Floral, a Bay Area rock duo, will headline at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Friday, March 6. The performance will celebrate “Floral LP,” the band’s new record.
The group’s members — guitarist Nate Sherman and drummer Ty Mayer — have released two EPs. “Floral EP” came out in 2014, and “The Second Floral EP” was released in 2015.
Floral often is labeled as “Math Rock” — a type of indie rock heavily influenced by Rush and other guitar-driven, experimental bands of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Local News Matters recently chatted by phone with Sherman, as he was preparing to join Mayer for Floral’s next San Francisco concert. A Q&A based on that interview appears below. Part of the Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
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What are you most looking forward to at Friday night’s gig at Bottom of the Hill?
I’m looking forward to playing our new record all the way through. As long as we’ve been in this band, we’ve done a lot of opening for other groups, touring for other bands. We’re sort of the perfect opener because we’re just two people, we’re a local draw. I mean, we’ve done headlining shows before, but this feels for the first time like this is our gig. We’ll be showing people what we’ve been working on, sort of the new-and-improved Floral. I feel like it will mark a new era for Floral.
In which city do you live and practice?
We practice in the Bay Area, mostly in the South Bay — in Mountain View or Palo Alto. Ty and I grew up in the South bay. Currently, Ty lives in the South Bay and I live in Los Angeles. For the past two years, I drive up for us to practice.
What brought you to Los Angeles?
It’s kind of music-related. (laughs) I went to college at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. During that time, we didn’t do much as a band. When I was done at Berklee, I moved in with my girlfriend in L.A. But another reason for moving there was to get into sound design and music production. L.A. was kind of a compromise to do that and still be closer to the Bay Area and my bandmate.
Some have labeled Floral as a “Math Rock Duo.” What does that mean to you and do you mind being labeled as such?
I remember hearing an interview with the drummer of Battles who said he didn’t appreciate the term “Math Rock.” As much as I’d like to get away from that term it actually does make sense. It really does describe that style music and it codifies that type of band. I still identify with that term. But I get it. Over the years that we’ve been a band, the term has pigeonholed some groups and, that by itself, is frustrating, I don’t want to be pigeonholed. We definitely want to try new things as a band, maybe get away from math rock, be a little more dance-y, a little more listenable, in a way. Even if in the beginning math rock was what we were trying to do, eventually, 10 20 years from now, it’d be nice to be known as just Floral the band.
Is there a story behind the name Floral?
Not really an interesting one. (laughs) I listened to this band Botanist, they’re from the Bay Area. I thought, “That ‘s sort of a cool vibe for a name.” And Florist was already taken. (laughs) So we went with Floral.
How does this album differ from your two previous records?
This record is called “Floral LP.” It’s our third record, though the first two were EPs. I guess the most obvious difference this time is the amount of instruments. We have more this time. Certain sections have two guitars, Ty, our drummer, picks up the guitar at one point while playing the drums and playing certain lines. Some sections have minimal drums or no drums. The songs are longer and they’re more dense and complex, harmonically and rhythmically. It’s a result somewhat of having a formal musical education. But it also comes just from messing around more. The things we were doing before we are still doing more of. We’re just doing them in more interesting and complex ways.
What’s your songwriting process? How does it all come together?
That’s changed over time. For the first few records, which were both done in 2014 and 2015, they were sort of jams that turned into songs. Ty and I were living together at the time. And I would sit in my room playing guitar and I’d say, “Let’s go downstairs and play.” And we’d write the song on the spot. That’s how we wrote first two records, riffing in the garage. This new album was done in a completely opposite way. When we started, I was in Boston, and Ty was in the Bay Area. Even after I graduated, I was in L.A. and we had to learn to write music while not in the same room. I downloaded music software called Guitar Pro onto both of our computers, and then I tabbed out notes/music on MIDI, which is the standard for writing notes in music software. Anyway, Ty was was able to loop parts, slow it down, plug it into a PA, and jam out until he came up with a part. Then he’d send it to me. It took us a really long time to figure out a way that worked. This would definitely not have happened without technology.
Do you prefer the stage or the studio?
My favorite part of whole process is writing. Probably, for this band, for this newest record at least, I didn’t intend to make a record that started live, but that’s what happened. We hear the songs live before we hear it once recorded. The music exists live, so I’m happy that the record sounds similar to how we sound live.
Our live sound is about 75 percent of what we sound like recorded. For some parts in the album, Ty literally puts down sticks while keeping time on high hat, and then picks up a guitar and plays while on one continuous take. It was fun to figure out how to do that. All the drum takes are completely live, and a good chunk of the guitar takes are, too.
Some parts we cleaned up on guitar afterward. The amps are in the room, so you can hear the soundwaves as we recorded. You hear a lot of the interaction of guitar, drums, bass and snare. That’s present on the record, I think that’s cool, usually because most of the time when you record, it’s the opposite. Generally, it’s undesirable to have drum mics pick up a guitar signal or have a snare drum rattle when a guitar hits a low note. But for us it became a characteristic, it made the record unique and gave it a feeling of being live. Normally you want it to sound clean, but I thought it added to the color and character of the record.
All your albums are instrumentals with no vocals. Why?
It’s not like we don’t like lyrics. Some of my favorite bands have lyrics. But I think it’s more of an exploration of what you can do without them. I’ve been an instrumentalist my whole life. I like a lot of instrumental music, and I don’t see it as lacking something, I see it as a different thing entirely. I don’t see our albums as music without vocals, I see them as music that doesn’t need vocals.
Who are your musical influences or heroes growing up?
Growing up, when I was little, it was the basic stuff: Nirvana and Green Day. My mom showed me Hendrix. I learned a lot about music from video games or YouTube videos, bands like System of a Down from Tony Hawk (skateboard) videos. I got into metal in middle school, while Ty was more into indie rock. First, he showed me math rock and the first math rock band I liked was Invalids. We’ve been lucky enough to play with them. When I heard how (Invalids guitarist) approached guitar in entirely new way, his tapping clean style, it was pretty inspiring to me. It reshaped my view of what a guitar could sound like. I grew up as a kid with dyslexia and ADD, and I didn’t do well with classical music and all the other avenues that usually introduce kids to music. At first, I was frustrated and not having a good time with music. Then I realized I could play my guitar weird, tune it weird, and be self-directed.
When did you decide that music was going to be your passion?
I’m still working on it being my profession. But my passion? That came pretty early. My mom was a musician. No matter how cool your parent is, they’re still your parent. So, it took me a while to realize how cool it was to have my mom give me access to instruments. It was sort of just my life. There really hasn’t been another goal for me. Music was always there.