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As Tall As Lions

PAUSE: Alright, let’s get some formalities out of the way. Full name?

Saen: Saen Fitzgerald, date of birth is the 27th of May, 1982, which makes me a Gemini.

PAUSE: Mine’s January 1st of ’82. Cheers to that (cheers). So, you play what in which band?

Saen: I play the guitar in As Tall As Lions, but lately I’ve been playing keyboard and drums as well.

PAUSE: Wow.

Saen: Yeah, we’ve taken the mentality where everybody in the band knows how to play everyone else’s instrument, so we figured it’d be cool to switch around for the fun of it. When you get to take on a new instrument that’s not yours, it opens up so much more I think.

PAUSE: Why don’t you give us a little bit of the history of ATAL from a non-PR standpoint.

Saen: Basically me, our singer Dan [Nigro] and our drummer Cliff [Sarcona] all went to high school together so we met there and we played.

PAUSE: That’s in Long Island right?

Saen: Yeah, but actually if you’re from Long Island, you’re “ON” Long Island. That’s just how people in that part of the state refer to themselves. But anyways, so we met there and we had a little garage band and when we went away to college, we basically decided to change up this thing and we started ATAL in around 2003. So we recorded an EP which was basically a bunch of demos to shop around. We got picked up by Triple Crown Records, released an album called Lafcadio in 2004, and then we had some member changes which brings us to the lineup we have right now. We recorded our second album [self titled] in 2006, and we just released another EP [Into The Flood] which is online.

PAUSE: Is that online only?

Saen: At the moment, yes. You can get it off iTunes and I believe Rhapsody too. We’re in the midst of finishing up the artwork for a vinyl/cd release, so if you buy the vinyl, which would probably be your standard 12”, it comes with a cd of it too.

PAUSE: Hopefully I’ll be seeing a copy of that soon. So why make music?

Saen: Is that like a stock question or…?

PAUSE: It is kind of a stock question. It’s a good place to start for me.

Saen: Yeah man, the same reason you’re in the design business and you interview people. It’s just something you enjoy doing and we’re lucky where at the moment we can do it as a living. Why does anyone do anything? We were just lucky enough to make our hobby our profession and have fun.

PAUSE: Ok, so why is it fun? What is it that drew you to music in the first place?

Saen: I don’t know. I’ve always enjoyed the arts, since I was a little kid. Music, for me personally, is the one that creeps up inside me the easiest. It’s the one I was able to relate to the easiest. It’s the one I can almost feel physically. You know what I mean?

PAUSE: Yeah.

Saen: So yeah, I don’t know… it’s just the one I happen to like the best. No good proper reason.

PAUSE: So what do you want to talk about man?

Saen: What do you want to talk about? Old strippers again?

PAUSE: No more old strippers, although that was a gem. That was an interview gem. So what do you look for in a good interview?

Saen: Um…

PAUSE: That’s an honest question too, I promise.

Saen: Somebody that…did their research. I guess.

PAUSE: I’m totally not that guy.

Saen: Well, it’s the easiest though. We get interviewed pretty often and a lot of times you get stuff like “What’s your band name mean?” or “Why make music?” (all laugh). No, a really really hot girl interviewing me is what I look for in a good interview.

PAUSE: Dangit. I should have brought my wife.

Saen: Yeah that would have been nice.

PAUSE: Um…hey! (laughs) So, with music being your career, how has that affected your personal relationships, whether it be girlfriend, family etc.?

Saen: Well, to be completely honest with you, at this point in the game, it’s a strain. But, at the same time, all the goods that come with the sacrifices you make for making this music and choosing this lifestyle outweigh all of the negatives that come along with it. For instance, I have a girlfriend that I love dearly that I’m away from 8 to 10 months out of the year. Also it’s really hard to make ends meet personally. I mean, we’re not the richest band in the world. So that’s trials and tribulations. Of course it can get old being in a band month after month. But doing what I love with my life, I wouldn’t want to do anything else ever. So yeah, basically living the dream, but sometimes the dream’s a nightmare.

PAUSE: THAT’S the quote right there. Did you hear that? Julio, you got anything to add to that?

Julio: No man, Saen’s got it all. But he’s right. I mean, I can’t have a normal relationship with anybody. I mean it’s cool when your friends understand. Once you go on tour you get in this weird mode where you don’t want to call anybody, you have no intention of…I mean when I’m on tour I won’t call any of my friends for two months straight, and it has nothing to do with me not wanting to talk to them. It’s just ‐

PAUSE: It’s the mode?

Julio: Yeah man, you just get into this box where it’s all like “straight ahead.”

PAUSE: Maybe it was with your drummer, but I was talking to someone about how the fratboy mentality can start to take over. You know, like it’s a whole bunch of “boys” out there in a confined space. Does that happen to you?

Saen: Yeah, to a certain extent. Fratboys…coming from Long Island kinda has a negative connotation. I’m sure it kinda is everywhere. But we’re all best friends and this wouldn’t work if we weren’t, so we definitely enjoy touring, but just picture yourself with 5 or 6 of your best friends going on a road trip across the country or the world for months on end, having no real obligations or inhibitions about anything. You have a lot of fun, you make a lot of fart jokes, a lot of inside jokes here and there. I don’t know, I wouldn’t consider us fratboys, but we like to have fun.

PAUSE: Sure. So what kind of stuff are you into right now? Music, art, stupid things, like video games or…?

Saen: I’m kind of in full-on music mode right now, in the midst of working on a new EP, so basically all I do with my time is sit down and listen to music and write music.

PAUSE: What inspires you? There’s another stock question.

Saen: I don’t know, we always kind of answer that in a very specific way. A lot of people confuse your “inspirations” with why you sound the way you do, which I don’t agree with. So if you’re talking about it in that sense, as gay as it sounds my inspiration is the rest of the boys in the band. We just kind of bounce off each other and that’s what really clicks for me for music. As far as what I’m listening to, that’s kind of a different question altogether.

PAUSE: And that’s the question I was meaning to ask.

Saen: Well, as of really late, I’m a big big Tom Waits fan. Huge Tom Waits fan. I also like the darker jazz stuff like Charles Mingus. Today we were listening to “In A Silent Way” by Miles Davis.

PAUSE: You were the guys who were all “Marvin Gaye” right?

Saen: Yeah, Motown and R&B as well. We kind of listen to anything that has a bit of a darkness to it, as well as some groove and rhythm and I think in a small way, that’s what we kind of shoot for with the band even though it doesn’t really come out that way. But yeah, I guess musically those are our biggest inspirations at the moment.

PAUSE: Why that era? Why them?

Saen: I think there was a certain honesty to that era, when talent and actual song substance ruled the radio waves and popular music. Then disco came along and everyone had thing huge thing about churning out singles and having just one person do just one song and then they’re forgotten. I think all of music got effected after that happened and it seems now that it’s just all about making records “happen.” The good thing is that it’s kind of on that circular turnaround where I think a lot of brilliant scene bands like Grizzly Bear and Broken Social Scene and Feist are really starting to come out and it’s what kids are starting to listen to so…at least there’s hope.

PAUSE: Now I know that in this area, Cincinnati, Covington and all that, the bands from around here tend to run around together and are good friends. Is that community there in New York at all or is it kind of “sink or swim?”

Saen: Well it is very much that way in New York, but not where we’re from. Long Island has a very isolated music scene. It was big a few years ago when that emo explosion happened, and a lot of those bands were friends with each other, but our band was not really a part of that. We don’t really know any of those bands at all. We barely ever played a show with them. But I think in the city especially, there’s definitely that scene where it’s a huge community. Unfortunately, we’re just not really a part of that. We have a very isolated experience.

PAUSE: Yeah definitely. I think that really shows in your music though, where you can’t really be lumped into any one genre. And that’s a compliment by the way. So I don’t know man… what brought you to this point?

Saen: Our van. (both laugh)

PAUSE: That answer was so easy. What about you, Julio? What brought you to this point?

Julio: Patience.

PAUSE: Well said. Why patience?

Julio: This industry is just a lot of doing things where people say “If you do this, it will happen.” And then you wait around. You’re patient. And then nobody does anything. Then you do more things. It’s all about patience.

PAUSE: Very nice. Can we talk about the music industry right now, where it is and where it’s headed from your perspective?

Saen: Sure. What do you want to talk about?

PAUSE: Well where do you think it’s headed as far as labels go as well as the power the musicians have in their creative world? Where is it going?

Saen: Well I think the power is back or slowly coming back to the musician’s end. I mean, the internet changed everything with Napster and everything and especially iTunes now. There are artists who just release their material on iTunes. They don’t have a record label or anything. I think it’s a beautiful thing. Even now, I know a lot of bands who are self producing their own records, just putting them out. After a while, and if you spend a little time thinking about it and learning the trade, you don’t need anybody except for yourself and whoever’s in your band. That’s really a beautiful thing. The more middlemen you cut out, the more the art can blossom. That whole work ethic. I’d love for us to get to that point someday. I’m not sure if that day is coming up anytime soon, but it’s definitely there, where everyone is right on the cusp somehow. Everybody knows what Radiohead just did. They almost changed the whole world just by doing that simple thing. I’m not sure if they even meant to do that in the first place, but yeah…the whole thing’s coming back. The major labels are going down, and you still need them for the big pop acts like Britney Spears and 50 Cent, but those labels are in disarray. And the indie labels are suffering too, because all the good acts aren’t getting the exposure that they need and I think the artists are just taking things into their own hands.

PAUSE: It seems like you’ve got all these people who like intelligent music and then you’ve got the rest who just want their 50 Cent and Britney Spears. Do you think there will still be a place for those pop acts in 10 years?

Saen: Yeah, without a doubt. It’s just a matter of opinion, it’s not really wrong or right.

Julio: It seems like there’s so many subcultures, especially in American society today. It’s like you’re part of this one culture and you talk to all your friends who are in that culture and you start to think that that’s all there is out there, and you realize that there’s this other culture who has no clue what your culture is like, even if it’s in the same town, because there’s so much stuff available for people to listen to that it’s been broken down and broken down so much. And then Silverchair has this huge single on the radio now, and most kids have no clue who Silverchair is, whether they’re in this culture or that culture or the other culture.

PAUSE: Well all the kids who are younger than us who are here tonight that didn’t grow up with Freak Show and all that ‐

Saen: That’s just how it works. There were a lot of bands who were subcultured years ago that none of us know about but they’re still popular.

PAUSE: Do you think it was like that 30 years ago?

Saen: Absolutely. It’s always been like that, it always will be. Everyone’s always had the same conversations about the same things about how it’s never going to change and how pop music was so much better back then and how the industry’s going down and turning to crap. These conversations go on every day, and it’s the same thing.

PAUSE: So for the last question, where do you guys see yourselves going as a band, what’s the plan?

Saen: To write a new record.

PAUSE: To write a new record?

Saen: Yeah, that’s the plan right now. We have a couple things in the works. We’re actually going to Australia in February for the second time.

PAUSE: Very nice.

Saen: Yeah, and the Cuban tour, with Buena Vista Social Club. Fidel Castro’s going to open for us. He’s going to stroke his beard in front of a microphone. No, just very light touring commitments, our main focus is on writing this next LP, so that’s gonna be our future. We like to try to reinvent ourselves, at least in our own heads every time we do something, so we have a lot of soul searching and musical exploration to do before we start recording.

PAUSE: Well thanks for your time man and for everything else.

Saen: I appreciate it.

-Chris Bergman