AM/FM's Frontman, Brian Sokel, Talks About His Indie-Pop Project (Holiday Matinee - AM/FM's publicist)
By: Alex Steininger
Brian Sokel, singer-songwriter for the indie-pop outfit AM/FM talks about the group as a side project as opposed to a fully functioning touring band, their latest EP, Audiot , and a few other tidbits fans and newcomers alike will enjoy.
Alex: Brian, why AM/FM instead of Brian Sokel? Especially since it's supposed to be a solo record?
Brian: Honestly, I chose a fictional name to identify the band because I had no idea exactly what AM/FM would be like. I had no specific direction that I was focusing on for AM/FM, meaning, I didn't know if it would always just be me or if instead I would end up putting a band together around it. If I did decide to go the route of a full band, I didn't want it to be a specific focus on my name as the lead. I prefer the anonymous band more than the ego solo performer. Even if at this point it is primarily my lead, I prefer it to have that sense of it being anonymous.
Alex: With Michael Parsell on board, did that turn it into a band rather than a solo project?
Brian: Mike has been a friend for a long while and at the time that I was demoing material he simply asked one day if he could play drums on it. At the time I really didn't expect AM/FM to do much of anything. My other band, Franklin, was on a hiatus so it just seemed like a fun thing to do. I've always been more interested in writing and recording music than playing it live, so I never really had any intention of turning AM/FM into a full on performing band. Mike and I just started messing around and it got to the point where it just seemed like more fun to have two people involved. However, as we continue to progress it seems like at some point we're going to go ahead and start playing out. Mike will be a huge benefit to that. Plus, I suck at drums.
Alex: How did Parsell's involvement change and expand the songs from the original acoustic 4-track recordings into what we hear on the EP?
Brian: I'm not sure that Mike's involvement really expanded what my ideas were for the studio. In the sense of the four track demos we recorded he helped significantly, adding percussion and some guitar to those recordings. However, when it became apparent to me that AM/FM was something I wanted to try in a full blown studio, I always had the expectation that it would be a more diverse recording situation and not simply an acoustic thing. In the studio I went ahead with what I had figured my direction to be; write small skeletons of songs on the guitar then flesh them out and add to them once in the studio. Mike was another set of arms and feet that I trust and respect and someone I really wanted to have there to bounce ideas off of and help in developing the songs.
Alex: Now that you're working with Parsell, is AM/FM more than a side project? Is it your new focus, or do you have other projects/bands you're working on?
Brian: It seems like as everyday goes by AM/FM takes on a bit more of a serious note in my life. Originally it was simply something that was for the fuck of it. No serious thought behind it. However, as I move through it I enjoy it more and more. It's a very relaxed situation and luckily I've been fortunate to have others take an interest in recording, releasing, and developing the music. I wouldn't call AM/FM a side project anymore. I'd call it a band. Currently I'm only involved in AM/FM and my other band Franklin.
Alex: Tell me about entering the studio with frames of songs rather than complete visions. What was your reasoning behind this?
Brian: Honestly, when I write songs I only hear the guitars. I don't hear all of the instruments in my head. I write songs based on the marks I make previously. If I start with a guitar line, I'll record it then listen and hear the next two or three tracks and so on and so on. Because of that, and because AM/FM isn't a full on practicing band, the only time when I can really develop the music into a broader spectrum of sounds and instruments is when I'm in the studio and those multiple tracks are available to mess around with. The studio environment is certainly an instrument in itself and super important to the music that I make with AM/FM. Without it, AM/FM would simply be four tracks, two guitars and two singing.
Alex: Don't you think it is a bit cheaper, especially at an indie level, to go into the studio and know exactly what you want to do so you can record it and get in and out of the studio for the cheapest amount possible?
Brian: It's a hell of a lot cheaper to practice your ass off first, before even thinking about stepping into a studio. However, I've recorded and worked within the realm of a full on practicing band before, with Franklin. Because of that I think I've developed a sense of what I do and do not want to hear inside the studio. Tracking usually is very quick for us and I think the songs tend to dictate where the recording goes, so in that sense it goes surprisingly fast. Also, the studio where I record in Philadelphia is run by a friend of mine so he does a lot of the work for a very, very reasonable price. Like I said, I think the studio is something that I want to make a part of the band... almost a member in itself. You hear things in the studio differently than at practice or in your head. You hear reality in it, and the recording studio itself works as a catalyst for creativity...
Alex: What's in store for the band? Is there any plans for a full-length, creating a band and touring, or anything like that?
Brian: We have one CD-EP out now on Skylab Operations. It's called Audiot . We just finished a 5 song EP for the Insound Tour Support series that should be out in the next two months. Next, we head into the studio to record 3 songs for a split 8" with Pele to be released by Workshop Records in Canada and then after that we will start work on a full-length for release next fall/winter. Before AM/FM became any sort of serious idea, I ended up writing somewhere in the area of 30 or so songs so we still have a lot of material to mess around with from the past as well as the new stuff that we are currently writing. It's good to have a large pool of material to pull from so you can dump some of the duds. We're going to try and put together a full on band sometime this summer so we can tour in support of the full length, but that's a daunting proposition in itself.
Alex: On future recordings is it going to be just you and Parsell bringing in a rotation of friends or do you have a set of people you'll always bring into the project, like a permanent backing band? And if you plan to bring different people in every time, do you see them adding their own touch and taking the music somewhere different or do you think you and Parsell will always guide them in the direction you want?
Brian: I like being able to work with as many people as possible. I think at this point that is how I want AM/FM to continue. It gives the music different sounds and ideas and gives me a chance to work with all of these super talented people. Even if we add more "full time" people to the band, I still want to bring other sources in when we record. For example, even though Mike is a full on member of the band, there are some songs that he doesn't play anything on because we wanted to bring other people in to change things up. It's fun to play with people that have varying styles than your own.
Alex: With a lot of options open for a two man project that always brings in outside influences to help power up the songs, do you think you're going to keep an "AM/FM sound" present, or are there other musical ideas you'd like to test out under the AM/FM tag?
Brian: I'm not entirely concerned with keeping a certain AM/FM "style" We're still so new at being a band (under a year) that to try and define ourselves now would be silly. If anything, I'd like to change things up even more. I have an interest in releasing records that look at similar ideas in entirely different ways. I don't mean to say that I plan on doing an acoustic album followed by an electronic album, but I want the music to go wherever it wants and not really worry about it too much. I listen to all different styles of music so why not play all different styles as well?
Alex: Back to the original concept of the four track records. Have you ever thought about sitting back and doing a solo acoustic album with just your voice and a guitar?
Brian: Some of the songs I write sound better with more parts added to them, some sound better more stripped down. I have no interest in performing folky acoustic ballads for people sipping coffee. I mean, sure, the music in itself may contain those elements but I want to do a bit more than that with the music I make. I think the songs will continue to sort of define themselves.
Alex: Anything I left out you'd like to cover?
Brian: They can contact the band via the following information:
206 Montgomery Avenue
Oreland, PA 19075