Sweltering clubs half-full with scenesters sipping smuggled drinks. Slivers of smoggy sunset cast shadows on palm trees. This is the Los Angeles of Silversun Pickups. It’s not just home — it’s the band’s identity.
As the group’s mid-tempo sound emerged from the Silver Lake area to gain national prominence, home has never left their consciousness. The name Silversun Pickups is derived from the corner of Silverlake and Sunset Boulevard, a very purposeful choice by the band. The Silver Lake music scene blossomed when artists moved there for the affordable housing at the time. And safety in numbers produced a creative class.
When groups like Rilo Kiley and Silversun Pickups began to thrive, the national spotlight was thrust on the LA niche. While Silversun’s drummer, Chris Guanlao, is glad their scene has been recognized, he says coverage of its “boom” never held a ton of weight. It seemed behind the times to the people living it.
“It’s just like any bohemian-type neighborhood,” he says. “When it gets a lot of press in magazines and newspapers and stuff like that, it’s always kind of a little late. Everyone was kind of talking about Seattle when it was already done — when the heyday was already over. Same with Williamsburg. Same with Silver Lake.”
Adapting to the diversity of LA has served Silversun Pickups well. Along with the general hodgepodge of people who inhabit the city, there are also an abundance of musical scenes.
Because of this, the band has always striven to fit into any situation that comes its way. This is why their current tour with Against Me! (whom the group met and struck up a friendship with during their promotion of their first full-length record, Carnavas) might not be as absurd as it looks at first glance.
“The thing that we pride ourselves in is that we’re kind of chameleons in a way because we can play with a band like Against Me! and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. We can play with Muse and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. We can play with a band like Snow Patrol and it doesn’t seem too far-fetched,” Guanlao says.
Being in based in LA also led to some interesting odd jobs while the members of Silversun Pickups were still in their struggling bohemian phase. Many of the band members worked as production assistants on sets. Guanlao worked for a graphic designer who specialized in making invitations for big Hollywood parties. He remembers having to source thousands of canisters of white tennis balls (“not an easy item to find”) in order to make invitations for an all-white-clothing summer party P. Diddy was throwing.
The absurd excess of the entertainment industry stood at stark contrast to the reality Guanlao and his band mates found themselves in at the time.
“I remember sneaking drinks into clubs, so I didn’t have to pay for it. I’d just bring in a flask and order a Coke and mix it myself to avoid paying for the $8 Jack and Cokes.”
Though that time was hardly filled with Hollywood glamour, the group still feels a sense of nostalgia for those Silver Lake days. This is most evident on a night-to-night basis when Silversun Pickups play a certain track off of their debut EP, Pikul.
“Whenever we play ‘Kissing Families,’ it’s very hard for me not to think about those moments in time in 2000 or 2002,” Guanlao says, “We weren’t even signed yet, but we were still playing in clubs and still just hanging out with friends. That song specifically always takes me back to that time in our lives.”
They’re moments — memories — captured now as songs. And Silversun Pickups press on, continuing their quest to sonically recreate all the desire and demons that they found in the City of Angels.
Silversun Pickups play with Against Me! and the Henry Clay People at the Knitting Factory on Friday, July 30, at 8 pm. Tickets: $24.50 - $26. All-ages. Visit www.ticketfly.com or call (877) 435-9849.