Words by David C. Obenour
Sometimes the best results come with the removal of pressure. When expectations are dashed in favor for a “fuck it” expediency of being up against the clock. For The Intelligence’s Lars Finberg, he was already in the midst of recording his debut album, when some extra time led to some extra recordings, then some extra recordings led to an album… but not before having to slap together some extra extra recordings real quick like.
The culmination of this additional time, held together as Tinnitus Tonight brims with energy and swagger. First idea, best idea rules here and Lars garage surfs his way through the sophomore slump before he could even realize it’s a thing.
Off Shelf: You’ve been based in Los Angeles throughout all of this yeah? How has quarantine been?
Lars Finberg: I’m very fortunate to have employment and my health so I am doing fine, thank you. I’m split working in Bakersfield during the week and isolating in LA most weekends. I quite enjoying being by myself quite a bit anyway so it hasn’t been much of a struggle to stay in. I quit drinking three years ago which helped eliminate the panic and existential dread associated with the hangover. I mediate everyday that super helps. I try to think of this as good opportunity to appreciate what’s still standing.
OS: How do you differentiate between what music you make feels more appropriate for your own release as opposed to taking to The Intelligence?
LF: When I’m making an Intelligence record a fair amount of it is in response to the rest of the catalog or at least trying to evolve or top what I’ve done last. When I remove the Intelligence name in my mind I feel like I’m operating in a different space or the canvas doesn’t already have a frame around it.
OS: Sophomore albums are an interesting point for an artist, a chance to double down or buck expectations. Following up on Moonlight Over Bakersfield, what tone did you hope to set with the new songs?
LF: Oddly I cheated and started making this one first. We had planned to record with Ty Segal but he was busy for a few months and I was itching to get started on something so we booked two days with Chris Woodhouse in Sacramento to record three of the songs that were more involved that I thought we could add to whatever record we made with Ty but we Kaanan knocked the drums out quickly and we had another day so Woodhouse suggested we might as well record anything else we want since mic-ing and getting the drum sound is biggest hassle and cost.
So I went through my demos and Kaanan would either copy the drum machine pattern or improve it and we set up a scratch mic and guitar and I just guided him through the songs instructing him like “ride cymbal, now hi hat, guitar break, snare roll, etc”. That’s why I left the good natured bickering between songs, he was really flying by the seat of his pants and ruled it. As we got an idea of how this was shaping up it sounded pretty ripping and the mixes pretty massive for us and it just felt a second record and I realized I wanted the debut to be more bizarre and something unique to Ty’s studio and production rather than Frankenstein different sessions together. Because I had made this batch of rockers proving I hadn’t lost my edge I was now free to get out the vocoder and get Kaanan to play Jazz or a cheese grater on the debut record we made second.
OS: Can you talk about how the songs from Tinnitus Tonight started to form into an album? Either what was the impetus for starting work on a new album or when certain recording and ideas started to seem more connected.
LF: The first three songs are what I truly intended for the album and the other 7 were what we happened to pick out that weekend from a couple years worth of demos. Because the A side is fairly complex I wanted to pair it some sorta primal songs which ended up giving the drums and vocals more room to shine. If they are connected it’s by the necessity that we chose to make a record on the spot and learned them all at the same time. Because it was so fun to spastically try to finish a big idea in a short time I hear a lot of joy in it now listening four years later. It’s also my nature to want to put the rockers on the A side and the weirdos on the B side but we flipped the order at the last second and somehow going against nature makes it more cohesive to me. I like the drums kind of ramp up in attitude.
OS: There’s a lot of keyboard on Tinnitus Tonight. What led you to that sound for the album?
LF: I didn’t have Intelligence guitarist Dave Hernandez to lean on. He really shines coming up with complimentary guitar parts and is pretty irreplaceable so I thought it better to mostly rely on one guitar. I wanted Lauren Marie Mikus to play keys in the live band and she leaves a pile of shattered keyboards in her wake.
OS: You have some really cool sounds on the album, conveying a great sense of swagger and at other times anxiety. Are there any moments that stick out to you as particularly expressive or powerful?
LF: Kannan’s snare roll towards the end of My Prison is one of my favorite drum parts ever. I asked if Woodhouse wanted to do a noise guitar track on “Public Admirer” and he just laid the guitar on the floor and turned every knob on the amp up and we watched the tubes throb and flicker waiting for it to explode. I’ve always loved this drum stutter on Lauren Hill’s song “For Zion” we realized we could put over the top of the drum machine on “Satanic Exit” that Kaanan nailed even though Woodhouse made him do it through the entire song and punched him in and out, illustrated by the left on beat after the song ends. I like the solo on “My Prison” I had never played anything that fancy and was like ‘wait, is this lame’? and they wouldn’t let me erase it fortunately.
Because we had no real plan and were just fucking around it was a real joy to make with no real pressure other than time. But when we started to realize if we plugged away we could make a whole album when were weren’t planning to in a couple days it wouldn’t be that expensive we went into problem solving mode which is the exciting part of playing music I think.
OS: The world is undoubtedly a very different place from the one you wrote and the one you recorded these songs in. Do you have a different relationship to them now that they’re reaching an audience in November of 2020?
LF: I’m happy these songs hold up and sound fresh to me after freezing them a while. When I got the test pressing I was head bobbing by myself like a mighty dork. It’s cool to not be super precious about a new record because I’m made so much music since this isn’t so much ‘me’ anymore but is like a cute picture in a flattering light. I am just very happy people are responding to it.
OS: What do you think promoting these songs will look like? Any plans for virtual events or hopes to wait things out and try to give things a proper tour cycle come the fall?
LF: It’s funny on release day I just spent most of it on my phone trying to remember which account posted the video, ok the other instagram account can post this review then on Facebook I gotta put the presale link up and after a while I just went ‘this is stupid I’m done’. I don’t think anyone likes sitting there trying to think of a new self deprecating apology to why they’re trying to shove themselves up the algorithm stream. We have some offers to film stuff or do some live streams but I don’t know that another video of some sad fuckers playing to nobody is better than well, not doing that. We had a cracking band and played these songs to their best effect the last two years and I loved it but I’d rather be playing the new stuff in the future.
OS: I also wanted to ask about the collapse of Burger Records among rampant accusations of harassment and abuse from earlier this year. I don’t know if you have any direct connections within that scene, but occupying a similar scene, I wonder how you felt it’s impact will last? I know you donated the proceeds from your first day’s Bandcamp sales to the Downtown Women’s Center.
LF: What a horrifying situation. It was strange to watch it unfold online and get so much traction for a few days and then kind of go away. It seems the main offenders got ran off but I don’t know if anyone really got in trouble.
I think it’s a great thing that so many people spoke out and shined a light on it. It seems like a long time ago now but the Burger thing happening around George Floyd and BLM protests it made social media feel very strange to me and I started donating all our sales to the Downtown Women’s Center every Bandcamp Day since then because with all the traumatic chaos going on feels like a small way to help what is a huge problem.
Remember that BLM black square? I realize it’s performative and it’s embarrassing but I leave it up to remind me of that time and what am I going on this platform for? If I’m going to promote my music I can at least help the homeless a little bit, I don’t want to go ‘back to normal’.
OS: If you were pressed on it now, what would you imagine as a direction for Tinnitus Tonight’s follow up?
LF: I saw these solo records as a trilogy and the 3rd one is almost finished and it the weirdest of them all I think. We got a horn section and strings…