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Interview: AirLands on life, creation and "So Much To Keep"

The indie musician speaks to us about the process behind his new LP "So Much To Keep", out now

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AirLands has just released their brilliant new sophomore LP "So Much To Keep", a peak inside to the state of mind of Kevin Calaba (formerly of Stars of Track and Field). The album is a whimsical dream made up of ten tracks produced by Marcus Paquin (The National, Arcade Fire) and Yale Yng-Wong (Bear Hands, Chairlift).

With Calaba now at the helm of his own solo project, we asked if there was a message behind this record and the major life changes it brought along. "I can't say there's an exact specific message, but I would love people to put this on to go to a calm place," Calaba told Popdust in an exclusive interview. "There's some records that I put on that I love to soak in inside of them so that's a wish where I'd love to create that kind of record where someone's on a road trip or they go, "Oh, this is a moment where I should put on AirLands."

With the premiere of "Palisades", we were curious about the meaning behind it all. We got the chance to catch up with Calaba over the phone, asking about the writing process behind the new album, life-long influences and what's next for AirLands.

What was the writing process like for this new record, So Much To Keep?

Well, it started in California two summers ago. I was out there and my wife was taking Spanish classes, so we decided to spend the summer. I had three months on my hands and i just decided I'd write an album. I was ready. I'd say that influenced a sort of sunny, summer beach experience. It influenced the record for sure in a way that, on top of the fact that I think I'm becoming okay on my journey, the summers of LA can be very peaceful.

I assume you're still based in Brooklyn - has that influenced your sound at all? I find that you have a sound that's very hard to geographically pinpoint. It's got hints of West Coast, obviously, but something's different.

I am actually now in Minneapolis. We moved from Brooklyn in July and what I ended up doing was, you know, everything I wrote in California (all the demos, all the material) I brought it back to Brooklyn and put together a band and we started playing this material so it sort of came alive that way. Certainly being in the New York part of my career has influenced my sound a lot. I don't know if that's strictly an East Coast perspective. I came up on indie rock, you know, Death Cab for Cutie, Built to Spill, and kinda DIY-ed that style. I also return to a lot of the classics, actually - Beatles, Zeppelin, I really connected to that stuff. So yeah, I'd say pinpointing a sound is hard for me also. I know what I want to sound like, and I know what bands I love, but I certainly struggle with putting together the right sound for the right song.

On that note, what artists have influenced you the most?

You know, I love the National. I love Oasis, I love that 90's swagger. Sigur Rios… Radiohead is built into my DNA, to the point where I had to move on in order to not make the same Radiohead song ten times over. Bon Iver is, of course, my go-to spiritual guru music. I put that on and just melt in it.

Is there anything you've been listening to lately?

I can tell you I'm always ten years behind the internet. I've really been enjoying Beach House.. and this band Family of the Year. Cool harmonies. I also just heard that new Sufjan Stevens track that got put up on soundcloud.

How has it been finding your own personal tone with AirLands, after having previously been the frontman of an entirely different project?

It's been a shedding. I've just sort of shedded everything and tried to get to the truth and always focusing on what the character in the song is trying to say and getting back to that point. The hardest part for me is talking about, you know, why should anyone care? I recently read a book by Anne Lamott that's called Bird by Bird and it's like a guide to life but also how to write. The lens of the character is really all that matters - just writing every day and letting your characters be real people. That's what I tried to focused on. Before, I was focused on the world, war, politics, big general terms. I know that's definitely important, certainly right now, in this political climate that people are speaking out and taking on the establishment and for me, I guess i've moved to a more… you know… I like search and rescue, I like survival, I like love. Some of it is personal and some of it is fiction.

Your writing is interesting because I feel like there's a literary aspect, which brings me to my next question: do you feel like you write from an autobiographical standpoint or a more world-view narrative?

For me, some of my best lyrics are subconscious where I'll just plant some chords and something comes out of it. Those tend to be the ones that move me the most and come from a non-autobiographical place and then i'm charged with the task of figuring out what the fuck I just said and why I said it and creating a story around it. That's the hardest part, because now I've got my conscious engaged. In those moments, though, when my subconscious captures something and stuff can roll out, that's when I'm at best in creating something I think is interesting and then trying to follow a truth within that moment of creation that I don't quite understand yet.

What are you hoping to say with So Much To Keep?

I can't say there's an exact specific message, but I would love people to put this on to go to a calm place. You know… "all the birds are flying south away from the cold", or however it goes. There's some records that I put on that I love to soak in inside of them so that's a wish where I'd love to create that kind of record where someone's on a road trip or they go, "Oh, this is a moment where I should put on AirLands."

What can you tell me about working with Marcus Paquin and Yale Yng-Wong, who produced this record?

Marcus is great - a really creative, big personality with lots of ideas. He's one of those guys you want to work hard for and bring the best because he's such a bright light. He worked on the National's "Trouble Will Find Me" and I love that record, so I was after some of those sensibilities sonically. Marcus and I went through a pretty long process, and then it was time to call up Yale and go, "alright, this is where we are." Basically, Yale and I deconstructed what we had and rebuilt it, so it got made twice. I shaved my head, actually, when I met Yale and we went back to the skeleton of the record and took off everything and built it back up.

This question stems from what's going on around us right now, and I think you'd have an honest answer. What do you think the role of an artist is in a political climate like this?

I would say that... art is truth, so if that artist is seething and foaming at the mouth (as many people should be obviously), if they need to get behind a microphone and share that story about how this administration's making them feel, then that is their responsibility. I don't think an artist is beholden to just a political climate, given a song like "Hallelujah" or "Yellow." There's not a political bone in that song, but I love that song. Then there's "Imagine" - probably the greatest song ever written, very political. I think, depending on the artist, if they're being true, that's what's going to work.

So what's next for AirLands?

We're going to get out and play some shows, we've got a release show next week here in Minneapolis. With this lineup I've put together, we're going to make another record, and it's going to be really fun. I won't be going at it alone, so I'm really excited for that. Now this is going to be more of an integrated process. So that's a very exciting next step for us.

Find AirLands on Facebook, Twitter and official website. Watch the video for "Palisades" below:

Palisades from AirLands on Vimeo.

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