Not sure if it’s a good or bad thing, but most of our favorite bands seem to have jobs, so it’s only a matter of time before they end up at Quit You Day Job. Stereogum’s never been shy about loving The Forms, one of New York City’s most underrated rock crews, so we were happy to discover the guys worked, offering another angle for showing our appreciation. I spoke with Latin-and-Greek-translating vocalist/guitarist Alex Tween about rounding up the entire Forms crew, but for various reasons, we ended up making it a tête-à-tête. Still, so you can keep your Rolodex updated: bassist Jackson Kenny was, until recently, employed by the U.N., guitarist Brendan Kenny works for iie.org, “a non-government not-for-profit org that administers the Fulbright and other grants and scholarships to national and international students, scholars, and artists,” and Tween and drummer/The Desert Fathers maestro Matt Walsh do freelance web design. When I first contacted Tween, he told me he planned to head off to New Orleans shortly to attempt to “take advantage of [his] job’s virtuality” by working a regular work week in a new locale.
The band recently returned from Steve Albini’s place, where they were recording their self-titled sophomore follow-up to 2003’s excellent Icarus (he did the first one, too). In anticipation of the album’s late-October release, we’ve included album track “Bones” after the discussion: Dig the 7/4 verse, 4/4 hook, and estimable sing-along-ability. The track’s piano intros and time-signature shifting befit the record’s general vibe, but like “Knowledge In Hand” and the Forms themselves, it’s really all its own.
STEREOGUM: How long have you been doing web programming?
ALEX TWEEN: Since 2000. I got a job at a company called Icon Nicholson that built websites for clients like The Met Museum of Art, Prada, et al. It was right at the height of the dotcom craze, which was a surreal thing to be a part of: lots of money being thrown around, lavish parties to promote upcoming IPOs that never happened, substantial tabs at restaurants and bars all paid for. There also were a lot of artistic and interesting people at Icon, which made the job much more enjoyable. Matt and Scott from the National worked there, as did Marshall Curry whose movie Street Fight was nominated for an Oscar … not to mention Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, the bloggers who committed suicide recently. Anyway, needless to say, the market turned sour and I got laid off. But Icon actually managed to survive the crash and is still around today. At any given time there would always be rumors within the company that Icon was going under “in three weeks”– rumors which persisted literally for years but never came true.
STEREOGUM: Did you know Theresa and Jeremy?
AT: I do remember them, but I didn’t know them that well. I’d heard they were likable people, but were kind of volatile and burned a few bridges.
STEREOGUM: How have things shifted since the dot com explosion leveled? I get the decrease in American Psycho-style excess, but I’m curious regarding the day-to-day minutiae.
AT: During the dot com years even the day-to-day minutiae was pretty freewheeling. Every Friday afternoon the company would buy drinks (alcoholic and otherwise) for the workers and the work day would basically evolve into a party. I knew of some people who would get stoned on the roof during lunch every day. And then other companies had basketball courts, pool tables, and the like that people were free to use during work hours. These days, unless you work at Google, all of that is a distant memory. Companies really reacted against the dot com mentality after the crash, and things have became a lot more business-like ever since. Most companies attempted to come up with a process for running their projects and tried to develop actual schedules that resemble reality. As a result, the projects do run smoother, people tend to work significantly less insane amounts of hours, and the sites are much less buggy. But even still, I think many people that were part of that whole era probably prefer it on some level. People had this sense of limitless possibility and optimism.
STEREOGUM: I’ve interviewed quite a few band folks who do some sort of computer-related freelance. Theories?
AT: It’s funny you say that — the drummer of the Forms is also a freelance programmer. I think there’s a couple of reasons: People in bands tend to be young, as are people in the computer world. The freelancer lifestyle is also pretty conducive to musicians on tour since you can take time off between projects to tour. But I suspect there’s something more to it than that. I think music is essentially a language, and though obviously music is largely about feeling as well, there’s also a good deal of logic involved in putting a song together. And I think it’s similar with writing programs — logic, languages…
STEREOGUM: Can you explain a couple current projects?
AT: I recently worked on VH1’s Hip Hop Honors show website as well as a site for Nickelodeon Jr. that features educational games for kids involving the Noggin and Blues Clues characters, among others. 95% of sites I work on boil down to being either an e-commerce site, a video site, or a site where content is displayed and controlled by an admin tool. So a lot of what I do is pretty similar and repetitive, even though the sites themselves may look different. But I still enjoy the work. I feel like I essentially do puzzles all day, which is sort of fun.
STEREOGUM: Ever design sites for bands? Or is it mostly television entertainment? How did you end up in this niche?
AT: Working on sites for bands has happened, but not recently. These days a lot of bands just have a MySpace page and/or a blog. For the blog they can just use something like WordPress that works out-of-the-box, and obviously MySpace provides you with the photo gallery, music player, etc. At this point, most bands really just need a graphic designer with some knowledge of HTML/CSS.
STEREOGUM: Did you have prior computer training, or was web design something you fell into?
AT: In college I figured I would major in Classics (Greek and Latin) but about halfway through I took a computer course to fulfill a requirement and ended up liking it. I decided to take more and found that I really enjoyed the field. I ultimately got a degree in both Computer Science and Classics. Once out of school it wasn’t hard to find programming jobs because the dotcom boom was happening. I feel fortunate to have made that decision because it’s afforded us to make the records we wanted to make without cutting corners. Plus, it’s a job I like, which can be hard to find. There’s also a ton of work out there to be had in the field right now. All the freelancers I know are swamped with with work, in part because all the major corporations are spending money building sites that involve video. All the speculation that US programming jobs would be outsourced to Asia is turning out to be basically nonsense because companies have been finding that projects outsourced abroad tend to be complete disasters.
STEREOGUM: Do the Latin/Greek and computer science ever overlap? I like the idea of these different “languages”…
AT: Definitely. Even though the classes contained completely different types of people (Engineering School students vs. English and Philosophy majors), and one dealt with the ancient past while the other covered the present and future (I kind of skipped learning about anything that happened from 200 -1980), the classes seemed very similar to me. With a computer program, if one thing is wrong, if you forget to put a semicolon in the right place, the whole thing breaks. Latin sentences are similar … they generally have an order to them such that if one element is wrong, everything falls apart. I actually find music to be the same way. If you change a single note of a really good melody, it oftentimes goes from being great to completely sucking. All from changing one note.
STEREOGUM: Do you still read in the Classics? What in particular did you study in that area?
AT: I actually get together with a group of high school friends and a couple of the teachers every few months to read something in Latin. In school I studied the Greek and Latin languages, plus the history and literature. My main interest though was Latin itself. To me it trains your mind to think in a really rigorous way that is helpful in the rest of your life. Obviously the Classics stuff has found its way into the Forms’ music: our first album is named Icarus after the Greek myth, and the Forms is partly a Platonic reference.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned clients being interested in video these days … How do you keep up with developments in programming/aesthetics?
AT: There have been so many next big things in programming that never really took off — like Ruby On Rails — and if you spend the time to become an expert at them, your time will essentially have been wasted if that technology happens to fall out of fashion. So I tend to learn something only when it’s pretty clear it’s going to stick around. It’s eerily similar to music actually, i.e. you hear about bands that are supposed to be so great and when you hear it you’re often disappointed, so it’s gotten to the point where I’ll often end up hearing something only when it’s unavoidable. I heard the TV On The Radio’s Cookie Mountain for the first time last week … good album.
STEREOGUM: How’d you come up with the New Orleans plan?
AT: On the way down to SXSW we stopped in New Orleans, long one of my favorite cities. We stayed at a friend’s house that had wifi and as I was hanging around writing emails it dawned on me that my job really only had three essentials: a computer, a phone, and a wifi connection– all of which were at my disposal right there in New Orleans (not to mention pretty much anywhere in the world). Having had such a great time in New Orleans I thought why not plan a trip to work out of there for a little while. It would not be a vacation, but instead it’d just be working from a different location. Also been thinking about other possible locations to work from where the time zone isn’t too radically different (Portland, London, etc.). Having a virtual job is also great if you’re a musician in a touring band: With internet access possible pretty much on any Interstate, it seems like now it may be possible to go on tour without even having to take any time off from work!
STEREOGUM: Have you actually worked on jobs while touring?
AT: It’s only pretty recently I think that the technology has gotten to the point where one can really attempt this. We have done some work remotely while on tour in the past, but it was mainly just damage control during the 1-2 hours that we could get access to the public library or whatever. We have a lot of touring upcoming and are very interested to see if this can be done for real.
STEREOGUM: How long is an average work week?
AT: It depends. It can get up to 50-60 hours around when a site launches, but is usually more in the 30-hour range. I tend to keep really strange hours, sleeping from 6am-2pm, but people don’t seem to mind that much as long as everything gets done on time.
STEREOGUM: So, do you really have the discipline to go to New Orleans and get your work done?
AT: Haha, I don’t know. I’m about to find out … I leave tomorrow. In theory “yes,” but somehow theory doesn’t always coincide with reality.
[L to R: Brendan Kenny, Matt Walsh, Jackson Kenny, Alex Tween]
The Forms – “Bones” (MP3)
Some stuff from Icarus here. The Forms is out 10/23 on the band’s Threespheres label.