The Persian Leaps discuss the latest album, the next phase of the band and what’s next

The Persian Leaps began as a musical project for Minneapolis singer/musician Drew Forsberg, who after years of writing music independently, assembled a full band in 2012.  The band has been praised by fans and critics alike for their catchy melodies, harmonies and hooks, as well as their classic power-trio punch!  Influenced by The Smiths, Guided By Voices and Teenage Fanclub, The Posies and Sugar, the band has stuck to a yearly schedule of releases.  They have released 5 EPs, each totaling 15 minutes or less, over the course of 5 years, with last year’s EP Bicycle Face ending that phase of the band.  The band released their first full length album, Pop That Goes Crunch, on October 12th of this yearThe album is an 18-song “best of” anthology that contains 17 remixed and remastered tracks and one new single, “Time Slips”, that gives a taste of what’s to come for the band.  The album marks the end of an era for the band, the end of yearly EP releases in favor of a new phase.  Staff writer Emily May spoke recently via email with Forsberg and discussed the new album, the next phase of the band and what’s next.  You can stay up-to-date with the band, watch their videos and stream and purchase their music via the following links- Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, iTunes/Apple Music.  Check out the video below for “Even Less” from the band’s 5th EP Bicycle Face.  You can check out their latest single “Time Slips” by clicking on the Bandcamp link!  Photo credit: Drew Johnson

You’re about to release your first full-length album, Pop That Goes Crunch, which is an 18-song “best of” anthology with one brand new single that you recently released, “Time Slips”. What inspired the idea to release an anthology? What led to the decision to have your first full-length be a “best of” anthology, rather than an album of new songs?

Pop That Goes Crunch really marks the end of an era for the band. (Persian Leaps 2.0, if you will, with 1.0 being the years I spent writing and recording songs by myself on a 4-track in my bedroom.). We haven’t talked about it publicly that much, but in the spring of 2017, we decided that our fifth EP, Bicycle Face, would be our last release as a full, live band. It was all very amicable– we’re still friends. One of our members was getting too busy with family to participate anymore, and I was feeling very burned out on playing live and trying to be part of the Minneapolis music scene. So we decided we’d play our release show in September 2017 and then disband after that, with me taking the Persian Leaps back to its roots as a solo/studio project (Persian Leaps 3.0).

Even before that decision, I was considering some kind of anthology as a way to pull together the best material from our previous releases into one convenient package. It’s more of a “Catching Up With…” album than a “Greatest Hits” package. Also, it’s structured like one of our live setlists rather than chronologically. If you haven’t listened to us before now and are overwhelmed by choosing between five EPs for a starting point, just pick up Pop That Goes Crunch. Ultimately, the album is both a celebration of what we did as a full band over five years and an introduction for new fans.

Also, I spent all of Winter 2018 working with Neil Weir to remix the old songs, at the very least. But for a number of them, I also re-recorded my vocals and/or guitars where I thought it would improve the song. So, I feel like several of the songs are better than they were the first time around, and I hope others agree.

What can you tell me about “Time Slips” and the decision to include a new single on the album?

“Time Slips” is a song I wrote about my grandparents, who lived hundreds of miles and a few states away from me. I spent summers with them as a younger kid, and they were incredibly important to me. But after I became a busy (and self-involved) adult, I rarely saw them before their deaths. I still feel guilt and regret over how I drifted out of their lives.

Despite that sad lyrical content, the song sounds very upbeat and anthemic. We always had so much fun playing it together as a band. We had been practicing it and playing it live for six months or so when we decided to disband, and it just seemed too good to let go. So, we decided to go into Neil Weir’s studio (Blue Bell Knoll) during Summer 2017 and record “Time Slips” to include on the anthology. It was the last song we recorded together.

You wrote independently for a few years, deciding in 2012 to assemble a full band. What do you like about performing with a band as opposed to performing solo?

I never actually performed solo, which was part of the problem. When it was just me, it was too easy to keep the songs to myself and not take the risk of putting them out there. Being in a band forced me to learn how to work with others and flesh out my songs. I desperately wanted to be in a band, but I really had no idea what it was like or how it worked.

You mention in your biography that you had been writing songs and dreaming of starting a band since junior high but didn’t publicly release the songs you’d been writing and recording for 20 years. What caused you to wait?

Procrastination and lack of confidence. I was briefly the singer of a band back in college. We mostly played covers plus a few originals by one of the other guys. I remember writing a song and bringing it to practice one day. The other guys were open to it and supportive, but I really had no idea how to explain to them what I heard in my head. And I didn’t have the confidence to ask them to stick with it. So, after one practice, I just said “never mind” and didn’t bring up the song again.

I didn’t do anything public with music until about 2009 when two friends and I started a band called Small Engines. We played covers, plus a few of my Persian Leaps songs, and played a handful of shows around Saint Paul. The especially fun part was that we all switched instruments depending on the song. I’d been a drummer all through high school, so I drummed on the songs where I wasn’t playing guitar. Ironically, initially I was the guy who wasn’t sure I even wanted to play live, but after a year or so, I was really getting into it whereas my band mates were getting too busy with family and careers to keep it up. So, we let it lapse, but it was a very important experience for me. It whet my appetite for performing, built up my confidence, and taught me how to teach my songs to other musicians. Without Small Engines, I doubt that I’d ever have gone any further with music.

The three of you have families and jobs that keep you busy outside of the band. What is your process for scheduling band practice/recording sessions/writing sessions? Do you all share in the songwriting process or are you the main songwriter? Is it a challenge for you all to find a time that works for the three of you?

When we were still operating as a full band, we tried to keep the commitments manageable. We practiced once a week. Touring was never an option for us, so we rarely played outside of the Twin Cities. During the winter, we’d usually go into the studio for a full day every month, which was easier than using vacation time to do a full week at once. And then typically, we’d take at least a month off from the band completely during the summer before reconvening to get ready for our EP release show. Basically, fall through spring was “band season,” with summers off.

As for songwriting, The Persian Leaps has always been my baby. I wrote the music and lyrics and would prepare demos for each song with vocals, guitars, drums, and sometimes bass. The guys would flesh out and improve on my ideas, but that’s where every song started. Basically, it was the “benevolent dictator” model that’s worked well for Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices.

You guys have had a very disciplined routine of releasing 5-song EPs every fall that total 15 minutes or less. Was the release of 5 EPs in 5 years always the plan?

I wouldn’t say it was the plan from the start, but it became so once we figured out that the approach worked well for us. An EP was the obvious place to start for the band, but after that, the time demands and pacing of putting together an EP seemed like a natural fit for us. I wanted to release music regularly. An EP every year was manageable, since we all had careers, families, mortgages, and so on. We developed a rhythm where we’d record 5 songs over the long, dark, cold Minnesota winters, take the summer off from music, release the songs in the fall, and then start the process all over again.

Also, I honestly thought that releasing EPs would be the best strategy, given the trend towards streaming and the ongoing talk about the “death of the album.” If most people aren’t buying your work as a single physical package, why wait a year or two to assemble 10-12 songs into an album when you can release only your best stuff more regularly in smaller, digestible chunks? That was my gamble, anyway. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was the “right” choice. I often wonder if critics, fans, and radio would have taken us more seriously if we’d condensed that material into 2 or 3 full albums. I now know from experience that some media outlets don’t take EPs as seriously as LPs, which is too bad. I always tried to assemble our EPs as a deliberate, cohesive statement so that they were a “mini-album” rather than a single and a few B-sides or remixes.

I read that the 5th EP, Bicycle Face, which was released last year, marks the end of a chapter for the band and that you guys are ready to try a new format and approach to writing and releasing music moving forward. What kind of approach are you hoping to try going forward?

Even though we disbanded back in 2017 and I’ve been busy working on the anthology, I’ve already started the “next phase” of working as a studio project. My friend, Jon Hunt, who’s designed the cover art for 3 of our releases now, is also a long-time musician in the Twin Cities. He’s playing bass and singing backup with me. I sing, play guitar, and program the drums parts. Ultimately, it’s going to sound very similar to previous Persian Leaps material–no drastic stylistic departures.

We took the process for a test drive last fall when we recorded a cover of “Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals for a girl group tribute compilation. And in January, we started recording brand new material for a full-length that will come out Fall 2019. I struggled a bit at first with how to make the process work for myself, after 5 years of coming into the studio with a song that we’d played in rehearsal or live for months. But I figured it out, and the material’s coming together nicely. The album’s over half done at this point.

You have mentioned that “Picture My Reaction” is a rarely written love song. With love being such a common songwriting topic, why is it not a topic you write about often?

I’m trying to avoid saying something snarky like “love songs are just so basic,” but that’s part of it. Love songs have been done to death. If you’re writing one, you’d better bring a fresh perspective or unusual twist to it. I don’t know if I achieved that with “Picture My Reaction,” but I tried to make it more about the almost chemical rush that comes with new love rather than goopy romanticism.

But honestly, love just doesn’t come to mind as a topic when I’m writing songs. My wife and I have been in a fantastic, committed, stable relationship since 1995. Songwriting is usually an outlet to help me process emotions and events that bother me, so romantic relationships just don’t come up. Looking at the tracks on “Pop That Goes Crunch,” there are songs about struggling with anxiety/depression, fear of death, and failure. That’s pretty much the Persian Leaps signature–songs about darker topics set to upbeat-sounding power pop.

I read that your teenage son Nathan sang background vocals on “Even Less”. Has he sung background on other songs, as well? Did he enjoy the experience?

He hasn’t sung on anything else yet. It’s a fun little Persian Leaps tradition to include family that way. Back when Brad Hendrickson was in the band, his teenage son sang on the group chorus parts of our song “Anthem” when we recorded it. He even did it live once or twice, which involved a whole lot of pleading and promises from his dad to get a 12-year-old into a bar. I think Nathan enjoyed singing in the studio, deep down, but his own particular form of teenage rebellion is to say that he doesn’t like rock music. He mostly listens to music from video games, which kinda kills me.

You own your own label called Land Ski Records. What led you to start your own label? How many other artists are on your roster and how do you decide what artists to bring on?

I started Land Ski back in 2013 to release the first Persian Leaps EP. The EP was supposed to be released by another small local label, but the owner virtually disappeared and left a few bands in the lurch without warning. We had the music finished and a show booked for the release a few months out so I decided to just do it myself. From there, I approached a few other local bands (or vice versa) and started releasing stuff I liked. Overall, I released material from five other bands. The theme was guitar-driven music from bands I liked and people I personally liked working with. My big hope was that I could create some kind of community/scene (like Dischord or Saddle Creek for example), but ultimately, I just don’t have the personality to pull that off. The label was fun, but I lost my passion for it after a few years and have stopped releasing material from other artists. Land Ski is really just a vehicle for Persian Leaps material at this point.

What’s next for Persian Leaps?

The studio-based next phase is already well underway. We’ll release our first full-length of new material in Fall 2019. I’ve got most of the material for another full-length the following fall. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I turn 50 in January. For a few years, I’ve had this self-imposed constraint that I wanted to “retire” from music after 50. But that was more applicable when we were still playing live. And everyone I tell about my plan to retire after 50 tells me it’s ridiculous. So, I don’t know what will happen after Fall 2020. It really depends on whether I’m still writing songs and enjoying it.

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