The Set called it quits after 2005's Set Free, which was a fine place to end. It sure bested 2003's weak Promise of Love, which was preceded by the tight, concise Know By Heart and the warmly humming glow of The Golden Band.
Great places to start with the Set, packed with soft little fireplace hymns.
Leader Andrew Kenny was getting a graduate degree in molecular biology when we last touched base, and that ultimately derailed the band. He resurfaced a couple years ago with The Wooden Birds, a more acoustic/folk version of AmAnSet. Nice stuff, if a tad Iron and Wine-y.
July 16 1999 / The Golden Band tour
Do you call yourself a minimalist?
I don't know how intentionally minimal we are, because we’re not great musicians. So if we’re minimal, it’s because we don’t really have a lot to play. That’s a tough question. But enough people ask it, so I should have an answer by now.
Just in a repetion of a few simple notes and chord patterns, there’s a wealth of possibilities.
That's precisely what we’re about. We’ve come along a little bit, we’ve gotten a little better at playing our instruments. This is the first band any of us were ever in, and none of us are flashy players. We have some upbeat songs on every record, but... I don’t know if I’d call us minimalists. That’s sort of a strong word.
How did the Dr Pepper song come about?
We wrote a 30 second jingle for Dr Pepper because we’re all avid Dr Pepper drinkers. After recording the jingle, we realized "Dr Pepper’s never gonna want this. We’re just a little lo-fi band from Texas and they’re not gonna be interested." But we liked the song a lot, so we made it longer. We wrote a change and another verse, and we had a quick little pop piece, "The Wait." We always wanted to write a jingle, and those have to get going pretty quickly.
Are you getting more hi-fi, moving away from the living-room sound of your early albums?
I don't know, maybe not. It’s all home recorded, and all of our equipment is pretty ancient -- not by choice. These days, lo-fi means intentionally trying to record things in a quirky manner. To me it just means... not hi-fi. Maybe we’re mid-grade-fi these days.
You do like finding a few chords and letting them drone and drone...
Songs that drone on and on, 1000% of the time, are written by people who really like that chord progression, and those are people who really like music. That means to me that people who write music like that really like music. People who write really repetitive music are more likely to be into music for music’s sake rather than the business end of it.
Do you ever feel cynical about the music business?
I’m trying really hard not to be 28 and callused right now, but maybe I should try harder. It’s getting on me a little bit more this time, and we’re going to be out for six weeks, and I really want things to go smoothly and (big sigh) I don’t know. We’re just doing what we’ve always been doing and hopefully we’ve made a small patch of land we can stake our claim on, and people recognize that -- I hope.
When a stranger says, "describe your music," what do you come up with?
I’m glad it doesn’t come up very often. My mom’s friends will ask, "So, what do you guys sound like?" And I say, "well, we’re mellow rock." And really, at the end of the day, that’s pretty much what we are. You can call it names that are more contemporary, but really it’s just mellow rock. It’s mellow rock that I like a lot, but it’s mellow rock.
How do you feel about The Golden Band?
I like the new record. I guess it’s like having the third child: you’re not so worried about bucking 'em into the safety seat every time you get in the car.
Do you enjoy playing live -- is the crowd quiet enough or do they drown you out?
My favorite thing in the world to do is play music with Mark and Lee and Lisa; they’re my best friends and creative partners and we’re fortunate we’ve found one another. We get along really well. When we pull it off, we’re a pretty good live band. Sometimes we get out-volumed by the crowd talking and things like that, but sometimes people are really quiet.
November 20 2003 / Promise of Love tour
So, what's new?
I graduated from the University of Texas in 2001, and then took off for the Know by Heart tour for three months. Then I took a year off and wrote a lot. Then I started grad school up here in New York.
What are you studying?
What does that mean for the band?
I can’t do both. For the time being I think I’m going to make music for a little while longer, do the Analog Set for a little while. We all enjoy touring. But we all miss girlfriends, and we have other lives because we’re all getting a little bit older. But I knew I’d miss it if I left it forever at this point. I’ll do it for a little while longer and then I’ll go back and finish my PhD.
My favorite record is Promise of Love.
It was full of tidy songs, that's for sure. They don't ramble on too long -- they kind of get in, do their thing, and get out. There’s stories behind all those songs, especially "Know By Heart." All those songs were written in a day. I think they’re cool stories.
And the first album I heard was The Golden Band, which I still love...
With The Golden Band, I like the way it sounds. It’s a good, moody kind of record but there’s so many things I wish I could go back and fix the mix on. On the older records, the problem was doubled or quadrupled by the fact that the entire side was mixed all at once because all the songs went right into one another. If you messed up once in a 20-minute mix it meant going back and fixing it again. Know By Heart and Promise we mixed and then went back, mixed and went back, mixed and went back. We fixed things that we thought should be louder or quieter.
Sounds like you're more of a perfectionist.
I wouldn’t call any record we play on a perfectionist’s record because we’re not outstanding musicians, but I think there’s a lot more artistry involved in the mix this time. I was happy with that -- that’s the way we’ll do things from here on out.
So, the band will continue?
In some ways, we’re fighting the good fight, and it seemed like the right thing to do. This being the only thing any of us have ever really done in life that we could be proud of, it didn’t seem right to just drop it and not do it anymore. We'll tour a lot over the summer, and then from there we’ll kind of take stock and say "Did this massive full-time touring and writing and recording schedule do us any good?" If we’re all still gung-ho, we’ll make a decision at that point.
Are you disappointed in Promise of Love?
The songs themselves I have to stand by. I think they’d be standout songs on Know By Heart if they’d been treated a little differently. They're as good as anything else we’ve ever done, but it was definitely more of a recording project, it wasn’t really about the songs. It was about making some magic happen on tape. If I had it to do over, I would go back and touch up every song on the record. At the time, I didn’t think we’d put out another record. You live and learn. I though that was going to be the period at the end of the sentence. I didn’t know it was gonna be a comma in between Know By Heart and the next record.
(Copyright 2011 by Jeffrey Charles Stratton. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.)