Chicago is just pumping out one great band after another. I have no idea where these guys came from, but I am glad I found them. They are brand new and have a debut EP out now. They are also traveling all over the Midwest playing their tunes for people. They will be in Indianapolis at Birdy’s Bar & Grill for Indy Meets Windy 2, a great concept featuring both local Indianapolis bands and some up and coming Chicago acts. The interview is a long time coming, and I am stoked to sit down with these two. Yes… two. Bradley and Gretchen Bergstrand have a sweet sound, and is one that I can’t stop listening to. They call it “DIY indie-folk”. This is actually a side project of The Palace Flophouse. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Coed Pageant.
I love the name… where did that come from?
Gretchen: We were browsing a store in our town called The I.D.E.A. Store, this really cool place that has all sorts of random, secondhand donated items and trinkets, like art supplies, puzzle pieces, all kinds of odds and ends… and we found a little plastic trophy with those words (Coed Pageant) on it. At the time, we were considering band names and when we stumbled upon it, it became our first choice. It stuck.
Bradley: We later did some research and found out that coed pageants aren’t actually coed. But we decided that ours will be.
You guys have a very soothing sound. It’s something that I could listen to all day and just get lost in the music. Is that on purpose or did that just happen?
Gretchen: (Thinks.) Well, we have many goals as song makers, and weird as it may sound, we do want our music to be listenable. We try to make it something we would enjoy listening to. So perhaps your description of our music as something you “could listen to all day and just get lost in” is an offshoot of that. It’s definitely a good thing!
Bradley: I think for this EP (“Winter Blitz”), we were trying for a specifically full and kind of softer sound that we thought was fitting for winter. I think that probably lends itself to those descriptions. Our new EP which is for spring is a little more straightforward and a little more energetic. I’d like to think you can still listen to it all day, though.
Who writes all of the lyrics?
Gretchen: Bradley and I both write the lyrics together.
Bradley: It was a hard process for me to learn, but we’ve actually gotten pretty good at writing songs together. I think, now, we kind of hold each other accountable and keep each other from just writing “filler” lines when we get stuck somewhere. I definitely feel like writing with Gretchen has improved the quality of my lyrics.
When did you guys get started as a band?
Gretchen: That’s quite a long history. We actually played and recorded some music together back in 2006 just as a one-time thing. Then, in the summer of 2008, we played and recorded again under the name The Sleepers. In 2009 I joined his project The Palace Flophouse, which is still together. It wasn’t until this past fall (2011) that we decided to do another two-person project and eventually called it Coed Pageant (we found The Sleepers band name was already taken and took that as an opportunity to get to try a new band name!)
Bradley: We were getting so flooded with ideas in The Palace Flophouse that we decided we needed another outlet. We started recording without really knowing what we were working on and then it became clear that we were becoming a different band with its own sound – thus was born Coed Pageant.
You consider yourselves “DIY indie-folk”. I think that fits. Where did the DIY come? I like it by the way!
Gretchen: It basically means that we do all the work for our band ourselves… from writing and recording to promoting and everything in between. We take on the roles of not only the band members but also the managers, promoters, and anyone else musicians might have working for them.
Bradley: The whole process of making albums for us is very much do-it-yourself. We record everything in our living room, print CDs in our living room, put together the packaging in our living room. It’s the way we like it. The more involved we are the more rewarding it is in the end.
Where are you guys originally from?
Gretchen: We are both originally from Pittsfield, Illinois.
Tell me more about the kitten.
Gretchen: We got our kitten Smokey last July 5th (in 2011). She is so sweet and so much fun and will likely make future appearances on our recordings. We love her like family.
Bradley: It is an unhealthy amount of love. I think we drive our friends crazy because overnight, we became those people who act like their cat is their child. She has been very adaptable as we’ve transformed her living area into a jungle of drums and amplifiers. She climbs around while we are recording. I think she thinks she’s in the band.
Is it just the two of you?
Bradley: Yes, but we also try to make the most of our talented friends who play instruments we don’t, like woodwinds, brass, and strings. Every track on our “Winter EP” had at least one guest.
You guys recently released an EP. A lot of bands are releasing fewer songs. Is there a reason you chose to produce an EP instead of an album?
Gretchen: With this particular project we had in mind, an album for every season of the year, we knew the most feasible way to produce them so quickly was to make them EPs instead of full albums. Our intention from the beginning was to release four EPs in 2012.
Bradley: I love full-length albums, but I also think EPs are a really accessible length. I think, especially in our position, being a new band releasing a full-length can be a bit overwhelming to people checking us out for the first time.
Speaking of your EP, I love the cover. Where was that picture taken?
Bradley: Chicago. It was taken by our friend Kevin Doellman.
Do you two have jobs outside of music?
Gretchen: Yes. I work at the University of Illinois as an accounting assistant.
Bradley: I am a substitute teacher and a respite care provider, which means that I go on social outings with developmentally challenged young adults. Sometimes I get paid to go bowling.
Your sound is very “coffee shop friendly”. Do you play a lot of coffee shops? I could totally see your EP for sale at Starbucks!
Gretchen: I think we’ve only played one coffee shop, and it was pretty much just for family, but that’s an idea worth exploring for sure.
Bradley: I’ve played several coffee shops. I think it’s kind of intimidating. It’s too bright in coffee shops. I really like the atmosphere though. It can be really rewarding if everyone is focused and you know that it’s not the alcohol that’s making them enjoy you.
Tell me more about The Palace Flophouse?
Gretchen: The Palace Flophouse is a band we are both members of. It’s a full, four-person band. Bradley started it as a solo project and it changed forms a few times before settling into the current lineup in 2009.
Bradley: It’s from a book by John Steinbeck called Cannery Row (and its sequel Sweet Thursday). I’ve always loved it and what it represents. One man’s flophouse is another man’s palace.
People can download your EP for $1. That is insane. Why so cheap?
Gretchen: (Laughs.) Yeah, it is. Honestly, we have had trouble selling our music. I’m sure many artists today would agree with that – especially music artists – because of the way technology has developed in the modern day (MP3s, free streaming, pirating, etc.). Although we would gladly accept more dough for all our hard work and so we can continue making music, at this point we wanted to encourage people to just give our music a try. $1 seemed to be as cheap as we could go, next to completely free, that people would actually give it a chance.
Bradley: It works! Way more people buy it than when you charge $5-$10. I’ve been surprised at how many people have actually gone ahead and paid $5-$10. We have it set up so people can pay what they want, and probably 1 out of 5 people pays more than the minimum.
I love “Park N Ride”. It might be my favorite song on the EP. When you sit down to write a song, do you have the name of the song before you write the lyrics, or does that come later?
Gretchen: The song name always comes later.
Bradley: Yeah, naming songs is hard, sometimes harder than writing the song.
What’s the biggest crowd you guys have ever played for? The smallest?
Gretchen: Coed Pageant has only played two shows, so I suppose the biggest crowd was about 30.
Bradley: The Palace Flophouse has played for 200-300 people a couple times. The smallest crowd TPF ever played for was 1. We were out of town and the local band broke up the day of the show and no one came so it was us playing for one friend of ours who drove over an hour to get there. Oddly, I think we played a pretty good set.
In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the way people absorb music?
Gretchen: The Internet provides a seemingly infinite source of knowledge and a wealth of information; people can find music they never would have even 20 years ago. It seems great. But as far as absorbing that music, unfortunately I think it has made us fickle listeners. Our attention span can’t even last through to the end of a song before we’re on to the next. We’re interested in a band only while it’s novel, and after that we dispose of it for the next new thing that catches our interests, only to trash that when we quickly become bored of it. As with many conveniences developed in the modern day, conveniences do lead to laziness, whether we like to think of it that way or not. By definition, something convenient means something you don’t have to work hard at… the more convenient something is, the easier it is. In my opinion, some of the greatest things that have happened in my life, whether achievements or events or even just a feeling, have happened as a result of hard work. Without the work, you’re at risk of losing the appreciation. I think that has definitely happened in our consumption of music, as well as many other things today. Before the Internet, you wouldn’t have access to as much music, but if you were interested in a band you would go to the store specifically to buy their album. Then you would listen to it in its entirety.
Bradley: It is awesome how much the Internet has done for music’s ability to reach audiences. But I kind of miss the days when I had to save up for an album and even if I hated it, I listened to it all the way through at least twice. Sometimes albums take more than one listen to get into and if you are anything like me, with the world of music at my fingertips it’s hard to get myself to give things an honest second chance. I’m probably missing out on some really good music as a result of it.
Gretchen: Yes, exactly! A more recent example, I remember in college Bradley told me to listen to a band called The Mountain Goats. I didn’t like them at first, but boy am I glad I gave them another chance and became receptive to what they offered. I love them.
Nathan Fry mixed this album. How do you guys know Nathan?
Gretchen: Nathan is also from our hometown of Pittsfield. We went to high school with him.
Bradley: He is the bassist of The Palace Flophouse. I’ve played music with him off and on for the last decade.
Do you have any Coed Pageant merchandise?
Gretchen: At this time we only have CDs. With making four EPs back-to-back, we find ourselves short on time! But eventually we would like to have more merchandise available.
Bradley: I want to make Coed Pageant sashes.
Gretchen: Oh, yes! Fun!
Who are some of your favorite bands?
Gretchen: Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel, Regina Spektor, and Sufjan Stevens.
Bradley: Pavement, Built to Spill and The Mountain Goats are my big three. I think Sufjan Stevens may be my musical hero though.
When you guys travel, who does all your booking?
Gretchen: We do all our booking.
You have a show at Birdy’s Bar & Grill later this month. Have you guys been to Indy before?
Gretchen: Yes, we’ve been there a few times to visit family and played there once on an acoustic The Palace Flophouse micro-tour.
Bradley: The Palace Flophouse played there full band once, too. When I was young my grandparents lived in Indy. Every time I’m there I’m reminded of childhood Christmases, so Indianapolis always gives me an irrationally happy feeling.
I haven’t seen you guys live yet. I plan on being at that Birdy’s show. What can I expect in a live performance?
Gretchen: Our live shows are quite a bit different than our recorded music, since there are just two of us. We don’t commit ourselves to anything for live shows necessarily; we like to be open to changes in our instrumentation from show to show, but you can expect a more bare-bones, intimate version of our music.
Bradley: Expect to be rocked but in a gentle way.
Gretchen: Gently rocked?
Do you ever play cover songs?
Gretchen: Yes, we do occasionally play covers at our live shows.
Bradley: I would like to play a cover at every show. It doesn’t always happen, but I like when it does.
Is that your logo on the top of your Bandcamp page?
Gretchen: It’s an unofficial logo that we made. We will probably eventually reinterpret it.
Bradley: It is a little bit “borrowed” but we’ll eventually get an official one made.
How is home recording different than studio recording?
Gretchen: With home recording you don’t have to pay by the hour, and since we pair the recording and writing processes, that’s an advantage for us. The downside is that sometimes you subconsciously take more time to do something just because you can. And it’s hard to get away from it (to take a break) when it’s always there.
Bradley: I love home recording because we can always be recording. It is probably my favorite part of being a musician so it is much better to have constant access than to have to save up for studio time or work out some sort of agreement. Plus, I think it’s rewarding to not only write and play the music, but also be in control of the recording side.
Gretchen: Yes, production is a whole new world to a regular musician. We definitely feel a little more well-rounded with that experience under our belts. And sometimes you don’t realize how much creativity can go into the producing/recording, so it’s a whole new process of discovering the songs, even when the words and music are mostly written. We love it.
That’s a LOT of books. Is that a library? Please tell me that’s not your living room!
Gretchen: (Laughs.) Yes, it’s a library. Our living room couldn’t fit all those!
Speaking of books, your sound is conducive to reading. Do you read a lot? Just know I am going to listen to you the next time I read!
Gretchen: That’s interesting; we’ve never been told that. I am not a constant reader but I do love it. It’s hard for me to have music or TV on when I’m reading, because I want to follow those stories, too. Classical/instrumental music is the obvious exception.
Bradley: I love reading. I am very picky about what music I can listen to when I read. Let me know how it goes with Coed Pageant.
I am sure I already know the answer to this… but where do you guys practice?
Gretchen: We practice in our living room.
Bradley: We have very understanding neighbors.
Beer or wine?
Gretchen: Well, if it wasn’t for food allergies I’d say both, but instead I must say neither.
Bradley: I had a period where I would go to a wine tasting every week and I got so I could say amateur and probably often inaccurate statements about wine to impress my friends. I have to say that beer is much more versatile, though. Whether at a baseball game, concert, county fair, wedding… beer is never out of place.
What would you be doing if you were not performing?
Gretchen: We would still be writing and recording and releasing albums.
Bradley: I would say record even more. I’d probably write more fiction, too, or at least I tell myself I would.
What does the rest of 2012 look like for you two… got anything big planned?
Gretchen: Yes, as I mentioned before, we will be releasing four EPs in 2012, one for each season. “Winter Blitz” came out on February 10, the spring album will be released on National Record Store Day (on Saturday, April 21), and after that there will be two more to come! We are also planning to do a small tour out east in July and one out west near the end of the year. Lots of plans!
Bradley: We’re really excited to book some more out-of-town shows, and take our EPs on the road. We’re very busy, but a good kind of busy.
When it’s all said and done, what do you want to be remembered for?
Gretchen: Making music that is moving.
Bradley: I suppose that and being a good, sincere person.
Thank you so much for taking the time to sit and talk. In all of the interviews I do, I always give the artist the last word. Go.
Gretchen: Bradley and I have had conversations where we talked about certain songs, albums, or even bands having a season in which they’re best to listen to. This past winter, I guess the discussion went a step further… that it would be cool to make an album specifically for a season; moreover, to make a four-part series, one album for each season of the year. We decided to do it, and thus what became Coed Pageant unfolded. We knew it was a lofty goal, but we hustled to begin work on the winter album, if we were going to attempt to release it before the winter season ended (after all, the whole point is that each album is written especially for each season, to be enjoyed (non exclusively) in that season. To write, record, and release an album within one season certainly requires efficiency, but we have enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and are having a lot of fun with it. It’s the right thing for us to be doing right now. And recording for the spring album is almost done!