahahaha. Oh, that’s a lol for sure.

PE: Always end on a lol. That’s my motto.

Greg: I’m partial to John ‘Google’ Mellencamp. Ah, nuts, I pushed it, we had it.

PE: Lol.

Wife Patrol’s new album “Too Prickly For This World” is now available via their bandcamp here.

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