Topiary Creatures - Sound In The Signals Interview

We recently had the opportunity to interview Bryson Schmidt of Topiary Creatures. We discussed the band’s origins, their new album, Tangible Problems, vinyl, and more. Check it out below.

First, thanks for the interview.

Heck yeah, it’s my pleasure!

I really like your band name; it’s really interesting. Can you tell us how you came up with Topiary Creatures and how you formed the band?

The band formation was pretty simple. I had been making records by myself under various monikers for years. But eventually, through playing in other bands, I found some pals who wanted to help play my songs live. Luckily that was right around the time I had written a record I was super proud of. Thus, “Tope Creach” was born!

The name Topiary Creatures is a reference from a 90’s computer game I played as a kid called Putt-Putt Saves The Zoo. There was this little easter egg in the game where a band of shrub animals sang and danced when you clicked on them, calling themselves “The Topiary Creatures.” On top of having some baked-in nostalgia, I liked that it sounded both scary and cute at the same time, which I think is reflective of our music as well. However, when I lobbed the name suggestion to my guitarist, Emery, he was like “Oh, nice, like from The Shining?” which is way cooler. So the on-record response is that it’s a reference to both Putt-Putt and The Shining.

Your new album ‘Tangible Problems’ just came out. What was the writing and recording process like for the album? How long did you work on it?

All-in-all, ‘Tangible Problems’ took about three years to make.

In August of 2019, all the songs were done. I was about to release my home-recordings as the official thing. But for a maximalist punk record with 100 layers on any given song, I thought it might be a shame for people to only ever hear my muddy demos of the thing. So I shot a hail Mary and emailed the tracks to my favorite producer, Chris Teti, from The World is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die. I wasn’t out campaigning to studios; he was the only person I sent them to. I didn’t think he’d respond. But I was wrong. He liked the tracks, so I flew out to Connecticut for a few weeks and retracked the whole LP at Silver Bullet Studios. It was a blast. And it turned out way better having collaborated with Chris.

One song I really like from the album is “Stranger”. Can you tell me about writing that song specifically? What was the inspiration for it?

Thanks! “Stranger” was originally a super lo-fi, underwater-sounding track that basically just looped that same syncopated drum and synth part for entire song. It was in demo purgatory for a long time, but one day I was like “Yo, what if I just wrote the most ridiculous drum groove over top of the chorus?” That ended up giving the song whole new life and cues for dynamics that lead it to where it ended up.

It’s also the only song on the album that’s directly about a breakup. Most of the time, breakup songs are essentially either like, “You suck, I hate you” or “I love you, please come back.” But in reality, it’s rarely that binary. So I wanted to write a song that was more detached from those emotions and expressed the objective, sensory strangeness of splitting up with someone. I think the hypnotic nature of the instrumental really helped to convey that as well.

You pressed a small batch of vinyl for the new album. Tell us more about this experience and the details of the pressing.

Yes! Vinyl is on its way and I’m so pumped about it. It’s a tiny batch of 100. I could’ve ordered more had I opted out of all the fancy details and inserts, but I was super fixated on this specific splatter color, which, of course, was more expensive. DM @TopiaryCreatures on IG if you want one. I’m just sending them out personally.

How important was it for you to have the album pressed on vinyl?

Very important. Not because I’m some elitist who thinks things sound better on vinyl (I’m not), but because there’s something so special about physically holding and owning a piece of music that you care about. And it’s so frustrating when you can’t. So many of my favorite records were just never pressed on vinyl. Like Pompeii’s ‘Nothing Happens for Reason.’ Or The Brave Little Abacus’ “Just Got Back…” I’d kill to have those records; even if I never listened to them. So my theory is that if you’re making innovative music that has a chance of really inspiring someone, vinyl should be an option.

Plus, a bunch of people have asked about it. And selfishly, I’d like a copy to mark the accomplishment.

You used a lot of neat promotional images of figures (snake, beehive, etc..), that looked like they were made from wood, to promote the album and combine them into the artwork. Who came up with that concept? 

I made those as well. The whole idea of ‘Tangible Problems’ is basically fantasizing having concrete things to blame your anxieties on. So I bought a bunch of little, physical wooden figurines that represented problems—weapons, dangerous animals, etc.—and arranged them for a photoshoot in which they were the central subject matter, clearly being adorned. I’m stoked on how it turned out. I think it captures the irony of the concept without being too on-the-nose.

I also have strong color associations with the songs, so I decided to shoot the figurines individually, on different colored backdrops to give each track its own album cover. So that’s where all those promotional images came from.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

I think that’s about it. Support your local scene. Check in on your friends. Call your mom. All that good stuff.

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