ABOVE: REGAL DEGAL. IMAGE COURTESY OF JACKSON POLLIS
“I don’t feel like it’s been a long time coming. I mean, we’re not Anvil,” says Regal Degal singer/guitarist Josh Da Costa regarding the band’s current tour with indie rock titans Grizzly Bear. Still, the band has done its fair share of time in the trenches, playing Brooklyn warehouses for years before a recent stint in Los Angeles. “I definitely found myself not enjoying New York as much and not being able to put as much as positive spin on it,” says Da Costa of the band’s reason for heading across the country. “Once you feel like that, you need to leave and re-learn to appreciate the city or just re-gain some perspective.”
The band’s move to the West Coast proved to be a particularly fertile time for the trio. Inspired by California’s more laid-back vibe, Regal Degal recorded “a ton of new music” in its Highland Park living room and home studio, expanding the group’s post-punk-meets-krautrock sound and softening its edges. (When asked what they’ve been inspired by lately, drummer Jamen Whitelock jokes that it’s “too much good stuff” and “the best movies, the best music, the best weed.”)
Now, however, the band is back in Brooklyn and playing with reinvigorated purpose. Regal Degal’s new EP, Pyramid Bricks, has just been released via Chris Taylor and Ethan Silverman’s Terrible Records imprint—home to Solange, Empress Of, CANT, and Kindness. The aforementioned tour with Grizzly Bear also has everyone in high spirits, though they haven’t quite figured out their transportation situation (“Interview readers, if you know anyone with a van, hit us up”). We caught up with Regal Degal to talk about preparing for the gigs (“I look forward to bringing my unprofessionalism to a huge stage,” says Da Costa), hanging with No Age’s Dean Spunt, and the differences between New York City and Los Angeles. Also below, check out our exclusive premiere of Regal Degal’s excellent new track, “Do You Live.”
NATHAN REESE: So, this is your first EP on Terrible Records. How did you get hooked up with the label?
JOSH DA COSTA: Ethan Silverman, one of the co-owners of Terrible, used to play in a group called Beige, with whom we’re good friends and who no longer exist. We used to play shows with them. I also knew about Terrible just through living here [in Brooklyn] and our association with RVNG Intl. Ethan’s a good friend and has been an advisor in just a managerial sort of way. It came down to how we wanted to visualize and release music this year: we had an abundance of new material and we didn’t necessarily know if we should put out an LP that would be a culmination of all that. It came down to remembering that we always wanted to put EPs out, more than anything. So we told Ethan we just wanted to do an EP.
REESE: What do you find so appealing about that format?
DA COSTA: I just think that it implies that the songs are very individualistic. Like, they could be singles. And it doesn’t have the connotation that you’re trying to hit a chart in any way. If you just want to group together a few tracks that are rogue or renegade tracks, you can just put them on an EP. Also, I really like Flying Nun—that New Zealand label—and Flying Nun releases were always EPs that ended up on compilations with other EPs.
REESE: When you approached recording these songs, did you have anything specific in mind that you wanted to accomplish?
DA COSTA: We spent a lot of time just working on songs individually, as opposed to approaching something from the point of view of making a whole album. All the songs are different. Some we did in our practice room. Some were made like we were in a lab. What’s it called? A homunculus—like a test-tube person. Lotta homunculi on this new EP.
JAMEN WHITELOCK: This EP was special because it birthed this new way of writing songs where we would get together late at night, most likely stoned, and we would all plug into a tape machine and just jam with headphones. So there was no music in the room, it was all confined in our headphones.
DA COSTA: It was all in a vacuum. It wasn’t really acoustic in the space.
WHITELOCK: And with the introduction of the drum machine, we were able to do that all hours of the night.
DA COSTA: And day!
WHITELOCK: But mostly night. During the day, we’d play it loud, but at night, we needed something to do quietly. So a lot of the songs on this EP were birthed from jamming that way. We call them “couch jams,” because a lot of times they would happen on a couch.
JOSIAH WOLFSON: If you break down the EP by track, each one might have been recorded in a different room of our house.
REESE: Did living and recording in L.A. for the first time change the way your music sounded?
DA COSTA: Undoubtedly.
WOLFSON: It changed the way we approached living, too.
WHITELOCK: Our songs were louder before, and more aggressive, because we practiced in practice spaces. We didn’t realize it until we came back to New York, but we were like, “Oh shit, that’s why our music is so aggressive.” Because we had to play over all the music in the practice spaces. All the other bands. All the rumble.
DA COSTA: The other thing is that we’ve just been reminded that in all the venues we came up in—the DIY spaces—the most frequent M.O. is playing loudly and harshly. I don’t think those places are equipped for more nuanced sounds. That’s kind of a dangerous thing to say, because I’ve seen stuff here that’s super beautiful and sonically amazing, but for us it seemed more logical to play in the same range.
WOLFSON: In New York, everybody is so close together. In L.A., everyone is so spread apart. Here [in Brooklyn], playing in a sort of locked, repetitive way is the best way to get people’s attention. In L.A., you realize you don’t need to do that. Everything will just suit itself.
REESE: The record also seems to have some more pronounced hooks than you’ve had in the past.
DA COSTA: We just love beautiful music. Not so say that noise or expansive, repetitious music can’t be beautiful. But just something about a heartbreakingly good hook is undeniably fun and enjoyable. If a hook is good enough, it can stick with you and kind of taunt you.
REESE: Why did you guys decide to move to L.A. in the first place?
DA COSTA: I had always wanted to move to L.A. at some point in my young adult life. I could see a lineage that I appreciated; I felt like I just wanted to be around that. At a certain point, I think Jamen was the catalyst.
WOLFSON: I was feeling like something was stagnant in the air here at the time.
WHITELOCK: It was just from us being here for so long. But that feeling is gone now that we’ve come back.
REESE: You guys also released some music on Dean Spunt of No Age’s Post Present Medium label when you were out in California.
WHITELOCK: That was really special.
DA COSTA: It was kind of serendipitous.
WOLFSON: Well, the first show we ever played in California was something Dean had asked us to play. He knew us through our mutual friend Avi from Silk Flowers.
DA COSTA: Silk Flowers were one of our favorite bands in New York when they were active.
WHITELOCK: Actually on our way to L.A., we got a message from him, saying, “Hey, do you want to play a show?”
DA COSTA: At the end of 2011, we had just done our WFMU session. He had just heard that, which was about as accurate a representation that our band could have had.
WOLFSON: Then we went to his house on July 4th and had a great time. They helped find lost dogs.
REESE: Lost dogs?
DA COSTA: It was in the laundry room. Dean’s lovely girlfriend was actually looking after a friend’s dog. She has a really beautiful dog. So we had a nice night with them. We sort of sat down with Dean. Our record was in purgatory, and we told him that. He came by our house the next day, and he liked the way it was clean. And he liked that Josiah was making an egg sandwich. He sat down and listened to the album that afternoon and also asked if we’d DJ on this pirate radio station that he had. So that night we did that and after the DJ set him and his girlfriend told us they wanted to put the record out. So it was like a day turnover.
REESE: You’re about to leave on a tour opening Grizzly Bear, playing some really huge venues. What are you doing to get ready for the shows?
WOLFSON: Drinking a lot of water.
WHITELOCK: The biggest thing is keeping the professionalism in mind. You can’t be sound-checking between each song in a place like that. I can’t play a beat on my drum machine and sync up.
DA COSTA: That’s where we might disagree.
WHITELOCK: Really? I thought we’d just conform, but that’s cool.
DA COSTA: Hopefully we’ll meet a nice middle ground—a good happy medium of rising to the occasion but also bring people down to our level. Everyone wins that way. [laughs]
REESE: Where are you most excited to play?
WOLFSON: Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
DA COSTA: That’s going to be cool.
WOLFSON: It’s incredible. A really nice way to go back to L.A.
DA COSTA: It would be kind of strange to play the same kind of show in someone’s loft for a bunch of friends with mushrooms in circulation, but maybe it seems like we’re riding in this high horse. At the same time, it kind of feels like the best we could do. The whole point of going out there, for me, was to give something back to a place that inspired us so much. To be able to present it on such a grand stage is a really nice prospect.
REESE: Do you feel vindicated for staying with the band for so long and finally getting a break?
WOLFSON: Jamen and I were talking about that the other day. In the time that you’re in it, it feels like a long time, but I could see myself doing this for another four years. I mean, it’s really nice to be presented with the opportunity to give our songs, our playing, and our passion that stage. But we’re not careerists about it in that sense. I don’t feel like “Finally—I’ve fucking been doing this forever!” It’s just a new step and a new process. Plus, we have a lot of fun together.
DA COSTA: The greater the opportunity almost equates to the time and energy you put into something, to the point where when you get to these places you haven’t come to this for no reason. I’m not excited because it came out of nowhere—it came out of somewhere. At the same time, we’ve encountered so many other musicians and seen other trajectories that you just have to be gracious and try not to lose your shit.
PYRAMID BRICKS IS AVAILABLE NOW VIA TERRIBLE RECORDS. REGAL DEGAL PLAYS THE HOLLYWOOD FOREVER CEMETERY TONIGHT IN LOS ANGELES WITH GRIZZLY BEAR. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.