Progress Report: The Wrens
NAME: The Wrens
PRGRESS REPORT: Recording the followup to The Meadowlands at bassist Kevin Whelan’s home studio in Teaneck, New Jersey.
We usually like to catch bands after they’ve been in the studio for a while, or when they’ve just left it. But we are so excited to hear that New Jersey’s Wrens were finally back in the studio that we wanted to catch up with them early into their recording process. And it’s very early: as the band says on their newly redesigned site, their session at Abbey Road studios was the first time they’d recorded in the same room in a decade. Now a week into recording at Kevin Whelan’s home studio, the band is still figuring out how to use Tracktion, dealing with dead computers, and balancing recording with their jobs and families.
Still, ten years, what the hell, right? Charles Bissell and Kevin Whelan answered that question, and variations of “So, seriously, when’s the new album coming?” with such good humor that we thought we’d present this Progress Report in Q&A format. Here the Wrens discuss Paul McCartney, the direction of their next album, and how they’re really Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. And they’re really sorry.
KEVIN: I have to interrupt because Charles just sent me a picture of Paul McCartney that’s so funny. I’ve been sitting here laughing my ass off. Charles, seriously, what the hell is that photo?
CHARLES: Paul McCartney is 211 years old now and he still does every photo with that “Oh, it’s me, Paul McCartney” face. That was cute when he was 25, or even 65. Now it’s nauseating. We’re hoping that our fanbase will also look past our crumbling bodies and just concentrate on the cute expression.
KEVIN: I want to Photoshop a picture of us and just put Paul McCartney in the fucking band, so it’s the five of us. A thousand year-old Paul McCartney who’s just like “What’s up, anybody wanna hear ‘Ebony and Ivory?'”
CHARLES: “Young Paul McCartney on bass.” We’ll never see the inside of Stereogum again.
STEREOGUM: In your Quit Your Day Job interview, you said that you would eat your hat if you didn’t have some songs done in a month. That was 2007. What happened?
CHARLES: People say that, but it turns out, the hat? Not that bad. It goes down pretty smooth. And the one after that, and the one after that.
KEVIN: I don’t think it’s any one thing in particular. It just wasn’t starting up. Everyone was focused on what they were doing and time was going by. Charles went out and did a little tour for a while, and you had your baby. Congratulations.
CHARLES: Thanks. Meadowlands came out in fall of 2003, so that played out for a long time. I don’t even think it came out on iTunes until the next summer. Then it didn’t come out in Europe until a year and half after that. And at that point Jerry and Greg had kids and we couldn’t be gone except for weekends. We became our own cover band and played every other weekend for two years, which is not how you’re supposed to tour a record. Then we did a tour of Europe and the next thing you know two years have gone by. Then we started buying equipment for the studio and it was really important to set it up so we could make more than just the next record. We all got computers — I know that sounds incredibly old-mannish — but we did. We reconfigured how we go about writing and recording and what we want things to sound like. We got Kevin hooked up and he’s already demo’d 100 songs in just the last year. I’ve got two. But the important thing is that we’ve got 102 songs on the backburner. So. Fingers crossed.
STEREOGUM: How’s the next record going to sound? Will you go in a different direction?
KEVIN: It’s easy to say yes. Then the fans, anyone that likes our music, will be like, “Oh shit, that means it’s gonna be bad. They’re choosing a new direction.” When bands are like, “We’re going in a new direction,” that direction is usually south. “Well, we’ve been hanging out in Bali.” Uh-oh. It’s gonna be that record.
CHARLES: Exactly. We’ll all be on a beach somewhere, all playing grand pianos with candelabras and French shirts. Open to the navel. It’s called Love Beach.
KEVIN:: Honestly, it’s just gonna be really good. It’s Wrens music and that’s all we’ve ever really cared about, and we’re just gonna be honest to ourselves. So no new direction for the Wrens. Same old, same old.
STEREOGUM: You think the delay is perhaps some anxiety about having to match the success of Meadowlands?
CHARLES: I don’t think so. There might have been if we’d gone into it that next year. Now so much time has gone by that it’s not such a big deal. And the dirty secret is that we bought most of those copies ourselves.
STEREOGUM: Did you ever break up at any point? Or maybe do what Clap Your Hands Say Yeah just did — begin to write together and found that it just wasn’t working?
CHARLES: The other dirty secret we don’t talk about is that we actually are Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. And that’s where we’ve been for the last few years, is wildly successful. But we’re dry. Out of ideas. I always hated the Wrens, which is why I started this other bloggily popular band.
STEREOGUM: You never broke up?
KEVIN: Never say never. We gotta see how this conversation goes. It’s already been a little 50-50 if you ask me.
CHARLES: It’s been one day at a time for the last 20 years.
STEREOGUM: Can we expect something by maybe next quarter?
KEVIN: I love that she just went fiscal on us. She’s like, “The shareholders are expecting a report, please.” The thing is, we’re not on any schedule. It’s not a song every week or two songs. With us, we could have one week where we’re gonna do 25 songs because that’s where we’re headed. The record could be in April, or it could be in September. I hear Greg underneath me right now in the basement playing. It is starting.
CHARLES: Talk about the pressure. The one thing we can definitely say is that we’ll definitely have something out this year, maybe before fall. Even if it’s just an EP or something. Something will be out.
STEREOGUM: Kevin, you’re the last of the band to not get married and have kids, right?
KEVIN: I’m the last holdout. That’s why [recording’s] at my house.
STEREOGUM: That’s probably why you have a hundred songs, and Charles has two.
CHARLES: He calls them his babies.
KEVIN: If I could have real tears right now…
CHARLES: He actually looks just like that McCartney photo and he goes, “My babies. My 100 babies!”
KEVIN: Holy shit! Yeah, I got a lot of time on my hands. Thanks a lot. That’s cool. Seriously. Awesome. Right on. More questions? I can’t wait to hear them.
STEREOGUM: Two years ago you were working at Pfizer, and Jerry was working in finance. Were you two laid off? Is that why you’re finally recording?
CHARLES Kevin had this dream of working in pharmaceuticals. But his parents were like, well that’s fine Kevin, but you’re going to need a band to fall back on in case this pharmaceuticals thing doesn’t work out. And luckily…
KEVIN: I have no children. I have no job. This has been fun, are we gonna do another interview later? The sad thing is that I meant that sincerely.
STEREOGUM: Maybe you’ll have something out by your 20th anniversary. Do you have something planned?
KEVIN: Technically the 20 anniversary is this summer. I think it’s July. We’ll do something for it.
CHARLES: I guess so, right? Maybe we’ll play on our anniversary and play our first song, or something preposterously ill-chosen like that. And we’ll suck. What you’re really revealing is that we don’t have anything together here. Not even life.
KEVIN: Have you interviewed many indie bands that have been together for 20 years?
STEREOGUM: Well, Röyksopp is celebrating their tenth anniversary.
KEVIN: Oh, that’s nothing. We’re like Gandolf the Grey compared to that.
CHARLES: Exactly. We’ve worked on drum sounds for longer than that. Jesus.
Here’s the video premiere of new song “Marked Up,” created by Joe Centeno, formerly of the band Plug Spark Sanjay. (A clip from his in-progress documentary on self-taught outsider artists can be viewed here.) The still photographs were taken by Patrick Glennon.
For your portable music player:
The Wrens – “Marked Up” (MP3)
And from the band’s contribution to Drive XV, Stereogum’s tribute to R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People:
If there’s a band you want Progress Report to drag out of the studio, or bed, for an update, shout out in the comments or e-mail email@example.com.