Motel Motel

<img src="" alt=" " />At ‘home’ in New York, four-fifths of Motel Motel sat down over some dumplings to talk to QRO. ...

  Along with the meal, drummer Jeremy Duvall, singer/bassist Eric Engel, guitarist Erik Gundel & guitarist Mickey Theis (only guitarist Timothy Sullivan was missing) talked about their upcoming follow-up to last year’s debut full-length, New Denver, why it has to be “really good”, their upcoming U.K. dates, their last New York dates for Northside & NYU, other festivals, house parties, getting good press, not knowing if that matters, what’s better than any press, school & day jobs, being from all over America, lazy song titling, having two Eric/ks, Kirby’s Beer Store in Wichita, Kansas, ‘vibes’, and much more…

QRO: You’re going to be playing in the U.K. for the first time in September.  How did that come about, like the End of the Road Festival?

Mickey Theis: They contacted our manager.

Eric Engel: They seem to be genuinely interested in the musical aspect of the festival, the organizers do.  They’re inviting us, and they’re not going to make any sort of real money from people coming to see us.  They seem genuinely interested in the music.  It’s a really cool festival; it’s going to be really great.

QRO: Before that, you’re going to be playing on a boat in the Thames.  Have you ever played on the water before?

Erik Gundel: No.  We got an offer to do that in New York City, Rocks Off [Concert Cruises – QRO venue review], but we never did it.

Timo [Sullivan] should be excited – he’s from Hawaii, and he likes boats.  Personally, not a big ‘boat guy’…

Should be cool – like Sex Pistols.

QRO: How was Northside Festival (QRO recap) a couple of weeks ago?

MT: Great, I got some free shoes!

QRO: That was the next question: did you get the shoes?

EE: Yeah, it was cool.  But… [all laugh] we didn’t get paid…  I don’t know if you know anyone who’s in the powers that be there.

MT: I don’t think we’re the only people [that happened to]…

EE: Nothing.  It’s ‘all about the music’… I think they spent it all on shoes.

But it was a cool show.  I had a fun time.

We played for this website, Hooves On Turf, and it was this kinda… how do you call it?  ‘Free spirit’ show, where you kind of do whatever you wanted.

MT: Put your spirit out there and let it fly around!

EE: That kind of vibe.  Sharon Van Etten (QRO photos at Northside) played, Drink Up Buttercup (QRO photos) played that…

EG: Adam Arcuragi, Vandaveer…

Jeremy Duvall: tUnE-yArDs…

EE: There were some cool bands that played that one.

QRO: Two months ago, you played NYU’s Strawberry Festival.  Did you get paid for that?…

EE: Hell, yeah, we got paid for that!

JD: Colleges always pay really well.

MT: That was fun.  We got to play with the White Rabbits (QRO spotlight on).

QRO: Do you do anything differently when you play outdoors?

MT: It’s more fun, I think.  I enjoy it more.

EG: Your sound just goes ‘right out into the world’…

EE: It like ‘evaporates in the air’…

EG: And then it comes down as rain, later. [all laugh]

EE: It doesn’t ever sound that good, but it’s fun.  It’s fun to be outside with those guys.

QRO: Speaking of rain, what was that “It’s raining, it’s raining, it’s raining, it’s raining, it’s raining” song you quoted?”

MT: That’s a Steve Reich [piece].  He took two reel-to-reel tapes of some preacher in San Francisco.  I guess he was talking about Judgment Day, “It’s gonna rain!”  And then he looped it.

It was like the beginning of electronic phasing.  ‘Cause he like varied the speed…

EG: He’s kinda weird guy – I feel like there’s only one picture I’ve ever seen of him, and it’s him–

MT: With a black hat?

EG: With a black hat!  It’s not anything glamorous…

QRO: How was SXSW (QRO recap) back in March?

EG: It was great.

MT: We played too many shows.  We played so many shows that it was hard for us to even be able to catch any of the bands, you know?

It was our first time there, so we really wanted to make it worth our while.  ‘Cause that’s a long drive, to be there.  We had some really good shows.

EG: Next time, I don’t want to play as many shows.

EE: We got to hang out with a lot of bands that we know in New York, but we don’t know well.  Got to become friends with them, because we’re in this other area together, so you kind of bond.

MT: Got to hang out with Peter, toured a little bit with The Antlers (QRO photos), got to chill with them a little bit, they’re really nice guys.  Became friends with them.  Got to chill with Mia Riddle, ‘cause we were touring with them…

EE: I got to hang out with Todd [Goldstein, also of Arms – QRO album review] from the Harlem Shakes (QRO spotlight on).  That was something I enjoyed.

But, like Mick was saying, it kind of sucked, because we never… That was few and far between, because we were playing so many shows.

QRO: What do you think of ‘industry fests’ like that, or CMJ (QRO recap)?

EG: SXSW is a little better, because it’s so concentrated in location.  CMJ is a citywide festival; every band playing everywhere, so there’s no real sense of community.  You wouldn’t really run into people you know that much.

EE: And it’s in our backyard…

QRO: Do you think that makes it less special, the fact that you’re from New York?

EE: Maybe.  I felt like CMJ, I don’t know that much about it, it seems like there’s always one or two bands who are a big deal, get the buzz.  I felt like Lykke Li (QRO album review) was this big deal, this last CMJ.  I don’t know why.  Everyone was talking about that shit.  I didn’t get to catch [her], but that seemed like the big deal.  And everything else was just ‘in between shows’.

QRO: Have you ever had to play venues at CMJ that you knew, as New Yorkers, that you didn’t want to/wouldn’t play otherwise?

MT: Oh, Crash Mansion (QRO venue review)…

EG: Crash Mansion.

EE: Crash Mansion…

JD: Yeah, Crash Mansion.

MT: Let’s not ‘name names’ here…

QRO: You’re not the first person to mention [that place – QRO interview]…

MT: I guess we can say that they were poorly organized, and we got to play three songs…

EG: Two songs!  We played two songs.  We played one song, and they were like, “Okay, let’s wrap it up…” or something.

MT: I guess we can say that…

JD: Just the kind of thing that makes you want to stab yourself…

QRO: Where are you on making a follow-up to New Denver?

MT: We’re working on it right now.

EE: We just went to South Carolina to write most of the record, and then we came back.  Now we’re talking about what studio we wanna work with, who we wanna work with, and how we wanna record the record.  That’s our main focus: writing the record.

QRO: Do you play new stuff?

JD: Yeah.

QRO: What was making New Denver like?  You did it in Colorado?

MT: I’m originally from Denver, and we didn’t have a lot of resources, wanted to book a tour.  Me & Eric booked our first tour; it was just all self-booked.

We drove out to Denver, stayed at my parent’s house for a little bit, ended up renting the basement of this house in Colorado.  We stayed there, and we recorded at the University of Denver.  My brother goes there, and we were able to go into, the ensemble has their own concert hall, where all the composers compose their pieces, have their pieces performed.

We’d go there at night and record the drums.  It was kinda sketchy.  Sometimes a security guard would come in, but usually they’d just be like, ‘Cool!’  He’d just stop in for a sec.  But if felt ‘dangerous’, because we were doing what we had to, in order to get the sound like we wanted to out of it.  We came home to mix the record, in Brooklyn.

QRO: Do you guys have a label, looking for one?

MT: We had a distribution with Rebel Group (Ra Ra Riot, Cloud Cult), and they are re-releasing New Denver in July.

QRO: Do you feel any less or more pressure, making the follow-up?

JD: More

MT: I feel much more pressure.  I feel like, right now, it has to be really good

This next album has to be really, really good.  That’s how I see it in my mind.  It just has to be an amazing album.

Because it’s not?…  I don’t want to think about if it’s not.  If it’s not, we’re fucked.

Before, it was just like, ‘Let’s write some music, let’s record.’  It was a ‘novel idea’, but now we have something, now we have to follow-up with something better.

QRO: You all have gotten a lot of good press – Spin, NY Press, L Magazine, Brooklyn Vegan, even New York Times – have you noticed all of that?

MT: My ego has… [all laugh]

But I don’t know how much – it’s so hard to say, these days, what it is about a band that people like or don’t like.  They’ll listen to the record, but maybe not a lot of people have seen us live?  What qualifies a ‘good band’ now is so different than what used to qualify a ‘good band’.  Like, the record is so much more important now, or recorded music.

There’s a ‘scene’ now.  Like someone’s ‘Oh, you guys were on Daytrotter!’  It almost ‘qualifies’ us.  It’s another tier ‘qualifying us’ as a band, or something like that?  Which is kind of strange.  It’s just weird to deal with.

But it’s definitely been good, to get good press.

EE: [New York Times reference was] from SXSW – it was literally four words

QRO: And were two of them ‘Motel’?…

[all laugh]

MT: ‘Motel Motel – pretty good’…

EG: We got that Huffington Post, though, that was pretty cool.  That’s a popular thing, that website.

EE: My problem with press is that I never read the blogs before I was in a band.  I don’t know what blogs are popular, so I don’t know what’s crucial.

QRO: How much do you think any of that translates into new fans?  Do you ever worry about being ‘just’ critics liking you?

EE: It’s so hard to gauge.

I was talking to this girl who plays in the Crystal Stilts (QRO album review), Frankie Rose (QRO photos), we were talking about that exact same thing.  “We don’t know if we’re popular or not – we sold out Music Hall in Williamsburg (QRO venue review), and then we played Cake Shop (QRO venue review), and no one was there…”  You never know.

Like, it can be great fun, but last week we played South Carolina to like almost nobody.  It’s so hard to tell where we are, and what it means.  If it’s a financial thing, then we’re all fucked…

It’s just really hard to tell.


I think it’s always surprising to learn that anybody likes your band or listens to you at all.  Maybe that’s just overly modest, but it’s always like, ‘Oh!  People actually like this music that I’m making…’

JD: I was at a bar off Bedford, and there was this girl, and she was like, ‘Oh, you play in Motel Motel?’  And I was like, ‘Really, you know us?’  She was like, ‘You want a drink?’  I was like, ‘Yeah I want a drink!’ [all laugh]

Much better than any of the press we’ve gotten – free beer…

QRO: Have you ever thought of trying to do the ‘festival circuit’ (QRO Festival Guide)?

MT: I don’t think anybody’s against that.

EE: It’s just a matter of getting invited.

MT: Bonnaroo hasn’t invited us, but I would love to play Bonnaroo.

EE: All Good…

MT: [laughs] All Good, whatever.  I’ll play whatever.  Canadian – there’s a lot of festivals up there.  Outside Lands – Gundel, you could do a little plug for your video…

EG: Interesting tidbit: I did the promotional video for that festival, so I’m probably still on their website.

They did this video of puppets playing music, and I had to record banjo for it, and do the singing.  It’s pretty funny.

Erik Gundel’s Outside Lands video:

QRO: When you’re not rocking, do you guys have day jobs?

EG: Um… yes…

MT: I was a student until recently.  I just graduated.  I’m trying to get a job as a bellhop.

JD: I work at a chicken rotisserie restaurant off of Bedford Ave.  [Engel] works across the street for me…

EG: I’m on unemployment right now.  Probably looking for temp work.

QRO: How did the band all meet?

MT: Timo, Eric Engel, and myself all went to the New School.  Timo and Eric knew each other before that – they were students at Berkelee College of Music.  Timo transferred.

And [Timo & I] just became friends.  I didn’t know anybody in New York.  We started recording in our apartment.  And then Timo was like [to Duvall], ‘Join this band, move to New York City…’  And Jeremy was like, ‘Alright…’  And he dropped out – no, he finished the semester…

JD: Sure… [laughs]

MT: He left George Mason University to come up.

JD: I was playing in another band at the time.  They went off to San Diego, California.  I’ll plug them right now: Merkaba Bandits.  I don’t know if they’re still around.

And then these guys came down to play a show with us, and, I don’t know, there was this ‘vibe’.  Three of the guys, we went to a rehearsal space in Brooklyn, they were showing me the songs we had at the time, and there was just this vibe that came off of them.  I was really excited to play… and here we are now.

MT: All because of ‘the vibe’…

JD: All because of ‘the vibe’. [laughs]

MT: Sometimes, ‘the vibe’ is there, and sometimes ‘the vibe’ is not there, but when ‘the vibe’ is there…  It’s a ‘vibing’ time.

EG: I joined the band a year after.  I wasn’t involved with New Denver; I wasn’t on it.  So I’m extra-excited to finish the new album.

QRO: Many of your song titles, not to mention album titles, are geographic – and one-word.  Is there anything behind that?

MT: I would chalk the fact that it’s usually one-word is lack of imagination.  We’ll play a song, and call it something for short, just as a place-holder, while we’re working on it, and then it will be like,

‘Fuck!  I can’t think of a real name for this song!’  So then the placeholder becomes the name.  It may or may not relate to what the song is about.

But I kinda like it.  Maybe we’ll keep it for the next album, maybe we won’t.  But it definitely is from a paucity of imagination.  We don’t try to come up them, ‘Oh, let’s call this song “Babbling In the Mist”’…

[all laugh]

QRO: Why are so many of them geographic?

MT: Eric’s lyrics usually have a lot of geographical…

We like to travel a lot, as a band.  We haven’t toured as much as a lot bands, but I feel like we’re going to.  We just are inspired by it.

QRO: And you’re all from different places…

MT: That’s very true.  I’d say geography plays a big part in the band.

We’re all from all over.  I’m from Colorado, Eric’s from New York, other Erik’s from Vermont…  We’re from all over the fuckin’ place.

QRO: [Erik Gundel,] do you still get called ‘other Erik’?

EG: No.  When we’re in the band, it’s fine.  I feel like, though, when we introduce ourselves, Eric & I are always right next to each other!

I always say, ‘I’m Erik also’, and he always says, ‘I’m Eric as well…’

QRO: Speaking of names, is there a Tammy of “Tammy’s Bodega”?

MT: There is a Tammy of “Tammy’s Bodega”.  She’s a friend of ours.

QRO: What about a Marie of “Marie”?

EE: There’s a ‘Marie’, but that’s not her real name.  It’s another name.  I had to change her name.

QRO: Are there any songs that you particularly like playing live?

MT: “Alchemy”

EG: For all of us, it’s probably different.

JD: I like playing “Cowboy” a lot.

EE: I like playing those.

EG: Personally, I like doing the newer songs, because I have more of a stake in how we wrote them…

JD: I’m not going to say the one song that I think no one in the band really likes playing.  There’s definitely one song that I think everyone…

EE: What are you talking about?  “Coffee”?…

JD: Yeah, “Coffee”.

MT: I love to play “Coffee”.

QRO: You a little sick of “Coffee”, since that was your single before New Denver?

JD: Yeah.  I’ll speak for Timo, I’m pretty sure he dislikes playing “Coffee” more than any other.

MT: It’s fun though – we try to keep changing things.  Kind of inspires us to make new arrangements.  We have kind of a crazy outro to “Coffee” now that’s pretty ridiculous, but it makes it fun.

Motel Motel playing "Coffee" live @ Bell House in Brooklyn, NY on October 3rd, 2009:

QRO: What cities or venues have you really liked playing?

EE: I like Bell House (QRO venue review).  They’ve just been really good to us, too.

Market Hotel’s got a cool vibe.  Sound’s kind of crazy, but I like the vibe.

What was that place in Chicago?

MT: Last time we were there?  Beat Kitchen.

EG: What about Kirby’s Beer Store?

MT: Oh, yeah, Kirby’s Beer Store in Wichita, Kansas.

EG: It’s probably as big as this very small room, maybe two of them.

MT: We just played in North Carolina with a friend of ours, his band’s really good, Lonnie Walker (QRO photos).  We played ‘The Spazz’ – it’s an offshoot of The Spazz, which is this movable venue.  It’s really cool.  They have these parties, which are insane.  I’ve never been to…


I love playing house parties.  If they could all be like that, you know?  When you’re really close to the audience, that’s my favorite thing.  In theater, in anything – there’s no ‘hierarchy’.  It’s like you’re a performer, but you’re also in the crowd.

  You’re standing next to somebody; you’re just staring at them, playing.

EE: It almost feels like you’re not playing music.  It feels like the music is playing, and you can just enjoy it with the audience.

JD: Exactly…  Everybody’s just sweating…

EE: It’s like, ‘I’m not a singer; I’m just a guy next to another guy that’s also having fun.’  There’s something really comforting about it.

JD: Yeah, everybody’s ‘partaking in’ the music.  There’s not so much of a ‘distinction’.

QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?

EG: Kirby’s Beer Store’s bar?…

JD: Oh, that’s a good story…

EG: At Kirby’s Beer Store, the bar was so small, we were kind of the majority of people there, so we felt like we had some kind of ownership over it.  So we start singing…

JD: All these R&B songs…

EG: A-cappella – we weren’t actually harmonizing – everybody who was in the bar started singing these old R&B songs, Boyz To Men…

MT: Mariah Carey…

EE: There was some wrestling in there…

JD: Oh yeah – Timo suplexed me on the stairs!

EE: The bartender was like, [in mock country accent] “Those kids frum New York are crazy…”

JD: It was just such a great western bar.

EG: And then we stayed at the sound guy’s house…

MT: Brody!

EG: Let’s just say he had a citar…

JD: And an electric bass!

EG: And an electric bass…

JD: And a visualizer!

EG: And a Windows visualizer, on a TV screen.  It was a fun night…

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