Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An Interview with Eldridge Rodriguez

For the last 10 years Cameron Keiber A.K.A. Eldridge Rodriguez has been co-fronting Boston's meritorious post-punk institution, The Beatings. During that time E.R. has issued four estimable solo releases including the superb new LP, You Are Released. You can read our hyperbole riddled review here. Early this week we had the chance to speak with E.R. about the new album, the future of The Beatings, and Thursday's show at the Middle East. Thanks to Eldridge for taking the time and to the entire Midriff Records staff for sharing the music.

Bryan Hamill
: Due to recording You Are Released around the same time as The Beatings' Late Season Kids, was it a challenge to decide what songs would be designated for the solo album?

Eldridge Rodriguez: Sometimes, I spend a year or so writing furiously, then I bring a disk of my work to the Beatings, who stand in a circle wearing headphones, with me in the middle and harshly judge and berate me about how shitty each song is as it comes up in the playlist. When the disk is done, they leave me in the room alone, turn off the light and don't come back for a hour or so. When they return they'll have 5-7 songs written down on a napkin as the songs they're not embarrassed to play. The rest go on solo albums. Other times I write songs that I'd like to hear without their interference and those go on solo albums too.

Bryan: What was the creative process behind You Are Released?

Eldridge: Ray Jeffery, who co-produced the record and recorded/mixed it at his Liberty and Union Recording Co., used a lot more loops and beats on this record. We had done a bunch of records together, he and I (Late Season Kids, ER-This Conspiracy Against Us, Ian Adams- Stay Up Late,etc) but we hadn't really used as much digital tracking before. A lot of this one was recorded on 8-track reel to reel and then dumped to Pro-tools, where we did more tracking and mixing. And now we have a bunch of producers doing remixes of tracks off the album for a remix album of You Are Released coming out next month or so, in other programs like Logic Pro and such. So, we hopped around a lot of different platforms and media throughout the entire process of this record. And it was great. It's great fun to come into the studio one day with nothing and build songs from scratch starting with beats or layer noise loops over the 8 track stuff. It allowed for an amount of freedom in the studio that I won't work without again.

Bryan:With more loops and beats than your previous solo releases, this album seems more pop friendly and bombastic, was that part of your vision for You Are Released?

Eldridge: It's probably a little more self consciously pop than I've done before, or at least my understanding of what I think modern pop should sound like. I'd never done a pop record before. Everything before has been a series of genres separated by backslashes; noise/rock, noise/folk, etc. I like pop. I don't like the particular brand of pop that's popularized by things like American Idol or any of these knock off TV shows, I think that stuff's shit. I don't like people liking shitty pop ironically as the college educated and hip tend to do. I'm not buying 30 something music journalists seriously writing about the new Beiber or Lady Ga Ga album, 'cause 14 year old's don't typically read your Rolling Stones or Pitchforks, it's not your target audience and seems desperate. I don't particularly care for pop culture. But I like pop hooks and melodies and appreciate when it's not being presented in the way that you've seen done before. That's what we were trying to do, I think... create an album with all the styles, moods and conventions of pop music w/o pop's triteness and cliches. We were trying to an a deconstructionist pop record, certainly. Whether that's what people hear in it, I don't know and frankly don't care. I'd like them to simply enjoy it for whatever reason they want, without the academics and on a purely pleasurable level. If they enjoy it as a straight up pop album, I'm cool with that.

Bryan: Once again you chose to record with Ray Jeffery at Liberty & Union Studios in Taunton, can you tell us how that relationship came about?

Eldridge: We've just known each other from being around the scene for years. Before he had the full studio and only had the software he'd record my projects for dirt cheap and I'd take full advantage of that by demanding all his free time to work on my stuff. We get a kick out of each other and can work in confined spaces at long times together. He's allot more tolerant of my idiosyncrasies than most people. We just know how to navigate a studio together without getting in each others way and in the end turn out fairly decent albums. Plus he has really famous friends and I'm biding my time to meet them and ride their coattails.

Bryan: There seems to be a common theme of mortality and coming of age throughout the album, did you draw on personal experience?

Eldridge: I think that essentially, emotionally I'm a 16 year old kid. I'm painfully aware of my own mortality, I'm scared as hell of getting old and very minor infractions that I should have gotten over years ago still haunt me and effect how I deal with people on a daily basis. I'm not saying this in a "look how heroically damaged I am" kind of way. I'm quite embarrassed that I've have a very wonderful life and been blessed with a wonderful family and yet when I write it's influenced by experiences of getting my feeling hurt when I was 21. It's sad and not something I'm particularly proud of. I don't know what it is. Maybe my writing will always be emotionally 20 or so years behind my actual age. Many the happy, inspirational songs come later. Old people scare me and although the thought of my own death doesn't faze me in the least, getting old and infirmed bothers me to no end. I think that when people say "everyone is afraid to die" what they really mean is that everyone is afraid to get old and not to be in full control of their faculties. I think people are afraid of not being in control of themselves. And so am I, and I tend to write allot about that. About not having control and things I have no control over.

Bryan: Sara Borges provides vocals on Miss Me When I'm Gone, did you know immediately that she was the perfect fit for that song?

Eldridge: Sarah was gracious enough to do some vocals on This Conspiracy Against Us, and if you do a favor once it's kind of easy to make someone feel obligated to do it again by unleashing massive amounts of guilt upon them. I had written that song for her and her ex-boyfriend years ago, cause they were hot shit in town, playing together fairly regularly, we were all friends and I figured it was a good way to get some attention for myself and if recorded, possibly some rent money. Her ex turned it down for whatever reason and I don't know if he ever played it for her. And I knew it was a decent enough song, equal parts poppy and biting. So I kept it in my back pocket and played it solo live for a few years, with the full intention of asking her to do it when I was ready to record it. I knew she would be good on the track because I wrote it with her in mind.

Bryan: How did it feel to be nominated for Best Male Vocalist in The Boston Phoenix' Best Music Poll?

Eldridge: If you stick around a party you weren't invited to long enough you're bound to be recognized by someone. I'm a very self deprecating person and my friends have told me not to be with regard to this and to enjoy the attention. I am incredibly appreciative that they think that highly of me and I look at the nomination as recognizing a cumulative 10 year body of work and not just my recent solo release, and I'm cool with that. It's incredibly gratifying to have your work recognized. There's some very nice company in that category I'm in and it's very sweet of The Phoenix to think of me and include me. It's my understanding there is a party for it next month and I'm hoping there is some kind of drink specials for nominees.

Bryan: With recent releases from E.R., Greg Lyon, and Get Help featuring your Beatings band mates , can you tell us when the band might regroup to some shows or get back in the studio?

Eldridge: I don't know that we will. We have a show this month for a close friends going away party at O'Brien's, but there are no plans to start motivating in that direction. Dennis is playing with me, Tony has his stuff going on in NJ/NY, Erin has tons of non-music related stuff happening in her life and Greg has three other projects to keep him busy. We did the show down in Austin during SxSW this year and that was a blast. But, I don't know what the future holds for The Beatings. I know that there are no future plans set. Nothing scheduled- recording, show or practice-wise. I hesitate to call it a hiatus, but we have no plans to get together after our local show on 5/21. Frankly, we've all gotten much older while chugging away in relative obscurity for a decade-plus and I'm not so sure anyone cares to see us in such a withered state. I just don't know. If there was a call to action from outside or within the ranks, I imagine we could get it together. But I know about as much as you do.

Bryan: In addition to writing and recording you also run Midriff Records, can you give us a quick history lesson on how the label began and where it's headed in 2011?

Eldridge: Its a long drawn out story, it's late and so unfortunately you're getting the company standard reply:Midriff Records was started about 10 years ago by Beatings guitarist/vocalist Tony Skalicky and then Beatings manager Mike "The Fox" Italiano with my brother Clayton Keiber (who lived in NYC then and still does) and I acting as support and doing some of the running around for it. It was started in Boston, but after a few years both Tony and Mike moved to NYC (where Tony still lives) and the label was operating primarily out of NY. Theeeeeenn, a few years later Tony and Mike pulled back their involvement with the label (they were getting burned out) which was followed by Clayton and I stepping in and taking over as the principal owners/managers a few years ago, with Tony still involved. Now the label operates out of both cities, with NY handling most of the business end and Boston handling the majority of the development end. Initially Midriff was started as a way to legitimately release The Beatings' albums. This was before the digital revolution, when distribution companies required a hard copy product and most stores and press had no interest in investing any time in self released material. We found that most of the vendors and press outlets that rejected the Beatings self released 6 Hz Ep paid more attention when we re-released the same Ep a year later under the Midriff Records imprint. Some of that attention may have been due to our releasing the Beatings first full length, Italiano around the same time as the 6 Hz re-release, but I'm far to jaded to attribute it entirely to timing and coincidence. I think that most media outlets and vendors at the time turned up their noses at self released projects and thought them less professional then label sponsored projects, which, of course, is bullshit. Sometimes people need to have someone else validate a particular piece of art first and determine it's worth before they will except it as worthy of attention themselves. I'm sure it ties in to people's over all need to belong and be part of a society and shared culture, even if on the surface their vast knowledge of esoteric music styles and discerning tastes in bands implies alienation and disconnect from pop phenomena and mass culture. Anyhow, these people had to be tricked. Of course, with digital releases more prevalent, studio and manufacturing materials becoming more affordable and the blog explosion creating endless outlets for your release to get coverage, self releases have become acceptable today. So, the label was started. And if your going to go through the effort of starting a label you are expected to have bands and releases. So, in between early Beatings releases we put out albums by The Autumn Rhythm and Pending Disappointment. It was fun and relatively painless so we re-released a CD by Boston noise legends Kudgel, I released a couple of solo albums under my Eldridge Rodriguez moniker, followed by albums by Scuba and The Spanish Armada, another Pending album, a release by Tony's non-Beatings project Get Help, recent releases by Hands and Knees and Ian Adams, and a new Beatings album in Sept. '09, Greg Lyon's solo album, another ER and Get Help release and next month a release by Boston's Louder My Dear. All of which can be found at

Bryan: On Thursday you will celebrate your birthday with a show at The Middle East, do you have anything special planned for an on stage celebration?

Eldridge: My birthday is actually on 5/13 but I'm celebrating to some extent on Thurs at the show. I may get dressed up. I have a nice white suit I've been looking for an occasion to wear. I haven't decided yet... Yeah, I'm gonna get dressed up. I hope that constitutes a celebration.

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