Everyday in Brooklyn—Williamsburg, to be more specific—hundreds of wannabe career musicians are wallowing down a boulevard of broken dreams. Bands break up, rents get raised, practice spaces get smaller, and jobs and auditions are lost. The life of an indie rocker these days is taxing. But the borough seems regenerative. Bands break up, and those orphaned find each other and recreate. When drummer Michael Stasiak, songwriter Ezra Tenenbaum, and bassist Shane O’Connell got together to audition as the touring band for Spiritualized, EZTV formed when they didn’t get the gig.
Released this past week, Calling Out (Captured Tracks) is the fruit of that chance origin story. Friends previously, but never bandmates, they quickly bonded and instantly started forming sublime arrangements around Tenenbaum’s jangled pop songs. Though not indebted to J. Spacemen as one might presume, the trio have a host of easy identifiers, from the power pop of Big Star and the Raspberries to the intricate college rock of REM and the lite-psych of the Paisley Underground bands. Yet, they have a bright identity and enough talent to create a modern sound that only treats nostalgia as an afterthought. Breezy melodies buttress sugary harmonies, while a pall of 20-something malaise is balanced with clean catchy riffs. It’s an immediately charming record with hooks aplenty and the depth to make it a keeper.
I recently caught up with the band on the eve of the album’s release and their first extensive tour.
You guys have a pretty interesting origin story. Can you elaborate on how you met and how EZTV came out of that initial meeting?
Michael Stasiak: I met Shane in Spanish class while we were attending New York University and somewhere along the way I met Shane’s quiet friend Ezra. I liked this band that they were in called Strange Shapes, but after college I didn’t really see them for a few years. One day my old boss at Other Music called to tell me that Jason Pierce was in town, trying out different people to be in the American touring version of Spiritualized. For some reason, Shane and Ezra popped into my head, and they said that they’d be game to try. So we got a little list of audition songs from Jason, practiced the night before, and the next day played a bunch of Spiritualized tunes in a teeny little practice space in Bushwick. It was goddamn surreal. Jason was very cool, but definitely a little cranky. He kept comparing our little room to Matt Sweeney’s gigantic rehearsal loft in Williamsburg, like, “Oh, Matt Sweeney’s loft is much nicer than this,” or “Well, I was allowed to smoke in Matt Sweeney’s practice space.” But to play “Electricity” with him was pretty awesome.
None of us got the job! The funny thing was that he already had a drummer lined up (Kid Millions from Oneida), but he couldn’t make it to the audition, so I was just kind of the dummy drummer that day. Even so, he spent a few minutes critiquing my playing, and in my head I was like, “Dude, I’m not the one you should be listening to.” I got the sense that he was bored with playing the songs as recorded. One of his compliments to us was, “You did your homework far better than some of the people I’ve played with in the last few days. That’s the closest anybody’s sounded to the records yet.” We all had fun over the course of a couple of weird days, and I think we jokingly played “The Concept” by Teenage Fanclub during the Spiritualized rehearsals, which I think is what led to Shane suggesting me to play drums on some demos Ezra was making.
Where do you think the band would be if you were hired to be the Spiritualized touring band?
MS: Fired, almost certainly. None of us is equipped to spend weeks on the road with Jason Pierce. And then we would have all formed EZTV anyway.
What bands were you a part of before EZTV?
MS: I played drums in Widowspeak during the band’s first record and a couple of tours, but I quit around August of 2012.
Shane O’Connell: I joined Saint Rich in 2013 as their live bassist and did a few long tours with them. In college I played bass in a band with Ezra called Strange Shapes.
What did you learn from those experiences in your former bands?
MS: I figured out that it’s way too easy to fuck your friendships up by being a stubborn mule or by taking a hardline stance on every decision. You have to pick your battles, go with the flow, and—this sounds like such a no-brainer—have fun. You don’t want to be the guy that everyone tiptoes around.
SO: It’s often said that band relationships are not unlike marriages. I don’t think that comparison goes far enough. A band dynamic is more similar to a polygamist family that also runs a business. It has the potential to get very very complicated. Communication is key. An atmosphere of openness and directness is a healthy environment for a stable and long-lasting collaboration.
Was there a strict aesthetic that you wanted to project when forming EZTV?
Ezra Tenenbaum: I really wanted to make an album that would be fun to play live. I probably demoed about 30 songs, but the ones we ended up working on are more up-tempo and the ones that are fun to perform. I was listening to a lot to Radio City by Big Star and really loved how the trio elements of guitar, bass, and drums are always a discernible core to every song.
How did you get involved with Captured Tracks? Do you feel like you fit in with the label’s mission?
MS: My wife-to-be, Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugh, and Mike Sniper used to tour together when she played guitar in Blank Dogs, and he had been trying to hire her for years. A couple of months after she started working at the label, I was listening to some EZTV demos on the stereo at home and she was passing through to the kitchen and immediately was like, “Wow, this sounds really good! Who is it?” She played them for Mike, who also really gets the kind of bands that we love: Velvet Crush, The Kinks, Dwight Twilley, and REM—that sort of realm of rock music. He came to three or four shows to figure out if we were any good live, and after he saw us play an Emitt Rhodes cover, we started talking about doing an album.
It seems like the Captured Tracks mission is just to release great music by artists that Mike loves. It’s a surprisingly eclectic roster, even more so now that he’s got sister labels under the Omnian Music Group umbrella. His taste really runs the whole gamut, and I’m glad that people are really willing to follow his compass needle. Case in point, we just played a show in Montreal with our friends Sheer Agony, and we met a girl who had pre-ordered our record but also said her favorite Captured Tracks bands were The Soft Moon and Holograms. They’re both amazing bands, but definitely on a darker wavelength than us!
What I love about Calling Out is that it expands much past the basic influences that are mentioned in your bio. I hear everything from Paisley Underground bands to the Lilys and some Laurel Canyon folk echoes. Were there any particular records that you were obsessed with in crafting these songs?
ET: Woah, that’s great that you picked up on the Lilys! I love most of their albums, even though they are wildly different, especially Better Can’t Make Your Life Better and Eccsame on the Photon Band. Recording Calling Out, we were definitely on a ’70s power-pop tip. The Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action and Shoes’ Black Vinyl Shoes come to mind.
How was Jarvis Taveniere involved in shaping the record? I think he has a very distinctive sound with the Woods’ albums and Calling Out has that feel.
MS: Jarvis came up early in the discussion around making a record, largely because I’m a big Woods geek and because I’ve worked with him before. I just love making music with the dude. He puts someone like me, who gets nervous when the tape starts rolling, totally at ease. He’ll chase an idea as far down the rabbit hole as you want to go, and it’s kind of a hoot to watch his eyes move around the room because you know he’s thinking, “What if I put a mic over in that corner to catch the echo off the wall.” I also feel like Jarvis brings a lot of what he’s currently listening to into the mixing process. During the two weeks we were making the album, he was digging lots of ’60s soul and John Cale’s Vintage Violence, so to me the record sounds punchy, lots of bass, drums, and vocals propelling the tunes forward.
SO: Jarvis shaped the sound quite a bit. Because we included a couple of tracks we recorded before Jarvis signed on, it’s possible to hear exactly how his production style shaped the album. The opening song, “Bury Your Heart,” was recorded and mixed by Ezra and I before Jarvis or Captured Tracks started working with us. If you compare that song to “That’s Where You Belong,” the album’s closer and 100% recorded by Jarvis, you can really hear the difference. Jarvis pushed us towards a more direct and confident sound. The drums are driving the ship instead of the guitars. The voice is more upfront and punches right through the mix. Jarvis’ style blended really well with ours and helped us get to a place we would not have found without him.
What does the future hold? Are you prolific and writing a new record or hoping to tour extensively to get the word out?
ET: We’re really excited to be touring with Jacco Gardner and Dinner for a few weeks this summer. We also play a lot in New York and have some great shows coming up. I’m a bit antsy to begin working on new material. I feel like I need a lot of solitude and downtime to write and that hasn’t happened recently. I’m hoping to find a cave or something to seal myself off in later this summer.
Fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade, I was in the _____ listening to _____ with _____ doing _____ wishing I was _____.
MS: In 10th grade, I was in the marching band listening to Franz Ferdinand with my friends who liked System of a Down doing no drugs whatsoever wishing I was anywhere else.