Exclusive Interview with
Allen Epley

Photo by Drew Reynolds
by Paul Lyons

Guitarist and frontman Allen Epley is no stranger to the music scene, having spent over ten years in the Kansas City-based indie band Shiner. In 2003, Epley formed The Life and Times with bassist Eric Abert and Chris Metcalf, and they’ve since gone on to release three EP’s, and three full-length albums, including their brand new release, No One Loves You Like I Do. I caught up with Allen Epley during a break on the band’s 2012 world tour.

RUKUS MAGAZINE: The Life and Times, where does that name come from?
ALLEN EPLEY: The Life and Times... I was always kind of perplexed by that phrase growing up. I don’t know why. I liked the ring of it. I liked the fact that it was kind of open-ended. We didn’t want it [The Life and Times] to define us in just the name alone. So that was the reason, we liked the ring of it; we liked the imagery you could put along with it.

RM: Let’s talk about how The Life and Times began. You’re originally from Louisville, Kentucky, correct?
AE: Yeah, great town.

RM: What brought you to Kansas City, Missouri?
AE: Oh, college. I got a free ride at this college where my Dad was teaching. It’s called William Jewel College, just north of KC. It was an offer too good to turn down. I took it; we had tuition-free school. That was my ticket to Kansas City.

RM: …and Kansas City is what brought you to Shiner.
AE: Indeed, yeah.

RM: Was Shiner formed at school?
AE: It wasn’t. It was right after school, with a buddy of mine whom I had been in a band with, and who now directs all of our videos…and does all that stuff. His name is Clayton Brown.

RM: What brought about the end of the band?
AE: I think we felt like we were creatively…not feeling it. There was some internal stuff, but nothing more than any other band.

RM: How did you meet up with Eric Abert and Chris Metcalf?
AE: Eric had a band called Ring, Cicada from St. Louis, that were a really great instrumental band. Chris, I had known from his band in town, called The Stella Link, and he was just a really talented guy. Honestly, we had tried out so many drummers for like six months. It was kind of comical. Chris is just an amazing drummer. We just feel lucky to have him.

RM: The interesting thing about Chris is that his drumming is almost purposely evocative of Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Your sound feels like a great combination of Radiohead and Coldplay mixed with the heaviness of Led Zeppelin.
AE: That was a really great compliment; I will take that! That is really cool, and wouldn’t you want to be in that band too? [laughs] That sounds awesome. Chris is influenced by so many radically different areas, but Bonham obviously is a big one.

RM: You certainly favor Chris in the mix, particularly on the new record. You can really hear that kick drum. There’s a real natural resonance to it.
AE: That was definitely intentional. We wanted to get the best sound possible. Our friend Casey D’Orio helped record us at Matt Talbot’s studio (Matt is the singer in the band Hum). We wanted to hear the paper on the drums…see the stick marks on the drum kit, and really feel that. It’s important. Same with the sound of the bass guitar—I want to hear the strings kind of grind against the wooden neck. Same with the voice—you want to be very present, and almost hyper-realistic.

RM: When you started The Life and Times, was there a deliberate effort to make it sound different than the kind of music you made with Shiner? Shiner was really straight-ahead raw rock and roll, while The Life and Times has a more orchestral, bigger sound.
AE: Yes, I think that’s pretty accurate. I certainly didn’t want to try to compete with what Shiner did. It wouldn’t have made sense; the fans didn’t want to hear it.. At that moment it was definitely time for a palette-cleanser, and so we went for something prettier, like bigger, exactly like you’re saying…more orchestral, more maybe symphonic…but also still with this kind of…blown-out, distorted, beautiful sound on it.

RM: You can really hear that on “Shift Your Gaze,” one of my favorite tracks from the first Life and Times record, Suburban Hymns. That feels like a mini-masterpiece of sorts. It really reaches out and grabs you, even from the first couple of notes.
AE: Thank you, so much. That was written at the very end of Shiner, when Shiner was still a band. Ostensibly, it could’ve been a Shiner tune. I just listened to Suburban Hymns the other day for the first time in years, and I was struck by that tune.

RM: Your new album just came out in January. It’s called No One Loves You Like I Do; a very provocative title. The curious thing is that the song titles are listed as days and numbers. Is it true that you recorded the album as a project where you wrote a song a day for twelve days?
AE: Yes, but I should note that the twelve days were spread over, maybe, a year. So, it wasn’t twelve days in a row. We would hook up, and write for like three or four days before a tour. As we would write and record, we figured we had to get something done since we all live in different cities. Eric was living in New York, I was in Chicago, Chris was in Kansas City, and we figured we had to use the most of our time; get the best out of it. So we had mics set up every time we rehearsed, and just actually recorded everything we ever played.

RM: So you recorded the entire album at Matt Talbot’s studio?
AE: We ended up doing most it, the great bulk of it, down in Champaign at Matt’s. We recorded it there, then we would do overdubs back at our home studio here in Chicago—it’s called Electronical. It’s a tiny little studio in the shadows of Steve Albini’s Electrical studio. Only by proximity do we call it “Electronical.”

RM: You have an album that deals with a lot of really deep, personal, romantic pain. There’s a pleading kind of feel to it. Yet, the songs themselves…there’s almost a detachment with the songs, because of the titles. You have one song pleading “I can’t get you out of my head,” but the name of the song is “Day 12.” Was that a conscious decision?
AE: I think that may have been an unconscious decision. I like the way, even though it was “Day 12,” it kind of forced us to listen to the lyrics about what it was about, if that makes sense, without laying on a pre-conceived notion about what the song might be about. There is a sense of snapped detachment that’s happened. It’s almost as though this person has kind of, snapped.

RM: The dark side of obsessive love.
AE: Absolutely, that’s true. There’s a couple I know. I realized that I wrote from…afterward, I kind of found myself writing from the girl’s point of view in this relationship. There’s a guy and girl I know; all of these songs apply very deliberately to their relationship, especially from her point of view. The guy just could not get free, and she just was not hearing it. She didn’t understand that the guy wasn’t getting it. She was like, “I’m the one. You don’t even understand. I’m the only one.” It was a very strange scenario.

RM: This a real couple that you knew?
AE: Yeah, and I know them now.

RM: Have they listened to No One Loves You Like I Do?
AE: Yes, although this hasn’t been discussed among everybody. Surely it hits home. The guys knows, but the girl does not know.

RM: The name of the album is No One Loves You Like I Do, which is very commanding, yet the cover of the album is, what looks like, two aliens shaking hands.
AE: Exactly. The title of that piece from the artist is “The Embrace/The Grip/The Proposal.” So as I saw that piece, this artist William Test, from here in Chicago, it struck me as perfectly appropriate. It’s difficult for me to tell from the two robots, the two aliens, whether its a proposal, or it’s actually the grip…like he’s got him on his knees…or it’s actually a loving embrace, or maybe its all of those things. I found it perfectly appropriate for the music.

RM: Where did you find the piece?
AE: I was aware of his work from a friend of mine, who has a band called Sweet Cobra. He turned me on to William Test, and I was able to look through some of his work and I was like, “That’s it!” We liked the idea of it not being “perfect.” It’s kind of scrawled, kind of one-line drawing, but its also really purposeful and highly artistic. There’s a lot detail to it, intentional detail that we were really drawn to, that was really iconic.

RM: I noticed the songs are best experienced when you listen to the album as a whole, because it’s really one musical piece, as the songs flow into each other. The best example are my two favorites: “Day 2” going right into “Day 12.” Was that a conscious decision as well?
AE: Yes, it absolutely was. I’m a fan of kind of getting on with it. I certainly wasn’t worried that people would get bored by any means; you don’t get bored in a three second pause between songs. I liked this idea of just constantly moving forward, and this sense of contiguousness between the songs. It kind of spoke to us, and we just literally listen to whatever speaks to us. There’s no other larger, guiding force, honestly. If we like it, we generally just use that as our guiding muse.

RM: How has the tour gone so far?
AE: The whole tour was amazing. Historically, it’s probably our best tour. We’ve had a chance to kind of build up our crowd, and it’s kind of paying off. We laid a lot of groundwork from our last record, but I think we’re seeing the payoff more now. I thought the show in L.A. was pretty well attended, and that was pretty representative for the rest of the tour. So, it’s good.

RM: How are the new songs coming together in concert?
AE: Very well. There’s a live sense of vibe that we go for. We never try to emulate everything on the record. We want the live experience to be its own organic thing, where if you record it, you get a cool live version of it, not just a really stripped-down version, but something that’s really interesting in its own right. It’s really fun. We’re doing, I think, seven or eight songs from the new record every night. That’s a lot to ask for an audience to sit through, but everyone has been very, like I said, the tour’s been crazy…everyone was very receptive; already had the record. Many people were already singing words at us already. That was nice.

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