Michael Reisenauer is the singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist for orchestral indie group Pale Young Gentlemen who released a great album near the end of last year entitled Black Forest (tra la la). I had the opportunity to talk to Mike this past week and got some insight on the band, the record, and his influences as an artist.
Me: How about an introduction or history of the band, I understand that you are the co-founder of the band along with your brother Matt and friend Brett Randall, but now you’ve got seven people, at least at the recording of your last album. How did that evolve into such a big project?
MR: It was pretty natural, actually. The three of us were playing around, Matt, Brett, and I, just like a piano, drums, and Brett was playing guitar at the time. Then we started getting some shows, and we saw an add for somebody that was looking for a band that really liked Andrew Bird and so we picked her up, though she has since left the band. Then we got cello, then we got a bass player and we were a five piece, and, you know, the more we played the more people were interested in playing with us, and the more we were willing to collaborate with everybody.
Me: You recently released your second album, which was great, in October of last year called Black Forest. Can you tell me a little bit more about the making of the album, what influenced the music, and what you learned in the process?
MR: Okay, it was kind of my first crack at really trying to compose an album of songs that lived together, that interacted with each other. Our first album…we lucked out in a lot of ways, I don’t know exactly how, but we just kinda recorded some songs that we had been playing live. The big difference I guess is that I was trying really to capture a feeling that I’ve had in my early 20s, this kind of misplaced feeling and trying to find some kind of home for it...We wrote a bunch of songs that Matt and Brett and I demoed in the basement studio. I’ve got a software program for writing string parts, and we added drums and guitars and vocals to it and it sounded really cheesy, but then a month later we went into the studio and tried to track everything as quickly as possible, and that’s about it.
Me: As the primary songwriter and singer, you’re responsible for a lot of the creative energy that goes into making the music, but for your past album, at least, there were six other people in the band…What process do you go through in writing a song?
MR: Well, it kinda depends on who it is and what the part is. I would print off sheet music and give it to the string players the first few times, but some of these songs went through really major, dramatic changes because we would rehearse it and play and see how the parts fit together and go “that doesn’t work.” So we go back and next week I’d have new parts, some of them had been totally changed, and others just tweaked a little bit. We’d add drums and bass to it, record our rehearsals, then play them back and see again what was working and what wasn’t working.
Me: I noticed as I was listening to Black Forest, and and then going back and listening to some of your debut album, that Black Forest is much more ornate and diverse; there are more instruments, more complex arrangements, etc. Was that purposeful? Did you approach the music in a different manner or did it just naturally evolve to be that way?
MR: No, from the beginning I knew what the title of the record was, and I had written “Our History” and “She’s All Mine, I Think.” Those kinda set the tone for the record, I think, musically, how important strings were gonna be in the record and how I wanted it to sound almost like a fairy tale or something like that. So after those two songs we had kind of an idea of what was going to happen, and then I just tried to write songs that would fit together in that context.
Me: You mentioned a couple months of touring last year. Are you planning on being on the road much soon? And do you enjoy that experience or is it pretty exhausting?
MR: We’re planning on getting out soon, but not for quite that amount of time...All of my vacations when I was a kid were road trips because we didn’t have money to fly anywhere. We would drive out to Colorado or Wyoming or wherever. So something about being out on the road feels very natural and peaceful to me. In time, it gets exhausting. We were out for two months and did a lot of dates; we had very few nights off, so it kinda wears down on ya, but at the same time you get better at doing it. I don’t know, it doesn’t really compare to anything. It seems almost like you’re a traveling salesmen or something, but instead of selling encyclopedias you have songs, you know? You stay in a different motel every night, but they could all be the same motel, it’s a weird thing.
Me: I recently heard your cover of the MIA song “Paper Planes,” and really enjoyed it. Where did that come from? I saw it on a CokeMachineGlow podcast, but how did that start?
MR: Matt and I have always talked about wanting to do cover songs, but we never really rehearsed them...One song we always wanted to cover was “Straight to Hell” by The Clash. I was working in a coffee shop this summer and I heard MIA’s song and I thought at first it was gonna be the damn Clash song, but it ended up being Paper Planes and I thought that was interesting. Then when we were on tour we got an email about CokeMachineGlow wanting us to cover a top-40 type hit from the past year and I thought that made about as much sense as anything else. So we went out and covered it. (Hear the song)
Me: I have one more question for you. I have a brother who is close in age to me and we actually roomed together in college for a while...How is spending time on tour and in the studio with your brother, Matt?
MR: It’s the only thing that keeps me from going out of my mind, I think. Matt and I are less than a year and a half apart in age and something happened when we were in our late teens when our parents divorced and somehow our relationship got really close after that. We lived together and when I don’t see him I pretty much call him on the phone almost every day even if I don’t have a reason; we’re really close. It’s kind of funny; there is an idea that it’s kind of ironic, our relationship as siblings, because a lot of siblings can’t get together, or if they do get together they kind of hate each other on some level, but we’re just not that way.