Silversun Pickups - Biography
When a new band is likened to a popular band from the past, it can help them as much as it can hurt them. Plenty of people want to hear new music that sounds like the music they already love. Camera Obscura, for instance, have benefited from their inescapable comparisons to Belle and Sebastian; after carrying that burden with grace for three albums, Camera Obscura actually outgrew it on their fourth. The Silversun Pickups, on the other hand, are two albums in and are still struggling with their Smashing Pumpkins parallels — besides sounding similar, they bear the same initials and feature a female bassist. Silversun Pickups arrived at a time when industry insiders were predicting a “1990s rock revival,” and so the comparison was pretty much forced upon the California quartet. Although critics have grown a little impatient with Silversun Pickups for the similarities, it’s clear that the band’s fanbase currently outnumbers Smashing Pumpkins fans. Their recently-released second album has given them the best sales week of their career.
Silversun Pickups formed in Silver Lake, a district of Los Angeles, in 2003. Brian Aubert (vocals, guitar) and Nikki Monninger (bass) met on a plane and eventually became roommates, sharing a space at the corner of Sunset and Silver Lake Boulevards. Aubert came to know Christopher Guanlao (drums) and Joe Lester (keyboards) through mutual friends. After Aubert quit his old band and Monninger learned to play the bass, the duo started cooking up song ideas together and soon welcomed Guanlao and Lester to join them. The Silver Lake area provided A Couple of Couples (their original moniker) with the perfect place to grow as a band, and the group took advantage of clubs like the Silverlake Lounge and Spaceland. The group changed their name to Silversun Pickups in honor of Silversun Liquor — a store that was walking distance from their home.
The Spaceland gigs kept the group so busy that they barely had any time to practice or come up with new ideas. Upon hearing a fan-recorded bootleg tape of one of the Pickups’ performances, Aubert (who thought the recording sounded terrible) decided his band had better start making their own recordings. After a period of giving away their handmade demos, the professionally recorded Pikul (2005 Dangerbird) was issued on the LA-based Dangerbird label on July 26, 2005. The six-song EP features contributions from Silverlake-based cellist and vocalist Tanya Haden (now the wife of actor/comedian Jack Black). Already, the Smashing Pumpkins comparisons were everywhere, whether reviewers were talking about Aubert’s nasal shriek or his layered guitar sound. For the rest of 2005 and well into the following year, the group promoted their EP by accepting supporting slots with Brendan Benson, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Two Gallants, and Dead Meadow. From January to April of 2006, the group was in and out of studios in Hollywood and Echo Park with producer Dave Cooley (Smash Mouth, Citizen King), working on their debut full-length.
Released on July 25, 2006 (13 days after the band was featured as SPIN magazine’s Artist of the Day), Carnavas (2006 Dangerbird) officially broke Silversun Pickups in the US The album, bolstered by the hit singles “Lazy Eye” and “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” reached number 80 on the Billboard 200 in 2007. In addition to the chart success, reviews of the album were generally warm. It received positive write-ups from Rolling Stone, Sputnik Music, All Music Guide, NME, and more. If critics found one fault that permeated the entire affair, it was Aubert’s lyrics. Most critics either addressed Aubert’s confusing lines or left the subject of lyrics out of their reviews completely. While it was a near-impossibility to read a review that did not mention Smashing Pumpkins, the Pickups were being likened to other bands as well, including Placebo, My Bloody Valentine, and The Get Up Kids.
The rest of 2006 found the band touring restlessly in North America, sharing dates with Snow Patrol and OK Go. They appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Last Call with Carson Daly. The North American leg of their tour lasted until mid-2007, and then it was off to Europe and Australia. After about three more weeks of shows in the US, the group finished up 2007 with a gig in Atlanta before disappearing from the circuit for three months. March saw a few live dates from the band, but after that, they went on another break before reconvening in July to record their second album. Between July of 2008 and February of 2009, the band, again teaming up with Dave Cooley, recorded in as many as four studios.
Swoon (2009 Dangerbird), was released on April 14, 2009. Many critics who praised Carnavas were less easy on the band this time around. That first album had been viewed as an impressive debut by a promising band and so it was expected that the Pickups would up the ante with their follow-up. However, Swoon did little to distance the band from their Smashing Pumpkins comparability and publications from All Music Guide to Pitchfork to PopMatters gave the album less enthusiastic write-ups than they’d bestowed on its predecessor. Critical responses aside, the LP out-performed Carnavas on the charts, rising all the way up to number seven on the Billboard 200. The album’s single, “Panic Switch,” hit number one on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The Silversun Pickups’ first performance following the release of Swoon was a spot at the Coachella music festival, which was followed by a European tour beginning in June of 2009. In 2012 the band released their thrid record, Neck Of The Woods.