By HANNAH MEANS-SHANNON
LA-based indie band Livingmore overcame real-life challenges to release their album Take Me, out on Nomad Eel Records.
The band’s previous full-length, OK To Land, landed in 2019, and they were just about to get into seriously recording Take Me when the pandemic hit. Like many artists, they kept busy and found a way to bring the recording process to completion. The result is a very interesting development on their previously praised synthy vibe that still captures a lot of the dreamy aspect of classic Rock and Pop, but a tuned-up rhythm section takes these new songs into edgier zones.
So far, they’ve released videos for “Sharp” and “Got Me Feelin’ Like”, and along with recent photos and their photo-based album cover, we’re getting a strong sense of how visuals play into their band identity and music right now. Talking with founding members Alex Moore and Spencer Livingston, I was surprised to find that they’d weathered a major studio fire during the always-unpredictable year of 2020, but that the album came out unscathed. We also spoke in-depth about the making of their recent videos and why Nurtle, their pet Tortoise, actually makes a great mascot for the band.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I know that this album has been a fairly long process in terms of recording and release, because last summer you were right in the middle of it.
Spencer Livingston: Yes, last summer in June or July, that was the middle part of it. We started recording around February and March 2020, right around the time everything fell apart in the world. But we kept working as much as we could to keep our sanity through the madness.
HMS: And yet you made this very full album! It would have been understandable to do an EP or something more stripped down. Do you think you did more because you were intent on keeping busy?
Alex Moore: We just love doing this, so it does come naturally to us to whatever we have into it no matter what life throws at us. We definitely had a lot of time to be creative so that probably adds to all the things we were able to accomplish. Because of what was going on, we were able to be more present in our art, because we didn’t know what the future would hold.
HMS: I can definitely see doing things while you could in case circumstances changed. How accessible were your work spaces?
Spencer: Luckily, we had recorded most of the drums already in February at Studio City Sound near where we live in the valley. The rest of it was done at our studio, or rather, our drummer Mike [Schadel’s] studio, which he’s had for 20 years. We’ve been using is for 6 or 7 years for recording everything that is Livingmore. We don’t really have time constraints there. We’re very thankful to have that place at our disposal. We also record and rehearse a little bit at our house, and we’re roommates with Mike.
Alex: It is pretty crazy because not too long after working on the album, the studio caught on fire, which was nuts! It almost burned down.
Spencer:We’re the only studio in the building, with garages, and an auto body shop and a paint-related shop. Something caught on fire in the paint shop and the entire place burned down except for our studio. It burned right up to the wall, and the fire department got there in time. They are fixing one of the walls and part of the roof. We had some smoke damage, but it’s salvageable.
HMS: That’s what we were just joking about! “Do it while you can!” And then that happened. You really never know what the next day is going to be. That is motivating.
Spencer: It was the cherry on top of the wonderful year we’d had in 2020.
HMS: Any significant loss of equipment?
Spencer:No, thankfully. Just some couches had to be thrown out due to the terrible smoke smell. It’s now aired out a lot.
HMS: I can see some significant differences between Take Me and your previous album, It’s All Happening. The previous release was this amazing synth celebration with a certain mood throughout. This one’s has more classic Rock underneath and I love a lot of the guitar parts as well as the vocals. It’s a bright and shiny album but it has some edges to it, which brings an interesting attitude out.
Spencer: We’re definitely going for a bigger sound with this album. It definitely was more collaborative. With the first album, Alex and I wrote the songs acoustically, by ourselves. With this one, we still did that, though with electric guitars rather than acoustic, but we collaborated a lot more with arrangements and the band came into it a lot sooner in the writing process. That’s definitely part of how it sounds.
HMS: Maybe that’s why I’m saying it’s more Rock, because the rhythm section is more pronounced and integrated.
Spencer: Rodrigo [Moreno], our bass player, actually didn’t play on the first album, so that may add to things. He’s now been in the band longer than our previous bass player, Brian Dobbs, who joined another band in Ireland. Mike and Rodrigo gel really well and the rhythm section has really become a cohesive thing.
HMS: That may be part of the danceable aspect of this album, too. The rhythm has a strong accent to it.
Alex: We can’t wait to play these live! We haven’t gotten to play them in-person yet.
HMS: There’s really a strong aspect to the media that you’ve developed to go with the album and convey its attitude. I love the new photographs and the album cover.
Alex: We’re working with this really awesome photographer called Joseph Cultice. He’s worked with a lot of bands that we look up to. One of the cool things that came out of the pandemic has been us collaborating on visuals for the band. I was hoping there was a way to work in a safe way during the pandemic, and there was. He also shot the live video we did for “Sharp”. We hope to collaborate with him on future shows.
Spencer: He’s really a very interesting visual artist in many ways.
Alex: An interesting thing about him is that he does everything by hand. If you see a color behind us, that’s not photoshop, it’s a piece of paper that he hung up. I like when things are hands-on and it reminds me of how we do things also. Like the picture that we have with polka dots is actually cut-out polka dots.
HMS: That’s actually the one photo I would have assumed was digital because it seemed too difficult! That’s really. I like the textures he comes up with, too, like the photo with the plastic over the couches and chairs. Also, there’s a great use of outdoor space on the album cover.
Spencer: We shot that at his house, actually.
Alex: We took a lot of different photos that day, but that one really stood out to us. We didn’t know that would be the album cover. I liked how the green bushes reminded me of Edward Scissorhands! I definitely enjoyed putting all the outfits together, too. With the album cover, I always enjoy boots and t-shirts, and Joseph suggested putting tape on, so we collaborated on ideas. I’m very certain about what I like and what I don’t like with outfits.
I did picture a lot of purples and blues for the scene TVs on my outfit and the plastic couches. It’s almost a celebratory but moody vibe. I like to add a little bit of moodiness or edginess to any lighthearted thing. It’s just more fun that way.
Spencer: We also work with Alex’s brother. He did the “Sharp” video. But Joseph definitely really gets things effortlessly. From the moment we met him, he has understood the sound of the band and has had a vision for the band that really aligns with what we visualize.
HMS: How do you feel about terminology, like “Power Pop” for some of your more vocally harmonic songs?
Alex: I never really know what to call our music. It’s not because I don’t know what it is, but because it’s a lot of different things.
Spencer: Power Pop is acceptable. It’s alright.
HMS: In the process of writing and recording the album, when did you start thinking about which songs would get videos?
Alex: I think we knew right away that “Sharp” would get a video. It’s the most unique song on the album to grab people. It just had that feeling.
Spencer: Maybe it’s because we grew up in the 90s and early 2000s when videos were super-important, but we really do have fun making music videos and it’s something that’s always been a part of what we do. When we record something, it naturally feels like we’ll do a video. It’s something that we like to do, to put visuals with the music.
Alex: With “Sharp”, it was a simple idea, but it popped. Dylan, my brother, was the one who had the idea for that. He knew we needed to find a car with a sun roof. It turned out really cool. Some people think it’s green-screened, which is funny to me. Spencer was driving the car and I was sticking my head out.
HMS: It’s a really fun video. I did not think it was green-screened because of how many changing environments there are. Of course, you had to deal with traffic and your hair blowing around constantly.
Alex: Luckily, we did it on a Sunday, but towards evening there was more traffic. And some people didn’t like it.
Spencer: We were breaking all kinds of traffic rules. [Laughs] There was a suction cup camera mounted on the back of the car and Alex was facing backwards. We tried it on the front and it looked cooler the other way. It looked cooler with the wind blowing Alex’s hair from behind rather than blowing it back. It also looks almost like she’s floating that way.
HMS: An interesting reaction I had was, “Oh my god, it’s the outside world!” It made me feel like I was rediscovering that as the world opens back up. What were some of your goals for the live video version of “Sharp”?
Spencer: I think we wanted it to look cool and capture us playing live. It sounds almost the same as the album version, which is funny. We’ve really been doing a lot of live stream things this year, but we wanted to put a version of one of our songs out that looked cool and had higher than streaming quality, where we’d mixed everything properly.
HMS: With high tea!
Alex: Yes, with the tea. It also shows listeners what they can look forward to in a live show from us.
HMS: There’s a lot of live energy there. It’s an interesting mid-way point between a polished music video and a live performance experience.
Spencer: We wanted it to be kind of a hybrid.
HMS: You did another big video for “Got Me Feelin’ Like”. I will not give away the ending, I’ll make people watch it. How did that develop as an idea and how that get shot?
Alex: Honestly, I’ve had that idea in my head for a very long time, of a guy walking into a liquor store dressed as a cowboy and interacting with customers. Right when I started coming up with the lyrics, I actually imagined the actor in the role who ended up playing him in the video, so that was surreal. We definitely put a lot of work into figuring out the costumes and the actors. We both produced it and I directed the storyline part. I was very excited and wrote the script out in bullet points of all the scenes. I don’t want to talk like it’s a Martin Scorsese film but it turned out really cool.
Spencer: The whole thing only took about three hours to shoot.
Alex: We’re so lucky that we found a liquor store that was willing to let us do that. They were just like, “Here’s the keys, bye!”
HMS: That’s very trusting.
Spencer: Thanks to an irresponsible store clerk, we got our video.
HMS: The big question is, why are you so weird, Alex, that you had this vision of this Rhinestone Cowboy video in your head?
Alex: I’ve been asking myself the same question. I can’t totally explain it. I was inspired by Beck videos from the 90s, and also, by Jane’s Addiction. There’s grunge mixed with a fun humor in those videos, and that has always stuck with me. I wanted the video to not be totally goofy, but have some coolness to it, like when those bands put out videos. I wanted to show some sarcasm to the song, though, and show why it is what it is.
Spencer: I think Alex’s sense of humor shines through on that one.
HMS: There are some slightly heavier songs on the album in terms of theme, like “Memory Hill” and “Energy Taken”. I do want to commend you for creating a song with a heavier idea that’s just such an ear worm. It’s got a looping feeling and it’s stuck in my head now.
Spencer: That’s my favorite song on the album.
HMS: It’s so universal. We have so little control over what our minds do and what they go back to.
Alex: I actually wrote that when we were recording our first album. It has a lot of different meanings to it, but there are people in everyone’s lives who you used to be close to. Now when you see them, sometimes they bring up bad memories, but there’s usually something there that’s still relatable. For me, that’s always been a sense of humor that takes away any awkwardness. It’s definitely a sentimental song. It’s funny that it turned out sounding like such a happy song.
HMS: I’ll ask you one silly question. Do you really have a pet tortoise?
Alex: Yes, we do. Nurtle is our pet tortoise. We’ve had him for seven years and he’s still little.
Spencer: Apparently, they can get up to 200 pounds. He’s a kind of African tortoise and they can get gigantic. When we got him, he was so tiny that he could fit into the palm of your hand.
HMS: Right now, he’s a lap tortoise. Do you have any thoughts about how having Nurtle around contributes to your life?
Spencer: We definitely love him. He’s a simple little guy. He doesn’t need that much and likes to do his own thing. He’s like our son. We try to treat him well. He’s been the star of one of our music videos, actually, “Never Slow Down”.
Alex: He’s kind of our mascot now.
Spencer: He’s a good mascot for Livingmore because we kind of move at a slow and steady pace, as a band. Also, the music we make isn’t meant to be digested quickly. I think it should sit with people longer. I’ve thought about this before. [Laughs] I stare at Nurtle sometimes and think, “He really is the symbol of Livingmore, isn’t he?”
Alex: I used to be called a turtle when I was younger, not in an offensive way. Some kids move fast, like the tortoise and the hare story. It sometimes took me longer to accomplish things, so it was always, “The tortoise wins the race!”
Spencer: I guess what we’re trying to say is that some people are dog people, some people are cat people, and we’re tortoise people.
Check out ‘Take Me’ by Livingmore on Spotify: