Above The Moon

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Interview with Diane DiMemmo

May 21, 2020


Diane: It’s pretty mundane and challenging right now being in quarantine. But I have to say your recently released video “Garden In Your Mouth” was one of my highlights. Entertaining, very funny, a nice distraction. How did you pull that off remotely from each other?

Kate: Well, filming it wasn't too hard. Shawn and I were kind of talking about the release coming up. You know, we had another video in mind that we had filmed but it wasn't going to be edited and ready in time, and we wanted to put out some type of visual before the actual EP [Stay Awake] release. So, we were batting around some ideas, and originally it was going to be a lyric video like where they hold up the signs. But now that we’re separated, that would've been way too hard to coordinate if the handwriting was big enough and the timing of it. So we just decided to film ourselves doing whatever we're doing. I kind of harassed the guys for a couple of weeks to just send me everything and I put it all together and Premiere Pro and it works pretty good.

Diane: It really encapsulated what we're all going through right now from the piling up of the toilet paper to playing games. I love the way you did that. Great video and a great song.

John: I thought it was super funny how we all kind of reverted back to doing stuff like [building with] Legos and riding bikes. All kinds of stuff just to keep busy; it was so funny. Like Chris playing video games on his couch; all of us doing stuff back from childhood. It’s funny how we all kind of did similar things.

Chris: Like playing Connect Four with the dog.

Diane: “Garden In Your Mouth” is a single off of your new album, Stay Awake. How have you grown into this fourth album from your past three? How has your sound changed, and where are you now compared to where you were at the last album?

Shawn: I feel like the last time we were definitely more, not hesitant, but we were new. Chris was new to the band taking over with bass. I used to play bass and the guitarist left so I switched over. So things were a little bit different from just how we were structured. We went in with a new producer – Joe Reinhart - in Philly so that everything was new. I feel like the last time we got our bearings and we kind of learned a lot of things in the studio from a timing perspective and tonally how we want it to come at this next one. And Joe helped us get there. So I think this next time, when we went in, we did several demos in my home studio here just to kind of really prepare for getting down in Philly and working hard. So, I think the evolution is pretty evident there. I also think the songs gelled a little bit more just because it was all a new collaboration right from the start. So it was pretty cool to see some of these songs evolve. Some of them we had from the last EP. And we just worked them and worked them. One of them that Chris brought in, the last song on the album “Karma.” It was it was one that we've been trying for a while, and it finally clicked. So, I think that was different from the songwriting process. I think we started really collaborating. Even in quarantine, we're doing more of that now even though we’re separated.

Diane: Is there a particular song on this album that’s a band favorite, something you’re most proud of?

John: I think from my perspective it's the song Shawn mentioned, “Get Yours, (Karma).” To his point it was a song that we workshopped for a long time. You know, most of the time, our process is driven by Shawn or Kate bringing a riff, lick or lyrics to the table. Chris brought this one to the table, and I think, we all love this song. We worked on it for a long time, and I think we loved it going into the studio, but once we got in the studio for me personally, hearing how it came to life with different tones and just the energy of it. It was super magical, honestly. And that's, for sure, my favorite, because I think that song has been in the works for the longest. It was so much fun to lay down and was super satisfying.

Kate: I think I would agree. I mean, I think we each have different favorites on the EP, but I think as far as one we’re collectively proud of, that's probably the one just because we worked on it for so long. And John and I were talking the other day about how we have demo versions of older songs, and suddenly they'll pop up on on our Spotify or iTunes. And sometimes that one in its early stages will pop up, and it’s so different. It's like, I know this, but I don't know this. And then when I hear that we did, it's like, oh, this is what it was supposed to be.

Diane: It sounds like you all have a hand in the songwriting. What's more common? For you to initially work together as a group or to work separately, and then bring what you have to the table?

John: I think all these songs really start with a spark from an individual member and once we get together it really comes to life.

Kate: A lot of the times I'll have an idea or Shawn will have an idea. And sometimes we do a lot of ironing things out, just in terms of a verse, a chorus, a pre-chorus between each other because I'll have pieces of things, and he'll have pieces of things, and we kind of see what we can marry together. But like John said, a lot of the time when we bring it to practice, it very often becomes something completely different. If it's something that I mostly wrote and we play it as a band, I’ll leave practice thinking, OK, that's not at all when I planned, but this is better. Even in quarantine, we're writing a lot. You know, I got a riff from Shawn the other day, I got a riff from Chris the other day. So, I don't know if our process has changed that much now that we're separated, but as Shawn was saying it might have even made us more collaborative, because we're in touch more now than ever before. So, I'm kind of interested to see what happens when we are able to get together, because now we have all this new material that started differently than what we're used to.

Diane: Backtracking just a little bit for those who might not be super familiar yet with Above The Moon, how did you all come together? How did your band name come about and how long have you been together?

Chris: As far as the band name, we were all astrology majors, back in college. Just kidding, I wasn’t even in the band when it was formed so you guys take over that one.

Kate: That’s the fun answer.

Shawn: To start at the beginning we got together on Craigslist. It wasn't one of those weird creepy things. It was it was a different Craigslist story, which is awesome. I put out an ad saying bassist or guitarist looking for bands. And there were a lot of things coming back for AC/DC cover bands and all these other things that just wasn't my thing. No offense; I love AC/DC. It just wasn't what I was looking for. Then when Kate sent this e-mail, and I heard the songs, I was like, this is amazing. Then to find out that she literally lived in the same town as me, and I can walk to her house, basically. It was kinda crazy. So, that's how we initially started; and she had a guitarist at the time that was in the band and we need a drummer. And the first person I thought of was John, as we always work together, and I always tried to pull him into some of the projects I’m doing that was more cover- based. And he was like, no, I do only originals, so I knew he was looking for something. And as soon as he joined, we took off. We wrote four songs before we played a gig, went into the studio, cut, our first E P, and played our first gig the next month, really. So, we started pretty quickly even though this will be five years for us, which is kind of hard to believe. And like I mentioned before, our guitarist left and I was always was more of a guitar player than bassist. Kate mentioned she had she had a friend, Chris, who plays bass which was great because it's definitely nice to have someone that has that foundation. And so things have evolved from there.

Diane: Your creative energies seemed to be present right from the very beginning.

John: I think the chemistry was very quick. Like Shawn was saying we were always trying to get together. We had jammed a couple of times and it always felt really good, but we could just never get it together for a real shot. So once we were able to get in there and do it for real and to jam with Kate, it just felt really good and the energy was for sure there.

Kate: I think what helped is that John and Shawn have this friendship that was based in a different place. Chris and I had a deep friendship and then Shawn and I became very good friends. So, I think when you get everyone in the room together, this is very much a friend situation, which is nice. Because I've been in lots of bands where I have friends and then I have the band that I'm in. It's kind of hard to enjoy that when you're not really close with people {in your band]. So, I think that's helped with our collaboration and then just to jump back to the the band name. We always use the astrology thing because we don't actually have a real answer for the band name. When we were recording the first EP, we didn't have a name, and the guy was asking us how he should save it [name the file]. And at the time, we had a song “Moon” which ended up on our second EP and we were really into it. So we were just throwing out phrases with that word in it, and somehow this one stuck. We have no idea how it happened.

Diane: You had brought up the fact that you're all friends, and that was actually one of my questions. Other than when you’re playing music, do you like to hang out socially?

Kate: We try to; I mean, like, when, when the world was normal, we would get together once a week for practice. But a lot of that time is spent talking about our favorite TV shows, movies, what we did on the weekend. We actually just did a zoom hangout a couple of nights ago. We played games a couple of nights ago on Zoom.

Diane: Individually, what one thing was the spark that made you realize music was going to be such a large part of your lives?

John: For me, it was MTV when I was a kid. I was born in ‘83 and MTV was a couple of years in, I believe. And I remember seeing videos of me watching MTV at three years old getting the wooden spoons out and trying to play along with the beat to songs. I think from there, I always knew I was going to be a drummer. I never really had the passion or interest to play anything else like a stringed instrument. But for me, it was MTV for sure. Hearing all that music all the time. And it just really clicked with me. Plus, my parents always played a lot of music around the house, and it's always sort of did something for me. But the drums were always it. It was instinctually in me from a young age.

Chris: For me, my influence, and I'm going back to 12, 13 years old. I was big into the grunge scene, which I missed obviously because I was probably about five years old during that time. But bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden. Those were what started my interest in music. Generally, those were my first CDs. So I think some of my style is related back to the grunge scene. For me, that's definitely where it all started.

Kate: I think for me, it's kind of hard. The one thing I really remember is being in sixth grade, and I have this vivid memory of talking to my friends and telling them that I just bought the Presidents of the United States in America CD. And a girl turned to me and said her brother just got it too and he was in college. And I remember thinking in that moment that this is weird because I have a different taste in music than people my own age. I just have always been drawn to heavy music with driving guitars and drums. And then in middle school, I figured, instead of listening to it, I'd like to try to play it. Like, I think I can do this. That's the one memory that stands out.

Shawn: Similar to Chris' whole nineties, grunge kind of thing. I mean, I'm the elder statesman here, but, I remember, vividly going to see Foo Fighters in 1995 in New York, and it was just like being 12 and seeing all these people rocking out. Just them [Foo Fighters] own that state was insane. I very vividly remember that concert. So that was when I really got into guitar. I was like, I want to do that!

Diane: I'm going to quote you on Facebook where you say your music is “rooted in a nineties, unpretentious vibe woven with Indie and pop melodies.” Are there specific artists that, let's say, have a similar vibe in their music that you like to listen to and derive inspiration from in that way?

Chris: As far as coming up with individual guitar parts, catchy melodies, things like that ... for me personally, I think Bayside is one of my favorite go-tos as far as contemporary music. I'm not trying to emulate, but will definitely use inspiration [from their music] here and there because their guitar parts are just phenomenal. So, I think they're a good benchmark for when I'm trying to come up with some kind of riff that's catchy and melodic.

Kate: Also, a big Bayside fan. As far as contemporary artists, I'm really into The Beths from New Zealand. They've got this awesome mix of rock, but with that pop thing on top of it which is not similar to our music. I'm really into singer songwriters so I think maybe the pop melody comes from there. are some really big into KT Tunstall and Sarah Bareilles. I listen to them a lot. Their music is a lot different than what we play. But when I hear our music, I can kind of hear them a little bit in there, in some of the vocal lines and the lyrics and stuff.

Diane: What do you want a listener’s impression of Above The Moon to be when they see you live for the first time?

John: I want them to hear the awesome lyrics that Kate brings to the table. I think our stuff is pretty catchy. I want them to feel the energy of us. I feel like, once we get out there on stage, the four of us, I feel like we really put it all out there. I mean, once we’re done with a couple of songs, we're drenched in sweat. I'm looking over at Chris and he's sweaty. And Shawn's got his classic white towel on his amp. We're trying to lay it all out there and really bring the energy so people feel that, and I hope that they do. Because we do go out there and give it our all any time we play. Whether it's playing acoustic at the Asbury Hotel or at The Saint; hopefully we'll be back soon to all those places. That's what I hope they feel ... the unpretentious vibe for sure. We’re trying to bring the best music forward that we all we like to play, and we hope like everyone else likes it, too.

Diane: Is the whole band from Madison, NJ?

Shawn: I'm the sole resident of Madison now, but we practice in my space [here]. My wife and I bought a house several years ago, and it actually came with a recording studio, soundproofed and everything. So this has kind of been our home base.

Diane: That’s a reason, in and of itself, to buy a house.

Shawn: It kind of was.

Diane: Do you feel that our area (New Jersey) in any way influences your sound?

Kate: I'm thinking about this EP and some of the vibes of the songs are a little bit more edgy and punky. I always kind of feel like New Jersey has kind of a rough around the edges type of feel, you know?

John: You took the words right out of my mouth. I think especially with this EP, lyrically speaking, the riffs and the leads that Sean's playing, it has some attitude to it more so than our other recordings. So, it’s like ... hell yeah, it’s “Jersey-Fide!”

Chris: Not like Springsteen or Bon Jovi.

Shawn: Yeah, a little more like Gaslight Anthem.

Diane: Where are you all happiest: on stage or in the studio rehearsing and recording?

Kate: Personally, I like it in Sean's studio best; where we practice. I like to write on my own. I do enjoy playing shows and I love recording. But I think my favorite part of the whole process is when we pick apart a song together at practice and it becomes the thing that it will be. I just get a lot of enjoyment there. I mean, I love being in the studio but there's a little bit of pressure there and it's a little nerve-wracking. Same thing with being onstage; there’s a lot of pressure. You want to make sure you do everything right. But I feel like in the practice space, it's like, make mistakes, try weird stuff, and we're always kind of pleasantly surprised. So personally, for me, that's, that's where I'm happiest.

Shawn: Yeah, I agree. I really do like the studio, too. We’ve been talking about the next thing we want to do. Do we maybe want to do some things more seriously in this studio? Bring in some mix or record drums from somewhere? So we might try to see what happens with the recording next. I think one thing that Kate mentioned too, is when we're all together and collaborating and picking apart things, one thing that we've been doing to raise funds because obviously studio time is expensive is ask people if they wanted to donate and buy a cover song. We’ll play it for them. We've been going through that process. We got several submissions, all songs that maybe we didn't know or some that we did, but we had to re-interpret. So I think that that whole process really gave us some perspective to cut things apart as well here. We just did one recently - even from quarantine - one of the holdovers that we couldn't accomplish before this all happened. It was “Why You Want To Break My Heart,” which is featured in the Wayne’s World movie. It was a suggestion by someone. So that one came out and got us thinking, why don't we try to do some more of this, you know, from quarantine. So, we opened it back up on our web store so people can donate and let us keep collaborating. I think it's just a different way to approach this. Looking at someone else's song, how they structured it, the chord changes, the vocal melodies, and re-interpreting it as our own. To answer your question, I agree with Kate. Being in the studio, being in our element where you don’t have to worry as much is probably my favorite as well.

Diane: That's a great idea, To give your listeners something special. It’s a request; it's very personal. You're putting your own spin on it. That's a great entrepreneur move right there.

Kate: It's been really fun. We get some songs that we’re familiar with and we're excited about. But there's been a couple of songs I had never heard of before. So just becoming familiar with new artists. There was one song that was almost more electronic. So we had to figure out that. It's been cool. I've learned a lot.

Chris: I’m going to give the boring answer, which is exactly what Kate and Sean said. My favorite part is when Kate brings the bare bones of a song to practice, and that very first practice, where we just start trying different things, and just seeing what clicks. It's such a good feeling when me and John will lock in on the rhythm section, and then that might spark something from Shawn. And, all of a sudden, it's all four of us have a collaborative hand in what Kate brought to the table. So, my favorite thing is that moment when Kate brings the song, like just the bare bones, and we just tack onto it.

John: I love being in the studio with these guys, for sure, as well as being at Shawn's studio. It's a really nurturing environment. It's got a great vibe to it. It's awesome to create there. I agree with Chris, also when we start working on that song and we all start trying things and then we'll do an iPhone recording at the end of the night. We'’ll listen to it many times and be like, wow, this is really great because that's such a good feeling. But I have to say that I think my favorite is really playing live. I miss playing shows so much. And yeah, I just hope we could do that at some point soon, sooner rather than later. That's my favorite though being onstage and playing live, plugged in, being able to be really loud.

Shawn: Especially when we play live, and we meet new bands and people. A lot of times we're going to different places we've never been. It might be terrible; It might be awesome. So, you meet some great people along way, great bands that become friends, So, I agree, John. I’m itching to get out there too, at some point.

Diane: The entertainment industry is really struggling at this point. As performers, when we return, do you have any ideas about what would work and what we should do?

Kate: I think the first thing to come back is that people are doing all the live streaming stuff, and that's good for a while. But I think everyone's going to get kind of tired of that. I would imagine, and kind of what I hope is going to happen is a lot of smaller venues are going to start popping up. They're going to have to limit how many people are in there and you're going to have to keep your space a little bit. In a way, it might make for more intimate performances with bands, which I think could be really cool. I'm into that idea. So that's where I see it starting to pick up again.

Shawn: I think being away and not having access to all this makes people realize, oh, I really like going to see shows. Often, we’ll will play out and, you know, people are busy. It's hard [to get out] and it's life. But I'm hoping that through all this people are missing that live connection with new bands with music. I know I miss it. Kate and I were supposed to see The Beths in New York and that's not happening. So I'm hoping that one thing that comes out of this is small venues being able to fit people safely, but also people having that passion to make live performance and music a priority to go to.

John: I also think taking advantage of the warm weather if possible. I feel like if there's any community that's going to be respectful of social distancing guidelines, it’s artists. I feel like we have the same vibe and no one wants to mess it up for anyone. So, I'm hoping that we can do more stuff like that, where we can have a little more outdoor fun, and keep our distance. And maybe hopefully live stream those performances, so if people can't make it, they can still see real, live music. Because I'm missing that too you know. It's cool to watch the solo artists do the acoustic thing but I really want to see bands together, that energy. We all miss it.

Chris: Yeah, and I’m hearing that businesses and restaurants, are allowing like a 25% capacity to limit the number of people in there. And I'm kind of hoping that the local music venues, the ones that we play at starts that route. I don't know, maybe masks too as like a good starting point. To me, that that might be a good place to start. And then like John said, anything that's outdoors, festivals. Those kinds of things, I think, would probably be best case scenario.

Diane: When shows do come back, are there artists you would like to share a stage with, or collaborate with? Any bands you’d like to do something with the future?

John: I want to play with our buddies, The Extensions. I miss those guys, would love to get back with them because it's been too long. Kate: There's a couple bands in Asbury and other areas. When you play venues, you meet new people, you make band friends, and I think aside from playing the shows, which we miss, we miss meeting up with those friends because, a lot of times, that's the only time you really see them.

Diane: Who is the main lyricist of the band or do you all contribute?

Kate: I do the lyrics. Sometimes Chris sends me an idea and he’ll say, this phrase was in my head or sometimes the guys will name a file a certain thing when they send it and that will kind of put me in a certain headspace.

Diane: Where do your lyrics come from?

Kate: I would say the vast majority are personal experiences, especially on this EP. The one that comes to mind is “Birthday.” That was like a literal thing that actually happened. Sometimes it's easier for me to write about either embarrassing things that have happened, or sad things, or extremely happy things where I'm just thinking about that one particular memory. A lot of times, I'll get ideas for songs if I'm in the car. I was actually just thinking about this the other day. Whenever I'm at a show seeing someone live, if I hear a lyric that sticks with me, I open up my notes in my phone and I'll put a variation of that lyric. So I was just thinking yesterday, I wonder how this is going to affect me because some of my ideas come from seeing other people live. But for the most part, it's very personal stuff. And like Shawn said, we've kind of been bouncing some ideas, some brand-new songs since being quarantined. It's a little bit about the political climate, a little bit about what it means to sit at home all this time and miss your family and things like that. So mostly personal.

Diane: As ATM grows and matures as a band, do you feel like your band’s message will change as well? You mentioned social and political issues.

Kate: I think in some ways. As you're asking a question, I'm thinking back to some of the lyrics of the songs on our very first EP and some of those are very personal too. But I do think it's become a little bit easier for me to start writing about specific things. I try to write about them kind of generally, so that someone else can listen, and whether they interpret it the way I meant to or their own way, it’s a success. But I definitely think as we write more songs, I'm trying to kind of explore ideas that maybe aren't just things that happened to me. Or maybe look at them from someone else's perspective. One of the biggest compliments I can get is when someone says, “This song is my favorite because …" And they'll talk about the lyrics. So that's always my goal. When I'm writing I'm thinking, where's that line that someone's going to say, “Yeah, that’s what I felt.”

Diane: I’ve heard you all mention several times that you’re working on new material. Any new plans for a release?

Shawn: We've been doing EP’s because they're cheaper to make and you never know how long a band is going to last. These are finite things. You never know what might happen tomorrow. A lot of times we're trying to just write and release as we can. So we did a couple of singles. Even though they might be the last batch of songs that we've written, if we even look back at our demos, some things we left by the wayside because they weren't working, so even reworking some of those as well. Bringing those back into the fold. But each EP kind of has a theme, I feel like. And Kate has great lyrics so it makes writing music really hard to make sure those lyrics shine and that we’re not overstepping. Making sure that the music we're writing fits the vibe. So what's coming next? I don't really know. I think we have, we have a good batch of songs, as Kate mentioned. Some of the songs are complimentary to some of these other ones, lyrically. One that she's working on is kind of the other side of “Birthday,” which is kind of interesting. So, it's pretty cool to see the evolution, and what's happening. But, I think just write a bunch of songs and whatever sticks we’ll hopefully record soon, whenever we can get together.

Diane: It's really nice to just see what great friends you all are and, and how much you enjoy the creative process together. I get a vibe from you that is very special; that you have a very special group.

John: So nice to create with people that you genuinely enjoy being around. So, we're super lucky.

Diane: I'm sure that's why it comes through, so well, in your music. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Kate: You’re very welcome. Thank you.


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