It’s been just more than a year since the release of Big Echo, the lush breakthrough full-length that launched Berkeley’s The Morning Benders onto the international rock scene. Filled with warm guitar tones, hints of ’50s pop, and frontman Chris Chu’s big vocal leaps—not to mention the deft production hand of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor—Echo made for one of the more memorable releases of 2010, its tracks landing on more Best Of lists than we have room to print. In turn, the band spent the year sharing stage space with big names like the Danger Mouse/The Shins collaboration Broken Bells and Grammy Award winners The Black Keys.
Yet as the dust settles from the Benders’ whirlwind year, the group is showing no signs of slowing down. Most recently, the band released Japan Echo, a for-donation EP of new tracks and remixes, the proceeds of which will benefit the Japan Society’s Earthquake Relief Fund. I recently spoke with Chu about the album, the remixes, and the Benders’ upcoming Coachella debut.
Can you tell me what Japan Echo is like and how it came about? Well, it came out pretty fast just because of the nature of that whole situation. But what spurred it was that we were going to Japan to play over there for the first time. We were all really excited about it and stoked to go, and when it got cancelled [due to the tsunami], we had all this time freed up. We figured we might as well do something to help out. We always have a lot of material, stuff we’re working on, and it just made sense to get it out that way.
How much have you guys raised? Yeah, it looks like it’s going to be around $18,000, which is really amazing. And it’s still available, so if people want to donate, they still can.
What do you get out of remixing/allowing your stuff to be remixed? The remix world, for me, wasn’t something I was really into, I think because I tend to approach music from such a songwriting perspective. But over the last year or so, I started getting into it and doing some of my own. I think I approach it in a different way than most remixers do; a lot of the remixes I’ve done I’ll sing on, or add different melodic lines that I think add to the song, or rearrange the structures so the lyrics come off in a different way. As far as other people remixing our stuff, with our music, there are so many decisions being made all the time about the music and the videos and the way it’s being presented to the world. With the remixes you get to give the song to someone else and let go of that control, and that’s a nice change of pace.
You mention that you guys are always working on songs. Have you started discussing the next album yet? Yeah, we’re actually going in the studio next week to start working on it. We’ve got way more material for this album than we’ve ever had, and I think the process is going to be a lot different than on other albums. In the past, we’ve had pretty gnarly deadlines, so we’d go into the studio and bang things out really fast. With this album, we want to make sure that we have the right studio and the right people working with us—just take our time a little more. … We’re hoping to collaborate with a handful of different people in a handful of different studios and just raise the level of collaboration, get some different colors from different studios and producers and engineers—just kind of open it up a bit.
You guys are also playing your first Coachella. Anyone you’re excited to see? It’s a pretty big deal for us to even be playing it. My brother and I grew up in Southern California, and Coachella was always the biggest thing. It’s truly amazing that we’re really playing it. And I’m really stoked to see Kanye.
The Morning Benders play SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) this Thursday, April 14, at 8 p.m. Call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for ticket info.