Nicole Schneit is a Brooklyn singer with an endearing voice, a beat-up electric guitar, and an ear for some of the loveliest melodies anywhere. Her ongoing project, Air Waves, traffics in folk music of an appealing, elemental sort; when Dan Deacon compared Air Waves to “a favorite blanket wrapped around you,” he wasn’t wrong. Now a quartet, Air Waves is a staple at DIY venues across the city (a scene to which Decider has dedicated a new column), and is planning to release a debut album in the fall. In advance of Air Waves' show on Thursday, July 23 at Cake Shop, Decider sat down with Schneit and guitarist Scott Rosenthal to talk about lo-fi rock, the recession, and avoiding the singer-songwriter label.
Decider: There’s been a surge of interest in grassroots venues and the DIY aesthetic in general. Where does Air Waves fit in?
Nicole Schneit: The scene feels bigger than ever right now, but it’s been a little difficult for us lately. We don’t necessary fit into one specific genre. Sometimes I feel that we’re not lo-fi enough, and that’s the big genre right now.
D: What do you think of the lo-fi revival?
NS: My main problem with it is that I think a lot of the bands are hiding the lyrics, or hiding the songs. There’s so much fuzz that it’s hard to tell where the song is. Almost anybody can make music like that, and there’s a sense that people are copying what’s going on because it’s popular. I know one band—and I won’t say which—that used to be an emo band, and now they’re playing lo-fi psychedelic music. It doesn’t seem totally genuine to me.
D: Genuine or not, there’s been a real jump in the amount of music coming out of Brooklyn these past couple of years. Why do you think that is?
NS: New York’s so good for making music. You can play every week, every other week, and there are a ton of people to play with and venues to play with. And I think that when there’s a recession, there’s always going to be good music.
Scott Rosenthal: That’s a good point about the recession, because it’s really hard to talk about “the scene” in New York without talking about real estate. It’s what keeps pushing things in a certain direction, and it’s the reason why everyone lives in Brooklyn. But aside from that, I do feel that people who are talented and with some degree of motivation want to move to a handful of different places. Brooklyn is definitely one of them. So there are tons of talented people all the time. I don’t think the recession is the worst thing in the world if it means you can stay in an apartment for more than three years without getting priced out.
D: Scott just joined the band. How did that come to be?
NS: I went to Scott’s studio [Northside Music] to record an album under the Air Waves name, and after few days I called him to ask if he wanted to be in the band. We were getting along really well, and I was excited about the idea of having him play.
SR: I was really excited because I loved the songs. Nicole’s lyrics are colorful, credible, and they make sense—nothing ever makes me cringe. She gets it. I would’ve played tambourine, but I lucked out and I get to play guitar.
D: Air Waves could be called a singer-songwriter project. Were you trying to avoid that label by attaching a band name?
NS: I was. I was tired of being a singer-songwriter. I kept adding new sounds, I was even playing drums, and I was still being pigeonholed as that.
D: Why do you think the singer-songwriter is such a tired concept?
SR: Let’s say you saw a band called Air Waves and an artist called Nicole Schneit. You’d think about them differently, just based on past experiences. A singer-songwriter, in the popular mindset, introduces every song by saying stuff like, “I was backpacking through a cloud in India when I wrote this song.”
NS: And now there’s a general understanding among promoters that even when I play solo, it’ll be under the name Air Waves. So that’s kind of cool.
D: How do you think an additional guitar will affect Air Waves’ sound?
SR: If we start rocking out that’s fine, but the songs are so strong—I don’t want to even come close to overwhelming that. I want to make sure you can hear the voice. In some bands if the vocals were buried, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But with Air Waves, people would feel cheated.
D: Air Waves is two words, and your MySpace page makes that quite clear. Why is that?
NS: If it’s one word, it’s the transmission of sound. If it’s two words, it’s just the air and the water. I wanted it to mean that: the two things we’re in and around all the time. They’re familiar elements, and the songs I write are about relationships and people. You can’t avoid air and water.