PYYRAMIDS dropped their EP, Human Beings, this fall, following a lengthy email friendship that only very recently became IRL.
The band comprises OK Go’s Tim Nordwind and singer Drea Smith. They released their debut disc — laden with moody, yet dancey tracks that are nothing like OK Go’s poppy beats — on the indie pop band’s label, Paracadute.
Both members now reside in sunny LA — Smith left Chicago to work on music with Nordwind — which means they no longer require the technological trappings of a long-distance band relationship. Still, old habits die hard, as you’ll discover in our Q&A with the band below:
So you guys made friends over email?
Tim: I was living in LA at the time and Drea was living in Chicago and our mutual friend lived in Chicago as well.
Drea: She thought that we would be a good fit for each other so she gave Tim my email. We wrote back and forth basically bonded over a couple of bands like Joy Division and the Cure and this new band that I sent over to Tim called Micachu and the Shapes. And we just discovered that we liked all the same music. And then he sent me over some tracks that had no vocal information on them, so I decided to write over them and send them back over. That’s how the first songs were done.
Tim: Our story is definitely a testament to the modern age and all the different ways that you can collaborate nowadays. I think Drea and I had three or four songs together before we had ever met face-to-face. We didn’t meet for eight or nine months after being introduced online through email. Luckily, it just happens to be that we actually like each other in person, too. It is kind of interesting that we were able to make a musical connection without having met face-to-face.
How did the musical process work?
Tim: I was sending a lot of bits and pieces; nothing was fully finished. And all of it was just kind of beat-heavy, moody, minor-sounding music that doesn’t really sound like [OK Go] at all. But it was all stuff that I really liked and thought definitely had reason to live in the world. And just based on email conversations that Drea and I had, it seemed like she might actually like some of these tracks. Because of all the music we were talking about — The Cure, The Smiths, Blur, things like that. It’s all just sort of moody British music that we both really relate to.
I think the reason why this project works on a human level — neverminding the technology for a second — is I just happened to like what Drea does and she just happened to like what I do. I think the real reason why I even initially decided to write to Drea after our friend had recommended her was I just went and listened to some of her old band and her voice and really felt like, ‘Man, what a super unique and interesting voice.’ And having heard that she wanted to something that was, for lack of a better word, indie-r than what she had been doing, I got very excited to mix her voice with this moody Brit pop that we both liked.
I think I read in the Tina Fey book [Bossy Pants] recently that the way that she liked to be in charge of things is to pick the people whose work she loved the most and then let them do their thing and not get in their way. And not to imply that I’m in charge of this, but on a human level, it’s like ‘I like this girl’s voice’ and then after having sent her a couple beats and getting stuff back, I really liked her ideas and thought that this would be a good collaboration. And we don’t even need to be in the same room in order to get along or agree on things, which is why the Internet works so well for us.
What tools did you use when you were working on this long-distance?
Drea: I would sit on my bed in my headphones with my laptop and use GarageBand and just record into the computer. I was still just learning to use it, because I worked two jobs to get a computer. I went so long without a computer. We had known each other for a while before we really got super started because I had to hustle up the dough to get a computer to make it work.
Tim: I suppose it was GarageBand. I guess we used YouSendIt to send files back and forth. I used Pro Tools — I write in Pro Tools for the most part. It was like two computers, a file-sharing website and some music software was all we really needed. And a lot of imagination and ideas.
What about lyrically? Who writes the songs?
Drea: It was mostly me. But on some of the songs, [Tim] would give me vocal references and then I would borrow from the vocal references and build off of those. For example, ‘Animal.’ ‘Animal’ came to me with the catchy ‘oh, oh, oh’s in it and then I filled in the spaces. The ‘animal!’ part was already in there. So I built the song off of what was in the demo.
Tim: That was an interesting one, because the word ‘animal’ was just sort of a placeholder lyric when I originally demo’d the music. That was just a melody idea I had. Drea took that and made an entire song out of it. I never expected the song to end up being called ‘Animal.’ Drea does the majority of the lyrics. I guess we sometimes have what resembles a therapist session where she’s talking to me about what she’s trying to write about and we’ll sort of discuss what’s going on. But as far as pen hitting the paper, that’s mostly Drea.
And now you guys both live in LA. What’s that like?
Drea: It’s cool. I live like 10 minutes away.
Tim: We share a few more meals now that we used to. We go out get pizza a little bit more than when she lived in Chicago and I lived in LA. I like living in the same city. It certainly made finishing this first EP a lot easier because she was living so close. For everything that’s great about communicating online, there’s a certain thing about looking at someone’s eyes and knowing: ‘This [song] isn’t right yet.’
So you’re not going to continue to compose in separate rooms over email?
Tim: To be honest, usually even when she is in LA, if I got an idea late at night, I’ll record it at home and send it over to her. That is how we begin mostly. I guess the nice thing about doing stuff online is that it does allow us some space to our own things before we actually come together. It does create a good space for us, initially, where I can send Drea something and she doesn’t have to react to it right away — she can think about it. Which I think is helpful.
Drea, do you have another band or another project right now?
Drea: I had a band called He Say, She Say and we’re kind of on an indefinite hiatus. My bandmate is now Kanye West’s DJ, so he’s on the Watch the Throne tour. We’re probably going to pick up at some point and try to do a couple of more songs, but for now we’re just like doing our own thing. Also, I just got the email, Doc McKinney who [works] on The Weeknd project, he’s going to be in LA for a month, so I’m going to knock out a solo project with him. But PYYRAMIDS is my main priority.
And Tim, you’re still going strong with OK Go?
Tim: Yeah, still going with OK Go. We’re going to make a new record — we’re going to start writing in January or February and go record in the spring. We’re finishing up a couple of projects that are connected to our latest record — Of The Blue Color of the Sky. We’re making a video at the end of the month for one of the last few songs that still needs a video.
With regard to PYYRAMIDS, we’re going to get started on some new stuff soon and will put something out again later in the year or this time next year. We’ll see how it works. PYYRAMIDS has a couple videos in the works as well.
You already make an interactive video for “That Ain’t Right.” Any plans to get creative on future videos?
Tim: We actually have another idea for a video that would be highly interactive for a song called “Human Beings,” which is a brand new idea.
By Brenna Ehrlich