INTERVIEW – Plastic Picnic
Written by Mo on April 12, 2017
I had the pleasure of catching up with Plastic Picnic, smooth, indie-pop/rock group based in Brooklyn, recently while they were rolling through Portland. Read on to learn more about how they started as a group, their writing process, and what inspires them.
KPSU: Can you start by introducing yourselves and telling me what you do in the band?
PP: Gordon: I’m Gordon, and I’m the drummer.
Emile: I’m Emile and I play guitar, synth, and lead vocals.
Lincoln: I’m Marshall and I’m the janitor. Just kidding, I’m Lincoln and I play guitar, synth, and backup vocals.
Marshall: I’m Marshall and I play guitar, synthesizer, and backup vocals.
KPSU: How did the group originate?
PP [Emile]: Lincoln and I played in a project together based out of Bellingham and these guys played in a project based out of Seattle. They moved to New York together; we moved to New York together, separately, and then Lincoln and I started writing music in New York together again. We were looking for members to add and then a mutual friend was like, “Do you know Gordon and Marshall? They play drums and bass and they live in New York now too!” So then we just met up one night in a rehearsal space and it clicked immediately, so we were really lucky.
KPSU: It’s like puzzle pieces; things just fit together.
PP [Emile]: Yeah! Lincoln and I had played with another drummer for a little bit before Gordon got there and it really just didn’t work at all, so the immediate chemistry was kind of amazing. It’s hard to find.
KPSU: When was this? 2015, 2016?
PP [Emile]: Yeah. just over a year ago.
KPSU: So how did you connect with Ted Young [Cymbals Eat Guitars, Sonic Youth]? He’s New York-based, right?
PP [Emile]: Yeah, he is. It was sort of a funny fluke, but one of Lincoln’s roommates had recorded with him and we were looking for someone to record our singles with.
PP [Marshall]: I mean, he has worked with Sonic Youth, so we were like, “That’s amazing!”
PP [Emile]: Yeah! At first he was just a mutual friend, and then we found out he recorded music and we were like, “That’s awesome!” and then almost immediately after booking time with him we realized his “resume” and we were like “…shit!”.
PP [Lincoln]: He’s our spirit animal!
PP [Emile]: He’s cool. I think we’re trying to bridge that gap between a guitar-centered-rock sound and a produced synth sound and it was cool because he was definitely on the far side of the rock spectrum based on his experience, so it was really cool to push toward that aggressive side.
KPSU: What is your writing process like? Do you take elements one-by-one or collaborate at the beginning?
PP [Emile]: It’s funny because we’re such a young band that it’s definitely evolving into a more defined writing style, but now it’s 100% collaborative, which is really fun. We just finished tracking four new tracks which we’ll be releasing soon and all of those were written in rehearsal spaces together, which is exciting. I think everyone brings their own skills to the table, so we don’t have a defined set of rules or anything yet. So lots of leaving the space and then texting each other in the group message voice memos from the space and being like, “Oh I liked this guitar part! And this drum part! And this lyric!” So it’s very collaborative and fun.
KPSU: Is there a certain feeling you want to evoke from your listeners, either at a show or just when they hear your music general?
PP [Emile]: Yeah, I feel like it’s easiest to express that in a cinematic kind of way, but visually we’ve been stoked on 1980’s sunset weird twilight romance kind of thing. And we’re trying to find a middle ground where people can enjoy the music in a romantic, sunset kind of way but also has the melancholy elements of a Northwest indie band, because that’s where we’re rooted. I told someone the other night, we’re like…if Death Cab had to write a John Hughes movie soundtrack. I think it’s a combination of growing up in the Northwest with influences like Modest Mouse and Built to Spill and also being very interested in a little bit of modern production and also 80’s synth.
KPSU: That leads into my next question, actually – did you start Plastic Picnic thinking, “We’re gonna be 80’s!” Or is it something you fell into?
PP [Marshall]: We definitely slowly acquired more and more synths. I think we do want it to be part of our sound, but not in a super-defined way. We definitely still want the synths to be there, though.
PP [Lincoln]: Things started to make sense the more we played. Like, especially when Gordon would throw down heavy, simple drum beats, we would just feel like a direction coming out and it took a little bit of time to embrace that. Like on our first couple of recordings, we didn’t have as much synth there, we had some of the 80’s feel, but we’ve definitely worked more and more into it. And then we were like..”Oh! Yeah! All these keyboards! This works really well in here!”
PP [Gordon]: There are still moments of intentionally disrupting that. Like we’ll be like, “Oh cool there’s an 80’s sound here; let’s bring in the guitar that breaks it apart a little bit.”
PP [Emile]: I think we’ve been making juxtaposition happen a lot, and even our name is based a little bit on juxtaposition, and I feel like that kind of bleeds through constantly. Like, overtime we’re writing and there’s a chorus that’s kind of a synthy, pop hit, we’re like, “Okay, lets interrupt that with maybe a more aggressive guitar part in the verse.” So I feel like it just happens. I also think a lot of the influence comes from our friends. Lincoln and I have friends who started getting really into production in college and were deep into the producing world rather than working on guitar records. And now one of my really good friends plays in a DJ duo so that was a push for me to get a little more interested in synth and the production side of things rather than just playing guitar.
KPSU: What are some musical influences who are active now that you’re taking inspiration from?
PP [Marshall]: I grew up listening to Built to Spill a lot because they’re from my hometown and guitar idols of tone, melody, and structure, so many things, so I feel like I learned guitar from Built to Spill because I just listened to all of those records. So that will always be an influence to me. But even that is ten years ago, so maybe more currently would be Future Islands and so many other indie-pop/a little bit synthy acts. And even some older stuff! Like, we have a touch of Bruce Springsteen in there sometimes too. We don’t like to embrace him too fully, but we like to sprinkle a little Bruce in there.
PP [Gordon]: You and I, as the rhythm section, drums and bass, sometimes try and pull from some Pop Punk kind of stuff, like Blink 182, or Fugazi. More like Punk that gets smoothed out by the synth with soft guitar over it.
PP [Emile]: I think I have a very similar influence track as Lincoln. With us trying to push for the 80’s thing, I think I’ve been interested in time-capsule bands like Future Islands. And, lyrically, I feel like that’s a huge important influence to me. The more I write, the more I’m steering away from this metaphorical style of writing. Like I love Ben Gibbard to death and I feel like I used to be a lot more intricate with lyrics. But lately, I’ve been a lot more inspired by more blunt and forward things, which I think is very 1980’s. Like saying, “I met her here and we did this.” It’s very clear and it’s methodical and not so much more metaphorical. Just this blunt lyricism. Which I feel like The National does a lot too. A little, “Woah, that’s harsh!”, but more fitting for the instrumentation we’ve been throwin down.
PP [Gordon]: If we listen to The National too much, we get too sad. It’s like, “I love this record I love this record…” and then you start crying.
KPSU: If you had the opportunity to do a five-artist lineup for a little festival, who would play?
PP: [After much debate] The National, Fleetwood Mac, Diarrhea Planet, Kendrick Lamar, Deafheaven
…and then TLC.
KPSU: What can you tell me about your timeline regarding your EP?
PP [Emile]: It’s done! We have everything recorded and mastered; we’re working on artwork now. We have our music video for the single pretty much done.
PP [Marshall]: Shot on-location in Puerto Rico.
PP [Emile]: Yeah, speaking of tropical 80’s paradises, the music video’s exciting. I think we’re gonna release the single within the next month, when we get back from tour. We’re a baby band and we’re still self-managed, so we’re still trying to get all our ducks in a row and make this next release stick. We’re also getting excited to write our first full-length.
KPSU: Are you guys playing new material on tour?
PP [Emile]: We only have two songs released but we’re playing newer stuff than that, like nine songs, over the next two weeks. Like, three new songs that are newer than the four new songs that haven’t been released. It’s almost all brand new material. It’s fun when you get to see a band’s new material, so that’s kind of exciting and special. One of the songs, the East Coast hasn’t even heard yet.
KPSU: Where can people find you?
PP [Emile]: Everywhere on the internet. Our tags on all social media are @plasticpicnic. We’ve been up to a lot of shenanigans on our Instagram Story. And plasticpicnic.com is where you can buy tickets and hopefully merch soon.
KPSU: Cool. Thanks, guys!