After spending time as a member of both Willowz and Cults (alongside his sister, Madeline), Guards’ front man Richie Follin is happy to be seeing his own personal vision — widescreen indie-pop garnished with epic hooks and hum-along melodies — finally come to fruition. In February, Guards released a proper debut album, In Guards We Trust, and played a series of epic sets at SXSW. The band will spend the next few months on the road alongside the Joy Formidable, Best Coast, and ALT-J. I caught up with Follin to talk about the making of the band’s record, the joys of touring, and what it’s like to step out from the shadow of his previous bands.
STEREOGUM: How was your SXSW experience?
FOLLIN: We played about twelve shows in just a few days, but it was actually great. A lot of the time you play SXSW and leave wondering what any of it actually meant — does it really help your band to be there? — but this time it really felt like it was worth doing. We got to play with bands that we love, like the Flaming Lips and Jim James. That was pretty fantastic.
STEREOGUM: The last time you and I crossed paths the Guards record wasn’t out yet and you expressed a little bit of anxiety about how it would be received. Now that In Guards We Trust is out there in the world, how are you feeling?
FOLLIN: It’s been amazing. You know, we’d been sitting on those songs for so long — the record was done for nearly a year before it came out — so to FINALLY be able to go out and play them … you know, it’s the whole reason that I play music. But seeing people in the audience who actually know all the lyrics and seem really caught up in the experience of hearing them live … that’s been wonderful. We also try and present new interpretations of the song when we play them, so that’s been really fun. Looking at all these tour dates ahead of us … it’s like standing at the bottom of this giant mountain. We’re just trying to take it one day at a time. We’ve already been out on the road now for about two months and from here we go to Coachella and Europe and a bunch of other places … it’s exciting.
STEREOGUM: A year is a really long time to wait to see your record finally be released.
FOLLIN: Yeah, and you know … you worry that you’ll be sick of these songs by the time the album is out, but luckily playing them live has been really invigorating. And challenging. It’s just like opening a new door when you get to go out and play for people. It’s a different experience. It’s less about these songs and more about them now belonging to other people.
STEREOGUM: Guards is still very closely associated with your sister’s band, Cults. I know it must not have been an easy decision for you to step away from that band, which was doing so well, in order to focus on your own project. Does that make the success of this record even more gratifying for you?
FOLLIN: Yeah, it does. It’s a huge thing for me. I remember playing all these huge festivals with Cults and thinking that I’d probably never get to do that again once I’d left the band. Now Guards is playing many of those same festivals, same stages. It’s a whole new perspective on the experience now. It feels like everything has finally come together … and it’s very validating. It feels like we made the right choice. It feels good.
STEREOGUM: Given all the time you had leading up to the release of this record, are you currently sitting on an arsenal of new material? Do you have a sense of what you’ll do next?
FOLLIN: Oh yeah … I’ve got about 25 new songs and I’m really itching to go record them. But every time we schedule a break for us to go in and record, something new gets booked and we have to put it off. At some point I know I’ll have to just put my foot down and say no to some things so we can go lay some of these songs down — otherwise the pile of songs become a mountain too big to climb — but really, this is a much better situation to be in than the opposite. We could have nothing booked and I could have no new songs … which would be sad. So I’m excited about doing something sooner rather than later. It seems like it’s a lot easier these days to go and record something and put out another record within a year … it’s easier to do that now than it used to be. I hope we’ll be able to do that … but who the hell knows?
STEREOGUM: Was In Guards We Trust a particularly difficult record to make? Do you anticipate that you’d work in that same way again?
FOLLIN: I’d like if the entire band could get together in a room and really hash the songs out before we actually turn them into finished, recorded songs …which is kind of how we did things on the previous record. Guards was kind of a tough record to make because it felt like there was a lot of attention focused on it, a lot of pressure that was created by how much attention the previous EP had gotten. I felt a certain amount of weight. Now I feel like it wouldn’t be that way. Plus, everything on that record was kind of pieced together … I’d love to have the whole band together to work out the songs and explore the way we would play them live before we go and record them. Piecing things together is a much faster way to do it — I’d send things to my friend in Nashville and he’d send me back, like, four or five bass lines and I’d pick the best one. We basically had four or five different people play bass on the record. It was kind of interesting, because you got all these different musicians adding their perspective to the process, but it can make it all so confusing. Right now — at the most basic demo level—the process is still the same. I’m just kind of recording everything myself with a computer and a guitar.
STEREOGUM: It’s a very modern conundrum — using technology to assemble everything from a variety of different sources versus the traditional method of just getting a bunch of people in a room at one time and pressing “record.”
FOLLIN: Absolutely. That’s why I loved that Sound City documentary so much. That seemed to be the overriding discussion at SXSW this year, which was spurred on by Dave Grohl’s keynote speech. Is there anything more honest and elemental than just getting a bunch of live human beings together in one room to make music? I mean, we’re a rock band so playing together in a live setting is what we’re all about. Still, when it comes to recording, the budgets are so much smaller. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it the old-fashioned way on our next record.
STEREOGUM: Is everyone in NYC?
FOLLIN: Yeah, we all just live a few blocks away from each other in the east village. It’s not too hard for us to find each other and make music.
Guards is Richie Follin, Kaylie Church and Loren Humphrey.
In Guards We Trust is out now via Black Bell.