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Laymen Terms – Taking the High Road

Andy Tanner – vocals/guitar, piano
Justin Blair – bass/back up vocals
Seth Thompson – guitar
Jameson Becker – drums

It was kind a gloomy Sunday in 2002 when I first met up with Laymen Terms, each of using cups of coffee at Pikes Perk to warm up our insides and clear up the fog from the night before.

In the past two years the band went through the evolutions that bands go through, changes in members, changes in themselves, and of course, changes in their music. At the time they were more known for having punk and rock influences, as time has moved forward, Andy’s writing skills have flowered into something deeper, with bigger leanings in the world of intricate pop orchestrations.

A few months back I had run into Jameson Becker, the group’s original drummer. He was excited as a young boy who just got his first puppy at the completion of their latest release, Drive to Nowhere; Verity’s Novel, on Suburban Home Records. He knew it that time that it had taken them several levels beyond where they had been, and he was right.

Laymen Terms now runs closer with the Nick Drake, Modest Mouse, and The Shins crowd than fans of Jawbreaker or Ultimate Fakebook. There’s a spooky serenity to this Novel, one that’s cloaked in sheer layers of piano and acoustic guitar, crackling like a blazing fire in the master suite, and inviting as a warmed sifter of brandy.

I got a chance to catch up with Andy about the journey he took in creating Drive To Nowhere, and about the next change for the band as Jameson plays his last few gigs with the band.

Kaffeine Buzz: I went back and looked at the last time we did the interview and it was over two years ago.

Andy Tanner: Really? Wow.

KB: A lot has gone on since then.

AT (laughs): Yea…a whole lot. We did a single about a year ago for this album.

KB: Three Week’s In?

AT: Yea, and the last album was around two and a half, three years ago. It was right before you did that interview.

KB: The CD artwork for this new one is really impressive. Tell me about the artists and how you came about putting this together. It seems like some type of scary, enchanted forest setting.

AT: I haven’t actually seen it yet. Not the finished album anyway. Our friend Jon Orr did the artwork. It’s all scratchboard, which is done with a razor blade. It takes a really long time.

KB: Each scene seems to really capture the mood of the whole album.

AT: That’s what’s great. It’s like a workbook, that’s kind of the whole idea. It kind of reminds of those books when you were a little kid about creatures under the bed.

KB: So where were you coming from when you put the album’s concept together, and how long has the album been in the making?

AT: I’m not really sure, it was just this story I had in my head. We starting writing 3 Weeks In right when Devon [Bryant, former bassist] left. So about two years I guess. But I would say it’s really been about a year that we’ve been writing songs. It all just kind of came together…I didn’t write the songs from the beginning to fit this concept. I just listened to the songs a lot and the lyrics that I wrote just to put it together so it made sense. Then I told Jon the artist about my ideas and how I had the songs in order, and he listened to it while he was doing the artwork.

KB: You can definitely pick up on that.

AT: The sequencing of the album…I pretty much went crazy with it ’cause I was obsessed with putting the perfect sequence together (laughing). That alone took me like two months, two hours a day. And I’m still not happy with it.

KB: That’s the thing about being an artist of any kind. I don’t think one ever gets to a place where they’re completely content. Just as a writer, I hate going back to look at some of my stuff ’cause there’s a million things I would change or say differently. I’ve talked to visual artists who can’t look at their artwork anymore because they want to keep changing it, and they get sick of looking at it because they can’t. I think it’s the constant mode of creation that you can’t get away from.

AT: And that’s why every time I listen to the album I think it’s too long or it’s not in the right order. And everyone’s like, “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” So finally I just had to let go…just let it be.

KB: Yea, it’s hard to tour when you’re in a retirement home. “Okay, it’s finally ready!”

AT (laughing): I just can’t tell ’cause I’m so deep into it.

KB: Well, that’s what you have to remind yourself of, what you just said. And you’re getting this out to people who may have heard you, but have never heard this before. They’re going to have a completely different response than you, the person who knows it inside and out.

AT: Exactly.

KB: While it is very moody, your band overall has grown just in the sheer size of your sound. It’s much more sophisticated…

AT: Ever since Seth [Thompson, guitarist] joined the band we just opened up a lot. Added the quietness of the piano, and never restricted ourselves. We don’t force anything and say, “Let’s try to make every song different.” You know what I mean?

KB: Yea, I think there’s just a level of intuition. How long have you been playing the piano?

AT: I’ve been playing since I was a freshman in high school. So I guess about eight…nine years.

KB: Are you self-taught?

AT: Yea. I don’t read music that well. I’ve always written classical pieces and then incorporated pop stuff into it.

KB: The popularity of piano seemed to come about in pop about 10 years ago and it definitely is coming back around again. It seems like there’s so much negativity around, so we need to go back to something that sooths the soul.

AT: There’s a lot of negative music, and one of the things I try to do lyrically is write hopeful music. There’s so much depressing music, like…Disturbed…it’s so negative. There’s not enough hopeful music and there should be, especially right now. And that’s all I’ve ever listened to, is music that’s helped me.

KB: So who is this Mrs. Allyson? She sounds like some long lost school grade teacher.

AT: It’s made up…this guy’s just looking back at his life and at this lost love that he never had.

KB: I had to laugh at the line from “Satellite” about “sick of living life over a stupid machine.” I think that this is something that anyone can relate to. We spend so much time on our computers and our cell phones, people only communicating on email or text messaging each ALL the time…blah, blah, blah. It’s like there’s no human contact anymore.

AT: I recorded that song two Christmas’ ago. It’s about my girlfriend and we lived apart for two years. She was in Ft. Collins and I was down here. We only got to see each other once a week. Then we finally didn’t have to do that anymore when she moved down here.

KB: “Ghost Party,” seems like an interlude type of song, and then you have another instrumentcal “Cabin Fever,” which is pretty intense.

AT: Actually, it was twice as long as it was when we went into the studio. We did it once through acoustic only and then we’d come in with the drums like where it starts now. So it used to be even longer. I was like a 12-minute song. That was all me and Seth…it’s like eight different songs together in one song. Or eight different ideas, that’s why no one part repeats.

KB: That’s what I picked up on. There was some kind of control chaos going on.

AT: Definitely.

KB: That’s a new side to your songwriting that you’re showing here, because you never really did instrumentals before. So this is something you’ve been evolving?

AT: Yea, it just had so much going on, so there was no need for vocals at that point. It would have probably ruined it.

KB: So Seth has made a change in your band and in the songwriting process, now Jameson is leaving the band. Are you going to be looking for someone that is slightly different from him?

AT: Yea, definitely. That’s the whole thing with Seth and what was so great about when he came in. He liked our songs but he didn’t really listen to it, he just did them his own way. So he didn’t sound like a copy of Devon. And we kind of want that with Jameson. So our new drummer…we just want someone who’s really solid, isn’t very showy, and is just hard hitting and plays straightforward.

KB: Do you have anybody in mind yet?

AT: We have a couple people in mind, a few guys we’re trying out right now.

KB: So going forward, what plans do you guys have after you get someone to replace Jameson?

AT: I guess once we get a drummer we’ll practice for about three months, get everything down, revamp everything and start touring. Hopefully, this album gets pushed a lot. We’ve put so much into it. We’ll go out to the west coast, the Midwest. We don’t want to go out to the east coast until we’re with a bigger band. It’s a lot of money to go out there just by yourself.

KB: Have you guys gone out to Europe or Japan?

AT: No, not yet. We’re hoping…waiting on Virgil. All their other bands have done it, so we’re hoping he’ll take us out there. He says it’s hard with Japan because they like the pop punk stuff.

KB: Well, maybe you start with Europe first. Your band would be something that they would be into. With all the popularity that bands like Coldplay and Keane have had out there, that’s huge over there. You guys used to have some pop punk elements, but now you’re more refined and have gotten away from that. I think that’s a good thing, because your sound now is much more original. What you have to offer is a lot more intense and has more substance.

AT: It’s a lot more personal. So you like the album?

KB: Yes, yes. Very much. I was very impressed actually. I think that the more I listen to it the more I’ll discover different details. It’s pretty cool to know bands for a few years, to see them evolve and grow over time, their songwriting and everything.

AT: Yea, that’s what I was going to say. You’ve known us for a while, seen our different line-ups and…it’s just cool to do an interview with you. Some people when they interview us want to know what our best back stage story is. I’m just not a very funny guy when it comes to stuff like that.

KB: You should just start making shit up.

AT (laughing): Yea, and I have. It would be funny if I was drunk or something, ’cause I’m usually going to work or something.

KB: You mean you don’t drink before you go on the job? It makes work so much more fun.

AT: Well, yea. But I work with kids, so…

KB: Yikes, that’s probably not such a good idea then. Well, what do you do about work when you go on tours?

AT: Well, that won’t be until January. I hope to have another job by then. But I don’t know, the market sucks right now. I’m really not that big on tours. I like to just stay home at write songs, be with my girlfriend. So I don’t think we’re ever going to tour a whole lot.

KB: That’s a tough thing. A lot of bands have succeeded because they’re touring incessantly.

AT: We’ve toured a lot, for a Colorado Springs band. Definitely more than any other Springs band. It just doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve been to Chicago seven times.

KB: But if you think of bands like No Doubt who were touring all the time for what was it? Eight years before they got big? Then again there’s those bands that have only been around since 2002 and are already on a major. So I don’t know…I just think the whole damn music business is even more unpredictable now. It’s all over the board and that’s what makes it so difficult.

AT: It’s about 80% luck.

We wish Laymen Terms a barrel full of Lucky Charms, but if anyone has the slight bit of good taste in music, they won’t need it. They’ll be playing a couple of shows in the coming weeks, one being their CD release party in the Springs at 32 Bleu on Friday, September 17 and then again the following Friday, September 24 at the Suburban Home Records 9th Anniversary Party at Rock Island.


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