SXSW Day 1: Great Caesar // Q&A With Mike Farrell

We caught up with Mike Farrell from the band Great Caesar during SXSW to talk about their upcoming LP, working at InSound, and his vinyl collection!

Great Caesar is an indie-rock band from NYC, who released their debut phenomenon “Don’t Ask Me Why” last year, which combines art and activism in a video that juxtaposes the civil rights movement of the 1960s with today’s fight for sexual equality. Watch the video for “Don’t Ask Me Why” here.

Great Caesar is currently working on their debut LP, a concept record based around a small town in Ohio that’s home to a prison they performed at on their last US tour. The record is expected to be released later this year. The band just released a new single, “Sharks”. Listen to it below:

We had the pleasure of meeting up with guitarist Mike Farrell to chat about the band’s upcoming LP, artists he wants to see at SXSW, working at InSound, and his vinyl collection!

Q: What can you tell us about your new album?

We knew we wanted to write the songs for it all at once. We knew we wanted to get out of New York City to clear our heads and live somewhere as a group for a few months, so the band rented a house out in Southampton, NY for January and February of this year. Over the two months we turned out something like 20 of the best songs we’ve ever written that will eventually be pared down into the 12 or 13 that will make it on the record. We didn’t go into it with the mindset of what would or wouldn’t be on the actual LP, just to create as much as we could. There was a vague concept in place at first, and there are certainly some recurring themes throughout the songs, but until the tracklist is finalized it’ll be hard to say precisely what those are, haha.

Q: How would you compare your upcoming album with your most recent EP?

The songs are a lot more eclectic, a lot more dynamic. The EP we released before was four songs written over a pretty vast stretch of time, there wasn’t too much thought into how that collection of songs would portray us as a band, and it definitely shows off a more subdued, folky side. We love those songs and we’re proud of them but they aren’t at all representative of our sound. Those songs are a lot more explosive live– “Still Love” in particular. What’s been craziest to me is how many styles we’ve been able to pull off in this new batch of tunes–there’s an afrobeat number, a country song, a sexy R&B slow jam, a bluesy revenge story–and none of it comes off as trite or contrived. We’ve got a horn section and we try to use it in ways you wouldn’t expect. A lot of times in rehearsal we’ll strike parts from songs if it seems like something a horn section would typically do. We went into this album knowing our strengths and wanting to play to them best, and the new tracks definitely achieved that.

Q: Your most recent EP was self-released. Do you plan on self-releasing your upcoming album? Why or why not?

It depends on if the right label comes around to put it out. We’ve only ever self-released before out of necessity; we’re interested in trying something different this time around, but only if it feels right.

Q: Will you be releasing your upcoming album on vinyl? Why vinyl and what are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl?

We definitely want to press this record! In my mind vinyl is the only physical medium worth a damn anymore. It’s funny, CDs are ostensibly an MP3 delivery system these days, but we tried skipping that and just selling download cards for some of our older records and it never went over that well. People just kept asking for CDs. I realized it’s valuable to have something people can purchase at the show and pop into their car stereos and listen to on the drive home, but for regular listening I don’t think anyone uses CDs anymore. I’ll spare you the cliches about how I love the tactical experience of vinyl, it’s well-worn territory that anyone reading this blog can relate to. Just know that we, as a band, totally agree with those sentiments, and we want to provide that experience for our fans and for ourselves.

Q: What’s your dream vinyl pressing?

Gatefold sleeve, some ridiculous color vinyl. Maybe clear with a colored splatter. Until I know what the record sounds like it’ll be hard to pick what colors. Definitely gatefold, with beautiful artwork. I have a friend who owns a laser cutter and I’ve been waiting until we had an LP to press to think up some way to collaborate with her to make something with it. Maybe a die-cut on the inner gatefold that exposes an image pressed on the record sleeve. Gotta have a colored sleeve. I don’t think I own anything like that in my collection. Watch all this add up to an insane $50 deluxe edition, haha.

Q: What have you been spinning lately?

Stuff from my last haul– back in November I picked up “Innerspeaker” by Tame Impala, “Planet of Ice” by Minus the Bear, and Circle Takes the Square’s “As The Roots Undo,” which I’d been waiting for a repressing of ever since I started collecting vinyl. I also picked up a big chunk of the Steely Dan discography recently. “The Royal Scam” has been getting the most play out of all of them.

Q: If there was a fire in your house and you only had time to grab your three most favorite LP’s, what would they be?

First would be “Guero” by Beck, because it took me forever to track down a copy and I swear it’s the best sounding album I own even though the vinyl weight is surprisingly thin. Next might be the deluxe edition of Queens of the Stone Age’s “Like Clockwork,” because I love it as much for the incredible artwork as I do the music. The last one I think would be the deluxe photo book reissue of Interpol’s “Turn On the Bright Lights.” That album defined the sound of New York City for me in a big way and it’s always a trip looking through the old photos of them playing the tiny stages we’re currently playing on. Puts it all in perspective. This was a hard question to answer. Please don’t burn down my house so I actually have to make this choice, haha.

Q: What was it like working at Insound?

Insound was awesome, I interned there for a little over a year, which basically meant I packed & shipped all the orders that came in and they paid me in store credit. There’d be a group of 4-5 of us interns, crowded around a big table with tons of cardboard and packing supplies, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of LPs on these gigantic shelves, just talking about music and taking turns spinning records and whittling away at this gigantic stack of orders. After Hurricane Sandy, the restaurant I was working at in New York was completely flooded and took a few months to rebuild, so I’d go there four or five days a week to keep myself busy. I was on unemployment, I could barely buy groceries, but I was able upgrade my turntable, bring home tons of records, and keep myself happy. It was also working there that I met Becca Ryskalcyzk, who sings on our song “Don’t Ask Me Why” and has a really great band called Bethlehem Steel that I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug here.

Q: Do you visit record stores while on tour? If so, what are some of your favorite record stores that you’ve visited (outside of your local favorites)?

Yeah, absolutely. I hit up Amoeba whenever I’m in LA. We haven’t done too much extensive touring yet so I haven’t found any hidden gems. My favorite record store is definitely Redscroll Records in Connecticut, I’m from pretty close to there and whenever I’m home I try to find a reason to go.

Q: What are some LP’s that are currently on your wantlist?

We’re about to head down to SXSW and then out on tour, so I’ve had to completely cut myself off from buying records. Really wish I could pull the trigger on some of the Death Cab for Cutie represses. Also the Coheed & Cambria “In Keeping Secrets…” reissue. Listening to it again, years later, it’s amazing how many of my guitar playing sensibilities have come from that band, even though they sound absolutely nothing like Great Caesar, haha. Other than that…I wish I could have found a copy of Tame Impala’s live record they released last Record Store Day. The way they change up the songs is incredible, and between one of the songs they give a shout out to White Denim, one of my other absolute favorite bands. Mindblowing all around.

Q: What is your most prized vinyl?

Great Caesar’s saxophone player Stephen Chen plays in another band called San Fermin, they did a co-headlining tour with Courtney Barnett last year and Stephen got me a copy of her album “The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas” signed by the band. That album was really important to me last year, so to own a copy with Courtney having written “You are the most handsome man in the world” on it–even if it was directed at Stephen–is pretty great.

If you’re in Austin for SXSW, make sure you catch Great Caesar at one (or all) of their shows below:

Tues 3/17 – McDonald’s Showcase // McDonald’s Parking Lot (4th & Red River) // 12:40pm

Tues 3/17 – Big Picture Media Showcase // The Blind Pig (317 E 6th St) // 3:30pm

Weds 3/18 – Chicken Ranch Records Showcase // Hole in the Wall (2538 Guadalupe St.) // 12:35pm

Weds 3/18 – AudioCommon Showcase // Brass House (115 San Jacinto Blvd) // 2:45pm

Thurs 3/19 – Doc’s Motorworks Showcase // Doc’s Motorworks (1106 W 38th St) // 12:20pm

Thurs 3/19 – Cheer’s Bar Party // Cheer’s Bar (416 E 6th St) // 2pm

Fri 3/20 – Official SXSW Showcase // Esther’s Follies (525 E 6th St) // 11pm

Sat 3/21 – Music By The Slice 2015 // Home Slice Pizza (1415 & 1421 S Congress Ave) // 12pm

Sat 3/21 – Strange Brew (5326 Manchaca Rd) // 2:30pm


Author Description

My vinyl obsession began with a few records that were given to me as a gift. Little did I know that this was the spark that would merge my impulsive habit of collecting things and love for music into my new passion. My claim to fame? Owning all of The Mars Volta's studio releases, including the infamous 'Frances the Mute' album pressed on glow-in-the-dark vinyl. I'm always on the lookout for the new stuff and lovingly embrace the classic stuff. I'm here to help you be on the forefront of this vinyl resurgence. Give me a shout on twitter!

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