"The heart wants what the heart wants, and I want you," vocalist Kristen Wagner Jones, of the moody LA-based outfit Bullet & Snowfox, coos on the opening track of 2014's Operator EP. Dousing the modern-pop canvas with vibrant, pulsating '80s escapism with a desire to think beyond human limits, the group—also comprised of Josh Shapiro, Drew Behj and Morrison Nichols—injects their music with the grit and passion of Blondie and Elastica. Last week, the band celebrated the one-year anniversary of the project, which also features the dizzying dance track We're Not Alright (inspired by the 2012 Aurora theatre shooting) and the smokey Ragdoll R&B-laced pinup. "We kind of wanted to give a little gift to everyone this month. Every Monday, we are going to be featuring a different track [from the project] and giving it away as a free download for the whole week," Wagner shares in an exclusive Popdust interview. She then recalls the entire EP process, saying, "We had a really unique process of recording this EP. This is our second one we’ve released. We had a different approach to the whole process in terms of rounding up a bunch of songs, and then, choosing our favorites to record."
"Two of the songs on the EP were actually fully written and recorded already. Then, we went in and demoed up a bunch of others," she says. "I wouldn’t change anything about it. When you’re in an independent band and doing it all yourself, every step is another opportunity to learn something about yourself and about what works and what doesn’t. I definitely wouldn’t change any of the choices we made. We are really proud of what we put out."
In our little Q&A-style chat, Wagner also opens up about needless violence, channeling her disappointment, sadness and anger into song and how the band began via a Craigslist ad. Trust us, you won't want to miss this one.
Dig into our in-depth Q&A session below:
Do you ever get a chance to revisit the recordings since last year?
Yea, I’ll do that every once in awhile. Sometimes, it’ll randomly come on in the car. It’s always really satisfying. It’s one of those things where I’m the type of person that once it is done and recorded and we stuck a fork in it, it can be a little nerve-wracking in the sense that you don’t want to second guess what you’ve done. I don’t want to look back and go ‘oh, I wish I had done this.’ I put it out into the world and choose not to listen to it. I don’t want to get wrapped up in over thinking or judging too harshly. You can’t do anything about it at that point. It’s wasted energy. I go through this process of once it’s done and out into the world, I step away from the songs themselves. Then, maybe six to eight months later, I can sort of go back into it and go ‘wow, these sound pretty good. I’m pretty proud of us.’
Through performing these songs so much, are there moments when a lyric will hit you in a different way?
Everything I write is from a personal experience (for the most part). It’s something related to something I’m directly feeling or going through or attached to. ‘The Heart’ is one of those songs that I connect to so deeply in the moment. It’s written about my husband. Sometimes, when he is at a show, I do have that moment when I’m singing a lyric and looking directly at him and it really clicks for me; all those emotions going on at the time I was writing it hit me. Sometimes, yeah, I do get hit with those really poignant moments. The live show, though, is a different animal. It’s this unique blend of all these different emotions. Sometimes, a lyric hits hard, especially when he is there on that song. Again, throughout a 45-minute show, you get so wrapped up in all the other elements of what is happening.
You wrote ‘We’re Not Alright’ about the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooting. Why?
Josh had demoed up a little track, you know, the bare bones. At the time that it happened, I felt like there was a lot of cultural upheaval and violence. There was this ongoing war overseas (that seemed to be never ending) and then this cycle of violence and shootings here. In that one moment, I felt so enraged by all of it. I had to put my anger somewhere. It was this process of reaching a boiling point with where we were, socially and culturally. In that moment, I had to get it out. I sat down and just started writing my frustrations with all of it. It was disappointment and sadness and anger. It was really cathartic for me, to feel like I had some sort of outlet or voice for that experience.
Even since then (2012), there have been so many more shootings and needless violence. Has the song changed in any way for you?
No. I feel like if anything, it’s just even more relevant than at the time I wrote it. That’s the sad thing about it. I do listen to that song with a little bit of sadness. Nothing has really changed, if anything that song speaks even more to where we are.
Could music really be this healing force for all of us right now?
Absolutely. Music has always been a deeply emotional experience. It really started when I was in high school. I guess I was in eighth or ninth grade. My parents got divorced, and I was obsessed with Fleetwood Mac. I had just gotten their greatest hits album. I would sit there and listen to these incredible songs, some of them heartbreaking and some of them powerful. I would sob in my bedroom. I realized the power and emotion that music can convey. A lot of people have that experience. That’s the great thing about music; it’s this universal language. Everyone can attach to in a way that maybe says things they can’t verbalize or express or that they don’t want to express. It taps into a deeper part of you. That’s why I always write from a place that is very authentic and personal.
In a ton of songwriting, darker emotions or tragedy can trigger a creative energy. Is that true?
I definitely find that to be true of myself and other songwriters. It’s harder to write a happy song than a sad one. [laughs] When you are experiencing some sort of tragedy or trauma or sadness, those feelings become so palpable. They rise to the surface in a way that you can’t ignore. On the flip side, when you are happy and things are good, people don’t feel happiness as deeply as they feel sadness. We all have moments of reflection when you stop and look at your life and go ‘wow, I’m so lucky. I’m so happy.’ No one’s life is perfect but you can zero in on recognizing all the things you have gratitude for. But those moments are really few and far between compared to those moments when we are not feeling happy, in which case we are so immersed in that feeling and trying to figure out why. It also relates to our innate human desire for the pursuit of happiness. That’s what is in us all. There’s so much emphasis on the struggle to get there. Once we’re there, it’s like ‘OK, well, we’re good.’ You don’t exactly spend as much time mulling that over. There’s so much fodder when you’re in that struggle.
I read the band began through Craigslist?
It did! I took out an ad. I was with a group before, and we had just broken up. I was really looking to start something completely new from the ground up. I had a general idea of what I wanted it to be and what I wanted it to sound like. I took out an ad looking for a guitar player and songwriting partner and producer. I spent three months, basically, fielding crazy emails. There were a couple false starts where I met with a couple guys who I thought would become something. But it just didn’t. Then, I got Josh’s response, and he sent me eight samples of tracks he had been working on. I really liked them all. We met up for coffee, and we got on like gangbusters. It was off to the races from there. Josh was exiting a band at the time, too. While I had spent three months looking for someone, he had randomly gone on Craigslist and mine was the third ad from the top. He responded, and that was it. For him, it was a much different experience. I had my nose to the grindstone until we got there.
What was the craziest email/response you received?
There were a few that were pretty off-the-wall weirdos. There was this one guy who had this hippie, dippie vibe. He was like ‘I want to make music that sounds like the mountains are making love to the moon.’ I was like ‘Oh my god. You are crazy. Yea, I think that’s a little out there for what I’m looking for.’
What’s the meaning behind the band name?
That’s a top secret story, which I can not share. We’re going to keep that one locked up.
Stylistically, what are your influences?
Josh and I have completely opposite tastes in music. As a band, Elastica, Blondie and bands that have that female-fronted power and energy are influences, but the songs are danceable and have an edge. It’s almost like a punk-rock aesthetic, especially in terms of the live show. Debbie Harry and Shirley Manson are influences, too. Josh’s style runs the gamut, but he loves metal. He loves to shred on his own time. He loves Gang of Four and Manchester Orchestra; those are two of his favorites. But he also listens to Drake. Obviously, the band is not influenced by that. [laughs]
How do you bring those influences together, and do you compromise along the way?
We definitely do. What’s interesting is Josh and I both try to not be too influenced by other music and bands. It’s not really that conscious. Those are things we’re drawn to and like. Arctic Monkeys is another band we love. Our style we would describe as a mix of Blondie meets Arctic Monkeys meets Elastica. Josh will come up with a musical idea (a guitar lick or melody) and send it to me. I tend to like (more than not) what he sends and vice versa. So, when I’m writing the top line, nine times out of ten, he’s like ‘oh, that sounds great. I love it!’ Every once in awhile, it’s like ‘I like it, but that synth tone is weird. Let’s change that.’ That stuff we do. For the most part, we really like what the other person brings to the table. It’s not a constant push and pull.
Are you working on new stuff?
We are! We have about three songs right now that we are in the middle of. During this time we’re playing shows and promoting the EP, we are constantly writing. But we try really hard not to put self-induced pressure on the situation. We write better when we do it from a place of inspiration. We are in a constant state of writing/working. The quicker we can write, the better. But if you’re forcing it, you have to step away from it and come back to it. The stuff we’re working on now we’ve been working on for a couple of months.
Do you prefer to drop new music or test it in a live setting first?
We typically release it online first. We like to get the music to a place where it feels really solid. What the live show has done is actually come through in the way we write. What we like to do is get the songs fully constructed and all the production elements in there we like. Then, we turn that into the live show and the sound. But that said, over the years, as we’ve played out so much and cemented what our live show energy and aesthetic is, we’ve adjusted the way we write to better inform the live show. Like when we first started, we were a studio band. When we wrote 10 or 12 songs, we had them fully produced and recorded and mixed before we had even played a live show. We were basically turning those songs into the show. As we started playing out and we realized ‘wow, our live show is actually really aggressive and has this raw energy that didn’t necessarily come across in those recordings.’ As we’ve evolved, the way we write has changed, too, to better support what we do live.
What has been your favorite show and/or festival experience so far?
We performed at LA Fashion Week, and that was amazing. That would definitely be in the top two. The other would be performing at Bloomfest in downtown LA. The thing is they are at the top for different reasons. Performing in the context of fashion week, we were on this long runway and limited in terms of what we could do with the live sound. But it was such a unique performance experience, and it was incredible to have this giant room full of people. The setting was unique, too. It was such a different thing for us. The Bloomfest was a pure rock festival, fun party. It was huge. LA struggles with its identity of creating a community atmosphere. It’s always fun when we get to be a part of something that brings the community together. We got to play with other amazing bands. Grouplove headlined. There was a handful of some other awesome bands on there, too. It was a cool thing to be a part of.
Make sure you check out Bullet & Snowfox's outstanding Operator EP now on Apple Music.
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