There are some unspoken rules that bands everywhere apply: set the precedent, always experiment, and stay true to yourselves. But those rules may not be seen anywhere better than with Silversun Pickups. The Los Angeles four-piece (vocalist and guitarist Brian Aubert; bassist Nikki Monninger; Joe Lester, keyboards; and Chris Guanlao on drums) has been a force in rock, both popular and constantly interesting, since its 2006 debut record, "Carnavas." And with its new album, "Better Nature," the band holds fast to those notions of experimentation while maintaining the classic Silversun sound: shimmering guitar, electronic synth, and dreamlike vocals.
The band is heading to the Main Street Armory on Saturday, March 26, for the Spring Fling tour with Cage the Elephant, Foals, and Bear Hands. City spoke with drummer Chris Guanlao about the band's longevity, influence, and the creative process surrounding the new album. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
City: By the time you guys get to Rochester, the tour will be almost over. What's been one of the personal highlights for you guys on the tour so far? Anything crazy happen yet?
Chris Guanlao: I think the most interesting story that's happened so far was that I was talking to Yannis [Philippakis] from Foals and I was telling him we need to calm down. We're only four days in and we've been partying so much. But we've all been getting along and there's a mutual respect between all the bands.
You guys have been around the longest of any band on this tour. Does it feel strange to be touring with bands that have all gained their notoriety in the past five or six years?
Not really; I mean I guess I hadn't thought of it that way. We do kind of feel like the elder statesman on this tour, but we feel we've got so much to learn and do ourselves.
Have any of the other bands asked for any tips?
They've done it all, and so have we. Us and Cage the Elephant, we feel like we're the older siblings. Bear Hands is the youngest among all of us, and they have asked us a few questions, but just general tour questions since this is their first bus tour. In that sense it's been really cool.
On "Better Nature," was there a specific overarching message to the album that you guys poured into it?
We went into "Better Nature" wanting to go back to very mathematical, repetitive drum sounds, and dabble a little more electronically. We'd already started doing a bit of that. We put in a lot of soundtrack-y elements into it. We were listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone. But there is a sort of continuity throughout the album -- nothing too extreme, though. We wanted it to be pretty subtle
We don't really go in having a mission statement. We always want to challenge ourselves. At the end of the day we always end up sounding like ourselves.
Obviously you guys listen to a lot of music yourselves. How do you compromise with outside influences when you're writing a new album?
We're definitely into that, and we love anything that sounds interesting. It's always kind of what's in front of us. Working with Jacknife [Lee], he always had stuff in front of us. For example, we never thought of using a vibraphone, then one day Jacknife says, "Hang on, this guy's dropping off a vibraphone I got on Craigslist." At one point I was playing bongos.
At this moment in time, do you feel more creatively free than in the past, or more constricted by certain means?
We're definitely not constricted. We have our own record label now, New Machine. We've never felt pressure to write something specifically. Our old label was very good in letting us alone with our creative devices.
How was your experience using PledgeMusic for the first time on an album?
We're fine with it. We understand it's something to do now, and it can go beyond selling records. It does help connect you with your fans a lot better in a way we weren't able to do before. One of our rewards on Pledge was hand signed postcards from the whole band, and we got really into it and it was like we were writing home from summer camp. It's the attitude you come to it with. I think it helps.