bill bodkin speaks with the long-running Asbury Park band …
Last Perfect Thing is a band that has transcended the Asbury Park, N.J., music scene. For those of us in our late 20s and early 30s, we remember them as the local band that remained in constant rotation in our Discman. Their album Hawaii is one that takes us back to our days of dial-up modems and going to sweaty shows at The Stone Pony when we were young. They defined a scene, which at the time, was in its rebuilding stages.
A decade later, as the Asbury Park scene is exploding, the band is still as vital and vibrant, producing music that remains near and dear to our hearts. Their latest album, The Signal, is an electrifyingly immediate record that grabs your by your heart and never lets you go. It’s got the harmony, the fire and it’s chock full of rock ‘n’ roll music that’ll remain in constant rotation on your iPod. And with a new record coming in the near future, Last Perfect Thing is destined to remain an integral part of the Asbury Scene and in our opinion, beyond, that scene for a very long time.
Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin sat down with lead singer Greg Wilkens, drummer Kevin Conroy and guitarist Jeff Teeter to talk about their upcoming Asbury Family Dinner Charity Show at The Saint, their new record and their longevity.
Pop-Break: You guys will perform tonight at The Saint in Asbury Park as as part of your annual Asbury Family Dinner charity event. Can you give us an overview of what the show is all about?
Greg Wilkens: The Thanksgiving Eve is show is something we do every year. The concept is to raise $1,000 for the Food Bank [of Monmouth and Ocean County, N.J.] by 9 p.m. and we invite people to dinner. We fill it up every year — this year we’re eating Greek, courtesy of Global Gourmet. Following that will be Accidental Seabirds on stage followed by From Ghosts and then Last Perfect Thing.
PB: When did you guys start this?
GW: We started doing Thanksgiving Eve over 10 years ago. There were a few years when we didn’t do it, but we’re the longest running yearly Thanksgiving Eve event at The Saint so far. Brown was the band that did it before.
PB: So this is a long running tradition for The Saint?
GW: Yeah, they did it where the same band would perform on Thanksgiving Eve. Brown was the band before us — we took the torch from them. The whole idea [for the Family Dinner concept] was the night was slow for a couple of shows and the donations weren’t there. That’s where I was like I didn’t want to go into something half-heartedly. So I wanted to make a great benefit show, this way we make $1,000 [for the food bank], the rest is pro bono. We pay the sound, the door guy and the money goes to charity. Nobody’s getting a profit, no bands are getting paid. It’s a real deal benefit show.
PB: Can you talk about the other bands involved with the show and why they’re on the bill?
Kevin Conroy: From Ghosts is playing because they’re old friends and former bandmates of Greg — they used to be in Last Perfect Thing 1998-2002. Accidental Seabirds, I have seen them before and they’re good. I know they’re great and worth checking out.
GW: [Accidental Seabirds] They’re a band that’s doing really good things. The singer’s friends with my girlfriend, so that’s how came to meet them. They’re really awesome.
Jeff Teeter: Essentially it’s like a community charity event where all the profits go to charity. The community in music from Asbury is coming in. From Ghosts is practically family to Greg, so you can say you’re bringing your musical family to the family.
PB: Last time I saw you guys was at the record release party for your album The Signal in August at The Stone Pony. There was a lot of raw emotion in the air that night, as it seemed like wounds from the record deal that you had with SPV that fell through seemed to be re-opened. Now losing a deal like that would be a staggering blow for any band. But you guys have brushed yourselves off and have created brand new music. Can you talk about the how the sadness of losing your record deal helped inspire you to create new music?
JT: You can’t really talk about the sadness of a deal from a record company that wanted to sign you but because of the state music industry goes bankrupt. You can’t talk about the sadness from there and how you got creative again. You have to go back to the very beginning — why did we get in to music in the first place? It’s because we’re all musically creative, we’re all close friends, we love touring, playing shows together, recording.
So yeah, it sucked that we weren’t going to have the record label support for the record that took us almost two years to complete. But prior to the record deal, it was all about the music, and that’s what Last Perfect Thing, the name really means — it’s about the music. And unfortunately after SPV didn’t work out, we weren’t going to let down the people who stuck their neck out to record us for two years for next to nothing. This was a great record, a great product, and for it not to be heard it would be a disgrace to them and a disgrace to us who’ve been doing this for coming on 10, 11 years. So it’s more important to do it ourselves and continue to do it ourselves.
[Yet] We recorded The Signal with a different drummer [Chris Donofrio, currently of Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea]. And right when the record deal kinda fell through, our drummer wound up playing with another group. He did take it hard. Bands had been looking at him for a while and then a band picked him up. The thing that helped us the most was that we got a new breath of life with Kevin. He’s a completely different stylistic kind of drummer than Chris on The Signal. And on this new record, you can hear that in the music. It gave us a new found sense of motivation and a new breath that basically helped us take the band and turn it into good.
GW: And that’s where Kevin coming in, he had already done a record at the studio [Big Blue Meenie], was familiar. It was good having good having a guy that knew what he was getting into with the producer and he was really be able to step it from the level we were at. We felt a little stagnant.
PB: Kevin, why join the band?
KC: I liked the music. I had seen the band a few times over the years. I joined the band in 2009 and I saw them at a benefit in October 2008 at The Stone Pony. They played an hour, hour and a half set with a whole bunch of people as guest performers. I just thought the band was great and had for a while. Then later they came at me waving a two and a half week tour in my face. That enticed me big time.
PB: The Signal was such a great album. I was lucky enough to hear a few tracks from the new record before the interview started and I loved those tracks too. What are some things about this new record that stand out, that excite you when you hear it.
JT: Personally, I didn’t think we were going to be able to top The Signal — but we actually did. This record is more aggressive, it shows where the band took another turn. We were all kinda pissed off not being on the road or what happened with the last record. It was, ‘Let’s just do what we do best.’ We’re a great band live, we show a lot of energy live and I think this is the first time where we really tried to put that on record. This record best showcases what we do live. Listening to it people will think ‘I want to see this band live.’ We didn’t do anything crazy or weird, we just made a really great rock record.
KC: This record is definitely more aggressive. I’d also say it’s a little more diverse from song to song. And I don’t mean this in a good or bad way. In my opinion, it’s a little less polished and a little less produced.
GW: In its simplicity it’s funny because I see as it as a mature record than The Signal in that it’s less polished and less produced. Being a band and coming to a producer and saying here’s what we got, we’re going to play our balls off, we’re going to play the song we wrote. And going from there to mix is like you’re a kid on Christmas morning you can’t wait to hear the song. When a band meets a producer and says, ‘We’ve given you what we’ve got,’ and then they [the producer] take it in its simplicity, it definitely has brought another light to the band. I think it’s a good light that I’m definitely enjoying it.
PB: So the recording and writing process was a whole lot different with this record than The Signal?
JT: We made The Signal over a span of three years. There were things we brought to Big Blue Meenie Studios and we actually worked with Tim [Gillis] on arrangements, on sounds, harmonies, melodies, different lyrics things like that.
The new record we just completed and mastered was just — sound check, in the van, in The Hot Dog House [practice room], at Red Bank Rehearsal. It was just shitty, shitty recordings that we’d e-mail each other and driving in your car you’d think of another cool part in your head and then you’d go home and work out. Then you’d bring to rehearsal the next day or Big Blue Meenie on the weekend. You record it and say to Tim our producer this is what it is, we’re done. It was much quicker and effective when we laid down what we liked, get it on tape and not compromise.
The Signal was a long time of us going back and forth between two studios and ideas and songs. This record was what we felt at the time, it was done organically and we put it down on tape and it was what it is. We’ve never done that before, and that’s the best way to go about it. The majority of the record is Kevin, myself and Greg as far as writing goes. It was really cool to see what the three of us could do and I didn’t think we could pull something off like this record. I think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far.
PB: Did Tim Gillis do anything to take the record to another level? Greg, before the interview you had mentioned there was more keyboard on this record than any other record you’ve done before. What did Tim Gillis bring to the table as a producer?
JT: This record has more of a rock element. He brought an organ B3 sound to it. He creates a whole new element for the album. He really took the songs, mixed the hell out of them and gave us a really great sound. But he wasn’t on our backs to come into the studio and rewrite a song.
PB: We heard a new song “Be Alright” that was released on Facebook. So that makes me wonder: What’s the strategy for Last Perfect Thing for this record? What are the immediate plans?
JT: For this record right now, we don’t have an immediate plan. We want to slowly release some songs, see what people think about it and get some more shows under our belt playing these songs live and formulate a plan from there. We are anxious to get it out, but we want to do it the right way, we just don’t want to release and have nobody hear.
GW: You can only listen to it — you can’t download it. There’s so many options with putting your music out there today. The Signal was on CD Baby, this will probably be out on Tune Chord. It’s all about what’s current because the results you see from CD Baby aren’t the results you’re going to see from Tune Chord. For an independent band ,getting your music out there, it’s a lot of Facebook, it’s a lot of ‘so and so has listened to this on Spotify.’ We don’t have that right now, so we are kinda exempt from that. The bottom of the ticker visibility is the kind of thing we need. When this record is released, the frequency of people listening will keep us in a constant light. It’s baby steps, it’s the first album again because the music industry has changed so much. It’s the first album that we’re really going to put out. You can’t just throw it out there.
KC: I’d have to once again agree with Jeff and Greg. We want to take out time, do it right. Find our correct method of attack.
PB: Is there a desire for you to get back out on the road and start touring again?
JT: There always is. But for us, where we are, we’ve got some years and shows under our belt where we’ve booked our own tours with national acts or bands in the same position as us. If we can get the time and the right tour to get out there, if it’s best for Last Perfect Thing, we’ll do the tour. Again, our next plan of attack is — we love this scene, we love this community. I think the best thing for us is to focus on markets that we haven’t been a whole lot effective in. Focusing on D.C., Baltimore, Philly, New York City for a couple of months. Going there and going back and creating a new scene for Last Perfect Thing and building it from there. If we could go to the middle of the country every other month like we used … it sounds great and touring is fun, but it costs us a lot. If we’re doing it on our own we’ve got to do it smart.
PB: You’ve been around for quite some time, and it seems anytime you guys do something in this area, people get excited. What do you think it is about your band that keeps bringing people out to your shows, listening to your music? And what keeps you guys in this band? You’re all coming towards your 30s, well maybe except Kevin, you could easily say, ‘Hey, Last Perfect Thing was a time in my life, it was fun, we did cool stuff, but now it’s time to move on.’
GW: I love getting on stage and playing with these motherfuckers more than anything. Every time we do it, I think we do it better. That is what really keeps it going. Getting in front of people, getting the energy up. We sell three CDs, great. If you got on stage, you played some fucking rock ‘n’ roll, you’re sweating and leaving it on stage — that’s what we do and that’s why I’ll always continue to feel that way.
JT: I think a while ago, we were very concerned what our perception was like in this particular music scene. I wouldn’t want to do detach ourselves from this scene at all, but I think lately we just don’t care what other people think of us. We’ve been doing this from this long and we’re making the music for ourselves first and foremost, it’s what we’re good at. This is why I’m still creatively in this band — we’re musicians and we’re friends first and foremost. It’s the only thing we know how to do well and we enjoy doing it, so it’s for us first and foremost. And then when we look at the people who are still supporting us — that’s a huge add-on. They still come to see you, they still sing the old sings and they still buy the new ones that’s where we’re you’re like, ‘Why would we stop? Why would we?’ And we won’t.
KC: For me, I think what keeps people interested is having a familiar name and familiar faces but also having obviously good music and an evolving sound. I remember seeing Last Perfect Thing eight years ago when I was 15 at a matinee show. And then I remember seeing them four years ago. I look at those points, before I was involved in any way, I think that’s what holds people interest — the evolution. Whether it’s a result of the changing of what’s going on with the band members or the changing of bad members or just the world changing around us as corny and cliche as that sounds. For me personally, that’s a big part of it.
JT: The people may have evolved and the music definitely evolves around that, but I think the main focus of what the band does and our general general drive to make rock music has not changed one bit. There’s not a song we’ve made where we look back and go, ‘What the hell were we thinking.’ We’re not that band. We’re pretty solid and consistent with what we’ve done.
GW: The chore now is not too over think it’s just to play. It’s hard to learn because you want to be in control of every aspect but it’s hard because there’s just so much. It’s our job now to not over think it’s just do what it is we like to do. We just really need to get out there and play.