Friday, June 27, 2014

An Interview with Richmond Virginia's Positive No

Formed in the winter of 2011. Richmond Virginia's Positive No blend elements of 
90's indie rock, dream pop and shoegaze to create a warm and summery sound that's granted the bands debut EP "Via Florum" a permanent place on my turntable. As the momentum builds and the talk of a follow up to their promising debut begin to surface, 
I reached out to Tracy and Kenny to writing, recording and all the things that make 
being in a band so rewarding. Here's what they had to say. James Damion

Kenny Close - Guitar / Andre Phillips - Bass / Willis Thompson - Drums 
Tracy Keets Wilson - Vocals

James: How did Positive No come to be? Were you all friends before deciding to work on music together?

Kenny: There were a few events in 2011 that stand out:  finally figuring out digital recording, a craigslist bass, and watching a peer band our age play one of their early shows. All of these moments happened within a month or two of each other and led to feeling like writing songs again might be a fun project.

In the very beginning, it was me and an old band member working on coast to coast demos and politely asking Tracy to agree to sing on the songs once they were done. After the first two songs were finished, Tracy and I gave writing music together a whirl which has turned into a pretty great creative team. When we posted the demos online the response was encouraging enough to try to form a live band and give playing out a go. We knew Willis from our circle of friends and while we have had a few different bass players, Andre (our most recent bass player) had been a fan of the band and we met him from coming out to shows throughout 2013.

James: Tracy, can you tell me about the process of writing songs with the band.
If I'm correct, this is the first time you've worked in a group setting since Dahlia Seed.

Tracy: You are correct, this is the first time I have been in a serious band since Dahlia Deed in the mid '90s. The songwriting process has really metamorphosed since 2011.
Kenny was the primary songwriter to begin with but over the last two years, the two of us write the outline of the song (on bass/ guitar) and then we bring it to practice where we teach it to our drummer and bass player. From that point the whole band adds their creative magic touches. We alter the parts as we play it live together, and the final version takes shape after a few weeks of practicing it together.  After 25 years of songwriting I genuinely still cannot comfortably play an instrument and sing the way I do at the same time. I wish I owned that skill but I still don't. I am in an unusual position where I can write a song but ultimately it has to go through several filters of other band members making it their own before it becomes a Positive No song. Once the music is relatively settled, I begin deciding on what words, themes, emotions, the song gives me and from there, I build lyrics and vocal melodies. I am jealous of singers who can hum melodies before they have words but for me, I typically need words before I decide on timing and vocal melodies.

James: The music you've created over the last (almost) twenty years has had a profound effect on me as both (for lack of better words) a music nerd and to get super personal, a human being. The thing is, a lot of that came from pain and loss. With Positive No I feel as if you've come to a crossroads of sorts. There's a sense of joy and celebration in these songs. Does that reflect on your personal life or is it more akin to the creative process within a group dynamic.

Tracy:  It is difficult to write this reply on the heels of being told less than twelve hours ago that an old friend passed away (Jeff from the Jeff Humphrey Trio). My heart aches today for the loss of a talented, sweet man that so many of my friends will deeply miss.

I have spent the bulk of my adult life coping with panic / anxiety stemming from my childhood as well as an unusually heavy amount of loss in my family over the span of twenty years. It was only recently that I truly felt most of the trauma and grief from loss was behind me. I still have my good days and bad days but within the bigger picture, I am a much more grounded, happy, person now. Life is unpredictable but at least now I am not trying to cope with those curveballs on top of feeling emotionally broken. It took decades of hard work to reach this place (and then three more years for my body to recover from being hit by a car) but with the help of an amazing partner like Kenny, tremendous friends who have become my family, and a very supportive creative community here in Richmond,
I am surrounded by encouragement and love.

Without giving too much away, the songs for our upcoming record have their uplifting moments but the darkness is still very much there. The difference is that now, I have a healthier balance of the light and dark in my life. It doesn't get more Positive No than that.

James: Though I'm sure it was not intentional, the name Positive No makes me think of some random HXC band from the 80's that might be on the bill with Negative Approach and SSD. What does the name represent for you?

Tracy: Funny James, I had never thought about the classic hardcore stereotypical name but maybe subconsciously that is why these words appealed to me. While Kenny and I were in the early stages of writing songs and not even a band yet, we were watching a documentary on the American designers Charles & Ray Eames. There is a moment in the film that shows Ray's office filled with things of inspiration to her. One item particular really resonated with me. She had written a note to herself and pinned it up on the wall. It said
"The positive no". I can't say definitively what it meant to her but I love this idea of staying firm in your decisions but doing so in a manner that you are communicating it in a polite way. The words positive no flashed up on the TV screen and we all agreed at that moment how it read like a great name for a band. (On a side note, we watched this documentary with ex Dahlia Seed / Dunebuggy member Jon who happened to be visiting us during the holidays in 2011. )

James: You recorded
"Via Florum" with the legendary J. Robbins at Magpie Cage studios. I can think of a couple of dozen reasons to want to record with him.
What specifically influenced you to seek him out?

Kenny: Tracy had recorded some Ringfinger vocals with J. and spoke very highly of the experience. Everyone seemed receptive to working with him and it was a pretty natural decision which tends to be a good sign when it comes to music. We all were fans of J.’s music and when we started talking about records he worked on it just felt silly not to go with him.

James: How involved was he in the recording? Is there an element to his approach that stands out?

Kenny: J. lent a lot of support in providing expertise of his studio and what he felt were the best ways to get certain sounds out of it that I imagine he felt were a good fit for our band. He certainly expressed his opinions when asked or when he felt the need to do so.
Overall, he was pretty hands off and let us come in, work as quickly and efficiently as we could so we could get a quality recording in an affordable fashion.

The things that stick out most with the experience is that J. came across as authentic and clearly a lover of music. We've all worked with engineers who don't seem to care about the music they are recording and his attitude was the exact opposite.  The environment was very relaxed which was really important for us during the time we were in the studio as we were still such a new band.

James: Have you been writing new material since the EP's release? Is there potential for another record in the near future?

Tracy: We are in the process of writing new songs right now. We have 5 completed songs with three more in various stages of completion. We would like to finish writing a new full length by the end of this Summer and record them in either the Fall or Winter.
It is expensive to record and self release an album so who knows when we will actually be able to afford all of this. The silver lining is we don’t feel pressured to rush out a new record so we are taking our time to write songs we are really excited about.

James: I was really hoping to make it down to Richmond for the bands first show. Unfortunately, I didn't have it in me to drive down on my own. Can you tell me how those first shows went and what it felt like performing as a band?

Kenny: The first hand full of shows were probably like most...a few moments of grace, a few disasters, and trying to keep the nerves in tact. They were all near sold out crowds ( this had nothing to do with us and everything to do with playing with bands like
The Babies and Beach Fossils) which didn't necessarily ease us into it, but forced the band to get used to playing in front of people again and the magic that is connected with the experience. We are a live band, I think you get a better sense of us and our music when you see it in person and can watch the intensity of the group, especially Tracy and Willis.

James: You also played a show with Static is a City? What was it it like sharing the stage with an old band mate? How long had it been since you'd seen Chris?

Tracy: It was a great to play Static is a City's first show. Chris was the first to respect me musically enough to ask me to play in a band with him back in the early '90s. Honestly, I am not sure I would be playing music today without my introduction to him. Needless to say, sharing a stage with a mentor and old friend is a huge deal for me. Chris lives one state South of Virginia but we only see each other about every other year. I have fewer friends than ever still making music in their adult lives so it is extra special when our lives intersect and we have the opportunity to share a stage together. I can't think Chris Defusco of Negative Fun records for putting that show in Raleigh together for us.

Positive No  Official
Bandcamp  Downloads
Facebook More Fun
Little Black Cloud Records

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