The Push Kings
I can never seem to get through a Push Kings introduction without bringing up the fact that every once in a while, I hear a record that’s like having the musty atmosphere in the library’s dankest row instantly replaced with fresh outside air, and that the Push Kings are the only band to have two such records.
With that out of the way, allow me to introduce the band: Finn Moore Gerety (vocals, guitar, subject of this interview), Carrick Moore Gerety (vocals, guitar), Matt Fishbeck (bass, vocals) and David Benjamin (drums, percussion, turntables). Though the line-up is not far from the normal four piece, the band is not afraid to carefully apply snappy horn lines, string sections, and a variety of other orchestral touches that bring to mind the difference between the Beatles’ Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. With an easy, practiced feel to their memorable melodies, the band’s sound on their debut album, Push Kings, was already fully-developed. It wasn’t long before I knew that album forwards and backwards, anticipating not only what song came next but the exact beat on where it started.
Anticipating a follow-up, I had a good case of adolescent second-date jitters. How could it be as good as the first one? What if it isn’t? Far Places, their sophomore effort, took what I had assumed to be a finished sound and added a handful of interesting turntable effects and production flourishes, updating a classic sound without trampling its delicates. The frantic scratching on “Sunday on the West Side” has to compete with jaunty flute riffing, and the breakbeat on “Lonely Times Got You Down” sticks its head in like a celebrity guest, exiting quickly and gracefully. On Push Kings, the band questioned the fate of the pop song in “Number Ones.” Far Places’ closing “3012” asks the same, but uses an electric piano, gospel-like harmonies, and a subtle human beatbox to introduce a sound that could give the closing credits of the bloodiest war movie a tone of hope and sunshine.
Perhaps I gush too much. Maybe what I feel about the Push Kings is unique to whatever twisted clockworks constitute my taste in music, and their appeal isn’t as universal as I think. That would be a sad thing. With so many mainstream bands constructing their “sound” like impatient children groping through a bag of wood blocks, someone like the Push Kings, who very clearly are masters of their craft, deserve as much or more recognition. Write the label, Sealed Fate Records, 9183 #120, Cambridge, MA 02139 for a preview of the next big thing.
I spoke to Finn Moore Gerety on a pleasant June morning. The band was leaving the next day on a short tour…
There was about a year between your first record and this one…
How much time passed between recording them?
Probably about the same — a year, fifteen months. We started recording this one at the end of last summer, and we finished mixing in January. I can feel everyone getting excited and itchy to record a new one.
Sometimes we bemoan the fact that in the Nineties, if you watch some of the more mainstream artists, they only put out a record every two, three years. It’s different from the ’60s and ’70s, when people were putting out a record every year. An artist could have ten records in a ten-year career, and we’re into that idea. We write songs pretty quickly, and the only way we make strides, and artistic progress, is by getting our records down on tape, being in the studio, having a project to do.
The songwriting between the two records is very consistent, but there’s a lot of differences in their production. What happened?
You’ll hear a lot of people say this — I think David Bowie said it first, that you never want to make the same record twice. We’re inspired by that kind of thing. With this new record, we had a main thing that was our guiding principles: to really emphasize the rhythm section more, and make the parts a little more defined and groovy, the bass and drums. Use more percussion, and give it more of a dancy flavor. We wanted to mix that with our songwriting… we tried to take some chances. How do you perceive it?
What I noticed was that you have a lot of DJ elements, like scratching and beats, but it’s not heavy-handed at all. A lot of times when people decide to try out something new, they turn it way up, and it ends up like someone dumped a whole salt shaker in the stew. But on Far Places you added these elements pretty subtly.
We didn’t want to give up everything, it was more like having a new instrument, another sound. So the turntables were more like discovering a new guitarist. It would just be a little extra something to put in. Also on this record, we used flute for the first time, on a couple of songs. Baritone sax for the first time, too. I guess in a way, the scratching was a little bit like that, just adding something new to the mix, that we hadn’t used before.
Who’s doing the scratching?
It’s our drummer, Dave, who was interested in that, and stepped up to the plate, or turntable…
He’s good! Do you see this trend continued on your next record? Is there anything special planned?
When we recorded our first album, I had the feeling like the exact music we were making then was the only kind I would ever want to make. It was exactly what I wanted to do, and when it was done I knew that I didn’t leave any of my ideas off, like I just got everything down completely. And then lo and behold, a couple of months pass, and I’m playing, writing new songs, and have a totally different idea of how it should be done, and well, that was the second record. And while we were recording the second record I felt it was exactly the kind of music I wanted to keep on making forever… And the same thing’s happened again, and I have a sense that within the band our ideas are changing a bit, but I don’t know where things are going. After this tour, we’ll get together, write some songs and feel out the direction of the third record.
Still, it will probably build on the first two records. We’ll never be ones to make a sudden change, something that won’t make any sense in the context of what has gone before. It’s been a very organic process for us, even from our early 7″s.
Are you going to be recording with the same producer [Eric Masunaga, of the Dambuilders]?
No. I mean, no like I have no idea. There are no plans one way or another. We love working with Eric, so that’s a definite possibility. We’ve been talking to some major labels this summer, and we’re ready for a change, to bring the music for more people. There’s a lot of variables to play with, so we won’t know until we get in the studio.
Do you feel there is a large audience for your music?
I think so. I think people are not as into such kind of boring, freeze-dried stuff as the major labels would like to believe. If someone took a chance and stood behind a record like ours, they’d probably be pleasantly surprised.
You think melody is making a comeback?
Yeah! People are into that, and judging from when we play… we had this show in Albuquerque, not a single person came who knew anything about us. One of those bar shows, where we were just a bar band. In a way, I think that’s the best test, because that’s what it’s really like to play for people and have to win them over. Also, my little brother, who’s thirteen, his friends at school seem to like us. My grandmother likes us. We seem to hit a wide range of people. [The music] can be dense and a little sophisticated, if you’re into that, a music lover into pop history, but there’s also another element where it’s just poppy and melodic, and it’s hard to resist.
I’ve noticed that a lot of music that’s making a comeback is more melodic in nature.
… which we interpret as an encouraging sign.
There is a lot of production, and a lot of different instruments, on your records. How does this translate on stage?
We’re two guitarists, bass and drums, and we do our best. We might change the arrangements a little bit live, have a guitar do a horn line, just try to pick out the hookiest aspects of the recording and put those on stage. That can be hard, and it takes some work. The last couple of months we’ve been focusing on learning that whole second record in a live arrangement. The last song, “3012,” that was particularly hard, since it has a looped beat, lots of percussion, and those horns are so crucial… we do have an electric piano onstage.
Is anyone doing the beatbox intro?
[Laughs] No, not really. The drummer does a version of that on the bass drum. We manage to do a pretty good job, and some songs are easier than others. It’s a challenge, and I like the idea — I hate it when I go to a concert and the band sounds exactly like they do on the record. On one hand, it’s impressive but on the other hand…
And it’s fun to be just the four of us, and be a rough-and-tumble rock band and be up there. If people know the recording, they supply what’s missing in their heads. We’d like to get another all-around person to do percussion and keyboard stuff.
There seems to be a big class gap with the usage of additional instruments outside the traditional rock context. You really don’t hear much of them until you get to the huge bands, the Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgardens. I assume a big part of that is budgetary — you have to pay someone to come into the studio and play that French horn…
We’ve been lucky that when we’ve recorded some of us have been in school in Boston, and there’s no better place to find talented players…
Where did you go to school?
We all went to Harvard.
What did you study?
I studied classics, Latin and Greek. My brother Carrick studied film, Dave was in social studies, and Matt, our bass player, was an English major. It’s great to be in school when you’re looking for musicians, because there’s so many people who play violin with the symphony, or flute, and because you’re fellow students they’re not going to charge you the standard $80 an hour for session work. Often, they’ll do it for the kick of it.
Have you guested on other people’s albums?
No, uh-uh. I guess because we feel we have no marketable musical skills…
Oh, come on…
I can play guitar well, I’m an OK pianist, but I feel I can only really do my own stuff…
On your first record you had a song titled “Florida”…
Have you been down here?
Yes, just like a lot of people have, vacationing. My brother Carrick wrote that song; my grandmother lives in Naples part of the year, and he might even refer to that in the song. But every time we visit her we have bad luck. We’ll go down in the winter expecting a warm beachy time, and the last couple of times we’ve arrived in a rainy week.
What is the age difference between you and Carrick?
Two years, I’m older.
What was it like growing up? Did you have any musical projects?
We always listened to the same things together. We were close in age so… like when I bought Purple Rain, Carrick bought his own copy. We would record occasionally, me and Carrick, when I was home from school, and we always called those recordings the Push Kings.
Where did the name come from?
It’s got a million different stories…
It’s the hated question.
It’s words that sound good together, and not a lot of people know what it means. In the Air Force, when the rookie troops went up in a cargo plane for their first parachuting expeditions, they always had a veteran up there. It would always happen, one of these kids would get scared and refuse to jump off the plane. The veteran, who is there to urge them on and push them out if necessary is called the “push king.” I read that somewhere and I thought it was a cool name. Some people will come up and say, “I thought it was like a swinger. You know, a player… you know, push king… ”