Silversun Pickups stand amongst the most legendary bands to recently rise out of the cacophony of music here in LA. Since their formation in 2000, this Silverlake-bred alt-rock outfit has released four incredible albums and toured around the world.
Ahead of the group’s show at The Palladium on August 13th, I got a chance to speak with badass bassist Nikki Monninger about the band’s most recent release, Better Nature (released on the band’s own label New Machine Records), balancing tour life and motherhood, and her advice for bands coming up in the Los Angeles scene today.
You’ve said you don’t feel like the legendary band you are, but I was driving in LA this week and I passed the liquor store “Silversun Liquor,” which helped give you the name of your band. Then you came on ALT 98.7 as a guest DJ, which I think proves you have reached some pretty high status in our music scene.
[laughs] We did that all in one day, and it was really fun. That was interesting that we would make it on there because we don’t see ourselves as a big band. We are really excited to play the Palladium show [on August 13th], though. I went there growing up, and I’ve seen so many fun shows at that venue, so to now be playing there feels like we are part of that history. I saw Bjork, Flaming Lips, Weezer…all these bands that I love.
In Silversun Pickups most recent album, Better Nature, you can tell everyone is pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones musically and creatively. You played instruments outside of your bass for the first time. Do you think that’s a result of releasing the album on your own label for the first time and not having to answer to anyone?
We were with Dangerbird Records before, and they were always very hands off during the recording process, so we were always grateful for that. I think we’ve always recorded how we wanted to record, but this time it felt like we were all in a really good spot to try new things in general.
Jacknife, who also produced Neck of the Woods, he is part of our family now. He always pushes us to experiment. He brought in a vibraphone one day — some guy came in and just dropped it off — and he was like, “If you want to use it on anything, it’ll just be here.” We decided to use it on “Tape Deck.” I never played vibraphone before, and I was so excited to try it.
It worked out really well, like it was almost meant to be there, but we just didn’t know it until it showed up on the doorstep. I feel like we had the structures of the song, the basic outline, but filling it in is always the fun part, so we were experimenting with different things like using our voices with instruments, or Brian screaming, putting surprises in there, and there are a lot of them in Better Nature.
When we are recording, we are just doing it for ourselves, and towards the end, we realize it’s going out in the world. When we are actually recording, it’s the four of us, Jacknife, and this great guy named Matt, and it’s our inner circle. As we do interviews, we realize it’s going out there into the world.
We have always been on a small label, and Dangerbird was great. When our contract with them was up, we were ready for the next step. We have always been a DIY band. We like to do it ourselves. Things do happen a lot more quickly now, and if there’s a problem, we only have ourselves to blame.
I saw Silversun Pickups years ago, and you have such an amazing energy live. You have intense energy while playing, but this grateful, happy energy in between songs. What goes into tour rehearsals that allows you to bring that same energy to your live shows?
We are just so grateful to be able to do this. There are so many bands we’ve played with over the years that aren’t around now. We’ve been through so many different cycles of music, and we’ve always been there amongst other bands. We’ve seen so many changes with the record industry, people buying music, so we’re just happy people are coming to the shows and buying our music.
We know it’s a hard place to maintain, and we’ve been lucky enough to do this for a living. I don’t think anyone thought when we were starting that this would be something we’d be able to do for a living. We did it because we loved it. I always had a full-time job. We just continued to tour, and eventually we quit our day jobs to do this. We are just grateful to even be there. We love playing music. We are happy because we get to do this, and we appreciate the position we are in. It comes across because we are feeling that.
Also, I have twin girls now who are three-and-a-half years old. I had to take a break when I was pregnant and at the beginning of their lives, so it makes me appreciate now of the band while I’m with the band. And when I am home, I appreciate them more. Now I have a balance where when I’m doing one or the other, I can dive into it because I appreciate both sides of it.
I am happy and grateful that I have a lot of family support, my husband and all the grandparents help to take care of the girls while I’m away. My husband works hard so I’m able to do this, so I’m so grateful I’m able to make music and make a living off it.
So you have two twin girls who will someday soon see they have the coolest mom. I know my dad’s musical taste played a huge part in who I was growing up. Have you thought about what they’ll be hearing around the house as they grow up?
I know, it’s interesting to see how they gravitate toward music. When I was pregnant, I wasn’t sure when I was playing how it would affect them on the inside because it’s so loud on stage. When I was on tour, I had gone to the doctor to check where they were in my belly. At the end of the tour, both of their heads were right where my bass went. I thought that was interesting that they gravitated towards the bass and the vibrations.
We try to expose them to all different sorts of music to see what they will gravitate toward. Right now, they’re loving Katy Perry. I love pop music. We try to expose them to as much as possible so they can form their own opinions about what they like. They love classical, jazz, kind of whatever we’ve been throwing at them. We’ll see what sticks. We are trying to throw everything at them so they can be exposed to all sorts of music.
I get emails all day long from local LA bands looking for coverage, so as a band that came out of LA that’s made four incredible albums and toured nationally, what is some advice you would give to bands just coming up in the scene now?
For us, we were always willing to play anything. If we were offered the worst time slot, we’d take it. We were a band for four years before we toured. We were always willing to play whatever spot we were given, so when we were given the opportunity to tour or take it nationally, we were ready and prepared. I guess practice!
I’ve always lived below my means, because once you start worrying about money and buying nice things, there’s a shift where you can’t take off when you want to. I always try to live simply, so I’m not taken over by things I own. The simpler you live, the easier it is to pick up and go when an opportunity comes.
But practice. Don’t forget to practice.
Silversun Pickups are playing The Hollywood Palladium on Saturday, August 13th, and tickets are still available.
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