erasing clouds

Everything Is Happening: An Interview with Alex Church of Irving

by Dave heaton

Even in the world of independent label rock music, where more attention is at least nominally paid to songs and songwriting than to surface-level things like hair style and demeanor, it's hard to understand why some albums are considered masterpieces while others aren't given that much attention. I were a betting man, last year I would have placed my money on Good Morning Beautiful, the debut album from the Los Angeles-based band Irving, as one of those albums that gets slobbered over and placed on a pedestal by anyone who's anyone as the album you need to hear. Oh well, that's why I don't gamble. The album's still in stores for people to fall in love with, and Irving are still pushing on and making great music. Their latest release, I Hope You're Feeling Better Now, is a 5-song EP that has the same qualities that made their album so great: diversity of style (they go from on-fire 60s-style rave-ups to lazy afternoon pop daydreaming to radio-ready sing-along anthems) and the ability to form their disparate impulses into one cohesive sound, plus a stellar ear for melody, a playful attitude, and lyrics that are witty and heartfelt. With five songwriters and a confident, alluring sound, Irving seem like they could take over the world, and by all means I hope they do.

{Note: The below interview with Irving bassist Alex Church was conducted over email earlier this week}

The story in your band's biography is that Irving formed when you, Steven, and Brian were asked to play music for an art gallery opening. Is that correct? What did the music you played that night sound like? Had the three of you played together much before?

Yeah, that's pretty much right. I met those guys almost a year before that, and we were pretty tight just as friends. Music was one interest we all had in common, and we worked on some stuff together and made 4-track tapes-we had dreams of having an actual band one day. As for the music that night(which was actually 2 nights) it was all very accoustic, with all three of us playing accoustic guitars, Shana(our first keyboard player) on a baby grand piano, an upright bass player, a cello player, and drums. We got compared to the Velvet Underground, but I don't think we were as cool or developed as them. It was all sort of accidental.

How long have you personally been writing songs and making music? Were you in other bands before Irving-if so, what did they sound like?

I've been writing songs for about 7 years, playing guitar for that long, and bass for 11 years. Irving's my first band, though I 'jammed' with people here and there before that.

All 5 of you are songwriters, right? Are the band's songs written by you each individually, or do you sometimes write together as a group? What are the good and bad sides to having that many songwriters in one group?

Yeah all 5 of us write, though mostly it's me, Steven, and Brian who contribute songs to the band. Brent contributes maybe a song a year, and Aaron has yet to contribute, though he probably will some day. We tend to write individually, though Steven and Brian work together a lot, and lately I've been hooking up with Brian to work on stuff too. The next album will probably have more collaboration with songs. We generally never write songs as a whole band, but rarely do we bring a song in to the band that doesn't end up getting changed considerably. The advantages of having so many songwriters is that you have lots of songs to choose from, so you end up having a lot of good songs. But the flipside to that is that there are different personalities involved, and sometimes having a cohesive set that sounds like one band can be difficult. We try to make the most of that scenario, make the most of our eclectic nature, though since we've collaborating more lately, I think the cohesion is becoming a bit easier.

You have a new EP out, I Hope You're Feeling Better Now. Are those newly recorded songs, or songs leftover from Good Morning Beautiful?

Uh..."White Hot" is a leftover from the Andy Paley sessions that we did before recording Good Morning Beautiful. We added some new parts and re-mixed it. "The Curious Thing About Leather" is one of our oldest songs. It was originally recorded with Brent Rademaker (Beachwood Sparks)for our first demo, but we redid it for the EP. The other songs are all new.

The final song on the EP, "Please Give Me Your Heart, Is All I Need," is really intriguing to me, the way it sounds like two songs spliced together. What can you tell me about it?

Yeah, Steven wrote that song. He's really into creative arrangements like that and tends to offer up a lot of really interesting ones. I can't speak for him, but I personally liked the kind of role reversal that that arrangement creates: the woman being all about sex, and the man all about love. I also thought of it as a sort of Kaito meets Irving song where you have this sort of fast punk song spliced together with a harmony soaked pop song.

The split-personality feeling of that song seems to me representative of your music as a whole, which often bridges genres. To what extent would you describe the band's approach as "anything goes"? Do the band members have as diverse tastes in music as it seems?

We definitely have diverse tastes in music. It's hard not to have multiple influences when modern popular music has been so diversified, and continues to change and progress every day. I wouldn't say we have a 'split-personality' as much as a 'complete personality'. That is, one that has a dark and a light side, and everything in between. We're definitely not "anything goes" either, there's a lot of shit we don't like.

How influential has the music of the 1960s been on your sound? To me, your music sounds equally influenced by the past and present, but there's definite '60s touchpoints here and there.

Yeah, I think the 60's might be our (most of us anyway) favorite time period in music history. Though we like music from all eras, including a lot of contemporary stuff. I think the 60's touchpoints might be what help identify our songs as Irving songs, but we just want to be a contemporary band, one that reflects what is happening right now. And everything is happening right now.

How did you end up working with Andy Paley on a couple songs? When you worked with him, was there a particular sound you were striving for? Those two songs ("L-O-V-E" and "White Hot") have a somewhat similar mood about them.

Andy had a scout out looking for new bands for him to work with. He fell in love with our demo and offered to record us. He came to our practice space and we showed him 20 or 30 songs. He chose the 5 most 60's sounding songs, the ones he identified with the most, and we recorded them with him. We kind of just let him take the reigns on those songs, and that's how they ended up. We learned a lot from him, but personally I thought the songs were too 60's. He just wasn't in touch with all the other music we liked and were influenced by, and the resulting tracks didn't really feel like us. We did like "White Hot" and "L-O-V-E" though, so we decided to put those out.

If you don't mind revealing, what's the deal with the answering machine message about Willie Nelson at the end of "Eyes Adjust to the Light"? Was that for real?

Yeah, that was for real. That was a message our friend Mel Kadel's (she did the artwork for Good Morning Beautiful) dad left on her machine. It was one of those messages that you save because it is so classic. It was sort of a last minute bit of inspiration to put it on the end of that song. I always say that was our way of getting Willie Nelson(whom we all really like a lot, but aren't really influenced by musically)on the record.

You'll be touring throughout the month of October and part of November. How would you describe the approach you take to playing live?

Uh...the biggest challenge is always the set. Getting a set that flows properly, is exciting, and constantly interesting. Once that's done we just practice it a bunch and then play it out. I think a lot of people are surprised by us live. We're more animated than they expected, and when we can actually get a good vocal mix in our monitors (rare) we tend to stick harmonies that I think people are impressed by. I don't know...we just try to be ourselves and have fun.

Do you have plans set for recording another album? Any other projects that you or the other band members are involved in?

We've started writing songs for and recording our next album, though I think it's going to be a while until we finish it (hopefully by Spring). We'd like to release it by the end of next year. As for other projects, we're all involved in the Ship (, a collective of artists and bands centered in North East LA. We've been known to play an occasional tambourine or shook shook or guitar or whatever on other Ship band(Earlimart, Pine Marten, Panty Lions, Silversun Pickups, Let's Go Sailing, us) recordings. Individually we've got side projects too: Steven has Scott Family Truckster, Brian has Mayonaise, I have Sea Wolf...though I think only Sea Wolf is active now.

One last question: if a song, album, movie, concert, book or artwork has really blown you away recently, please tell us what it was.

I really liked Lost in Translation, the new Sofia Coppola film. I highly recommend it.


Issue 16, October 2003

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Note: The above photo of Irving was taken by Gail Salmo. From left to right, the band members are Alex Church (bass), Aaron Burrows (keyboards), Steven Scott (guitar), Brian Canning (guitar), and Brent Turner (drums).