Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deals Galore! Win Tickets to See the Peace of Mind Orchestra (POMO) in L.A. November 18

Be one of the first people in Los Angeles to experience the Peace of Mind Orchestra--coming straight from New Orleans and Humboldt--on Wednesday, November 18, at the Good Hurt on Venice Boulevard! Contest details below the interview:

POMO: A Musical Puzzle

The name Peace of Mind Orchestra is a bit ironic: if you heard the band but didn’t see them, you’d never guess that it had only two members—Matt Engel, on keys, vocals, and drums; and Ari Leopold, on guitar, vocals, and more drums. They’ve just released their first album, Still Awake at Dawn: Part I, three years in the works, and are embarking on a West Coast tour this Friday, November 6. Even though they live in different cities—Matt is in northern California and Ari lives in New Orleans—I was able to catch both of them on the same phone call recently and they let me in on some closely-guarded POMO secrets!

Joy: How did you record the album, living in two different places?

Matt: We’ve been doing the record long-distance for the past few years. It’s been all in our own home studios and all on our own. Ari came out here in August of 2006 and we recorded rhythm tracks [piano and drums] for the record; everything else is overdub. We send each other MP3 mixes and guide each other, and hopefully everything synchs up, and whatever sounds bunk, we pull out and whatever sounds good, we keep in there. POMO is like a big musical puzzle. We each have our parts and we layer them together so it creates a bigger sound than the two of us.

Ari: We’ve both participated in record production before, but this is the first project that, start-to-finish, we’ve really had our hands on every step of the way. We learned a lot about recording sound. Recording music is one thing—recording sound is its own beast! We had a lot of the music recorded more than a year ago, and we’ve spent a lot of time since then figuring out how to use the studio. We got by with a little help from our friends, so they say. There’s a studio in Champagne, Illinois, where I worked at for a while, and this really awesome record producer named Mark Rubell, helped us out a lot. We couldn’t afford to record in the studio, so we recorded it ourselves and brought it to him, and he really knew what to do to 'up' it a notch. We really learned how to do it.

Joy: You must have a really strong connection.

Matt: [We met] at the University of Illinois in Champagne, about ten years ago. We lived at opposite corners of the same dorm. We started playing music together within the first couple of months, and then have been playing together on and off, in different combinations of bands. I’ve gone down to New Orleans and played there with him. As time went on, we liked what we were doing and wanted to try it in a live setting. The live set has existed really only for the past two years, and we’ve only been touring for the past year. But we see this as the real start. We’re both at a point where we can do it a little more full time. It’s all happening; it’s definitely a slow-moving, grassroots project. There are only two of us and we’re the ones who do everything. There are pluses and minuses.

J: Was the title of the album, Still Awake at Dawn, really inspired by being awake all night?

Ari: Well, Matt and I are kind of nocturnal! These are all songs I’d written before we even started this band. The oldest song on there I wrote almost ten years ago. A lot of it came from a feeling of after you’ve been awake all night, especially if you’ve been outside, when the sun comes up and you see the town start to wake up and it’s this weird feeling…like a renewal. It’s the same world as it was yesterday, but it’s not like going to bed and waking up and getting a whole new camera shot. The songs are sort of bleak but optimistic; like the first song, “We’ve got a world that’s filled with tattered things…But we’re still above the ground/So we’re going to stick around and see what one more morning brings.” We’re still here, and we’re going to deal with the next day. It’s like, the world sucks, but we’re going to live in it anyway!

Joy: How would you characterize POMO’s sound?

Matt: Punk-Pink Floydish. Weird contraption rock. We’ve both created our own forms of instruments. Ari is kind of the mad scientist when it comes to putting his gear together. For me, I piece together different keyboards and try and find the sounds that I like and use whatever toys I can to add into the blend of sound. I try and use what I have to help create the sounds that are in my head, instead of dogmatically trying to find the things that are supposed to make the sounds that I think I want to hear.

I’m an analog-aholic; I’ve always enjoyed analog sounds and vintage keyboards. And so for the most part, that’s all I use. I have a Nord, but that’s just a digital copy of all my sounds. So I’ve been doing that, and I use a Moog synthesizer as a bass, so I can play some bass and keys at the same time. We’re able to make that puzzle-piece music with just two people there.

Joy: What's a Nord?

Matt: It’s a newer digital keyboard that has some really high quality samples of Hammond B-3, a Wurlitzer electric piano, a Rhodes electric piano, a clavinet, piano, and so it’s just a much smaller version of all the keyboards I use. If I had the resources and the energy, I’d carry all those keyboards with me because I do have the real versions of a lot of them and I prefer to use them, especially in recording. We definitely go for more organic sounds. There are no synthesizers or loops. But that keyboard is just my savior, a much smaller version with all those sounds in it. I can carry that small keyboard but still maintain that vintage sound and feel that I know and love.

There was kind of a cognitive dissonance when I was going to get that keyboard because I felt I was crossing over into the digital realm…it was a stressful moment for me to make the commitment and buy it! But now I use that keyboard for everything; it’s my axe, and I’m grateful for it.

Ari: I call [our sound] kinetic polyphony! We have these mega instruments; Matt’s got a megakeyboard that’s got a bass keyboard, so he’s playing the role of a bass player and a piano all at once, and I’ve got a guitar/drum set that’s a little goofy. It involves more pedals than most drum sets. I’ve also got a guitar on a stand, and I hit it like a drum. But I can also play chords on it. We played outside at a public festival and a lot of people said they heard us around the corner and were surprised when they saw there were only two people. It sounds like a normal four-person band.

Joy: Where does the name Peace of Mind Orchestra come from?

Ari: Basically our songs are lyrics that people tell themselves when they’re trying to achieve peace of mind. Because if you have total peace of mind, you’re not singing! People who are totally peaceful are quiet, and don’t need to make loud noises to change the environment.

Joy: Final thoughts?

Matt: It’s a lot of fun. That’s what inspires it. It’s a lot of hassle, being in the band and then doing all the promo and the networking and trying to maintain the artist composure as well. But if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it! The whole reason to make music and record is so that you can listen to it. I want to share it with everyone else, but I just love listening to the music more than anything.

Thanks for the interview, guys! The upcoming fall POMO tour starts this weekend in Northern California with stops in Garberville and Arcata, and will hit Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Eugene, Flagstaff, Tucson, Tempe, and Lake Tahoe before the boys settle down for a long winter’s nap (or, more likely, head out on winter tour)!

Come join the party and support this band as they embark on their first major West Coast tour!

Now, for the contest details!

1. Comment below about why you'd like tickets to see this show, and I'll select a winner for TWO FREE TICKETS--a $20 value! Wild and crazy!

2. Ladies, email me at and get on the guest list for the event (that means FREE), PLUS get a CD when you arrive for only $5--a 50% discount off the regular price! How can this be real, you ask? AND...

3. Guys, we're not leaving you in the dust...Mention this blog at the merch table the night of show and receive the very same discount on your very own POMO CD! I know, I know; it's like a dream.

For more music and tour dates/times, check out POMO's MySpace page.