Indie Music Interviews: Sand Reckoner
November, 29 2012
Boston trio, Sand Reckoner, released their first full-length, self-titled album this past May. They’ve got a sound akin to the west coast Joshua Tree collaborators, Desert Sessions, with some amazing harmonies by members Matthew Rhodes and Jonathan Lesh. I spoke with Ben Hughes about the bands writing process, the Morphine legacy, and what’s to be expected in the coming year.
Gravy and Biscuits – You released this self-titled, Sand Reckoner studio album in May.
Benjamin Hughes – Yes.
G&B – Produced by sound engineer Jim Anderson, who won an award for his work on Guns N’Roses “The Spaghetti Incident?”.
Ben – Yes.
G&B – How did you get in contact with him?
Ben – We got in contact with him because he now teaches at the university we attend, so he’s taught some classes that, not me, but some of the other band members have been a part of. They kinda had a connection with him, and were really into the way he taught, and the way he preached recording. So, we sort of reached out to him and said, “it would be great to work with you” and he got back to us, and said “that would be awesome,” and kinda took that from there and saw that as a good opportunity to work with someone who, obviously, knows his stuff.
G&B – That’s awesome, which university are you attending to right now?
Ben – Northeastern University in Boston.
G&B – And all three of you go there?
Ben – Yes.
G&B – Oh, that’s really cool. That works out really well.
Ben – (Laughs) Yeah, it’s nice.
G&B – Yeah, so, you guys are in Boston. And I know our first conversation had to do with Morphine, since we’re both huge Morphine fans.
Ben – Yeah.
G&B – I’m sure you can’t swing a cat without hitting a Morphine fan, up in Boston.
Ben – Yeah, right? Especially, at some of the college crowds we play that are more our age. Not as much, but about everywhere we go, usually the sound guys who are a little older than us, we’ll always do like a Morphine cover. They’re always like, “Wow, we didn’t see that one coming!” Yeah, everywhere we go, the sound guys in Boston seem to love Morphine.
G&B – You do a cover of “All Wrong” which is one of my favorite Morphine songs, on the Yes album. Since you don’t have a saxophone player, you just pump up the guitar on that one.
Ben – Yeah, we just treat it like a more rocked-out version, with distorted guitar.
G&B – So, Matt’s on guitar and Jonathan on bass, but they switch-off pretty regularly, it seems like.
Ben – Yeah, they both play either. They sort of split songwriting duties, both on the self-title and the EP, down the middle with who-wrote-what. They both treat them separately and then we take them as a band, and do our thing. But, whoever is playing the guitar on the track is who wrote the song.
G&B - That’s pretty versatile to be able to do that. Especially live as well.
Ben – Yeah, I’m the one that’s not doing that, so it’s easier for me (laughs).
G&B- Yeah (laughs). Well, that would be quite an act if you guys just played musical chairs all night long. So, this is obviously, a pretty well engineered album, you do have some songs on there that are lo-fi, cassette recorded, acoustic songs. Which puts a nice, diverse collection on the album. I have to say, the opening track is probably the most exciting, for me. “Shooting Bullets” is really, really cool.
Ben – Yeah. I’m a fan of that one.
G&B - I can’t think of a better song on the album to kick off with.
Ben – It’s pretty—yeah, I’m a fan of that one. That one wasn’t tape. The two tape ones are sort of the quiet, acoustic ones. The closer, “My Bird,” Matt had recorded on his own with a tape recorder in his room and we were thinking about doing it again, and then he said, you know, “I’m not sure if I like changing this album into this tape recorder thing,” and then we all agreed. Jon had an acoustic one too, “You Are The Sun,” and he said, “I want to try doing it the same way.” So, that’s how those came about. The opener is—I like that one. It’s quick.
G&B - Yeah, it’s about a minute. It’s one of the shortest songs on the album.
Ben – Yeah, it’s about two minutes long. It’s pretty short.
G&B – It’s a real heavy-hitter. Especially with those slide licks. The slide solos are really, really serious. And, going back to Morphine, the harmonica that comes in, right after the first, or second verse, reminds me of Treat Her Right’s harmonica player, Jim Fitting. Who, I’m not sure still lives in Boston or not, but that was the first thing I thought of. The first Treat Her Right album I bought, I think it was their self-titled, very similar kind of sound. When I’m reading up on your influences, you have a lot of blues influences, a lot of the stuff sounds like, what I would call “desert rock” that sort of western influence, you know?
Ben – That’s definitely, definitely true. I think that some of the songs, that didn’t make it on to the album—I mean, we’ve got so many songs floating around, it just takes forever to record them all, but some of the ones that aren’t on there would go more toward that western, desert rock type of thing. If you think those sound that way, than the others really do. But that’s certainly and influence for both Matt and Jon, as they write.
G&B – You start off with “Shooting Bullets” then move onto “Morning Star” which is a little more bluesy, but still in the same vein, and it actually reminds me of Black Angels a good bit.
Ben – Yeah.
G&B – And then, with “My Bird” and “You Are the Sun” it’s kind of getting into the folkier side of things. So, it’s a diverse collection of songs. So, the self-titled was released in May. Are you going back into the studio anytime soon?
Ben – I don’t think a full-length is going to happen anytime soon. But we are currently working in a new practice space, which is sort of turning into our own little studio. So, we are kind of experimenting in there. We’re trying to put together a small collection of songs, but we’re not sure how we’re going to release it. We might do it one-by-one, we might do it as an EP. I’m not really sure. Right now, we’re toying around with some of these other songs that have been floating around. We’ll be doing some covers. Maybe by the end of January we should have some new stuff. Again, I’m not sure how it’s going to be released.
G&B – So, you have your own studio space right now and you’re consistently recording, so to speak, I guess.
Ben – Yeah, it sort of flips back and forth between rehearsing new songs and then recording.
G&B – Do you guys have a nickname for your studio?
Ben – No, I wish we did. I wouldn’t call it our “studio” proper; it’s really just our rehearsal space. We’re sharing it with another band that we’re buds with.
G&B – Oh, cool. You have your music on Souncloud, Spotify, and a couple of other networking sites. Do you find that those work for you, in terms of feedback?
Ben – When we first put the LP out, I didn’t even know what Spotify was for a while. About a year ago at my old job, somehow it got brought up that I was in a band, and the first thing they asked was whether or not we were on Spotify. And I was like, “I don’t know what this is,” then we talked about it as a band and decided, well basically, people look all over for music, and we need to be in the places they look. It took awhile, we only recently, got onto iTunes and Spotify, but we knew that it was important.
Every person you talk to finds their music in a different way. Someone might just be content with going to your website, finding your Facebook, Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes–each person kinda has their own method. Some people want to download it to their iPod, or whatever, so it was really important to accommodate that.
So far, we found that being exclusive, I guess sort of saying, “you can only get our music on our website, for now, but you can’t download it yet. You can only stream it,” we’ve seen other bands do that and frankly I feel like, at least personally, there is so much music out there, that if you’re going to limit the way people can listen to it, they probably just won’t listen to it.
So, that’s kind of why we’ve done everything with it’s going to be “free” and it’s going to be available everywhere. Because otherwise, I’m not sure how great the response of listening would be, if it’s going to be difficult to obtain the music. Nowadays, it’s so easy to get music free, that we sort of just embraced it (laughs). And just accepted that people are going to find it for free no matter what, so just make it available to everybody, however we can.
G&B – Sand Reckoner took a tour down the East Coast. Now you’re playing next in Allston, MA. Any road adventures up ahead?
Ben – Well, nobody likes touring in the winter.
G&B – I know what you mean.
Ben – I think for now, it’s going to be this show. We’ve had a bunch of show offers for this December, but I think we are going to stick with this one. The 13th of Dec is going to be a pretty sweet show. We really like the other bands playing. We’re going to try and support that one heavily and then focus our attention on getting some recordings out in the next month in a half or so. I’m really shooting for a 3 or 4 song EP.
You can stream Sand Reckoner’s Self-Titled album on Spotify and Soundcloud. Also, visit their official site www.sandreckoner.net.
Written by Casey Morris