If the names and faces of Nate Eiesland, Alissa Ricci, and Ryne Estwing sound and/or look familiar, it’s likely because they were three-fifths of dreamy, folk-inspired, often minimalistic, Chicago indie poppers, Scattered Trees. However, they recently left that project behind and currently exist as On An On, a project that’s equally dreamy, but quite a bit more sonically quirky and seemingly more profound. They are quite sing-along-able and have a sound that tends to pleasantly haunt listeners. Their debut album, Give In, has been out for the better part of a year now, having dropped January 29th on Roll Call Records.
I recently got a chance to chat with On An On’s Nate Eiesland about the band’s brief history and what they have planned for the future. I ask him to compare On An On to Scattered Trees and he tells me that, despite the three constant members, nearly everything else about the process and outlook of the two bands is entirely different.
“It’s really night and day. We started that band when we were teenagers, during pivotal parts of people’s lives. Every record sounded like a different band. Scattered Trees was methodical and very thought out, which was beneficial and detrimental, but probably more detrimental. We were young. We were writing parts ahead of time, like studio musicians. It was important for us to nail it in one take. It was important that people thought we were really good and the habits of sound that we made weren’t something the three of us were really excited about. We had kind of gotten over that. I mean, I love that band and so many things that we did in Scattered Trees, but it’s that way of working that makes records sterile, that neuters the art. In On An On we’re enjoying the act of exploring and discovering the art.”
I ask Eiesland about On An On’s influences and he tells me, “We love Flaming Lips, Portishead, Bjork…” but goes on to clarify, “We have a ton of influences, but we try to keep them more as inspirations.” He also tells me, “Nevermind was the first record I really wore out and the first thing I heard that was really sincere and really raw,” before saying (somewhat surprisingly), “I want to be a singer/songwriter as articulate and sincere and Leonard Cohen.”
On An On have done quite a bit in 2013, in addition to their debut LP. They’ve spent much of the year touring, both stateside and overseas. Eiesland tells me that their highlight of 2013 has definitely been touring Europe: “It was really surreal. When there’s someplace that’s culturally on such a different level and they’re interested in what you’re doing, it’s such an honor… The world got really small for us this year.” The band are currently in the middle of a month-long US jaunt which concludes with Cincinnati’s Midpoint Music Festival and Champaign, IL’s Pygmalion Music Festival. Despite the fact that the band have no regional stops (although they did provide World Café Live with 2013’s best Free at Noon concert earlier this year), I did ask Eiesland about On An On’s live show, which is a little different, both in process and product, than what you get on the album.
“For us, we had to re-approach the music. We made the record with no concern for how we were going to do it live. We would ask ourselves, ‘How are we gonna recreate the same vibes and the same moods?’ But I think if you’ve really spent time with the record, you’ll get the same vibes.”
On An On has a number of tours scheduled but, in their downtime, Eiesland tells me that the band have new music in the works: “We’re gonna have a few weeks off and do some more writing and see how the sophomore album comes together. We’ll try to get into a room and see if we can just come together. We just follow what’s creatively exciting.”
On their current round of dates you can pick up On An On’s brilliant latest release, a cassette of the band’s first covers, Hot Chip’s “Boy From School” and Bjork’s “Unison.” (For those of you in the 215 and/or who just can’t make it out to the shows, you can hear the songs digitally on iTunes.) Eiesland tells me that “Boys From School” is actually the first cover On An On ever attempted. He then explains the process of choosing the particular songs to cover.
“We had a list of covers that we could do and listened them and [“Boys From School”] really stood out. We could imagine maybe doing justice to this song. It has so much kinetic energy, which is something we really go for. With Bjork, especially for Alissa, is a really big influence and we saw the opportunity to re-imagine it as if we had written that song. I mean, it’s just an amazing song and it’s kind of a deeper cut. Not everyone might know it.”
And finally, I had to ask Eiesland about’s On An On’s choice to release their latest on cassette, a form I’ve had a life-long love affair with, and his take on it is easily as poignant and poetic as the reasons for loving the cassette tape or the vinyl record itself.
“We are living in an interesting time. There’s a resurgence of a physical medium. It’s a really cool time in music. It’s been a long time and there are starting to be some shifts. I mean, you can have this thumbnail in your iPod or this 12×12 thing that you want to frame because it’s a beautiful thing. You can make a choice to step into a deeper understanding of musicians and artists. You’re a part of it when you buy an album and go to a show. You’re joining it and becoming part of it. There’s currently a passive kind of music consumption, but I sure hope more people become engaged in the arts in this way.”