On a sticky Philadelphia evening, The Key caught up with Reading Rainbow in the patio garden behind Rocket Cat Café in Fishtown. The band, with new member Al Creedon, had just finished dinner at a restaurant down the street, and we sat behind the coffee shop, where drummer Sarah Everton works. (At one point, the interview was interrupted to help Sarah’s co-worker locate paper airplanes that she had let a customer’s son make out of car insurance papers.) All of this is to say that, even if Sarah and Rob Garcia hail from Virginia and have only lived in Philadelphia for four years, the affinity they now have with their city and neighborhood is almost palpable. “You could have just come to our house, it’s right down the street,” said Sarah. Since their first full length Mystical Participation was released in 2009, Reading Rainbow has been playing around in the gray area between internet flare-up sensation and lasting psychedelic shoe gaze punk rockers, but since the November 2010 release of Prism Eyes, Garcia and Everton are determined to prove their staying power and serious musicianship. Catching the band between tours, The Key spoke with Sarah, Rob and Al about feeling inadequate, Al’s arrival, and why they hate being called “cute.”
The Key: So, how did you guys meet Al? How did he end up becoming your third member?
Rob Garcia: We actually go way back.
Al Creedon: Years.
RG: When we first started playing in Philadelphia, we played with this band called Hermit Thrushes, who live in South Philly. A lot of those dudes are from New Jersey.
AC: Yeah, and I grew up in Jersey, kind of in the same circle as Yianni Kourmadas from Hermit Thrushes, and that’s who introduced us.
RG: Sarah and I were in the process of recording a whole bunch of songs, and we had put out a CDR. Al had his own record label at that point, which he still has, and he helped release our first album, Mystical Participation. Ever since then pretty much every other 7” we’ve ever done, and most of the songs on our last album Prism Eyes, were mixed by Al. So when Sarah and I were thinking, “Gosh, it’d be great to have a third person, who would it be?,” it made the most sense that it would be Al, since he’s familiar with all of our songs… As the band is moving along, and we’re trying to grow and progress and evolve, having another person to help move that along and be able to play live songs with a lot more stuff going on is what we wanted.
Sarah Everton: On the last tour we did, when we were out with The Dodos, we felt really inadequate the whole time. Well, no, I mean in a good way. An inspiring way. We were just like, “We have to get another guitar player.” And we were already leading Al on a whole lot, like, “If we ever get someone, it would be you!” And then finally I was texting Al saying, “Learn all of our songs.”
AC: And I just said, “OK.”
TK: So Al, you’ve been working with them for quite a while. Have the dynamics of making music changed, or has that not been explored much yet?
RG: Well, Sarah and I, our “Rainbow” is going into the recording studio in a few weeks to try to record three songs really quickly. We’re still in the old style of writing, so we’re going to try to do these recordings really quick, to rev up to record for the actual album. When we start writing songs for that we’ll have a more cohesive writing process and a better idea of how it changes.
AC: We’re still learning the old songs, and they’re gearing up with some new ideas, but we haven’t really done it together yet.
RG: We were definitely hoping that for live performances, for some songs we were thinking Al could play keyboard or an organ part, since there’s a lot of that on the record already. Or we thought that now maybe Sarah and I could switch up parts.
TK: Do you still keep day jobs?
RG: Yeah, I’m starting to feel the burn, or burn-out. I’m actually taking a week off to do these next recordings coming up. I work at a green engineering firm.
SE: It’s really intense for Rob, because he has a career-type job, it’s not just like a part-time thing, it’s full-time salary. And I work here! [gesturing to Rocket Cat Café’s back door] We live right around the corner actually.
RG: We’re pretty much at the stage where we’re really gonna go for it and tour hard. That’s also why we’re happy to have Al with us, because for the last tour, driving around for six weeks with just Sarah and I in the car, that was kind of intense just to do all the driving by ourselves.
AC: And I’m a teacher. I teach basic music production courses and a live sound course at Burlington County College, in Pemberton, New Jersey—way out in the sticks. The last recordings we did, we did there, for Cover The Sky. With school teaching, it makes it easy to stay on top of that stuff with these guys.
SE: Al actually played on one of the songs he recorded for us.
AC: Yeah, it was foreshadowing I guess. For the song “The Rat.” That was the first time all three of us played together—the first taste.
TK: How will this change the sound you guys already have?
RG: Well, I mean, we’re still the same people, so it’s not going to turn into some post-punk dance group or something.
AC: There’s a lot of two guitar tracks on Prism Eyes as it is, which we were discussing while I was mixing it, so the ground work has already been laid for the second guitar.
RG: Even when there’s not two distinct parts, the way we’re playing it now, the guitar styles are a lot different, so it just makes it really full sounding. Just going on the Dodos tour, playing in these huge venues, and just being two people who play standing up kind of facing each other, it’s scary honestly. And then ultimately, only being capable of playing with two people, our songs are pretty stripped down punk songs, so being able to play fuller songs, it makes us feel more legitimate as a full band that can have orchestrated, really beautiful sounds.
SE: For me, there was always this disconnect between when we played live as opposed to our recordings. Because people would get one vibe from it if they were listening to us on the recording, and they wouldn’t recognize the punk element to us until they saw us live. And then there’s people who were thinking that it was more cutesy, which is fine I guess, but kind of weird. It’s nice to be able to have more nice, droney, fuzzy guitar parts.
TK: So if you don’t want people to get the impression that you’re cute or soft, how do you want them to think of you?
SE: Well it’s really complicated and loaded, because trust me, I get it. I get why people think we’re cute. I get that. I know a lot of our songs are really catchy and upbeat. It’s like pop music, I know that. But I don’t want people writing us off or being belittling because we’re not being pretentious and serious. We’re not all posey in photos and stuff, you know? That shit turns me off so much, and it would be so fake if we were acting like that.
RG: Another thing is that being able to add a third member and expand and show how diverse we are as musicians, it also takes the focus off of just Sarah and I being up there. One of the things we’ve become aware of, especially after the JUMP magazine thing, that’s going to be the last time we talk about our relationship, ever. Our band should not be about our relationship; it should be about the music. If people know you’re a couple, and then they see you playing music together, and it’s just the two of you, they might get this preconceived notion that, oh, that music is cutesy or wimpy or whatever, or that there’s no meaning behind it. Like we’re just two lovebirds writing cute songs about each other.
SE: Obviously we’ve had this tirade between ourselves before. I mean, I bitch about this all the time. I don’t want to look ungrateful for any attention or anything anyone’s ever said that’s meant to be flattering, and I’m not in denial about anything either. But just because some of our music is upbeat it doesn’t mean it’s really all light and carefree, it’s some fucking dark shit sometimes. But people take it very literally, like, “Oh, this song is just about hanging out and smoking weed and doing nothing.” And it’s not about that at all. And as far as genres go, I feel like if people understand it’s not too much of one thing, and that they get the punk aspect, but also see the shoegazey parts, they’ll understand where we’re coming from. I guess I like being seen in context. I don’t like being seen as an Internet band that’s really cute and sings about doing nothing and getting wasted.
TK: Then if you could craft the perfect line up to put yourselves in the context you’d want people to see you, who would you play with?
SE: Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo.
AC: And a Glenn Branca secret set.
RG: Playing early stuff, music off of his first two records! But really, if we could play with them, we would shit ourselves, because we really look up to them as musicians. And Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo both have couples in the bands and people still take them seriously.
SE: I feel like everyone we talk to now thinks that every band needs to have a story, and everyone needs to know it. Why do people have to know shit? And even if they do, why does that have to mean they have to know about our relationship?
RG: But now we’ve got that story out there, and now we’ve got Al in the band, and it can be about his relationships with other people.
SE: Yeah, Al can just talk about his dating scene.
AC: Hey, I’ve got stories.
Reading Rainbow’s next local show is Thursday, July 21st, at Johnny Brenda’s; the band also recently announced a series of tour dates with Eternal Summers, which you can find on their website. —Danielle Wayda