The retro-sounding band with the futuristic sounding name, New Orleans’ Silver Synthetic are the latest signing to Jack White’s Third Man Records stable. Their new self-titled debut album jingle jangles its way through the grooviest bits of the 1960s and 1970s, from the Velvet Underground to Television, not forgetting to pay its dues to the swinging psych of The Byrds. The world might be a mess, but Silver Synthetic have just given us a sonic ejector seat.
We spoke to the four-piece’s frontman Chris Lyons – you might know him from his other band, the rather more punky Bottomfeeders – and lead guitarist and sometime Jeff the Brotherhood member Kunal Prakash, about seeing Lou Reed in his sweatpants, recording an album in the living room and how liking the Grateful Dead in 2021 is the most punk thing you can do.
How’s the New Orleans music scene dealing with the pandemic?
Kunal: “There’s some stuff that’s starting to come back up. It was completely dead for most of the year, but in the last three or four weeks you’ve started to see people playing on a corner – super sporadic things like a jazz band on a balcony in the French Quarter. It doesn’t feel normal by any means, but it’s happening. It seems like people are getting vaccinated faster here than in other states.”
So when did you last play live?
Kunal: “Our last real shows were during Mardi Gras, 2020, so in February…”
Chris: “It was at a bar in the Bywater neighbourhood called Vaughan’s. It was a great last show to have if you’re gonna have one.”
Kunal: “The last song we played was ‘Hey Hey, My My’. Everyone was yelling, “Rock’n’roll will never die.” And then we didn’t play a show for a fucking year!”
This isn’t everyone in the band’s first group by a long shot – would you call yourselves a supergroup?
Kunal: “That might be going a little too far…”
Chris: “We’ve been in other bands, but there’s a lot of great musicians in New Orleans, so I don’t think we can pull off calling ourselves a supergroup!”
Are all your other bands on hold for the time being while you focus on Silver Synthetic?
Kunal: “I’m always pretty promiscuous band-wise. I’ve made lots of records and lots haven’t come out, so there’s always something waiting in the wings.”
Chris: “I’ve kind of settled down with this project. My other band Bottomfeeders will probably do something again but at the moment we’re taking a break.”
What was the trigger for starting this new project?
Chris: “I started hashing out all these songs and they ended up being more laidback and they didn’t fit with Bottomfeeders. I had them sitting on the shelf for a while and then I decided I wanted to pursue them seriously and I wanted all my friends to be involved in the project.”
Lou Reed’s name comes up a lot when people talk about the Silver Synthetic sound. What’s your favourite era of Lou?
Chris: “‘Coney Island Baby’ is probably my favourite solo record and then the first Velvet Underground record.”
Kunal: “Around the time of making the record, Chris was listening to a lot of ‘Coney Island Baby’ and then I listened to it and was like, ‘Damn – this guitar player kills’. He was this New York session guy called Bob Kulick – all the lead work is really ripping guitar, but it’s not distracting. He kind of noodles a lot, and I love to noodle!”
Did either of you ever see Lou Reed play?
Kunal: “No, but I saw him one time in New York when I used to live there. I delivered doughnuts for this restaurant I worked at. Every Sunday I’d have to drive around and deliver them to a bunch of coffee shops. I was driving through Soho and I saw him coming out of a bodega wearing sweatpants. He had a newspaper and a shitty coffee from the bodega.”
Sweatpants! Not full leathers?
Kunal: “Yeah. No leather daddy shit, just sweatpants and a cotton T-shirt.”
You recorded the album back in 2019 in Chris’s house…
Chris: “Yeah, our friend Ross from [fellow New Orleans rockers] Video Age bought his mobile studio into my house and we tracked everything in seven days.”
Kunal: “Chris got all his vocals done in one day, which is insane.”
Chris: “We’d record from 10am and the latest we went was 8pm or 9pm, because I live with my girlfriend and I didn’t want to totally ruin her experience.”
Why not record in an actual studio?
Kunal: “Because we didn’t have any money. It was a pragmatic decision and any sort of press release writing about how special a vibe we conjured up – while that is true and it was super-chill – we didn’t sit down and plan all that out. We were just like, ‘Well, we don’t have any fucking money. so this is a way that we can get a record done’.”
There’s a special fancy sunrise swirl vinyl version of the album – what’s the process behind getting that made?
Kunal: “Third Man is so cool to work with because they have this pressing plant. When we were talking to the art department there, they were like, ‘We’ve been doing all this crazy stuff – we did one that looks like a French flag.’ The possibilities seem a little bit endless, so we said, ‘This is what the album art is looking like’ and they sent a couple of options that jived with those colours.”
How did you end up working with Third Man?
Kunal: “I’ve spent a ton of time in Nashville doing Jeff The Brotherhood stuff, so I’ve made a ton of friends there and Third Man has hired a ton of my friends too. There were a handful of them at a show we played in Nashville as well as Ben Swank from the label. He bought a cassette and then got in touch a few weeks later and said, ‘Do you have anything else?’ We were like, ‘Here you go; here’s our complete record’ and it was off to the races from there.”
Have you met Jack yet?
Chris: “We haven’t been back to Nashville since we signed with them…”
Kunal: “Within a couple of weeks of signing the paperwork it was lockdown. But I’ve met him once at my friend’s place and once at the office. He’s got his office right off the main lounge where everyone’s hanging out, so he’s definitely around. Everyone calls it the Willy Wonka of rock’n’roll, which it is.”
Did you ever see White Stripes play?
Chris: “I listened to them a lot when I was like 13, those first three records, but then I got turned on to some other stuff. Then when I was 17 I saw them at a festival in Tennessee called Bonnaroo. It was not my cup of tea. You’ve never seen so many people. There’s nowhere to pee or drink water. A hotdog was $30. It’s insane. But the White Stripes were incredible. I loved every moment of it.”
What was that other stuff you got turned on to that took you away from more mainstream rock?
Chris: “Around the time I got into high school I started hanging out with some pretty cool cats who turned me on to a lot of music, a lot of late 1970s punk. I got heavy into the Velvet Underground, even the Brian Jonestown Massacre for a little while there and Gang of Four.”
How do you feel about the Grateful Dead? It seems like a lot of people are coming out of the Grateful Dead closet right now…
Chris: “I love the Dead. I hated the Dead then, but now I love the Dead.”
Kunal: “We definitely still have some leather jacket punk friends that are like, ‘Fuck the Dead’. But if I’m making the punks mad, then I’m even more punk than the punks!”
– ‘Silver Synthetic’ is out now via Third Man Records