by John Nicholson
Indie-pop homeboys, Literature, released their second LP today, entitled Chorus. The band sat own with That Mag to shed some light on Philly’s music community, their creative process, roots in punk and pure-hearted dedication to the DIY culture.
Transplants of the lauded Austin, TX music scene, Literature made their way up to Philadelphia shortly after the band formed in 2011. “Austin is a great place for music,” says crooner and guitarist, Nathaniel Cardaci, “but at times you can really feel like you’re on an island.”
Given Philly’s proximity to other major East Coast cultural hubs — such as New York, DC and Boston — Cardaci added that, aside from a much-needed change in scenery, the move was an easy choice. And it’s proven ultimately rewarding.
Arriving in Philly, the founding members of Literature — Cardaci, guitarist Kevin Attics, and bassist Seth Whaland — met drummer Chris Schakerman and started playing all over the city. Interspersed with national tours, they’d play basements in West Philly, venues in Fishtown and nearly everywhere in between.
“It definitely feels like a community has coalesced in the past few years. A family of bands and artists…are calling Philly home, engaging in a musical dialogue. As a minted indie-pop kid, you can be routinely inspired,” says Attics.
Since the upward migration, Literature has signed to the highly regaled Oakland, California indie-pop label, Slumberland Records. Surrounded by such influential acts as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts, Frankie Rose and the Outs, and Joanna Gruesome, Literature has solidified themselves as an undeniable ‘band to watch’. And with the release of Chorus, they’ve truly staked their claim.
Jangling, burning and infectious, the record drives all the way through to the bone with the raw intensity of a neo-punk album, while it retains the lush bounce and colorful accessibility of an indie-pop effort.
“With Chorus, we wanted to leave our comfort zone and really make an ‘East Coast’ record,” says Attics. “Gary [Olson, producer of Chorus] immediately picked up on it and we worked with him from October to March, finessing our sound and experimenting…expanding our musical palette.”
And that they did. A slight departure from 2012’s Arab Spring, the new album stays true to Literature’s controlled-frenetic aesthetic, but boasts a more mature direction accompanied by a crisper sound (musically and audibly), and some welcomed breathing space within songs. The result is cathartic, and the comparison is inevitable — just try listening to tunes like “New Jacket”, “The English Softhearts” and “Court/Date” without thinking of mid-80s Manchester bands, namely The Smiths. Just try.
But also try listening without being completely taken. Part of what makes Chorus such an inescapable record is the sense of community and genuine sense of truth that pervades through each and every song, through the record as a whole. It’s obvious they’re making this music because it’s part of them. And it needs to come out. Because it’s begging to be made, not for the sake of being part of the indie chic.
Cardaci sums it up quite nicely in a sentiment that will sound familiar to any honest musician: “We write what we write based solely on what moves us, and what we emotionally connect with and — a lot of the time — just what comes out.”
From the album art and liner notes to the recording process, musical approach and promotion, the new record is steeped in collaboration. Attics calls it the essence of DIY. He says, “[it’s] a community of people all working together to create something and distribute it. Removing any individual who helped out along the way would result in a different record or no record at all and we are so grateful to everyone who worked so hard on this with us.”
That mentality has been with Literature since the very beginning since Whaland and Cardaci operated a house venue in Austin, and ran their own respective imprint labels. Cardaci says it’s been a great help as the band has continued to grow: “Whether we were trading/setting up shows or putting out records — we learned a lot of what it takes to get a song from something you’re playing in your bedroom to something that someone is putting on their turntable.”
Chorus successfully retains that homegrown sincerity and uses it wisely, without sacrificing Literature’s characteristic edge. Led by a sharp, effortless, guitar-driven groove (that somehow never becomes monotonous), it’s impossible to mention the album without mentioning it’s punk influence.
After all, the two go hand-in-hand: the creation of punk back in the day is synonymous with the creation of DIY music making. You know the history, the old drug-infused, fuzz-addled tropes. It’s an institution. Creating art in your bedroom or your garage, then playing it live with the bare necessities (a cracked amp and half-taught band) for anyone who’d lend an ear. Or, usually, no one at all. And doing it fast, in explosive bursts of blistering power chords and unkempt Doc Marten stomps.
Of course, the genre has morphed since those early days and snaked its way into pop, rock, indie and far beyond, but the distinct punk foundation, impulse and mentality remains ever-present. “We have always liked the raw energy and true-to-life presentation of ‘punk’ music. It also just so happens to be the way we like to play,” says Cardaci.
It’s visceral, naked and gritty, but most of all, punk is pure. And on Chorus, Literature has harnessed that ferocity with a deft, pure-pop hand.