The Chicago-based band talked to The Temple News’ Colin Kerrigan about its style, its new record deal, its history as a group and its plans for the future.
Maps & Atlases broke in to the music scene last fall when they toured with Ra Ra Riot. They signed to Barsuk Records (Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot) shortly after that. The Chicago band spent most of the winter recording its debut record, Perch Patchwork, which will be released June 29. They’re currently on tour with Frightened Rabbit, which makes a stop at the First Unitarian Church this Friday. Erin Elders phoned in to The Temple News to give us a little insight about the band and the new record.
The Temple News: You guys met in school. What school did you go to?
Erin Elders: We all went to Columbia College in Chicago.
TTN: What was the musical environment like there?
EE: When we were all going to school, none of us studied music. Chris [Hainey] and I studied film, Dave [Davison] was going to school for cultural studies and Shiraz [Dada] was going for recording engineering. None of us were really playing music right when we started. Chicago always had a really great music community, and it was definitely exciting when we first started playing shows to be a part of that.
TTN: So you guys were just friends who started playing music together?
EE: Well, Chris and I grew up together and went to the same college. After a couple semesters, we decided to start playing music together. Then we found Dave and Shiraz through mutual friends at school. I had a class with Dave and we started talking about music and just started playing together. We made a decision to kind of start playing music together but we didn’t really know what we were doing. So it was definitely interesting ‘cause we just stumbled upon ideas.
TTN: Maps & Atlases has a very intricate style of guitar and drums. What’s your musical background like?
EE: We all took lessons or studied music a little bit. Everyone, at one point or another, studied a little bit of jazz and a little bit of everything. I guess we don’t really have a definitive background in anything. When we first started playing music, we were into a lot of ‘70s music and [progressive] stuff, at least guitar wise. Since then we have tried to shape that into enjoyable pop songs. So that’s where that kind of sound came from.
TTN: How did you get signed by Barsuk Records?
EE: We met the Ra Ra Riot guys and on tour and we met the Barsuk people through them. Some of them came out to see us play a show in Chicago, and we just started talking to them. They were always a label we respected, and we’re really excited to be working with them.
TTN: Was the recording process for your new record any different from when you recorded your previous EPs and self-released music?
EE: The process was definitely very different. With the EPs, we worked on the songs and played them live. After having played them for a little bit, we recorded them as they were.
With this record, we went in to the studio with a mix. Some of the songs were complete ideas and others were just sketches. Also, working with Jason Cupp, who produced the record, made us explore lots of different sounds. There are strings and horns – instrumentation we never really tried before. It was really exciting to expand the songs that way.
TTN: When you wrote the songs, did you write them with the strings in mind? Or did they come out in the studio?
EE: We had all the song ideas we wanted record for the record and then we went through each song and brainstormed what would sound really cool for different parts. It was as if we dissected the songs part by part. We were like, “This part would sound really cool with the clarinet,” and “It would be cool to have a cello mirror the vocals,” and stuff like that. We’ve never done that before, and it wasn’t until we got into the studio with the horn and string players that those ideas came to be.
TTN: On this tour, will you be playing new material or older stuff?
EE: We’re going to try and play some new stuff. When we put together the sets for this tour, it was very exciting. We only have 45 minutes to play so we try and make the ultimate set with all the upbeat songs from the old stuff and the new record. It’s going to be a good mix of both oldies and goodies.
TTN: Did you purchase anything on Record Store Day?
EE: We actually played a show on Record Store Day. We’re on this really awesome compilation that was for this music store Landlocked in Bloomington, Ind. They put out a really cool 12-inch with us – Bonnie Prince Billy and a bunch of great bands. So we didn’t get to do too much since we were busy, but it was exciting to be able to put something out and be a part of Record Store Day.
TTN: What are your plans once you get done touring with Frightened Rabbit?
EE: Our record comes out June 29, and then we’ll be doing our headlining/record release tour pretty much all summer – July and August. It’s going to be a lot of touring for us this year.
Colin Kerrigan can be reached at email@example.com.