Trying to catch the members of the guitar-centric garage rock band Acquaintances to do an interview is a near impossibility. Between music videos and touring and just plain life, we count ourselves lucky to get to chat with Justin Sinkovich and Adam Reach about their new album 81/2 Lives. This interview is for all you process nerds; we take a deep dive into what it takes to write, record, and tour an album when the members of your band live in different cities.
JS: Justin Sinkovich – Guitar, Vocals
AR: Adam Reach -- Demo/rehearsal drummer
CCS: Tina Louise Mead
CCS: For our readers that aren't familiar, who are the players in Acquaintances?
Jered Gummere – Guitar, Vocals
Justin Sinkovich – Guitar, Vocals
Stephen Schmidt – Guitar
Patrick Morris – Bass
Chris Wilson – Drums
Also Adam Reach demo’d my songs with me on this new album and rehearsed as the drummer before the shows before Chris was in town. He also played some percussion and keyboard on the album, helped us get the vinyl made, and generally helped make this last album and shows happen. Oh, it is his handwriting on the album art as well! He’s considered like a sixth member of the band now. Someday we want to try some double drumming for some songs at shows, but that just seemed too daunting this first time around...
Why overcome the obstacle of cross-country distance to be in a band together?
AR: The impetus was/is simple - get a bunch of musicians who are friendly with each other, to collaborate on an album. Personally, the band offers an opportunity to be involved in something a bit bigger than each of ourselves. It's very community driven. Who knows which "acquaintance" could pop up next?
JS: Chris who lives in Philadelphia, came through on tour and suggested he and I start a band together. We just wanted to play some noisy rock, more like the bands we used to be in and toured together back in the ‘90s was the conversation. That was the initial catalyst as to why we started playing despite being in separate towns. I agreed but then kinda blew it off for several months. Chris pushed me to write a few songs before he came back through Chicago so that we could record while he was here. From there, I asked who else he wanted in the band, and he said, “let’s definitely get Steve Schmidt involved.” Steve was really well respected in the early File 13 Little Rock scene in the bands Chino Horde and Generation of Vipers; Chris was part of that scene as well. Steve was living in Chicago when we started Acquaintances, but now he lives in Portland. Anyway, after hearing Steve and I’s songs, I asked Jered to write some songs because it really seemed to fit what we were putting together, and I really like Jered’s music and hanging out with him. I think maybe Jered and Chris had never even met before we started recording despite both being in Matador bands at the same time. I don’t think Steve knew Jered very well either. That sort of thing is where the name Acquaintances came from.
Our first album, we recorded the guitar and drums first. Then I asked Jered who should play bass, and he basically was something like, “Patrick is pretty hard to beat.” Adam, Patrick, and I were actually taking a break from doing The Poison Arrows. I drove over to Patrick’s house after one of the recording sessions and played him the songs. Then I just said, “so yeah, you are the bass player in this band now, so you need to learn these songs...” We laughed, and then he started writing bass lines.
I guess to better answer your question, Steve was actually living in Chicago and Chris is used to traveling all of the time, so it wasn’t a big deal to start the band for the first album. It has become a little trickier with Steve now in Portland, so he just contributes what he can, when he can. We generally keep the whole thing very low pressure for all of the members. I’m really happy we were able to get Steve to play guitar on most of the record and play our first string of shows. I guess for this second record, I just really didn’t want to let the project go dormant; I really enjoyed the process, and was writing a lot of songs that did not make sense for The Poison Arrows, so started putting everything together over time.
You are all in other bands in addition to Acquaintances. What drives you to collaborate in different projects?
AR: We love playing music together. We're all good friends with busy schedules, so the drive in this sense is simply to enjoy the process of writing and playing.
JS: It’s fun for me to write some slightly different songs; it’s a whole different process than with The Poison Arrows, and I enjoy both. Acquaintances I write every one of my songs all the way through on my own, and then all of the music is pieced together. The Poison Arrows play in a room together usually without any parts written in advance and a song just appears. Then we record all of the music together as a band.
Also, as time goes on, more and more, being in a band is just as much about the hanging out. Being an adult with like jobs and other responsibilities, you almost have to have an excuse to go hang out with your friends at rehearsal for the night or go on a road trip to play some shows. The music is important, but the relationships you make in a band are almost even more important. I look at all of my best friends, and almost all of them are current or former bandmates.
What was the writing process like? How long did you work on songs before you started recording them?
JS: I wrote my songs in their entirety and demo’d them with Adam on drums for everyone to hear. Then we recorded the final versions later. Jered came right into the recording sessions with rough ideas and would very quickly work out an arrangement with Chris, and I would record that. Jered is done with a song in one or two takes, even if the idea wasn’t fully established in advance. He’s great like that. I need a little more time, but he inspired me to work more quickly this time around and just knock out vocals. I would play him a song and say, “oh yeah, I need to redo these vocals,” and he would tell me they are good as is. It’s the danger of home recording: you can redo things forever if you want, so I eased up a little on this record thanks to Jered. Speaking of which, my vocal/lyric writing process for Acquaintances has been that I come up with a title and a vague theme, then just start recording and try to force myself to finish at least writing the vocals before I leave my basement. That’s why I always felt inclined to redo them, but this time around I probably wrote and recorded about half of the songs in one sitting.
This is your second album. Any lessons learned from the first that changed the process?
JS: I guess I knew how everyone worked this time around and could further trust the process. Otherwise, I just made sure the album gets done with some basic goals working around everyone’s schedules, and not really worrying about much more than that. Oh, and I wanted to make sure we played at least a few shows. Then we will see what happens from there.
Otherwise, I really limited the mixing and overdubs in post-production to keep it very natural sounding. Our practice space where we recorded this time actually sounds pretty decent, so it was easier to mix than our first record which was recorded in my old basement which had low ceilings and just kind of sounded like a basement. I think because I recorded everything in the practice space except for vocals, I actually did everything pretty quickly. The first record I would just hang out in my basement for hours screwing around.
What was recording like? What kinds of tech did you employ to stay on the same page?
JS: I recorded the album on ProTools with my laptop and an eight-channel interface in our practice space. With only eight channels and with only one small-ish room, we could only record the main guitar and drums first. I did six mics on the drums – kick, snare, rack tom, floor tom, (and) two overheads. I did two mics on the guitar. Then we overdubbed the guitars and bass in the practice space. Jered and I did our vocals at my house with the same set up. So then finally at the end, I mixed down what we had recorded so far, imported it into a Zoom R16 portable digital recorder, and shipped it to Steve. He recorded all of his guitars at his house and sent me the files back via Dropbox. I imported the guitars back into ProTools and mixed it down only using the stock plug-ins with pretty minimal mixing. John Golden then mastered it with pretty limited instructions from me.
One of you must be a super organized project manager to keep all this running smoothly. How do they do it?
AR: Ha! You figured out my secret! I was the production manager at Touch and Go from 1997 until 2015. I must admit that Justin was far more involved with the planning, plotting, and execution of recording the album than I.
JS: Yeah, ha, I guess that would be me for the most part. It just takes a lot of time and organization; I enjoy it. It’s kind of in my DNA to be the organizer of projects. Adam definitely helped out a lot as well. He is the same way, super organized and kinda OCD like me. Getting vinyl made, backing me up in general to make sure things are moving forward, that is all him. Adam is the one that is always up for writing and rehearsing with me, that is him as well. Chris is always really good at motivating us to get things done as well- to book shows, to do a recording session. But one thing I’ve learned is, you cannot really force the creative process too much. You have to trust that process, enjoy the journey, understand that life can delay things, but try to set goals and stay organized so it actually happens. Letting go and not being to controlling was one thing that it took me a while to learn.
When you go on tour, how do you get together to develop the live performance of the music?
AR: Because several members live in different cities, Justin, Pat, Jered and I will get together to rehearse with me on drums. This way, when Steve and Chris can travel to rehearse pre-tour, the rest of the band will be in top form on the material we're going to play.
JS: We just did our first three shows ever. With five guys separated by thousands of miles, we did a lot of studying on our own. Then as Adam was saying, I started rehearsing my songs with Adam filling in on drums, soon after we added Pat on bass to play my songs. Jered started coming in and we learned his songs. Steve got into town about a week before the shows, so we did one rehearsal with all of us, except for with Adam on drums instead of Chris. Then actually Patrick had to leave town for a day, so we did one rehearsal after Steve and I picked Chris up from the airport, just the three of us. We went straight to the practice space and the three of us started running through songs at 11PM. We did two rehearsals as the full band, we learned ten songs. We did all of them once per rehearsal, then like five that were giving us trouble, we played twice in one night. One thing I’ve learned is don’t overdo rehearse, especially with five solid musicians. It’s going to sound cool and doesn’t have to be perfect. Oh, and then Chris was really good at putting together a set list, complete with us playing multiple songs without stopping. Even for our first shows, he was like, let’s try to play first four without a break, then another three, etc. I think the rest of us were pretty surprised by how ambitious that was, but I think we pretty much pulled it off for the most part. He does that hundreds of times per year, so that was really helpful.
How does playing together live change the music from the recordings?
JS: The three guitarists did not all play on every song on the album, but we all played on each song live. So we actually added some parts which sounded pretty wild and was super fun. There was definitely some writing parts the week of shows- ha! I think the only note we gave each other was to try to let a song breathe if there is a breakdown or something, just to create some space and some dynamics in the wall of sound we were creating. But it was definitely a big wall of sound, more so than the album. I hope we do it again soon.