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California Wives: TAS Interview And Free Download Of 'Blood Red Youth'

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California Wives' synth-sweetened brand of indie pop strays, spiritually and sonically, towards the UK rather than the Chicago band's sturdy Midwestern roots.

The quartet — vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jayson Kramer, vocalist/guitarist/bassist Dan Zima,  guitarist Graham Masell and drummer Joe O'Connor —  just released its debut, Art History, earlier this month on Vagrant Records. They're now touring with Stars and Diamond Rings, playing a sold-out show at New York's Webster Hall this Saturday, September 22. The tour wraps on October 20 in San Francisco.

The Alternate Side chatted with California Wives' drummer Joe O'Connor about the band's many influences — their affection for New Order even led to an opening slot with Peter Hook and the Light in Chicago. Below, download a track off of the album, called "Blood Red Youth."

TAS: You're headed to New York this weekend with Stars. Both you and Stars definitely have an affinity for New Order and other UK synth bands. What's the appeal of that particular sound to you? How has it inspired you as a band?

Joe O'Connor: I think those bands active in the 80's had a really good handle on how to mix synths with guitars. In a lot of my favorite New Order songs the guitar is actually the driving force, or adding a very essential flavor to the song. When we started as a band we wanted to mix and guitars and synths so we looked to the best example for inspiration. We've since strayed a little bit from that formula, but that's what it's all about. There's already one New Order; two is one too many.

TAS: Your debut album, Art History, has songs that evolved from the years you've been together as a band, both old and new. What really binds the tracks together ... and what's the most recent one written?

Joe: The most recent song written would have to be "Light Year." It kind of came together in its present form towards the end of the our time in the studio. Jayson [Kramer] writes a lot about growing older and I think the songs all reflect that.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm34hyAf6vk]

TAS: Where does the track "Blood Red Youth" fit in that mix?  

Joe: Jayson wrote Blood Red Youth about people he encountered who put on a front. I think he noticed that once young people graduate from college or start careers they need to act a different way. That is one aspect that can make aging hard. You see people change because they believe that society expects them to act a certain way, and they don't really consider the alternative. You would hope that people live their lives the way they want to and not the way someone else does.

TAS: If you could choose one song on the album to be remixed by anyone you'd like, what would be the track and who would you choose?

Joe: I would love to hear Four Tet remix "The New Process."

TAS:  Most inspiring or unusual advice you ever received from another band?

Joe: One band we played a show with in Omaha pointed out how important having unique merch to sell can be. They had bars of soap with their name impressed on the top. It was pretty awesome. They said they had sold plenty to people who looked at it and thought, "I forgot to buy soap!" and bought it just so they could shower the next morning. We haven't found that item to sell that will be ours alone, but I've been thinking about it ever since. We are meeting up with Stars tomorrow and I'm sure they will have plenty of good advice for us.

TAS:  We've got soundtracks on the brain here at The Alternate Side - favorite soundtrack of a film? Favorite score?

Joe: I've always really liked the soundtrack to "Snatch." It's a really cool mix of different types of music that works in every scene of the movie: Oasis, The Stranglers, Massive Attack, The Specials, Madonna, and then "Hava Nagila"  thrown in for good measure. Anyone who saw that track listing before seeing to the movie had to say to themselves,"What is going on in this movie?" Favorite score has to be "Blade Runner." I love that movie and sometimes the best parts are the aerial views of future Los Angeles set to Vangelis. We do have a soft spot for John Carpenter scores too. Everybody knows the "Halloween" theme, but the score to "Escape from New York"  is awesome too. It's amazing that he scored those movies in addition to writing and directing them.

TAS: The band's name will definitely invite a lot of questions — so we have to ask. Where in the world did it come from?

Joe: It has invited plenty of questions already. Our older relatives are the most confused. It was really just something one of us said once. It's been so long I can't remember exactly who said it, or what was said. "Something something something California Wives" is all I remember. We still didn't have a name at that point and another one of us said, "What if that was our name?" I think every band wants a name that is unique enough that people can easily identify it with the kind of music they make. I hope that's what we've got with our name.

TAS:  Finally, knowing you're big Cure fans: If you met Robert Smith and could ask him one question, what would it be?

Joe: I would ask him if he got guff for his look when he started performing and if he ever felt vindicated later. I'm sure there were people who hated on him for that, and he's definitely the one laughing now.