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Interview: Kunal Prakash of Silver Synthetic

Silver Synthetic
19 May 2021

There’s an easy, breezy, West Coast casualness to the songs Chris Lyons didn’t feel were a good fit for his New Orleans garage punk band, Bottomfeeders So, in 2017, with drummer Lucas Bogner in tow, Lyons enlisted friends Kunal Prakash (JEFF the Brotherhood) and Pete Campanelli to bring the songs to life. After settling on the name Silver Synthetic in 2018 and recording in 2019, the band signed with Jack White’s Third Man Records label in early 2020. Like so many others, thanks to the pandemic, Silver Synthetic’s debut full-length was delayed by nearly a year, finally hitting shelves and streaming services this April.

While the band waits for tour dates to start showing up on calendars, Prakash joined a Zoom call to share more info about the band’s origin, how the sound comes together, and what the scene is currently like in New Orleans.

When did this feel like it was turning from a couple of guys getting together to play music to something that needed a name?

KUNAL: We started playing together in the summer of 2017 and we didn’t play a show until like fall of 2018. Part of that was because no one could agree on what to call the band. In the months leading up to that show, people in town knew we were working on something and that we were stoked about it and people had even asked us to open shows. The time would come and pass because we didn’t have a name for the damn project. I think we knew fairly quickly that it was something that was more than just jamming with your buddies because Chris’s songs are super solid. Once we were familiar with them, it sounded like a band, it didn’t sound like four dudes that are just playing the same song.

In the early days, before there was a name, was it referred to as “Chris’s Project”?

KUNAL: Kind of (laughs). “Chris and the Boys” We would practice and then go out and get a drink afterwards. I had a notebook full of ideas for names for the band. I think Chris had said Silver Synthetic for a band name pretty early on but we were like, “I don’t know. That sounds like an oil change.” I had been on tour with JEFF the Brotherhood for 6 weeks and someone asked us to play a show for this record store’s opening party and Chris was like, “What should we call it?” and I was like, “I don’t give a shit, man. Let’s just play a show.” I was in Atlanta, I had been away from home for so long, “Just call it whatever you want. It’s mostly your songs anyway, so let’s just do it.”

The band’s sound has been compared to everybody from Television to Lou Reed to T-Rex. While I’m not a huge Grateful Dead fan, I’m betting there’s somebody in the band who is. Is the sound a collection of the influences each of you bring to the band?

KUNAL: I think all that stuff seeps in, all the records that we have. I think we wear those influences pretty genuinely and pretty earnestly on our sleeves as we write or as we perform. But when it came down to making the record, it wasn’t so much referencing any one particular of those artists as much as more of a character to the sound that we wanted. We wanted the guitars to be pretty clean, for the most part, not a ton of weird reverb obscuring the vocals, we wanted it to be very precise and clear. “Clarity” was the watch word for the recording process. Writing, sometimes we definitely throw around those bands. It’s just a kind of shorthand, when Chris is like, “I don’t know what this guitar part should do,” it’s like, “Oh, try doing a Jerry Garcia thing.” It’s just a way of being like, “Do a noodly thing” or “Just do a bad-ass-in-a-leather-jacket Keith Richards guitar thing.” That’s a lot easier than me explaining, “You should play the guitar in exactly this way.” Conjure up the image and you can run with it.

The record does sound clean, like something out of my parents record collection. It could have come out in the ’60s or ’70s. Even the album cover has that feel, I feel like I can look at the cover and know what your album is going to sound like.

KUNAL: Certainly, with the art work, that was more of a conscious trying to make it look kind of classic in a way but not kitschy retro, not big, bubbly ’70s font, but something that evokes a certain era of rock and roll and AOR type music production. And, I think we got that or at least pretty close to it.

Silver Synthetic Album Cover

The record sounds like it was fun to make. It doesn’t sound like you spent days on end trying to perfect every note or that there was any studio drama.

KUNAL: It was definitely fun, we did it at Chris’s house. Our friend Ross Farbe, who plays in a band here called Video Age, recorded it. I think everyone had worked with him in the past so it was super comfortable working with him. We were all used to hanging out at Chris’s house, we’d meet up there and watch Saints games so that sort of comfort level was really nice. In the process of making any record, there’s frustrating parts, whether that’s like if someone disagrees with the way something should go or even me doing my own part and being like, “Damn, why can’t I get this guitar part right? I’ve done it a million times.” It was fun and it was a good respite, I think all of us, at the time, were working day jobs so we all took time off from work. It was like this vacation where we were working creatively together and it felt really good to do that.

I picked up the album for $15. The price point was perfect, for a new record $15 isn’t too much of a gamble. If it had been $20 or $25, I might have thought more about it. I’m not sure if the store set the price or if you – or the label – kept it affordable in hopes of moving more copies.

KUNAL: We don’t really have much control over that but I’m always happy to make stuff as affordable as possible for people. With records, it’s easy to get carried away and make some sort of cork-sniffing type product that’s really expensive and inaccessible to people. I’m just happy that it seems like a reasonable price to you and to others. That’s all from the record label side of things.

My one disappointment is that you didn’t include a “Thank You” list on the record.

KUNAL: (laughs) I think we talked about it a little bit but once we had the lyrics and the credits and stuff, it started to feel like a little too much. And, for the first time around, maybe make it more simple and just presenting the band and not including all this other stuff about thanking my mom. In the future, that’s all part of the record-making process, making the inserts and liner notes that I often forget about until someone says, “You have to have this done in a week.” And you’re like, “Um, okay. What are the words to that song again?” It happens really quickly but I’ll note that for the next time around.

Did the pandemic put a break on the band’s activity? Or, did you use the time to write music?

KUNAL: We played our last show on Mardi Gras weekend, 2020, so that would have been late February. Then we were lining things up, we were supposed to go to SXSW and then do a little tour out to the West Coast in April or May. Obviously, all that fell apart. We’ve been lucky, us and our families have all been healthy so that’s been great.

In terms of working on stuff, the record was done. We recorded the record in April 2019 and then mixed it later that summer and then worked out our relationship with Third Man Records in early 2020, so that’s when we delivered it to them. Musically, we didn’t work on this record in 2020. We did lots and lots of stuff about artwork, putting other things in place, getting bios together, taking pictures. After the first few months, after it felt kind of safe to be around each other a little bit wearing masks and stuff, we got together and worked on some new stuff. We demoed a handful of songs and tried to keep meeting up every week or two to play, just to keep the blood flowing in the band. 2020 kneecapped the band just like it did every other band, every other person on the planet. For a new band that was excited about putting out our first album, it was a huge bummer.

Had you put out the album in February 2020, it would have been a lot worse because you wouldn’t have been able to go out and promote it and play shows. At least by putting it out in 2021, there is light at the end of the tunnel and promotion can pick up and then maybe play some shows.

KUNAL: Originally, we talked about getting the record out in April or May of last year. Then we kept talking with people we were working with and we were like, “So, maybe we should try July?” And then July rolled around and we were like, “Maybe by October it’ll be okay.” And then it was like, at this point let’s just wait until the Spring again.

There are shows starting to be announced now and we’re starting to book some stuff. It’s pretty difficult, things seem to be picking up for booking into 2022. The only thing that’s complicated is there’s so much stuff that’s on the books from 2020 that got postponed to 2021, that’s getting further postponed to 2022, so there’s this traffic jam in the booking shows end of things, especially if you’re a band like us that nobody’s ever heard of.

New Orleans is mainly known for Jazz. I don’t think of it as a hotbed for up-and-coming rock bands.

KUNAL: The overarching music in this city is all sort of Jazz influenced which is super cool and it also means there’s a ton of insanely talented people which is great when we’re a rock band and are like, “Damn, it would be cool to have a saxophone solo,” and you throw a rock and you find a sax player.

There’s certainly a pretty healthy underground that has nothing to do with music that you’d traditionally associate with New Orleans music. It hasn’t gotten the attention that Nashville got about 10 years ago with JEFF the Brotherhood and Jack White and Black Keys and it becoming a rock town. I don’t think that’s happened here yet but there’s tons of bands. There’s a healthy underground of punk stuff and hip-hop, like really weird hip-hop stuff, and there’s an Americana/country thing that has a healthy community here as well.

You put out an EP first. Was that a way to introduce people to the band?

KUNAL: There’s a couple of motivations behind it. We made 10 songs when we made the record and after talking through it with some folks at Third Man, we sort of figured out that it flowed better as an album by pulling two songs from it. And then we had two songs that we could do something with. We thought, “Maybe it’s a bonus 7”?” Then the pandemic hit and we were trying to figure out some way to keep some steam and momentum behind the band so that was the plan we cooked up with Third Man. We can take these two songs that are like B-sides to the album and make this 4-song EP that has those two songs and two songs from the album so it’s like a little appetizer to introduce people to the band.

You knew that pulling two songs wouldn’t affect the overall flow. How do you decide the track order?

KUNAL: With this one, there were a couple of obvious choices, like, the first and last tracks … the first track is literally called “In the Beginning” and the last track is “On the Way Home.” There were those bookends that made sense and then we played around with the middle of it. There’s some general theories, like you can work light to dark or dark to light, or you want to mix and match stuff. I think we wanted that first song and then keep the energy up for the first half of the record and then have it chill out and then get a little darker and weirder in the middle and then get really comfortable and cozy towards the end. The last song on the first side and the first song on the second side, we normally play those back to back live and there’s an ending and a transition with feedback and stuff. Digitally, that sort of happens but it definitely doesn’t happen when you’re listening to it on record. But, I think we all wanted to group those songs together so, at least digitally, you get that thing. Maybe when we get to play live, people will be like “Oh, that’s how it sounds on the record, one songs bleeds into the next.”

How would you like to deliver this music live? Do you have a dream scenario?

KUNAL: At this point, I’d be happy to play anywhere for anybody. Outdoors would be great, I love it all. Any scenario is going to influence how we play and how people vibe out. The day our record came out, we set up a generator in a park here and played outside. There were people laying the grass and little kids and dogs and stuff and it was super fun. It would be great to play one of those outdoor shed/amphitheater things. We’re far from big enough to do something like that but outdoor stuff would be great. But we also haven’t played a show in a dirty rock club in a really long time which has it’s own charms and it’s own special energy too.

Does being on Third Man Records add to the aura of the band? When I was in college and Nirvana broke, I bought everything that SubPop released, often without ever hearing a note.

KUNAL: We can tell a little bit. I think they certainly have some of that going on because Jack has made so many awesome records and has a huge fanbase. But, also, the label has been doing stuff for a little over 10 years and they’ve put out so much cool shit and it always looks really good and sounds really good so I think they certainly have a reputation and people pay attention to it. They also do the subscription-based stuff so people literally get whatever they put out. I think, for us, we can tell a little bit of that influence or cachet, definitely from social media where people who are following our accounts and commenting on stuff. It’s like, “Oh, they’re big fans of Jack or big fans of some certain band that did something with Third Man in the past and they sort of pay attention to whatever Third Man does.”