We had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Clarke and Mike Viola in Hamburg for a little interview before their show with Ryan Adams later that night. We talked about their EPs, PAX AM, their work with Ryan and a lot more. Make sure to check out their latest releases ‘Diamonds’ by Daniel Clarke and ‘Stairway to Paradise’ by Mike Viola – now available on vinyl over at www.paxamrecords.com and on iTunes.
Can you tell us a little bit about PAX AM?
Daniel: What can we say about PAX AM?
Mike: Well, Ryan built it. He was looking for a space to build a studio when he moved to L.A.. He had one in his house and we jammed there, recorded there, but the neighbours would complain, so he was looking for a proper place. And he found one that’s part of Sunset Sound – the complex of studios – it’s very historic. But it was a house, not really a studio, so he had to do a lot of work to fix it up. And he has. It’s sort of his dream studio. The way it works for people, his friends and stuff, is that since it’s his, there’s a lot of freedom there. The clock isn’t running, so you can explore ideas and be really really stupid.
Daniel: A lot of time for stupidity.
Mike: Yes. I mean, music is about playing and having fun. Not being too serious about it. Eventually shit gets serious, but people forget to play. I think his studio is giving him that, mostly it’s a place to just fuck around, but you know, we’ve got a Grammy nominated record out of fucking around, we got that out of it. It took a couple of years because we wanted to take a new way, so we confused a lot of people. For those ten songs on this record, there’s maybe 80 more that we had to do to get to this.
Daniel: It’s funny, people think Ryan releases a lot of music, but it’s very little compared to what he actually creates. He has a sort of job mentality about it, which is really nice, he’s like “Let’s get up, go to work, this is what we do”. It’s cool.
What’s the best thing about the studio?
Daniel: The gear is just right, everything’s done right. We use pro tools sometimes, but it’s not very computery. It’s very analogue. It’s got a really nice and casual vibe.
You both recently recorded an EP. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Daniel: I live in Virginia, and I’m always recording music in my house. I’m not good in any of this stuff, I don’t know much about engineering or math or all these things. I grew up loving soul music. I play all kinds of music, I learned jazz music, I love pop music… I never know what it’s gonna be when I’m sitting on something, but I’ve really been enjoying writing some soul music. I don’t know why it’s called soul music… there’s something to me about the simplicity of that music. The sentiment of it is usually really just…here. In terms of the lyrics, I felt comfort there. Cause I’m not gonna tackle anything super heavy like the way Mike or Ryan might, but I can tackle something nice and easy. So that was just recorded in my house and I played all the instruments, I didn’t do that at PAX AM. Charlie (bass player of Ryan’s band ‘The Shining’) mixed it. Ryan was very supportive and he dug it, he dug the homegrown aspect of it. So when Charlie got to mix it, Ryan was like “Don’t do much! We wanna keep it crappy the way it is.”.
Mike: A good work ethic, too. He works about it all the time, he gets up and does it, keeps it real.
Daniel: Recently I’ve viewed it like that, just “get up and go do this”. You do that, too, Mike. It’s nice, it feels good like that, cause it’s easy to not think of what we do as a job. It’s just our lifestyle.
Mike: Yeah, some people that get into this business look at it like a business, and I never did. Ever. I just looked at it like a chance to do something to distract everybody from the fact that I’m not working. (both laugh) And all those years later, I’m still not working. I wake up at 1pm, go to bed at 4am, watch movies from the 90s I have no business watching.
Daniel: Enjoying those movies!!
Mike: Sleep deprivation! (laughs)
Daniel: Where did you do your EP, Mike?
Mike: All at PAX. Ryan was trying to get me to the studio to jam, he named a few people. It was always really late, and I was like “I don’t know, man… I’m in my studio, just kinda doing my stuff right now”, and he went “Why don’t you like me!? You don’t like me, you hate me” and I was like “No, it’s just late, can we do it tomorrow?” and he’s like “Just come by now.” So I put on my clothes, get in my car, go over there and walk into the studio and Ryan’s dripping with sweat and he hands me a guitar. There’s a drummer I know, Jeremy, a bass player I know, Gus, and he’s like “Write me the saddest Big Star song ever”. The guys were so tired. They’ve been working all day and I’m just like “Sorry, you guys.” Ryan goes downstairs and then on the spot, I just write the song in real time, like, roll the tape, do it. We tracked it and we didn’t know what it was, it just sounded really cool, and then the next day I sang on it. The next day Ryan sang on it and played a solo and we realised this was fucking awesome and we should do more of it. So then it became a thing where I’d go to the studio every day and I wouldn’t know what we were gonna do. He’d give me a challenge. He’d say “I want you to write a song about Captain and Tennille, and the Captain divorces Tennille. Write a sad song about it.” So I wrote a song called ‘The Captain’. He would do this every day. “Write a song about your dog. You don’t pay enough attention to your dog. Write a song about it.” So I did. I just kept going and we collected all those songs until we had a whole album’s worth of songs. I said “I don’t really wanna do a record”, so he was like “well, let’s put out an EP”, so he narrowed it down to four songs, and that’s how it happened. I had nothing to do with the production or the mixing or anything. I’d just show up and fuck around and Charlie finished it. Kind of what we do on the bus every night.
Are you planning to release more of your music?
Daniel: Yeah, I imagine so. It’s hard to kind of make plans, in this scene you just have to go with the moment, but whether it’s on PAX AM or else, I always do music. I guess it’s the same for Mike. We’ll see, I don’t know if it’s necessarily PAX related, but hopefully!
Mike: I go back and forth with it, I’m not sure. Whether I wanna do it or not.
Is there anyone you would really like to work with?
Mike: I just like working with young unknown artists. That’s my favourite thing. It wasn’t hard to work with Ryan, cause we’re friends, but it can be difficult to work with older artists. I get asked to do that a bunch, cause I’ve been around for a while, but the younger artists are more exciting. It’s just way more exciting to see them climb the charts. They’re pumped when they’re number 39, and then you watch them tour and the song climbs and climbs. That’s really fun for me.
And I love working with Ryan.
How did you guys meet Ryan and how did you get the idea to play together?
Daniel: I met Ryan years ago when I was playing with Mandy Moore. I was there when they met, and we jammed a lot for a while. Must have been five or six years ago. I’m sort of a session guy, I play with different people, tour around, do lots of different things, as opposed to Mike. You’re a songwriter-artist, Mike, I’m like… the piano guy in the back. So I worked with Mandy and Mike, too, cause he produced one of her records, and then when Ryan and Mike met, I was like “Oh, that’s killer, what’s gonna happen here?”. Then they went through all this music, I knew they had been working on it for a while, crazy people music, man. It worked out with me, too.
Mike: We picked up the phone and begged him, basically that’s what happened. “Please. We know this is weird, we need you. We need a real musician.”
Daniel: What did Ryan say about an unused Cadillac?
Mike: That’s what I said. I said “Daniel is our Ferrari with the tarp on it, he never gets used”. (both laugh) He’s a really great musician and it’s awesome to have him in the arsenal, cause whenever Ryan sort of nods at him during the show, he can unleash himself and it’s awesome.
Daniel: It’s fun, I think we bring sort of different elements to his music. I mean, I’m a fan of his music, I’ve been a fan for a long time. I feel like he approaches music in a cool way. We’ve definitely evolved a lot.
Mike: Yeah, we did. He’ll be like “Can we play this song?” and then we’ll listen to it and be like “No. You should play this song.” He’ll go “I don’t wanna play that song” and we’ll say “But it’s a great song!” Our setlist right now is like hit, hit, hit. Big songs. Because we insist on playing ‘When The Stars Go Blue’.
Daniel: Yeah, we brought that out in him a little, I think. We just jam a lot with him.
Have you got a favourite Ryan song to play live?
Daniel: We did Letterman a few weeks ago, and we played ‘Starting To Hurt’. The way we learn his songs is like during soundcheck. He’ll be like “There’s this song, which you may or may not have heard” and then he just starts playing it, and that’s how we learn it, and that’s the best way for this band to work. Dave had requested this song specifically, and it’s sort of a deep tune in his catalogue. I thought it was the perfect mix of how we learn tunes and presenting this thing super fresh. All my friends really responded to it, told me it was really good, because it was totally fresh. We only played it once. We tried to play it again later and it didn’t work (laughs).
Mike: My favourite one is ‘To Be Young’.
Daniel: We brought in those tunes recently, it’s like those rockabilly tunes, really fun. That wasn’t part of our set for a good portion of this year, but it’s fun to bring that stuff in for the festivals.
Are there any new artists you would like to recommend?
Daniel: Natalie Prass. She’s cool. I played on her record, too, actually. They’ve been on the road with us, that’s been really fun. There’s that label called Spacebomb Records, she’s in that scene, and there’s this guy called Matthew White who produced the album of Alondra Bentley. She’s kind of folky, but they brought a different sort of indie element to her music, it’s really cool. Check her out.
Mike: Palma Violets, we saw them at Glastonbury.
Right, you played Glastonbury this year! Was it the first time Ryan played there?
Daniel: Yeah, he’s not a big festival guy.
Mike: That’s another thing we’ve helped him change. We just asked him “Why aren’t you doing that?” and he said “Well, I don’t know.” so we said “Well, then do it!”. It’s really that simple. It’s just a matter of encouragement. He really respects his band, we’re his friends and he knows that we’re not out for anything else but to play the music and maybe catch a little sleep sometimes. He trusts us.