Chris Ward is all about the details. I decide that immediately during my Tuesday afternoon conversation with the Pattern Is Movement drummer — and not just because he can recall with vivid detail a show he played in my college town more than six years ago. I kind of knew it going in to our interview, though. It was obvious to me on first listen how clearly Ward and bandmate Andrew Thiboldeaux thought through every bit of their band's new, self-titled album. From Ward's nimble, complex drum parts (perfectly paired with Thiboldeaux's richly layered vocals) to the impeccable orchestral flourishes, every moment of the LP is
meticulous — but the best kind of meticulous. The kind that doesn't feel labored-over at all, but instead a complete, confident artistic statement. They've been working on the album in some way or another for more than five years, and every moment of work shows. It is bold, intricate and dense, but it breathes in the right moments, too.
Pattern Is Movement will play at the Hi-Fi tonight with DMA.
NUVO: Let's kick it off with something simple: why self-title the album? Does it signal a restart for the band?
Chris Ward: Well, I don't know that it means anything. Actually, a friend of mine recommended it, and it just kind of sat well with Andrew and I. I personally like the phrase Pattern Is Movement; I don't necessarily like it as a band name, to be very honest, but that's what happens when you choose your band name 10 years ago. But the phrase is beautiful, and so, as an album title I liked it. I guess I would say that this record feels like a culmination for Andrew and I. It feels representative of what who we are now and
who we were as children, because we've been making music since we were kids. So there's this past and present vibe with it that's kind of nice. I think calling it Pattern Is Movement spoke to this culmination.
NUVO: I read through several interviews you've given around the album release, and something that stuck out was an interview you gave to a Nebraska publication where you're talking about a change in recording drums. You said you wanted to do the drums last, because you wanted to have the song recorded and actually respond to Andrew's parts instead of playing to a click track or a scratch track. Have you done this before? How did the change work out?
Ward: It's brand new. I've actually never really heard of anybody doing it. I imagine someone's done it, but I've never heard of it. Pretty much every single record I've ever played on in my life, whether it be for this band or someone else's band, drums are the foundation. A lot of engineers like to start with drums because the drums set the tone of the record. So if your drums are going to be really big, then everything fits in it. But if your drums are going to be tiny, everything sits on top of it. That's why a lot of engineers personally like to do it that way, kind of like building a house so to speak.
But that's really limiting as a drummer. Generally what you're playing to is like a click track or a really crappy demo. If you're not in a band that plays live together — which some bands do, go into a studio and all play at the same time – but most bands these days are multi-tracking. Which means you're playing to kind of a crappy, scratch demo. And the demo has no connection to the song. It's just the skeleton. So, I hated it. I just hated it and never liked my drums on the record, because we'd start playing the song live and I would have all these ideas. And I'd think, I would have had all of these ideas [in the studio] if I would have heard the song. But I wouldn't hear the song until after it's dubbed. So I felt a little cheated, personally, in a musical way, until I thought about how to change that. So, I said to Andrew, "I'd like to play the drums at the end." And he said, “That sounds like a good idea.”
That was definitely a challenging idea, because not only is there Andrew's parts, but there's all these live instruments. Trumpets, French horn, marimba. And all these players don't play rock music; they play orchestral music and orchestral musicians don't really play to a click. So they had to play to a click, but [with] every incremental instrument you put on there, you start messing with the time, the click. It was kind of daunting, but then for whatever reason, I like a click track, so it actually worked. It felt like my drumming got better because of that. It's not totally in time; it can't be. You'd have so many people overdubbing on a song that you just naturally start having things go ahead of the click or behind the click. But that speaks to my drumming, because I like to mix it up a little bit, sometimes playing ahead of the click and sometimes playing behind the click.
To summarize, Andrew's the lead singer, and I would argue that I'm a lead drummer. And a lead singer would never record to a scratch track, so that's how I felt about it. I think that my drumming definitely is better on this record for it.
NUVO: I want to know more about how the process of using There Will Be Blood to see how the album stood up to imagery affected your final release. I read about the album party you had at PhilaMOCA
Ward: What happened was, for whatever reason, when Andrew sent me the demos of the record, there was some kind of connection my brain made with the demo and There Will Be Blood.
There's actually no connection between the two, it's just me making that connection. So I'm the drummer of the band, but I'm also part of the production of the band. I'm helping engineer. I wasn't the lead engineer on the album, that was Dave Downham manning the ship, so to speak. But I was part of consulting the sound and a part of editing. And it's really, really hard to do that. Really hard to listen to your music and feel like you can have distance. So I would perform these drum parts, and I'm part of 50 percent of the band, and when I start helping to mix it, I just absolutely feel a real strain to go, “Is this good or not?” Because I don't know – I'm so invested in it. The lead engineer, he didn't write that song, so he has some distance. He can go, “Oh, this part, that part.”
I just had this idea, that while we were mixing and got to a place where we're happy with the mix, we turn off the computer screen and turn on this TV that I brought, and we just play the song to a scene that I selected in There Will Be Blood.
And let me just see if it holds up emotionally. Not, “the snare is too loud,” because that's the thing. You get wrapped up in, is the snare too loud? Is the marimba [right]?" That's not what anybody's listening to when they listen to the record. What they're listening to is a conversation. They're having a relationship with your song. And that's why I think music is so powerful in film, because there's subtlety to it, there's subliminal relationships when you're listening to something, but you're watching it.
In some ways, I think music in a film kind of shows its colors. If it's really good, you're going to feel something. If it's not that good, you're going to kind of be like, “Eh, whatever. That was just a song written for the film.” I wanted it to be a test. It was a test for me to see if this song emotionally held up. It was more of a tool in the mixing process.
And then I told a bunch of friends about this, and they said, “That's kind of unreal, I've never heard of that. You should cut that together in a film and show it.” There's a film festival in Philadelphia, and so I went ahead and did that and showed it to the public. A lot of people do a listening party. We did a viewing party, is what I called it. So the first time anybody heard the record in public was watching it to Daniel Day Lewis getting some oil out of the ground.
NUVO: You recorded partially in Sigma Sound Studios, correct? When I started reading about your recording there, I started to think about Sound City and Sun Studios, and thinking about the effects of recording in a historically important place on a record. What effects do you think it had, if it had any, on this record?
Ward: So, Sigma now is completely different than it was then. It sold a couple different times, so it doesn't look anything like the original. However, you do have a lot of original gear. Studios back in the day, everybody had the same gear, but they would actually have someone mod it for them, mod it specifically for their studio. So there was a bunch of stuff modded for Sigma. So, there's a real strong possibility that Stevie Wonder went through this pre-amp, or good possibility David Bowie did. So we felt like there was some ghosts in the machine, so that was nice.
But Sigma in the '90s started doing a lot of hip-hop and R&B, and Erykah Badu was living in Philly and did some stuff there. The Roots did stuff there. From what I heard, maybe D'Angelo cut a couple things there for Brown Sugar.
And what was great was, we were in the A Room, the big room, but there were all these small little studios. And it wasn't people actually mixing records; it was these guys who just write tunes for like R. Kelly or Drake or whatever. They just sit in there for like 20 hours, all day, just keep writing songs. And they would come into the room and be like, “Hey, what are you working on?” That was kind of inspiring, because there's definitely an R&B turn on this record. That's what I got the most out of Sigma. I felt a connection to my past, as a kid who grew up on R&B and hip-hop pretty hard. I took a turn in my life playing rock and roll and indie rock, but it felt full-circle for me. That's what Sigma really did for me. I felt like it really drew out the R&B. It gave me courage to say, “Yeah, that's a good idea. Let's really have the bass really, really loud.” I feel like Sigma helped us do that.
NUVO: You brought up earlier the orchestral players, which make up some of my favorite little moments on this record. The little flourishes, like the horns at the end of “Suckling” and the strings mid-way through “Gone My Love.” Who did you bring in to do this? Or did Andrew do most of that?
Ward: Andrew actually was going to a lot of concerts in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute.
It's like Juilliard. ... It's these kids who are insanely gifted, and you go for free. But the thing is, you don't leave until they tell you. You can't graduate until they're like, “You're ready.” Andrew was going to these concerts and meeting these kids and telling them about the record. And they were stoked on it. So a couple of them played on the record, and he had some other connections to other players. So that's what happened; it was just these people who dug the idea of the record.
Andrew and I, our idea was [for it to be] a very orchestral record, but something that we both share is that sometimes on record orchestral stuff gets a little precious, a little special. I immediately always think about the Goo-Goo Dolls. It's humongous and you're like, “Oh, this is so powerful.” Andrew and I wanted to go in a different direction; we almost wanted all the orchestral parts to sound like it was a sample off the record. For instance, on “Gone My Love,” I wanted to distress those parts so you can't … there's a lot going on there. But the way I glued it together, so it sounded like this one part coming off an old record. Like you would have heard an orchestra playing on a record in the '50s, where there's so much sound coming to the microphone that it kind of overloads it and glues it together so you have one picture. Rather than, like, The Goo-Goo Dolls where you hear everything separately, in this humongous orchestra. So that was the idea, that we wanted the orchestral pieces to feel like we were sampling them.
NUVO: I was trying to figure out on “Make It Right,” if it was live bells or ...
Ward: We actually had a marimba player. The first song, “River,” has this crazy cascading sound on it in the beginning. That's actually a person playing a marimba. That's not a sample, that's a person playing that part.
NUVO: Have you listened to the self-titled San Fermin record? That comes to mind for me in this conversation; [Ellis Ludwig-Leone's] recorded it while at the Banff Conservatory with all these players from the Conservatory, then adapted it for live shows. How does that work out for you, when you have so many live players in the studio, adapting it for the road?
Ward: We got a new bandmate.
NUVO: Oh, yeah?
Ward: It's called a MacBook. We don't have to pay him, he doesn't drink, he can always drive right after the show.
NUVO: And he's so small he can fit right in the van.
Ward: Right in the van. Andrew and I, we used to be a five-piece. Now we're a two-piece. On our older record, All Together,
we pulled it off live. Pretty much Andrew pulled it off live, he tried to play everything one-man band style. It kind of worked, but it could be frazzled, or it could be too energetic, almost. It didn't have any sexiness, or chilled out vibes that were on the record. So when we made the record, we said, “We're going to make the record and I don't care how we're going to play it live.” That was the philosophy. I don't care. We'll figure it out; there's the Internet. This is not 1994, we can figure this out. Let's not let this dictate how we make the record. We were never going to take players out. A) we can't afford it and B) it's just not feasible with the size band we are and the clubs that we play.
We originally were going to chop up all the songs and then hire a person to sample in real time with us, so there was no track. We could all be playing live, but you could essentially take all your songs and cut them up into tiny samples and play them on time. And then, I went and saw a documentary a little bit ago called The Art of Rap.
And for whatever reason, I had this epiphany – granted, I was very stoned – but I was watching it and watching these dudes rap in this old, old footage where they're rapping to two dudes on a turntable. Then you go to late '80s, early '90s and all of a sudden people are playing to tracks. And I was like, “We should play to track. Why don't we do that?”
And we had talked about it. But it was daunting to play to track. It kind of changes the whole dynamic. What if it's going to curtail our energy? What if we're going to be kind of yelled at by the track essentially? What if the tracks take over? Is it going to be boring? The Fugazi person inside of me comes from that world of, you play your instrument. [And that's] not an instrument, it's a computer.
I also book a club in Philadelphia, that's my day job, so I've been really watching bands for the last five years. There's just more and more bands playing to track, and it's just getting better and better. It's just not what it used to be, when you're playing to an iPod and someone sings, and maybe there's like a ukelele or something. It's more complex. So, the short side of the story is, we decided to play to track. So, the tracks are coming. I'm playing drums. Andrew is playing bass. The bass that you hear on the record, he's playing that through a synthesizer. He has another keyboard that's connected to his voice, so he can do live harmonies through the keyboard. So it sounds like a vocoder. The bass, that was the thing for me, for him to play the bass live. Because that's usually the most compelling part of a record for me.
Recorded at The Gradwell House
Produced by David Downham & Pattern is Movement
Engineered by David Downham
Additional Engineering by
Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recording
Michael Johnson at Ape School
Chris Ward at Gradwell House
Mixed at The Gradwell House & Sigma Sound
Mixed by David Downham
Additional mixing by Chris Ward at The Gradwell House & Sigma Sound
Mastered by Tony Dawsey at Masterdisk
Pattern is Movement is
Andrew - vocals, keyboards, bass, percussion
Chris - drums, percussion
Additional musicians -
Marimba on tracks 1, 2, 3, 7 by Mari Yoshinaga
Trumpet on tracks 3, 4, 5, 8, 9 by Josh Anderson
French Horn on tracks 3, 4, 6, 7, 10 by Adam Lesnick
French Horn on tracks 8, 9 by Trish Giangiulio
Clarinet on tracks 3, 4 by Kelly Coyle
Violin on tracks 2, 3, 6, 10 by Becky Anderson