Interview: EZTV’s Ezra Tenenbaum
The NYC frontman and songwriter talks to us about his band’s new album and the collaborators that helped shape it
There was something about the debut album from New York’s EZTV which really grabbed our attention. The combination of jangling power pop and melancholy lyrics made it a record with immediate appeal that also rewarded repeated listens. Therefore we’re excited that the follow-up to Calling Out is already here and gives us an excuse to speak to the band’s songwriter-in-chief Ezra Tenenbaum.
For the creation of High In Place, Tenenbaum and core bandmates Shane O’Connell and Michael Stasiak have tapped into their contacts book and have worked with a number of collaborators such as Jenny Lewis and Chris Cohen. Though each of their fellow songwriters brings something new to the table the golden sheen still remains, thankfully.
We caught up with Ezra to discuss the process of making the album, how the collaborations came together and what the New York scene looks like in 2016…
Were any of the songs on High In Place written in same period as Calling Out or are they an entirely new batch?
“It’s kind of a mix. About 30 songs were written for the first album and so obviously we didn’t use all of them. There are a couple that are left over, but those songs had built up over a while and I was pretty anxious to get writing and do some new stuff. It had all built up from other projects and ideas.”
Was it a conscientious decision to have so many collaborators on the record?
“Yeah it was, I mean we spent the time after releasing Calling Out doing some touring and playing a lot, especially New York. We had the opportunity to play with different folk and since we decided to produce our own record we just wanted to draw other people into the process and try something a little different from our first album, which was basically just us as a trio.”
How did that change the dynamic between the three of you?
“I think it added a little bit of excitement and we were a little looser and could be like ‘oh let’s have our friend Nic write guitar parts for this.’ It was different for every collaborator but I think we tried to have people give their personality to the record.”
So the songs weren’t fully formed at the point they came on board?
Did any of them come about in a particularly unusual way?
“Well it was great having Jenny Lewis sing on High Flying Faith. We’re on tour with her right now and that was actually kind of a funny story. We were playing at this radio station WFMU in New Jersey, so not even in the city, and we saw somebody dancing in the back. After about 20 minutes she hinted that she also made music and we were like ‘wait, are you Jenny Lewis?’ She just kind of showed up at a bunch of our shows and she had a great energy and it was great to have her sing on a track. I think everyone who plays on the record are people we admire a lot and are really excited to have involved.”
And they probably all brought their own unique influences?
“Definitely, like Nic Hessler. For his song, Racing Country, we were running low on time and he was based out in California and we just sent him a very rough version of the song and he added a ton of guitars.”
Clear has a very different sound, there’s almost a Joy Division beat to it. How did that come about?
“Oh yeah, I don’t know if you know the band The Necessaries? I was really into their record and I had just gotten my hand on this synth which I had no idea how to play. I was fiddling about with that and that’s how that song came about.”
One thing a lot of people picked up from the first album is how that summery sound was at odds with the melancholy lyrics. In the same way, it’s quite interesting to pair that jangling West Coast sound with a New York theme.
“Yeah I think the vibe is pretty similar and it’s just us exploring that sound a little more.”
Is it your intention that the lyrical themes don’t match the nature of the music?
“Well yeah. I think that the one thing I always try to do is write engaging pop songs and I think that you can enjoy either without the lyrics or with them.”
How do you tend to start when you’re writing a new song? At what point do involve Shane and Michael?
“I mean typically it’s a tape machine and a drum machine and I just hammer out the core idea in my room. I upload a bunch of songs and then they listen to them, tell me which ones are crappy and which ones might be good and then we go from there. It kind of changes for every song but I usually have a starting point from which they all get totally changed.”
Is it important that you record on specific equipment which lends the music an authentic sound?
“I think it’s just what we’re used to. I do all the demoing at the house on an 8-track. Doing things live into tape seems to work best. Maybe our next album will be straight to digital tape, I don’t know.”
Do you always write on a guitar?
“It’s always been guitar so far but that’s just because it’s what I have. Maybe if I have access to a piano some time it could be fun.”
Why do you think New York plays such a prominent role on this record?
“I think wherever you are affects the music. New York is the kind of place where you’re struggling for space and it’s really exciting and there’s a whole lot going on but basically you’re left in a tiny apartment with not a lot of space hammering out these demos, struggling to find the time. I don’t think it’s a conscience thing but more like an inevitable influence.”
We always hear about the New York scene, and maybe there’s a tendency to think about the CBGB’s era still. What’s it actually like for you?
“It’s funny, I’d always heard about CBGB’s and then I think maybe two months after I moved here it closed and became a sneaker shop. We’ve definitely seen a lot of venues come and go and that’s just the nature of it, but I don’t think it’s possible for the scene to die or anything like that. There’s just too much happening all the time.”
Has that scene influenced your writing?
“Actually I spend a lot of my time being a bit of a loner musically but Michael the drummer was in this band Widowspeak and our bass player Shane plays with this band Saint Rich, which is on Merge Records. I think just having the time to be in different bands and then coming to EZTV, we all bring that energy with us. It’s not like it’s our first band which we’ve all been in since we were 18.”
Another factor that’s been mentioned is Skip Spence and how Broken Heart influenced High Flying Faith.
“I listen to a lot of downer music like Skip Spence and Bill Fay and things like that and I always feel like I’m writing songs like them but then everyone’s like ‘whoa, that’s the happiest song I’ve ever heard.’ It’s not really intentional.”
Where did that love of jangle come from?
“I think it’s just kind of natural. Actually, before getting into this band I was listening to a lot of psychedelic rock. Michael our drummer is really into power pop. I always loved Big Star and Teenage Fanclub but he made me listen to some compilations and got me deeper into that stuff and pointed me in the right direction.”
Why do you think that style of music is so powerful?
“Living in New York there’s this constant need to listen to new bands who sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes it’s refreshing to be like ‘there’s nothing new about this but it’s just enjoyable.’ I’m really glad that there are a lot of people exploring and doing new things but maybe it’s also enjoyable to dig deeper into something you like already.”
What would you like this album to achieve?
“If we can just be making records I’ll be happy. I don’t really have any grand plans. I just want to make records that our friends like and to be able to keep doing it.”
Will you continue to collaborate?
“I think it was really fun to take that approach this time, I feel like always changing up a bit and I don’t think I’d want to do it in the same way, not because there’s anything wrong with it. I haven’t really thought about the next one but it’s good to keep changing.”
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High In Place is out now, check out eztv.nyc for details about the album and upcoming tour