For the Silversun Pickups, Los Angeles’ latest rock darlings, the genesis of the band’s name didn’t come from an acid freakout in the desert featuring some fairy-tale land of gnomes.
“It’s called Silversun Liquor,” bassist Nikki Monninger explains. “It’s on the corner of Silver Lake Boulevard and Sunset. Brian and I used to be roommates and we used to go down there almost every day to get cat food, paper towels, beer, and liquor. … We were coming home from seeing a show at Spaceland one night and he mentioned the name to me and I thought it was good. It made sense. That was that.”
Things didn’t always come so easy for the Pickups. The band — singer and guitarist Brian Aubert, Joe Lester on keys, drummer Christopher Guanlao, and Monninger on bass — toiled in the LaLa Land club scene for six years, developing their sound and finding their voice before releasing their first studio effort, 2005’s Pikul EP.
“In the very beginning, especially during the first few practices, nobody was stepping up to the mic. Brian was the first to step up, so that made him the singer,” Monninger says with a laugh. “But I’m glad that happened because I love his voice and I’m glad that he’s built up his confidence over the years. … It’s been nice to develop together as a band on a local level for a few years because now that we’re finally getting out, we’ve got some good dynamics between each other.”
Carnavas, the Pickups’ full-length debut released in July, realizes an important step forward in the band’s ability to replicate its live sound in the studio. “With the EP, we didn’t know how to make it sound like us,” Monninger says. “Playing live is one thing, but recording is a totally different thing. We could try and record live, but it still sounded small. This time, we actually were able to work with a producer, Dave Cooley, and an engineer, Tom Biller, who made our studio sound like how we do live. We also had a lot of time to work on it. Instead of rushing and trying to scrimp in five songs over a weekend, we were able to take our time. We’ve never had that luxury before, so we were really happy with how things turned out. We feel like all the extra time spent working on it has paid off.”
With layers of fuzzed-out guitars and androgynous vocals backed by thundering rock rhythms, Carnavas captures the creepy dichotomy of Los Angeles — the sun-drenched palm trees of Venice Beach and the dark, seedy underbelly of the Hollywood night — sounding at home with late-’90s-era alternative rockers Pearl Jam, My Bloody Valentine, or Smashing Pumpkins.
“We hear that a lot,” Monninger concedes of the Pumpkins comparison. “It’s funny, because a friend of ours just sent us an e-mail with a link to [the Pumpkins’] MySpace page. In their Recommended Music, there was one album cover and it was ours. We were really flattered by that. They were a really great band and we don’t have a problem being compared with them. I don’t know who manages their MySpace page, but it was kind of weird and sort of flattering that they even knew about us. So maybe the appreciation goes both ways.”