We spoke with Silversun Pickups’ bassist Nikki Monninger about the release of their fourth studio album Better Nature. The album was released on the 25th of September via New Machine Records.
First of all, congratulations on the new album!
Thank you! We’re all pretty happy about it and looking forward to it actually coming out. We finished recording in January – so we’ve been waiting a little while and I can’t believe it’s already almost upon us.
What have you been up to in the three years between your last album, Neck of the Woods (2008), and recording this one?
Well, I actually had twin girls so I’ve been busy doing family stuff for now. They’re two and a half years old and I’m just figuring out how to juggle everything. Fingers crossed!
Did that affect the recording of the album at all?
We have a really tight family support system, so I’ve been very lucky. We have so many willing grandparents and my husband.
I also now practice at five in the morning – I’m starting to learn that that’s probably when I have time to myself!
When did you start working on the album?
We actually started recording with [producer] Jacknife in October and we would do a couple of weeks at a time…it’s nice to record in two week periods. We’d take a moment to let a song breath before we’d record it. We kind of liked the sporadic recording process that we used this time. It just worked with our schedules and Jacknife’s schedule.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Jacknife. What does he bring to the process?
For me personally, he makes things a little more spontaneous, and I’m not a spontaneous person. I like to plan all these song out and try to make it all as perfect as I can, but he literally throws down my notes and says “Just playing something that you’re feeling right now!”
His recording process is totally different, but I’ve just come to embrace that thinking and it really helps make our album more interesting.
He’s always finding new creative inspirations and everyday we come to record and he has new things for us to use. It’s just a little crazy but also really interesting. One day, there was a vibraphone in our studio, and we just ended up using it! We’d never used one before, and I had never played one before, but he just said “Does anyone want to try and play this?”.
I just jumped at the opportunity because it’s such an interesting instrument and were able to use it on “Tapedeck”. You never think about using something like that, but once you’re there and it’s there, it seems like the right thing to do. I think fortunately it worked out really well.
It’s just an example of how he brings something out of us with his ability to be so spontaneous and creative.
Were there any particular influences that stood out when writing the album?
I remember whilst we were writing, I was listening to a lot of late 60s rock, mostly Small Faces and The Kinks and lots of bass-driven songs. I like a lot of that kind of music and I hope it rubbed off in the album.
Moshcam: This was your first album on your own record label, New Machine Records. Did you find that this influenced the writing or producing process?
We had a good run with [previous label] Dangerbird, but our contract was up with them and it made us think about what we wanted to do next. Our manager just asked if we’d like to start a label, and it just sounded like a great idea and something freeing to try…I feel like we’ve made the right decision and it feels so freeing to have control and be the ones who can make decisions. I feel like if we messed up then we’d have nobody but ourselves to blame.
Moshcam: You sing quite prominently on “Circadian Rhythm”, what led to that decision?
I think Brian has always wanted to push me into singing more, and I think I’ve always shied away. It finally felt right on this album, 15 years after starting the band…[lead singer/guitarist] Brian had a demo of where he wanted the song to go, but it was a very loose recording. I think things actually changed a lot in the recording process and he said, “Nikki, this is the one that you’re in charge of!”
I also think Jacknife really helped me to embrace my voice and just sing in a different way and a little more confidently than I have in the past. I’m grateful that he really pushed me in a direction that I’m usually not comfortable with.
It’s funny because our manager Cliff came up to me after he heard me and Brian do it acoustically and he was like “Wow, I never knew you had a voice like that. I feel like we should have gotten you singing like this earlier!” I told him, it’s come at the right time and I wouldn’t have done it before. It took 15 years but I think it just came at the perfect time!
Moshcam: Would you want to do anymore more singing in the future, perhaps on the next album?
I’m always so happy with Brian’s voice and how that sounds on our albums, and I think his voice really defines our sound. I’m always rooting for Brian to sing, but I’ll try not to shy away as much if we go in that direction again. Again, I’m pretty shy about my voice, and it takes someone like Jacknife to force me out of my comfort zone. I am happy with how that one turned out though!
Moshcam: Is there any other music that you’ve been listening to recently?
We ended up playing a show recently with our friend Sarah who filled in for me whilst I was gone on maternity leave having the babies, and she has a great band called Happy Hollows that we absolutely love and I think she’s such a talented girl. It was so great having her play in Silversun when I couldn’t, and I think she was the only one that we would’ve asked. Her band Happy Hollows is awesome and I’d love to give them a shoutout!
Moshcam: Finally, what first got you into music?
My mum got me piano lessons when I was 5 years old, and then I got my first guitar in highschool…and my first bass in college. I think I always wanted music to be a part of my life but it didn’t really come together until later. Our singer Brian and I were roommates for several years before we even talked about joining a band together.
I would always hear him playing guitar in the house and I always thought he had a unique style of playing. I never pushed myself to join a band, but with him it just seemed like the right thing to do and now, here we are, 15 years later! I think things have worked out really well.
Moshcam: So the band just progressed from there?
I guess everything with Silversun just seemed to progress really naturally. We were friends first, then we were friends with [keyboardist] Joe and [drummer] Christopher and then they joined the band. I feel like in any working or musical relationship it’s important to actually enjoy the people that you’re collaborating with. It’s so nice that we were all friends first and then decided to do this, and I think it has really helped to keep us together over the years.
The guys are like a second family to me now. Even though it took us years to actually put anything out, it just felt right to start by working on our live show. Things all happen in due time! And now, it’s nice to say that we’ve been together for 15 years, which I don’t think a lot of bands can say. It just feels natural to stay with these guys!
Read our chat with Brian, the lead singer from Silversun Pickups here
Buy Better Nature here