Silversun Pickups – guitarist and vocalist Brian Aubert, bassist Nikki Monninger, drummer Christopher Guanlao and keyboardist Joe Lester – emerged on the LA music scene in the early 2000s alongside their 2005 debut, Pikul. The group's following grew dramatically in 2006 with the release of Carnavas, featuring the breakthrough single "Lazy Eye." That album and subsequent releases, including 2009's Swoon and 2012's Neck of the Woods, have showcased the band's gift for electrifying soundscapes, textured arrangements and male-female vocal harmonies.
The Grammy-nominated quartet visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on August 8, 2013, touring the Museum before a gig at Cleveland's famous Agora Theater. Silversun Pickups singer/guitarist Brian Aubert sat down for an interview with the Rock Hall.
Rock Hall: What was the first record/CD you ever bought and do you still listen to it?
Brian Aubert: The first album I remember buying was Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual. I was really little, and I was on a family trip to Anchorage, Alaska. I found it in a mall and the purchase made me feel like an adult. Yes, I do listen to it here and there.
RH: What artists did you listen to when you were growing up and what about them appealed to you? Were you influenced by any artist featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio?
BA: I was really into soundtracks when I was a kid. I loved almost any kind of movie score. The stranger the better. I can still feel myself thinking about Blade Runner when I write a record. As far as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I remember how excited we were to see things from Joy Division in there. For some reason we didn't expect to see that. They've always been a big influence on us.
RH: What do you remember about playing your first gig – how old were you, where was it, when was it, how’d it go, the crowd?
BA: It was in Brooklyn (Williamsburg) NY for CMJ in 2000. We were barely a band with a few really slow songs... well, almost songs. We made a crude audio tape with a fake bio that talked about our cat. Nikki sent it to CMJ as a sort of joke. When we got accepted we almost fell to the floor. We really wanted to go and see some of the bands playing that year, so we just hobbled a set together and flew to NYC. Some of our friends ended up coming, which made the whole thing very nerve racking. People were sweet to us, but I know it had to have been terrible.
RH: Which album of yours would you say is your favorite and why?
BA: Neck of the Woods (our newest one) is probably my favorite. I'm still living in it, and it still feels fresh to me. Every time we play songs from it live it still feels new and that any moment it could all come crashing down. It's an uncomfortable feeling that excites me.
RH: How would you describe your music to somebody who'd never heard it before? What song would you tell them to listen to first and why?
BA: That's a tough one. I find it really hard to intellectualize our music because it feels natural to me. I can't really hear what we sound like because I'm so close to it. So, I usually just say we're a rock band. I guess I would have them start from the beginning. "Kissing Families" from our Pikul EP seems like a good place to start.
RH: Do you have a favorite concert? One by someone else? And one by you?
BA: Oh man. I've seen some great shows. Radiohead at the Hollywood bowl comes to mind. Bjork at the Hollywood palladium. Spiritualized at the Roseland in Portland. Arcade Fire in Amsterdam. Wilco at the John Ford amphitheater. Yikes – there's so many. As far as ours? I always think about the first big show we did. It was 2003 and Elliott Smith asked us to open for him at the Music Box Theater in LA. It was scary. It was amazing. After the show we just looked at each other in awe. It was the first time we felt like a real band and were comfortable in our sonic identity. I couldn't sleep for days after that.