Interview with Jeff Shoop (Ester Drang)

Ester Drang have been on my radar for a few years now. Now, I’m not saying that as an “I knew these guys WAY before you did”, it was actually by chance that I saw them. But for some reason, they have always stayed in the back of mind my. I would always wonder, “what Ester Drang was up to?”. It was kind of strange. There are not a lot of bands I see live that stick with me for years down the road.

It’s could have been the awkward stage presence of singer Bryce Chambers . It could have been the sweltering heat outside. But, most likely, it was their amazing melodies, and their fresh take on the shoegazer genre.

A few years have past, and the band in question has produced a few albums. They have changed their sound with each release, but not in an attempt to ride the next wave. But rather, they were seemingly always looking for a new sound to keep their fans on their toes.

With the bands third album (second full length) they have gone from attempting to create a new sound, to perfecting it. Infinite Keys finds the band at their most refined, their most mature… and it finds a new home with the Jade Tree label. I got the chance to put a few questions to Jeff Shoop (Guitars/Synths) while the band was on tour with label mates Pedro The Lion and with Starflyer 59 .

Jake Haselman – You guys have changed a lot over the past three albums, has it been a natural change, or was this by decision?

Jeff Shoop – I would say a bit of both. There was never a master plan of arriving at this sound of ours, I think that has been a natural progression. At the same time, we are conscience of not wanting to make the same record over again.

JH – How did you guys go from Burnt Toast to Jade Tree?

JS – Someone jade tree trusted sent them a copy of Goldenwest and they dug it, and emailed us we talked a few times but it never worked out for them come see us play. We sent them a few demos of new songs and they dug those and that was essentially that. It all came together really quickly, then we didn’t meet anyone from the label until SXSW 4 months after we signed.

JH – Does the bigger label bring more stress on the band?

JS – I don’t feel stressed….it’s sorta nice they do a lot of work and free us up to largely just play music.

JH – Do you think being on Jade Tree will give you more ‘cred’ right of the bat with new listeners?

JS – Maybe. I guess there is a better chance of someone giving it a try just because it has the tree on the back. They’ve spent many years developing their credibility…. so, yeah

JH – Do you think David Bazan made the road from ‘small Christian audience’ to ‘big indie label’ easier for bands like you?

JS – I guess. We don’t try to concern ourselves with segregating audiences
Our music is for everybody. I think Dave feels the same way.

JH – Who do you hate to be compared to?

JS – I only dislike comparisons that are used as an easy write-off. Like bands that have a piano and singer getting compared to Ben folds. It’s just lazy. So if someone has a good reason for a comparison then I promise not to hate you…probably

JH – How hard is it to translate your new, broader sound to a live show?

JS – Takes a bit of head scratching just to figure out who should be playing what and what sort of technology should be employed to create it. Then it keeps you busy, but it’s not bad.

JH – Is it just you four out on the road? You don’t take any extra musicians along on tour do you?

JS – It’s just the four of us now. On this tour we have had Casey from Pedro The Lion play some extra percussion, but that just sort of happened. We don’t have immediate plans to take anyone else, but it could happen in the future.

JH – Was it important to have ‘live’ strings instead of just keyboards? And did it make writing more difficult?

JS – Yeah we wanted those to be as organic as possible. Money becomes an issue, but we like to keep the real sounds real and the more electronic sounds electronic for a better contrast. I guess you could think of it as the McBLT container – keep the hot side hot and the cold side cold…until you figure out that Styrofoam is bad for the environment.

JH – What is the worst thing about touring for you guys?

JS – Lotto tickets. Days off with nothing to do. Long drives. Waiting.

JH – Do you feel confident enough to headline a tour, or do you still feel more comfortable in an opening role?

JS – Confident in playing sure. It’s just we want to spend some time playing for as many people as possible so they’ll come back when we come through headlining.

JH – What do you want listeners to feel after hearing the new album?

JS – Maybe a few mixed reactions – relaxed, yet challenged / reflective, yet hopeful.

JH – You guys have been around for a while… do you see a blurring off the line between the Christian indie scene and ‘mainstream’ indie?

JS – Again, our music is for everyone. So yeah, I suppose. I think it ought to be just fans of music regardless of belief systems. Because no matter where you go you probably wont totally agree with everything another person thinks, so why shut yourself off from sharing and experiencing?

JH – That seems to be a problem in today’s music scene though, don’t you think?

JS – Yeah, preconceptions from any angle are pretty foolish, yet prevalent. People don’t want to give things an honest chance before forming some sort of opinion about them – but I guess that speaks to much bigger social problem than just music.

JH – Who are some of the artists you guys look up to?

JS – Lots of people for different things. So any list of mine would not be exhaustive. But completely off the top of my head I dig – Neil young, Marvin Gaye, The Verve, The Roots, Brain Wilson, George Harrison, Talib Quali – I have no idea?

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