I started my label Post Present Medium in 2001 and put out a pretty decent stream of records until 2014, when I decided I needed a little break. It felt well-needed at the time.
I first met Behavior in 2017 when we (No Age) played with Purity, which shares members. We got to play with Behavior in 2018 for the release of Snares Like A Haircut, and I had not seen them live yet. They were great. We asked them to go on tour and it was a joy seeing them play every night. I had been thinking of releasing music again but didn’t really know how or what to do. Behavior made me want to jump back in. Their use of space, reductiveness and tension in their songwriting was exciting and crucial. I decided to ask them to do a record on PPM, they agreed and we released Spirits & Embellishments in 2019, and at the same time relaunching the label as a full on passion project.
Bedros sent me the album Sara Gernsbacher (Mayako XO) had just recorded titled XO. I immediately fell for the album—it is so simple in its delivery and production, but has a super present quality that I recognized as in the same vein as Behavior. We released XO officially in 2020.
When they told me they had been jamming together and were planning on doing a record together I was thrilled at the possibilities and couldn’t wait to hear what they were going to make. The album FREE WORLD is the result, it exceeded all of my expectations and punched me in the gut. It’s a beauty of an album, you should take some time from your day to put it on and enjoy it while sipping tea or taking a drive. — Dean Spunt
Dean Spunt: I am wondering how this record came to be, or how the idea of making a collaborative album between you both became the focus for a new record.
Sara Gernsbacher: Behavior and I were booked on some of the same shows, becoming fast friends and we talked about wanting to jam—we played together a few times, and later with Robbie, and it all felt remarkably intuitive and natural.
Bedros Yeretzian: Yeah, the way I remember it is that we had some stray recorded material with Sara from a year or so before we started working on this record that we felt attached to. Those recordings were made casually in our rehearsal space with a few iPhones and I think we all felt like we could do more in that way.
Robbie Cody: Those initial iPhone recordings were made prior to my joining Behavior, and we decided to continue on collaborating with Sara once I joined the band. I brought two mics to the practice space to record two subsequent jams with Sara and those jams went very well. Those two jams make up the bulk of the record. A very nice and easy, natural collaboration.
Dean: So these were all initially improvisations?
Robbie: Yeah, all the basic tracks with the exception of the vocals were entirely improvised. Some songs were taken directly from the master recordings as is and others were edited into more intentional compositions by Evan and me.
Justin Tenney: Yeah, Evan and Robbie focused on mining those loose and long recordings, carved them down and gave them new shapes.
Dean: It’s impressive how it all sounds so cohesive and structured. How did the vocals and lyrics come about? I know Behavior has a lyric-writing process. Maybe you can talk about that a bit. I imagine Sara’s is different?
Bedros: Once we had some songs together, Sara and I recorded demos of ad-libbed vocal parts, which we then collectively transcribed into more coherent lyrics. They were worked over in varying stages until they became the lyrics that finally appear on the recordings. Behavior has been working in this way for our last few records. We’ve said this before somewhere else, but working like this allows for the lyrical voice to be both intimate and distant. A way to be sentimental without being precious.
Evan Burrows: Yeah, writing lyrics using this process enables us to start with cadence and raw syllables, and something like a voice starts to emerge pretty much right away due to fixation on or comfort with singing certain gibberish sounds or non sequitur words. Often that initial lyrical voice has a kind of obsessive character because of its recursions, which we can then emphasize or deemphasize as we develop it with more intention. More often than not, I think we allow the voice in Behavior lyrics to indulge in its obsessions, and if there’s a consistent character from release to release I think that’s one common quality that, in part, adds up to that consistency. I think what felt exciting to me about working with Sara in this way was seeing two different voices emerge with different concerns and different vantages, and then trying to flesh them out so that they had both some sense of independent life and some sense of interrelation—trying to figure out how they could have very individual personae and still seem to belong together in the same dramatic circumstances.
I think for us in Behavior working this way over the years allowed us to lean into lyrical territory we might not have been comfortable with otherwise, because working, firstly, on a sort of character that arises out of a collective process rather than on what you feel you need to express personally allows for parody, self-deprecation, contradiction, dramatization, all kinds of untrustworthy material to enter the frame. The characters in our songs are able to be both earnest and in bad faith in ways we might not be personally comfortable with. We didn’t invent this, obviously. I’d say it’s typical of a lot of punk lyrics—invoking and inhabiting contemptuous or ambiguous positions and exploiting a kind of tension between accusation and identification for effect.
Bedros: Totally, the strategy of collaboration in general affords experimentation that might otherwise be off limits when a single disposition is prioritized.
Evan: I’d be curious to know how you felt working this way, Sara—how similar or different your individual writing process is to working this way, and if working this way changed your sense of the voice in your lyrics at all. Is the singer on this record the same kind of character as on your last solo record? Do you think in terms of character when you write usually?
Sara: What you said, Evan, about the process of a character emerging, allowing the character to indulge in its obsessions, very much resonates with my process in Mayako XO.
When I write my own lyrics, more often than not the final form comes from the ad-libbing I do initially, and sometimes the lyrics are more constructed after the fact. I think the idea of “allowing” is critical to my work in Mayako XO. To allow the character to be obsessive, to fixate, to have swells of anger, disbelief, frustration, to engage in horror and also in tenderness, romance, and sentimentality has been liberating for me. In Mayako XO, I don’t necessarily think in terms of evoking a certain character or that there are disparate ones, rather there are different expressions of a singular voice. The songs emerge first with the music and then I often let the tone of the music dictate the voice of the character in both content and delivery.
I do think that the voice in our collaboration is definitely related to the voice in my recent solo record, but I feel the voice on Free World has a bit of distance from the subject matter which I think is due to the collaborative process that Behavior uses and that we used on this record. The sheer act of five voices condensing down into one or two creates this sort of feeling of an untrustworthy narrator, of the singer watching “themselves” look at whatever it is they’re looking at.
Bedros: Yeah, and I feel like on this record we’re exploring different postures, different collective expressions.
Sara: Yes, definitely. The five of us creating some new Frankensteins.
Dean: Seems like a weirdly liberating feeling to work on words with someone. I am not sure I can do it, I’m very solo in that regard. Randy has no idea what I’m going on about until we record. I usually come up with the basic melody first attempt and after that I have a hard time shaking that first draft, but it’s usually the one that sticks.
Did you work on vocal melodies together too?
Bedros: Without getting too specific, we worked on some of the melodies alone and some of them together. And most had some fine tunings as they were being recorded.
Dean: Let’s talk about the cover, I think it’s brilliant.
Bedros: Thank you, what do you want to know about it?
Dean: To me it perfectly matches the tone of the record. “Rock” from a different perspective, backwards, through the lens of history and aware of its excesses and pitfalls. Were these any of your thoughts? Where did the idea come from?
Bedros: It’s a cropped and inverted image of the neon sign for the Roxy on Sunset. The name of the club alone and, obviously, the club itself and where it’s located are abundant with allusions to the history of rock ’n’ roll, some more obvious than others. I think we were interested in playing into these references, into the image of rock ’n’ roll. But as formally literal as possible.
Dean: Who took the photo?
Bedros: I don’t know…
Robbie: I don’t remember who said it but someone in the band said it’s like the Roxy sign in the rear-view mirror of a car.
Bedros: Yeah the inversion invites another set of references, this idea of it being seen from a rear-view mirror, or it can refer to the “XO” in Mayako XO, which can also mean hugs and kisses… It’s fraught with all these different conclusions. And it reproduces in the image what I hope to be happening in the music. You know, in a dumb way.
Dean: It’s even more L.A. than I thought! Ed Ruscha car-perspective vibes.
Justin: I think there’s also something interesting happening in the image about live music. In the context of this last year. Lots of inversions and diversions happening around the record, in the music but primarily around its production.
Robbie: There’s also the DIY-ification of the music industry. We made this record ourselves with equipment we own. Dean, you run an independent label. The Roxy represents a time when it wasn’t the artist’s responsibility to have an insane output to feed a corporate machine with little reward. Spotify, all that. Some artists probably got signed to million dollar contracts after playing there in the 70s and now it’s pay-to-play.
Evan: Yeah, I think the image starts to get at the weirdness of how certain genre and aesthetic regimes persist so emphatically in spite of the total deterioration of the economic and historical circumstances that gave rise to them, and the ongoing immiseration and scrapping-for-parts of the industry that produced their idols. There’s a real strong simultaneous mix of flippancy and dead seriousness to the choice of this image that feels appropriate to the music, and I think it’s casting the right glow over the proceedings. Thank god Sara advocated for that image and saved us from ourselves when we were wandering in some other weird direction! Haha.
Dean: Besides the cover having obvious nods to Los Angeles, do you think the record feels like it owes something to the place it was made? The record having all these dips, valleys, and different terrain makes me think of the vastness of the city.
Robbie: I can’t speak to the geography of the city and the influence that may have had but I always like it when recordings give context to the space in which it was recorded. You can certainly hear the room in the recordings. Recording from a single static perspective with a stereo pair of mics is also more similar to the way a film camera operates. The way in which the songs were assembled also reminds me of editing a film. Constructing a narrative from a bank of “shots” or loops and snippets of audio in this case. I don’t think it could have been made anywhere but here.
Dean: That’s interesting, editing a record like making a film. Also with what you were talking about earlier with the voices on the record being a character.
There is always a peripheral Hollywood here, and I think we usually ignore it, but Bedros and I were talking the other day about how it would be funny to take out a billboard on the Sunset Strip for this record. Funny because it’s obviously out of our price range, but also using that type of advertising methodology seems like the only thing sometimes that people recognize here, like it has to be in neon lights, or larger than life. That wouldn’t fly in a place like Chicago or something.
Evan: Would be something to see the flipped Roxy over the Roxy.
Bedros: Yeah, I mean Sara, Justin and I are from here. You too, Dean… and Robbie and Evan are from San Francisco and Chicago, so we’re all from these big cities, and I think a condition of these metropolitan cities is that they have an image that precedes the actual experience of living and working people, Los Angeles maybe even more than the others.
And I’d like to think that I’m pretty invested in fucking with these square, prefigured ideas about this city, especially those that obscure the real lives of real people in service of a commercial media industry that only makes up a small portion of this place. But we also lean into it, after all we are a rock ’n’ roll band from Los Angeles, and there’s something fundamentally perverted and overdetermined about this. To deny it would be willfully ahistorical.
The interview was conducted via iMessage between June 23–25, 2021, on the occasion of the release of Free World by Behavior & Mayako XO. Images courtesy and © the artists.
Paul Paul Mary