You’ve probably never heard a band like Via Intercom. The duo, comprised of Stevie Jick and Maggie Colgan, have been combining their unique writing styles and musical musings to create soundscapes and tell stories for about two years. Rare Candy had a nice chat with Via Intercom about their crazy gear, writing, and DIY green screens.
RC: How did you build your musical skill set? You both play a ton of different instruments. Are you self taught? Did you take lessons?
Maggie Colgan: Well Stevie’s been playing music since he was a baby…
Stevie Jick: A young lad, I’d say. I took guitar lessons. Everything else isn’t virtuosic or anything close. I convinced Maggie to start playing the glockenspiel for this band.
MC: Yeah, I didn’t play any of the instruments before the band. Also learned how to play the synthesizer.
SJ: Maggie refused to identify as a musician until maybe right now. It started as my music and Maggie’s writing. Slowly, I was like, “All you have to do is press this button.”
MC: I was supposed to just be a roadie where I just carry things in, but then Stevie would be like, “Hey can you just play this simple keyboard line…”
SJ: And then I was like, “What if you just played this entire song? Don’t you play the violin?”
MC: And then Stevie was like, “What if you just WROTE the music?”
SJ: That was sort of pre-band. Then we were like, “enough goofing around… you’re going to play the glockenspiel and the synthesizer and the electronics…”
RC: And rock a Britney Spears style headset…
MC: The headset is so essential.
SJ: That is a somewhat recent development.
MC: Before I just had a boom mic and I was like, “I can’t see where my hands are.”
SJ: We had a number of clunky iterations of the headset mic. There was a lot of duct tape. It was very DIY. We were fixing some of our gear today in the back of our car, and the person we’re touring with came out and was like, “I thought you had bought all this stuff, but it looks so dangerous… I feel nervous looking at all of this, like it’s going to fall apart.”
MC: That is our life.
SJ: At shows sometimes, things will just flip out. It was really hot in the venue last night and we weren’t sure if that was what was doing it, so we put everything in the back of our car to re-simulate the blistering conditions and it turned out not be the heat at all. It was some cable connection so we had to move things around until it started happening again.
Photos by Linda Wang
RC: Since this became a project by combining your two writing styles, do you each have a favorite way of creating with words? Poetry, non-fiction, etc.?
SJ: I’ve never really gone to far outside of just writing songs. I feel like prior to this, Maggie … maybe I’m overstepping my knowledge of your writing history, but, primarily it was short stories and microfictions. Definitely two different angles to be coming at it from. I feel like when we began writing together it was just my songs and her short stories. Things started to get a little more mixed, and I’d take on elements of her stories and I’d turn them into lyrics. One of our songs came about from one of Maggie’s short stories, because I wrote a song about the short story and then Maggie wrote another story based off of that one. The original story is gone.
MC: I think we’re still experimenting with the process of actually writing things together instead of writing separate things and meshing them together. That’s fun because we try different exercises and strategies of doing things to figure out how to make something at the same time with both of our brains.
RC: Any favorite writers? Songwriters? Poets that you draw from?
SJ: Let me just grab my list… [grabs imaginary list out of pocket] For me, one is Laurie Anderson. To go back into our own distinct histories, I think we differ in that Maggie draws from writers, whereas I draw from songwriters.
MC: Karen O is really important to me. Lydia Davis is a microfiction writer that i studied in college and she writes stories that are very short and very strange and funny.
RC: Your album has a very clear narrative, clear characters, and a very clear soundscape… how did you break things up into tracks? How does playing the album live change things?
MC: That’s really interesting because we toiled over the order of the album for so long. We had a piece of paper with each of the song names and we would shuffle them around and listen to the whole thing through and order them again. I’m glad it sounds fluid. We were really anxious about that.
RC: I guess if it’s not chapter by chapter , the general style - soundscape, there are so many things going at once, everything just makes sense. It’s kind of like a choose your own adventure book, where if you put the album on shuffle it could still make sense.
SJ: I like that analogy. I have a lot of fun now that we’ve released the album. We may never play the album in full at a show so it’s almost like an excuse to change it up since we’re only giving people snippets of the album anyway. When you’re playing live, you’re juggling different things than what you have to expect when people are listening on a record. There are preconceived notions that it’s going to be a rock show, the energy of the room can tailor the set differently than someone just listening on their own. We’ve found cool ways to string different songs together and have new transitions. It’s all fun.
RC: You released Buzz Buzz Buzz Vertigo in December of 2017. How have the past 8ish months been? How have the reactions been? Do you feel like you’re still within this album cycle?
SJ: I’d say we’re transitioning.
MC: The first half of the cycle was writing the music for the album, we spent basically a year writing and recording, we released in December, and then we spent two months rehearsing and figuring out how to do our live shows. Now we’re in a second half (part B) where we’re just like, “How do we do this live?” because we never really played anything live before. We’re still in the cycle of the album but i feel so far away from the recorded album now because I’m so entrenched in the live versions of the songs and figuring out how the songs feel as a performance instead of a recorded story. Stevie is ready to write some things.
SJ: I can’t help myself.
RC: How did the video for “The Photographer” come together? The colorful dancing bodies, the scrolling lyrics that are almost Star Wars style… what was your vision?
SJ: We have no film experience. That was a total follow-your-nose situation, which in a lot of ways was more fun because when we were actually making it, it didn't have the pressure of, “I’ve studied this and I have the canon in my head.” There was no fear of anything being stupid or done before. I think pretty early on we knew that we wanted it to be for “The Photographer”.
MC: The main ingredient was the green screen tarp. We messed around with doing party scenes with the green screen, like cheers-ing red solo cups.
SJ: We had a lot of cups floating around.
MC: Yeah there were a lot of things floating around and it was really hard because it wasn’t a real green screen so you couldn’t get very specific shapes. We were going to have this weird floating party thing.
SJ: That sort of led to the oversaturated and blobby figures. They’re obviously humanoid but they’re not that specific - they’re just monochromatic people. We had been messing around with filming inside the dollhouse from the album cover at different angles. We had some footage from when we were actually taking the photos for the album cover and we like how things looked. We always wanted it to be a lyric video. There was at least a three month period where I hated the video and wanted to trash it.
MC: A friend of ours was helping us out and he was devastated. For literally three months we just wanted to trash the whole thing.
SJ: As is when you get to the end of things and you’re like “I don’t like this anymore. This looked good when we started because it was exciting and new”. In reality we did most of the things you see in just a couple days, but it took months. If we had actually known what we were doing it probably could’ve been made in like a week. Getting the text to scroll, we had to align two different texts and the shadows. It was ridiculous. There was a lot of tweaking and detail editing.
RC: If you compare that to the “Only Boy” lyric video with the scrolling typing and visual representations of each layers of sound it’s completely different, and a little more straightforward.
MC: I think we were actually making that video at the same time.
SJ: That was also a little stretched out.
MC: That felt simpler because we weren’t dealing with as many layers of stuff.
SJ: There was less actual footage, except for the very end with the face and person speaking. Most of it was just screen captures and it was more forgiving because it was more abstract. We were really concerned with the coloring for the face and were very picky about it.
SJ: Brash? Is that the opposite of picky? I don’t think so. Maybe spontaneous, hasty, excited… I’m going for a positive spin.
Photos by Linda Wang
RC: How do you see the relationship between visual art and performing art/music?
SJ: I feel like often, what we didn’t want was the visuals to feel like they were sort of queues for the music. There’s nothing wrong with that - there are things that we do that reflect that, like making a show poster, which is a little extraneous. I feel like mostly we try to hold our visuals to the same standards of the music and make it one cohesive thing. I think that’s why I had such a meltdown about the visuals because I didn’t want to put out a lyric video with lesser quality than the music itself. People make associations, as they should, and things become linked together. I like to take visuals seriously.
MC: Something we struggled with specifically with the two lyric videos… It was kind of like when someone makes the Harry Potter movies and you then lose the imagination that you had. We didn’t want to take away whatever people had been picturing when they listened to the album, which was a fear that we had. But it feels the same to me the way writing feels to making music. I wasn’t planning on making music when I was in college, so this is a new thing, but it feels like a different type of artistic expression. It doesn’t feel like a new art. It feels like new art with new tools. I’m not doing things differently, I’m just using different tools to make the same thing. If that makes sense...
RC: “Hairless Cowboy”is a song is kind of a stand out. It’s much more peppy than the rest of the soundscape, which is more ethereal and spacey. Was the process of making that single different from the rest of the album?
SJ: There were definitely differences as to how it was made. The decision to choose the singles came down to what songs we thought stood alone the best.
MC: We felt like a lot of songs depended on other songs for context.
SJ: We had showed the whole album to a few of our friends and asked what they thought, and which songs grabbed them the most. One that is more upbeat, so “Hairless Cowboy”, and then “Helen” which is one of the first songs that people seemed to like.
From a writing perspective, it was funny because we sat down to write it and it was a lot more playful, like writing a joke.
MC: We were like, “We should have an upbeat song, that’s kind of punk-rock-ey”. Stevie went is his bedroom and shut the door and turned the amp up really loud and just went at it for a while, strumming away.
SJ: Recently Maggie sent me an early voice memo of that song and it’s just me and the guitar and super distorted and fast with a bunch of power chords. I was surprised, like okay that another direction we could’ve taken it in. It started explosive, we wanted that energy in the album, and then the refining process took hold. We may have spent more time on that song than any. It’s upbeat but that’s not all it ist. We showed it to our friend Michael and he was listening to a couple different versions, and there was one where I didn’t even have a guitar plugged into an amp and he liked that one the best. The harmony of the chords changed a bit and it was almost more melancholy. We played around with the emotions we wanted to convey.
RC: This summer you toured with Apollo & Samara…now that you’ve had a bit of a break, what is next for Via Intercom?
MC: We’re writing new stuff, so that’s definitely on the horizon.
SJ: We have this thing where we drive for long rides, as we’ve now driven across the country like five times together, and ideas just kind of pop into our heads. We’ve been playing with the idea of how we want to do more curated shows as opposed to rolling up to rock joint, playing music, and leaving. We’ve done a few things that are a little janky and infantile at this point. At a house show we had the space machine, as we call it, which is that little orb, and it was connected to all this tinsel that was hanging from the ceiling. We turned it on during “Wuzz, Wuzz” and the audience could touch it during the song and it became more interactive. That was fun. We want to do things like that. We’re hopefully playing another house show soon and it’ll be with a bunch of people we know, so we’ve been thinking about ways to take advantage of that and combine the music with other forms of media.
So we’ll be writing new music and then thinking more about how to do things live.
RC: There’s the potential for a really cool art installation or like “The Via Intercom Experience”...
SJ: Yeah, like you have the songs and you have the record, but each show is really different. Not just like “they do a different guitar solo every time” different, it’s like a new concept. That’s very exciting to me. We’ll see. More computer programming.
MC: We were talking about things where audience members could go by themselves, and even where we’re not in the room so that people can curate, depending on how they move or what they touch, their own sound experience. Something that’s not just you and your headphones but you in open space experiencing sound.
RC: If you could be any famous duo… like Lilo and Stitch, Buzz and Woody, Han and Chewie… who would you be?
MC: I don’t know if this is who we would be but the first duo that popped into my head was Ruby and Sapphire from Steven Universe. The better duo would be Steven and Connie. That would be much more fun, despite the occasional panic attack.
SJ: I’ll take it.
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