Hailing from the ever-grungy PNW, Portland lo-fi rockers Mr. Bones are no strangers to distorted fuzz. Their self-titled debut was an impressive blend of bedroom punk and power pop, and even ventured into experimental territory on a few tracks. Their latest single, "Do You Wanna Feel Alright," picks up right where it left off, with a slightly sunnier, almost surf-rock vibe that meshes well with their tendency towards short, punchy tracks.
We recently got the chance to catch up with the mastermind of Mr. Bones, Leland Brehl, over a coffee and a Google hangout. We discussed the early influence of video game music on his songwriting, the transition from solo artist to band member, and what we can expect from their upcoming album, Bites.
ThrdCoast: Let's start with some basics. How did you get started in music?
Leland Brehl: I owe a lot to video games. As a kid, I loved the music in games like Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, so my parents bought me a crappy keyboard and I started playing the songs I heard in those games. From there, the first rock band I got into was The Pillows after hearing them in an anime. They made me want to pick up a guitar.
TC: Around how old were you then?
LB: I think I was about ten when I got the keyboard. I remember getting the Ibanez when I was in sixth grade.
TC: Did you start taking lessons, or was it mostly just messing around on your own?
LB: I dicked around a bunch on the keyboard. I had a few guitar lessons, but mostly taught myself by playing along with what I heard.
TC: Do you know what drew you to that video game music early on? Was it mainly the composition?
LB: The melodies were just insanely simple and easy to grasp—something which I still try to incorporate into my own stuff.
TC: Are your parents musicians?
LB: My mom plays a bit. My dad designs furniture.
TC: What does your mom play? Did your parents have an influence on the music you listen to?
LB: She gave me her guitar. I wouldn't say they were super influential, but I'm sure something slipped through the cracks.
TC: When did you start playing your own music?
LB: I was in a couple punk bands when I was about seventeen. I got my eight-track in 2013, and that changed my life. I really prefer writing music on my own.
TC: How did it change your life?
LB: It opened a lot of doors for me writing-wise. It gave me more freedom to do whatever I want without the feeling of trying to satisfy others' expectations.
TC: What inspired you in those early recording days? Artists? Topics? Styles?
LB: I was listening to a lot of the Magnetic Fields' Holiday, and I just wanted to emulate that brutally literal lyrical style and ridiculously saccharine pop sound. Guided by Voices sort of made me realize that the production doesn't need to be sparkling. I guess the theme behind it was that I just wanted to write uncomfortably honest music, which wasn't something that was really being done in my scene.
TC: What was going on in your scene? When did you start releasing your music to the public?
LB: The release was immediate. As soon as I was done with a song I'd put it up on BandCamp.
When I started recording the scene was a lot of metal with abstract lyrics. I'm not knocking on it, it's just something I didn't want to do.
TC: How was the initial reception of your music?
LB: [Laughs] Not a lot of people I know went out of their way to listen to it. That's how I met my bandmates though.
TC: [Laughs] That's usually how it works. I want to ask you about how adding band members changed your writing style, if at all, but first I'm curious about what your writing process was like early on. Take me through a song from start to finish.
LB: Man, it depends. Sometimes it'd be a guitar riff or a lyrical hook. Sometimes I write on keyboard, and sometimes guitar. I can't really describe it.
TC: [Laughs] That's fair. But it's mainly a solitary practice, I'm guessing? Maybe a bedroom recording set up? Do you play all the instruments? Where do you focus your attention when you have all the pieces in place and you're mixing?
LB: My setup is my bed [laughs]. I just sit in bed and record because it's a simple setup—just a guitar and keyboard and the eight-track with the built-in drum machine. When it comes to mixing, I just focus on making it sound good through my shitty iPod headphones.
TC: So did you start playing live before you formed the band?
TC: How did you meet the other members of Mr. Bones?
LB: I collaborated with both Asher and Ben before on different projects. Asher brought Jackson into the mix.
TC: Is Mr. Bones a collaboration among all of you guys, or is it mainly your project?
LB: The first Mr. Bones album is mostly my solo stuff played with a band. The project is mostly mine. The next album I wrote with the band in mind.
TC: That’s this upcoming album?
LB: Yeah, Bites. It's way more realized.
TC: What was the difference between writing for yourself and writing with a specific band in mind?
LB: A lot of the songs I wrote for myself were never intended to be played live. When writing with Mr. Bones in mind, I think of our live sound a lot. I guess it's sort of like maturing.
TC: What do you guys want to accomplish with the release of Bites?
LB: I just wanted to write a more cohesive album. Less lo-fi pop, more power pop, you know? The songwriting altogether has changed for the better in my opinion. Of course we're retaining elements of the lo-fi sound.
TC: Did you guys record this album all yourselves?
LB: Yeah, we recorded it all ourselves, most of it over a weekend in Ben's old basement. We're having our cool friend help master.
TC: Do you think you guys would ever try recording in a studio setting to try to even further straddle that line between lo-fi and power pop?
LB: I would love to, as long as I had some semblance of control. My studio experiences haven't been the best, and I put that down to a lack of control. The lo-fi sound is mostly out of necessity.
TC: Yeah, that's definitely the challenge with studio life. Any tour planned for your new release?
LB: No set-in-stone plans as of yet, but we're planning on touring the West Coast in May.
TC: Perfect! Anything you want to end with?
LB: December 13 we're playing a show with Two Moons and Sweeping Exits at the Analog Cafe in Portland.