Chicago’s Post Animal discuss sonic growth, labels, and their ineffable feelings surrounding debut album ‘When I Think of You In a Castle’
Sometimes you listen to a rock n roll album to jam out. Sometimes it’s for those sick guitar riffs. And sometimes, it’s just to make you happy. This is what Chicago band Post Animal’s new album When I Think of You In a Castle (out April 20, 2018 via Polyvinyl Records) does for listeners: It’s an album crafted through the joy of friendship and collaboration, the spirit of being in the moment, and just having fun.
The album is a swirling mix of rock and psychedelic influences, as poppy as it is gritty. The band has a knack for indelible melodies and hooks, carving out a unique space for themselves in a lineup of bands you could compare them to, but shouldn’t. In celebration of the album’s release, Atwood Magazine sat down with drummer Wes Toledo to discuss the band’s ineffable feelings surrounding the album, the Chicago music scene, and what happens when you try to film a music video in single digit temperatures.
When I Think of You In a Castle is out now on Polyvinyl Records!
A CONVERSATION WITH POST ANIMAL
Atwood Magazine: I love your guys’ album so much, just wanted to say.
Wes Toledo: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.
I’m from Chicago myself, and in the music scene, so I just have to ask: How has coming up in the Chicago music scene, being the very specific thing that it is, influenced you as a band and as people? What has it done for you?
Toledo: I think that the Chicago music scene is interesting…You know, we started off playing in the classic like, really small DIY venues. The great thing about Chicago and why you have kind of a leg up if you’re from here is that it’s such a big city, and there are usually people who are wanting to go to shows – even if they don’t know who the band is, they’ll want to go to the bar and catch live music. We came up doing that, and then we started to hit this other level where we started playing bigger DIY shows. Before, we used to play for like, nobody – I don’t know if you know The Burlington on Kimball and Fullerton…
Yeah, I do.
Toledo: One of my first shows that I played with the band was at The Burlington and we played for maybe 7 people at midnight. That influenced us in that we know what it’s like to grind and to play shows that are maybe not rewarding in the moment, but they still matter because you’re kind of earning your stripes. That’s a very Midwest way of looking at it, I guess. After a while the shows started getting a little bit bigger, and more people started coming out. That’s when shows started getting really fun. DIY shows are still some of my favorite shows to play, like a house show where 100 people are crammed into a room. That’s the stuff we still live for. It’s fun to play bigger venues, but sometimes those are the rowdiest, most memorable shows.
Yeah, the energy in places like that is always going to be something different and often more special than just some venue.
Toledo: Definitely, it’s a little grittier, too. I feel like in my experience with DIY shows, people are less hesitant to let loose a little bit. Venues can sometimes be sometimes very uptight, and clean – which is fine, and good on its own – but something about having shitty sound, coming out of a PA and people almost knocking things over from dancing and beer getting spilled…it’s good stuff that we enjoy.
I wanted to ask about Chicago because I do think it’s just a very special place to be a musician.
Toledo: Yeah definitely, I love being a band from Chicago. There’s a lot of pride when you’re from here. Everyone’s supportive and there’s not really a sense of competition, which sucks the soul out of being in a music scene. For the most part I feel like everyone’s just trying to build each other up, which is a great thing.
You guys fall into this very long lineage of psychedelic rock. Where do you place yourselves within that lineage and how do you feel you set yourselves apart from other contemporaries in the genre.
Toledo: That’s a great question. We’ve kind of talked a little bit about that. Even before I was really a full time member in the band, we definitely are aiming to break away from being just a psych band. We obviously really want to incorporate psychedelic aspects into the music, and there’s always something that’s going to be inherently psychedelic about what we write, but we all listen to a bunch of different kinds of music. We’re not just listening to psych music, there’s hip hop, metal, electronic. It influences us in certain ways. The new album, When I Think of You In a Castle, I don’t necessarily think is a psych-rock album. I think it has a lot of psychedelic influences on it, but we were going for something a little more rock n roll and classic sounding and more straightfoward pop. Even the other stuff we’ve been jamming on, some newer material, that is going to be breaking more away from the psych-rock mold. It’ll be in the world of rock n roll but sort of all over the place.
I’ve seen you guys get that Tame Impala comparison, and I’ve always seen you guys as very different than that - no disrespect to Kevin Parker - but I don’t see that comparison as clearly as some people seem to want to. I definitely hear way more rock influence in you guys.
Toledo: I think that there was a time where everyone was listening to a lot of Tame because they’re great. I understand where that comparison comes from, some of our songs do sound like Tame Impala, but we’re not actively trying to sound like them. I think Dalton sometimes sounds like Kevin Parker when he sings, that falsetto riverbed out, but we are very cognizant of that – but I think people will change their minds when they hear this new record. It takes influence from so many different places.
That’s what I’ve been thinking as I’ve been listening to the album, that that comparison’s going to go away because you’ve clearly made your own mold within that genre and even outside of it.
Toledo: I appreciate you saying that. I hope so!
So you mention that you guys have these very eclectic tastes, so I’m wondering: what’s a band or two that you think everyone should be listening to right now?
Toledo: There’s a great band – I’m going to give a personal shoutout to a great band, they’re some of my really good friends – called Body Origami. They play this very dreamy, weird, proggy sort of pop-rock that is so original to me with weird, creepy vocals that are really pretty at the same time. I think people should fuckin’ check them out because I think they’re so sick. I’ll give a shoutout to this band from Chicago called Town Criers, they’re really sick. We’re taking them out with us for a bit on tour. I just love watching them play. They’re this heavy, gritty, beach-psych rock band. Check out those two bands!
So you guys have six members, which is sort of on the higher end for rock outfits, so I’m just wondering, with six of you, with half of those being guitars, what does your writing and arranging process look like? How do you decide who does what and avoid stepping on each others’ toes? I know as a drummer you have a different perspective on that as well.
Toledo: Well I mean, the last time we wrote as a six piece, with Joe, was when we recorded the album, which was in 2016. It’s not as convoluted as you’d think. Everyone brings in song ideas, and we all try to give equal attention to demos and ideas. One member will bring in a riff. Dalton will bring in a bass riff and mumble a little melody – that’s what happened for the song “Special Moment.” He brought in the bassline and then we all just jammed it. Other songs like “Ralphie” was more fleshed out before we recorded it. No one is too high maintenance. Everyone is willing to put a lot of energy into one of the members’ song ideas. It’s easy to write as a six piece, really. No one wants any more of the attention than the other, and we’ve made it work so far. The record is all a bunch of demos that were not very fleshed out, and then we went to the lake house where we recorded it and basically fleshed it out over the course of two or three days and recorded the whole thing. I thought it was a pretty seamless process.
You mention that a lot of the songs on the record were demos, and I know “Special Moment” was a single before, so how did you work this newer album into a narrative that made sense to you? How did those older songs fit in?
Toledo: That’s a good question. It all kind of happened without us even realizing it, to be honest. We kind of thought that these songs were all over the place when we were recording it, and we didn’t really worry about it too much. We thought, “You know, if this album is all over the place, it doesn’t necessarily flor really well, whatever.” We were a little carefree about it. We wanted to write an album that we liked a lot, and it ended up sort of working and flowing really well, once we were done recording and had mixed a little bit. We pieced the track list together, and talked about what we were trying to do with side A and side B – but we didn’t necessarily put a lot of effort into it. That might be viewed as lazy, but we just didn’t think that we needed to. It sort of all fell into place. I think it flows really well too, it’s kind of a mystery to me as well.
My next question then maybe you won’t know how to answer either - I wanted to ask about the decision to start the album acoustically (“Everywhere All at Once”). I love that song, it’s so pretty.
Toledo: Thank you!
Maybe this is just the nerd in me, but I’m getting a very fantasy video game kind of vibe from it?
Toledo: That’s great! That’s actually exactly what we wanted. There are parts of the record where I think it sounds very video-gamey, and I fucking love that. It’s a bit of another happy accident, where we were recording at the lake house and listening to everything played back and said, “Damn, this kind of sounds like we’re trapped in a video game,” and we just thought that was great.
I feel like that comes back in that middle track (“Castle”).
Toledo: You’re killing it right now, that’s exactly what we all thought.
Toledo: It sounds like you’re trapped in Zelda or something, like an old 90s video game. Like you’re floating around in digital space.
What does that theme of “when I think of you in a castle” mean to you guys? How do you think it manifests in the rest of the album, even if it was an accident?
Toledo: The title of the record was the original name of the song “Castle” on the record, and it basically really captures the moment of when we were recording this record. We were all not sure what was going to happen with the band. I was thinking about moving out of Chicago, and Joe was off doing Stranger Things. It hadn’t come out yet so we didn’t even know what it was going to be. We didn’t know what was going to happen but we all wrote this record and it captures all the feelings of being care-free, but also it feels bittersweet and nostalgic, and feelings of longing for something that you’re not sure what it is. But you’re longing for some sort of peace or inner stability that seems to not be there at the moment. But you still choose to try and push through those feelings. That time that we recorded it, it was special in a way that I can’t even explain. I totally boofed that answer. But there you go, that’s basically – maybe that wasn’t a boof, maybe that was just actually the answer. That’s what it all means. I’m not even sure yet, but it meant something.
I definitely understand that feeling of being in that space of recording and being together as a band. It is a really special, kind of almost inarticulable feeling.
Toledo: Exactly! Being in the moment and not letting outside problems or influences affect what you’re doing in that moment. That moment that we had when we were recording the record, this is going to sound so fucking sappy, but whatever. It was very special for us individually. It’s as simple as that – the name When I Think of You In a Castle emcompasses that time in our lives.
I’ve read about this ghost at the lake house where you recorded. Would you kindly tell me a little about that?
Toledo: I personally did not have any…well that’s not true. I did have a bit of an encounter. It was just weird stuff. Jake was taking a nap one time upstairs, and he woke up because he felt something tugging on his hands. He woke up and there was nothing there. He was literally feeling the touch of something that’s not there. One night we were sleeping in one of the rooms and this bedside table just fell over. I have no idea how it did that, because it’s sturdy, and had a lamp on it. It came crashing down in the middle of the night. I didn’t witness this, but Jake said he saw a door shut on its own. Also, those are just our experiences, but it belongs to our friend’s family and they’ve all experienced paranormal experiences there.
Maybe the ghost made it onto the record somewhere, maybe that’s that inarticulable feeling.
Toledo: We kind of think it did, maybe. We’re not sure but, there’s a part of the record where I hit my cymbal in the song “Heart Made of Metal”. When we listened back to it, it sounded like I hit my cymbal in reverse, and we didn’t do that ourselves. We were listening to it an Dalton said, “What the fuck was that?” That might be a weird little technical error, but it’s more fun to think that it was some spirit.
So you guys recorded and produced the record yourselves, correct?
Toledo: Yeah, we did. Dalton mixed it himself.
That’s always such an interesting experience because you have so much intimacy with this music from all sides, and mixing it yourself is such a strange process. You hear things that no one else does.
Toledo: Definitely. He had a wild time mixing it.
Because you guys have both sides of that, I want to ask. There’s so much abstraction in content on the record, both lyrically and sonically. Outside of other music, what would you say influences the content of the songs and the mixing? Any kind of art or other things in life that you’d say makes their way into your music.
Toledo: That’s a really good question. I will say for the mixing, Dalton did it all himself. He has his own very distinct style of mixing. Me personally, I don’t get that shit at all. I have never mixed anything myself or really played around with recording, so it’s all totally foreign to me. But I would say that Dalton listens to so much different music, and I know he’s really influenced by old R&B. Stevie Wonder’s his favorite artist, and Marvin Gaye, and all those artists, so I think he listens to a lot of those old recordings and tries to mix them with our music. We also take a lot of influence from our surroundings. When we were recording at the lake house, we were around water a lot and it was really sunny and really bright all the time. I think that the record sounds really warm, and feels sonically lush in its own way. I think that has to do with it. Without giving away too much, we went away this past winter and wanted to write some new songs. We were in Minnesota and it was really cold and we noticed that the songs we were writing were a little grittier because of our environment. I would think that our environment does influence us a lot in terms of the mixing and how we’re constructing the record. Dalton’s his own little wizard, I don’t even know if I can explain it myself.
I was thinking the other day when I was listening to “Susie,” I kind of get that old Motown vibe from the chorus of that.
Toledo: Hell yeah. That’s like our Eagles worship. That song is all about partying.
I also need to ask about the video for “Gelatin Mode” because it’s hilarious and I love it. I want to know how you even came up with that and how much fun that must have been to film.
Toledo: Oh dude. Well it was a lot of fun. I don’t know how we came up with it. We knew we wanted to self-direct and we knew we wanted an action video, and we basically winged it, to be honest. We came up with the storyline on our way to Minnesota, and we knew we wanted it to involve chasing and stunts. But not good stunts, just really stupid stunts like jumping over logs – cool stuff like that. We sort of built the video as it went. We also went in Chicago to Village Discount and raided them and found all of our outfits. We went to a makeup shop and got those stupid noses that they wore, and basically constructed costumes that we thought were funny and interesting. We came up with the narrative of the video as it went. We thought, “We’re doing all these stunts but why is my character running away? Oh Jake and Dalton are my brothers who are chasing after me and Javi’s my dad who wants his son back.” It was a total fucking blast. But it was really cold. It was single digits when we were filming. There’s a shot where you can see icicles forming on Dalton’s mustache.
Congratulations on signing to Polyvinyl! How would you say that’s changed your experience in and outlook on the industry?
Toledo: They’re great. They’re so nice and very encouraging of artists’ creative control and not being afraid to guide us when we get a little too crazy with a business decision or something. We didn’t really forsee ourselves getting involved in this even so much as a year and a half ago. I’m don’t want to talk shit on the industry, but it’s tough. It sometimes can be a little soul-sucking. You can feel like, “Why am I doing this? I thought I was doing this because I love making music, but this feels so much like business.” The thing is that you have all these thoughts, and then you realize “Actually I need the industry. One, I’m a part of the industry, and when I was a kid I had this dream of being in a band.” It makes it all worth it in the end, kind of a necessary evil, just to get your music out there. Especially because we’re working with a label like Polyvinyl, which has so much integrity and knows how to navigate the harsh industry and music business in such a great and helpful way. They’ve really helped us with a lot of stuff. Music industry’s not all bad.
I have one last question for you. I’ve seen mentioned that this album almost didn’t get made, with Joe doing his Steve Harrington thing and you almost moving to LA. What stars aligned for this album to happen? What’s next for Post Animal?
Toledo: Basically we had been playing for almost a year before we recorded the album. When I started playing with the band, just playing shows for fun with them, and we just became really good friends – it’s as easy as that. We all really began to become close and felt like we needed to make one last effort in order to create something together that we were proud of. Whether the band fizzled out after that or if it kept on going, it didn’t really matter. We just wanted to focus on making the record and making this piece of art that we’d been thinking about doing. We did that and it just all took off, I guess. As for the future, we don’t plan on slowing down. We’re going to tour this summer and hopefully the album does well, and we’ll probably be writing more music here [Chicago] in the fall. We’re just going to keep putting out as much music as we can for the forseeable future. Can’t look too much forward than that. We want it all, baby.
Congratulations on a really great album. I’m really excited to see it out in the world.
Toledo: Thanks you so much, I really appreciate that. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me to today.
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photo © Kristina Pedersen