Eclectic space-rock band The Astronots joins at Tentera Coffee Roasters inside of L.A.’s Metro hub Union Station to chat about their latest album release Cotati, the experiences they’ve had throughout many aspects of the music industry, and the importance of being humble.
The Astronots is comprised of:
Allee Futterer – vocals, bass
Niko Giaimo – vocals, guitar
So you guys recently released your highly anticipated album Cotati. Would you care to share a little bit about some of the lyrical themes and instrumental elements that you chose to include?
Allee Futterer: Sure!
Niko Giaimo: So really the whole thing is that each song in this one is really individual and unique. And you can say that pretty much about any album, but even just the tone, the way it sounds, the instrumentation, all of it was very different. The studio that we recorded Cotati in had a bunch of really old vintage gear, and so when we got there, we just kind of went through it song by song. We had a general idea of what we wanted arrangement-wise and musically. As far as the themes, it’s really kind of just about life and our interpretation of bad things, or sad events. But even though some of the songs have really sad content, the music itself is kind of uplifting. That’s pretty much how we approach it song by song, and I don’t even think that we used the same piece of gear on any two songs. I mean, it’s possible that we did, but there was just so much stuff and we wanted to take full advantage of it.
I mean, why not!?!
Allee: Yeah! I guess another concept with us was that we didn’t spend too much time overthinking any one song. We had a catalog of, like, forty songs, and we literally just picked our favorites and were like, ‘These make no fucking sense together but whatever.’ *all laugh* And I mean, they do have a similar tone and vibe still, like, obviously they were all recorded in the same room, which makes a big difference. Like, the way mics were placed and the sound of the room were huge contributing factors to the recording of every individual instrument, so overall sonically it’s similar. But yeah, there’s definitely a vintage sound to it because we did it that way, which was also the point when it comes down to it. *laughs*
Yeah! And apart from what you’ve already described about the recording process, how would you say that the songwriting and recording process was similar or different than that of your past work?
Allee: So Niko and I grew up together, and we went to college together, and we’ve been playing music together forever, so generally with our songs *points to Niko* he’ll have an idea, or I’ll have an idea, and since we’re both pretty clear about what we want we’ll get the song to about seventy percent, and then the other person working with us acts as an unbiased third party. The other person is usually the one producing the song basically, like, ‘This is working. That’s not working.’ etc. So yeah, we did that with these songs as well, but usually they come from a place of having pretty strong feelings about what’s going on in the world.
I think a lot of us do.
Allee: Yeah, absolutely.
And which song would you say was your favorite song to write out of your record filled with all your favorite songs? *all laugh*
Niko: My favorite, or I guess the one that meant the most to me was “Are We Living,” which is about all these shootings that are sadly still super relevant today, and that’s one of those tunes that’s kind of sad, but the music itself is still kind of happy. It’s got kind of a fun vibe still, which was fun to record. All those songs that a ton of energy, and the musicians we were playing with was just a blast. So that one probably meant the most as far as the stuff that we wrote ahead of time. I mean, we wrote it all ahead of time, but that one was kind of down to the wire because those those events were happening within a couple of weeks of getting to the studio.
Allee: So I’ve definitely had different favorites at different points in time, but I think the one that snuck up on me as being my overall favorite is “How Much Pain.” I admit, it wasn’t initially my favorite, but then over time I’ve liked it more and more and more.
It’s funny how that works though. I’ve definitely listened to the albums and have been like, ‘I know I didn’t like this song that much when I first listened to it, but now it’s like one my top five songs out of thirteen!’ *laughs*
So what are your guys’ thoughts on the music industry’s obvious preference towards doing shorter releases like singles and EP as opposed to a full-length work?
Niko: There’s just so many trends, and that’s the trend right now, streaming singles. I think you kind of just have to roll with the punches and roll with the trends.
You kind of have to though. It’s hard to get away from it.
Niko: Yeah, but you should also try to be unique. One thing we did was we went to Brooklyn and did a few pocket shows. Just a five day trip, but we played a few shows, did a few things, came back out here, and then did the Troubadour. I think that’s one thing that we’re trying to do more, these unique pocket shows. Doing these little groupings is fun, and hopefully we can do more of those in other places. But as far as streaming and singles, yeah, that’s just kind of how it is right now I guess.
Allee: Yeah. I think it’s kind of nice though, because there’s no such thing as a release date anymore. You don’t really have to promote in advance because there’s no point, like, there’s not going to be a line of kids at warehouse records waiting for you to release your album, so just have fun with it! And I mean, we’ve pushed back multiple releases due to various things, and in the past that would have been a huge problem, but now it’s like, ‘Okay, cool. We’ll just release it next week.
Just going with the flow.
Allee: Yeah! You just kind of realize that most things are not in your control no matter how hard you want it to.
Especially in the entertainment industry! Sometimes you’ve gotta just deal with it.
Allee: That’s one of the nice things about being independent, like, I have friends who have been working on their records with huge labels for like four years, and they won’t let them put it out until the stars align or whatever fashion they need them to, which sucks because they’re just sitting there and they can’t do anything else.
It’s like, ‘Well, I can write for another album because I’m frustrated about it.’
Allee: Yeah, exactly. But then it’ll come out when I’m like forty-five.’ *all laugh*
That such a sad concept to think about, and we always forget that the ones that are actually successful are the ones that don’t actually have a say in what they do.
*Niko and Allee express sounds of agreement*
So if you could choose three artists to go on a world your with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Allee: I did think about this…
Niko: Me too!
Allee: …but it’s so hard!
Niko: It is! *all laugh* I definitely have a few, but I’ll pick one. Oh wait, it’s three right?
Niko: Ok! So first off, I would love to go on tour with Muse. Their shows are just so cool, like, the lasers, lots of fog machines, ah, it’s great!
They’re so amazing!
Niko: Yeah! It’s a total mindfuck! *laughs* When I saw them at Staples [Center] they had all these mirrors on the stage and it was awesome! I’ve seen a few times, and they’re just killer musicians, and they kind of fit the space theme for us.
Allee: What are the other people on the tour package? It’s three bands on one tour.
Niko: Oh gosh, I don’t know! But I’d want to call it ‘The Electric Parade Tour,’ like the Electrical Parade at Disneyland! *all laugh*
Oh my God that would be so great!
Niko: I’m in!
Allee: *turns to Niko* Who are the other people on your tour?
Niko: *turns to Allee* You pick the next one!
Allee: On the same tour? *laughs* I haven’t thought of a name!
Niko: ‘Electric Parade!’ We’ll put Daft Punk on there!
Allee: Oh no, I don’t want to go on this tour. *all laugh* Mine would be like mostly dead people.
I mean, we have holograms now.
Niko: That’s true!
Allee: Oh gosh! *laughs* But I guess I’d almost want it to be something that’s impossible and wouldn’t happen. I would have loved to have seen Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and maybe Little Richard. *all laugh* And I guess that would be called ‘The Electric Parade Tour.’
Niko: That would be Muse, Sister Rosetta, and Little Richard. There it is! We’ll see you on the festival circuit! *all laugh*
There’s definitely been odder tour combinations.
Allee: Huey Lewis would be a fun one to have too!
Niko: I would be!
Allee: It would need to be back in the 80s though, like, at the peak of Huey Lewis. *all laugh* And I only want to hear “Power Of Love” all night too.
Niko: Just play this place on that loop!
There was an episode of The Good Place where they had the Paul McCartney Christmas song on repeat because they were in hell. *laughs*
Allee: Oh God! I think that is the worst Christmas song!
It really is! *all laugh*
So going into a bit of a different direction, you guys have gotten to play around in many different parts of the L.A. music scene. Have you noticed any differences in regards to how excited the audience get, or even how the shows are run at the different areas of L.A.?
Allee: Sure. I feel like anywhere outside of L.A. people are way more excited about just about anything. Yeah, I think L.A. is a pretty tough crowd. I mean, with any big city where there’s a lot of entertainment all the time, you always have to work way harder. And I understand, like, sometimes I’m one of those arms crossed, ‘What am I watching?’ kind of people. I get it. Take Orange County, we’ve had a really great responses there.
Niko: Yeah, and sometimes it really just depends from venue to venue. I mean, I don’t think that we’ve had that many bad experiences with venues in L.A., like, I think most of the time it’s actually been quite nice.
Especially when they actually have their shit together.
Niko: Yeah! Like when there’s decent sound and the dudes are working hard throughout the set to make sure everything sounds good, you now? It’s generally been pretty positive in L.A. OC’s kind of hit or miss because I don’t know if they’re used to the loud thing as much as a city like L.A. *laughs* But we’re from OC, so we tend to get pretty positive response because we were born there.
Allee: We had a standing ovation at a Sofar Sounds in Irvine of, like, a hundred people.
That’s so cool!
Allee: It was! And there was a line of people waiting to talk to us, which was a trip
Niko: That was like the first time anything like that ever happened to us.
One for the books for sure! And do you feel like there’s almost a kind of unspoken competition within the L.A. music scene between the artists?
Niko: You know, there probably is, but I think in our experience it’s been extremely collaborative. I can’t speak for everyone, but the people we’ve been in contact with it seems like everyone’s trying to help each other. Everyone’s been super supportive, sharing each other’s music, listening, so my experience with The Astronots has been way more collaborative as opposed to a competition. At the end of the day, we’re doing the same thing; following our passions making music. But I’m sure there’s plenty of competition too.
Allee: I try to stay away from that kind of drama. We’d rather have a bunch of friends.
Yeah! And Like he was saying, all of you guys are doing the same thing for pretty much the same goal. Why try to fight and be like, ‘You’re my competition. We can’t be friends.’
Allee: Yeah. I don’t see it that way personally.
Niko: Definitely not.
*turns to Allee* So a question for you Allee, and Niko can totally chime in on this as well, do you feel that women in the music industry have to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful?
Allee: Yeah. I think it’s not different than any other industry, or even just the social standard for women in general. It’s like, if don’t wear makeup to your desk job and you show up in sweatpants, you’re not going to get the same level of respect as the boss who’s wearing a suit and cares a little bit more, you know? *turns to Niko* What do you think? Any thoughts?
Niko: I agree. I mean, I’m not a woman, but to me, I would think it would be harder to make it in entertainment. You look at these Hollywood actresses, and there’s like this movement right now because it’s difficult for women.
Allee: Yeah. I feel like you run into drama like that a little less in our age group. I mean, when it’s an older dude it’s like, ‘Oh, here it goes. I’ve been in this situation before and it’s lame.’
Yeah it sucks. So kind of in the same realm, it’s a bit rare to see women fronting, or co-fronting, or even seeing all-female groups. Do you feel like there’s any specific reason why female artists tend to go more towards doing the solo stuff as opposed to being in a group setting?
Allee: Well one, bands are hard to manage in general. *all laugh* I mean, I can’t speak for everyone, because sometimes it depends on what their background is, but managing people is just difficult.
Like herding cats! *all laugh*
Allee: Oh God yeah! I think if you want to do the ‘band thing’ where there’s like five people and they all have a say something, it’s just a recipe for complete disaster most of the time. That’s kind of why we’ve been so specific about this being ‘us,’ and then hiring people to be a part of the group. It’s still mostly our input, but I mean, it also depends on the session setting or the recording setting.
Niko: I mean, it’s all a collaborative project, but it comes down to it, it’s really us making the decisions.
Allee: Yeah. And like, any band I’ve been in with women and men, it’s usually the women that are the ones kind of steering the ship a little bit like, ‘This is what’s happening. We’re doing this.’ And then the guys end up being more of the creative backend.
I’ve seen that in a few bands so I totally get where you’re coming from.
Allee: Yeah, maybe it’s just a human nature thing. I don’t know. I don’t even know if I would want to do a solo thing because I like working with Niko so much. And I just love working with guys, like, I’m not huge on the ‘let’s just be girls together’ kind of thing. I’ve never really been into that. I mean, I love my girlfriends don’t get me wrong, but I just like working with different genders and different types of people.
Niko: Yeah. I mean, I would absolutely love to see more female-fronted acts out there. I think that’s one of the things that’s unique about our group for sure. There’s just not a lot of them, like, it’s hard to just think of a few off the top of my head.
Allee: At least in rock n roll.
Niko: Exactly. It’s like, you have No Doubt, which is a bit older. Paramore’s starting to get onto that level.
Allee: I mean, you still have the classics like Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Heart…
Niko: But again, those are still a bit on the older side of the scale.
Allee: I mean, rock n’ roll is like kind of not a huge market anymore. There’s tons of female pop singers, but there’s not too many male pop singers.
Niko: You’re right.
It’s kind of funny how the gender norms kind of change along with the different genres in a way.
And kind of going into social media and how much we all love it, *Niko and Allee laugh* it’s pretty much the main form of marketing nowadays whether we like it or not. Do you think it’s made it easier or harder for independent artists to make names for themselves?
Allee: Harder for sure.
Niko: It’s just so saturated with a ton of people and a ton of bands.
Allee: You’re competing with people with much bigger budgets than you to advertise the same kind of stuff.
Niko: Yeah. And then a lot of times when you’re competing with funding, it’s because they’re getting they’re getting priority for playlists and all this other stuff. So yeah, I think social media makes it harder, but it’s also really nice too at times.
Allee: It’s kind of a double edged sword. I think the main problem is that when these major labels put anything out, they’re using all the same resources that you have.
Niko: And that’s so crazy to realize that they’re using a lot of the same tactics that you are.
Allee: Yeah. It’s like, they advertise on all these platforms, they use Google AdWords, they promote videos…
Niko: And to promote Spotify…
Allee: …but it’s like, they have the budget to do so. I’m just spitballing here, but we could spend like fifty dollars a week, but they can use five hundred or five thousand a week to do the same thing, so of course, they’re able to reach a much larger audience. But it’s interesting, because it doesn’t mean that those people can make it to shows.
Niko: Exactly! It’s like, these guys are getting great followings but can’t can’t draw a crowd.
It definitely is something to think about. Do you think that social media also adds on a pressure for artists to constantly have content or even showcasing yourself in certain ways to your audience?
Allee: Oh yeah!
Niko: Definitely! But it’s also a good opportunity to be yourself and let people see who you are. But definitely the content is such a pain sometimes. Allee is really good about all that. We were able to have a catalog of stuff to come back with when we were in Brooklyn, like, we took a bunch of photos so we have a few photos and videos from that. It’s definitely a strategy.
Allee: Yeah. I think if you think about it in advance, which is annoying and I don’t really like doing it, but it can be fun in a way. You get to try new things and personas in addition to being yourself. It’s like, ‘Here’s us having fun at this place’ and now, ‘Look, we’re the serious artists.’ *all laugh*
How do you guys balance your personal lives with your professional lives?
Allee: I don’t have a personal life. No fucking way. *all laugh*
It’s like, ‘What is a personal life? Does sitting here count?’ *all laugh*
Niko: Well, we’re were both musicians, and obviously we’re taking it seriously and everything, but this is very much a ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of thing. But I think what helps us is that we’re both musicians, and at the end of the day, we both teach and we’re both involved in music in pretty much everything we do, so it just naturally kind of just ties into it anyway. It’s almost like a hybrid thing because it’s personal and it’s professional. It’s fun, but it’s also something that we’re taking serious.
Allee: Sometimes it’s hard because you’re it’s, I have my job and my passion project, and they’re both kind of the same thing. You can’t always escape that, it’s never ending place, but we still have a good time.
Niko: I think the time for balance will come when we make it a little bit further.
Allee: Yeah, hopefully. *laughs*
Niko: We’ve just gotta keep going!
And if you could give your younger self some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced in music or with life, what advice would you give them?
Niko: For me, it would be to go to a cheaper college, for sure. *all laughs* Not once have I ever been asked for my credentials, just asked if I graduated. So yeah, I would have definitely gone to a cheaper college.
Niko: Oh, yeah, in a heartbeat.
Allee: I still would have gone to Berklee [College of Music]. Maybe. Gosh, I don’t know now! *laughs* But mine would definitely be no not listen to those old dudes. That’s what I would tell me.
Niko: Exactly! That’s way to do it because so much has changed.
Allee: Yeah, literally don’t listen to those guys.
Niko: Yeah, with me it’s like, if you’re only going to college for something else, you might want to go to the expensive school. But for what I do for work and what’s happened to me, none of it had anything to do with what I did in school, ever.
Allee: That’s so interesting because I feel like most of the people I work with all the time I went to college with. My music community itself is a pretty depended on that, but with the way my career worked, it was not like how anybody told me it was. The things that I thought you needed to do on a regular basis to be a ‘successful musician was like, ‘Ok, I have to practice eight hours a day. I’ve got to learn six hundred jazz standard scales…’
Niko: And all the patterns…
Allee: Yeah! And at the end of the day, it’s like, don’t be a dick, be nice, and show up on time. And know how to use a calendar! *laughs*
Niko: If you can do that, you’re good, you’re golden. *laughs*
Allee: If you can figure out how to use iCal, you can be a musician.
Secrets of the music world right here! *laughs*
Niko: It’s true though! *laughs*
Allee: Yeah. People don’t get it. *laughs* I don’t get it.
Niko: And check your entitlement too.
Allee: Yeah, be humble.
Niko: Yeah. No one cares about your Bachelor of Arts degree.
Allee: Literally no one. *all laugh*
There’s nothing wrong with having to put people in their place. I’ve had some of my own friends where I’ve had to be like, ‘Dude, calm the fuck down.’ *all laugh* Moral of the story: don’t be an asshole!
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Allee: I just hope they like it.
Niko: I hope it’s relatable. A lot of the content is just normal people issues, things that happen to everybody. There’s no crazy deep storytelling and meaning to a lot of these songs, it’s really just everyday issues, like being scared to go to school or how these days it costs, anxiety and feeling trapped in your own head. Each song is covering some kind of real relatable thing, so hopefully the audience relates a little bit.
Allee: Yeah, definitely.
Yeah. I feel like that’s something that people are looking for in the music that they listen to nowadays. We care about our music, and read into it a lot more frequently so we can find those relatable topics.
Allee: Yeah, I really hope that they have fun too.
Niko: Definitely. We had fun making it.
Allee: And that’s kind of our thing. We just want to have fun doing this. On a regular basis, we remind ourselves not to take it too seriously because it should be fun to do and we want people to be proud of that experience.
About Tentera Coffee Roasters @ Union Station:
Founded and owned by a fifth generation Indonesian family, each premium coffee option available from Tentera Coffee Roaster is hand-picked from the world’s fourth largest coffee producer, in which some well-known beans include Java, Papua, and Sumatra. Its founder Michael strongly believes in the appreciation of a product’s country of origin, as well as making sure each cup is enjoyed in its natural, uncompromised form – black and free of any additives like sugar or cream.
Tentera’s Union Station location is a bright welcome to the more secluded side of the station. Gorgeous marble walls and counters give it a clean look that showcases that the shop, and its coffee, were meant to stand out. I opted for the Casanova, in which its rich taste instantly perked me up while also providing a deeply rooted story of where the roast came from. If you’re looking for coffee direct from the source, Tentera is the way to go.