Social Studies have had an amazing year… They are currently gigging in support of last year’s excellent Developer, and have played high profile gigs at Noise Pop, Phono del Sol, Converse Represent, and most recently opening the Twin Peaks stage at Outside Lands. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Natalia Rogovin, Michael Jirovsky, Tom Smith, Ben McClintock, and Jesse Hudson about the past year’s experiences and the plan for the future. Special thanks to Raffi Youssoufian for helping me out with this interview. Social Studies are playing Bottom Of The Hill on Saturday, September 21st
You did Noise Pop, you did Phono del Sol, you did Outside Lands.. How did you end you end up being the festival band this year?
Natalia: I think a lot of it has to do with our live show. We love playing live so that’s a big part of our band and I think there are some bands that are more studio oriented and some bands that are more live oriented, and since we are really oriented towards playing shows it just seemed natural for us to play a lot of these festivals based in SF and featuring local bands.
Michael: It’s a very small community, and a lot of people going to these festivals also put on these festivals. We’ve also been a band a long time, a lot of people have seen us in some capacity and have decided to put us on the list.
Natalia- The way you sing has changed dramatically between records, with you moving to a deeper register more recently. Was this a conscious decision or was this natural?
N:It was a little bit of both- kind of an evolution. I never really considered myself much of a “singer” until working with Social Studies, and I started developing more ownership with my own singing, particularly live. Initially I was really self conscious about having a deep voice and I would try to sing higher in order to sound more “girly.” Over time, as I got more comfortable, I realized that my natural range was a lot lower and, even though at first I was uncomfortable in that range, I realized that I had to add more power and more control. As I started to sing more in the range, I started to feel more comfortable in it. At first I was emulating people because I thought “this is how a girl is supposed to sound,” and then I realized that “this is how I sound.”
So you said that you never considered yourself a singer. So how did you become “the singer”?
N:I mean, I was the singer from the beginning. I guess in the beginning, when I first started playing with Michael, we had a few different voices going on and I always thought of myself as a keyboard player. I never really thought of myself as a singer. it was only as we started writing songs and I started focusing on lyric writing and lead parts then I woke up and realized that I was a singer.
I definitely hear both a more confident singer and a more confident band on this second record.
N:Yes, you never stop developing as a band. You never reach the pinnacle. You can always get better. All of us are always trying to get better as players and as writers.
M: I think that this line up, as there have been several, but this current one is where we really gelled.
N: We also did a lot of touring before recording this record and we made a lot of conscious decisions structures and how we approach songwriting. We didn’t want it to be as complicated and tricky as it was before. We wanted this record to be more emotionally driven, more personal. We wanted the songs to be more encapsulated and less meandering. Before we would experiment a ton, and now it’s much more focused.
There were a couple of songs on the first record that sounded almost “prog.” The first track is actually a suite!
N: A lot of that influence had to do with the people in the band at the time. There was a lot of that type of playing in the band. With this incarnation we moved away from that.
M: We used to hear the word “prog” a lot, but nobody has mentioned that for a long time. I hope to never hear that word again.
N: Prog and twee are what people used to call us, probably because of the way I used to sing. With Developer I didn’t want anyone to call us “twee” again.
Jesse: The interesting thing about Developer: when me and Tom join, and Ben a little later, we just went on tour. For a period of two or three months we were becoming a band before we started writing Developer. All of that experience helped us become a solid group with a strong vision.
I saw you at OSL. Were you playing through Phoenix’s sound system? I have never heard that festival sound so good. Every tone was crystal clear yet still deep.
M: They did sound check right before us.
N: But they did strip the entire stage. Phoenix tours with their gear and their sound people. There was a big turn around before we set up.
M: It was kind of a funny switch because they are a big band with lots of gear and a big set up, and then we come out and just come out set our amps up.
N: I think that our music does sound different in different environments. Different spaces bring a different ambience to our songs. With playing a lot of festivals lately, we’ve gotten comfortable with having a “bigger” sound, and it’s really fun to play a giant stage with such a nice sound system and it really brings out the fullness of our sound.
What are the next six months like for you folks?
M: We are about done writing our next record. We are hoping to tour in the fall and spring, with recording in the winter. Nothing is concrete yet, but that’s what we are working towards
Are you working day jobs while doing Social Studies? And how do you do that?
M: Yes. We’re all working. Half of us worked earlier today. We have all positioned ourselves in a way where we have flexibility. Either we freelance or we’ve found jobs that allow us to make this a priority.
Have any of you had a situation where the band and the boss conflicted with each other?
N: We’ve had a lot of these situations. Most bands do when they aren’t at the level of being self sustaining, which is extremely difficult to achieve, even when you are successful. There are a lot of successful bands that still need to work jobs when they are home in order to keep touring. We have gotten to a point where we have all made it clear our jobs and each other that we are committing to this band. Most of our jobs are flexible enough and supportive enough that we can sustain this band. My bar actually put our record in the jukebox- that’s how much they support the band.
What was the weirdest place you’ve heard your music played?
M:We’ve gotten reports of our music getting played in some weird places. Apparently Chiptole plays us a lot in their stores all around the country.
That puts you one step above Radiohead.
M: Really? Radiohead won’t allow Chipotle to play their music?
It’s the other way around- Chipotle feels that the music of Radiohead doesn’t work well with eating burritos.
N: I got a text once from somebody in Hong Kong saying they heard us in a department store out there. That was really cool.
What does the word “Terracur” mean?
N: It’s basically a word I made up. It comes from two latin words: Terra which is Earth and Cur which is running. I have this esoteric Sci Fi idea for this song. It’s basically Earth Runner.
M: With most songs we tend to play them pretty straight each time. However, with that one we tend to play around with it a bit live. It’s a fun one for us because show to show, it’s never the same.