Silversun Pickups' Joe Lester on Growing Up in Indio, Sampling, and Better Nature

No rock song this millennium has balanced six minutes of bliss and angst quite like Silversun Pickups' "Lazy Eye." The 2007 track made the rounds on virtually every late-night talk show and rock radio station, and follow-up hits such as "Well Thought Out Twinkles" and "Panic Switch," with their droning guitars and quiet-loud-quiet vocals, kept the L.A. band in demand and headlining festivals.

"Smaller shows with everyone so close together are easier to get into."

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Silversun Pickups keyboardist Joe Lester grew up in the desert of Indio, California, the site of what's now one of the biggest music festivals, Coachella. "When I was growing up, there was nothing there," he remembers. "Then these two brothers opened up an all-ages club where I could see all these great early-'90s indie-rock bands, like Unwound, and I learned music wasn't just the Beatles." Lester moved west to Los Angeles when he was 18 and joined the indie-rock trio Pine Marten. In 2002, he got a call from singer/guitarist Brian Aubert, bassist Nikki Monninger, and drummer Christopher Guanlao to join Silversun Pickups.

"I played bass with Pine Marten, but all three of us also played keys, so I was able to fit right in," Lester says, though his role also expands to what the band obliquely defines as "sounds." He explains, "We like to add weird samples from other records. And Brian and I enjoyed the idea of not knowing what was guitar and what was keys. We strayed away from that on this record. For this album, we wanted all the instruments to sound distinct."

That new record, Better Nature, features major differences beyond the fact that, for the first time, songs clock in at less than four minutes. For instance, to promote its release this past fall, they shot a downright cinematic video for the first single, "Nightlight."

"We'd much rather leave the video in the hands of someone with a specific vision," says Lester, referring to director Mark Pellington, who also worked on U2's "One" and Pearl Jam's "Jeremy." "We've done enough performance videos, so it was fun to have a minimovie. Somehow he shot it for only $12,000."

Though their last stop in South Florida in 2010 saw them playing the amphitheater at Sunset Cove, six years later, they've downsized to smaller clubs like Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room, where they'll perform this Friday. According to Lester, the band is more than cool with playing intimate venues: "We'll play wherever you put us, but honestly, smaller shows with everyone so close together are easier to get into."

Silversun Pickups
7:30 p.m. Friday, January 8, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $28 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074.

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David Rolland is a freelance writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach and Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland