You'd think an indie band with a sophomore album that reached No. 7 on the Billboard 200 would be pursued by every major label in the music business. And that's exactly what happened to Los Angeles act Silversun Pickups  after the band's second album, "Swoon," zoomed up the charts following its April 2009 release, on its way to selling 319,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. However, the group had long fostered a strong, organic relationship with the small imprint Dangerbird Records and, as a result, the indie label will also put out the band's next album, "Neck of the Woods," on May 8.
"Why would we leave?" singer/guitarist Brian Aubert asks in response to a query about why Silversun Pickups has stuck with Dangerbird since its 2005 EP, "Pikul." "What [is a major label] going to do -- offer us a helicopter ride? For fuck's sake, that's meaningless to me. When we signed to Dangerbird Records, every band we knew told us what idiots we were. A year later they were all giving us demos to hand to Dangerbird."
The relationship has worked fine so far. Silversun Pickups got their first radio play on the Pikul single "Kissing Families," initially picked up by noncommercial KEXP Seattle. The label's strong push for "Lazy Eye," the third single from the group's 2006 debut, "Carnavas," generated great momentum, sending the song to No. 5 on Billboard's Alternative chart. Prior single "Well Thought Out Twinkles" reached No. 9, and the album has sold 433,000 copies, according to SoundScan. Swoon's "Substitution," "The Royal We" and "Panic Switch" peaked at Nos. 17, 5 and 1, with the lattermost cracking the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 92. Now, new single "Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)" is scaling Alternative, rising 11-10 this week.
Ultimately, though, there hasn't been an overall master plan or marketing strategy behind Silversun Pickups' success.
When it came time to craft "Neck of the Woods" Aubert and his bandmates (bassist Nikki Monninger, drummer Chris Guanlao and keyboardist Joe Lester) had only one aim -- namely, not capitalizing on whatever previously worked.
"There was an actual design to not push these songs into what we think is the Silversun world as we did in the past," Aubert says. "We tried to let them exist in a new place that we don't understand, and hopefully we can catch up with them and try to learn it."
The band spent 10 weeks at a studio in Los Angeles' Topanga Canyon with producer Jacknife Lee writing material that feels like a distant cousin to "Swoon," the gauzy, layered, shoe-gazing style that lingered while the musicians expanded their range into new sonic ideas. The songs tell the story of wanting to belong wherever one exists in the world, whether it's a distant city or Aubert's childhood home, which just happens to be Topanga Canyon.
"Whenever I go to [a different] sort of place, I want so badly to be a part of it," Aubert says, recalling a trip he made to Reykjavik, Iceland, that had a big impact. "I felt, 'I really want to be an Icelander now!' Only you can't be. You're going to be a tourist no matter what. Cut to when we recorded the album, before a lot of the lyrics were finished. We recorded minutes from where I grew up. I found myself wandering the streets of the most familiar place in the world . . . and staring at my old house as if it was Reykjavik, and I couldn't break in."
For fans, Silversun Pickups may be just the opposite -- a group that anyone can "break into," and a musical state of mind in which everyone is welcome. "Bands get a little silly trying to choose audiences and be safe playing shows," Aubert says. "We learned early on to just say 'yes.'"
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