Again is Already may be recording their debut album in a dining room, but you couldn’t tell by listening to the songs. The Champaign-based four-piece brings a polished and confident sound. Their new single “A Rough Framework” melds post-punk urgency to a pop chorus that’s sing-a-long worthy on the first listen.
Since forming in 2013, they have released three singles and played shows around the C-U area, opening for Hey Marseilles, Grandkids, and Motes. Now they’re set to headline their first show, at Mike N Molly’s this Saturday. I spoke with guitarist/vocalist Graham Duncan, drummer Kate Maurer, bassist Eric Schaaf, and keyboardist/vocalist Liz Evans, about awkward show encounters, Paul Verlaine, and recording their debut album.
Smile Politely: Your website describes you as a “postnewwaveindiepoprock band”. I feel like I can hear some New Wave influence in your song “Lightning Liz”.
Kate Maurer: We were definitely being a little goofy with that. It was more us trying to describe the songs that were coming together after they’d already happened, rather than a mission we set out on.
Eric Schaaf: Graham did put that description up as a bit of a joke, though it isn’t inaccurate. As we were first turning ideas into songs I was going through a Siouxsie and the Banshees phase, so that came out in my playing. I liked the idea of things going in that direction.
SP: What bands and musical styles have shaped AiA’s sound?
Graham Duncan: St. Vincent has been an influence in the past few years. I try to listen to new artists that push me to expand what I write. I grew up around a lot of 80s pop so I feel like that comes out in my melodies too.
Schaaf: Initially our sound was fairly amorphous, as we felt each other out. Early on we were described us as “Wilco-meets-The Cars”, which we found amusing. Adding Liz’s keyboard really helped solidify our sound, but it took some time to get the keyboard fully integrated into the potent weapon it is now.
Maurer: We don’t all like exactly the same music and everyone kind of brings different perspectives and things just kind of happen intuitively. Graham did come into a really cool vintage synthesizer a while back that has become part of the sound of the band. A lot of the songs start with Eric’s bass lines, and I know he’s a big post-punk fan.
Schaaf: Everyone’s influences are fairly different. If Liz had her way, we’d probably be playing Rodgers & Hammerstein songs.
Liz Evans: Rogers and Hammerstein with a bit of Liszt. I’m very versatile.
SP: So how did AiA get started?
Evans: I decided one New Year’s I needed to be more interesting, so I thought joining a band would fulfill that criteria. Kidding…
Duncan: Eric and I started jamming and sketching out some ideas for fun in 2012. Kate and I bought a house that year which it turns out can do amazing things for forming bands!
Maurer: Graham and I have been married, like, since the dawn of time, so I have experience as a groupie/roadie/recording assistant (I think among various albums I have one assistant producer credit, an informal chorus appearance, and a hand claps credit). But this is my first band.
Schaaf: Our first song ideas were sketched with acoustic guitar and autoharp. Fortunately the autoharp was put away, my bass was pulled out, Kate was convinced to dust off her drum set, and we began jamming. Then Graham convinced Liz to join, on St Patrick’s Day 2013, if I recall correctly.
Evans: I’ve played the piano for over 20 years, but I’ve never done anything like this. Playing in this band has been an awesome experience and has been a welcome and fun musical challenge.
SP: How has the process of recording your first album gone so far?
Schaaf: We are fortunate that Graham is an audio engineer, just as we’re fortunate to have the luxury of recording at Kate and Graham’s home. (I’m sure Kate and Graham look differently at the mess we’ve made there!)
Evans: It’s nice not to have the studio expense or stress to record within a specific time.
Maurer: It’s an incredible luxury to have an audio engineer in the band and be able to DIY the album with a high level of quality.
Duncan: I always find it challenging to self-record. It’s hard to do everything at once. In the future it would be great to have more help from another engineer/producer regardless of where the album is made. On the plus side, our dining room transforms into a nice recording space where we can take our time without the clock running.
SP: What are some of the best and worst things about playing shows in C-U?
Evans: The best: we’re guaranteed friends will show up to our gigs!
Duncan: The best thing would be how open the scene feels. I’ve been here for a while but this is my first band playing out in C-U. It really feels welcoming relative to other cities I’ve played as a new band.
Maurer: I second what Graham said about how accessible and welcoming the scene has been to us as a new band. There are a lot of really friendly and supportive people working really hard to make this a great place to hear music.
Schaaf: The best thing about playing here is that everyone (other bands, local venues, the audiences) is quite supportive.
Evans: The worst: If we don’t come up with new songs each gig, we might wear out our crowd with the same songs.
Schaaf: I don’t think we’ve experienced anything I would describe as “the worst”, though playing to seven people when it was fifteen degrees below zero wasn’t anyone’s idea of fun.
Maurer: Liz has a funny story about a guy awkwardly trying to chat her up at one of our gigs, which I’ll let her tell.
Evans: We had just wrapped up a pretty impressive set at Cowboy Monkey. I went up to the bar to get a couple well-done-us drinks, and this guy slinks up to me and makes a non-witty comment about my drink choice, then moves a little closer, and says “That last band, they weren’t very good, were they?” I stared at him for a second, waiting for the punch line — something about how he’s just kidding, he saw me up there on stage. But he just asks, “Did you hear them?” I stared at him for another moment and said, “I was in the band.” He couldn’t get away from me fast enough. Thankfully no one else I talked to that night shared his opinion.
SP: After opening at a number of shows, how does it feel to take on your first headlining slot?
Duncan: It feels great! We’ve been fortunate to have opened for some amazing bands at Mike N Molly’s over the past year.
Schaaf: Playing at Mike N’ Molly’s is all kinds of fun. It’s easily our favorite venue.
Maurer: Very exciting! Maybe for me particularly, since it never occurred to me until two years ago that I would be in a band. We hope lots of people come out and enjoy the show!
SP: How many songs do you have in your repertoire?
Maurer: Quite a few. There are 10 original songs that will be on the album, plus around 5-6 that didn’t make the cut and one brand-new one.
SP: So I think this question is basically obligatory for new bands: how did you get your name?
Schaaf: Over the course of several months we considered at least a hundred different names, probably more. I wish I could remember some of the names we considered and summarily dismissed, as there were some amusing suggestions. The only discarded name that I can recall was The Irritating Noises, which was not entirely serious.
Maurer: I don’t think there’s anything funnier than sitting around coming up with bad band names — which we had a lot of fun doing for a couple of months (Karl Malone’s Arms, Puffy Ennui).
Schaaf: I was reading a volume by the French poet Paul Verlaine. The final stanza of Verlaine’s poem “Réversibilités” caught my attention:
Insipidly you die,
Unknown and unattended,
In this grief of no redemption
Again is already!
Maurer: The source poem is pretty maudlin, but we also thought it captured something interesting in terms of contemporary tedium and the type of angst at least some of our lyrics tend toward.
SP: Your new single “A Rough Framework” is driven by a strong bass groove. At your ideal show, would the audience be calmly listening, or jumping around singing along?
Duncan: The latter. But I’m cool with calmly listening as long as the audience is into what we’re doing!
Evans: Definitely jumping, dancing, screaming, moshing.
Schaaf: Get into the music and have fun. If that means dancing, great; if that means calmly listening, there’s nothing wrong with that.
SP: What would be the ideal drink to order while watching an Again is Already set?
Maurer: Ummm. I’m stumped. Something fun, with just a touch of bitterness?
Duncan: Anne’s Christmas Punch if available. But a Hamm’s or gin and tonic would work as well.
About Nathaniel Forsythe:
Nathaniel Forsythe is a writer living in Champaign. He moved here recently, and now ends all conversations by saying “C-U later,” but so far no one has picked up on it.