There’s a lot you could say about the half-part digital, half-part analog trio Birds & Batteries‘s fourth full-length album Stray Light. Like “80s throwback” “synth-pop” “happy sunny synth-wave” or “soundtrack-wave.” But you suck a norm synth-pop and it’s just cherry throughout; it’s boring. Stray Light is a synth-pop that changes flavors with each lick: the sweet tangerine of the dance tracks at the beginning changes to sour apple with deeper, downtempo introspective tracks before moving to a familiar rootbeer taste as the folk guitar kicks in towards the end. But what really separates Stray Light from other “syth-pops”?
The motherfucking Tootsie Roll at the center. Which is Mike Sempert’s poetic, intelligent lyricism and smooth vocals.
The tracks “Love is Coming Back,”Arctic Flowers,” and “Be My Girl” are songs I would hope a lover would serenade me with while we sat atop the Prudential Center as the city crumbled around us on the last day of the world. When the Bay Area-based band hits Great Scott tomorrow night with Boston’s own Eksi Ekso and DJ LeahV as part of their Stray Light Tour, Sempert is actually returning -- he grew up right next door in Brookline. You will party. You will dance. And you just might fall in love.
Wild fires will burn out loud
Like a style, burn from bright to black
And for those who wonder where its at
Tell them, “love”
Love is coming back
…and the future shines in a crazy way
Here’s our interview with Mike Sempert:
How’s the tour going?
It’s going great. Lots of good times and the shows have been solid.
You grew up in Brookline, Mass, which is right next to where the show Saturday is in Allston. How is the music scene different in San Francisco than Boston?
I haven’t lived in Boston for years, so I can’t say for sure. When I left Boston, the scene felt pretty closed off and hard to break into. When I got to SF in 2005, there was an immediacy and openness that I felt and it seemed easier to navigate.
It seems like Boston has come a long way in the past seven years, especially with the electronic music scene and the Together Festival.
What did you like about living in Boston that you miss?
I miss my family and friends of course. I also miss the seasons, especially the spring.
What was the idea behind the “Be My Girl” video?
I wasn’t involved in the conceptualization of the video. It was all the work of the director, James Sharpe. It’s essentially about conflict and acceptance.
You have a big variety of sound on each track your fourth full-length album, Stray Light. It seems that the band has upped the electronics by putting the synths, snaps, and claps at the forefront – in a sense, this could be one producer making the music rather than the band feel of your earlier albums. How would you describe your progression of sound or use of equipment?
In many ways it came down to what was accessible to me. We were between drummers for most of the album, so the home studio approach allowed me to be super immediate in my process. I had the freedom to use electronic drum samples instead of recording drums. I also use a hybridized resampling of drums we recorded. Our EP, Up To No Good, was made in a similar way, as an electronic music-based thing. Panoramahad more of that full band sound, which I’m really proud of and would like to get back to someday. But still, tons of editing went into those drums, to be quite honest.
I’ve always been a huge fan of synthesizers, so it was fun to make a really synth-based LP.
Similarly, within the album itself, it seems to start with more fun dance tracks and move to downtempo, deeper, guitar-picked folk melodies. Was this progression deliberate?
I just wanted to come out strong and keep the vibe going. The idea was to keep it feeling continuous as a listen, with fewer twists and turns than previous albums. The folkier stuff is at the end because those songs felt important lyrically to this set of songs, but in terms of their vibe and sound, they weren’t as obvious a match.
So the sequencing of the songs just came down to making it work and the result, in my eyes, is that the album has more depth than it would if it was all dance tracks.
Are there any songs you wrote that have lyrics tied to a specific, powerful story in your life that means a lot to you? What’s the story?
There weren’t any transformational events that went into this. There was some turmoil though- my lady and I were long distance for these past two years while she was in school. She’s since moved back to Oakland and we made it through.
But there were rough waters, and much of the album is about overcoming that. It’s also about the crazy notion that perhaps the world is going to be ok after all.
What can we expect from your live shows? Is it usually a crazy dance party? Have they gotten crazier with the new sound?
We definitely have always emphasized the dance party side of things. It’s a ton of fun to get people going, and once you start, you don’t want to stop.
How do you deal with people hating on your music? Especially maybe people who miss the point
Usually, it’s completely irrelevant if people hate on it, especially when it seems that they’ve missed the point. And in a way, it’s sort of cool to get an extreme reaction, positive or negative. Even the haters tend to like one song in particular, and none of them agree on which song is the good one, so that’s interesting and kind of funny. Lyrically, I wasn’t trying to be fancy- I wanted to just be as direct as possible and cut to the center of it. And I wanted to give the listener something positive. I understand that’s not for everyone.
What’s your favorite movie soundtrack?
John Carpenter’s Escape From New York or Bernard Hermann’s from Psycho.
Do you think these soundtracks are powerful?
Yes. And that was definitely the goal with Stray Light. It’s up to the individual listener though.
What would you like to tell the kids in Boston who are going to the show to get them pumped?
Hold on to you face!
BIRDS & BATTERIES
WITH EKSI EKSO & DJ LEAHV
1222 COMM AVE.