A tale of two cities
Post-emo duo the Animators are bicoastal, and one member plays the accordion. Hooked?
Most bands show up for rehearsal in a typical manner—car, bicycle or public transit. The Animators have to make flight reservations. “I’ve probably been to L.A. six times in the last year and a half, and Alex has been in New York about four,” said singer, guitarist, accordionist and pianist Devon Copley.
The Animators are a bicoastal band. Copley resides in New York City, while drummer, guitarist and technologist Alex Wong lives in Los Angeles—although Wong’s family now lives in Sacramento. Correctly tagged by critics as Simon and Garfunkel with laptops, or the Police meets Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Animators are the end result of two self-destructing emo bands. Wong was the drummer in the Din Petals, which released a self-titled CD in 1998. “It was a pretty classic, by-the-book story,” said Wong. “We put our album out, went on tour, and, when we got back from the tour, we broke up.”
The high point of Wong’s tenure with the Din Petals was opening for Megadeth at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater. “I thought it was one of my best experiences,” he recalled. “Imagine Red Rocks filled with people who look like [Megadeth’s] Dave Mustaine in cutoff jeans and black T-shirts. I remember we just got done with our fourth song, and this one lone apple coming down from the very back, and soon after, there was a hail of crap flying down onstage. Everyone else was dodging stuff, and I’m playing drums, just stuck there.”
Copley’s former group, the Pasties, didn’t crash and burn as gloriously as the Din Petals did, but Copley met Wong while putting Platonica—the Pasties’ only album—together when Wong was hired to design the cover art. They realized they had a lot in common musically and decided to start a project together. Foregoing the typical band lineup and using digital technology, Wong and Copley created a hybrid musical genre: part folk, part techno and part rock.
Wong, who runs Angelhouse Studios in Venice, Calif., with producer Andrew Kapner, is a master drummer with a degree in classical percussion from California Polytechnic State University and is a firm believer in digital recording. “It comes down to capturing performances,” he said, “and I just think that you can capture performances in digital way better. [Editing tape] is definitely an art form, but I just don’t know if it is a useful one anymore.”
In the band’s live performances, Wong plays acoustic guitar, and Copley plays accordion, but they enhance their sound by using Live, an audio sequencer that’s usually used by DJs and that can be played like an instrument. The Animators’ live shows also include the least popular instrument in modern music, the glockenspiel.
Wong and Copley write all their songs together, 50-50, in the fine tradition of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Wong and Copley’s songs are like hook-heavy short stories put to music. The Animators don’t sound like anybody else. “Some of the more directionally confessional lyrics tend to be mine, and the more impressionistic tend to be Alex’s,” said Copley. “We’re making the music that we want to be making, so we’re lucky to be in that position.”
The Animators are on a national tour to promote their debut CD, Home by Now. They decided to forego a record deal after much frustration about record executives’ attempts to pigeonhole their music. The album was recorded at Wong’s studio and was self-released by the band. The Animators have hit several Los Angeles clubs in addition to the International Pop Overthrow convention, the Nashville New Music Conference, New York’s CMJ Music Marathon and a United Service Organizations tour in Greenland.
Although Copley and Wong aren’t sure what city they are going to live in, they know they must make a decision soon. “It’s becoming clear that there are things about living in different cities that were beneficial, like having access to different connections and stuff like that,” said Copley. “But it’s clear that we’re going to have to live in the same city.”