This interview is from the infamous issue number fiver of Sergeant Sparrow Magazine. The year Sergeant Sparrow finished issue five we decided to disband the printing of our magazine. Since that time it seems that The Tallest Buildings does not have their music online. Their music is incredible and I will post it as soon as I can. Please enjoy their interview.- Sergeant Sparrow
Where are you located? Where are you from? How have these locations shaped your creative output?
I grew up around the town of Marquette, in the upper peninsula of Michigan and live there today. Marquette is a very remote, small college town that lends itself to a certain outdoor lifestyle. I’m kind of a homebody, and I think small town life suits my interests. I spent a few years in bigger cities, but I think I’m happier and more productive in a small community.
What type of artist would you say you are?
I’m a songwriter and an arranger. I’m not a great technician on any instrument I play, nor do I try to be. However, if there is any art to what I do, it is in crafting a strange combination of melody, rhythm, harmony, and words and orchestrating them with different sounds. Those are the things I really try to develop and practice. I have lots of ideas, anyway.
Give us a brief history of your music.
The Tallest Buildings started out in 2009 as a fairly unremarkable indie rock band. It was the first band I ever sang in, or played guitar in, or wrote songs for, so it was pretty rough going. We had fun for about a year, and then people got jobs, got married or moved away. In the spring of 2010 I decided to forge ahead, and recruited Austin and Alexis to form a new version of the band. Austin and Alexis had occasionally played with the original version of The Tallest Buildings, and had recorded on some demo tracks with us. So, we had three people and a basement full of miscellaneous instruments: synthesizer, glockenspiel, guitar, a few tom toms. Over the course of three or four months, we developed about a dozen songs, played a handful of shows in the Midwest, and recorded Post Traumatic Address, promptly “breaking up” in September when they left for college.
What are your songs about? What inspires your lyrics and themes (if any)?
These days my songs are a lot more thematically sound. The songs on Post Traumatic Address are much more abstract; maybe too much so. But I think a certain fascination with the darker side of human nature informs my lyrics. Jealousy, sorrow, loneliness, bitterness; these things are more interesting than happiness.
How did you go about recording Post Traumatic Address?
We recorded this album at our friend Chuck Ritola’s home studio in the tiny town of Atlantic Mine, Michigan. Chuck did a great job and put a lot of work into these tracks. We recorded six songs over two days, and four of them ended up on the finished product. When we played live, each of us would switch instruments several times during each song; in “Drums for Birds,” for instance, I think Alexis would sing while playing glockenspiel, a tom tom, a tambourine, and violin. So, when we went into Chuck’s studio, we were able to multitrack each of these instrument transitions and do a few things we didn’t have enough limbs for live. I was really proud of Alexis and Austin for literally learning how to play some of these instruments for the first time. We were really well rehearsed when we started, and it was a lot of fun.
What inspired the theme of the album?
The theme of family dissolution comes partly from trying to tie some of the more abstract lyrics into an overarching narrative, however loosely, and partly from the cover art of the album. That photograph is a baby picture of someone close to me, and I thought the image of a snow-suited baby eating dog food would be an interesting image for these songs to revolve around. I started to disregard the context of the photo and wonder, “what if this is really a photo of an abandoned child surviving on whatever it could find?”
How have emotions affected your song writing? Are they beneficial or malevolent, or do you write from a nonemotional space?
I think most of the emotions for my songs are negative. I wouldn’t necessarily say malevolent, though some certainly are, but most of them come from my tendency to criticize, overanalyze, and generally find reasons to be unhappy.
As a creative person, how has your creativity affected your life? Is it positive, negative, or both? Have the people in your life been supportive of creativity and if not what have you done to overcome that non-support?
I’m glad I’m a creative person. I come from a creative and musical family, and I tend to surround myself with creative people. However, sometimes I wonder if I would be a happier person if I wasn’t creative. Maybe I could enjoy more things, at least. In any case, I have a hard time imagining a life in which I didn’t try to create things in some way, so I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon.
What are your top five favorite albums?
I think everyone has trouble with this sort of question, but five albums that really inspired Post Traumatic Address are: Pavement’s Brighten the Corners
Dirty Projector’s Bitte Orca
Animal Collective’s Feels
Sufjan Steven’s Michigan
Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest
I think we kind of wear some of these on our sleeves, but they’re great albums.