Ages and Ages are a rare entity that is able to acknowledge the hardships and atrocities associated with the human experience… yet remain hopeful, positive, and even confident in their ability to find beauty within it. In fact, their music manages to be profoundly uplifting, despite its dealings with some of the darker sides of life. Ages and Ages are an up-to-20-person musical collective led by songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Tim Perry. They’re from Portland, Oregon and they explore indie folk and choral pop in their most (both) infectious and unembellished forms. Next Tuesday, March 25th, sees the release of their sophomore effort, Divisionary, on Partisan Records. At its core, the album is about a group of people who actively set out to potentially overthrow the ideology of the status quo. However, the songs sound to be about the furthest thing from the likes of Refused or Atari Teenage Riot. The songs of Divisionary play out like a series of thoughtful meditations turned into joyous gospels for all ages. They’re impossibly catchy, but also quite wise, if you really stop to listen. Ages and Ages are currently on tour and about to kick off about two weeks worth of dates with Lake Street Dive, including a sold out April 2nd stop at Union Transfer. Bassist and vocalist Rob Oberdorfer, one of the most engaging and entertaining musicians I’ve spoken to all year, recently took some time to tell me what’s recently been on the band’s mind.
Izzy Cihak: You’re about to release your sophomore album, Divisionary. How do you feel like it compares to your debut? Do you feel like you’re the same band that recorded your debut?
Rob Oberdorfer: Divisonary is a more mature, nuanced record in many ways, both conceptually and sonically. That said, there is a very clear continuation happening between the albums. Alright You Restless was really ruled by this obstinate sense of optimism, and Divisonary continues that with a somewhat darker edge. Life is complicated, and many good things only avail themselves after we go through hard shit. Divisonary really attempts to tackle that dilemma head on.
Izzy: For that matter, what is the recording process exactly? There are quite a few of you…
Rob: Yeah, we roll pretty deep on stage and off. We had 13-14 people singing simultaneously on some bits of the record. We wanted it to sound and feel real, like the listener is there in the room with the band. That meant doing a lot of playing live with minimal microphones. In order to do that though, we had to filter down to really specific musical ideas and sounds. Tim, Tony Lash (producer), and I were the most involved with the nitty-gritty stuff, but we drew on a large family of well-wishers and friends to perform.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite track off of Divisionary? I dig “Our Demons.” It rings of this weird cross between the best kind of Southern Rock balladry and minimalist indie pop (I hope you don’t find this offensive, but it sounds like the spawn of Pixies and The Black Crowes.)
Rob: That’s cool, even if we thought those bands sucked, we can’t control what associations people bring to our music, and we wouldn’t want to. Good music should be a conversation, not a lecture. As far as favorite songs… it really depends. Some nights certain songs strike an especially deep chord, and that is always different depending on what else is going on. “Our Demons” was the oldest song on the record, and it was the first one we laid down. It was a real confidence booster, and knowing we had nailed that one probably helped buoy us through some of the more difficult days in the studio.
Izzy: I’m curious about Ages and Ages’ most significant non-musical influences. I’m a professor of the humanities and you would seem to spend a lot of time with things like philosophy and cultural theory.
Rob: We are all educated and curious people, so I can’t see us being content just singing about fucking and getting wasted or whatever rock n’ roll clichés people endlessly recycle. For what it’s worth, I was an art major. Tim studied Poly Sci. Sarah teaches Latin dance. Becca teaches piano. Annie teaches surfing in Costa Rica part of the year. Levi is studying GIS. Huh… interesting that all the ladies are teachers and Levi is a student.
Beyond that, we’re pretty typical northwesterners. We all make an attempt to live lives of conscience and self-examination without being pretentious asshats. In fact, Tim came up with some of the best lyrical and melodic ideas on the record while at a silent meditation retreat. He managed to do that without being an asshat… so far.
Izzy: You’re currently on tour and are going to be playing here in a few weeks. What can we expect of the live experience? I’m imagining something super dynamic and uplifting.
Rob: We certainly aim to do something dynamic and uplifting on stage. Our lineup is sounding really good, and morale is high. Of course, I just jinxed us, which means that we are probably going to get in a fist fight onstage or barf on the audience or something…
Izzy: And you’re going to be sharing the stage that night with Lake Street Dive, who I’m also really into, so I have to ask: What are your thoughts on the Boston band? (No pressure, but I recently interviewed Mike and when I asked his thoughts on you, as a band, he said “Totally great. And nice folks, too!”)
Rob: We couldn’t be happier about the pairing. They are not only an incredibly talented and charming band, but their organic success is really a ray of hope that good music can find its audience. It’s going to be a blast.
Izzy: And, finally, what are your plans for the rest of 2014?
Rob: Our plans are to tour, play festivals, and work on new music… If we’re lucky, there will also be time in there to hang out with our families, walk on the beach, eat tacos, swim with dolphins, throw the ring of power into Mt. Doom… you know, live a normal life.