Self-described “Seattle dreamo” outfit Special Explosion spent their first couple of years as a band honing their special brand of Northwestern indie-emo while recording and releasing various EPs on their own. Then at the end of 2013, Topshelf Records morphed all of these releases into Special Explosion, a nine-song compilation that showcased a young band with a knack for duality. Led by the brother-sister vocal team of Andy and Lizzy Costello, the songs were heavy yet harmonious, familiar yet unique. And while there was confidence in their delivery, there were always bit of angst and uncertainty in the lyrics.
Fast forward a few months, and the band is in the middle of a U.S. tour, and their new EP, The Art of Mothering, which demonstrates a bit of maturity on all fronts, was just released this week. Fortunately, I was able to talk with vocalist/guitarist Andy Costello in the midst of all this excitement.
You guys are on the early part of your tour right now right?
Yeah we played Kansas City last night, and we actually drove to St. Louis and got here at like 5:30 in the morning. I’m actually the only one awake in this house. We’re here with Foxing and Caravels.
How are some of the new songs coming across live?
Really well. Actually they’re starting to feel a lot better. It’s great to actually leave our city and play.
I was watching a couple of interviews and reading some early article about you guys, and I think Lizzy said something along the lines of, “We’re all best friends and we like to play music, so it just made sense.” When did you guys officially start the band?
There are really two dates. One is kind of when we had the idea in June of 2010. We actually started with not the current lineup, but Sebastian joined that September, and that’s when we really started writing music. And that’s when we recorded our demo too.
Was that the Live at Ground Zero EP?
No, that was the three song one with Star Analogies, Friends With Jane.
And then you guys recorded a couple of those demos and EPs before combining them into your first album. Whose idea was it to take them all and do that?
Well that album was actually just a compilation, that was Topshelf’s idea.
How did it feel to have all your work put onto one cohesive compilation?
It was kind of weird, but a lot of people have asked us that question, so it definitely feels good to hear that people think it’s at least cohesive enough to be its own record.
So how did you guys get in contact with Topshelf?
In November of last year we played a show with Dads, Pity Sex and The World Is A Beautiful Place, and before the show we knew about the bands and knew they were involved with this. We played, and The World Is really enjoyed us. One of their guitarists, Greg, works at Topshelf and was really really excited about us. He was kind of hoping there would be a good Seattle band, since it was their first time there. We were recording this record that we were about to release a week later. We played the material for that pretty much front-to-back at that show.
A lot of people were excited about the new stuff. I saw one line from a review that said something like, “‘Clotheslined’ is the best Built To Spill song of the past five years.” As a band, do you guys welcome those kinds of comparisons? I don’t know, some bands don’t really like being compared like that.
That’s a good question. We’ve actually been talking with Caravels and some of the other guys about that. You know, it happens to everyone, and one thing we’ve talked about is that there’re two sides: One is that it’s a great way to make a band more accessible. It opens up to people who really liked Built To Spill or are still into Built To Spill. And there’s the other side too where if you really like Built To Spill, you might not want to listen to it (laughs). It’s like if you want to listen to Built To Spill, you go listen to Built To Spill. But we think it’s really great, and I think it’s a solid comparison.
Have you guys been compared to other bands?
Yeah. I mean the three [main comparisons] are the Thermals, Death Cab For Cutie and Built To Spill—and those are all huge influences of ours.
Who does most of the songwriting for you guys? Is it a group effort?
I start with the core rhythms, the chords and the vocals. Then we try to arrange it as a band, and thats’s always a difficult process. I think the actual songwriting is pretty natural, but we like to challenge ourselves in finding the best way to play a song.
In terms of the songwriting process, was it different going into the recording space knowing that you are about to record one entire EP, rather than the demos that made up the compilation from Topshelf?
It was, it really was. We have some friends who recorded with the same engineer, so we already had this relationship with him. It didn’t feel too intense. It felt like home, and we felt ready to actually record something a little more lengthy that really represents us.
Is the title, The Art Of Mothering, also reflective of where you see yourselves now? Where did that name come from?
Absolutely. Sebastian was in a band before this called The Art Of Mothering. That was his first band, and I remember that really stuck with me and Lizzy, it really meant something weird to us (laughs.) We had a couple of songs that were tentatively called that, and we always wanted to use that name. I guess now it represents this place where it seems like we’ve been affected by our home lives, and the support from our parents. You could say there’s something naive in that name, like there are things your mothers do that drive you crazy (laughs), and then you start to notice things about yourself are that similar, you know?
Yeah! That moment when you realize you’re more like your parents than you ever thought.
Totally! And this represents the growing out of that, and accepting that it’s a new stage of our band.