Little Cinema is a long-distance musical affair between Tyler Womack and Shawn Jones. The longtime friends collaborated over three years and countless Brooklyn-to-Austin trips to create Little Cinema’s first full-length record, Adventure. A 10-song road movie replete with petty crime, arson, opium dens and nautical crusades, Adventure gives voice to Tyler’s experience of leaving Austin for New York City.
The record takes cues from early-oughts indie pop mainstays like the Lucksmiths, Beulah and Saturday Looks Good to Me. Meanwhile, the lyrics and storytelling hearken back to early Belle & Sebastian, or mid-career Mountain Goats.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Womack, discussing the endeavor. This is what he said about the record they self-released in October.
When did you begin writing the material for Adventure?
Unofficially, songwriting started while I was still in the band Hollywood Gossip. As a group, we were writing more straight-ahead, 4:4 rock songs, and I wanted to keep a few of the softer, swing-beat love songs for myself. “Diving Board” and “Fire Safety” were actually the first Adventure tracks I wrote.
When Hollywood Gossip broke up, I got the idea to do an album of self-portraits – real and fictionalized/future accounts of myself at various years. I spent a week demoing ideas with Shawn, some of which worked, and some of which didn’t. At the time, I thought there was something incredibly funny about the arrogance involved in doing an album about myself. As we left more and more tracks on the cutting-room floor, the joke wasn’t funny anymore. But a couple tracks – “the Island” (Self-Portrait at 24) and “Chinese Tobacco” (Self-Portrait at 65) survived in their original form.
The rest were written just before, or just after, my move to Brooklyn in the Spring of 2012.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
We attempted to record “Fire Safety” on two separate occasions before we got it to groove properly. We were listening to the Faces a lot during that session, especially “Ooh La La.” You can hear it in the lead guitar line, which took a full day to track. In the end, the song sounds breezy and somewhat effortless, but getting there was deceptively difficult.
Which of the songs on the LP is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Pictures Taken Out of Airplanes” was originally called “Cartwheeling,” also known as “Self Portrait at 21.” It was a song about star-crossed lovers. The instruments sounded amazing, but the vocal melody wasn’t clicking. I rewrote the song on a plane, after leaving one of our recording sessions in Austin. The flights had been draining on me, and I realized that they weren’t entirely sustainable.
I’m really happy with the new lyrics. From a thematic perspective, “Pictures” really ties together the two halves of the record, the aspirational start and the more reflective songs afterward.
With you and Shawn living in different parts of the country, how do you write songs together? Do you two ever play out?
So far, we’ve really been more of a music recording project than a band. We have this Little Cinema sound that we’re trying to bring to life in tape. Typically, I write and demo songs on guitar in my Prospect Heights apartment, and send the recordings to Shawn. He translates them into full songs, building parts and instrumentation.
We’ve talked a lot about playing out, and the consensus is that I should build a Brooklyn version of the band. Shawn’s putting out a new Lovely Sparrows album in 2015, and I think it’s going to (rightly) take up a lot of his time. It’s titled Shake the Shadow, and it sounds amazing. So I think he should concentrate on making that a really big release.
We’ll still be recording together – we’re actually halfway through the Adventure follow-up, tentatively titled Safety. And I’ve been working on a solo set with most of the Adventure tracks, and a few acoustic songs from the same period.
Your video for “Birdwatchers of the World, Unite!” is exceptional! How did you come up with the idea for it?
Thanks! We’re pretty floored by how well it turned out. The original idea came out of the delirium induced during mixing sessions, where you’re basically confined to a tiny room for days at a time. I joked that the video for “Birdwatchers of the World, Unite!” would be from the girl’s perspective, with the birds played by people. We imagined them as Brooklyn hipsters, smoking cigarettes and fixing bikes.
I never thought it’d get off the ground until I met my girlfriend, Dawn Schwartz, who’s a documentary film producer. She pushed me to make the video. She also put together an amazing crew, and managed the shoot.
The director/cinematographer, Lucas Smith, wanted to find more meaning in the piece, so we changed the bird characters to be more reflective of our heroine’s inner thoughts. There are a lot of layers to what’s going on in the video, which means it works on several levels. I still get a kick out of the fact that the birds are played by people. I laugh when they end up in a bird bar. It’s all fantastic.
(Visit the band here: https://www.facebook.com/littlecinemamusic.)