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Silversun Pickups: Heroes of the Day

Originally published in Guitar World, July 2009

Silversun Pickups discuss their new album, Swoon, and playing with Metallica.

"Every time we get crazier and more psychotic with our sound, it also gives us an opportunity to get quieter,” says Silversun pickups guitarist and frontman Brian Aubert. He is explaining the expansive quality of the band’s new album, Swoon. The third disc from the Silversun Pickups (following up on 2005’s Pikul EP and the ’06 debut album Carnavas), Swoon is by far the band’s most fully realized recording. Swirling layers of beautiful guitar noise wrap themselves around Aubert’s well-wrought song structures and haunted, high-pitched vocals. The guitars blend with keyboardist Joe Lester’s icy textures so effortlessly that it’s hard to tell where one instrument leaves off and the other begins.

“We like it that way,” Aubert says. “I don’t like to have attention called to any of the playing. It’s all working for the song and it’s not about who’s playing what or ‘look how cool that guitar lick is.’ ”

The whole moody racket is pinioned by the terse rhythms of drummer Christopher Guanlao and bassist Nikki Monninger. “I’m really happy with my bass sound on this album,” Monninger says. “It can be hard to make a bass cut through all those layers of guitar, but our producer, Dave Cooley, did a great job.”

Aubert and Monninger launched the Silversun Pickups circa 2000. The band evolved out of casual sessions with friends in L.A.’s bohemian hipster Silverlake district. The Silversun Pickups take a major cue from the grainy, sculpted guitar work of the Nineties’ shoegaze bands. Aubert and company are most often compared with Smashing Pumpkins, but they feel a closer affinity to My Bloody Valentine.

“The day we finished tracking guitars for the new album, My Bloody Valentine were playing in Los Angeles,” Aubert says. “We went to hear them, and it was, like, ‘Wow, we suck!’ ”

Legions of Silversun Pickups fans would disagree. And while he never wanted to become a six-string icon, Aubert had no choice after the band’s song “Lazy Eye” was chosen for inclusion in Guitar Hero. Songs from Swoon will also be featured in a forthcoming edition of Guitar Hero. And to celebrate that fact, the Silversun Pickups recently played a show with fellow Guitar Heroes Metallica at SXSW. Despite obvious stylistic differences, the Pickups thoroughly rocked Metallica’s hardcore metal crowd.

“Who would’ve thought?” Aubert marvels. “We’d never played a show in our lives where people were head banging.”