|Brian James, Andy Creighton, Matthias Wagner and Aaron Ballard of the World Record at Ballard's Artwork Framing|
1568 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Echo Park)
Like many L.A. bands, the members of the World Record boast an eclectic pedigree of former groups they've played with – from Apex Manor to the Parson Red Heads and Foreign Born. But few musical acts possess the passion and dedication to stay together for nine-plus years, spending the last six of which on their latest release, a double album called Freeway Special. Vocalist/guitarist Andy Creighton, bassist Aaron Ballard, guitarist Brian James and drummer Matthias Wagner took some time out from preparing for a cross-country tour to sit down with me at Aaron's framing shop in Echo Park.
When you walk into Ballard's Artwork Framing to have something framed, you're in for an experience. Aaron walks you through the process personally, offering his advice on the best type of frame, glass and matting from his wide selection of sustainable materials. Aaron is also a staunch supporter of the fair trade movement, evidenced in the mini Raven + Lily store that is housed in his shop.
"Raven + Lily are old friends of mine. They've been going out and meeting with women's groups in Ethiopia, Kenya and India for years. They're super brave women and they don't have a store, so I thought it would be cool to have their stuff in here," he says. "It's also a way to further the fair trade movement, to encourage people that there is something to buy other than things that you're not sure what those people's working environments are like."
You can tell that Aaron takes pride in his work. Each mat is cut by hand, and you feel like your art piece is even more special because of the time he has put into it. Through the shop, he's created a valuable asset to the neighborhood, as well as a central hub of sorts for the World Record.
"We did the Kickstarter promotional video here [for Freeway Special]," says Andy. "We also did an acoustic show for the opening night of an art show here."
Ballard's Artwork Framing is also a gallery space, displaying original pieces by several artists on its walls. Bolstering the local art scene is just one of the ways Aaron demonstrates his love for his community.
"I love Echo Park. I love the diversity here in Los Angeles period, but Echo Park especially," he admits. "You can never complain about the weather, even though people do. People complain because it's not perfect."
"I like the food," shares Andy. "I live in Highland Park, and there's a great place near where I live called Good Girl Dinette. It serves Vietnamese food that's awesome. My birthday's on Sunday, and I love hot wings. Sometimes I play the Children's Hospital with Songs For Kids, and we all have to get flu shots. I went to get mine and I overheard two of the nurses talking about hot wings, and I had to butt in because I had been thinking about hot wings a lot. They were talking about a place somewhere near Highland Park, so we're going for my birthday, and I am excited. It will no doubt become a place that I return to often."
"Anywhere aside from major cities, it's so hard to find things that you love when it comes to food. I didn't even know that there were so many different cultures in the world, like different kinds of Asian foods, before I moved here, and it's amazing. There are so many Korean, Vietnamese, Armenian, Ethiopian places to eat," adds Aaron. "Of course there's Stories Books & Café, which is always a wonderful place to have coffee."
"You're definitely a neighborhood guy," interjects Andy. "Wherever we go around here – down to Origami or Two Boots – everyone's like, 'Hey, man, what's up' to Aaron."
"I had Two Boots for the first time when we played at the Echoplex [on Oct. 4]. Echo Park is very cool, you run into so many people," offers Brian, who resides in Santa Monica. "I play a lot of beach volleyball. We played for a long time in this hidden volleyball court area down by the airport where the planes are taking off over your head so you have to halt the game in the middle while you're waiting for them to pass. Lately we've been playing right next to the Santa Monica Pier. It's a little intimidating to just jump right on those courts because there are some pro players. I enjoy the beach a lot, but I'm torn a little because I would like to live out here. All of the musicians in Echo Park – it's very appealing, but so is the beach."
1642 Beer and Wine is a favorite of mine that I can walk to. I'm very much looking forward to seeing more of the states on this tour – the heartland."
"We have some real middle-America shows lined up, I'm pretty excited," says Andy. "A lot of these places, we haven't played. We've only done one other semi-national tour, and that was a long time ago."
To warm up for the tour, the band played a few shows in Andy's home state of Arizona. One of the dates was the reward for a donor to the Kickstarter campaign.
"That's actually what prompted the Arizona trip," says Andy. "It was in a small town, Oracle, Ariz. Another donor just emailed about doing a show in Encino. I haven't heard from the third, and the fourth one just pledged the money out of the goodness of his heart, a gesture of kindness. You don't really realize how much it costs to make a record, and you try to estimate. I didn't want to overcharge people, so we lowballed a lot of things and ended up paying quite a bit out of pocket. It's an expensive business, making records, so we're going on the road to see if we can re-liquidate some of our investment."
However, the band does have the help of boutique indie label Squid vs. Whale when it comes to distribution and promotion of Freeway Special, which hit stores Oct. 9. Their first effort, 2006's Guitars Forever, was released on TallBoy Records to much critical acclaim. The album's track "We're #1" appeared on shows like "How I Met Your Mother," "Gossip Girl" and more recently on "New Girl," introducing the world to their feel-good brand of rock and sense of humor of being a group named the World Record singing, "Check the score, see how we're number one." While Freeway Special displays some of the same cheekiness on tracks such as "I Met the Girl (I'm Gonna Leave You For)," many of the songs touch on themes of hope ("Say Sayonara"), stormy relationships ("Queen of Side I") and nature ("Wind & Wuthering"). The evolution of Andy's poetic prowess when writing lyrics has been a developing process.
"I was in what I think was a great band called the Flatworms in high school, and it was pretty far from poetic. It was a punk rock meets ZZ Top kind of band with really scatological lyrics, sort of stupid songs, but that time of your life you think back on how fun it was, and it had that purity about it where you weren't thinking too much about stuff, just doing what you want," he says. "My parents published a small newspaper in Phoenix called the Arizona Capitol Times, so they were very much language people. I grew up appreciating words, there was a lot of wordplay in the house. I didn't really think about it too much until I started writing 'real' songs, and then I realized that it bothered me if things weren't right in lyrics, so I take a long time to tweak them to where I can stand them. It was maybe college when I started to feel that way about it. I remember I came home proudly from college and said I wrote this song, I think I still have the words, and they're just terrible. The song is terrible, but I was so proud of it at the time. I read it, and I just cringe. I guess that's how you develop though."
"That happens to me, I look back at old songs in journals and am like ohh," laughs Aaron. "Some of these songs, I played them in coffee shops where people came and listened, and I'm like, 'wow, that was the good song that I had?'"
"I used to sit around with the guitar and play around until something happened that I liked, and then I'd go with that" says Andy. "Lately it's normally when I'm lying in bed in the morning or doing dishes, I'll be singing something that has words and a little melody. I usually don't think about it for a while, then I'll realize I might have something good. I'll get the guitar and see if I can do something to not forget it because sometimes they go away pretty quick."
"Once I was driving and was hit with an idea. I went to pull onto the side of the road and found a Best Buy. I asked if they had a keyboard, so they took me to the computer area, and I said, 'No, a piano keyboard!" Aaron says, as everyone laughs. "I sat down and figured out the melody that was forming in my head. It really helped."
Piano was the first instrument Aaron learned before teaching himself to play the guitar and drums.
"I was born in Los Angeles and then I lived all over the United States, ending up in Texas where my grandparents are from for 10 years. I played drums in a band for many years and did my own music," he shares.
Andy took up the guitar in his early teens, around the time Matthias started on the drums.
"I actually studied jazz drums here in Southern California, but I'm a little bit of a rock 'n' roll player at heart," he says.
Brian's childhood in Minnesota and Wisconsin was filled with music.
"Both of my parents taught music, so we all had instruments. My father really encouraged me to learn the piano so I started out on that, but then I realized there was a guitar in the basement that wasn't being used so I picked that up around 11 years old. Nirvana was on the radio soon after that, along with other great guitar bands, and I was inspired."
Both Aaron and Brian get to visit their old home states on the Freeway Special tour, and there's a special tradition that Brian and Matthias are going to be introduced to.
Aaron says, "We always end up going to get one of those fake Blizzards—"
"We always go to Fosters Freeze," interrupts Andy.
"We always get a large [Twister] and then share it because it's a better price and because we're really sentimental," Aaron says with a laugh.
Overall, the World Record hopes that audiences have some fun at their shows.
"I think rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun," says Andy. "Not everyone feels that way. There are a lot of serious bands, and a lot of people get a lot out of that, big emotional feelings and they're transported, but I like the fun of it. We have some serious songs and we do real stuff, it's not just all whimsical or anything. But for me, I'm trying to get to the point where it's always fun and we translate that, give it to the audience and then we have songs that I hope they remember."
As a final thought, I wonder if any of the band members were to set an actual world record, who would it be, and what would the record be for?
"Maybe Aaron would set some sort of record, but I don't know what it would be," offers Andy.
Aaron says, "It would be for the most annoying sound ever. I can beat the one on Dumb and Dumber!"
Freeway Special is currently available. For more information, visit theworldrecord.net.