Saint Motel are a band who are all about creating an experience. Their music is some of the most exciting alt-pop on the market, with addictive melodies, intelligently playful lyrics, and a serotonin rush of horns. If you’ve played FIFA 17 or listened to the radio at all in 2013, you’ve definitely heard My Type, not to mention more recent hits like Move or Van Horn. And on top of that, the ex-film students of Saint Motel take it to the next level with strong, exciting visuals connected to concepts which are explored from album to videos to stage. This time around they’re exploring The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, a three part album that’ll take you on a journey.
We got to pick the creative minds of Saint Motel to talk The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, how AJ’s sister feels about Sisters, visuals, and more!
Melodic Magazine: I want to go back to the start for each of you. Can you share your first musical memory?
AJ Jackson: I’m pretty sure something involving the piano at my house when I was a little kid, and probably messing around with that.
MM: Was there a first song that you learned on the piano?
AJ: I do remember doing a recital on Bach, some sort of canon probably in D.
Aaron Sharp: Probably my mom playing piano, and my dad used to play classical guitar. The first piece of music I learned was this obscure baroque piece of music that is anonymous.
Dak Lerdamornpong: Julie Andrews, the sound of music.
AJ: Greg it was bagpipes.
MM: I want to get into the Original Motion Picture Pt 1. You said you wrote it in a cabin to have space to structure your days. How did that affect the music that you wrote this time around?
AJ: Yeah it was after five years of basically non-stop touring- I feel like the My Type EP and Saintmotelevision combined into one experience, and then even after just a month on tour now it’s kind of created some sort of structure. And for the writing process, sometimes when you’re writing a song there’s no end to it. It’s open ended. So by having like, approach it in the morning, then throughout the day it was very complicated scheduling- I had to go hike for a bit in the mountain, and then lunchtime, but then at the end of the day you leave it behind. And then you come back in the morning. So there’s clear in’s and out’s. Which I think was a pleasurable experience, I don’t know if it is more productive or not, but it was fun.
MM: You’ve mentioned before that you wrote a hundred songs for Saintmotelevision and then brought thirty to production. How many for this new album did you write?
AJ:There was something called tune Tuesday and it was usually two songs on Tuesday, sometimes three or four. That went on for like three to four months. In that specific period there were probably close to fifty. But then after the cabin period there was still some stuff that made it on the album, some late comers. And I think there’s one song that is actually from the My Type recording sessions that we’re going to put on there too at the very end.
MM: At the cabin was the whole band there? When did everybody come onto the tracks?
AJ: Sharp was there a lot. Then phase two we were jamming on it the whole band, and then we went into a recording studio in Alhambra to do the final touches for about a month and a half with this guy named Mark Needham. It was a dilapidated old studio that was about to be turned into old condos. And we were like, “don’t turn it into condos yet! Not on our watch! We’re going to make some tunes.” I think it was about a year long process all in all.
MM: I want to know about Sisters because that’s a really sweet song. How does your sister feel about that song, and are those true stories in the lyrics?
Aaron: It’s her favourite song.
AJ: She loves it. I mean like, it walked the line: “give it up for sisters/not always so wonderful/but we’d be lost without you.” Which I think is an accurate sentiment. All the guys know my sister very well at this point. She was our first fanager when we moved to LA. She’s very strong willed, she’s very passionate, she’s got her stubborn qualities for sure. She loves the song and those are all true stories for sure.
MM: You have the Shepherd Sisters sample at the beginning, and in a lot of your other songs in lyrics you make references to a lot of old music like Benny Goodman, Hall & Oates, Mozart… I could go on! Where does that connection to older music come from?
Dak: Aj is actually fifty-five years old.
AJ: I’m a hundred and fifty-five years old. I’d say that the goal would always be to create timeless music in a way, and I think one way to do that is to be influenced by various phases of the past and bring it into your future world in a retro-futuristic way. But there’s no purpose specifically behind it. It’s like, “oh that’s a cool Benny Goodman riff, let’s play with that a bit, same with Shepherd Sisters.
MM: Is that something that you listened to growing up or you came into later?
AJ: They all kind of depend. Grandpa’s a big Benny Goodman junkie. But you just kind of come across it. I think also all of those samples fit within our musical world.
MM: The new album The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is three parts which you have said mirrors the hero’s journey. How much of a story can you read into the album?
AJ: The songs were created outside of the concept, so the songs were just created to be the best songs they could be. Maybe it’s fate, but somehow it fits very well into the narrative and the three act structure of the hero’s journey. As far as part one setting the tone and the world for what’s to come on the album, and then ending with Save Me which is the call to action, which kind of leads into part two which is the conflict of the story where it’s shaking up what we’ve learned is the status quo in the first part musically. It’s kind of all over the place, ending with a big moment which is the big showdown, the big resolution which gets concluded in part three.
MM: The visuals for your music and the band in general are so well done and add so much to the Saint Motel experience. And you’re really involved in the visual aspects, with AJ directing a lot. Exactly how involved are you from the conception to what we see in the final product?
AJ: Depends on the music video. But if it’s one I’m directing it works best if I completely can visualize and map out the entire thing. Traditionally if I was doing the video I would do a visual animatic for the entire song scene by scene with little puppet characters for the band members- they’re pretty crude drawing things. I think that that allows us on set to be a bit more free if you know exactly where it’s going.
MM: Some of the sets are really cool, especially for the My Type and Van Horn videos, and the new visualizers. Where and how do you scout out the places, do you do that yourselves?
AJ: We work with great production designers and usually have a location scout. For the Van Horn video it was a bit of a matter of resources, so we found a bar in LA who would let us shoot there for a good deal and they’re really friendly to musicians, so it kind of worked out. But initially we were going to try and shoot at a cowboy ranch. And the My Type video was a similar situation. The house already looked incredible and the owner was very cool and down for the idea and it made it a lot easier to do the set dressing and stuff like that.
MM: For the live shows you are very DIY with the production. Is there anything you made for this tour that you’re proud of?
AJ: Oh Yeah. Spaceship. There’s thrusters on it. My friend Nate who helped me build the tiger keyboard stand and the tv keyboard stand he took… you know it wasn’t a spaceship until he put thrusters on there. Everything on tour is super cool. The film reel icon looks amazing, and this is the first tour that we were able to bring LED’s and stuff like that. Really really happy with how the production came out. The DIY stuff is not so much the production, it’s the stuff filling it in like the wardrobe and the spaceship are DIY. The other stuff is high scale production for us, it’s some of the most technical stuff we’ve ever done, the quality and the intensity of the actual elements we’re bringing with us.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Interview by Zoe Orion + photos by Hannah Maynes