Meridene likes to sugar-coat the tough stuff
Trevor Carl Ives talks about being part of the Eau Claire music scene and pop culture that robs him of his faith in humanity.
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When Trevor Carl Ives needed a focus for writing the songs on his band Meridene’s second album, Something Like Blood, he chose the shitty economy and all the sinking feelings it inspires. But depleted savings accounts and foreclosures don’t come to mind—at least on first listen—while listening to vibrantly colored candy like “Gone, Baby Gone.” Eventually though, those powerful hooks will hold ears long enough for Ives’ songs of fear and doubt to burrow their way in. Whether he’s sneaking salt into the sugar bowl or trying to sweeten up the sour notes, the band has found a good balance that lasts throughout the new album. We got a hold of Ives before Meridene’s shows Wednesday at the Shitty Barn in Spring Green and Sunday at the Project Lodge to talk about the tight-knit Eau Claire music scene, revolting pop culture, and that Justin Vernon guy.
The A.V. Club: Can you give me a clue as to what the big news you announced on Twitter is?
Trevor Carl Ives: Sure, for our upcoming tour we’re doing a Daytrotter session.
AVC: You have some friends that have done Daytrotter, like Peter Wolf Crier.
AVC: How long has the current lineup been together?
TCI: Oh jeez. Well, probably all of this year. Let’s say, eight months. The core three of us—me, Paul Brandt who plays keys, and Dave Power who plays drums—we’ve been playing together for probably two and a half years now. But we’ve had this revolving door on the bassist thing. We just keep making the wrong choices. We had another bass player and in December parted ways with her and got our friend Britta [Hetzel] to play, which has been much better.
AVC: Were the horns on the new album influenced by Britta Hetzel’s experience in ska band The Screaming Mimis?
TCI: No, not really. On the last record there was a little bit of trombone. We never really wrote parts, we just got our friend to come in—Andy Hofer who also plays in The Gentle Guest out of Eau Claire—and we just faked our way through it. This time we decide we wanted to actually have legitimate horn parts, actual arrangements we wrote ourselves as opposed to just going in and taking our best shot.
AVC: Did Hofer play on this album?
TCI: No, it was actually just one guy named Jeff Walk and we multi-tracked the horn parts. It’s all trumpet on this record.
AVC: During Amble Down’s showcase in Madison last year, it seemed like Paul Brandt was in all the bands. Does that level of collaboration lead to any confusion? Does he accidentally play Cranes & Crows songs at Meridene shows?
TCI: [Laughs.] In the past it has. There’s definitely been more lines of separation as projects have gone forward. There were a couple of times where Eric Rykal, who is the head man of The Gentle Guest, used to play second guitar in Meridene. There was a couple of shows where we would do these one-off, West-Central Wisconsin, little-town shows and they’d expect us to have enough to be able to cover four hours. So we would just take turns playing each others’ songs. But as time’s gone on we’ve really drawn the line with that and thought maybe it might not be the best idea.
AVC: It’s nice that the Eau Claire scene can remain so close-knit without a dominant genre emerging. Is that a conscious effort by a lot of the bands?
TCI: I don’t think it’s a conscious effort. I know with us, growing up I was always really influenced by Nirvana and Weezer, and as it went on I got into more indie bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, so I always had a penchant for catchy hooks. I know when the Daredevil guys started out a lot of it was in their vocal attack, because they all sing so well together. But I don’t think there was ever any conscious effort to try to be different from one another; it just kind of happened that way.
AVC: There’s a lot of dark material on the album, which contrasts the punchy production. Do you like the idea of upbeat songs about heavy stuff like fear and doubt?
TCI: I do. I think it’s what I’ve always done. I definitely like to write about heavy subject matter, but write pop songs. And I do like that contrast; I think it can take a summery pop song that people might initially write off and give it an extra layer of depth and meaning.
AVC: The first single off your new album, “Gone, Baby Gone,” doesn’t exactly sound bleak, but also not a fun topic to discuss. But the song is definitely propulsive and fun to listen to.
TCI: With that one, when we recorded our last album, You’re Not Pretty, You’re Worse, it was a collection of songs that I wrote over a year and you could tell the evolution, like which songs were written last. When we went into do this new record, the one thing I wanted to do was to make it more cohesive and make it an actual album. So I wanted to come up with not necessarily a concept—kind of a loose concept, which ended up being about the economy getting so bad and living in this new, messed-up economy. That’s what I went with when I started writing the lyrics for most of the songs, I had the idea and as each song came I would come up with a new topic. For “Gone, Baby Gone,” I had just watched Gone With The Wind for the first time, so I ran the idea of someone in the modern day losing their home through the filter of the old South and the whole story of the movie.
AVC: You said your favorite song off the last album is “The Hills” which is a very articulate response to the show The Hills. Do you take a lot of cues from pop culture in your writing?
TCI: Not a lot. With "The Hills," they had a cover story on Rolling Stone with those girls and I read the article and it just really bummed me out, like these people were becoming extremely popular and people cared about what they did. And then I went out to lunch with my sisters, who are both younger than I am, and they were both super-pumped about the show and I just lost my esteem for humanity for a little bit. I basically exorcised that demon through that song.
AVC: You guys tend to get associated with Justin Vernon since he’s also from Eau Claire and has such a high profile. Do people assume that Meridene will be playing the same kind of stuff and then get frustrated or confused when you start playing power pop?
TCI: We haven’t run into that so much. I think the thing we run into the most as far as [Vernon] is, “Do you guys know him?” from various people, which we do, and he’s the nicest guy in the world. But luckily, we haven’t really had people go, “Oh, sorry. We thought you were going to be like, one dude with a lap steel, one guy with an acoustic guitar and like, bongo drums or something.”