Pure X‘s debut album, Pleasure, was great. It was a steady, unrelenting exploration of a singular sonic mood, almost as if it was conceived, written and recorded during one, long, summertime rainstorm. Things are a bit more expansive on the trio’s beautifully odd sophomore LP, Crawling Up The Stairs, which drops today via Acéphale/Merok. This time, Nate Grace, Jesse Jenkins and Austin Youngblood mess around with minimal electronic textures and a smoothed-out production quality, and Jenkins and Grace share singing duties pretty much 50/50. The tracks also vary a bit more in tone, from the hopeless intensity of Grace’s vocal delivery on album highlight “Someone Else” to the room-filling, optimistic buzz of closer “All Of The Future (All Of The Past).” Below, the laid-back Texans open up about their love for country music and exactly how they turned a long, lonely, disheartening year into one of the more engaging and re-playable weirdo pop records in recent memory.
2012 was rough for you guys, collectively. How would you describe the year? NATE GRACE: It was a fucking shitload of things. Good, bad, terrible, horrible, badass, cool, all at the same time. I got hurt skateboarding. I didn’t have insurance. JESSE JENKINS: We were all just stuck. Nate was physically stuck here and the rest of us were just mentally stuck. But it helped us to be stuck inside the studio. That’s all we had going, basically, for 2012. We were literally possessed by this album. There was nothing else we could do. GRACE: It was pretty much like that for a year and a half, just going in there as much as we could. Then we finally mixed it down in three days, and mastered it in one day with this guy Larry Seyer, who’s a fucking genius from heaven. He really took our record to the next level. JENKINS: He worked with like, George Strait and all the popular country dudes in the ‘80s and ‘90s. We were listening to a lot of stuff like that at the time. It ended up being perfect because he knew how to get this crystalline, high-end, high-frequency stuff. Just that gloss that those records had.
How much do you identify with country music? Is there a country influence on Crawling Up The Stairs? JENKINS: I think in more subtle ways. We’re trying to make music that comes directly out of us. It’s pretty inescapable, just having been raised on it. It’s everywhere you go. GRACE: Country music has been around my whole fucking life. It’s some of the best songwriting ever. JENKINS: Best production, best songwriting — just like the realest shit there is. I grew up listening to it, and that’s mostly what I listen to now. I mean we’re from the country, so…
What about contemporary country music? GRACE: Hell no. Contemporary country music is just a bastardization. It’s just a disgrace. I can’t think of one contemporary country person that’s any cool at all. The only thing close would be Angel Olsen or something, but I guess maybe she wouldn’t be called country. JENKINS: I’d call her an Angel. Just an Angel.
What made you guys gravitate toward a cleaner sound for this record? GRACE: We came at it from the complete opposite angle. It had to do with what was available to us. You gotta work with what you got. On this record we had more gear, and access to better gear. Everything that was around, we threw it into the record. We had so much time, we had nothing to do but nitpick the shit out of it it, make every song pristine from beginning to end, which was really nice. JENKINS: I think we were just bored. I don’t think we’re ever gonna make another record that sounds like this one either.
Jesse, how did you end up singing on half of the songs? JENKINS: I’ve been singing my whole life. I had a song on the last record. I had more songs this time, more songs that worked in the context of the record, so we just went with it. We didn’t want to set any kind of boundaries at all. Everybody played every instrument. Everybody did whatever the fuck they wanted to. Half of the songs on the record just came out of nowhere. They dropped on us from heaven, basically. Or hell. Wherever. They just came out of thin air.
How important was sequencing? JENKINS: We wanted it to reflect the whole time we spent making it, which was just diving deeper and deeper and deeper down into this slime, and then slowly crawling up out of the water. By the end you’re kind of back on even-level ground. We wanted it to have a “U” shape basically. There’s kind of a hard descent, and the rest of the record is a slow ascent back up to reality.
So what would be the very bottom of the “U”? GRACE: Probably “Written in the Slime.” That song ends on a major note, and then goes into “I Fear What I Feel,” which is kind of coming up out of it. I think lyrically it follows that same path, too. Maybe more like, moving upward but with trepidation—like, What’s happening, oh fuck, what the hell?—but you’re still rising. Thinking about that last song, it’s like, Oh, I get it now, I can finally not kill myself, or something. To me that shit’s all unconscious, just like [part of the] flow. A lot of those were just freestyled in the studio, just improvised.
In an interview with Altered Zones a few years ago, you expressed a kind of opposition to technology, yet there’s definitely an electronic presence on this record. Is that something you still feel strongly about? JENKINS: It’s not necessarily an opposition. We definitely used computers on this record. I just can’t get inspired to make music inside of a software, or on a screen. It’s definitely a great tool to have around, but personally, I’m not inspired to make music inside my room, on a computer screen. I want to make music loud as fuck. IRL, man.
Was there a catharsis moment when the record was finished? GRACE: Are you fucking kidding me? I wanted to just run down the street and just scream. JENKINS: It was a tortured process that reflected all of the shit that was going on. We were in purgatory basically. Finishing it was like closing the chapter on that time period. GRACE: Sort of, except now we have to sing the same song ten thousand fucking times.