Features | Interviews

We Versus The Shark

By Amir Nezar | 10 March 2005

CMG's Amir Karim Nezar: Where did you (the band members) come from, how did you run into each other, what gave rise to this band and this kind of music?
Jeff Daniel Tobias, Bass/Keys/Vocals: I am from New York.  We met by way of unmarked manila envelopes delivered to our doorsteps, containing only dates, places, and plane tickets.  As for the music, I can only assume the others had similar "accidents" as well.

Luke Douglas Fields, Baritone/Micrtotone/Guitar/Vocals: I'm from Georgia, born and bred a Desperate Southern Gentleman. How we met, however, is confidential. If I told you, I'd have to pull out your tongue as incentive to keep you from telling. All I can say is that killer bees were involved. Definitely.

As for the Sharks, we all had been in bands that were fun yet not quite satisfying our needs to do whatever the hell it is we're doing now. Jeff and Sam were tricked into moving to me in Athens so we could do this... thing. In case you haven't noticed, this is one of my least favorite questions. Definitely.

Samantha Erin Paulsen, Guitar/Keys/Vocals: I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado. The four of us were meant to be together, that's all I'll say. I guess this type of music came from all of our very distinct backgrounds in music. We all listened to something different growing up, though we all like a lot of kinds of music, and have introduced each other to a lot of new sounds. We all throw in something different, it gets mushed together, and then you end up with an album like RUIN EVERYTHING! (Read CMG review here)

What was the single hardest thing about starting your band?
JEFF: Probably moving several states away.  Other than that, it was a breeze...by the time I joined the band, they'd already been playing out as a two-piece and had established a name for themselves in Athens.  They did all the work, I get all the glory!

Finding Scott, probably. Sam and Jeff had to move across the country, so that was difficult for them, but I was truly fretting it until we found out that Scott was a badass. Then, everything was good. Almost as good as the potato and corn soup I am eating.

Moving over a thousand miles away from my family and anyone I knew to a place I had visited maybe three times was quite an adventure.

CMG: What is the georgia rock scene like? Do you guys see yourselves as a divergence from a perceptible trend? If so, how do people in your locale react to you? If not, do you see any trends emerging that you either like or identify yourself with?
JEFF: We Versus the Shark and buddy bands like Cinemechanica and Coulier definitely emerged as a new strain of indie rock amongst the Athens scene.  This is not your dad's Elephant Six or what have you... long story short, you change time signatures a couple times in your song, suddenly there's a "math rock movement." Who knew?

LUKE: Well, in Athens, I sort of feel like we were at the head of the current trend. Not the parents of course, but at the starting line, if you will. We came to be right around the dissolve of Kindercore Records, which put a serious dent in Twee Rock and the Paper
Lions/Maserati reign of ULTIMATE POWER for a few months. We bloomed in that period, since what we were striving for was at the same time loud, catchy, and complex. It filled a void that had appeared, so our local response was very positive and snowballed pretty quickly. At the same time, our soulmates Cinemechanica edged in on the same front we did, so we formed a "you're the best, no, YOU'RE THE BEST" sort of brotherhood and lived happily ever after. Then Paper Lions broke up and no one else was rocking in a Miller High Life sort of way, so now we're totally famous forever.

Within eight months or so, a lot of our friends saw the (disco) light, and now there is a definite dance/math sort of thing going on, though it appears to have diffused a bit. We've actually sworn ourselves off the disco beat for a while to try and distance ourselves from dancepunk. We have much more ambitious things to do to music. Ambitious and sexy things.

CMG: Is there some cross-pollination that goes on between bands on your label and other labels? I remember seeing that Jerry Fuchs (also playing for Turing Machine) was listed as part of Cinemechanica. Does the same go for you?
JEFF: Hmm, well, just as a point of information, Jerry Fuchs is not a member of Cinemechanica (much to Bryant's chagrin!) but actually the new drummer for Maserati. But I think we have nice buddy-buddy alliances with a few other labels, such as Ernest Jennings and Stickfigure Records.

LUKE: Kinda. Jerry actually played with Maserati, not Cinemechanica. I'll be playing baritone guitar on a song for the Cinemechanica album, and we'll be having more guests on the next We Versus album. Greg Collins from Disband did some vocals on Ruin Everything, he's the high part of the chorus on "Slide"... and Andy Pruett and Mike Albanese of Cinemechanica played trumpets on the album in various places. Those collaborations mostly have to do with being friends and having them engineer our album. Not so much a desire to be a "guest-y" band or label. We're all friends. We hang out. We run a label. We drink. Indefinitely.

CMG:  Someone calls you "dancepunk." What do you think of the label (other than not wanting to be pigeonholed), and do you think it's got any hope?
JEFF: You've got to look at indie music as a cyclical thing. We spent the 90s frozen in place at shows, arms folded, and now there's this great huge movement of people wanting to dance at shows...I'm not interested in looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.  If kids think it's cool to dance at shows right now, they can call it whatever they want, I'm into it.  I hope this trend lasts as long as it possibly can.

LUKE: We never wanted it. It's sick and about to die, and I dont care. I get bitchy when it comes to labels and "genre-fication." Just don't need it. I suppose it applies to certain songs, but we really really really honestly mean it when we say we try to be everything we like at once. And we've listened to a hell of a lot more than dancepunk.

SAM: No matter what kind of band you're in, you're definitely in a "KIND OF BAND". Every band gets labeled, regardless of liking it or agreeing with it, so to be called "dancepunk" or "math rock" or "indie rock" would be accurate for us. As long as we're ALL of those, and not just ONE, I think it's a fair label. As far as its lifespan, who knows. EMO was a huge deal a while ago... but now you can call everything EMO and it works. Maybe the same will happen for DANCEPUNK, except it'll sound cooler.

You use an atypical variety of rock instruments --- among them, a fretless guitar. What was behind these choices?
JEFF: Luke can answer this one!

LUKE: Well, I guess most of the weirdness is from Jeff and I's junkyard affinity. We love hitting weird things and making weird noises. If we wouldn't get slammed for wanting to be Skeleton Key, we'd build a junk percussion rack to jump behind for a few songs
each. The experimentation is fun. As for my baritone guitar, it's not too funky, just a little lower in sonic range than a regular one. The microtonal/fretless guitar was modified by my friend Joel Byron. He's a novice luthier and kind of my guitar tech. We worked at the same diner for a year or so...

One day he told me we should make some sort of weird freaky guitar for me to play. I had my very first electric that I bought from a pawn shop just sitting in the corner, so we polished it up and took out half the frets, then stuck intermediate frets in at the
top. I tune it to an open c tuning (low to high: C G C G Ab Ab) and punch it a lot. I love it. It's only used on "See Carolina's Fastest Trees" but that will soon change.

CMG:  Your rhythms and pacing are all over the place, in a good way --- it sounds sort of brilliantly chaotic. But to actually nail that stuff down, it seems you have to do quite a bit of advance planning, especially to nail it down live. How does that process (songwriting, arrangement, performance) work for you guys?
JEFF: It's pretty laborious.  Hours at a time can be spent on a 20-second piece of a song.  As far as time changes go, you have to keep to the structure of the song when playing it live.  But within those parts, there is a little room for neat improvisation.

LUKE: It depends. We're pretty synched up for such a young band. Sometimes we can write a song in two or three practices. The best method for us so far has been to write in pairs (I typed "write in Paris" the first time and was going to run with that but we are men of action and lies do not become us.) and then come to practice with the skeleton of a song fitted together and let the rest of the band flesh it out.

SAM: We've actually tried different ways of writing, especially when we're stuck. We tend to write better songs (rather, songs we all are happy playing...) when we all write as a collaborative, but we have written separately, or brought in parts and whole songs. Each song has been different so far, it's kind of neat to see what happens when you write in different ways. I think we know each other's styles and capabilities pretty well, so once we write a part, it's easy to tighten it up. Our biggest problem is being completely satisfied with our individual parts... even single notes... sometimes we spend forever just figuring out ONE note, or which we like best! But I think it's worth it. Kind of. Maybe not. It sounds kind of ridiculous now that I read it.

CMG: What bands do you consider your primary influences, if any?
JEFF: As many music critics have caught onto, we definitely have a soft spot in our hearts for mid-to-late 90s D.C. indie rock.  But after that, our influences stretch from underground rap to '80s pop-funk to Canadian spazz, so... we try to keep it varied.

LUKE: I dunno. For me personally: Faraquet, the Dismemberment Plan, Q and not U, Skeleton Key, Self, Radiohead, Deerhoof, Nirvana, Faith No More, the Toadies, Burning Airlines, Tom Waits, Archers of Loaf, Oingo Boingo... there's too many.

SAM: The obvious influences: The Red Light Sting, The Dismemberment Plan, Q and not U, Les Savy Fav, Fugazi. Maybe not-so-obvious: Prince, Tom Waits, Radiohead.

CMG:  How much do you hate that last question? Feel free to elaborate.
JEFF: Oh, man.  Wow.  It's rough.  Because the second you say, "Well, gosh, Fugazi are an awfully good band!" you have legions of people comparing you to Fugazi without a second thought.  It's a bit of a catch-22.

LUKE: "To the pain means the first thing you lose will be your feet, below the ankles, then your hands at the wrists, next your nose(...) The next thing you lose will be your left eye, followed by your right(...) Your ears you keep, and I'll tell you why -- so that
every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish -- every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, "Dear God, what is that thing?" will echo in your perfect ears. That is what "to the pain" means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever."

SAM: Yeah, I agree with Jeff. As soon as you mention a band you like, people start to compare you, and then you're just another band. I like having influences, but like anyone in a band, I like to think we sound like ourselves.

CMG: Different question: Favorite bands?
JEFF: I don't think any of us has a singular favorite band. I will say that I spent the last few years fawning over Mclusky, who recently broke up.  No one was louder than Mclusky.

LUKE: I think I'm going to vomit. Seriously. It's not a clever band name, I'm really about to throw up.

SAM: I don't know what the hell is wrong with Luke, seriously, does he think he's funny? I don't have one favorite band, but these are some people I listen to an awful lot: The Red Light Sting, Hum, Tom Waits, Faraquet, Burning Airlines, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin.

  Weblogs, the proliferation of internet music criticism: how do you react to it as a band trying to get a word in edgewise in the general music consciousness? Is all of it causing a clogging effect, or making life easier?
JEFF: If someone decides to even make a passing reference to us on their blog or what have you, we're pretty pleased.  The internet has done a number on cultural criticism, knocking it down to a real DIY peg--anyone can do this, really, and EVERYONE does. It's all a fine cog in our master plan of inserting our music into the collective consciousness...or something like that.

LUKE: A little of both, but for us more of the latter. Our name is everywhere and it's freaking me out. I'm sick of our album and almost can't believe people like it. I just want to make the next one and move on, but you guys won't shut up about how awesome we are. Ha!

CMG: Best concert experience?
JEFF: Off the top of my head, I'd say Outkast.

LUKE: My first concert was Tuscadero, Archers of Loaf, and Weezer. Tusacadero sucked, and the Archers blew Weezer out of the water. I was in middle school and held hands with my girlfriend in the parking lot. I had gone to see Weezer and then the Archers fucked it all up by introducing me to indie rock. Now I'm in We Versus the Shark. Where am I going with this?

SAM: Metallica, when I was a freshman in high school.

CMG:  And, of course, worst?
JEFF: The Spin Doctors.

LUKE: Geez, too many to name. I helped start a diy punk rock venue in a suburb once. I've seen some Shit. Like, Vietnam Shit.

SAM: There are so many bad bands!

CMG:  At work on a new album yet?
JEFF: Oh yes.  Six songs deep.  Scary monster songs.

LUKE: Yes, about 5 or 6 songs in, I think. We should be recording it this summer or fall and releasing it this time next year, maybe earlier. I'm excited, it's shaping up to be miles beyond Ruin Everything. Do I sound like a self-absorbed, me-loving ass-hat yet? Good.

SAM: Yes. This one will be monster-themed and scary. Hopefully we'll be able to have enough material to start recording late summer or next fall. We're definitely ready to be back in the studio.

CMG: If you weren't in a rock band, what would be your chosen (as opposed to necessary day-job) profession?
JEFF: Band rock?

LUKE: Monster Truck Driver/Team Owner.

SAM: Crime Scene Investigator