Julian Beel and Mike Lande are the East Williamsburg-based Happy Lives, and today they are working on new singles and still focusing on playing as many venues and shows as possible around the five boroughs and beyond.
While Landee live-records all of his songs in a recording studio in the neighborhood, Beel breaks down the beats into samples and helps mix for their live performances.
Today they are pushing their newest single, “Feeling Right,” about “two kids going out on a date,” as Landee explains, and also preparing to release “Escalade.”
I had a chance to sit down with the duo last week at La Gringa, located at 800 Grand St., just blocks from their recording studio, to discuss their band and the success they have found playing throughout the city.
Where are you guys from?
Mike: He’s from New York and I’m from right outside of Boston.
Julian: I grew up in Midtown.
How did you guys start Happy Lives?
Julian: At NYU.
Mike: We didn’t start playing together until a little after we graduated. We were in a different band before that called Condom Pocket, and it was good, but the level of musicianship got too needy for what the band wanted to be and then I made Happy Lives. It started off on a computer. And then I brought Julian in to help with the live show.
Julian: He sent me a demo of “Slacks and Slippers” and as soon as I heard that I really wanted it.
What was the sound that you heard that really made you want to do this project?
Julian: I guess it was the catchiness of it and the intensity.
What were you doing before he sent that to you?
Julian: I was actually studying Pre-Med, so I left basically.
Mike: It’s probably also safe to say that you didn’t like it too much?
Julian: Yeah I also hated it, but it sounds a lot cooler if I dropped out of Pre-Med.
What are your influences?
Mike: It would definitely have to begin when I was younger, but it’s hard to say specific bands because it’s usually one song or two off a collection. It’s hard to name specific bands.
What about for you (Julian)?
Julian: I just got hugely into Nine Inch Nails. As soon as I heard them, I immediately changed my life. That was more growing up, but more recently I’ve been more into John Maus and Big Black Delta.
Mike: Julian’s much more industrial-minded. Straight ideas, industrial, heavy sounds.
So what do you do in the band?
Julian: Mike writes all the songs and I’m basically the live engineer. I get the master files and split them up into different clips and figure out how we’re going to pull it off live.
How do you explain what’s happening in this type of music scene?
Mike: I was thinking about that yesterday. I felt very weighted down by it before, but I’m starting to feel mobilized by it. It’s so reverential to all old forms of music as well as using electronic and software to do new things, so you end up with this collage. I feel like art always has collages, if you look at it that way, but right now with music more than anything it’s so involved in that and very true to its collage nature.
Is that kind of what you guys do in your music?
Mike: Yeah, I just get bored of doing one thing. When you have a bunch of songs, you have to play them so many times, and it’s good, but then it gets tiring, so it’s good to have different things to play.
Julian: It’s also hard to break out of that. People start to expect things from you.,I guess we wanted to make sure we came across diverse in the beginning so that would happen, but then if it does happen then it’s ok.
Do you have jobs?
Julian: I work for a journalist professor.
Mike: I’m a private tutor.
What do you teach?
Mike: Middle school and high school. Math and drums are the best.
What instruments do you play?
Mike: When Julian says that I write the stuff, I record everything. I play everything live.
What is a typical recording session like?
Mike: I lock myself in a room and just go with it. Most of it is horrible, like I want to die, but then some of it you find that it just kind of works. It’s in the textures, you know?
What instruments do you have laying around?
Mike: Guitars, acoustic drums, drum machines, midi and singing. I feel like the most important part of a song is drums and voice.
Where do you see this band going?
Mike: Everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.
So the trend is not to record albums, but just a bunch of singles. Is that kind of what you guys are doing right now?
Julian: That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Mike: That’s exactly where we’re at.
Julian: We’ve decided we want to focus more on the singles with some sort of video component, but maybe not a full-fledged video and storyline, but something to go with it.
Mike: The more of that we can do the better.
Why do you think groups are focusing on songs versus putting out an album?
Mike: The albums started in the 60’s back in the single era. Why did it happen back then?
Julian: Albums really only came to exist because they were something you could sell to people. So if the singles would sell then you could charge them more so you throw in some other songs they won’t like as much. Now, nobody’s buying albums anymore.
Mike: You’re calling them albums, but they’re tools of the capitalistic agenda. So, it’s good that they’re gone.
Julian: They don’t really work for us either because when we put two songs, like “Feeling Right” or this new one we’re working on, “Escalade”, on the same record because they don’t belong together.
Where do you find most of your influences when you’re writing these songs?
Mike: From everything. I’ve been influenced by this street (Grand Street) a lot. It’s the road I walk on to get to the space.
Do you feel like this neighborhood is still bringing in new groups?
Mike: Yeah, tons. We’ve been doing this for a year and a half now, with this band, but in this one-mile radius, how many bands have we played with? I don’t know, so many. I kind of think that is one of the detriments of the musicians, like when we go to Philly or Baltimore, there’s not so many places to go, people come out because they know there is somewhere to go, whereas here it’s different. Plus there are like 30 places around here that sell alcohol so they don’t have to charge a cover.
Where is your favorite place to play?
Mike: I don’t have a favorite, but Julian’s going to say Philadelphia.
Mike: It also has a romantic charm, but I wouldn’t go to Philly.
Check out Happy Lives and their most recent single, “Feeling Right,” on Facebook at facebook.com/happylives or on Band Camp at happylives.bandcamp.com. The band will play Spike Hill, 186 Bedford Ave., on August 17 at 11 p.m.