A jaunt around NYC’s Other Music with The Ludlow Thieves’ Dan Teicher

A short while back I went record-shopping with Dan Teicher, guitarist-producer-founder of pop-rock-plus-strings band The Ludlow Thieves. We decided to hit up Other Music, a high-end music store in Manhattan’s NoHo area.

The store takes vinyl seriously, selling brand-new records (amongst other items) of masterwork albums from yesteryear and yesterday, at exorbitant prices. Well, exorbitant for us vinyl enthusiasts whose sense of pricing halted its modernization when our musical taste did—i.e. 1994. Still, Other Music deserves kudos for matching lofty price tags with lofty musical principles, offering up a vinyl selection that Rob of High Fidelity could, theoretically, be proud of.

Teicher is quite into vinyl and quite into music history, which is evident in both his solo visual media scoring and the collective musical journey of his burgeoning band The Ludlow Thieves. He is the guitar guy and producer for the group—a band that has headlined the major venues in New York City.

The Thieves, an ensemble-first band that counts two vocalists and a violinist amongst its members, recently released their EP “Skyline” and will be celebrating yet another EP release entitled “Sing Me Back” this Friday with a performance at Webster Hall.

But there is more too—much more!—on the way. Teicher, like many of us, sees both the upsides and downsides of the digital age and its effects on musical consumption. Amidst our jaunt around Other Music, these up and downsides were discussed, as were the Thieves’ main influences, why modern-day listeners prefer intro-less songs, and what to do when your parents neglect to properly care for their own vinyl collections—the bastards.

Dan Teicher: I assume you must be a vinyl nut.

Well yes, but I don’t buy as many new records as I would like to—only because, look at these prices. Thirty dollars for one album? Like, what?!

It’s so cool to have vinyl. But—it’s hard to justify getting a new album unless you’re trying to seriously support a new band. My record player’s a shitty little record player too. It’s like a classic old-school player, and I’m trying to figure out a way to involve it in my studio set-up to get a better sound quality out of it. I’d almost rather listen to a CD if I’m going to support a band because for me and my audio set-up, a CD would have better sound quality. However, I’m all about raiding the racks for one-dollar used records. But it doesn’t look like they have too many of those here…

Yeah, this is pretty high-end. Which in theory is super cool—taking vinyl seriously. How did your band, The Ludlow Thieves, get started?

Well, I started performing under the name Ludlow Thieves by myself. I recorded something which will never see the light of day that I sang on. About two weeks after I recorded it, I listened to it with fresh ears and was like “Oh, I should not be singing at all.”

I tend to like guitarists’ voices though, even when they’re not typical singers, like when Keith Richards sings.

You like when Keith sings? Well, you know what—when we get to that Rolling Stones point, when we all go do our solo albums, maybe I’ll reconsider.

Do you like his Winos stuff?

Oh yeah! He’s got a new one coming out too. I haven’t listened to the new single. For our band’s vocal set-up though, I found Danny Musengo. He was in another group at the time and there was a long flirtation during which we’d get together and talk about the music. The original idea was that we’d just put his vocals on top of what I’d already recorded. But because I wanted to make sure we could take it as far as we could go, to make sure we could write together, we started to do that. Cut to about two years ago, it was like, “Okay, now we have a band. “

A big band.

Yes, now, but when we first started performing it was Danny, myself, our original drummer Walker, and we played with a string quartet. That was really hard to do live, because when the drummer was bashing and the strings were trying to keep themselves in tune, it just never found its flow. So we ended up getting keys and violin, and that sort of filled in the gaps.

We have this amazing keys player, Isamu McGregor, who covers the bass with his left hand. And then my fiancée, our singer Laura Martin… well, when she joined the band we had just started dating. We went to a friend’s birthday party and it was karaoke and her friend was like “Sing a song!” Everybody was having fun, getting drunk, and when Laura started to sing the whole room just fell silent. And I was like… uh… we’re recording right now, do you want to come record with us? So, like third date, in the studio. Now it’s a six-piece. So really in the last year and a half, it’s been “This is the band, and now we’re cooking.”

And your EP is coming out soon?

Yes, so we have this attic full of stuff and we have a whole new album that’s kind of a step forward for our sound, a bit more modern. But we realized that we had never released the old stuff, which we’re now releasing as three EPs—we have two out of three out.

And you’re playing in New Orleans, right?

Yeah, we’re playing Voodoo Fest. And we have a new album that’s about 60% done, and we’re plotting what to do when we get there.

Is it going to be available on vinyl?

Good question, good question. If we can afford to get it together…

Will it cost thirty dollars?

Well, that’s the thing! If we could print it up and sell it for a reasonable price. These prices just crush me. But I get it, I get it if new vinyl is your thing.

Collecting, owning, having the album in your hands. Well, I do miss the liner notes experience. When I use Spotify or iTunes, there’s none of that.

Because we grew up with that experience, through CDs. What I miss most about buying an album is—I would spend hours in a place like this, thinking “I have fifteen dollars to spend, I’ve been saving up for weeks. What’s the one album I can get?”

Right, only picking one. It was an important investment all around.

I’d have an armful of records by the end of it and would go over to a corner of the store and read song titles and deliberate. Then you were committed to an album. Even if you didn’t like it the first time you listened to it, there was no throwing it out. There was a stubborn “I’m going to like this!”

Like with the new Blake Mills album. He’s an amazing musician, one of the best modern guitar players out there. He’s a great slide player, producer, he produced the new Alabama Shakes album. I got his new album and was a bit “Aaah… not what I was expecting,” after an initial listen. I left it on my phone though—usually I delete albums when that happens, but I ended up going back a couple of times to relisten, and the album opened up for me. Now I can’t stop listening to it.

I went into it with expectations and now I love it for what it is. It has a bit of a Randy Newman vibe. The same thing happened with Radiohead when I first heard them—I didn’t think they were for me. But at one moment the floodgates opened for me and I was all “this is genius.” Nowadays though, it’s kind of like a one-listen culture.

Do you worry about that with your own work?

(pauses) Hmmm… well…

Don’t. Just don’t think about it.

Well, now I am! Thanks. (Laughs) No. Well I actually heard a scary thing from a producer buddy of mine recently. Now there’s intricate data on all sorts of shit that you didn’t know you needed data on even, didn’t know you cared about. But there was a report that found that songs that begin with vocal right away, people listen to like 75% longer or something than songs that have long intros. And I’m a total intro guy! “Stairway,” great intro, don’t cut that down!

But now it’s in the culture. Apparently the psychology behind it is that people subconsciously don’t want to interrupt someone. Like with a vocal line right away, the listener would hesitate to skip the track, not wanting to be rude. I don’t know for sure if that’s true, but I heard it, and I like it, so I’m holding onto it.

How do you feel about composing your own instrumental work, your film scores, versus composing for the band? Do you score all of the band’s compositions?

I do a lot of them, but it’s gotten way more collaborative now. I produce everything and I do the boatload share of the writing, but it has to go through the lens of everyone else. Both singers have to feel comfortable with the melodies and lyrics. On our last EP we had a song solely written by our lead singer. There are so many amazing musicians in the band so it would be such a waste to not get their input.

My favorite part is the songwriting process. And then on the film stuff, that’s just different colors. You know, a band has to kind of—I like songs, and the soundscape thing that I also like, I get to put that into film work.

Do you have a favorite film score?

I’m a big melody guy, so you can’t go wrong with the classic John Williams. And there’s the guy that did the scores for Brokeback Mountain, 21 Grams, and Babel—Gustavo Santaolalla, I think he’s got a really unique touch. I feel like his approach is a little more rock ‘n’ roll. I also think Jonny Greenwood is crushing it, doing such amazing things. He did the music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s films There Will Be Blood and The Master. He didn’t write a straight-up score for TWBB but for The Master he wrote to picture. Randy Newman is also an amazing film scorer, he does amazing things, and Thomas Newman, his brother. I could go on and on. What kind of stuff do you listen to?

I tend to gravitate toward ’60s, ’70s and ’80s rock-pop.

Right in that sweet spot, that’s what I tend to love to.

I was made fun of for a long time by my friends for not liking anything released after REM’s Monster album in 1994, but I’m trying to get more involved now.

So this record, The Band, is right up your alley?

Oh yeah, definitely.

Well, the first Ludlow Thieves strings session was at Levon Helm’s house while he was still alive.

What?! That’s so cool.

He came up while we were recording—you could die from a high like this—we were doing a 24-hour session, strings players going and going. So he comes up, in cut-off jean shorts, and says “What are you guys recording up here? It is beautiful!” And I was like, done—done! Career over.

That’s fantastic. What would you buy here at Other Music now, if you were to buy?

Everything. Every single thing. When I was a kid, it was my dream to own every single piece of music that was ever recorded.

Well, now you can! The future has happened.

That’s the thing! At the time I don’t think I realized how much music there was. I remember when CD burners came out, I was like “I’m good!” Now I kind of have it in my pocket, though the sound quality is shitty. For an album buyer, I think you’ve got to start with owning all of the Beatles’ records, right?

That’s the first step. And the Beach Boys—melody groups.

And the Beach Boys, yes. Those three groups—The Band, The Beatles, and the Beach Boys—are probably The Ludlow Thieves’ main musical influences, out of the classics. And I have to say Fleetwood Mac too.

I love Fleetwood Mac. Now which incarnation are we talking about though, pre-Stevie Nicks? Or…?

Good question. I’d have to say with Stevie Nicks.

Great pop-melody writing.

Exactly. Another tough thing about vinyl—I just went to my parents’ house…

Do they have their collection still?

They do and they gave it to me—but they didn’t keep the records in good condition, the bastards. Also being back home, I found a huge amount of CDs that I had collected over the years. And the idea of rebuying them on record for my shitty record player—I’ve got to upgrade my record player first. That’s where the money’s got to go, then I can raid all the racks.

Which is definitely more of a thing now. In the last five to ten years, more and more younger people have been collecting new records.

I’ve been doing some research and it looks like Macintosh is the system to get, but it’s super expensive. So when our band makes it…

That’s the first thing you’re going to buy. No cars, just the record player.

Exactly. I don’t need a car, I’m in the city. Just a record player. Wilco, our band is definitely influenced by them, though they get a bit more experimental. I’d like to get more experimental. Jack White we like too.

Ooh I love this guy, Ryley Walker—do you know him? He’s got a jazzy, guitar-based, almost Van Morrison thing going on.

Wait a minute…yes, a buddy of mine has that record and told me all about it. For us I think that our newer stuff is a little more modern-sounding, a little more trying to take advantage of having the female voice.

That’s a great dynamic, the male-female vocal thing.

Yeah. Oh and The National certainly instrumentally speaking, and production-wise. Sigur Ros is a huge influence on me personally.

Like the driving strings sort of sound?

Yes. We have a song called “To Travel,” and when we finished recording it and were listening to the mixes, I could really hear the influence. For me too, I love when you can hear the influences of composers like Debussy and Copland, and I’d love for that to be heard in our work as well. We’ve got a little more of LCD Soundsystem in our new stuff.

Do you like this chick, Jessica Pratt? She’s so great, she played at Le Poisson Rouge with Ryley Walker recently.

Yeah, I really do. I heard some more recent singles that she released. She’s got great instrumentation.

Yes, that whole freak-folk thing, though I’m really not a fan of that genre term.

You know what too—being here in this record store and looking at albums—it’s just so great seeing covers. Seeing the cover image larger, and more clear, you realize that so much goes into this album.

Exactly, it’s part of the work of art… well, you guys know.

Yeah! All of our album covers are painted by Danny, he does all that himself.

That’s awesome. Yeah does he, Danny, does he like Rod Stewart? You can kind of hear that…

He does.

Are you guys into U2 at all? I heard a bit of that sound in your recent work, in the guitar playing.

I like U2. Danny does not.

Ah, okay. Wait, why?!

I think that it’s a little commercial for him. But you can’t really argue with the songwriting. I like Daniel Lanois, who’s been their producer for some big albums.

Yeah, he did Dylan’s album.

Oh Mercy, which is one of my favorites.

I love that record too. Did you read Chronicles Volume One?

Oh yeah! I actually wrote an essay in college on that book.

Did you start out as a classical player when you were younger?

No, I was a rock guy and really into guitar playing. I wanted to become the best guitar player in the world and determined that I would need all of the tools in the tool belt to do it. So I took a music theory class in high school and got sort of introduced there. My dad always had classical music playing at home, but I wasn’t that into it. The more I discovered, the more I became interested in classical, and then in college I majored in Classical Music Composition.

Even then though, I was the rock kid in the classical music class…

The Ludlow Thieves brand new EP, “Sing Me Back” arrives in stores on December 18th. The band plays The Marlin Room (Webster Hall) this Friday, December 11. Tickets are here.

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