The Bicycles: A Reconnection Through Complete Collaboration

Illustration by Kristian Bauthus

Interview by Shannon Reid with illustration by Kristian Bauthus

The Bicycles officially formed, as we know them today in 2001. Ok fine, they changed bass players a couple of times in the beginning but today they are the same people that decided to go on an indefinite hiatus in 2009. Although their songs of the past decade have the ability to infuse any room with a lighthearted airy-pop happiness there was a lot of unhappiness that was being well masked on stage during the last days of performing their second album, ‘Oh No, It’s Love.’

Stop Thinking So Much, is the Bicycles third album that dropped April 2nd with Fuzzy Logic Recordings and perhaps their most collaborative. Band mate Dana Snell sent an email to the other band members in June 2010 titled, ‘Re-Animation?’ that would re-initiate their chemistry as artists and set their band back on track.  She would come back not just as a drummer and singer, but also as a songwriter thanks to the support of band mate brothers Matt Beckett, Andrew Scott, Drew Smith and Randy Lee.

Like their album cover, this interview is honest and up front. It is a look into what true friendship looks like when set on fire with a mutual passion for creativity and complete collaboration.

Talent and hard work built these vehicles. Respect and love drives this band.

Southern Souls – Your album cover art is amazing.  After reading the text inside of what looks like a colourful letter ‘B,’ I realized that it’s a collection of the band members emails; the progression of someone reaching out to the conclusion of hey let’s just ‘stop thinking so much’.  I wonder how many people realize what it is?

Dana Snell – A lot of people didn’t know (at first) because they’re seeing it on a thumbnail (digitally), so they had no idea.  They just said, ‘it’s colourful and it looks like it’s words – do they mean anything’? I’m like, Ya! It’s emails but you can’t tell until you actually get the CD or better yet get the record, it’s really easy to read when it’s that size.

SS – You really stripped everything down and you guys were very brave!

DS – Well, I think it’s easy to be direct in an email, it’s built into that form of communication.  And also, I’ve just known these guys for so long so we just talk to each other very directly.  It took us a while to get there – I think there was a lot of dancing around each other in the beginning but it’s been over ten years now so… God… it’s longer than I’ve known most people in my life.

SS – How did you meet each other?

DS – I was going to school at McMaster in Hamilton and Drew was there at the same time.  We had friends in common, my roommate was dating his roommate, he said he had a friend that was a musician and he showed me his stuff.  It was pretty different from The Bicycles (sound), very quiet and made on a little tape.  (Drew) was already in a band with Matt because they grew up together in Brantford and went to high school together.  Randy went to their high school too, so the three of them already had a high school band.  Then, Matt and Drew started something; they were looking for a band so they asked me to join.  We had a different bass player in the beginning for a tiny amount of time and then Randy.  Then when he quit, later Andrew joined so he was the new guy…but he’s been in the band for so long.

SS – Why did you call yourselves ‘The Bicycles’?

DS – Matt and Drew already had that name.  I’ve heard them say a couple of different things in interviews.  I think in the beginning there were two of them – ‘two wheels’ – but I’ve heard Matt say, “music is a vehicle”…so I don’t know…(smiling).  It was there when I joined and I always thought it was a great name! I think it fits the band so well and I can’t believe someone else didn’t take it! I think it’s such a great name…

SS – After streaming your latest album I got really excited about Appalachian Mountain Station.  What’s the story behind it? You sing it; did you write the whole song?

DS – Ya, I wrote that one.  I did get a lot of help from Andy Lloyd – who was my boyfriend at the time because it’s tricky for me, all I play is drums…and I play flute, but randomly, so I can’t really write a song; but… I wrote (Appalachian Mountain Station) in a dream.

SS – Oh cool!

DS – It’s pretty cool, ya.  It’s the first time that ever happened.  I woke up and I remembered I had this whole dream in which I was writing this song and singing it.  When I woke up I remembered the song, so I was singing it to myself; but then I needed help to actually translate it into chords.  I sang it to Andy and he helped me figure out the chords and then he ended up writing the piano part that’s in there.

In my dream I was a totally different person; Appalachian Station is a place that (the female character) is at and she’s calling her boyfriend back home to let him know that she’s been cheating on him and that’s nothing I would ever do; so this is a totally different character.  I (also) had a great response from the guys and I felt super encouraged.  It was one of the early entries and they were all behind it so that felt good.   I don’t have a lot of confidence (songwriting) since I don’t really write songs, so their opinion matters a lot – (this song) been getting such a response and I feel so happy about it.

SS – How wonderful to be able to write through your dreams!

DS – I actually dreamed another song’ I woke up the other day and sang it into my phone.  I haven’t had time to do anything with it but it would be kinda cool if that’s just how I write songs.  When I told Matt I had another song in a dream he said, “You should go into a coma and you’ll write a double album!” (both laughing)

SS – Your first two records have a similar sound.  When I listen to them I see an instant connection and then with this album songs like Appalachian Mountain Station, Sun Don’t Want To End, Stop Thinking So Much and Map Trap are quite a departure for you guys.

DS – Ya, and I think that maybe things were a bit more intentional for the first two albums and maybe there was a bit more of a focus, like ‘we have a sound and this is our sound’.  And now, it’s just…

SS – Lets see where we can go?…

DS – Have you ever read The End of the Affair?

SS – No.

DS – Oh, there’s just this one part that I always think about and it’s about how important the subconscious is for creativity and how much you just need to walk around and let your mind just kind of ‘spool’.  This is why I feel like artists need a lot of down time because your brain needs to be chugging away.

For me the time apart was more necessary for us to continue working together.  It was way more about personalities to me and never about the music – I was always a big believer in the music and the band (as well as) everybody’s abilities as players and writers. For myself, I just couldn’t handle the band dynamic anymore we were just not getting along and there was tons of pressure and it felt very negative.  We had been a band at that point for so many years; I couldn’t really take it anymore so…I was the one that kind of broke it up you know?  We were all very unhappy but I was the one who was like, I need to not do this anymore. Then we all decided just to go on a break without ever knowing if we would get back together or not.  This is why I sent the first email because I felt like since I was the one to end it, I wanted to be the one to get it right.

SS – Oh…see, it doesn’t really say who is sending what (email) on the album cover.

DS – Well…here’s a little tidbit, inside the album our names are a certain colours and it’s the same colour as the messages.  These are like the ‘Easter eggs’ for the people who buy the album.

SS – Very cool…

DS – The minute we stopped being a band and started hanging out as friends was so much better. We started the band when we were relatively young, I was 23 and they were…..22; Andrew is one year younger than us I think. So much time went by but bands are weird, you probably heard this before; they are a dynamic onto themselves and I felt like we had been trapped in theses roles and then it just wasn’t working.

When we got out, we just got to be friends and (realize) we really like to make music together.  I think we got something special, you know? (We have) chemistry as musicans and writers.  Then we got back together and it was so much easier, the old pitfalls were gone.  Stop Thinking So Much is a lot about how we decided to approach working together again, we don’t need to make everything so hard and we can just try and work together a lot more as a team.  You know, it’s harder than it seems, bands are tough.

SS – I can imagine if you’re rehearsing day in and day out with the same people and not necessarily meeting that same vision that could become very exhausting.

DS – Ya, and I think that definitely used to happen because you know, you have your idea for the song, then you bring it to people to perform it and they’re just going to do it their own way no matter what.  You could tell them how you want it to be all you want but they can’t see inside your head. And then, if you go too far and play exactly (what that one person wants) then people are like, why am I here? You might as well just do it yourself you know?  It just has to get changed and that’s hard to get used to, but then if you have something that works then you just need to let go of it and trust that it’s going to come out sounding better. If you have respect for everybody else and their input then it becomes something new and you start to collaborate. It’s tough with a bunch of songwriters, I mean, music is more collaborative in general, at least if you’re a band; and if you’re a band it takes finessing. I think we’ve got to a really good place, which I’m super-happy about.  Like reading that album (cover), it’s been a while since I could read it without tearing up, it means so much to me.  All those emails – it’s personal, and then it’s so cool to have that on a record label…something that personal.

SS – This album cover gave me goosebumps when I first realized that I was reading something so personal.

DS – I feel like this album is the story of the band, you know, that’s how we see it I think. To me it’s just a personal triumph that we could get back together.  I feel mature as a human being, (that) we were actually able to make this work.  And I think – if we hadn’t done that I would have always felt a bit sad about how it’s ‘too bad we couldn’t get along’ you know? … ‘It’s a good band, too bad we couldn’t make more records’; and now I don’t have to say that. I can be like, ya… (deep smile comes across her face) we grew up.