The business of music blogging can be a tricky thing. One moment you’ll have a lengthy list of projects slated to add to your creative content, and the next you’re sorting through the bones of broken fragments looking for the next gem to steal away your eye’s attention.
That may sound like a statement that reeks more of famine than feast, but there’s always been something special about needing to use that extra bit of judgement to bring in something with just the right…. feeling.
Or sometimes, that right feeling comes looking for you instead.
Enter the band Third Class and their frontman Lee Boyle.
It’s always been one of the great pleasures of my young journalistic career when bands and artists seek me out specifically to collaborate based solely on my body of work, and thanks to the outreach and spread of social media this Ohio-based trio chose to do just that.
So after a bit of back and forth, Lee and I were able to sit down to talk about the band, their latest LP Hymns From Some Small Town, and much more of the nuts and bolts of what brought their music together. So sit back, relax, and enjoy!
1. First of all Lee, thanks for sitting down with me for this interview. Really appreciate it. My first question right off the top is more of a statement. Give me the background on your band Third Class. What brings three guys together in Youngstown Ohio to write quirk-pop, strum the 2-string guitar, and write those songs you wouldn’t dare write yourself (to quote a bit of your background).
(LB): As youngsters, we learned to play our instruments incorrectly and just ran with the style which emerged. Jack and I are brothers who became fast friends with Pepe in the late nineties. We seemed drawn to music as an escape from boredom in our small town.
2. And because I always have to ask this whenever I’m interviewing anyone in a band with a creative name, what is the origin behind the name Third Class? Was there an epiphany moment that clicked to tell you all that that was going to be the name of the band, or did it just make the most sense at the time?
(LB): Pepe and I named the band Third Class in the interest of humbling ourselves.
3. Now about your record “Hymns From Some Small Town”. First of all, I love this title and I can’t even begin to tell you how creatively clever I think it is. I feel like I can really sense the themes of loneliness and isolation reflected not only in the title of the record, but inside the music itself which has this feeling of spread out picture postcards. Now was that a conscious effort all around to explore some vulnerable themes in the band at that time? How did this record come together for you guys?
(LB): Every album we’ve released has been an accidental concept album about childhood. Hymns found us fresh from a camping experience in Seattle; we were also going through some mental turmoil as a result of the stresses of growing up. We leaned into our past and juxtaposed our small-town upbringing with our recent travels and tours, and Hymns was born. Many of the songs ended up speaking to our families and loved ones on a therapeutic way.
4. I’m also really taken with the wide variety of sounds you have splashed all throughout this album. Sometimes you all sound more folk-like with harmonies, sometimes like Stephen Malkmus and Pavement… there’s even a bit of David Byrne oddity sprinkled through there like pixie dust. If you’re coming from a lot of different points of view, how do you settle that down in the studio to make the songs sound musically cohesive? Because there’s a lot of fluctuation going on in that tapestry at any given moment, yet you guys really keep it making sense across the span of the album.
(LB): For us, the variety of sounds has always been present. It is always a bit of a struggle to attempt to be uniform. The way we tend to makes sense of it all is to pay very close attention to the order of the tracks. We also, this time around, didn’t leave anything out; if a certain bridge or verse fit in more than one song, we’d let it exist in both in hopes that our listeners would enjoy the reoccurring moments, like in a musical. On top of that, our execution has always been a little sloppy, so that holds it all under one roof of style.
5. And to build on that last point a little bit, given that you’re in a band and that’s very much a committee of voices to have to try and get on the same page, is that ever a difficult process? Has anyone’s defining influences or momentary stubbornness ever lead to any conflict or walk outs when it comes to making music?
(LB): We have always had differences in opinion. I have been more of a garage-rock type of writer. Pepe likes if we play punk music or dark pop. Jack tends to be more of an instrumentalist. As the primary songwriter, I respect their vetoes, but I am pushy in getting us out of our box. On tours, we sometimes get a little annoying to each other, but that usually is thanks to poor diets and bad sleep, like most bands.
6. Though speaking of defining influences, what was it that personally got you into music? What first inspired you to pick up an instrument, and what made you realize that it was something you wanted to do and do in front of people? I feel like it takes such a unique breed to have that level of tenacity, and I’m always insatiably curious to know what drives that creative instinct forward in musicians and people in all different mediums of art.
(LB): In 1993, my father passed. My mom tried to spoil us during the following Christmas and got us some musical instruments. It wasn’t obvious then, but looking back, we dove into music in his wake and probably were expressing a lot of our feelings through that outlet. The strings broke off of our toy guitar and we have played with two strings ever since.
7. Now to take a bit of a leftward direction here, you and your band Third Class have to be the first group I’ve ever done one of these with that has a podcast as well as an online comedy troupe. Tell me a bit more about that, and did playing music lead into these other creative outlets, or were they just all there at once?
(LB): In our lives, music is the beginning and end of all things. Bullskit Productions, our online comedy skit group was a definite product of Third Class. The idea with Bullskit is that we can really let loose and use raunchy comedy ideas to parody a life in which we are constantly finding something to joke about. Nursery Podcast came about as a way to include a larger group of friends who have influenced our lives. Although it may seem like we think we’re serving out bonus material to super fans, Nursery’s purpose is quite the opposite in that we are trying to broaden our audience by bringing Third Class and Bullskit Productions into a place where they are better explained and able to be bounced off of guests. The idea is to enforce a larger presence online and to offer a campfire of sorts to friends to express their projects. We love the makeshift, communal vibe; we’ve felt more and more collaborative with our family of muses as we’ve aged.
8. Now to go back to the record again for a moment, I was really excited to see that you had “Hymns From Some Small Town” pressed on vinyl (which I don’t often see with indie bands). What’s that process like, and are you a vinyl listener yourself? If so, what are your top five favorites to spin on the turntable?
(LB): In getting Hymns From Some Small Town released on vinyl, the process went rather smoothly. We are diligent in getting releases off the ground because we tend to know what we want quickly. Therefore, the boxes of vinyl shipped to us in a couple months since we ordered them online and we were ready to go with a collection of intimate Ohio shows and even a couple tours to Pacific Northwest and Midwestern cities. I am a vinyl listener myself, but I am not an avid or knowledgable collector. My five favorites are Nick Drake – Pink Moon, Jessica Lea Mayfield – With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, Stars Of The Lid – Avec Laudenum, The Mountain Goats – The Sunset Tree, and Rufus Wainwright – All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu. I tend to prefer the starker side of music on vinyl. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how great Jr Walker And The All-Stars or Daryl Hall And John Oates sound on vinyl.
9. Now I know “Hymns” was released back in 2014, so I have to ask…. are there any new concrete plans you can tell us about your next album or where that’s at currently?
(LB): We have twenty songs which are almost ready to take into the studio. Many will shed the sound of a rock band and lean more towards the ballads on Hymns, like “Hey There Lullaby.” The working title for the new album is Virginia’s Playlist and I am going to lay down fifteen solo tracks in August. The plan is that the guys will come in and sprinkle their harmonies, harmonica, ambient keyboard, and other sounds all over my ballads. Then, if the timing is right, we will record five slightly more Third Classy-sounding tunes in later months. We are very excited to make what may be an even prettier album than Hymns.
10. And finally, any gigs or live shows coming up in the near future that you can tell us about?
(LB): If I could, I’d love to direct anyone interested to investigate www.thirdclass.net. We are very up-to-date with some nice winery and bar shows on the horizon, most of them intimate and solo as the other members have prior engagements.
Big thanks to Lee Boyle for doing the interview! As he said, go check out he and his band Third Class over on http://www.thirdclass.net, where you’ll get plenty of info on their music, press, side projects, and much much more!