You're not imagining the chaos you hear swirling among the feedback and other glorious guitar noises on Silversun Pickups' second album, Swoon. It's very real. And even if the Los Angeles band didn't actually intend for that feeling to meld with that sound, it couldn't help but to seep into the grooves, since disorder, confusion and all those other crazy emotions are exactly what frontman Brian Aubert and the group were experiencing when they recorded the album last year.
"We were very moody and emotional after our last tour," says Aubert. "We came home and everything was just chaotic and insane. When I hear Swoon, it reminds me of a nervous breakdown. Not that there really was one, but it kinda has that feeling. It really hits on that point."
By then, the Silversun Pickups had been on the road for more than two years. They released their debut EP, Pikul, in 2005. Carnavas, their first album, followed a year later. "We like the trial by fire," says Aubert. "We can sit in a rehearsal space all day long with the songs, but playing live is the only way we really learn how to do it."
After taking a month off — basically to "live," says Aubert — the quartet (bassist Nikki Monninger, keyboardist Joe Lester and drummer Chris Guanlao round out the group) reconvened for the Swoon sessions. Aubert says he wanted to get the band back into the studio as quickly as possible to take advantage of the momentum they had picked up from being on the road for so long.
"We were quite restless," he says. "We loved the sounds we were using, but we felt there was more in them that we hadn't quite hit before."
Then it dawned on Aubert: He and his bandmates had lost touch with their personal lives. The road does that to you. Aubert likes being grounded (indeed, he's a very affable chatter who'll roll conversations in a couple different directions before swinging them back to their starting points), but after Carnavas' "Lazy Eye" started picking up modern-rock airplay, the Pickups were pulled from the relative safety of obscurity. "We weren't supposed to be as successful as we were," laughs Aubert.
Back when the indie-rock band formed at the top of the decade, not too many people paid attention. In fact, not too many people noticed when Carnavas came out. But slowly "Lazy Eye" — a Smashing Pumpkins-like slab of dream-pop dually anchored by churning guitars and Aubert's Lindsey Buckingham-like croon — started making the rounds. It eventually reached Billboard's Modern Rock Top 10 and snagged spots in both the Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2 videogames.
Then came the tour — the long, long tour. The band was itching to get back into the studio, but Aubert didn't have time to write any new songs. "There's always that romantic notion that you'd write in the back of the bus after the show," he says. "But after you hit that bus, it's quiet time."
Eventually, the Pickups began piecing together parts. Aubert had fragments and ideas for songs, which he would share with his bandmates. Slowly the small pieces became bigger pieces, and those pieces turned into songs. "We threw them all up, just to have a beginning," says Aubert. "We never really wrote a record from beginning to end before. We were kind of a live band. So we put pressure on ourselves to make this worthwhile."
Swoon takes the best pieces of "Lazy Eye" — like the Smashing Pumpkins-like push-pull between verse and chorus and a monster hook — and applies them to 10 songs. Aubert builds the tracks layer by layer until everything erupts in blasts of amp-shredding distortion. Just like the Pumpkins used to do. But it's way better than anything Billy Corgan made after Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
"We tried to extract different things from our older material," says Aubert. "There were places we wanted to go, but we didn't really know about those places. There's no 'grow' button. But we knew we wanted to move in a new direction."
A string section gives several cuts a cozy quality that Aubert says was "definitely" intentional. It all ties into and circles back around on those mixed-up feelings the Pickups had when they returned home after two years and began making Swoon. "All of the songs were created with each other in mind," he says. "We wanted to have all these colors in the songs and then shape the record with that. We want all of our albums to have an identity. This is our lush, emotive and warm one."
It's also their little-bit-crazy one.