Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's pronounced "eehee": An Interview with Zach Burba of iji

(photo taken by Three Imaginary Girls)

As many one who reads this blog knows, I think iji is making some of the best indie-pop around. So it was a real pleasure to talk with main iji man Zach Burba. Learn what's wrong with the indie-pop scene, how great Daniel Johnston is, and what the heck iji means in the first place.
David Glickman: Ok lets start pre-iji. You got into music through your first band Seashells, right?

Zach Burba: Sort of. Actually, I started iji before I started Seashells. iji was a band made up of my old best friend David. I was 15 actually when I started iji with my old best friend David and my brother Luke and my girlfriend at the time. Originally it was just me and my brother and my best friend at the time and my girlfriend showed up later to play keyboards. We were doing that and it was pretty strictly just these people. You know every show had to be David, Luke, and me. And we wrote songs together and stuff. And then later on we... they weren’t as into making music as I was. I was getting really deep into the scene and wanted to play shows everyday and wanted to do things everyday. And they weren’t as into it so I started Seashells as a way to play by myself and not be undermining them under the name iji. But after a while... they just started leaving the band, so I decided I was just going to combine projects and iji would just be me when it need to be or a band when it could be and I could write and type of song for iji. Like Seashell was like a little bit folkier and lo-fi so I decided I was just going to bring these projects together. Merge them together and make just one thing named iji.

DG: So what led to the demise of Seashells and you focusing all your attention on iji?

ZB: Well it was just when the people left the band. Like when my friend David and brother Luke... I was more into it than them. I was writing all the songs and I wanted to go really far with this and do everything I could. So they couldn’t do that and were busy doing other things. So said "You know what, I’m going to make iji just me for now, and find other people to play with whenever I can." But because it was just me, it kind of defeated the purpose of having Seashells because it was kind of like iji shows by myself , but I played different songs.

DG: So is that what lead to you doing all does four-track recordings by yourself?

ZB: Actually, I was always doing the recording by myself. And actually we’ve we use a 16-track. My dad bought a 16-track digital recorder when I was really young. It’s like a really old one, a really early one. We got more advance stuff when he started a music company so he gave me this one.

DG: So what lead to the blow up to a six-piece band?

ZB: Well, I’ve played with a lot of different people. In Phoenix, I was playing with a large group of different people; who ever I could get to play a show. My friend Robbie, who was in the played in Pools and Alfred Daniel’s Midland and a bunch of different bands; and my friend Tristan who was in Ugga Mugga and a bunch of other cool Phoenix bands and just who ever I could get from the Phoenix scene to play with me I got. But it just got hard to keep people doing it and eventually I decided I wanted to move to Seattle. I came up here by myself leaving all the band members behind and when I got to Seattle I put a band together like that (snaps his fingers). I found my friends Jon and Kenan and they were like "We want to play in the band" and they found their friends who said "We want to be in the band too". If anyone asked to play in the band and they had an instrument we didn’t already have I’d usually say yes. So I just wound up being this huge thing, this huge project of six people and we might even add a seventh soon.

DG: So Seashells was from Phoenix...

ZB: Seashells was Phoenix, iji was from Phoenix originally. I like to think of the West Coast as my home. In the Western part of the world I am at home.

DG: So what prompted the move to Seattle?

ZB: I was doing a lot touring under the name iji with a lot of friends. Every show I played in Seattle was the best show ever and every time in Seattle was the best time and I really loved it. And people really liked my band up here and I was down in Phoenix were there wasn’t much going for me. Plus I need a house to live in and my friend Jon said "We have an opening at my house in Seattle" and I was really Make a random, huge, pointless change in my life. So I did that by just dropping everything, putting everything I could into my van trunk, and moving here to Seattle. And it was one of best decisions I ever made, it’s wonderful here.

DG: Trust me it’s not pointless. So, you’ve been releasing a lot through music through Lost Sound Tapes, which is a cassette label, and you opted to self-release your latest album. What led to this? Is there just a D.I.Y. ethic that appeals to you?

ZB: Absolutely. And Lost Sound Tapes is still a very D.I.Y. thing because my friend Jon, who didn’t use to play in the band when I put out does tapes, but now even plays in the band and we live together. Now we’re real close and I’m always helping make the Lost Sound Tapes releases. Lost Sound Tapes is great, but personally, I don’t listen to a lot of cassette tapes, I’ll admit that. (Laughs)

DG: You hypocrite!(Laughs)

ZB: I mean I have some and listen to them some, but usually I just listen to CD’s. But I really like Jon, I really like the label, and I really like the idea of having cassette tapes even though, it not something personally I would listen to as much as if someone gave me a CD instead of a cassette tape. So when I put something out on cassette tape, it’s almost like B-sides. It’s like a record that I’d... it’s not that it’s not important to me, but this a little bit goofier, this I spent a lot of time on, this is something I did kind of fast even though it’s necessarily better than each other. That’s why I’ll put something out on tape as oppose to on CD. The new record... my friend Andrew was going to release it on his label Now Hereness, but that label not really doing anything anymore. It kind of didn’t happen, so we decided to just do it ourselves.

DG: So what lead to the vinyl with Watercolor Paintings?

ZB: That was an idea of Jon from Lost Sound Tapes. He decided he wanted to start doing 7 inches. And we were going on tour with Watercolor Paintings, so it just made sense. Originally we were going to do a 7 inch with the band James Rabbit, which is one of my favorite bands and great people. Then we were going on tour with Watercolor Paintings, so we were saying "This makes more sense, lets do it with Watercolor Paintings so they can sell it as a tour merchandise item." I really like that band a lot. I love does people and their music so it’s really exciting to do a release with them.

DG: So how did the huge, two month trek through the United States and Canada come about?

ZB: Well, I’ve done a lot of tours as iji and the first tour with our friend Jude Ambry who was like, "Will you come on tour with me?". I was like "yes, I’d love too." If your going to tour the whole country and make it affordable for smaller bands like our bands, you have to really take your time and hit all the little stops and short drives between short drives. So that’s just how long it takes to tour the whole country and also touring is my favorite thing in the world. It’s so exciting. So I convinced all my friends in iji to do a tour so were just doing it.

DG: You said you don’t listen to a lot of cassette tapes, but I find a certain Daniel Johnston influence in your records. How do you compare this, because he put a lot of his earlier material on cassettes?

ZB: Yeah, I didn’t find out about Daniel Johnston until people started re-releasing his records out on CD and LP. I knew about him and saw the movie (The Devil and Daniel Johnston) , and was so blow away by it. I mean heard so of his songs before that and liked them, but once the movie came out I was just so inspired and couldn’t believe it. Thinking about that the story just makes get so emotional. I love music so much and he loved music a lot too, and I feel this kind of deep connection to him over that and in the simplest way I can relate to that band in the way that they make me feel and deal with stuff in my life.

DG: So in my mind, there’s a certain shift in your music recently from your pop stuff to more of a rock sound. Is this on purpose or am I just imagining it?

ZB: I don’t know if it’s on purpose, but my songs are always changing. Have you heard the newest record, In Celebration?

DG: No, I’m going to buy it here.

ZB: Ok, cool. Yeah, that ones really pop in a lot of ways but also rock. I’ve been listening to a lot of rock. I mean indie-pop was a huge part of my life and it’s a lot of my favorite bands. But I feel I’ve gotten to a point were I’m getting past it, especially getting older and taking part in a lot of the beginning pop scenes and meeting a lot of the bands that I really loved has almost turned me off from indie-pop as a whole.

DG: Explain that.

ZB: I’ve learned that all around that they all book 21+ shows, they all party centric and book all these shows at bars, and because of this they’re not reaching a younger audience except for a select few like myself when I was younger who would just go out and looking for so much music and spending so much time finding the bands I loved. I fell like, making music for young people is the most important things and keeping your ideas young and feeling young because that’s what rock and rolls all about. Calvin Johnston once said rock and roll was a teenage sport. That’s what it’s all about. Just young attitude, young feeling. I feel like a lot of indie-pop scenes, even from coming from such a young place, is neglecting that these that these days. Not that I don’t still love all these bands...

DG: Like who?

ZB: I...

DG: No naming names?

ZB: No naming names (laughs). Just a lot of the people who put on a lot the pop fests. A lot of them are 21+ and stuff...

DG: Not Calvin Johnston.

ZB: Not Calvin Johnston.

DG: You’re a big Beat Happening/Calvin Johnston fan?

ZB: Uh, yes. Yes and no. I like it a lot but... it’s great.

DG: Ok so I’ve got to ask this: what in the world does iji mean?

ZB: iji means a lot of things. It’s primarily something I made up when I was a really young kid. When I was learning how to write. Learning how to speak and learning about words and pattern and I really liked pattern in words and I really liked words that were palindromes and words that were just certain patterns. I just liked the way the word looked. I would write on things like notebooks and it had three dots in a row and you could make a lot of things out of it, so mainly it’s a visual idea. The pronunciation comes from Spanish. Like to thing our band is named after the idea or instinct when your singing and your stretching out a word that ends in ‘e’ to go like "ee-hee". I like to thing my band is name after that.

iji Mysapce

Lost Sound Tapes

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