Very Small Animal is growing. Two years ago, the band was two persons big, cutting tracks in a living room. The release of their second album, “Port of Call” at Icehouse this Saturday night at 11 p.m., is a show of how far the group has come. They’ve added three more people, upped the production work, and are developing a voice of their own.
A&E spoke via email with Patrick Noonan and Tim Harlan-Marks, the group’s founding pair, about their upcoming new album and what inspires their work. Check out the music video for “Wolf,” a single from “Port of Call,” above. (Tim’s the bearded singer, Patrick’s got a black sweater)
Why did you decide to produce a video for this "Wolf"? How did the structure of the video come together?
Noonan: We chose "Wolf" because it we thought it exemplified some of the best things we have going on as a band. As for the structure of the video, you would have to ask Guy Wagner since it was really his brainchild. And he did an amazing job, if I may say so!
Harlan-Marks: We were crunched for time in the lead up to the release, but we were excited to make a video with Guy, who also did our album art. We shot bits and pieces over October and November almost like a documentary in that we had a sense of the vibe we were going for and what we wanted to communicate, but not a clear vision for how the final product would look. The piece really came together in the final phase of editing.
The song is about trying (unsuccessfully) to contain an innate animal instinct beneath button-downs and nose hair trimmers, and longing for permission to live a little more naturally. To me, Guy's video tells this story in the way it pairs shots that feel put-together with shots that feel like they're coming apart at the seams. Even when we're looking our most composed, there is a bit of fur lurking at the corner of the screen. Then at the end, there's this sort of explosion when we become all teeth and pours and scraggly beards, and we're joined by strangers we met on the street who too confess their inner animals to the screen.
How do you see tech savvy and animal instinct as competing forces?
Harlan-Marks: Great question. And something I find myself talking about a lot at the moment. I ought to say on the front end that I don't think technology is evil. I accept it as an unavoidable and really influential part of this era. Like you said though, I do believe it has a major impact on how we understand ourselves and relate to the world, and this is something I try to be mindful of.
I actually gave up internet at my apartment recently because I was noticing how my fingers started typing www.facebook.com into my browser window whenever I felt slightest sense of loneliness, or boredom, or insecurity. I'm a big believer in feeling what I'm feeling, even boredom. My best ideas always seem to come when nothing in particular is going on, like when I'm just riding my bike, or just taking a shower, or after I've watched all the DVDs I have of “The Wire” and can't pop the next one in immediately. The degree to which we're able to remain constantly distracted by technology poses a threat to this sort of critical inspiration and self-reflection and peace with what is. And it's so easy to stay distracted. From the time we wake up to our iPod alarm clocks till we fall asleep in the glow of our laptops. In this way I do think technology can separate us from ourselves and from each other and from the natural world. I do think one's animal self is worth listening to. Even when the story it tells isn't as thrilling as the ones available on Netflix or Facebook.
Alright, alright. I'm stepping off my soapbox now...
Noonan: I don't see technology as being the problem in and of itself. Problems arise from the way we use it. Like Tim said, we are perpetually distracted, that's why things get cloudy. I actually think this is partly fueled by an animal instinct - some hunter gatherer impulse that drives people to keep scanning those headlines / tweets / statuses whatever. You think you'll find something important there, but it doesn't take long before you forget what you were looking for and just fall into a pattern of mindlessly looking. So I think this is a case where in order to actually satisfy the inner animal you have to learn to override some animalistic impulses.
In the same vein, how does being a band in a tech savvy world affect the way you interact with fans and promote your music? Tools like YouTube and social media make it easier to get your message out, but are they too just part of this system?
Noonan: We definitely do a lot of our promotion on social media. If you want to promote your music, you can't *not* have an online presence. For this release we put a fair amount of planning into what we would release, and when, and to whom. Things like Youtube make some parts of promoting easier, but they also introduce a lot of options and so they make it more complicated at the same time. I find it really difficult to act like a genuine person on social media. Other people have that talent. But yes, in doing this we are most definitely contributing to the stream of noise.
Harlan-Marks: Yea. Agreed. And here's the other side of the coin in my mind. Even though technology has made it nearly impossible to make money off recorded music, it has also become the great equalizer for getting your music out into the world. The most popular song in the world right now could just as easily be made by a shut-in teenager in Norway, as by Katy Perry and her big budget producers.
What can people learn from animals? Even very small animals? (pun intended)
Harlan-Marks: I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure animals don't think about thinking or worry about worrying the way we humans do. I'm trying to figure that one out for myself...
Noonan: Very true. People are often self-conscious in ways that can be fairly debilitating. Animals don't seem to have that problem. They just are the way they are and they don't seem to agonize over whether or how they could be better.
Harlan-Marks: For what it's worth, our name came from the fictional animals of A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. In those books Piglet self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a "Very Small Animal" after he's done something exceptional. That strikes me as very Minnesotan: working really hard at what you're passionate while working just as hard to appear modest about it. Probably something to learn there too.
In your own dreams, are there any themes or topics you run into frequently? Do you agree with the character in “Wolf” that you are trying to reconnect with these subconscious experiences, possibly through your music?
Noonan: I am pretty big on letting my subconscious guide my songwriting process. It's the only way for me to write anything that isn't totally contrived.
Harlan-Marks: Wow. That's a toughy. I'd love to tell you that was true so I could come across to your readers as one of those mystical artist types, but the truth is my dreams are more typically about mundane [expletive], like what I'm trying to get done at work. Though I have had a recurring dream since high school (when I used to act in school plays) where I am on stage for opening night of a musical and I haven't learned any of my lines or the songs or the dance moves. I'll probably have that one tonight before our release show. Analyze that, Freud!
What's the number one reason people should check our your CD release show on Saturday?
Harlan-Marks: We're very nice people. We'd totally come to your release show if you asked us nicely. Seriously. I bet your band is awesome.