Music Interview: Nikki Monninger of Silversun Pickups

By Jacob Schneider

The unavoidable comparison that Silversun Pickups is constantly faced with is to that of the once adored ‘90s alternative rock outfit, The Smashing Pumpkins. When the single “Lazy Eye,” from their first full-length album, Carnavas, started picking up healthy rotation on commercial radio, fans and critics alike were quick to point out similarities between SSPU’s style of shoegaze alternarock and that of the Gish/Siamese Dream era Pumpkins. But since the release of Swoon in April of ’09, it has become apparent that the Corgan influence – while still present – has taken a backseat; nervous energy and haunting melodies run prevalent throughout the album as Joe Lester’s keys masterfully blend with layers of Brian Aubert’s atmospheric guitar work. Riding high on the chart placement of recent singles “Panic Switch” and “Substitution,” SSPU continues to tour on the success of Swoon, rather than focusing on new material. The Post recently had the opportunity to speak with Nikki Monninger (bass) about The Smashing Pumpkins, playing unplugged, and why the band isn’t even thinking about their next album.

The Post: Silversun Pickups has been on the road almost non-stop since the release of Swoon last April. Have there been any internal discussions about what the next year holds for the band?

Nikki Monninger: Well, we’re going to do this tour with Against Me! and The Henry Clay People for what I believe all together is about six weeks, then I think there is a little time off, and then we’ll go to Australia for a little bit. Then I don’t know. Everything is just getting worked out right now, so I don’t actually know what we are doing for the whole rest of the year, but those are our next two things.

Post: So there are no immediate plans to get back in the studio to record a follow up to Swoon?

Monninger: Ah, no. I imagine we will be touring until the end of the year. After that we’ll just see. We keep getting these good support tours, and now we’re doing our headlining tour. We keep coming up on these nice tours, so we want to continue while things are going well.

Post: In another interview lead singer, Brian Aubert said that touring was “not inspiring,” and that “you really have to reconnect with everyday life to write songs.” Does this mean that writing songs on the road is not an option for this band?

Monninger: Yeah. Because we are so busy doing interviews and acoustic sets, and playing the actual show, we don’t have a lot of downtime to think about songs. We’re not Bon Jovi. We’re not doing “[Wanted] Dead or Alive” or something. But we just like to go home, relax, and you know, live life for a little bit before we start writing again.

Post: It sounds like the Swoon recording sessions took place during a heavily focused period of time for the band. Is that how you intend to work on the next album, in the moment so to speak?

Monninger: Yeah, it was great the way we were able to record everything and just concentrate on recording. On Carnavas we’d record a song, then go on tour, and then we would record a little more, then go on tour. It just kind of got difficult to keep everyone focused when we had all these tour dates to do as well. It’s much easier when you can just sit down and just think about what you are recording instead of thinking about doing a live show the next day, or the next week. It’s much easier for us to just concentrate on recording, just doing one thing at a time.

Post: In the past year the band has done acoustic performances for MTV and Spin Magazine. Could Silversun Pickups ever embark on an acoustic tour in small, intimate theaters?

Monninger: Yeah, I think that that definitely inspired us to think about that, and at some point it would be great to do. We probably couldn’t do a full tour with the whole orchestra, because it can be quite expensive. If we could do a few special shows, we would love to do that. And that “[MTV] Unplugged” show really sparked our interest in playing live with an orchestra. Hopefully we’ll get to do that some point this year.

Post: The comparisons to Smashing Pumpkins have been constant for some time now. Is it safe to say that you have embraced it at this point?

Monninger: Yeah, I think we have always embraced it. I think that Smashing
Pumpkins were a great band, so it’s nice. We didn’t feel offended at all that people were comparing. Everyone has to be compared to something. I think that we are comfortable enough in our own music that we don’t feel threatened by being compared to another band. And we like Smashing Pumpkins, especially their early stuff. We see it as a compliment.

Post: Silversun Pickups is based out of Los Angeles, and Billy Corgan is known to frequent the area. Have you had any run-ins with the lone Pumpkin?

Monninger: Yeah, I’ve only actually met him once. We were at the same restaurant for Sunday brunch, so I introduced myself and told him we were fans of his. He was very nice, and I was happy to finally meet him, and just on a regular circumstance.

Post: Did Corgan then give SSPU a ringing endorsement?

Monninger: Well, in the beginning we were very flattered because on the Smashing Pumpkins’ [web]site they had a section where they recommended bands, and at one point we were one of the bands they recommended. So yeah, we were stoked on that.

Post: Okay, indulge us. If Carnavas is SSPU’s Gish, and Swoon is SSPU’s Siamese Dream, would you like to do something as grandiose as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness for the next LP?

Monninger: Well I don’t know. [Adopts slightly angry/annoyed tone while speaking at me] You know right at this point we are not even thinking about the next album. We’re still, you know, definitely in this Swoon live mode, so we’ll just see what happens. I don’t want to speculate.

Post: Not too long ago I had a conversation with Jeff Castelaz, owner Dangerbird Records, and he described himself as the “luckiest guy on earth” for signing SSPU before anyone else. What’s it like being on the Dangerbird roster?

Monninger: It’s been nice being on a small label because they put us as a priority. I feel like if we had been on a bigger label that we might have been, you know, lost in the mix of other bigger bands. They really took a lot of time with us and put a lot of effort into promoting us. I really feel like it paid off. We worked really hard and toured for years. I think it was just a nice collaboration between us and them. I think that maybe if we had been on a bigger label they wouldn’t have spent so much time on us and we may have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Post: Castelaz also mentioned that two members of Silversun Pickups were working at record labels before the band signed to Dangerbird, and that these labels had no expressed interest in signing the band. What’s the story there?

Monninger: Oh, yeah, I think it was just me. I always worked in music videos. I worked for years at Warner Brothers, and at Epic Records for a little while. Most recently at Rhino Entertainment I worked on DVD production. Everyone has been very supportive that I’ve worked for, which I am grateful for, because it’s very hard to have a full time job and to be in a band. But yeah, people from the label would always come to the shows, but no we were never signed by a larger label. I’m really happy that we were able to get together with Dangerbird, because it’s a good fit. Actually, I worked on music video at Warner, and that’s how I met Jeff [Castelaz] from Dangerbird. He was managing a band, Citizen…?

Post: Citizen King?

Monninger: Yes, Citizen King from Milwaukee. That’s how I met him, because he was their manager while we were working on the music video for them.

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