Times New Viking
Hillbillies from the Land of the Stooges
by David Holmes

Five whirlwind years ago, Adam Elliott, Beth Murphy and Jared Phillips were just three Columbus art students who decided to start a rock & roll band. Now, they play to festival crowds, headline European tours and rep for legendary indie record label Matador. Some artists, upon reaching this level of success, fall into a sinkhole of ambition and studio wankery, squandering the scrappy energy that defines young bands with nothing to lose. But luckily, Times New Viking isn’t the type of act that lets fame get to their heads. Their latest (and best) album, Born Again Revisited, is yet another extension of what they’ve been doing all along: combining noisy homegrown sonics drenched in hiss and piss with giddy pop melodies for which half the artists on the Billboard Top 50 would kill. Don’t mention this to the band, but a lot of artists today get some serious mileage out of that same rejection of generally accepted recording conventions. But with Times New Viking it never feels like a pose or a prank. They’ve been writing and recording this way for so long that it’s hard to imagine a TNV song that doesn’t rankle the eardrums at least a little bit.

I recently sat down with the three members to talk about their new record, their fans across the pond, and how to play garage rock in a stadium.

(Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, TNV drummer Adam Elliott is the brother of Agit Reader associate editor Kevin J. Elliott and contributor Doug Elliott. Our coverage is in no way a sign of favoritism, but rather just indicative that talent and taste run in the family.)

Your new album, Born Again Revisited, contains some of your most abrasive songs, like the title track, and also some of the most accessible ones, like “Move to California.” Did you approach the album any differently than the last one?

Jared Phillips: No, I don’t think so.

Beth Murphy: I don’t feel like we ever really have a plan for what our album will sound like.

Adam Elliott: (With) this one, we definitely had less time because we had toured a lot more. So most of these songs kind of came from scratch.

BM: We did it quickly.

JP: Two months is quick.

AE: Yeah, to go from not having any songs and then having 15.

I read somewhere that “Move to California” almost didn’t make it on the album. What was the debate over whether or not to include that song?

BM: Well, we finished the album and then we realized it wasn’t long enough. And we had this new “Move to California” song that ended up being really good.

AE: What’s funny about that song is a lot of times we joke that the third time we’ve ever played a song is when we record it. But on that one, it was pretty much the first time we ever played it. So you can literally hear us get better within the song, like the first chorus is kind of rough, but by the time we get to the last chorus we’ve actually figured out the song.

So how you do feel that your sound and your ideas about music and art have evolved from album to album?

AE: I think they’re all pretty congruent. We’re still fundamentally doing the same thing, but we have all our songs and albums to stand on.

BM: Yeah, we’re self-referential.

AE: We’re self-referential and now we obviously have more to reference. But we also pride ourselves on not having compromised in any way other than what we intended to do initially. Our MO is exactly the same as it was before anyone had ever heard us. I guess it’s a little tough now because more people write about it, but I think we do a pretty good job to block out reviews, critical blogs, shit like that.

JP: I have no problem with that (laughs).

You were all recently featured in the video for Yo La Tengo’s “Nothing to Hide.” How did the idea for that music video take shape?

BM: Matador asked us to do it, and it was their idea for us to star as Yo La Tengo. We’re good friends with them so we thought it’d be funny to do a traditional ’90s video. It was very tongue-in-cheek for us.

AE: Initially they were going to have five bands do this same concept. But then Yo La Tengo scrapped that idea and they got this other guy to do the video. But they said we could do it and then they ended up choosing our video over the other guy’s video.

How much freedom were you given regading the setting and storyline of the video?

AE: 100 percent.

So this weekend you’re going out to LA to play at FYF Fest, a festival supporting state parks. As a band whose style is more appropriate to small, poorly-lit bars, how do you adapt your sound when performing at a huge festival like Pitchfork or FYF?

BM: We try to make it as loud as possible and make sure the sound guy knows what we want.

AE: I think it’s really funny when we play a huge stadium because we still try to play really close, like a small little band, and hope for the best. When we played Pitchfork, though, we had to play before Boris and our sound guy kept making us loud. But we kept having to turn down because we weren’t allowed to be louder than Boris. All we showed up with was our half-cab and Boris had like a wall of amps, but they were still worried we were going to be louder than Boris.

JP: I hate playing outside.

BM: It sounds weird.

Is it mostly the sound that makes you not like playing outside or is it the overall atmosphere?

BM: And the state of mind, really. We’re willing to adapt to it, though, and just accept that it’s going to be different.

AE: I’m not really big on going to festivals, it just seems like people...

JP: People don’t really pay attention.

AE: Yeah, I like music that’s intimate and, to me, it’s hard to pay attention to anything when sound just bounces off everything.

JP: Everything sounds like it’s coming through a loudspeaker.

AE: I think people who know our band adjust themselves, but it’s hard to win over fans that don’t know us.

BM: But it is cool to play in front of thousands of people. Like when we played Siren Fest—that was overwhelming.

AE: But when we played Siren Fest, we destroyed. People were so sweaty, if you there, you were forced to pay attention because it was impossible to get away.

Were you nervous at all to move from playing in front of 200 or 300 people to playing in front of thousands?

BM: Once it’s more than 300 people, I’m not any more nervous. It’s more exciting when you’re up there and there are people “this big” (creates a small gap between her index finger and thumb) out in the audience.

You’ve played a few times overseas and you’re about to embark on another trip to Europe. Do the people there respond to your music any differently than they do in America?

AE: I’d say the response is different because they see us as a different culture. They kind of have this romantic idea that we’re hillbillies from the land of the Stooges, and I like that. They like how unpolished we are, and how we’re enthusiastic and try to play as loud as possible and let mistakes happen. They seem pretty cool about that.

You’ve released four albums in almost as many years. Do you want to continue to keep up that one album a year average for as long as you can?

AE: We wish we could do more, but it takes forever. I mean, we finished this album in March and it’s taken till September to put out. We kind of wish we could record two albums a year.

Is that one of the disadvantages to being signed to a major indie label?

AE: It’s sort of a disadvantage, but at the same time, the amount of help they give us is pretty awesome so you have to take it for what it is.

So you all attended the Columbus College of Art and Design together, and when you first started the band, there’s wasn’t a lot of formal music experience between the three of you. When did you realize that people were really responding to your music and that it could become your main endeavor going forward?

BM: I think it was our second show and Mark Van Fleet (of Sword Heaven) showed up and said we could be really good.

AE: We appreciate that people like it. We made our first our first CD just for our friend, Jon Michael (Snyder), just for the hell of it. And then to actually make it viable as a profession...

BM: None of us expected that at all.

AE: But it didn’t become viable until Matador. Our first tour, we lost so much money. We drove out to San Francisco and South By Southwest because a couple people wanted us to do it. We always kind of thought it would be our hobby.

If due to circumstance or personal preference you stopped playing music, would any of you consider becoming full-time artists again?

BM: I don’t know. I’m not sure what I would do, actually.

JP: Sell shoes.

AE: I always want to do something creative. The one thing I do like about this band is being able to travel and move around. Jared, I thought you wanted to start a farm and live off the land?

JP: Farm shoes.

What’s next for the band after the tour supporting the album finishes up?

BM: Write more songs and tour more.

AE: Write more songs, hang out, buy a dog, buy a house.

JP: Three solo albums. (laughs)

AE: We would like to start saving money to start putting out our friends’ records, maybe start a little boutique label.

JP: I’d like to do that. It would give me an excuse to learn the internet.

Anything else you want readers to know about the new album?

AE: The artwork is good and you gotta listen to it more than three times. And we definitely prefer you to listen to it on vinyl.

BM: And there are hidden pictures on the cover—if you’re on acid and you have it at a certain angle.

JP: Write to Matador to get the 3-D glasses.