Going on a Bender at SXSW 

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Securing a spot on everyone's "bands to see at SXSW" list isn't that difficult, really. Take the Morning Benders, for instance: Just release a snappy pop album and tour relentlessly for maybe two years. For its follow-up, craft ten richly orchestrated songs built to endure, get a dude from Grizzly Bear to co-produce, sign to Rough Trade, make a viral video with some famous friends for a song called "Excuses," move across the country to New York City at the coldest, most miserable time of the year, play an over-capacity show at the Market Hotel with Surfer Blood, and have it all come to a head the week before the entire indie-rock community migrates to Austin for the biggest industry event of the year. Speaking with Chris Chu, the Benders' shy, soft-spoken lead singer/songwriter, on the night of their album release show for Big Echo, you'd think it would be easy—except for maybe the actual SXSW part. That's a total clusterfuck.

The L Magazine: There's an obvious focus on production and creating a dense sound on the new album. Were you worried about making something that goes against the lo-fi "don't care about how it sounds" trend right now?

Chris Chu: It wasn't a reaction, necessarily, although I guess culturally where I see myself on that spectrum is "opposed." Like, I do care about all that stuff. I like to be a passionate person. Or, I am. I don't like to be. It just happens that way. So I guess there might be a connection there, but it was more just because I'm interested in production and most of the music that I love is really well-made and really great-sounding.

The L: And Chris Taylor co-produced with you. How does that work? I mean, do you divvy up the responsibilities, or who trumps who if there's a disagreement?

CC: Yeah, it's kind of ambiguous. The way it went down, basically, is I started the project in San Francisco, and I recorded the whole thing there. I was planning to just produce it—that's what I did with the last album. Then we tracked it, and it just sort of became apparent that it had become such a dense, insular thing that I didn't feel like I had enough clarity. I had been talking to Chris for a while. We had actually been talking about recording, but we were never able to work the schedules. It happened that he was free for a month, so I came to New York and we worked on mixing for, like, three weeks. It ended up taking two or three times longer to make it, which is kind of rare. But the reason was, we got a lot deeper into it, and that's when we decided we should produce it together because he was having an influence on some of the sounds, and mixing for me is a pretty hard process. Some people kind of just twist knobs, but for us, it's shaping the songs.

The L: Were there disagreements? I'm not trying to dig up dirt, I would just think it'd be hard to give up control as the songwriter.

CC: A few rare times. The thing is, I had met him a few times, talked to him about music, sent him songs. I do have a hard time letting go. It's very precious to me, and when I recorded it, I had all these sounds in mind that I wanted. But because Chris understood so much about where we were coming from and I knew I'd get to come to New York and do it with him, I just didn't feel that nervous about it. And, honestly, once we started doing stuff, we were so much on the same page that it was a non-issue. We got in a few really minor disagreements, but that's it.

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