Us and Us Only
THIS interview has been cooking for a while - so some of the…
answers might be a bit obvious – or some a little outdated. The boys of Us and Us Only have been busy promoting their new album, Full Flower – it is their debut and a stunning record! Released on Topshelf Records; I ask them about the songs and themes explored; what the process has been like – and how supportive their label has been. Bored of Black is out there already: the title-track is a masterful work; there are so many other gems to be discovered.
Us and Us Only are from Baltimore, Maryland. I ask about the scene there and, with the grotesque Donald Trump causing endless issues – what it is like living in ‘his America’; some artists we should be aware of – and what they have planned as we creep into 2018.
PHOTOS CREDIT: Noorann Matties
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Hello! We’re, swell. It is hot-as-Hell in Baltimore.
I went to the farmer’s market and bought some coffee. My new roommate and I started preparing a garden in our backyard; saw my grandmother and talked to my dad about what I should be doing with my life.
All in all: everything is ok.
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
We are Us and Us Only. We are not named after that one Charlatans’ album. I still haven’t listened to it - but I’m sure it’s very good. We got our name from a phrase in the liner notes of Some Girls’ The DNA Will Have Its Say.
We have five releases: two of which include our collaborators Lindsey Mills singing and Michael Tunk - who made the art for the Lifting Lake Eerie 7” and Full Flower. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to work them.
Full Flower is our first (full-length) album and our L.P. with Topshelf Records - who are all angels, sent from Heaven above. They also recently reissued our three-song E.P., Bored Crusader, on vinyl.
Bored of Black is your new single. Give us a window into the inspiration or that song if you will?
The title references this thing I do where I really only wear black clothing; because it’s ‘dark’ and ‘Goth’ - which is an attempt to oversimplify the actual meaning of the song.
Bored of Black is a song I wrote after making some big changes in my life. I drove to see a friend, who lived in the middle of the woods; got really lost; went into work late the next day. I had really romanticized sadness in my life and then realized that I had to be real - make more of an effort to take care of myself and the people around me.
It is taken from the new album, Full Flower. It is your debut. Are you excited about its release and what kind of subjects and people inspired its creation?
We are very excited Full Flower is coming out. We’ve worked on this album for about two years. We had started the album with our guitarist, Dan Windsor, who played a huge role in helping to define the voice and vibe of this album. We were also fortunate enough to have Lindsey Mills come back to sing on this one.
I think one of the subjects that run pretty deep throughout the album is how necessary it is to move forward. We started writing this album when I was processing a lot of changes in my life - stuff that was positive and way overdue…but still jarring in essence. So, a lot of it is dealing with learning to care for yourself and learning to treasure the love given to you by people around you.
There are, also, some songs that are much simpler. I just always err on the side of doom-and-gloom.
Did you guys all know each other from a long back - or did Us and Us Only come together over time?
We started because I had played a show in Baltimore a long time ago and, in a moment of weakness, left to go to sleep and forgot my guitar. I got a call saying that this person, Sean Mercer, had my guitar. I went to pick it up and we talked about playing music together. I was nervous so I asked Suica to come with me.
In the time after that, I met Dan Windsor through Sean. We played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) sometimes and I ended up playing in his band, Dungeon Kids. I asked him to join. He worked with us on our last 7” and some of Full Flower - but went to film school to do dope sh*t in Canada. John joined after that and has been running with us…
I’ve known Lindsey Mills, who sings on Full Flower and our last release, for ten years. Her music is absolutely incredible.
Forever grateful for her presence on this album.
How important and supportive have your label, Topshelf Records, been towards your music?
They’ve been wonderful, all along the way - Kevin, Seth, and Danielle are so obviously motivated to work with bands and artists that they love.
I’ve heard horror stories about labels, indie and major - and Topshelf is everything those labels aren’t.
I am interested in Baltimore as a city for music. What is the scene like there? Are you seeing a lot of promising bands and artists come from Maryland?
Baltimore seems unique and magical in a lot of ways.
I think that if you aren’t from here and you tend to gravitate towards things from New York or D.C., it can be easy to miss how much is really going on here. There are venues like The Crown and the Metro Gallery - who are contributing so much to this city in regards to art.
There are larger artists like Dan Deacon and Beach House, who are both absolutely incredible, but we also have JPEGMAFIA, Chiffon and Surf Harp.
I know you have produced four E.P.s so far. How has your sound changed since your early days in 2009 and do you think the debut L.P. is a more focused and fully-realised work than your E.P.s?
There have been a lot of changes for us since 2009...
We’ve gone through members, life changes; switching instruments and (just) general progression as people. Our music has always reflected that. I don't think that we are necessarily ‘changing with the times’, so much as changing within the boundaries of our collective interests and ideas. This L.P. was a huge step for us - having only had shorter releases in the past - it gave us the first opportunity to really craft a narrative and tone rather than just a collection of where we were at musically.
This album has been the work of two long years. We’ve gone through different names, a slew of songs recorded and subsequently shelved - and more than a few different arrangements of particular songs. Bored Crusader and Full Flower both feel like we achieved what we were aiming for.
It’s difficult, but at some point, you have to trust in the song and the story that you’re telling.
Looking down the L.P. tracklist; I am struck by one song: After Halloween Slump. That sounds like a bit of an intriguing one! It seems like song titles are important - and making them distinct. Would that be a fair assumption?
I would absolutely agree with that.
After Halloween Slump was taken from a poem by Richard Brautigan. The poem is about losing your magic; like actual magic. I wrote it at a time in my life where I was kind of started as square one again: I was basically re-learning how to be a person. So it seemed fitting...
There’s also Bored of Black, whose title is literally about my entire wardrobe consisting black clothing - in some weird effort to be Goth. It’s meant to oversimplify the content of the song - which is me deciding that I’d spent too long romanticizing sadness - and needed to get sh*t together and start moving forward.
Full Flower will be released on vinyl including gold, clear; white and blue-spatter. How important are formats like vinyl and is it important to keep these forms of music alive and visible to the younger generations?
I think that streaming services are wonderful - and there’s so many things out there that I would’ve never known about otherwise.
But, I think that people will always want a physical thing to expand upon (and associate with an album). You can look at artwork in iTunes or whatever - in this case, the art of Michael Tunk - and see that it’s beautiful and explores this vast scene...but it’s something wonderful to be able to see and identify it up close.
Shades of Death Cab for Cutie and The Weakerthans can be detected in your work. Who are the artists that have influenced your direction?
I do have a special love for The Weakerthans...
When my grandmother had passed years ago, around when we released Dark Cloud Past, I had been listening to a lot of them and David Bazan - or his work with Pedro the Lion.
I’d say that, in the last few years, becoming more familiar with Sade has changed how I approach writing lyrics. We’ve also been influenced pretty consistently over the years by Wye Oak - who are from Baltimore.
I have to ask whether Trump and his politics have any bearing on your lyrics and direction. How do you guys feel about him being in power and has the local music community been reacting to him in any way?
It would be difficult for our entire political situation not to influence what we make creatively.
On one hand; I write a bunch of songs acting like the world is always about to end – but, now it feels like, well…maybe this is the actual fuc*ng end of the world.
Baltimore has responded to this, artistically (see: TT the Artist’s, Fuck Donald Trump), but this city is always making art that is a direct product of the society in which we live. I’ve been coming to shows here since I was fifteen - and seeing bands like Double Dagger.
Now, there are artists like Abdu Ali - who are making truly incredible and immensely important art. There is so much awful sh*t happening - but there are beautiful people with things to say about it here.
Can you each reveal the one album that means the most to you and why?
I’m deciding. Our collective most-important album is Prince’s Purple Rain.
IN THIS PHOTO: Vagabon/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Dorsa
Who are the new/upcoming artists you advise we keep an eye out for this year at all?
Okay….so, some of these folks aren’t new or upcoming - they’ve been around…but I still want to tell you about them….
JPEGMAFIA, Nina Gala; Vagabon, Bedbug; Chiffon, Horse Jumper of Love; Surf Harp, Katie Dey; Crumb, Amazon Prime; Yohuna, Square Peg Round Hole; Johanna Warren, Museum Mouth; Puppy Problems and Go Cozy.
IN THIS PHOTO: Johanna Warren/PHOTO CREDIT: Allyce Andrew
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
Sign with Topshelf - They’re dope.
Finally, and for being good sports, you can each name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
That’s very kind of you, thank you. D.J. Us and Us Only - I like this...
Helado Negro - Runaround
Priests - Pink White House
Andy Shauf - Early to the Party
Thundercat - Them Changes
Charly Bliss - Percolator
Follow Us and Us Only
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