Interview with Signal Hill

From left: Rishi Arora, Tim Cooper, Brian Vasallo, Dave Masters

From left: Rishi Arora, Tim Cooper, Brian Vasallo, Dave Masters

Interview conducted after Signal Hill’s show on Thursday, April 25, 2013 after their show at the North Star Bar, Philadelphia PA.

Tell me how you wrote ‘Corners’. Walk me through that again.

Dave Masters: So, Corners was initially going to be a 45 second interlude. It’s really actually pretty funny, Rishi and I wrote it one day and sent it over to Tim and Brian. Tim actually made the comment and said, ‘dude, I could listen to that riff over and over again for hours.’ And so, when they came out to finish working on the record, Brian was out getting a tattoo and we played through a couple songs, and we were like ‘let’s play riff for Tim and get him excited,’ and then some inspiration was drawn after everyone was in the room and we ended up making a 7 minute song out of what was going to be a 40-second interlude.

Tim Cooper: Which song?

DM: Corners.

TC: Oh yeah, that’s right.

DM: Brian was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a tattoo.’ Like…

TC: Like, ‘yo you’re in town for like a day and we have practice and you’re going to get a tattoo?’

Tell me how you guys, kinda, parted ways — two on the West Coast, two on the East Coast — and how that came about?’

DM: So, actually Rishi was living in Scotsdale for a year…Oh, Scotsdale…

TC: Edinburgh.

DM: Scotland, in a masters program for a year, and me, Tim and Brian were all living in LA and still playing stuff and we were actually exchanging ideas with Rishi while he was away for the year.

TC: We actually made a record that year. We made the Distance EP.

DM: Yeah, and we made our EP called ‘Distance.’ And shortly after that was released, my wife and I moved to New York. And Rishi was just finishing up program and looking for job opportunities and found the first place that came along was New York. He was looking for New York, LA and a few other places. He got a job offer in New York and came out. So, he and I were there and Tim and Brian were in LA. He (Rishi) and I still get together regularly and write a lot of stuff and send it back and forth to Tim and Brian. They’d play to it, and then send ideas back and we just kind of collaborated that way.

Now, um, how does that work with writing music split the way you are?

DM: Everything we had written before the Distance EP was in a room really like jamming on a riff together with dynamics and everything happening sort of organically. Whereas with Distance and this new record, it was very much more a process where Rishi and I would get together and write some stuff, we’d send it back with tools like Soundcloud, and we’d upload something, Tim and Brian would comment on the notes, about ‘oh, I really like this part,’ or ‘maybe we should trim this part down’ or whatever and they’d track to our stuff, send it back, and we’d do the same thing and we just basically pieced it together that way.

Who’s playing which instruments on which side of the coast?

TC: That’s the fortunate thing. Because the two guitars are together in Brooklyn, so they can hunker down and write the melodies and the parts, send it to the rhythm section on the west coast, Brian and I, and like he said, we’ll get together and we have to keep our side kinda tight and play to them.

DM: Can we call you rhythm nation rather than the rhythm section?

TC: We are.

DM: I feel very Janet Jackson when I’m with you guys.

TC: And so yeah, we comment on maybe which parts could be longer or shorter, and we’ll have riff ideas and send it back.

But, how does it work to your benefit?

TC: It would work better if we weren’t split up


TC: But, I don’t know, it allows for a little more creativity. Like, we kind of try things that we probably wouldn’t have tried.

DM: I feel like one of the other things that occurred with this particular album — Rishi and I got to focus on melody and structure. When he and I are sitting in a room together, he and I sort of get to find all the different things that we’re trying to achieve. Tim and Brian have been able to add all the finesse and sort of the refinement of those details. Melodically, that was really beneficial for Rishi and I to just sort of sit and focus.

TC: We kind of found a new and different sound for the band too, because some of these songs have taken a bigger, longer, moodier turn. And if you listen to the new record Chase the Ghost you can hear that sound. When I was listening to the demos they were sending back, I was like ‘Wow, this shit is amazing, but what the hell am I going to do with drums?’ Because, normally it’s a little busier, so I had to pull back and play very simple open drums, which was kind of weird at first, but it really worked well to keep the openness and the moods of what they had written. So, you asked the benefit of this, and one of the benefits is we get to find those newer moods and those spaces that we haven’t written in before.

Now you guys these guys (North End) some shows out in California, and the got you some shows here, how did you meet Russ (guitarist of North End)?

Russ Daniels: It funnels through Pete though.

DM: Yeah, it does funnel through Pete (guitarist of North End). Pete sent us a note….

TC: Pete is just like big fucking funnel.

DM: Yeah, he is.

RD: He looks like a big funnel.

DM: He does look like a funnel. Pete sent us a note and we started putting feelers out there that we were maybe going to do some shows on the east coast, and he said ‘dude, you got to come play in West Chester, and we’ll have our band play.’ And I remember listening to North End and saying, ‘holy shit, this band is really good, and they’re going to help us set up a show — that’s awesome, we’ll gladly take it.’ So, it was basically our first show ever on the East Coast, in West Chester with North End. They’re very likable guys, and awesome.

How’d you get them shows on the West Coast?

TC: That was mostly Brian. Brian is our Booker T. Washington of the West Coast. So, if friends on this coast are looking for shows, Brian has the contacts. I just show up and cheer.

Now that you have to write differently, how has it (the music) evolved?

TC: The quick answer is that it’s more challenging, and I guess anyone would know that’s obvious. Before when were spending three hours a night, two times a week in a room, we could really work through each part and try so many variations, and now we have to be more firm with our judgment. We get a part, we can hash it out, send it back and forth and listen to Marcus (Rodriguez, bassist from North End) laugh at me.

Rishi Arora: I feel like the main glue that kind of holds it all together … I’ve actually been meaning to tell you guys this. We haven’t been able to talk about it really.

DM: Oh shit. Lay it on the line, man.

RA: But, it’s more or less just an idea — a basic idea that just molds everything together. We’re all, obviously, different people. We’re all unique. We have different thoughts. But, we have this idea that molds us all together, and without that idea we wouldn’t be doing this right now. So, whether or not that idea is the theme of the album, like, ‘chase the ghost’ — or whether, that idea is just doing something that we like to do, the fact of the matter is, that idea is there and that’s why we’re able to keep writing and…I don’t think I actually answered your question.

DM: One thing that I would add, too. I think for me, the other thing that is really important is that we’ve been playing in this band together for quite some time. And, more than anything, it’s something that we use to escape the day-to-day nonsense. We’ve done this for more than just a good time, more than four guys getting together to create something.

TC: We just can’t not do it.

DM: You know, I guess I’ve always taken this stand where it’s like, we have fun making music together and there’s a challenge of us being away from each other, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we shouldn’t partake in the fun in creating stuff what we want to create. It just becomes a little more challenging, as Tim said, but at the end of the day, the challenge is worth it because we’re putting out stuff that we’re still proud of.

Did you know when the band members were moving away from each other that the band would continue to work?

TC: I think I trusted that something would work. I knew it would be very different, I just didn’t know what it would be. Now, looking back, it works really well and I’m stoked on it.

RA: It’s not like there was one main decision that was made where we were all sitting around a table and made a decision to keep doing it. It was a natural progression.

TC: No. We were sitting around a basement bar, an Irish bar in downtown LA, and you dropped the bomb that you were moving to Scotland and my heart broke. It’s like when your girlfriend says, ‘I’m going to go to school, like, far away,’ and I’m like, ‘CAN WE STILL MAKE IT WORK?!’ And then Dave’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’m moving to New York.’ Geeahhhh! (moans) I thought my life was over and we were like, ‘we can still see what’s up, it doesn’t have to end.’

DM: Yeah, but I mean the reality is, over the last couple years, like, our productivity as a band has changed drastically, but I would say that more than the fact that we’ve created a record bicoastally proves to us that we can do it. I think it’s a record we’re all super proud of, and then not to mention that, you know, even though we don’t get to play very often, I mean we used to play like 12 to 15 shows a month, practice two or three..

Rishi: What?

DM: I mean! Two or three shows a year, sorry…

TC & RA: [Laughs]

Marcus Rodriguez, North End bassist: You’re just a powerhouse.

(all): [Laughs]

DM: We just do Goo Goo Dolls covers at one set…No, no, but the reality is we played together for so long that I think that actually lends itself to this process, because I think we’re all sort of in line of what we’re creating.

TC: It’s so natural. And we all have hall passes to, you know, moonlight and cheat on each other with other bands and make other projects if we need to, but we all know we’ll come back and do some shit.

DM: Those other divas and are nice, and they’re friendly, but at the end of the day we’re married.

RD: And the only words from North End are ‘listen to the new Signal Hill.

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