Pitchfork Diaries: Netherfriends

Sean Rosenblatt from Netherfriends talks about touring, labels, and their new album

Out of all the bands that played Pitchfork this year, Sean Rosenblatt of Netherfriends has to be one of the hardest working ones.  Sean started Netherfriends in Chicago about three years ago and has made a habit of constantly touring to get his name out there.  Hard work, living thrifty, and making friends worked out for Sean and his band, because there they were playing the 1 pm slot on Saturday.  We sat down with Sean to talk about his many projects and being a working band.

HEAVE: You guys have an article on your blog called “This is Why Your Band Sucks.”

Sean Rosenblatt: Yeah, yeah.

HEAVE: And I actually read them all this morning and they’re really funny and they’re actually really poignant.

SR: Everyone’s talking about that!

HEAVE: They’re really smart because it’s relevant to bands now.  Why did you decide to start writing it?

SR: Well it’s the same reason I started the 50 Songs, 50 States project.  If anything I want to be that artist that helps out bands.  I remember seeing an interview with the guy from Islands and they asked “What advise do you have for younger bands?” and he said “Don’t start a band.”  You know, he was totally miserable and I understand that you’re going to get totally burned out but man, don’t do that to kids.  Especially ones that really want to play music for a living.  I hope that it’s not coming off like thinking I know everything about how to “make it.”  “Making it” is even a silly thing, I think I mention that in one of the articles.  There’s no pay off in music and when people realize that then you can understand and appreciate that it’s really exciting to even play a show to five people.  When I’m on tour not most of the time but a lot of the time it’s not to as many people as you like, maybe ten people, fifteen people sometimes and I’m really grateful for that.  If there’s three people there to see us play, amazing.

HEAVE: It’s better than nothing.

SR: Better than nothing, yeah.  It’s better than zero people.  But even sometimes I’ve played to the people that work there, at the bar or whatever.  But then they’ll come over and buy merch.  Maybe they’ll come over and say they dig your set.  And you make a connection with those people and they’ll invite you back for another night if you’re nice.  It’s about being nice.  It’s about being a lot of things in life.

HEAVE: Back to 50 Songs, 50 States.  How did that project come about?

SR: People want to settle down at some point.  It’s going to get harder and harder to tour as we get older and I want to get it all out of the way now.  I gave up my apartment, I’m on food stamps now, and I’m basically making a living playing music.  I’m not making a lot of money but I’m making enough to get by to spend on other things.  I don’t smoke cigarettes, I get free beer when I play a show or a couple of beers and that’s all I need in life.  I know cool people that will let me stay at their places while we’re on tour and we can eat and record and there.  I don’t know, it’s great.

HEAVE: Speaking of touring, you’re a big advocate of touring non-stop.  Have there ever been any instances where it’s been absolutely terrible, like a terrible gig or an awkward gig?

SR: Totally.  There’s a couple instances in the past few months.  One was we played in Mobile, Alabama and I was very intoxicated and the person who was driving, who wasn’t drunk but was intoxicated on other things, and we forget to fill up on gas.

HEAVE: (laughs) Oh man!

SR: We left after the show at like 2 in the morning so at like about 3:45 I get woken up to “Hey Shawn, I think the van’s broken or something wrong with the van, I think we may be out of gas.  But don’t worry I just saw a gas station.”  I was like “Oh ok we’ll just walk back.”  But I realized it was two miles away.  We had to walk two miles in Mobile, Alabama in the middle of nowhere.  It was terrible.  And the other instance was in Portland, Maine.  We stayed at this kid’s house and we had to beg him to stay there and I was going to record in the house in the morning and he was not cool with that.  I was like “I’ll be really quiet and I’ll just play acoustic.”  And then I asked if there was internet there and he said “Yeah but I can’t give you the password because it’s my roommate’s password.”

HEAVE: Why was he such a dick?

SR: I don’t know!

HEAVE: But then they let you stay at his place?

SR: Yeah people in the east coast, especially New England, are very passive aggressive.  You know they want to be nice but they’re total, total assholes.  Unbelievable.  They’re really mean drivers too like they will not let you in anywhere on the highway.

HEAVE: My brother goes to school in Baltimore and every one of his classmates that are from New England that I’ve met down there are just so weird.

SR: Yeah they are.  I’m originally from Pennsylvania and when ever I go back there I’m amazed because it’s a whole tough guy thing out there.  So I think the first EP I put out with some of the songs I’m going to call “The Angry East Coast.” 

HEAVE: (laughs) Nice!

SR: It’s true!  They’re so angry!

HEAVE: You just released Barry and Sherry, your new album and from your last EP I feel like it’s a big jump musically and lyrically.  How do you think Barry and Sherry is different from your last EP?

SR: Barry and Sherry I wrote and recorded at the same time in seven days in Apple Valley, Minnesota.  So I went there and stayed at my girlfriend’s parents’ house which is like outside of Apple Valley.  They have a baby grand piano there, no internet, no TV, and I wrote and recorded these songs.  I didn’t really have an idea or didn’t have a concept or anything.  I felt I was writing a lot about the idea of becoming my parents, like I’m a product of my parents.   Not just physically but emotionally and how I react to certain situations.  I wanted to incorporate that in the title of the album and I couldn’t come up with a name and a friend was like “What are the name of your parents?”  And I said “Barry and Sherry” and my friend was like “Perfect.”  And it works.  I’m really bad at naming songs, is that weird?

HEAVE: No, I’m terrible at titles too.

SR: That’s what’s great about [50 Songs, 50 States] too, because all these songs are named after the city and the state so I don’t have to worry about a creative name or something goofy.  My friend named the band too.  I wanted it to be named after a country, like a play on words and he came up with Netherfriends.  It was either that or the Singawhores.

HEAVE: I think I like Netherfriends better than Singawhores.  So you are on Emergency Umbrella Records…

SR: We’re actually not anymore.

HEAVE: You’re not?

SR: Yeah we’re done.

HEAVE: Why did you end it?

SR: Well, we were out of contract.  We had an EP and full length and the full length’s not even officially out.  It’s only on digital, so I’m trying to find another label to put it out physically.  Hopefully I’ll find someone, I don’t know.  Everyone keeps saying that no one’s going to buy or pick up a new artist until fall.


SR: I don’t know.  There’s no rhyme or reason and I don’t want to be that band that’s waiting around for something.  I have friends who run small labels so we were talking about maybe doing a short run or a full length if my friend saves up money and put out an album.  We might do that in September if I don’t get another label to put it out.

HEAVE: Did you like your experience at Emergency Umbrella?

SR: Yeah Emergency Umbrella means well but they have no money and too many cooks in the kitchen, you know?  I really love those guys, they really mean the best.  It’s hard to work with small labels, as much as I love it.  I’ve worked with some pretty small labels now, it’s really hard.  They’re hard to get a hold of, they’re doing too many jobs.  It’s a weird dynamic.  I’ll be very surprised if I ever work with a real, legitimate label.

HEAVE: Is it easier to do stuff yourself?

SR: No.  I mean, I don’t have any money (laughs).  I don’t want to spend any money on making an album and putting it out.  With labels it’s like fake money, like they have Monopoly money.  All the labels that I’ve work with lend us money for all the stuff we need to make the album but they’re never going to be like “Listen you owe us money!  We’re going to come after you!”  But you know, I wish the best for Emergency Umbrella.  I hope they kind of get that band that helps them out.  It’s hard when they’re not putting the effort with money for bands to make anything too.

HEAVE: You’re from Chicago, you kind of live around Chicago.  Is there a bar or special hang out you always come back to?

SR: Yeah I really like Beachwood a lot.  Beachwood’s kind of in the Wicker Park area, on Milwaukee and Wood?  They have board games there and usually unless it’s on a weekend it’s so dead and it’s great.  The drinks aren’t that cheap but the atmosphere’s really friendly.  I don’t really like bars, I don’t have the money for it.  But $3 beers or $2 Tuesdays that places have in the city.  You can get a nice beer for $3, I can deal with that.

HEAVE: Living thrifty.

SR: Hell yeah.

Berry and Sherry is available now through Netherfriends’ Bandcamp page.  Sean and his band will be touring the US in August for their 50 Songs, 50 States project.  Check out their MySpace to see if they’re coming to a town near you.

Posted by Amy Dittmeier on Jul 25, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

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