- Whether they know it or not, the Silversun Pickups have reached Letterman status.
High-profile attention is fast becoming status quo for the Silversun Pickups. In 2007, the wall-of-fuzz rockers appeared on Late Show With David Letterman and Carson Daly's late-night gig, where they played a weeklong stint as the house band. In addition to the video for "Lazy Eye" landing in MTV's heavy rotation, the Pickups' label secured European distribution for their hugely successful 2006 debut CD, Carnavas.
The mainstream notice earned by Carnavas is surprising, because the album's sound is drastically different from the majority of music created today. It draws from sounds -- shoegazing cloudbursts, Sonic Youth-style noise-creases -- that don't typically resonate beyond a cult audience in the U.S.
Roaring distortion and feedback tumble together like a blinding dust storm, but are often tempered by moments of tranquil beauty. The end of the noise burst "Checkered Floor" glides into vocalist-guitarist Brian Aubert crooning wordlessly over a heart-thumping bassline from Nikki Monninger. The sheer pop sugar of "Well Thought Out Twinkles" is buoyed by catchy, rolling guitars that thunder like Led Zeppelin Jr.
Although there are more than a few hints of Ride and Hum as well as countless indie rockers from sunny California, the Silversun Pickups' sound is most often compared to '90s alt-rock deities the Smashing Pumpkins.
Keyboardist Joe Lester admits the comparison is valid, but he also thinks that "there's a certain amount of laziness to it -- like, 'Oh well, they said that, so I'll say that too,'" he explains.
"There's obviously got to be something to it, if so many people have said it," he continues. "In the end, it's like, 'Fuck, dude, they're a good band.' It's a flattering comparison. Because they always say like, 'Smashing Pumpkins, the first two records.' And those are the two records that all of us like!"
What's most impressive, however, is how unaffected the quartet is by such comparisons and how unaware it is of its burgeoning success and popularity.
"We've been on tour basically since the record came out," says Lester. "We've had little breaks here and there. I think it's in the back of everybody's heads: 'Wow, this is going pretty well.' Probably going a lot better than any of us really sort of anticipated that it would? I don't think anyone's really sat down and thought about it. If that happened, I think the rest of us would know, 'cause that person would kind of freak out."
That attitude isn't new. "I remember being at a bar here in L.A., and I was with Joe," recalled Aubert in a June 2006 interview. "Our song 'Kissing Families' came on in the background. And Joe was like, 'Who is this?' I'm like, 'That's, uh, you, man.' He's like, 'Oh.'"
Lester is just as affable today, phoning from the Pickups' tour bus -- the band's first trip in such a vehicle and "a whole rad experience unto itself." Despite the swank ride, he's still awed by the little things.
For instance, what was the best part of touring with Wolfmother? The catering. "It's so much different than truck-stop bullshit food," says Lester. "To actually come in -- and you load in, do your sound check -- and at 5:30 every night, there's a really nice hot meal for everyone? That's, like, unbelievably pleasant."
What did the band learn by opening for Wolfmother?
"Subconsciously you pick up stuff watching them live, 'cause they're really dynamic and awesome. They're such a good live show," he says. "You take note like, 'Huh, OK.' It is possible to totally rock out and not look like a douche bag. There are ways to do certain things.
"It's not like you're going to copy their moves or anything. But it's like, 'Oh yeah, OK. Bigger venue -- gotta rock out a little more. Right on.' If you were doing that in a tiny little club, people would be like, 'You complete ponce. What are you doing, like, standing on the front of the stage, pointing your guitar at the crowd?'"
Lester might be the only person to refer to his band as "slackers," seeing as its touring schedule has included shows with Elefant, Viva Voce, Brendan Benson, and Nine Black Alps, and its road schedule stretches through the end of the year.
As if to prove how down-to-earth and un-self-conscious the band is, Lester gleefully relays a recent tale of tour-bonding -- self-deprecation included.
"We went to Disney World the day before yesterday, and we got the Splash Mountain picture," admits Lester. "It's pretty awesome. We got the whole log or whatever the fuck it is. It was everybody in the band and all of our crew. It's the entire tour, making goofy faces on a ride. 'Here's all of us, looking like jackasses!' You can't try and be cool on it. It's not going to happen. This one is a particularly good one; we're pretty stoked on it. We all look like extra jackasses."