Some people become overwhelmed by existential angst. the Greening use it to fuel their creative drive.
“A lot of our friends and their friends are getting married, settling down,” Karl Meischen, lead singer and keyboardist of the band, tells me over the phone despite harboring a rough hangover. “Lots of people see life as having a certain trajectory. But we don’t fit that pattern.”
Music fans should feel lucky that the group is so restless, because their fourth, eponymous LP is a truly fantastic explosion of fundamentally catchy and skillfully constructed rock and roll, featuring influences that span the genre’s long and fruitful history. Three quick examples: there’s the Cheap Trick-esque power-pop punch of opener “Who’s To Say,” the thundering hard-rock shuffle of “Vaporizer” with its rolling drums and epic keyboard solo echoing the late great John Lord, and the bouncing “Midas Call” containing shades of classic 2 Tone ska with its playful use of the upbeat. There’s also plenty of head-tripping electro psychedelia to go along with the big pop hooks, twisting the listener around surprising sonic curves, turning their perception of the pop song upside down, and keeping them genuinely engaged minute after minute, track after track.
Karl filled me in on exactly what went into the making of their spectacular new LP.
The Bay Bridged: You’ve mentioned before that you feel the new album is your strongest yet. I feel that way too, but can you explain what, to you, makes this record stand above the others?
Karl Meischen: There’s a few elements. This was the first album we mixed professionally. We usually took a DIY approach and mixed previous albums ourselves, but Sunrunners connected us to Steve Wall who did a great job. I also think the songwriting on the album is, for the first time, completely realized. Maybe it’s the typical thing of getting tired of playing your older work, but I think on the new songs we’ve finally captured the dynamics we’ve always wanted, that balance between pop hooks and prog-rock. They’re almost like mini epics and even though this is our shortest album it feels longer because of the complex arrangements.
Also, the addition of Adam (Pallin) on bass really helped. He had a strong input on the new album and it helped to make the process feel like a real group effort.
TBB: That balance between pop and prog – there’s a lot of musical tension there. Does trying to write songs that are both experimental and accessible present a distinct challenge to you as a songwriter? Does it wear you out, creatively, at times?
KM: I don’t know. There are periods of frustration, especially when you’re trying to write a specific kind of song, like a straight-ahead rocker. Whatever we write for the day is what we stick with. The tension can wear on us maybe when creating a setlist for a show, or constructing the album track list, putting them in an order that doesn’t sound disjointed or loosely thrown together. Another reason I like the new album so much is because it sounds really cohesive and unified.
TBB: The Greening has been around for quite awhile in the Bay Area scene. When did you guys start and what were some of the challenges you’ve faced as a band over the years?
KM: I distinctly remember The Greening officially starting when Nick (Tatro) answered an ad for a drummer on January 1, 2001. Will (Loving, guitarist and singer) and I met at SF State and have been writing music together for almost twenty years. There was a huge gap of years between our first and second albums because we decided to save our money and invest in building our own personal recording studio. Besides that we’ve all gone through personal turmoil. It’s life, tragedy gets thrown your way, bitter breakups happen, we’ve lost family members…we’ve had our share of problems.
TBB: Has it ever gotten to the point where you considered quitting completely?
KM: Certainly…but not that strongly. We’ve been able to iron out our personal relationships over the years. I’ve had the fortune of starting the band with Will and Nick, the only two people on this planet more eccentric than me (laughs). But Adam helps to keep us grounded and balance out the group. We love what we do and we love making records, so we’re gonna keep doing that until we can’t anymore.
TBB: The lyrics on the album are pretty dark, and they definitely deal with that “existential frustration” you mentioned to me. Was writing this album a cathartic experience for you personally?
KM: Definitely. I mentioned the ups and downs we’ve been through as a band over the past couple years. Along with that there have been some intense feelings of searching. Will and I are in the middle of our 30s and we’re living a lifestyle that doesn’t fit in with a lot of our friends at this point. On a subconscious level there’s the question: Is there a point to anything we’re doing at all? Then there’s the frustration with the country’s politics and the mess it has become. I was born the year Reagan was elected, and I understand that the generational political divide is happening because people under 45 have not had a good experience with capitalism. I’m an after-school teacher, I love what I do, but I don’t make much money, and I understand how ridiculous my situation in San Francisco is. If I didn’t have rent control I couldn’t live here. I’m aware of how shitty things are for a lot of people in this city, in this country. There’s a lot of confusion and frustration, both personal and within the larger society, and that’s all been processed through the music.
But at heart I’m an optimistic. I think we can still turn things around.
The Greening’s new self-titled album will be officially released this Friday.