I sat down with Brian Sylvester, lead vocalist for Tennessee-based pop-rock/electronic group Machines Are People Too. I spoke with Brian about how the band came together in the first place, the difference between playing indoor venues and festivals, what it was like to include a choir on their new EP "Nickels and Dimes" and more!
How did the members of Machines Are People Too get together? How long have you been around?
It started with just two of us originally. It was me and JJ, who is now the bass player. In the beginning we were kind of just working together and writing music on his computer using a program called Logic. We just started out that way, making fun electronic music for ourselves. Some friends of ours started throwing these monthly house parties when we were living in Chattanooga. They asked us to play, and we started doing that. We had a lot of fun, and looked forward to doing that every month. We started writing more and more songs so that we could play longer at these parties. We decided to turn into something real. We found Cain and Ivan, and formed a band out of it, and it has been that way ever since.
What kind of electronic music were you guys making?
It’s funny to go back and listen to some of it now, because it was around the time that Pretty Lights and artists like that were first starting out, before they were headlining arenas and stuff like that. We didn’t really listen to much of that, but when I go back and listen to some it now, it resembles some of that Pretty Lights, electronic music.
What does the band mean? Where does the name come from?
Unfortunately not the coolest story ever. (laughs). It goes back to the beginning, we needed a name to go start playing out since we were just doing this for fun originally. A good close friend of mine was kind of a hippie, kind of just that guy that was always writing stuff down and coming up with crazy ideas. I knew he was the person that I could to go in order to come up with the band name really quick. Right away, he knew exactly what to tell me. He told me, “you know, if I was in an electronic band, I would call it ‘Machines Are People Too’”. Since I heard it, I had always loved it and we went with that. A lot of people think that it has a lot more meaning than that, but I think that I like people to think that and come up with their own meaning for it.
You guys have had quite a busy summer! According to what I’ve seen, you played Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Hangout Fest, Summerfest, and Nocturnal Wonderland. What’s it been like playing the festival circuit over the indoor venue circuit?
It is a totally different thing. We love playing the small clubs. If we’re playing in the city and it’s not at a festival, we want to be playing in the smallest, dirtiest club in town. When you can be on a stage with people right there, that’s kind of where we started and we’ve always like to stay close to that. When you go and do a festival, it’s quite the opposite. We’re standing so far apart from each other on stage. Sometimes there’s a literal barrier between you and the crowd. You learn to find the new, fun way to play with that type of crowd. It’s always a little bit bigger. You can be a little more dramatic with your movements on stage, and you can connect with them in a totally different way. Festivals can be inspiring in a different way. You’re always running around doing a lot, but if you actually find the time to go and check out other artists, it can be so inspiring. This year at Lollapalooza, we got to see bands like Phoenix and The Postal Services. Seeing this bands that we’ve listened to and followed for years was crazy.
The Nickels & Dimes EP was released on July 23. What was the process like creating the EP?
When we recorded the first EP, we recorded all five songs in five days. But at the time, we needed that. We needed that push to help us get excited about getting our music out there finally, and getting it on something that people can listen to. With Nickels and Dimes, we actually got to do what we did last time in three weeks instead of five days. We had a lot more time for prep work. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We got in there, and it was with a studio in Franklin, TN just south of Nashville called The Stew. Those guys are so cool, and they were so willing to work with us until how the product was how we wanted it to be. When we’re happy with it, and they’re happy with it, we’d stop the process. If it took us a month and a half, they would have kept working with us until we got it to how we wanted it to sound. It was definitely a lot more freedom.
We had an idea one weekend to feature a children’s choir on the record. The songs “Get Up” and “Do What You Love” both have a children’s choir singing gang vocals in the background. It was the elementary school that I went to as a kid. The third, fourth, and fifth grades all have a children’s choir that meets after school. We went and recorded them, which was actually before school at about seven in the morning. It was a really cool experience!
I think it was also something special for the music teacher as well. It was the same music teacher that I had as a kid. I have a sister that’s four years younger than me, she’s taught her. I also have a nine year old sister who is in third grade, and was in the choir already, so she got to be on the record too. It was something special for her to see that someone who was in her music class come back as an adult and be doing something as music. It was something special, for sure.
That experience, in itself, describes our new record. We wanted to have as many people and as many different voices as possible. Other than the choir, we had fifteen to twenty other people from around Nashville that were on the record. People that liked to sing, or people that were artists themselves, or were in other bands. We had a gang vocal party at the studio, and we got a great turnout. We met a lot of new people, and it was great having that support.
Where does the EP title “Nickels and Dimes” come from?
We all work day jobs and we’re not at a point in our musical career where we’re making a million dollars or anything. So at this point, making the record and everything that we had up to this point in our career had been out of our own pockets. We’re proud of it that way, and it’s definitely been more rewarding, but in the end of the day, we feel like that’s all we have left in our pocket, just a few nickels and dimes. Between now and the next record, we’ll just keep saving up. In the end, we spend the money on something that we really believe in and care about, and then it’s right back down to being broke musicians. I think we felt that at the end, it was something we were proud of, even if we have only a few bucks left. We talk about it in the record actually, particularly on the new song “Do What You Love”.
Where does the band take musical inspiration from? I’ve heard the names Passion Pit, Grouplove, and Matt & Kim thrown around, in terms of bands that share a similar sound.
I would say, recently, we get a lot of inspiration from any new electronic music that is out there, whether it’s Top 40, or some kind of EDM. We love Bruno Mars. There’s a lot to learn from a lot of different styles of music. And of course we love bands like Grouplove and Passion Pit. Those are definitely that have been inspirational to us, but most of our inspiration comes from new music. We are constantly on Spotify when we are on the road, listening to new music when it comes out. We have tons of playlists on Spotify that we listen to when we are out on the road. I can’t put my finger on any artist specifically because there’s so much that we listen to.
What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I would say that I want people to find whatever it is inside of them that stresses them out or holds them back from having a good time, and let go of that when you’re listening to our record or watching our live show. Let go of that, even if it’s only for thirty minutes or an hour. Just have fun and have a good time. You owe it to yourself.
Just an hour ago, I was listening to the new Washed Out record on my way to the grocery store. I haven’t had a record make me happier than that in a long time. I had my windows down, it’s nice weather today in Nashville. I was just cruising and having a good time. I saw a couple cars next to me drive by, and one guy was flipping another guy off in traffic, while I’m just sitting here listening to my music and laughing to myself about all of the other people around me that are just freaking out. Music can take you other places sometimes, if you let it.
What does music mean to you?
It has always been a big part of my life. As a kid, my parents realized at six years old or so that I wasn’t the most coordinated kid, but that I liked to sing. They never pushed me into sports, and they always let me explore musical abilities, trying out new instruments. I started out in musical theater at eight years old, and then moved onto starting bands in high school. With Machines Are People Too, and all of the really cool things that we’ve been able to do this past summer, I would say that music for me is a way for me to live out what I’ve always wanted to do. It gives me something to get away from everything else that’s going on in life.
What are the future plans for Machines Are People Too at the moment?
We are currently working on planning out the new schedule of what our fall tour may consist of. It’s looking like it’s going to be a lot of college towns in the south, and hopefully we’ll be making it back up north to Chicago, and maybe to New York for the first time. Other than that, we just started writing the first new songs for the next record a few days ago. Now that we’ve finally got Nickels and Dimes out there, it’s been an eight month process and it’s time for us to start working on something else. While everyone out there is enjoying what we just put out, we’re working on some really cool new stuff. I’m sure if you come out to some of our live shows, you’ll get to hear some previews of that as well.
You can keep up to date on all of the latest news and music from Machines Are People Too at www.facebook.com/MachinesArePeopleToo
Nickels and Dimes EP is available now!