The Intelligence is a strange band. The brainchild of Seattle’s prolific Lars Finberg (who also plays in A Frames and The Dipers) they have existed in some form or another since early 2000 with more changes to their lineup than would seem mathematically possible. The weird thing about the band, beyond the revolving door of members, is that their recorded output and their live show are two completely different beasts. People say that about a lot of bands, but with The Intelligence there’s no question about it - if you’ve only heard them on record, you’re not getting the full picture. For starters, on a lot of their records it’s only Lars who’s playing, instead of a full band. And most importantly, there’s no keyboard when they play live. A song like “The World is a Drag”, which on record comes off as a completely demented sounding lounge song, sounds more like an atom bomb live with the driving bass line and Lars’ loud as fuck twelve-string guitar playing. Both versions are great in their own way, but it’s two different bands.
The current version of The Intelligence features Lars on vocals and guitar, Matthew Ford (from The Pyramids and The Factums) on drums, Lee Reader on bass, and Nicholas Brawley on guitar, both formerly of The Popular Shapes. While this lineup has been around for over a year, the band is still up to its old tricks as their new split single with the Coachwhips features a new lineup once again. I sat down with Lars and Lee for dinner before they played a frantic set with yet another slightly altered lineup as Nicolas couldn’t make it due to the fact that he lives in San Francisco. The Intelligence’s second full length ‘Icky Baby’ will be out in August on In the Red Records, and will be preceeded by 'Flight of the Donkeys' a four song 12".
TB: The Dragnet website has a lot on the history of all of your bands, but do you mind giving me a quick overview of how all of this started?
Lars: They (Erin Sullivan and Min Yee) were called Bend Sinister, and their drummer quit after a tour and they asked if I’d mess around with them and I said sure, which became the A Frames. We got along really well and hung out all the time and we just hit it off. And around then I was getting sick of having bands break up over one person leaving so I started four-tracking by myself for fun and came up with some songs that I liked for The Intelligence ‘Girlfriends and Boyfriends’ single. I put that out, and this band I really liked, Double Fudge, those two guys liked it, so I asked them to play and they did. It kind of didn’t work out with one of them, and then with both of them. I always intended for it to be a “real” band – I feel like it is now – but I didn’t want to have to change the fucking name and not be able to play songs that you liked just because some bass player was a jerk or the drummer fucked around with someone’s girlfriend. (laughs)
TB: How about Toy Train? Who was that?
Lars: That was the band I did right before the Intelligence. It was me and this girl Shannon. She played drums and I played this huge fucking Wurlitzer. I played guitar and the Wurlitzer at the same time. It had these bass notes on it, so I’d just sit on a chair and play the bass lines with my feet. That was really fun, for a while. We were on a comp 7”.
TB: How many Intelligence lineups have their been?
Lars: Well, I know that Min was bass player #1 and #6. And then you (Lee) were just after him, so at least seven bass players. Seven bass players, two drummers and three guitar players.
TB: Why the high turnover? Is it people quitting or being fired?
Lars: It’s both. Min quit, both times. (laughs) I think we’ve only let two people go...three?
Lee: Let them go? (laughs)
TB: What does it take to be “let go”?
Lars: If it stops being fun. Pretty much. There was maybe one person..it’s sort of different reasons...I don’t know...I’d hate for anyone to read this and think...because I still get along with everybody who’s ever been in it. It just kind of stops working out sometimes. A lot of people that were in it were in multiple bands, so it gets busy for people. Dean was in it the longest, I think, he was just sick of us being super lazy. That’s what he said. (laughs)
TB: Lee, how long have you been in the band for?
Lee: We did our first tour a year ago. It just overlapped with our old band, The Popular Shapes, and this was more fun.
TB: Why did The Popular Shapes call it a day?
Lee: Nicolas was moving and it took a bunch of practice to make that band work.
TB: Just because the songs were pretty complex?
Lars: You guys said it used to take forever to write songs.
Lee: Yeah, sometimes it really would. And sometimes we weren’t as good as the songs were. (laughs) We couldn’t play the songs we had written. It just took a lot of effort and then it was the perfect time to break up. Plus, our tour was good but at the end we got stranded in South Dakota and we left a bunch of shit in our van when it broke down. We were just like, let’s break up, fuck it.
TB: So, Lars, do you write all of the songs in the band?
Lars: For the most part, yeah, but I’m super into getting other input. With some of the earlier people it didn’t work out that much, but this is the most…
Lars: Yeah. The drummer’s always kind of done his own thing. I’ll be like “this is a punk song” and everybody can make up their own part if they want. There’s very rarely been some part that someone made up where I have to go “I was thinking more like this”. I’d rather make it like a normal band, where I just have a riff and the singing and you go from there.
TB: How much thought do you put into your lyrics? Are they important to you, or just an afterthought?
Lars: I think I work on them fairly hard. They make sense to me and are about stuff that is important to me. Like how much time you have to get laid in Los Angeles if you are the number one band on Headbangers Ball with crooked baseball hats, according to Woodhouse. I guess I just steal all the lyrics from what other people say so it's their fault if they're terrible.
TB: Who’s played on all of the Intelligence records, so far?
Lars: There’s a seven inch (on S-S) that has the dude from the Shins on it, and Erin and Dean, the first drummer. The new seven inch has Chris Woodhouse, from FM Knives, playing drums on it and Min playing. But “Boredom and Terror”, the first seven inch, and one of the songs off the split (with Popular Shapes) was just me. And with the songwriting, it’s just that I like recording at home and it’s easier for me to make up songs while I’m recording them. It’s like you go to the next instrument and say “what’s this gonna be” rather than sitting there and writing a complete song. If I wrote the whole thing, it’s just because I recorded it all at home.
TB: Do you mind telling me about how the “Boredom and Terror” album was recorded?
Lars: Most of it was recorded at home. It was going to be a double record at first, and then the guy from Omnibus was like “Well, what do you think about just putting the best stuff on there?” and I was like “Yeah, that’s probably a better idea.” (laughs) All the stuff from the Narnack bonus disc was originally going to be on there. I think it would have taken away from it. That’s all stuff that I did at home or at the practice space over a couple of years, and I just put together the stuff I liked the best.
TB: It does sound like two different albums though. Was that a conscious decision?
Lars: What do you mean?
TB: The bonus disc sounds more guitar heavy and more like the live band, I’d say.
Lars: I think I initially picked the more weird keyboard stuff. I like the “Boredom and Terror” record better than the bonus thing. But people were going “oh, I love ‘Girlfriends and Boyfriends’, but I hate that keyboard shit” and I went “well, I can either try and be in this rock thing or I can make the first album kind of alienating and then I can do whatever I want after that”. ‘Icky Baby’ is full of guitar and has live drums and is real rock.
TB: Do you hear that a lot though? That the live show sounds a lot different than the record?
Lars: Yeah, totally, it always has. It’s a pain in the ass to get all the keyboards in there. If I bring the keyboard to practice we’ll only learn one song and I’m like “just leave it, I don’t want to deal with it.” You’ve seen us. We just play all the keyboard parts on guitar.
TB: Are you still playing songs from all eras of The Intelligence?
Lee: Yeah, we play new stuff, old stuff, whatever. We’re into digging out the archives and figuring out some weird song and finding out it sucks, but we’ll play it anyway. (laughs)
TB: Was the upcoming full length recorded with the current lineup?
Lars: More than half of it is with the band, but some of it I did by myself.
TB: Do you prefer recording on your own or with a full band?
Lars: I like it better with a full band, but if you’re doing it yourself it’s easier. I got a little stressed out on this one, just because we had to mix it a whole bunch. I didn’t have as much control over the sounds, dealing with somebody else.
TB: Where did you guys record it?
Lars: In Matthew’s basement.
TB: Did you just record it yourself?
Lars: This guy Dan Strack, who plays in The Factums with Matthew, has a little studio. He recorded it and we mixed it with him, and Weasel Walter mastered it and did an awesome job.
TB: Why the title, “Icky Baby”?
Lars: It’s a nickname for Nicolas, I guess?
Lee: Yeah, sort of. I don’t know. It’s stupid. (laughs) We just couldn’t stop saying it.
Lars: I just thought it sounded great. It’s such a fucked up combination. “Icky” and “baby” just don’t seem like they go together and it was cracking me up. And Nicolas does these cool, John Cale type home recordings and he was going to call his tape of that “Icky Baby” and I just kept bugging him saying “Dude, you gotta let us call our record that” and he finally caved in.
Lee: I don’t think he wanted “Icky Baby” for his own thing.
Lars: Man, I had to ask him forever! Unless he was fucking with me and didn’t give a shit. (laughs)
TB: Do you find it tough being a band with one member living in San Francisco?
Lee: It’s worked out pretty well.
Lars: We all love that guy and he has a good time so we’re just going to do it this way as long as it works out. We’ll see tonight, but we can play as a three piece if we want to. He’s so fun to play with and he learns super fast. You’ve heard the Popular Shapes stuff. It just adds this whole other layer of guitar shit that I would never have been able to come up with that I just think sounds really cool. He comes up every couple of months to play a show and we'll practice a day or two and maybe learn some stuff. The songs are pretty simple so it's pretty easy. It's a shame we can't play together all the time and we miss him but he's a lot happier there so that's cool. We also try to go down there to play pretty often. And he writes his own stuff. I really love the stuff he did on ‘Icky Baby’. I love playing with him and that makes the distance stuff easier.
TB: How did the Intelligence end up on In the Red?
Lee: He just asked us, right?
Lars: Yeah, I met Larry on an A Frames trip in L.A. and he just introduced himself. Larry’s great. I consider him a total friend. There had been some sort of internet bullshit rumor thing before, but down there we all made up and it was all good and we spent the night over there and he just said he’d put out any of our bands, anything that we did. And I felt that Narnack didn’t really care about us after they signed The Fall. Or maybe just having the vinyl only thing was hard for them to sell, but I didn’t feel there was a lot of interest, and they weren’t asking me about the next record or anything. I just think Larry’s great. He knows what he’s doing. It’s a good spot for us because it’s really in that scene where I like tons of stuff on In the Red.
TB: That Narnack label seems pretty weak, with the exception of a few records.
Lars: Most of the stuff I don’t care for, but the people are really awesome. They’ve flown us out to New York a couple of times and we got to play with The Fall and I love hanging out with the guy. He’s super nice, but I think he’s just so busy and we wanted someone who took more of an interest in us.
TB: How was playing with The Fall?
Lee: It was fucking surreal.
TB: Did you meet them?
Lee: Kind of.
Lars: (laughs) I sat next to that dude (Mark E. Smith) after he had just done a giant plate of drugs. I was sitting this close to him but what are you going to say to that guy. He’s just gonna think you’re a fucking idiot. “'Palace of Swords', dude, that’s my favorite one”. (laughs) At one point after I was really drunk, he came walking down this hall and I was slumped in the corner. I was like “Now’s my chance, I’m gonna say something.” He just smiled at me, picked me up and moved me aside and kept going. You could have done anything to me at that point.
Lee: He avoided it. He’s a pro at that – avoiding talking to people.
TB: Are there any plans for future recordings or releases after "Icky Baby"? How about tour plans?
Lars: Yeah, we're writing some stuff right now and will hopefully get to record the next LP sometime after the fall, I would hope, hopefully with Woodhouse if it works out, though I think Dan did a great job on the new one and I want to record more with him too. I'll do stuff by myself along the way I'm sure too. There's a couple ‘Icky Baby’ leftovers too if someone wants to do a single or something. Touring we haven't really worked out yet. We'd love to go to Europe but need to find a good booker/driver. We'd like to maybe do a west coast thing in late summer or fall. Otherwise we're doing a 3 day weekend type thing to San Francisco, Sacramento and Davis in June.
TB: Does it bother you that most times people talk about the Intelligence the A Frames are also mentioned?
Lee: It brings people to the shows!
Lars: It gets boring answering A Frames questions in an Intelligence interview.
TB: (nervous laughter)
Lars: Yours are not like that, but with other people...I don’t know. I play drums in that band and The Intelligence has been put more on whatever map we’re on from whatever acclaim the A Frames have, so...
Lee: I think it’s cool.
Lars: Starting out, it kind of just felt that we were some crappy b-team band, but the more stuff that we do, it’s...whatever.
TB: Is it tough to balance two bands that are getting a little bit more exposure?
Lars: No, because both bands are so lazy. (laughs)
Lee: We don’t do anything. (laughs)
Lars: We don’t play all the time and the A Frames don’t practice very much. I mean we hang out more than we practice. There’s never been anything that’s really conflicted. And I guess since I’m in both of them I can kind of choose which one to do, but those guys are all cool and they’ve been in The Intelligence at different times too. It’s easy.
TB: And how do The Dipers play a role in all of this?
Lars: That started just to take a break from both bands. We did The Dipers because we wanted to play with Dean. Dean, Erin and I were hanging out a lot then and we just wanted to do something more laid back than either of the other bands, that wasn’t taken as seriously. The chemistry just really worked. And Erin and I really wanted to write together.
TB: Do you guys write songs specifically for The Dipers or are they just songs that don’t work for The Intelligence or A Frames?
Lars: Yeah, they’re written specifically for The Dipers.
TB: Are The Dipers a “real” band?
Lars: Not at all. We did a tour that just wasn’t that fun when we went to record that record. A bunch of shows fell through and we just sat around in Sacramento for days. We got sick of each other and came home and were just, like, “fuck that”. We took a huge break and didn’t play for a year. Once and a while we’ll just say that it sounds like fun, and it usually is. We played in San Francisco about a year ago, so we wrote a few more songs just so we’d have more than seven to play. I hope we get to do another record, or at least do a last single but I don’t know.
TB: Didn’t you just record a new Dipers song?
Lars: Yeah. Erin had to leave because his girlfriend had to go to the emergency room when we were recording the A Frames record. We all went out for dinner and Woodhouse just loves to record and we love doing stuff with him so he was like “well, all the shit’s set up” so we went down there and did one Intelligence song that Min had already known and we showed it to Chris real fast and we just made up two on the spot. That’s what’s on the Coachwhips split. And then Erin came back because everything was OK, so we did a Dipers song with Chris playing drums. I wanted to put that song on the split, because it fits in there really well but we sort of want to save it for a Dipers thing, because I don’t know how many more songs we’ll write. Right now we have about four songs sitting there.
TB: And how about the Un-Natural Helpers?
Lars: Un-Natural Helpers is Dean Whitmore from Double Fudge’s problem. It was really fun. After Double Fudge broke up he was still writing songs and I thought they were great and wanted to play them and so did Jed, who was also playing in The Intelligence then. We recorded maybe six or seven songs. One is on the Babyhead comp. I wish Dean would have put out the whole thing, or someone would. I guess he just kinda lost interest in it. Or maybe after The Intelligence fistfight he wanted to play with other people. It was fun and I thought it was better than the Intelligence at the time.
TB: (food arrives…we end up talking about The Black Lips)
Lars: We just played with them in Texas (at SXSW). I don’t know who it was – their drummer, maybe – but it was this super packed living room and he was into it, but he was also grabbing my drums and shit and people were grabbing him and pulling him away. Then this little hand would come creeping up through the crowd and grab the kick drum and start pulling it away from me. I got sick of it after a while so I just started to smack his knuckles with my sticks as hard as I could and he didn’t even care! (laughs) It was just a crazy house party. At one point I noticed there was no guitar. I look over and Erin’s like (makes a face with an incredulous look) and some girl is holding Erin’s guitar and some dude is wrapped around his legs. Erin just grabs hold of the guy’s hair to pull him up and rips out this huge tuft of his hair. (laughs) Erin just says “what have I done?” (laughs) It was fucking awesome. The Hospitals ended up playing on the porch. It was late and around 3:30 in the morning but nobody cared at all.
TB: How did you find the official part of SXSW?
Lars: Lame. (laughs) I mean everybody looked exactly the same. It was weird. A bunch of perfect messy hair, white belts and cop glasses and when you see that many people like that it becomes this fucked up uniform. And I thought I was into something getting slip on Vans! (laughs) And bands playing everywhere! We walked down the street with The Hospitals and it was hilarious. Every single place was a gigantic empty bar with a band rockin’ their hearts out.
TB: How many shows did you end up playing there?
Lars: Two A Frames – the Sub Pop one and that house party – and The Dipers played in the middle of the day at Beerland with the Coachwhips.
TB: How was that?
Lars: It was fun watching the Coachwhips.
Lee: Oh yeah, you told me about that.
Lars: We sucked. We borrowed a bunch of equipment and the people didn’t really know about it. And they were all pissed off and it was fucking awful gear. The Dipers should just be really drunk and loud. We were definitely drunk (laughs) but quiet. I ended up turning every knob all the way up on the bass amp and this chick got all pissed.
TB: So, Lars, when you started playing in all these bands, four or five years ago, are you now kind of surprised that they’re still going in some form?
Lars: I guess so. With my first experiences with bands, I was a lot younger, and they were always breaking up. When you get older, you sort of realize that you don’t have to take everything so seriously and nothing really matters. And Erin and Min, being older, kind of made me grow up a little bit more. I mean, as long as we’re friends, we’ll probably be doing the band stuff. It’s just a hobby. A fun thing to do. I’m really lucky. When we started we did Dragnet because we didn’t want to shop the record around. I mean Singles Going Steady (local Seattle store) didn’t even want it.
TB: Do all of you guys do the label?
Lars: I paid for the Intelligence. Erin paid for the first A Frames. Min paid for The Vulvettes. We don’t really do anything. (laughs)
TB: Are you surprised now to see some of those records selling for big bucks on ebay?
Lars: Yeah, totally. I used to carry that Intelligence single around in my bag before the covers were done and give them away to people at shows and they wouldn’t want them. So to see that thing get some money is really funny. It never occurred to us at that time that that would ever be worth something. Min doesn’t even have a Neutron Bomb single.
TB: I think I got mine at Fallout.
Lee: Yeah, I got mine at Fallout before I even knew these guys. I used to go see them in empty fucking rooms. They had white suits with blood splattered on them, and they were covering X. Watching them reminded me of Repo Man.
TB: Repo Man?
Lee: I don’t know why. (laughs)
TB: Lars, you have a five or six year old son?
Lars: He’s seven.
TB: What does he think of all your bands? Has he ever seen you play?
Lars: He saw us play a block party when he was a baby.
Lee: What did he think?
Lars: He fucking loved it! What do you think? (laughs)
TB: What does he think of your records?
Lars: I think he gets a little bit annoyed by music. He can tell when something playing is me, which I think is cool. He has a little drum set, which I used on “Boredom and Terror” and he likes geeking around on the harmonica and the accordion for like five minutes, but then he wants to play video games.
TB: Do you ever record him?
Lars: Yeah, he’s all over that bonus disc if you listen closely. All those little kid things.
TB: What’s he saying?
Lars: He says, “I took a good nap” at one point. On the first song on the bonus disc when it’s kind of crapping out at the end, it goes to the tom and it sounds all weird because he picked up the delay pedal and just laid it on the tom and I’m going “get out of here, I’m almost done!”. So it gets that weird sound and then at the end he picks up the mic and goes “I wonder how it works?” (laughs)
TB: How did the whole Seattle/Sacramento connection get started?
Lars: Bend Sinister played the radio station down there and there’s this really awesome girl, Sakura Sanders, who’s part of the S-S label.
TB: I didn’t actually know that that was a real person. I always thought that Scott (Soriano) just made that up. (laughs)
Lars: She was one of the real into it DJs down there that loved really weird stuff. She hit it off with Bend Sinister right away. She ended up sending Min home with a pile of records. Like “you’ve got to hear these records. Just take them and send them back after you’ve listened to them”. And she sent Min a Karate Party seven inch and that just blew us away and it’s still one of the raddest things I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard that thing a million times. That and the Australian X are two things that I could listen too any day. We just loved that and we were touring down there. Scott heard about us and set us up with a show and we got in contact with Chris and were like “it would be awesome if Karate Party could get back together,” because they were broken up. He said it was never going to happen but he called us about a week before we left and said “it’s funny, our wandering drummer,” - their drummer kind of went nuts and sold all his possessions and wanders the desert and shit. (laughs) Min saw him five years later and he looked like Jesus, wearing a huge white robe and a gigantic beard and was like “Hello, my son.” So they got back together for that show and that’s one of the top three shows I’ve ever seen. They were just incredible. Chris loves recording and he liked our band so we did those first singles with him and we love him. He gets all freaked out when we play. Seeing their scene and that it’s all – they call it these little groups of nerds and there’s a king nerd in each group, Soriano’s one of them, as is Woodhouse, and they have like 10 bands and the same 3 people are in all of them. We came back and were like...let’s do something just like that.
TB: You adopted their model?
Lars: Well we wanted to do other stuff, but we realized you can just trade and play bass and this can be a different band. Cool. Because you’re sick of doing the A Frames for a while or something. It’s all our best friends, and we like the way they play, so we just started doing that.
TB: Finally, any "make fun of Soriano" stories that you think people would enjoy?
Lars: I like Scott a lot. I like the way his eyes light up when he gets to make resin balls. I like that he has seriously sat on a stool next to me when the A Frames were recording and just shook his head side to side with a really disappointed look on his face staring at me the whole time and said stuff like “Hmm. That take was almost good enough to come out on Scooch Pooch." Another time we had been asking him for something a bunch of times, some paperwork or something and he said “Yeah, I know, I know, I have these piles, but after a while they stop working”, that I thought was funny so Woodhouse and I used it.
Dragnet Records: www.dragnetrecords.com
Interview by Jeff Greenback
B&W pics by Robbie Simon
Color pics by Connie Sewer
PREVIOUS PAGE HOME NEXT PAGE