Pianos Become The Teeth: Keep You
The storm is coming. Pianos Become The Teeth are poised to release the most important album of their career – and it’s not even close to what you were expecting. BLUNT spoke with the band to find out how this turn of events came to be.
Even from their humble beginnings, there was always a certain je ne sai quoi about Baltimore’s Pianos Become The Teeth. Constantly creating unique soundscapes and deep, textured layers within their songs, there appears to have always been a method to the madness. Never has this been more of a pertinent factor of the band’s work than on Keep You, their third studio album and one that has redefined their sound almost entirely. Not only does it only feature sung vocals as opposed to screaming, but it’s much more at home in the spectrum of indie rock than it is within post-hardcore.
“We’ve always been interested in creating authoritative emotion through atmosphere,” explains Mike York, one of the band’s guitarists. “Moving into [previous album, 2011’s] The Lack Long After, we took that whole thing a step further and honed our craft. Instead of writing riff after riff and just locking them together, we spent a little more time trying to write songs. [Vocalist] Kyle [Durfey] did the same thing – he saw room for him to not just scream, but to sing on that record. We took it even further on Keep You – it’s what he felt like doing. He didn’t feel like screaming for the sake of screaming. His vocals now are entirely dependent on what he’s feeling for the song – if it calls for a certain style, then it calls for it. It’s got to matter.”
Keep You sees the band further their finesse and substantially develop what it is that defines their music. The record may initially come as a shock, but York hopes that it becomes clear that it’s a natural progression; and one that suits who Pianos Become The Teeth are as people.
“I don’t think necessarily that there was a conscious decision as to where we were headed on this record. A lot of it was just being influenced as to what we’ve been listening to and what we wanted to write. We’ve been a band for almost 10 years, and we’ve written several heavier records. Those records still mean a lot to us, as with everything we do. With that being said, you can only make the same record so many times. You have to grow from what you’ve made before.”
Although it was extensively in the making over many jam sessions, the band were able to finish Keep You in a matter of weeks. Will Yip – producer of choice for artists such as Braid, Title Fight and Balance and Composure – brought out a new side to what the band were able to do with their music. It’s still as resonant and heart-wrenching as either of the band’s previous records. It just happens to be dealt with in a different musical context.
“We actually went away a couple of times to write and work on the album,” says York. “Our bass player [Zac Sewell]’s family owns a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. We’d go there and jam for up to 12 hours a day, working on ideas. There were a lot of times where we realised that the simpler the songs that we would write, the more interesting we could make them. If a song was going to be three chords, it didn’t mean it was going to be boring. It meant there was going to be so much more room to explore added elements. There are songs on the album where you can hear viola and string arrangements underneath, and some songs with piano as well. There’s some really cool effects that Kyle did with his voice, where he layered it quite a bit and created this incredible keyboard drone kind of sound. It works because there’s a space for it to exist.”
The directional shift that is omnipresent within Keep You grows less shocking over time – not only through repeated listens, but also through developing an understanding of what inspires each member of the band to create music in their own respect. In case you didn’t gather from listening to the new album, it’s not exactly a list of the usual suspects.
“We don’t listen to a ton of heavy music,” confesses York. “Even when we were making The Lack Long After, my favourite band was The National. They’re still my favourite band. We love Bon Iver and Explosions In The Sky, stuff like that where it’s way more focused on melody. When we started writing this record, the influences that we had were way more defined. We were far less concerned about forcing in a heavy part, and more concerned with pushing our boundaries. We wanted to take a step further out of our comfort zone, and I feel like we accomplished that.”
For Pianos Become The Teeth, Keep You is more than an album. It’s a statement, a defiant act of survival, a metamorphic transformation and a chance for the band to find new purpose within their reinvention.
“We’re all in our late 20s and early 30s,” says York. “That’s not to say you do or should lose interest in heavy music when you get older – I mean, look at a band like Converge. They’re probably the smartest hardcore band I can think of. They’re still a heavy band, but they know how to do it in a smart way. For us, our pushing of our own boundaries as a band was to make the most melodic record that we could. We wanted to prove that you don’t need to have super-heavy distorted guitars for something to be emotional and heavy.”
York surmises what is the most important thing to take away from
Keep You, relating it back to the process of all creative types. “At the end of the day, art should be a challenge,” he says. “It should challenge yourself, they challenge people to feel and think something. This is the record that we wanted to make right now.”