Ages and Ages Takes Us Inside the Recording of Breathtaking New LP

No one can argue that passion for music is what drives the distinctive Portland-based Ages and Ages. While holding down full-time jobs, the brains behind the operation, Tim Perry and Rob Oberdorfer would meet up twice a week with their drummer and co-producer Evan Railton, to create, experiment, and experience a form of catharsis in the wake of all that is happening in the world. Which, in turn, has led to the release of their highly-anticipated new album, Me You They We. We were able to catch up with Tim Perry and Rob Oberdorfer to talk about their upcoming record and their process which makes them uniquely, Ages and Ages.  

Well, let’s dive right in to how Ages and Ages got started… Portland is in many ways a Mecca for musicians — how did your band get going here? 

Tim: We’d played in bands before and, like you said, there are a lot of musicians and artists here in Portland. And so, we had been doing it for a bit anyway and sort of knew each other as “people in the music scene” and we established a friendship, you know, prior to ever being in a band together. Then when the moment struck…it was like a big group of people that were going through their respective musical break ups that were looking for another serious relationship slash one-night-stand…depending on who you ask. 

Rob: Yeah, this is my rebound band [laughs].

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Tim: Hah, yeah, this is the one we thought would only last a couple of weeks, but somehow we’re still plugging away. 

Coming from different bands, what does the collaborative process look like in regards to songwriting?

Rob: Well, mostly, it’s Tim. Especially the early records. We’ve gotten a bit more collaborative with the last couple, especially in the production process. And because we used to be a seven, eight, or sometimes nine person band, you really have to have somebody leading the way or else it’ll just become a mess with too many cooks in the kitchen.

Tim: It did start with a pure and concise vision and my role was almost more like a choir conductor or parts arranger. In the beginning, there was thematically this vision, like a narrative or a back story. And the irony is that part of that story is that eventually everything is just going to go to shit and get exponentially more confusing and maybe lose direction. Over the course of time, in a way, that’s kind of what happened to us, not that everything went to shit necessarily. But it’s sort of like things became… less cut and dried. And as that started to happen, I think the real, non-rebound aspect of this relationship really started to coalesce and with that, more of a collaborative process, particularly with production. Rob’s talents in the world of production are super strong. A lot of my ideas are maybe a little more floaty, artistic, you know… like, I got these ideas and a vision over here on one side, and then he has a very complementary vision on the other side that enables all these parts to be tied together…

Rob: Our drummer Evan, who joined us in promoting the last record, he was really involved in the whole production process this time, too. He’s a super even-keeled guy, so any time Tim and I  had a different idea for something, he was like this really copacetic middle ground.

I was going to ask, what kind of difficulties do you guys face when decisions aren’t so aligned, and how do you get back to ones that merge well together?

Rob: Put it in Evan’s pocket, he has to deal with it.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.. we call him separately and complain. But no, I think that whole thing, your question about when things to go awry and they become less clear, I think that ends up being just as much a part of any album and I don’t think we’re unique in that. It’s almost more important to harness those moments and that tension, as well… and those contradicting ideas because ultimately what it results in is a record that’s less homogeneous. 

It’s when that struggle is there that actually, in my opinion, forms a more interesting record…but it’s really easy to say after the fact. I think we’ve learned, for the most part, to be respectful at the end of the day. We all definitely respect each other’s tastes and background, even though sometimes we temporarily might not feel like it. It does get heated, you know, but it’s all good and I feel like we’ve always been… We definitely always come out on top. 

You mentioned that the vision has changed over time. How do you think your story has shifted, and what is the vision now for Ages and Ages? 

Rob: The first record was so much about this group of people that’s like, “screw all the haters, let’s just go and do our own thing and not care what other people think about it,” kind of vibe. And as that evolved into what we are now, like a smaller creative entity, it’s become more personal, I guess. I think Tim’s writing has gotten more introspective. 

Tim: I think Rob’s right… the newer stuff is definitely a lot more about personal experiences in the midst of our differences and in the midst of other individuals’ personal experiences, hence “Me You They We” is kind of all those things… 

What kind of statement, if any, is Ages and Ages making with this new album?

Rob: As the music has gotten more introspective, at least in my mind, what this record is centered on is having a more mature, nuanced view of the world and your interaction with it…in the context of some super heavy shit going down, as we all know and see on the news every day. And not only just this polemic “and this is why we fight” kind of thing because that’s a little easy. But, like, how do we get our information, how do we process it, and how do we internalize what we should internalize, and how do we keep our distance when we need it for mental health? That’s kind of the conversation of the record to me. 

Do you feel that a part of this album was essentially your way of processing what’s going on in the world through writing and creating?

Tim: Well, I think when you’re in therapy a lot, you’re digging in and…you’re sort of pulling yourself apart and exposing and just talking essentially, and then you try to sort it all out. And that frankly, that’s usually what I think happens in the artistic process… It’s almost easier to see it when you’re on the outside looking in when you have some distance from it.

I think the song title that captures it the most is “Needle and Thread,” because I feel like there’s a little bit of every song that essentially summarizes the bigger picture for this record for us and the “Needle and Thread” does that too because it basically sums up this question… this process by which we’re all here overlooking our surrounding environment and trying to figure out how to weave ourselves into it and where we belong. And even if we want to weave ourselves into it because some days we don’t, you know, we disengage and other days we are fueled by the idea that we can make a difference. And we hop back-and-forth between these polar opposite feelings sometimes. That, I feel like it’s a common thing that’s addressed from different angles in all the songs. 

Let’s talk a bit more about the recording process for Ages and Ages. You mentioned that you entered recording and production a little differently on this album, how was this process different and what have you learned this time around?

Tim: Well, I can say that in the past, we’ve…dabbled in studios, at the very least, if not completely immersed ourselves in studios. And for a band like us, that can be kind of tough because we definitely have a tight budget. With our last record, the person who helped produce it was sort of comedically unorganized and we essentially had to take the tapes and finish it ourselves and fix a bunch of things. It’s almost unfair to expect somebody else to sit there and watch us, you know… unless they really are our therapist… to watch us extract these ideas and try this thing and try that thing and essentially learn as we go, or as I go, at least for me with my personal relationship with certain instruments that I haven’t played. 

Rob: Both Evan and I have produced records for other people in the past, so we have that kind of tool kit of being able to switch hats and try to be objective and try to see the big picture when, as artists you tend to get caught in the details. That definitely helps, but also the kind of economic thing… we all get paid for some things, but this is not our livelihood, we all have jobs. So, part of that means we have to integrate it with our lives, you know? We can’t go to a studio for a month, but that also means we’re not going to miss our mortgage payment if we don’t put out our record in the next couple of months. So, we really got to think about what we wanted to say and why and how. And that just meant that we got to experiment and try different approaches, conceptually and with different equipment. And we didn’t get stressed because, you know, we weren’t watching the clock. But it’s also just fun; I love sound. And Tim’s passionate about sound, as well. We get to geek out and find things that excite us all and it’s satisfying as a band. 

Tim: When I was a kid, I always thought that bands would go in to the studio and just already know everything they wanted to do, that every song was deliberate and every sound was deliberate, and it was as easy as just going in there and doing what everybody already knew existed or something. And what Rob’s saying is true; the fun part is almost like hearing a sound in your head and having no idea what makes that sound and then combining, you know, like a guitar mix with a keyboard mix with some fucked up pedal. And then putting the amp upstairs and the mic downstairs in the vent, you know what I mean? Like that kind of thing, and that’s super fun and exciting. 

Photos by Joe Bowden

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