California’s Check in the Dark make some of the most beautiful music that I have in my music collection, if you haven’t heard of them by now then here’s your chance and make sure you do check out their music. Their last album, The Game, features well crafted folk, funk, soulful rock melodies, delicate guitars, smooth honey like vocals, sweet often very personal lyricism and delicious drum beats. There’s even a song on there about the TV show, Lost (The Lost Song) using it as a metaphor for his love for his significant other, which makes me love this band even more. I always like to say they are the best kept secret in music, but it’s time they got more recognition because frankly they are just sublime.
I caught up with Mike Frieman (lead vocals, guitar) and Etienne Franc (bass, vocals) from the band to talk about everything from their songwriting process to what it was like working with singer/actress, Leighton Meester and everything else in between. Read on to hear what they said.
What’s the story behind your band name and how long did it take you to settle on it?
Mike (lead vocals, guitar): The name is a Poker term, meaning to Check before the flop. George [Laird – guitarist in the band] played a lot of poker in the band’s infancy and we funded our first album and a lot of stuff early on from George’s Poker playing.
Having heard your music, I instantly knew that there was something very special about this band. For any readers who haven’t had chance to listen to your music, how would you sum up your sound to them?
Mike: It’s funny, I get this question so much, and every time I do I instantly cringe. It’s never the person who is asking’s fault, it’s a perfectly normal question…I just have yet to really figure out a good way to answer it. Our influences are so broad and the sound we create tends to change a lot…, I would say the sound is very….palatable. Folk, Funk, Rock thingamajig. see….. no idea….
Etienne (Bass, vocals): I’m glad you hear it. We KNOW there is a special connection/vibe we share that comes through the music. The best way I can describe our sound is, and it’s that “this-meets-that” thing, we are a cross between The Band and Dave Matthews band with some Tom Petty, James Taylor, Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Pink Floyd thrown in for good measure. There’s some gritty kinda Americana funk type thing going on in there too. These are bands names that get thrown around from time to time, but this is very subjective to how I’m approaching the music. There’s some overlap I’m sure but we all bring our own thing from pretty diverse areas. Eli (drums, vocals) has a heavy jazz and rock thing going while George (lead guitar) is heavily Phish influenced.
Where does the inspiration come from when you’re writing songs?
Mike: Anything that strikes really. Early on it was mostly girls…because well, you know. I recently heard Eddie Vedder say that he can’t write unless something is wrong. While that’s not exactly true for me, it’s mostly true. There is always some sort of dissatisfaction with something brewing inside me where the song starts I guess.
When inspiration strikes, do you grab the pen and paper or do you opt for your phone?
Mike: I have over a hundred “NOTES” in my iPhone that are just snippets of lyrics…sometimes they turn into songs, sometimes they just sit on my phone. Also, sometimes I’ll break out my typewriter. It’s just so permanent, and I like the finality of it.
Talk us through your songwriting process. Is it a collaborative effort and roughly, how long does it take you to write a song?
Mike: I usually come to the band with a chord progression and some lyrics, and we build from there. Then again, some of our best stuff has been something I would be messing around with for the first time in a rehearsal for a gig, and then a song pops out in a matter of minutes. Then I need to go away and figure out some good lyrics…so…there is no one way to skin a cat is what I am getting at.
Who inspires you as a band collectively and who are your musical influences individually?
Mike: This is preeeeeeeeeeeetty hard to answer since the list would go on forever. Some heavy influences are The Band, James Taylor, Phish, The Grateful Dead, Bill Withers, etc… and on and on and on and on, again, the list is super long.
Etienne: The bands I mentioned before and the bands Mike just mentioned for sure. They’re in heavy rotation in band discussions. I mentioned DMB, but we NEVER reference them, I know I don’t. I just draw a parallel, because like them I believe we have incredible songwriting, with really good musicianship to support it. We’re a songwriter’s band AND a musicians band too. My influences are The Police, A Trib Called Quest, Gangstarr, The Skatalites, Prince Buster, Jimi Hendrix, Fela, Tom Petty, Neil Young. I could go on. My tastes are very diverse from hip hop, reggae & ska, classic rock, 80’s, trap & dubstep, electronica, soul & funk, gospel R&B, Brazilian music, pop… whatever.
Are there any new artists that have caught your attention recently that you’d like to share with us?
Mike: For me? The band Dawes has some of the best songwriting I’ve heard in a while. Also, The Belle Brigade and J Roddy Walston and the Business, I love them. I see a lot of concerts….a lot…this list would probably be long too, but those three for me, are the three at the top of my list.
Etienne: Well like I said my tastes are broad. But I’m getting back to my roots with hip hop because it has gotten really good again. I’m loving Childish Gambino, Schoolboy Q, Danny Brown, Ab-Soul among others. And trapstyle and dubstep has really gotten my attention. I’m in love with that shit, Diplo, Datsik, Hucci, Land Snail, Topikillaz…etc..
Do you have any tips for new bands starting out, any advice that you could give to them?
Mike: Yeah, if you have any tips call me and let me know what they are.
Etienne: No. I don’t think so. Well maybe. Just…when you’re thinking you are definitely going to give up. Don’t. That could be the moment you’re about to break through. Really though it’s arbitrary and random, and you gotta just love doing it and stay with that feeling. Oh and, the internet is your friend. Don’t sleep. The industry is CHANGING FAST. PAY ATTENTION!!
You worked with Leighton Meester on your second album and you have both toured together. How did that collaboration come about and how was it working with her?
Mike: She was friends with our manager from when they were on Entourage together. She became a fan of the band and when she decided she wanted to give more folk music a shot she called on us to help her out. Working with her was fun.
Etienne: Mike summed it up. It was an experience working with her.
Can we expect Check in the Dark to tour the world at some point in the future because after all we’re missing out if not.
Mike: I sure hope so, that would be super excellent. If you ever meet anyone who would like to put us on a world tour PLEASE have them call us.
Etienne: One cool thing about working with Leighton was the amount of fans we gained worldwide. Particularly in Brazil and Europe. You know for sure we would love to capitalize on that and get out and meet these people and play for them. We’re keeping our fingers crossed!
Do you have a favourite moment of your careers so far? Anything that’s really stood out?
Mike: Playing a sold out show at the Troubadour in Hollywood (my favourite concert venue) was a high point for me personally.
Etienne: The Troubadour was cool. I think for the most part I’m just really, really proud of our two albums and all the material we have for a couple more. And the fact that we persevere and continue to push on, and that the magic is still there. It’s that connection we’ve had from day one, that makes making great music so relatively easy.
Is there anything new in the works for Check in the Dark that you could share with us?
Mike: I am always writing new material, the world has not seen the last of us. Stay tuned and spread the word! Thanks for the love, we appreciate you.
Etienne: What Mike said! And we have another great album written. We just need to record it. so stay tuned for that. P.S. if anyone out there wants to invest in us and fund our next record, we wouldn’t be mad at that.
A special thanks to Check in the Dark for this interview and for more info on the band, check out the following links below.