A heavy downpour nearly canceled the Silversun Pickups' 2009 Voodoo performance.
"We were in the bus, and we weren't sure if we were going to play because it was raining so hard," vocalist-guitarist Brian Aubert says. "The promoters, everyone, were just waiting, waiting, waiting, scrambling to find a club and maybe do a show. Five minutes before we were up, we were good. We ran out on stage. One of my amps blew up."
What if it happens again? "I'll have five amps!" Aubert says with a laugh.
The Los Angeles band won't need them for backup, but for muscle. Silversun Pickups' third album, Neck of the Woods, bursts with textures and layers of guitars and drums, from the shoegazing mega-pop of push-pull opener "Skin Graph" or drum-driven tracks like single "The Pit."
"We wanted drums and bass to carry a lot of (the album) themselves, with different tones and different sounds," Aubert says. "We played around with negative space. We did it in our producer's garage — just go in and built it all from scratch, the drums are always set up."
Emerging from the thriving Silver Lake scene in L.A., Silversun Pickups hinge on a '90s rock revival, evoking My Bloody Valentine-sized walls of sound with the pop precision of Smashing Pumpkins and lush shoegaze bands like Swervedriver and Ride. Aubert's introspective, raspy near-feminine vocals glide over stadium-filling guitars. Drummer Christopher Guanlao balances programmed Brotherhood-era New Order drum tracks with pummeling live drums, and bassist Nikki Monninger (who sits out this tour while pregnant with twins) slithers on bass. (Filling in for Monninger is Happy Hollows bassist Sarah Negahdari.)
For Neck of the Woods, the band worked with producer Jacknife Lee, who advised the band to stretch its legs and build its dynamic sound live in the studio — at Lee's house in Topanga Canyon, Calif., Aubert's hometown. Aubert wrote chunks of the album while on tour in Europe, though writing on the road typically goes against band rules.
"All of a sudden songs kept popping up around places," he says. "I have no actual system for writing down songs. When we first started writing this record, the first thing I had to do was find bits of paper."
Despite the wanderlust writing sessions, Aubert found himself in familiar territory — the landscapes changed, but the people and problems remained. Aubert's introspection dove deeper under the covers ("Where it starts and where it ends is here in my bedroom," he sings on the self-argument "Simmer"). "They're going through the same shit, the same pressures, the same loves," he says. Coincidentally, the band retreated to Topanga Canyon (the countrified L.A. suburb home to career-defining sessions by Fleetwood Mac and Gram Parsons) to record with Lee, who has helmed albums by The Cars and R.E.M. Aubert wandered his old neighborhood after late-night recording sessions.
"To come back home, to the most familiar place ever — everything's changed. Not only physically has it changed, but it rebooted itself," Aubert says. "There was nothing for me there anyway."
On "Make Believe," Aubert sings "I'll give everything I've got to fill the canyon with useless debris." His return to Topanga was bittersweet, but it was dumb luck how it complemented the album, he says.
"I wish we planned it, like we had some power," he says. "There's a lot of themes on this record, about nostalgia, and spelunking into yourself and not expressing your immediate feelings, figuring out how your machine is built. So it makes sense you'd (record) it where you were born."
Aubert's head-clearing getaway and homecoming book-end with another tour and a final destination in New Orleans. The band will stay in the city after its Voodoo performance and before a November tour of Australia. Aubert is particularly excited about Halloween. "New Orleans is the first place for Halloween I didn't have to psyche myself up for digging it," he says. — Alex Woodward