I apologize for my absence from this site over the past few months. Real life and a writing gig for AbsolutePunk have given me just about all I can handle over the preceding 5 months. I want to make a concerted effort over the next few months to focus on bringing some more great content to our users on this site. With that said, I was lucky enough last week to be given the opportunity to sit down and chat with one of the best bands out there right now, Copeland, for an extended discussion. It’s one of my favorite interviews I’ve conducted, so I’m definitely happy to be able to share it with you here. Throughout the course of our conversation with vocalist Aaron Marsh and guitarist Stephen Laurenson, we discuss what lead the band to their indefinite hiatus, why it seems like all your favorite bands are coming back to life, the economics of the future of music, and a variety of other topics. Thanks for reading, and open your mind. – Craig Ismaili
TGS: We’re here at the Theatre of the Living Arts with Copeland. They’re currently just starting out on their tour with Eisley and We Are The City. How have the first few dates of the tour been so far? I know it’s your first full headlining tour since the hiatus.
Aaron: It’s been going well. The first night was pretty rough, shaking off the cobwebs. The second night was real good, and then the third night was a mix of rough and real good, so hopefully we got all of the rough stuff out of the way, and it’s just on to real good.
TGS: And I know you guys had a few months off since the Paramore tour.
Aaron: Yeah we were fully at home and immersed in home life, and off tour, and not thinking about how to play our songs anymore.
Stephen: That’s not what I was doing!
Aaron: Stephen was just playing the songs over and over again.
TGS (To Steven): You were probably just sitting in the dark strumming the guitar.
Stephen: Everyday, just waiting to go back on tour. Crying to myself (laughs)
TGS: So this is also the first full headlining tour you guys have had a full string arrangement on stage with you. I know the strings were a big part, especially of Ixora, but also in your older material as well, so have you been able to add different string arrangements to some of the older songs, and how was the experience of putting that type of thing together?
Aaron: Let me see… We have tried to add (strings to songs that didn’t have them.) I think most of what we’re playing on this tour had strings on the record. Though we’ve played around with the idea of strings on some of the older songs too. That may happen by the end of the tour. We’re adding another arrangement tonight, and I’m sure we’ll add one or two more string arrangements as we finish them up.
TGS: I’m sure that makes it more difficult to plan things out in advance, but it must be nice to see the fully realized stud
io sound come to life on stage as well.
Aaron: Yeah it’s super cool. The strings sound great, and the ladies that we have on tour playing with us are spectacular players, so yeah, it sounds great. It sounds like the record. In the past, we didn’t really worry too much about sounding like the record. That wasn’t really our vibe. We just played a song and if there was a keyboard that we didn’t have access to live, we would just do something comparable on guitar, or whatever we had. This tour, we’ve taken a lot of steps to get some of the sounds from the records.
TGS: Awesome. So we’re about a year out from the recording of Ixora. It must be really gratifying and encouraging to see the groundswell of support behind the record over the past year.
Aaron: Yeah, that’s a good word for it. We made a record that we were really proud, and that inspired us to do more than just put it on iTunes and just let it be. So, yeah, it’s been cool. The fans have been amazing There have been people that have been coming to see us for 15 years, so it’s incredible to see that support.
TGS: Ixora definitely strikes me too as a particularly confident release. Did you guys feel like the pressure was kind of off while recording it?
Aaron: Yeah, we didn’t care at all because when we started making it, we said, “We’re making this record for us.” Our only goal, on the business end of it, for what we would sell was that we wanted to pre-sell enough records to get Michael Brauer to mix it. Michael Brauer was the guy who mixed You are My Sunshine and we loved working with him, so it was, “If we could just raise enough money to make the record we want to make, hire string players, and have Michael Brauer mix it,” that was our financial goal. The record was more or less crowdfunded through presales. So we did that, and we got to work with Michael Brauer again. So we did that, and we didn’t care. We didn’t go into it thinking what would the single be. There might have even been a catchier, poppier more sugary song that we left off the record, because we though, “We don’t need that.”
Aaron: Exactly. We didn’t think about making something that was commercially successful, because that was completely out of our heads. It was really just the three of us in the studio together, making a record.
TGS: I feel like so much of the music marketplace has changed since you released You are My Sunshine back in 2008, so do you think that was helpful to the release of Ixora? I don’t think it was a hindrance obviously, considering it was crowdfunded. I think that everything is spread out now, I almost feel like that’s a help, because then you don’t have to target the mainstream market at all.
Aaron: The internet has been the universal equalizer for music. Joe Schmoe can have a music career, and he can be on the same web storefront as Beyonce or Radiohead or whoever. It’s been completely leveled. There’s not that same music hierarchy that there used to be.
Stephen: It’s given a lot of power to the artists, I think. Labels now are approaching artists now a lot more, because a kid comes up to them and tells them they found this song on Spotify or Soundcloud, and all of a sudden it has a million plays.
TGS: And that’s sort of the way labels stay afloat now too, they have to go find those next new acts, so I do agree that it gives a lot of power to the artists.
Aaron: It gives power to the artist, it gives power to the listeners. Music bloggers are now the gatekeepers, whereas previously label executives were the gatekeepers.
TGS: I think now, more than ever before, the cream rises to the top. A lot of the artists that should be having that recognition are getting that recognition more than ever, I think just because of streaming services and how the word gets out there so much faster. So on a related note, the older Copeland material was taken off of streaming services recently, and I think a lot of people were wondering what the status on that was.
Aaron: Honestly, I was surprised people even noticed.
TGS: That’s funny, you say that because Victory Records pulled their music from Spotify this week and the same thing happened there. I got like 2 or 3 text messages asking where the rest of the Victory Records catalog was this week.
Aaron: It wasn’t like an intentional pull down boycotting streaming servies or anything like that.
TGS: A Taylor Swift-like move.
Aaron: Yeah, like we have that kind of power (laughs) What if we thought we had that kind of industry power. “Yeah, Copeland pulled their stuff from streaming. Oh yeah, three people noticed.”
Aaron: No, yeah, three people noticed and tweeted at me. Well, the short story is that those old records, ownership changed hands a number of times. Ownership of the masters, they were made for one label, and then that record label went under, and they were absorbed by whatever label they owned the most money to. So the long and short of it is, we lost out on about eight years of royalties on our records. We were owed so much money on the records that when we finally tracked down who was controlling them, they basically just said, “you can just have them.”
So we own our own records again, which is a positive, but it was really demoralizing to see the records being exploited. We didn’t know who owned them, and we didn’t really know what was going on with that. Honestly, it was one of the huge reasons that we broke up. Our band had grown, but we weren’t seeing anything from our record sales at all. So that stream of income was not there. As the band grows, the scope of the show, and what we have to do as a band, grows. And we just didn’t have that foundation; we weren’t seeing any of the money from our record sales. So we were incredibly paralyzed financially, and that just made it incredibly difficult to keep going.
Now we have our old records back, and we will be putting them back up on everything. Basically, when the records changed hands over to us, they had to come down off the streaming services. And when we get our stuff together, they’ll go back up.
TGS: Cool. And I know the vinyl pressings from Shop Radio Cast have been a point of contention. Is that something, I know it’s tough because you didn’t have rights to those records in the past, but is that something you guys would like to explore in the future, the represses of the older releases?
Aaron: We would definitely love to explore repress in the future. We have no issue with Shop Radio Cast, because they did their due diligence and got the rights to the records. We have no way of knowing where they actually got the rights from whoever owned them. For all we know, they could have written to the founder of The Militia Group and said, “Hey, can we press Copeland for x amount of money,” and they said, “Sure!”But Shop Radio Cast, they do their homework, they’re professional, and they do a good job with their releases, so I don’t have any beef with them. It’s more just that for years we didn’t see any money from the records, and then it got licensed to someone, and they made, probably, 30 grand in four hours, off our records that we haven’t seen money from in eight years. So yeah, that was an unfortunate thing.
TGS: So a lot of your contemporaries in the mid-2000s alternative world have been reuniting as of late, Acceptance of course being one of the biggest besides yourselves.
Aaron: Yeah, why do you think that is? I don’t think eight years ago, there were bands from ten years before that reuniting as much. I think it’s a fairly new phenomenon, that ten year old bands are getting back together.
TGS: I mean we talked about the internet being the equalizer, I think that people can pick up on You Are My Sunshine several years after it came out, and people are realizing, “Wow, that’s a phenomenal record,” or Phantoms didn’t sell particularly well when it came out, I guess part of that was from Columbia’s DRM management on the disc, but it also just didn’t sell well, and now all of a sudden they came back and sold out a bunch of dates. I think the internet has been that way to sort of have new fans find you.
Aaron: Also, I think maybe eight years ago, social media wasn’t as ubiquitous, and bands didn’t have access to their fans the way they do now. How would a band eight years ago, before Facebook and were a thing get in contact?
TGS: I feel like Myspace was such a fledgling version of this thing.
Aaron: Yeah, Myspace wasn’t perfect. Users were sick of being contacted by bands on that site. But how would they let people know that they were back?
Stephen: Or even have a fanbase that wants to listen.
Aaron: Yeah, maybe that communication aspect of it has given bands confidence, like “If we get back together, there’s actually people that we can connect with online, and we can sell some tickets, sell some records, and actually do this again.”
TGS: And I think it’s interesting that I don’t think that it’s even a nostalgia thing. Even though they say our generation has such a low attention span, I feel like people still listen to the albums that they liked in the past for just as long as in past generations. It’s not like people are moving on to the next new thing.
Aaron: Yeah, maybe. I think the way new music and new bands come out now, I do feel though like stuff doesn’t last quite as long. I feel a person can drop a song on HypeMachine and get huge for a day, and by day 3 people have moved on, and no one is talking about that song anymore. I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but the way underground music moves, it moves faster. But since music from our heyday didn’t move as fast, perhaps that’s why it has stuck around.
TGS: Yeah, I don’t know, I just thought it was interesting how there were a significant amount of them this past year alone. So I wanted to ask, out of that time period, are there any other bands that you think should be reuniting?
Stephen: The Cardigans are the want.
Aaron: The Cardigans are kind of active. They’re somewhat active.
Stephen: But they’re not making new records…
Aaron: Yeah, you’re right they’re not making new records. The Cardigans need to make another record. Let’s see… I feel like it’s only a matter of time before Sunny Day Real Estate do another record.
TGS: Yeah, it seems like they’re kind of weaving in and out of active status.
Aaron: It seems like that is a seed that has already been planted, because they had an old song come out on that 7 inch for Record Store Day with Circa Survive. And Jeremy (Enigk)’s working on another record anyway, so that will be great. The Working Title was always one of my favorites. Joel (Hamilton, singer) still does music. His project is called Mechanical River. And that stuff is great too, but the rest of the guys in his band were fantastic so I would love to see them do something else.
Stephen: How about Armor For Sleep?
Aaron: They’re on a reunion tour right now.
TGS: Yeah, and they actually just announced that they’re not going to be doing anything further, at least for now, after this run of shows, which was disappointing.
Aaron: I always liked that band. We did some shows with them in the real early days, and they’re always just great.
TGS: Now that we just talked so much about all of these bands reuniting, I guess the question remains, what does the future hold for Copeland?
Aaron: (The reunion) has been going really well. We’re excited to be working with each other again, and we’ve talked about doing another album. We don’t have any specific plans to do another record, but we’ve already started talking about what we would want to do sound-wise, as well as when we would want to do it. We haven’t come up with any answers to those questions, but I think we want to.
TGS: And still touring here and there when the time is right sort of thing?
Aaron: Yeah, if the time and if the impact on our families is low. It’s tough to be away from little ones for an extended period of time. That’s our big thing. If it makes sense time-wise and financially, and if we can do it the way we want to do it. It’s been great having the strings out. We would love to do something special, going forward, for every tour. Make it an event when it happens. I think the days of us going out as a five piece band in a van are probably over. We’ve talked about doing an acoustic tour, stripping it down and doing an acoustic thing, or perhaps bringing a horn section along next. I think we just want it to be special whenever it happens, as well as logistically and financially feasible.
TGS: So I have one last question for you, and it’s a fun one. Now that we just talked about all these bands that we want to get back together, could you form a fantasy supergroup of a drummer, a bassist, a guitarist, and a vocalist, that you would like to see perform or record an album?
Aaron: Okay, yeah, I already got it. I immediately got it. So Matt Chamberlain’s on drums. Johnny Greenwood’s on guitar. I’m playing bass, just because if it’s my fucking fantasy band, then I want to be in the band. So I’m going to play bass just because that’s where I feel most comfortable. And then Harriet Wheeler from The Sundays is singing. I feel like I should have a keyboardist too, though.
TGS: You can add whoever you want. You can even add a string section if you want.
Aaron: I should add some strings too. Matt Slocum from Sixpence, None the Richer on cello, then. He can play guitar too.
And then my other super group is Thom Yorke, Chris Martin, Jeremy Enigk, and myself, and we don’t play any music, we just hang out. It’s going to be called “Best Friends.”
TGS: Speaking of Chris Martin, did you hear that new Coldplay song yet?
Aaron: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s different. I feel like, I don’t know how much staying power that kind of thing will have. They’ve been kind of going in that way for a while now. So it’s not a surprise to me that it sounds that way, but they’re a good band. They make really good records. I feel like every single record they’re saying they’re going to be gone after this.
TGS: So to finish up, is there anything else you guys want our listeners to know?
Aaron: We’ll be on the road for the next month. The Ixora vinyl reissue, the Ixora vinyl sold out real fast, so we have the reissue with us now. It’s done, and it will be on the online store within the next month.
TGS: And it’s available now at the merch table at the show.
Aaron: Absolutely. And then the Twin Album, which was the companion album for Ixora, that will be out within the month as well.
TGS: Cool, and then they can set up the quadrophonic thing that way.
Aaron: I would be shocked if the vinyl synced up. There are just too many variables at play there with the cutting. I mean you’re welcome to try, but I don’t think it will work.
TGS: There are not too many of those that have ever been done. I know, was it Wilco that did one with 4 CDs?
Aaron: That was the Flaming Lips actually. It was in the 90s. That was just that you had to get four CDs to hear the album. It wasn’t like they were standalone pieces. I think that ours is the only one where there are two standalone pieces, and then they can be combined into one interconnected piece of music.
I don’t even prefer the sum of both parts, just as a listener. I think I like them both separate more, but it’s just kind of a different experience to hear the surround sound release. It was really hard to make though. It was probably the most challenging music I’ve ever had to make.
TGS: Well, it came out great. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
Aaron: Thank you for having me.
Copeland is on tour now for about the next month with Eisley and We are the City. You can find their tour dates and ticket links here. You can also pick up their newest record Ixora and the Twin companion at their webstore. We will be posting a full photo gallery of Copeland’s show at The Theater of the Living Arts soon.