Earphunk is one of those hard working bands from New Orleans with more talent in their lineup than you can shake a stick at. I’m not sure why you’d want to shake a stick at them, anyway. But my point is that you could, if you wanted to, and they’d probably take it in stride. Because that’s what Earphunk does. A few years ago, before a gig in St. Louis, Earphunk’s van was broken into and the band was robbed of several pieces of equipment, not to mention various personal belongings. While the loss could have been devasting for the band, the group was fresh off a huge Wakarusa double set, which included a “Daft Phunk” tribute set, and their popularity had never been greater. Phunk fans came to the rescue and helped them almost make it all back.
The band got back on their horse (because vans are bad luck now and people can be jerks) and got back to work, and released their 2014 album Sweet Nasty to a massive audience, with over 800,000 plays to this point. With hugely popular live show, these guys are building quite the reputation as a show not to miss.
Earphunk plays at the Foundry at the Fillmore in Philadelphia this coming Saturday night (with support from local favorites, Catullus) and you’d be silly to miss out.
We’re so excited that we bugged Mark Hempe for a few minutes of his time, and he was more than gracious to chat with us about a wide variety of stuff like their upcoming album, Right Where I Belong (Which you can preorder now), recording with a legend, and technology.
Rock On Philly: How’s the tour been going so far, you feel like you’ve been hitting the road a lot?
Earphunk: This summer we took a little bit of a break, played some shows here and there. We just kinda got after it this past Friday, though.
ROP: So I wanted to talk about the new album coming out… is it technically a full length album?
EP: Yeah, it’s definitely a full length album – it’s six tracks.
ROP: So you’ve had to field a lot of questions on this I’m sure, but you got to work with Steve Albini on this, right?
ROP: Dude that’s huge.
EP: Very much so!
ROP: How’d that come about… did everyone know who he was before that went down?
EP: Yeah, I mean we all kinda knew who he was. But not everyone really delved into the breadth of his careers work and what not. So we knew who he was from the bigger stuff, but we didn’t really know about his own bands and that kinda stuff that we learned through the process. But yeah it was epic in a lot of the ways. One of the main ways being he probably changed our approach to studio recording forever. It was our first time doing straight to tape, and that worked out awesome for us because the energy level was there a lot more so than in the past. You’re focusing a lot more on the actual take itself and focusing on the energy of the entire band instead of just on your take and being like, “Oh I can just go back and overdub that later on.” There’s not as much of that. You’re kind of living more in the moment right there.
ROP: I was listening to an interview with him (NSFW) a while ago and he was saying at the beginning of his producing career, that at this point he feels like he made some mistakes earlier in his career by trying to push bands that he’s working with in certain directions and maybe giving too much direction. How did you find that to be with him? Did he talk to you guys about that at all?
EP: No, not really. There wasn’t a real discussion about that. We kinda worked together with him as more of an engineer than a producer. So his input was for the most part strictly engineering wise. He was honest with us and if there was a bad take or something, he could sense it. We’d all kinda have it in the back of our minds but he’d be the one who’d say, “Ya know, maybe you wanna take another one,” or something like that. So it’s kind of that truthful voice that you want in the studio but it’s also not really someone like a producer who’s trying to push you in a direction musically. He didn’t really delve at all in the creative elements
ROP: And was that what you were looking for?
EP: No, we were just looking for exactly what he offered, ya know, recording to 1987 Studer tape machine and looking for his input in a raw, kind of rock album kinda feel.
ROP: And not to get into too much of the business details, but he does things a little different as far as payment goes, right?
EP: Yeah I mean I don’t wanna get into too much of that but I will say that he works a lot more within the budgets of the up and coming bands. He doesn’t really work with super established bands anymore. He works more with bands that are “Indie” and doing things ourself without those massive budgets. He cares about what he works on so he works within those budgets.
ROP: Yeah he tends to not take royalties after the fact, right?
EP: Yeah, that’s definitely true. I think across the board for the most part… he has the Nirvana letter (NSFW), I think everyone knows about that. I think that’s probably his greatest opportunity to ever take royalties, but yeah, that kinda shows you what he’s about. The preservation of music rather than making money on somebody else. He’s obviously an anti-industry type person. Which is to me very respectable.
ROP: Do you guys feel like you fit into that anti-industry vibe or where do you fit in with that?
EP: I wouldn’t necessarily say that because really anyone in the music business now, you kind of have no choice to adhere to what things have become. But the fact that guys like him still exist and are able to make a living and keep doing what they do for kind of the up and coming and kind of growing bands… I think that’s huge. That’s a huge resource. You know, there’s real music still existing. There are these kind of faux bands that just kind of songs written for them and produced for them and they have these huge marketing teams working on it all and it ends up getting huge and popular but not by any accord of its own actual artist sometimes. I’m not pointing anybody out but that does happen across the board. But that’s just kind of where we’re at.
ROP: So you guys are doing a kickstarter for this album, right?
EP: Yeah well we’re doing it as a preorder, we’re just using the kickstarter as the medium for the presale.
ROP: And what was the decision like going into that. Had you done a kickstarter before?
EP: Yeah I feel like we did do a kickstarter a while back. I’m trying to remember. I know when we got our van broken into in Chicago we did some crowd funding and we were able to recoup a large percent of what was stolen. But our whole thinking still is, after doing Sweet Nasty, I mean on the digital side, it was tremendous. 600,000 plus downloads on bit torrent. But we pressed the vinyls ourselves out of pocket. We ordered at least 500. 500 is one of the most minimum batches that you can order with records. I think we did 500 of 1000 and we went straight out of pocket for it. And that’s super expensive for a band like us that doesn’t have any kind of label backing. We don’t have any major producers on board or anything. So it’s hard. That’s honestly just what it comes down to. It’s just straight up hard for a band of our status to come out of pocket for that. You don’t make a ton of money off of digital downloads. We don’t make a ton of money off of albums period. So I guess the kickstarter was just a route to go where people could pre order and we could just cushion the blow for us out of pocket so we didn’t have to foot the bill entirely which would hurt us in other elements. I mean, as an independent band we have everything to take care of.
ROP: Yeah that bit torrent release is relatively unique, is that something you guys would consider doing again? Do you consider that a success?
EP: Yeah I don’t see why not. I mean everything gets released digitally one way or another. I can’t say we had any other time where there was 600,000 plus international downloads. So I couldn’t think of a better platform for that kind of release. So yeah, we would definitely do it again. But I think each time we have a new album coming out there’s a kind of specific approach, a kind of specific release strategy for each one depending on where everything is at.
ROP: Now I can’t imagine, as a band, having to keep up with all the new technology as far as releasing music. I mean how you decide on whether or not to release on streaming services of how often and where to tour to best build your audience… I just can’t imagine how that goes. Does that put a strain on the relationship of the band or is everyone pretty much on the same page with everything?
EP: I think more than anything, technology is very much a double edge sword in this respect. Being that there’s so much more music available. People that wouldn’t normally be able to produce music and get it out to the masses, it would normally cost a lot more money in years past than it does now. But now you get your music out there. And then as a consumer you have such a wider base to explore. So in that way it’s great. But in other ways it’s just making music so accessible that it almost seems like almost a free good. It seems like something that people shouldn’t pay for anymore because they’re so used to Spotify and what not and paying a blanket fee and all that. I mean, we’re from New Orleans, and I know people, even some of my friends, will complain about a live show that’s like $5 or $10. Like, dude you’re about to spend that on a beer or two and you can’t spend that on a band that you supposedly want to see? You know, that’s the kind of thing that gets me a little angry about the state of things. But ultimately it’s value. It’s what each person kind of wants to see value as. Do you want to see music as a valuable thing in your life that your’e willing to pay for? Because that is the way it used to be and that’s the way all the people you listened to on like classic vintage records, thats the way those people made that money. But now where we’re at, there are so many revenue streams that have just been destroyed by multiple effects, but technology being one of them for the better or for the worse. But it’s like any business. You gotta adapt to the times and adapt to the technology.
ROP: So with your touring schedule, there are stretches where you have several days in a row of shows, but then three days off. When that happens, with those gaps, do you guys have those breaks scheduled with things to do and plans made, or do those breaks kinda sneak up on you?
EP: It kinda happens both ways. There’s sometimes the breaks will sneak up on us, but then sometimes we’ll be in a cool part of the country and we’ll really take advantage of that. Like you said, with tandem days off we’ll maybe rent an airbnb somewhere to spend some time in a certain place, do some activities like disc golf or go on hikes and some nature exploration. When we’re able to plan, we definitely do.
ROP: How about the break after Philly?
EP: Yeah I think we’re goin’ to that huge New York park? Adirondack? Yeah we’re lookin’ at that one.
ROP: Plenty of hiking and disc golf there, right?
EP: Oh yeah.
Don’t forget to check out their kickstarter and we’ll see you at the Foundry on Saturday!