Indie-pop husband-and-wife duo The Submarines opened for singer-songwriter Brett Dennen Thursday night at Club Sound in Salt Lake City. I got the opportunity to meet up with the pair after their energetic set to talk about their newest record, Love Notes/Letter Bombs, singer Blake Hazard’s upbeat attitude, how the band views success, and a recent mishap with a telephone pole.
City Weekly: You guys just got off a headlining tour and now you’re out opening for Brett Dennen. Is it weird to go from headlining a tour to being an opener?
Blake Hazard: It’s very different in a lot of ways, but I think it’s actually a lot easier because you just show up, set up and play. You strike your set and you’re sort of done. And you have this incredible opportunity to play for a group of people who might not even know who you are. I think some bands don’t really like the idea of playing for people who don’t know who they are, but we kind of like being the underdogs and winning people over. I enjoy that.
John Dragonetti: When we headline we can do longer sets…Now it’s like, “OK, we have 40 minutes to do nine or 10 songs.” That’s hard.
City Weekly: Your third album, Love Notes/Letter Bombs, was released on Record Store Day only a couple months ago. How do you feel that it’s been received thus far?
Blake: Awesome, so far.
John: It’s hard to tell. It feels good!
?Blake: It’s not like we’re the kind of band that a label throws a lot of money at for the release date, so there’s a giant amount of tension and it’s always a slow build. Our label kind of works that way too. It’s always felt kind of measured and kind of taken its own time. I think this record is doing the same, but it’s felt like there’s been more of a positive response this time so hopefully that will continue to build.
John: We just want more people to hear it.
City Weekly: Love Notes/Letter Bombs is my favorite of your three records. I can definitely see a progression with each album you record. Did you do things differently this time around?
John: Yeah we did a lot of things. We definitely wanted to… make a better record and something that felt more like a band and that had a more defined sound … We’ve never had a set formula to do things, but I feel like we locked ourselves in a room together more this time. We usually write separately so it was a little more tense and challenging. It was a hard record to make, but I think we’re pretty satisfied with it.
Blake: I agree with everything he said! [laughs]
City Weekly: Where did the title Love Notes/Letter Bombs originate?
Blake: It’s from the song “Tigers” ... I had this idea in my mind of this couple running around this broken down old mansion and this girl throwing a brick up through the window with a love note tied around it, smashing the window. So it’s like simultaneously a sinister, cuteness idea.
John: Fighting then fucking.
Blake: I guess. I guess that’s what it boils down to. I wouldn’t have said that but…
John: This record feels more real to me in a way. It’s got its fun, exciting whits and it’s got its struggles.
City Weekly: I’ve seen you guys play three times and something I always leave thinking is “Wow, Blake is seriously the happiest musician I have ever seen.” You’re always smiling and laughing onstage. Does that come naturally or is that something you’ve had to work on?
Blake: There’s so much uncertainty and work in life that those moments when I’m on stage, I feel for me everything just leads up to. It’s the moment when I feel like I’m in the place I go where I’m meant to be and I’m really happy to be there. And the idea that people are listening and give a shit is so huge to me that I just feel renewed by it every time. And also when I’m nervous my natural response is to smile [laughs and smiles] so it’s a combination.
John: And I think it’s very much a natural part of who you are. It’s not just a performance thing because – from my observation anyway – you really are excited around people. It’s a really beautiful thing. I like it. I mean I can barely come out of my shell.
City Weekly: What do you love most about this being your job?
Blake: I’m so immensely grateful that I get to do this as my job. I had a day job until not that long ago and I always think, “What would it be like if I had to go back to it?” Blake has to leave to go sell merch since Brett Dennen’s set just ended.
John: I feel like I’ve been doing it for quite a while now. I was doing music professionally before Blake and I started doing this. When you do what you love there are times that it feels like a job. Sometimes you’re just tired. I think I’m more of a studio guy. I love recording music and making albums. Blake wants to be out touring and I’ve come around to that. I’m really into it as well. I just love making records.
City Weekly: You guys travel in a van, right?
John: Yeah we’ve got a Sprinter. It’s as nice, big black Mercedes Sprinter. We rent it, we don’t own it. Actually we just had a little mishap with a telephone pole. There’s a big dent in it. I’m just like, fuck.
City Weekly: Do you guys have insurance?
John: Yeah, sort of. It’s going to cost some money, but it’s inevitable. It’s bound to happen. We do so much driving at some point something’s going to happen. It could be worse. It’s cosmetic, but it’s like, fuck.
City Weekly: For yourself or for your band, how would you define success?
John: Oh man, it’s really elusive, you know? I never feel like we’re successful. I always feel like we’re just working hard and we’re always trying to get [to the next level]. Like, “OK, we want to do these kinds of shows where you play these kinds of places and fill this kind of room.” Then if you get to that point, it just kind of keeps going. I think the main thing is we both feel really fortunate to have this be our living right now... When you’re in it, you just want to fill that room, and try and do a bigger room next time.
City Weekly: Is that hard, that constant struggle?
John: It’s really hard. It’s just different for everybody. Some cities we do great and other cities it’s just harder.
City Weekly: Is it hard to play a show when there aren’t very many people who show up?
John: Yeah. The thing is we’ve never been a hard touring band. We’ve made records and then toured a little bit, but I think this day in age you really need to be out there touring. And people have such a short attention span. It had been a year and a half since we did a headlining tour, so in some ways we feel like we’re rebuilding things right now. Some places we’re not. But yeah, it’s discouraging. You’re like, “OK, what am I doing with my life?” It’s so weird how it can change from day to day. You can have a show that feels a lot smaller and maybe you’re a little discouraged by it, but you just try to play well and have fun and then you can have the next night be incredible. It’s really manic though. It kind of plays tricks on our minds.
The Submarines have a month off from touring and then they hit the road again opening for The EELS. For more information on The Submarines and to see the new video for the song “Fire,” visit www.thesubmarines.com.