Maps and Atlases: A Q&A
by Christopher Stoppiello (English), published May 17th 2012
If you aren’t already listening to Maps and Atlases then you clearly haven’t been reading Tastemakers long enough. Maps is a unique bands that combines a folk aesthetic with math rock experimentations. Their new album, Beware and Be Grateful, was released last month on Barsuk and they are playing this Friday (5/18) at the Middle East Downstairs. Some critics of the album have bemoaned its cleaner production, but talking with guitarist Erin Elders made it clear that the band hasn’t changed and even that clean production is a pursuit in the name of forward-thinking music.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): I wanted to first ask you about the album title: Beware and Be Grateful. Is that some personal reminder or mantra?
Erin Elders (EE): You know, it’s funny because that actually came from a casual conversation that we had during our time in the studio. It all seemed kind of random like someone just said that and it was almost like a really great album title. We started thinking about it and it just felt really fitting for some of the themes and overall vibes for the record. So it came from this almost random connotation but ended up taking off.
TMM: How long have the songs on this album been in the works?
EE: Some of the songs have kind of been around for a long time and some of them were written right before we went in to the studio. So it’s kind of been all over the place but the whole process was started last year. We would do a couple weeks in the studio and then go on tour and have some time to let the songs percolate in our heads and then come back and do a couple [more] weeks in the studio and then go back on tour. Overall the songs were being worked on for a little over eight months or so [but] we were touring while that happened though so the process was sort of elongated.
TMM: Were you trying these songs out during those spurts of touring?
EE: No, we actually didn’t play any of the songs live until pretty recently. All the songs are pretty much written as a stripped down versions and then all of the arrangement and textures end up being written in the studio. That’s kind of a fun challenge too where it’s like we have to take some time to figure out how to present the songs in a live setting.
TMM: It sounds like there was an effort to use more of a pop-ish or funky sound on this album.
EE: Yeah, this is the first album we did almost totally in a studio so we definitely made the decision to have that studio polish on it. Going to the studio also led us to experiment with the crazy sounds and effects and tools that we never would have gotten to use. We kind of ran with that. We wanted to do something that was a little more high fidelity but at the same time was still challenging and experimental.
TMM: Yeah I hear a lot of effects on [singer] Dave [Davison]‘s voice at times and it sounds like the guitars are frequently made to sound like other than guitars.
EE: Yeah, definitely.
TMM: Okay so I was curious, on your wiki page, it says you play in a thrash metal band called Skullzone –
EE: [Laughs] that’s sort of defunct at this point. That was something for fun that I did with some friends of ours and actually, [Ryan Duggan], the guy who does all of our artwork played drums in that project. I don’t know how that ended up on Wikipedia but maybe someday there will be a reunion.
TMM: Well I was going to ask if the thrash metal explains why finger-tapping is so integral to Maps and Atlases’ sound.
EE: I definitely grew up a metal kid, [but] when I was in high school playing in terrible death metal bands I didn’t do any finger-tapping. That kind of came out of us experimenting as a band together and we stumbled upon that percussive quality of it. It’s weird though, because I think some of my guitar playing, if you dig deep enough, you can see those metal roots. Those two things are kind of related.
TMM: I’ve always thought the way you guys use finger-tapping is the most interesting and least cheesy use of the technique.
EE: oh well thank you. For us it was always sort of about the percussive elements. We really like that. We’re a band that almost thinks like four drummers. I think the way that it all comes together is very drum like and experimenting with that style early on helped us get to that place.
TMM: I wanted to bring up your relationship with Good Old War. Are the any plans to work with them more in the future?
EE: We go a ways back with them and they’re definitely dear friends of ours. It’s funny because I feel that both of our bands are really different but there are some common musical philosophies. Those guys are amazing musicians. Their band is super different but then they can bring their part to it, like their collaboration with us on “Israeli Caves”, which is totally fits really well with our band. We would definitely love to do that [again].
And Tim played some drum stuff on this record. He came to the studio for a couple of weeks and was doing all kinds of crazy stuff. We are still really close with those guys and I hope to do some stuff in the future. For the last couple years it’s always been like, “When are we going to do a Good Old War/Maps and Atlases tour,” and it hasn’t happened yet but we still talk about it. I hope it happens some day.
TMM: In my opinion, our 2010 Tastemakers Presents show with Maps and Atlases and Good Old War has been our best to date.
EE: That was a super fun show.
TMM: What’s the current state of beards in the band?
EE: Well Dave’s beard is now longer than ever. My beard: I’ve been keeping it pretty short but we’re also about to go on a six week tour and I don’t really plan on dealing with it. So by the end of this tour it should be back in the running. Shiraz’s is pretty short. And then we have Chris who can’t really grow a beard.
TMM: Is the length of the beard proportional to the band’s power?
EE: I don’t know I think it’s more about trying to keep the quality of the beard. You can have a really good short beard. So I think if we all can pull our efforts together to have just quality beards we’re going to be producing a good sound for sure.
TMM: Well I wish you a quality beard for the future.
EE: Thanks, man. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
TMM: Oh, thank you!
Maps and Atlases new album, Beware and Be Grateful, is available now at all the usual places. Get tickets for their 5/18 show in Cambridge, as well as the rest of their tour dates, at mapsandatlases.org.