Folks have been anticipating a full-length album from New York based indie darlings Guards since their gritty, lo-fi EP began circulating online last year. At last we’ve gotten precisely what we’d bargained for with their polished, insanely addictive LP, In Guards We Trust. With an extensive US tour and a coveted slot at Coachella, these guys (and girl) are poised to enter the mainstream—just don’t expect them to cut their hair. Frontman Richie Follin has been making excellent music for an eternity, previously with The Willowz and his little sis’ band, Cults. We caught up with Follin to discuss sibling rivalry, life on tour, and Coachella predictions.
Your new album is significantly tighter and cleaner than your EP. How have you evolved as a band?
A lot of that had to do with the fact that we went to a professional mixer in a real studio. The first EP I did all myself in my home studio. People thought that our EP was demos. On our LP, a lot of the stuff is blown out and vocals are delayed and distorted and stuff but it’s comparatively polished. One is a lot more dirty.
So for someone who hasn’t heard the album, how would you describe it?
As far as our influences go, it’s kind of late ’60s, early ’70s power pop bands and new wave bands, soul music… obviously grunge stuff. We’re guitar heavy. I think production-wise we focused on making our record sound of its time, that was really important to us. So hopefully blending all those kind of things while at the same time maintaining a level of present day influence.
I read you accidentally broke your jaw while recording this album. How did that happen?
I’m keeping that a secret.
I like that it is distinguished as being “accidental,” as opposed too…
…As opposed to dental reconstructive surgery.
Your sister, Madeline, is in Cults. Did your family encourage the both of you to pursue music?
Encouraged in the sense that my stepfather gave me a guitar. I didn’t think about this until the other day because people always ask how you first got into music or whatever and I always kind of say basically I started playing in a band… But I went to Catholic school and we were forced to do singing class every day, like choir. We’d do Beatles songs and stuff like that, so that was kind of how I first got into music.
At least you were singing The Beatles and not hymns.
Yeah, exactly. Very modernized. We had a really racy teacher. My stepdad was always recording stuff, so anytime I started recording something he would help us do it. My mother used to manage both Cults and Guards, now she just manages Cults. She managed my old band for 10 years. Nothing was ever really pushed but after I recorded something and was unsure about it… I guess they pushed me in that way. Once you get that first thing out the ball kind of gets rolling and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that without them. There are people who are writing music and recording music for 10 years and can’t seem to release anything.
Seeing as Cults and Guards are both New York based indie bands, is there any sense of healthy brother/sister competition?
The thing is, I was in that band so you can’t root against yourself really. The other thing is she’s my little sister and she’s the only person I would want to succeed more than myself. Not to mention I just love the band and I think what they’re doing is so on point. Other people kind of make a thing of it. A friend will say, “Oh, you guys are playing that late night TV show? They didn’t play that one,” but me and my sister have such a good relationship that it’s not really like that.
You guys are a band full of excellent long hair. Is that a conscious decision?
It’s really not, it just happened. It’s weird, all of our friends have long hair. It kind of makes sense with Cults… It’s one big Cult.
You guys head off on tour next week. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about touring?
My favorite thing about it, other than travelling with your friends, is that there is actually a schedule. Being a musician, you wake up every day and it’s like, “What do I want to work on?” When you’re on tour there’s a strict schedule and you know what you’re doing every day. You have more of a purpose, which I think maybe people take for granted. Then obviously the downside is not sleeping in your bed every night and having to be away from your friends, sometimes it’s hard to get good food, and some of the drives are insane. But I just love playing live every night. There’s only one way to get that feeling.
I’m sure it’s easier being away from friends seeing as your wife is in your band and touring with you.
That used to be the biggest problem. As far as relationships go, it’s a hard thing to figure out.
She is so wonderful to watch on stage. What is that strange instrument she plays called?
How might I go about learning to play that?
That’s the thing about it. It’s a simple instrument but you have to spend some time with it. So even if you’re a really good musician you get on it and you don’t even know how to work it. There’s a bit of a learning curve and at the time we didn’t know who was going to play what and Kaylie was kind of the only one who really spent time with the thing. It was all over our record. She plays keyboard now on all our new songs.
John, who plays with you live, has served me lunch at The Smile Café on Bond Street. Do you guys still have day jobs?
Nah, I haven’t had a day job since I was 16 years old. Somehow I’ve managed to live off doing music. Loren, our drummer, he’ll score skate videos and surf videos. He grew up with those guys so he’s been doing that forever. That’s not really a day job. And Kaylie was working in film before.
Everyone’s buzzing about the Coachella lineup. How does it feel being a part of that this year?
It’s awesome. Me and my friends grew up going to that festival because we’re from California. It’s like, the big thing. Me and my little sister used to go and sneak in every year. The cool thing was that that was my last show with Cults, I played with them at Coachella. I’m just happy to be a part of it. And I think we’re playing on the best day too, on Saturday. I think they’re going to unveil another big headliner.
I’m thinking it’s either The Stones or Jack White… Obviously everyone always says Daft Punk.
Daft Punk playing Coachella is everyone’s favorite rumor. If you weren’t making music what would you be doing?
I’d maybe be working in the music industry, just not making music.
That’s a cop out answer!
…Maybe flippin’ houses.