Google It! The Postelles’ Day Finally Comes
Published June 7, 2011
THE POSTELLES. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARPER SMITH
Over the past few years, the Upper West Side-bred foursome known as The Postelles have become a fixture at fashion parties (for Timo Weiland, Elise Øverland, Billy Reid) and numerous downtown rock clubs, most notably the now-defunct Le Royale, where their house party-style ragers got them discovered one boozy night two years ago. Fast forward to last fall, when their then-self-titled debut, a city-centric rock lovechild of Motown, Buddy Holly, and Brian Wilson, rated 3.5 stars from Rolling Stone. Then is the key word, because the band—singer Daniel Balk, guitarist David Dargahi, bassist John Speyer, and drummer Billy Cadden—never released the album (first on Capitol, then with Astralwerks, now on +1 Records), which was co-produced by Albert Hammond, Jr. at Looking Glass Studios, where Bowie frequently laid down tracks. The totally remastered, self-titled disc finally hits shelves today.
Over drinks in Chelsea on an unseasonably cold May evening, the 23 year-old Balk talked about the “Google-ability” of their name, the band’s travails—from Columbia Prep, where they first met, to getting smacked in the face by their label (and then a bra)—and their upcoming US tour, which kicks off tonight at the Mercury Lounge.
MICHAEL SLENSKE: This album’s been coming out longer than the shelf life of most bands. What was it like going through so many ups and downs to get here?
DANIEL BALK: It felt like shit. At first you get angry and then it’s sort of upsetting, then you laugh it off. I started feeling worse for the people in the [label’s] office. We’re out on the road being a rock-and-roll band. I’ll tell you a funny story that’s sort of a metaphor for that time period. We were supposed to have this in-store at Sound Fix promoting our new EP, and a few hours before they had some rat infestation, and we ended up playing at Spike Hill to Billy’s four-year-old cousins and their friends and this one random die-hard Postelles fan. We’re the kind of band that never says no. But I got mad because she took her bra off and it hit me in the face and she had her boobs out in front of these kids. That was a fucked-up show.
But a year later “White Night” debuted on MTV, and we got put on the Kings of Leon tour. That was when they canceled the show in St. Louis because of pigeon shit. It was everywhere, and John was sort of dancing around it, but we kept on playing. A friend of ours who works in the studio where Liam Gallagher was recording at the time told us that Liam said, “You know what’s rock-and-roll? The Postelles are fucking rock-and-roll because they didn’t leave their set.” That was pretty awesome.SLENSKE: Wow. Sounds like you guys made it past a more than a few horrors. Most high school bands don’t make it past graduation.
BALK: I basically went to high school to start a band.
BALK: Yeah, I never intended on going to college. I dropped out of the New School after a semester. When we went to school, there were probably four or five other high school bands in New York at the time, most of them playing open-mic nights. I’d go around to everyone at school, “Do you like the Beatles? Do you like the Stones? Do you like the Strokes?” They’d all be like, “I like Creed.” “All right, fuck you.” Then one time I was in Spanish class, I was making my all-time festival bill, which was headlined by the Beatles with John Lennon doing a solo and me under him, and I looked over and there was David doing his favorite Strokes set list. I was like, “We’re going to start a band together.” Then I walked in on John in the music room playing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on cello, and I said, “You’re going to play bass.” Because cello and bass were the same, right, which was the dumbest thing I’ve ever thought, but it worked. Then Billy joined the band after we’d left high school. He’s younger.
SLENSKE: Is your family musical?
BALK: My dad plays guitar and loves the blues. All he would do is play guitar all night to blues records and he showed me the Beatles and the Stones. I’m a huge fan of the blues guitar.
SLENSKE: How’d you get the name Postelles?
BALK: In high school, without Billy, we were the Blend. We were also Transit for a day; we were The Modern for three days.
SLENSKE: I like The Modern. It’s like the band that plays outside MoMA for spare change.
BALK: [laughs] I came up with the name, and it’s a Motown thing, but the reason we used The Postelles was that John was studying this thing called Googleability, which he’s going to write a book on when he gets older. It’s basically about having a name you can Google easily. John went to Harvard for a year.
SLENSKE: Studying what?
BALK: Googleability. [laughs] He will sit in the back of the van on tour and he’ll just shout out “Seven” and we’ll look down and the Klaxons are playing on the radio. Our name is like an 8.9 on his scale. Some girl told me it’s a female postal worker, and then there’s a guy in Arkansas named Arthur Postelle who murdered seven people. MGMT is like a 1, it’s horrible. I remember when they started I couldn’t find anything on them. Vampire Weekend is a 10. What the hell is a Vampire Weekend? Nobody ever has one of those.
SLENSKE: So how’d you get hooked up with Albert?
BALK: We were playing a show at Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A when we were in high school and Albert was walking outside with his girlfriend at the time. Literally, John and my girlfriend went out to get him because I couldn’t go out there. We were huge fans and John said, “Hey, we’re playing a show tonight. Come check us out.” Basically he was in a really good mood or had nothing to do that night and he came in and watched the band. I went to the bar, got a napkin and made a set list for the first time ever. After that, we became friends and a few years later sent him “123 Stop” as a demo, and he was like, “Let’s do this.”
SLENSKE: Were you ever tentative about him producing the record because you have a similar sound?
BALK: EMI was really concerned with that. People say you sound like The Strokes because you play guitar rock and you’re from New York, and they were worried, but because we know Albert, we know he brings something else to the table, which is this perfectionist mentality of creating a sound of clean guitars, not using pedals all the time. He’s very influenced by Buddy Holly, and he introduced that to us. He said, “Let’s sound like Buddy Holly.” We really didn’t know what he meant, but we trust him musically.
SLENSKE: What was it like before he stepped in?
BALK: Engineers would press record and we’d play our songs. Albert was like, “No, you should pad the drums.” He wanted to mute the drums to make it sound like old Motown records. We never would’ve come up with that. He also helped us with structures of songs. Capitol wanted some huge arena album, I guess; they were trying to get the guy who produced Kings of Leon.
SLENSKE: It’s funny because you hear a song like “Stella,” and it sounds like he would have produced that, but he didn’t. So his touch is a bit of a surprise, other than the tight guitar licks.
BALK: He didn’t. Albert did “Looking Glass,” which is on the EP, “She She,” “White Night,” “123 Stop,” and “Hold On.” When you read about the Strokes and how they recorded Is This It, it was just plug in and play, which is what we’d been doing since high school. He’s very different from that. He sets up the amps for three hours. He goes under an amp like he’s going under a car. I was thinking he was crazy, but it totally worked. He’s like, “The sound is so important, then we’ll get the feeling.” He’s really technical.
SLENSKE: You’re headlining this time around. Anything special you’ve got planned?
BALK: We’re bringing this New York band called The Ambassadors and another called The Dig. We’re doing small venues, we like it to be intimate and feel like a rock-and-roll club, house party-type vibe. La Royale had that. Those shows were legendary. We’d have 200 kids waiting outside. We were playing on a table, basically. Bad sound, but no one even cared. That’s the vibe we want. We’re playing Southampton [at the Escape to New York Festival] at the end of the summer. It’s all beautiful girls and us. I either want to wear a wig or a dress, or maybe just go all out and do the Kurt Cobain thing.
THE POSTELLES IS OUT TODAY ON +1 RECORDS. THE POSTELLES WILL TOUR THROUGHOUT THE SUMMER, INCLUDING DATES TODAY AND TOMORROW AT THE MERCURY LOUNGE IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.