ABOVE: TINY VICTORIES’ GREG WALTERS (LEFT) AND CASON KELLY
Brooklyn-based band Tiny Victories mined musical memories and ghosts of the past to create its debut LP Haunts. The duo— Greg Walters and Cason Kelly—began making music together in 2012, following Walters’ stint as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Cason’s career in social work. Over the past few years, the guys of Tiny Victories have spent their time touring and playing shows with Javelin, White Denim, Ra Ra Riot, and Maps & Atlases. Following touring, the duo finally decided to hunker down and make a full-length record; the result was the synth-pop sounds and thoughtful lyrics of Haunts, recorded with the help of producer Alex Aldi, who has worked with Passion Pit and Holy Ghost!
With their debut LP, the song structure is tighter and the music is more focused than before. The band has come a long way since their 2012 EP Those Of Us Still Alive and have made a statement with their new electro-pop jams. We spoke with Greg Walters about Russian lyrics, recording with Alex Aldi, and finding “Tiny Victories” from tiny defeats.
ILANA KAPLAN: How did Haunts happen? I know you guys haven’t released a full-length yet, so this is your first. I’ve just seen you a bunch in Brooklyn.
GREG WALTERS: I guess I’d say we really wanted to do a full-length record and we had been wanting to for quite a while. We actually wrote a whole bunch of material for it. We took the approach where we wanted to make sure we were putting out something we felt really strong about, and that meant rejecting a lot of stuff even before we got into the studio. I guess we were taking the approach of choosing natural songs to go with.
KAPLAN: How did you end up choosing this particular producer?
WALTERS: We had some lists, and we reached out to a bunch of different people. We narrowed it down, and he was always near the top of our list. Our record label happens to know his manager, or some connection like that. We met him through Passion Pit. I think the manager of Passion Pit knew our record label guy, so they made that connection. We’ve been fans of Alex (Aldi)’s for a while, especially working with Passion Pit and Holy Ghost! We really like those interesting, weird sounds that are well produced. We wanted to combine those two different aspects of the recording process and making something that sounded interesting and unusual, but also clear and bright.
KAPLAN: So, you guys are Brooklyn-based right?
WALTERS: Yeah, we are. I live in Crown Heights and Cason lives in Bushwick. I’m from Washington, D.C and Cason is from Atlanta. That’s where we are right now: hanging out with his parents in Atlanta. His mom just made us a huge pancake breakfast at 2:30 p.m.
KAPLAN: You’re living the dream.
WALTERS: A great band name would be “pancake batter.”
KAPLAN: You still have time to use it. What’s the most meaningful track on Haunts?
WALTERS: That’s a tough question. It’s like choosing between your children. It’s hard to pick an absolute favorite. One of my favorites is “Austin, TX”—it’s a little bit on the long side. We’ve been told that we shouldn’t focus too hard on promoting it since it’s six minutes long and no radio station will ever play it. It’s a very simple song, chord-wise. If you’re going to have a long song like that, you need to vary it up in the song structure. The chorus is actually a play on words in Russian, because I used to live in Russia. So, I’m used to doing interviews on the other side of the fence. The chorus is, “You said ‘goodbye,’ but you meant ‘I’m sorry.'” In Russian, the word for farewell is not the kind of thing you’re going to say when you go to the store, but the kind of thing you’d say if someone is leaving your life forever. It’s like, we said our farewells and we forgave each other. I always thought that was really beautiful. If you’re going to say goodbye to someone, you don’t want to leave thinking about all of the bad things you did. It’s this beautiful something where we all want to be forgiven by the people we love.
KAPLAN: That’s an interesting story. Who are the biggest influences on this record?
WALTERS: In terms of what we were listening to while we were making it, since we worked with Alex, who also worked closely with Passion Pit, we just happened to be listening to Passion Pit a lot in the studio while we were making it. It was a very common interest for all of us—not that we were trying to steal their ideas or anything. We were also listening to Yeasayer and Phoenix—Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Cason and I didn’t really listen to electronic music before we started an electronic band. I listen to a lot of Grateful Dead and I was really into Bob Marley when I was growing up. I take a lot of influences that are more song-oriented and rock-‘n’-roll-influenced.
KAPLAN: Those are some solid influences, and all over the map, too. How did Tiny Victories become your band name?
WALTERS: For one thing, it wasn’t actually taken. It’s hard to find a good band name you like that isn’t actually taken these days. It makes it difficult to track down the 14-year-old kid from Sweden that has the same band name. I was walking down the street with my younger brother Doug in Brooklyn, and somebody had painted “fuck you” on this guy’s porch. He was scraping it off and he just had this look on his face like he was having the best day of his life: finally getting rid of this graffiti. My brother looks at me and says, “What’s the opposite of tiny defeats?” So, we decided Tiny Victories was a good band name.