Interstate Traffic is an alternative rock band from South Bend, Indiana. This unique trio is comprised of Seth Shively (lead vocals/guitar), Zach Lamason (bass/vocals), and Jacob Grabill (drums). The band released their debut single, “I Want You (to Know),” in January of 2015. Interstate Traffic released their 6-track EP, If That Really Is Your Name, earlier this November. Their rock, jazz, folk, and post-rock influences are apparent in their fresh blend of genres. Learn more about the band from vocalist Seth’s responses below and keep an eye out for our formal review of the EP. Be sure to check out If That Really Is Your Name below.
How would you describe your music to others?
That’s a difficult question, although, admittedly, it shouldn’t be. We’ve been having our own internal discussions about what it is, specifically, that we are creating. To be honest, we are mainly just a band that is laser-focused on melody, texture, and feeling. And the way we view it: we’re all slaves to the song. Each song breathes on its own, we are responsible for finding out where it takes us. Where each melody leads, where each layer sits, how the feeling is finally manifested, we can only determine these things once the song is finally complete. The consequence of this philosophy is that we’ve created some pretty diverse compositions. You can see this quite evidently on our EP, If That Really Is Your Name. When pushed to mention genre, we typically will say things like “Jazz, Rock, Folk, Post-Rock, Alternative, etc..”, however, it would be disingenuous to say that we are really jazz, or folk, or even rock for that matter. We would be lying to our listeners. We truly hope to have an accurate answer for this question at a future date, but, until then, just listen to the music. Maybe a fan can help us pin it down!
How did you guys meet?
Grabill, the drummer, and I (Seth) met freshman year of college. It was 2009 I believe. He was in another band at the time, and I was just starting to find my way as a musician. After a couple years of pursuing our own musical paths separately, somewhere around Junior or Senior year of college we decided that it was about time to finally forge a band; his past band was then defunct. We really only played a few shows, but it was back then that we first started to iron out our creative method, really searching for that sound which you now hear on our debut EP. Zach, the bassist, came into the picture a couple years back. Grabill only knew him as a casual acquaintance, but, from what Grabill knew, Zach was a skilled musician. So we asked Zach to join. Grabill and I had already developed an understood creative dynamic, it took Zach a while to truly graft into our model. But now he’s become an integral part of the band. We really could not do without each piece of our unit.
What is the story/meaning behind the band’s name, Interstate Traffic?
The idea for the name originated during my ritual drive home from college. It was an 8 hour drive. Each trip home was always a time that allowed me to think about my college experiences, about my relationships back there, about my relationships with my family, about my goals as a musician, etc.. It was always a great moment where I felt I existed outside of it all. Outside of whatever college was, or whatever my home life was. I felt I was in some weird limbo. I always appreciated that drive. I thought once, during one of those drives, that, if I ever got a band together, I’d name it Interstate Traffic – in honor of those long, meditative drives. However, I don’t think I ever really explained the back story to the guys… I just jokingly offered up the idea, and we ran with it.
Who and what influences your music? Why?
I think each of us has a unique influence on our music; I can’t deny that. Interstate Traffic would not be the band it is without my fellow bandmates. Not only do our personalities come through in the music, but so does our whole life of experiences and musical tastes. Speaking for myself, many of the songs, on this record specifically, have some tangential tie to movies. I love film. They are always something that manage to push me to reflect beyond myself and to think about “the other” – about the world at large. I believe a quote from Band of Outsiders by Jean Luc-Godard can be found in our song, “Let’s Live,” as well as the entire philosophy of that song being spurned within me by the film Ikiru. Also, there are some explicit, and not so explicit, references to artists like The Smiths, Bob Dylan, and Sufjan Stevens. But many of these songs are drawing from deeply personally experiences as well. Not just lyrically, but melodically and emotively. I can be entirely certain that both Grabill and Zach are drawing from similar kinds of life experiences. However, we don’t typically talk about our influences when we write. We just go at it!
How would you describe your writing process?
I’ll mention this again: we’re slaves to the song. Once an idea hits the creative cutting board, we simply follow it where it takes us. I don’t know how to explain it beyond that. Many of the creative decisions we made for this record were decisions that the song forced us into. We certainly were not planning to write a poetic reading into the start of “Sojourns,” but that’s what the song asked for. The song felt hollow; it needed a piece. Only once the prose was weaved in did the whole tapestry of “Sojourns” feel complete. Many of our creative decisions happened that exact way. We would ask ourselves, “What does this song need?”, “What hole needs filled?”, and “What is the best melody, texture, or feeling that can fill that hole?” It was only once we felt that we had competently filled each hole that we were able to say that we’ve solved the puzzle. And once one puzzle is solved, it’s onto the next.
How often and how long do you practice together?
It really does depend. Life is has been quite unstable for all of us. Work schedules shifting. Some jobs ending. Some new ones beginning. There was a house move that we had to endure. The short answer is: we try to practice as much as we can and whenever we can. On good weeks that can be upwards of 10 hours of time. On worse weeks, we might not get to practice at all. It’s something we’ve had to push through to this point. During those off weeks, Grabill is typically challenging himself musically, writing competitive percussion compositions for his day job where he teaches at a local high school. I’m always fumbling with lyrics and trying to improve in songwriting. A necessary step, since I am the one who brings all the songs’ early drafts to the band. Because of this, it’s the case right now that much of our free time also consists of music related activities. Still, now that this album is released, we’re getting ready to step it up a gear and really put ourselves out there. Meaning more practice will be required to be show ready. Honestly, it’s something I’m looking forward to!
From start to finish, how long did it take to create If That Really Is Your Name?
The actual recording process was completed over the course of a few months. Often times I would get home from working night shift, around 7 am, and Grabill would be awake and we would just pop on a pot of coffee and get to work. Recording for a good 3-4 hours, and then we’d do it all over again the next day. The mixing and mastering process was a bit laborious, mostly because we had to overcome many of the shortcoming that our home recordings brought to the table. But our mixer, David Browning, worked some incredible studio magic and turned our home recordings into the well-balanced tracks we have today. Our collaboration with him took about a month and a half to complete. The final stage was mastering, and our mastering man, Jeff Dykhouse, really topped off the album’s sound nicely. Our mastering collaboration took about 2 weeks. All in all I think the whole process took around 6-7 months. It was a great process. We really learned a lot, throughout it, and we were lucky enough to work with some great people along the way.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind some of the tracks on If That Really Is Your Name?
“Neon Jewels,” the almost gospel-music centerpiece of our album, was initially inspired by a lyric from The Smiths’ song, “Frankly, Mr. Shankly.” In that song Morrissey croons, in his typical way, about the pains of dealing with the music industry – and, of course, the great perpetrator of all our pain.. life.. He was an unhappy man, that Morrissey… Still, I was drawn to a particular lyric: “…I’d rather be famous than righteous or holy, any day, any day, any day.”
I was immediately led to meditate upon this idea and it became the basis for “Neon Jewels.” Whether it was the choral backing, the bombastic choruses, or the quiet interludes, they were all inspired by that noble, but, admittedly, foolhardy notion, of striving for the unachievable.
“Sojourns” is a modern re-imagining of the biblical story of David and Bathsheba. Some poetic license was definitely taken. Some of the chronology is disregarded. But the message will hopefully resonate with people, regardless.
The other songs all have their own inspiration points bound in something. Like I mentioned above, film, music, personal experiences, etc. are constantly influencing each of the members of this band. We can’t help but bleed them into our music. But I’ll leave most of them unknown, in hopes that some inspired listener may want to discover them on their own!
Do you play covers at practices or shows? If so, which ones are your favorites?
A long time ago, we played a cover. Maybe a couple years back. It was the song “Putting the Dog to Sleep” by The Antlers. People were, actually, very receptive to our rendition of that song. Mostly we focus our time on original compositions.
What do you typically do post-gig?
Tear down our set. Talk to fans. Debrief the performance. And then go get ice cream. We’re pretty simple…
What image do you think your music conveys?
When we were approaching the issue of making an album cover, this was a big question for us. We hope that what we came up with for the cover really represents the feelings within our music. Our good friend, Natahsha Priya, really helped us formulate our cover image and to visually capture that feeling we were looking for. Our sound is dark, raw, elegant, and a little mysterious. But there are always glimmers of hope to be found around the edges of each meditative piece. That cover image: within a darkened, European alley, we find a well-aged, solitary musician, steadfastly playing long into the night. That is a symbol of earnestness. A symbol of determination and of hope. And a symbol which we will continue to pursue with each of our musical endeavors.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
Starting a band is not easy. Continuing a band is even harder. Every day there is an internal battle. Can we push hard enough to create something worthwhile? Will our efforts fall flat? Will there be an audience for the music we are creating? Has all the effort and money spent up until now been worth it? The actual creation of music has never been our issue, I think that is far and away our greatest skill. We know how to write songs. Still, doubt can strain the dynamic of any relationship, and a band is very much relationship oriented. Of course the answers might never be known. And so we continue to strive on anyway. Into the infinite of unknowns. But I doubt this will ever be easy.
What has been your funniest or craziest experience working together?
During practice, in between songs, we’ll often go into a talk-show style sketch about random characters and their odd misadventures. Betty just ran into Pete after four years of being away; Betty’s grandson, Jimmy, is a terrible student and a very awkward teenage boy. Richard was fired from the orchestra he had been playing in for 37 years, because a new young conductor from California wasn’t feeling Richard’s vibe. It’s all pretty random, and I’m not even sure if we have a good handle on what’s happening in the story. But it’s our weird brand of amusement.
Anything funny or interesting your fans should know?
One of our newer songs, not on the EP, was written in an impromptu session. Zach and I were messing around after practice. I was playing mostly random stuff and Zach was thumpin’ about on the drums. I was singing cliche things about love and summer while Zach was playing a very simple beat, and he launched into a bright poppy harmony. This simplicity and whimsicality is pretty much the antithesis of our whole creative process. But, fast-forward a month or two later, and we had turned that piece of satire into a pretty great tune. Fans responded well to the song, and it has been in our rotation ever since.
What can we expect from Interstate Traffic in the coming months?
We’re going to be playing shows as often as possible from here on out. Our fan base is small, but, maybe, with some luck and good friends at our side, we’ll be able to carve out a nice little audience for ourselves. Also, new music as already piling up, so be on the look out for info regarding a new album. We’re issuing a self-imposed deadline to have a full-length album out within the next year. It’s starting to come together quickly, and the songs we’re writing are definitely pushing the boundaries of what we can achieve as a band. I’m pretty excited about them. So be ready!
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