At 30+ years old, I don’t get into a ton of new bands, maybe just a handful a year. I have a lot of musical holes filled with bands and artists with large discographies and if I’m in a certain mood, I can go to those artists to get what I need. As such, jockeying for my limited listening time is an uphill battle for any newcomer; after all, I have memories and strong emotions tied to the music I love. So if a new band is to come along and impress, they had better do one of two things: be incredibly good at what they are doing, or be doing something new that resonates within. Two minutes into listening to The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home, I knew that Gates had done both, and I’ve been hooked on those six songs ever since. If you haven’t heard it, download it now from their website http://gatesnj.com/download. You will not be disappointed.
What did this young band from New Jersey manage to do to weasel their way in amongst the bands that I’ve been listening to for over a decade? Well first, they remind me of Mineral, my all-time favourite band. Now that’s not to say that they sound like Mineral, because they don’t really, but that they evoke that old-school late 90s indie vibe that thousands of kids heard right when they got to college. The layered clean guitars, the not-technically-perfect-which-makes-them-perfectly-real-vocals, the complex but not overbearing drumming, and the natural ebbing and flowing of the music speaks to a time when music was still honest. Now, I don’t know if Gates even listened to the bands that they bring to my mind, or if they are major influences on them, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they tap into my favourite vein of music and yet manage to bring something new to it. I couldn’t even tell you what that new thing is because, well, it’s new.
They also pull off the near impossible by using three guitars well. The obvious pitfall with having three axes shredding simultaneously is that if it’s too complex it sounds muddled, but if they aren’t used effectively it leaves the listener wondering if it’s really necessary in the first place. Gates pulls it off and creates swelling movements of clean to lightly distorted guitars that complement each other without getting tangled up. The vocals fit the music perfectly and the lead vocalist knows exactly when to dispel his poetic lyrics, but just as importantly, he also knows when to let the music speak for itself. The rhythm section holds it down by playing beats that fit the music but stay interesting. It’s always a good thing when a drummer leaves you saying, “I would have never thought that beat would work that well there.”
On that note, it’s safe to say that I like Gates and that they’re making some music that I dig the hell out of. I decided to reach out to the band to see if I could get a few questions in before they get huge, which I’m hoping they do, so that they can continue to tour and make album after album. They were kind enough to oblige and I spoke with Kevin Dye who sings and plays guitar in the band. We prattled on for quite a while, so for the sake of brevity, I edited out a lot of the errant conversation where we were just chatting.
TIS: You guys just completed a tour of the UK with the band Fallacies. How did that go?
Kevin: It went amazing. I had the time of my life. Fallacies are like our best friends now; we absolutely love those guys, and we just had a lot of fun with them. That was the best part of the tour for all of us, just having fun with them.
TIS: How long were you guys over here for?
Kevin: We were there for two weeks and played…14 shows?
TIS: Was this your first overseas tour?
Kevin: Yeah, it was.
TIS: Did you notice any differences in touring the UK versus the US?
Kevin: Yeah, actually a lot. I feel like the crowds are way more responsive over there [in the UK]. Even when there was 10-15 people there, not a lot of people, but every single one of those people came up to you after the show and would talk to you, or buy something, or go home and message you on Facebook. Even though there wasn’t that many people, you connected with them. Where as here [in the US] you might play a show and not many people will be interested in it. People were a lot more appreciative of what they were seeing, not that I haven’t played shows here that were great, but I’ve definitely played a lot more shows where people seemed like they didn’t want to be there.
TIS: In the shows I’ve been to over here, kids don’t get to see the US bands that often so I think they are more appreciative of it.
Kevin: Yeah, I definitely thought about that. If we play a show in New Jersey, kids know we might come back next month, whereas kids over there have no idea of the next time you will be there, so the kids are just more adamant to talk to us there and now, because they don’t know when they’ll see you again.
TIS: You have a new album coming out in a month or so (May 29th). What can we expect in comparison to the EP?
Kevin: Well, it’s another EP, six songs again. I don’t know if it happened when we originally started writing it, but it kind of ended up being a counterpart to the first record. So, we focused on making it a flipside to pair with the other EP. I think lyrically, with The Sun Will Rise… at the end of the day most of the songs have a message of hope. It’s a little more pessimistic this time around, and that’s the kind of theme that we went with. As far as the music is concerned, the songs are better, and we worked pretty hard…I’m still mixing it, but it sounds pretty good. It’s a continuation of what we were doing.
TIS: Are there any major influences coming through on this record?
Kevin: It’s really hard to pinpoint an influence because we all listen to such different stuff. When I first joined the band, I had never heard of American Football, and Ethan played it for me. Everything that Mike Kinsella is in is his favorite stuff in the world, but I had never even listened to it. I really get deep into listening to Clarity by Jimmy Eat World whenever I’m doing vocals because there’s four harmonies on every part on that record. If there’s a cool melody, they’ve probably done it, so I just listen to that to get inspired. I’m kind of new to writing vocal parts, so I listen to a lot of that. It’s cool though because not everyone [in the band] enjoys everything at first, so you kind of have to meet people halfway to get something everyone likes. At the end of the day, it ends up being better overall.
TIS: I never know if bands welcome comparisons to other bands?
Kevin: Well a lot of the music was written when I joined the band, so I just put the vocals on those songs. The guitars are definitely influenced by that kind of stuff. I don’t really care though, if people hear something in our music, then I’m cool with it. Whatever you hear that you like, then good, I don’t care what they’re comparing us to. If they’re enjoying it, then I’m stoked.
TIS: Part of it has to with the fact that you guys don’t sound like anyone in particular… it’s that there is a new wave of younger bands that are moving towards making more honest music. There is this other wave of younger bands making over produced, auto-tuned, bullshit and that this new ‘honest’ music reminds people of how it used to be back in the late 90s. They don’t sound the same, but they bring the same emotions to the listener.
Kevin: That’s like the best compliment that you can get. When people say that, I’m just really glad that they get what we are doing. We all made it a point not to beat-detective and trigger the drums, not to auto-tune the vocals, not to scoop the guitar tones, and when you see us live, we don’t have a computer playing. When you see us live, it sounds like the record because the record is just us playing. It’s gotten lost, but it’s good to see a lot of bands going back to that. That was a great time in music that got lost when people started trying to be “perfect.”
TIS: With such an intricate sound (best listened to on headphones FYI), what is the song writing process like for Gates?
Kevin: It’s pretty varied. For the new record we would just come up with a riff and just go off that. I will say that there is very little that I brought to the table where I have a vocal part first. I think I definitely do that more on the next record, because it’s all written instrumentally and then I fit the vocals over the top. It’s a very tedious process and I don’t want to have to do it again. On this record though it worked and I hope it turned out well.
TIS: So how are you planning on releasing this one, both digitally and physically?
Kevin: Well we are going to try and do the same thing as last time and just put it up for a free download off of our website and it will be available on iTunes, bandcamp, every place that people want music, so they can get it. We’re going to do another limited run CD pressing, and we’re talking about doing vinyl and doing it earlier than we did with The Sun Will Rise… but since we’re still mixing the record, we don’t have masters to show anybody. So we’ve talked to a couple labels and we talked to Devildance Records (who released the previous EP on vinyl), but no one has heard the record so they’re not sure they want to put it out on vinyl. Once,I get it mixed in the next week or so, we’ll play it for some people. We want to get it out on vinyl though because people were really receptive to that.
TIS: How many did you press of the last record?
Kevin: We did 300; 100 on limited blue, and 200 on white. We only have 30 left, so it’s pretty much gone, which is amazing.
TIS: I have the white; I’m pretty sure I missed out on the limited blue. I forget, since I live in the UK and I don’t have my record collection over here, and my records that I order just get shipped to my parents’ house in the US. I’m pretty sure I missed out on the blue though.
Kevin: I had to call my mom and give her the bad news that the blue one was sold out. I did not at all think it would go that fast. All of our friends called and were bummed that they didn’t get one. I didn’t think there were 100 people in the world that were going to want to line up and buy it. I was blown away by that.
TIS: I think your sound caters to the type of person who likes and collects vinyl, if that makes sense.
Kevin: I tend to agree with you. After listening to the record on vinyl, I got it, because I recorded the record. But it sounded way different and very cool on vinyl. Plus it’s that experience of getting a record… my brother got me this Receiving End of Sirens original demo’s 7-inch..
TIS: Oh, the Record Store Day one.
Kevin: Yeah, and it’s cool just putting it on a record player and hitting play. The needle drops and yeah… and plus with this new mp3 thing, sometimes people just scroll through their iPod and are like, ‘I don’t know what to put on’ and with vinyl it’s just awesome. It’s just going to bring back that whole affair of having an album. I collected CDs, and I like having the physical copies, but it will be useless in about 2 years.
TIS: Aside from Devildance Records, do you guys work with a label at all?
Kevin: Nope we don’t. We’ve talked to a few, but Devildance is just our friend Mike and he wanted to do it. Him and Dan do all of the album art and we trust them with everything. They flew out and met us in Utah and took all of the pictures for the record, and because of that we got to work hand in hand with them and even letter-press the insert and make sure all of the art was going to work out with the limited edition vinyl. I think that’s what appealed to us most. Once again we were able to do hands-on work with the record. Gates is an art project for us and that’s just one more thing we want to work on. I don’t like the idea of just selling someone our record and we just get a bunch of vinyl in the mail and that’s it.
TIS: Are you happy with this new model for releasing music? Gates is obviously doing limited physical and free digital, which is so different than the way it was not that long ago, where you probably would have made more money to help sustain the band. Do you like the fact that you don’t have to have a label to become successful?
Kevin: Personally I don’t think we’d be where we are if that wasn’t the case. There’s pros and cons though. I could talk about it all night, but I won’t. We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing if it wasn’t that kind of democracy that it is now. It’s easy for us to access things that were once inaccessible to people at our level. If you take a little of your own money and a lot of your own time…I mean I spend every ounce of my free time working on band stuff…we don’t make a lot of money, but we make enough to continue to sustain the band, and that’s good enough for us because that’s all we really want to do. I think that this environment allows us to do that. We wouldn’t be anywhere if records were still something people had to buy, because we would of had to sign a deal and then a million people are getting paid before we are…I don’t really know if it’s better or worse, but this is all that I’ve ever known and we’re just going with it. We can do or try whatever we want and as long as that’s the case, what can be bad about it?
TIS: Yeah, and without a label’s help you were still able to tour the UK successfully.
Kevin: I would have never ever guessed that these six songs would have gotten us a tour of the UK. We did it, and we did it on our own dime and it was awesome. Any band that can, should, because it’s just an awesome experience. I think it’s cool that anyone has that chance now.
*Note: this next section is accurately quoted but very edited down. We talked for a fair bit.*
TIS: It’s a blessing and a curse, because you can get your ears on any band you want, but there are just so many terrible ones.
Kevin: Yeah, there’s a lot of derivative acts out there, which actually surprises me, because with this democracy you can do whatever you want, and everyone is just copying each other. I don’t get what they’re getting out of it because that dream of becoming a huge band is gone. Do you see any rock bands that weren’t previously established going out to play arenas any more? because I don’t. Maybe they really love it though and are super passionate about it. Because I don’t know them, they don’t tend to come up and talk to our band, because we’re in different worlds.
TIS: I just dont get it though, it’s not sustainable to make music for 14-year olds.
Kevin: Yeah, it really takes about 5 years to rise above the pack. It used to be that in 6 months you could be signed to Drive Thru Records if you played your cards right, but now you don’t just have some label gobbling up what’s popular any more. You have to be a trailblazing original band that works their ass off and tours for fucking years before anyone knows who you are now. You have to put your work in. And why would you want to put your work into music that seems like such a flash in the pan? But who knows, as I get older…I feel like 5 years ago I would have been like, “Fuck all those kids,” but now I just want to be sympathetic. And now I wonder, maybe they just really love it. If so, good for them I guess.
TIS: So once the new record gets released what are your immediate plans?
Kevin: Im trying to get us some mini tours going in the Tri-State area that we can get out on, but it’s kind of tough because we’re all poor after the UK tour. So we’re all kind of having to put in some extra hours at work. I’ve only been back at my job a few weeks, but already I’m like “fuck this,” I need out.
TIS: What do you do?
Kevin: I work at a laundromat. I basically am the only person there all day and I just fold peoples’ clothes. It is the worst job in the history of the world. It is so terrible. We are all like, ‘when can we get back out on the road?’ We’re looking to get out at least by the end of summer/early fall and do a longer US tour, and hopefully we can get that together. Until then I’m looking to get some weekend stuff and go back down to Virginia. We met a band out there, From Fragile Seeds, and they put on a really cool basement show for us, and we want to go play with them, and we know some people up in Boston. We just want to play around the area, because we just want to play the new songs.
TIS: With new songs, how do you decide which go into the sets? Are there some you won’t play any more?
Kevin: Well we never play ‘Burned Us Alive’ any more, mostly because we felt like it was killing our set. For a while we only had 6 songs, so I guess we just pick what we’re comfortable with, and write sets that flow together with interludes, because we’re really bad a talking between songs. Also, Ethan has like two weird tunings that he uses, and we’ve also figured out what the easiest tuning pattern is. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s pretty much how we determine what we’re going to play. We played one new song on the UK tour and we were going to play two but I got sick and it was really hard to sing. We’ll definitely play those two and I’m sure we’ll play the rest at some point. I’m just glad to have more to choose from than six.
TIS: What are some bands out there that people should be listening to, aside from Fallacies and From Fragile Seeds, who you already mentioned?
Kevin: I love this question so much (score another point for the awesome interviewer). Im going to really promote the New Jersey scene, and it’s not because we play with these bands and they’re friends of ours, but honestly I love their records more than anything else I’ve heard recently. There’s this band called Old Nick and their record is called I’ve Seen Colors, and it’s sweet. It’s one of those records that sounds like 20 different bands but also none of them. It’s familiar but much their own, like Sigur Rós but more song based, and they’re really awesome live. Another band that we love is called Vasudeva. They’re instrumental, and those dudes are younger kids, but so much better at their instruments than I could ever be, and great song writers. Hopefully I’m going to record their full-length in their loft space. I honestly am not just saying this because I’m going to work with them, I think that band is going to be huge. I hope they get to tour and get their music out there because they’re really good. Let Me Run is a rock band with an old Foo Fighters vibe. I recorded The Athletics’ record, and they’re going to release it soon. Those bands are all from our area and I really love them, and they’re good friends of ours. Those are the bands I’ve been listening to; I basically don’t take their CDs out of my car. It’s funny because I always hate something about everything new that comes out, but we have all these bands I love in our own backyard.
TIS: I always feel like so many bands out there break up either before they get big, or when they have so many albums left in them, because they can’t make enough money to keep going. I always hope that people make the effort to go to shows and buy merch because, I mean, food is expensive, gas is really expensive, and it’s really cool that you were able to come to the UK, but I’d like to see you be able to come here without having to go into debt over the whole thing.
Kevin: It is what it is. You just have to start off and do it only because you love it. That’s the number one thing that this environment is going to make. People who are really dedicated are going to be the ones who stay together. It’s a difficult thing to try to do, and I feel that we got a reception that I never would have imagined. I walked into this band of dudes that I thought were incredible musicians and I just get to do whatever over the top of amazing songs that they’ve written. It’s just amazing that anyone heard it. That’s why I always say listen to these bands that I’m into, because that’s the only way people hear about stuff any more. I’m just glad that anyone gave us a chance and that we’re able to do anything with this band. We love what we’re doing and we get along great, so hopefully we’ll be able to be doing it for a while. It’s really all you can ask for.
With that, we continued to talk for a while and Kevin was a very engaging person to interview. He couldn’t have been more kind. Type In Stereo will definitely be in contact with them in the future. So go see a show if you live in the Tri-State area, go to their website www.gatesnj.com, buy a shirt (which actually look cool), and definitely check out those recommended bands for some new listens if you haven’t heard them already. Thanks again to Kevin and all of Gates. We here at Type In Stereo anxiously look forward to their soon to be released record.