We’re trying to get in touch with Randall — we can see his face on skype, but we can’t hear anything he’s saying. We call him on Caleb’s phone and all of the guys try to figure out what’s wrong. I find it hilarious that a bunch of guys who make and produce music can’t figure out how to make their mics work. Finally, we get Randall’s voice by phone, and his face on video.
Caleb: In Phoenix people often say we have a bad atmosphere and non-existent music scene — which is not true at all — it’s just because people don’t take time to get involved and look past the surface. But we’re conscious of what Phoenix would look like if we cared about elevating other people over the success of ourselves, being a part of cultivating culture in our city, and caring about this city as a whole. I’ve seen on your facebook that you teach kids how to play music, fill in for people and do little tours, and that you recently did music for the local flower festivals.
Randall: “Yeah, so, to touch into the idea of what you were saying about helping each other out; in the end, you’re really only helping yourself out. I needed to build the community that I wanted to be a part of. I didn’t really have peers, so I kind of made them, in a way.”
Micah: So how were you proactive in building that community?
Randall: “I just wanted to play and I wanted to be in a band, and in doing that other people were watching me and they were like, ‘I wanna do that’. It was two selfish things coming together, but then in the end we call that inspiration. I just started playing, and then I found out more about how shows work and I started noticing the difference between a well-organized show and a poorly-organized show. So I started putting more time into organizing shows and making sure that people had clear information about what they could expect for the night. And then people appreciate you doing that, so they start thinking you’re a really nice guy. It kind of works all on accident. You start doing things for yourself and then people get the benefit of it. If you’re lucky, you can get away with that — and I’ve gotten away with it for awhile.
“If you do something you’re really excited about, there’s a beauty to that. Like a tree doesn’t try to do anything but be a tree, but a tree’s beautiful because it’s just doing its thing, and we can all sit there and go, ‘Wow, look at that!’ I think that’s the same thing with music. A lot of people get into music for power or for the girls, or boys, or whatever, but if you get into it for music, no matter how fucked up your music is, you’re gonna get something out of it and people are gonna get something out of it. It might be a sense of freedom — like I remember seeing punk bands early on and thinking, ‘These guys blow…and it’s empowering! I started thinking, ‘I could do that. Why can’t you just go up there and do anything?’”
Caleb: So from a production standpoint, there are a lot of things that blow my mind as I listen to it. It’s like what we were talking about right now, about how we elevate certain things in our lives. One thing I noticed in the production on this album is how much space you leave. You use certain things that wouldn’t seem to be strong elements, to give space for your vocals and other elements.
Randall: “Yeah. It’s the same way with life you know? You wanna show people how much you know about the world, but if you know anything, you know that people need a little bit of space sometimes. Sometimes really smart people will just talk your ear off and I wanna say, ‘If you’re so smart how come you can’t just leave me alone for a little bit?’ and I’ve thought the same thing with my music. I didn’t have to play everything I knew how to play, I just sat back and thought about what I really wanted to say. And it just so happened, that time in my life was really upsetting and I didn’t have a lot to be excited about. So it has kind of an even-keeled thing going on — it’s an ‘I’m-just-trying-to-hang-in-there’ type of vibe.”
Caleb: One of the things that caught my attention right off the bat was like, ‘I love it, but why is he using a delayed snare almost exclusively throughout the album as percussion?’
Randall: “One thing — and this has a lot to do with creativity in general — is taking your situation, your limited situation, and using that in your work. I didn’t have a drummer that I felt good about playing with. So I struggled trying to figure out what to do and finally I said, ‘I’m just gonna use drum samples and I’m not gonna try to make it sound like a regular drummer would play; I’m gonna make it the way I wish a drummer would play,’ — which is to hardly play anything at all. And because it was a sample, it’s the same snare hit every time. To make it sound more interesting, I do that delay on there and it just started to be the vibe, so we used it on every song. And it was funny because my drummer friend sent me a text and was like, ‘Okay so the delay on the snare…on one song, cool…on the whole album…awesome.’ And it’s like, that’s all I wanted to hear, you know, from a real drummer. Then I met this great drummer at this show and he was like, ‘How did you do that on the snare? Did you just have the drummer hit multiple times?’ and I’m like, ‘It’s not even a real drummer,’ and he’s just like, ‘Well you got me!’. If those two great drummers couldn’t tell, then mission accomplished.”
Caleb: So you wrote that the album was written exclusively during the night, and that it was meant to be listened to throughout the night. Was that intentional?
Randall: “No…I’m just a night person. I don’t get up before noon. So instead of trying to take my life and then make some big meaning of it, like, ‘I’m gonna make an album and it’s going to be about this pretend world’ I just looked at my life the way it really was, and I was like, ‘What’s unique about my life?’ and I said, ‘I don’t think most people have stayed up until 5 o’clock in the morning for the last 10 or 15 years.’ I would’ve worked at that time anyway, but then what made it a marketing decision, just to make it interesting, was to say, ‘Recorded entirely at night’. It would’ve been true anyway, but by focusing on it, you can make other people pay attention. They start to think, ‘Well what does that mean?’ kinda like you did — and then they listen to the album thinking, ‘What does it mean? Why is he always up late at night?’ And I also heard Bob Dylan say one time, ‘If you work on a song late at night and you listen to it in the morning, you won’t think it’s very good; but if you listen to it at night, you’ll still hear it in the same context.’ Because there’s different music for the day time, you know? Like work out music? That’s a whole ‘nother lifestyle…one that I don’t know anything about.”
Caleb: So getting back to the recording aspect of it, I’ve noticed that when me and Micah record an album, it seems like the more tracks we add, the shittier it gets. So we try to stay at eight or less tracks. Were you conscious of anything like that?
Randall: “Well, the version of protools I used only lets you have 24 tracks. And the way you test to see if you should keep a track — and you guys have probably done this before — is to make it as low as you possibly can and then mute it. And then if you miss it, you should probably put it back. But if you mute it and you don’t really realize it’s gone, then you should just delete it. There were a lot of layers in the tracks themselves — so every part that’s played, even if it’s only a few notes, has like four instruments.”
Caleb: I know that we dropped a couple songs from the tape, which is cool. I was just wondering why you didn’t want to see them on the tape?
Randall: “Yeah so ‘Cool Heart’…I was trying to go back and talk about my earliest inspiration and something that’s still stuck with me to this day, and that’s Kurt Cobain — not just as a band guy, but as an artist, I think he’s one of the great American artists of all time. And that song was about Kurt…it’s like a love song to Kurt telling him he’s got a cool heart. But I didn’t think it came out quite right. I’ve done a few different versions of this song and the other day I got into this car I don’t drive very often, but when I got the keys and started the car, there was a way better version of that song in the CD player……it was the demo! So basically I took it and screwed it up, and I hadn’t listened to it since I’d made it. So it wasn’t the best version of the song. And the other song was this one called ‘Crystal Clear’ — it was kind of like the song ‘Jokerman’ by Bob Dylan. ‘Jokerman’ is sort of like analyzing the world around you in biblical terms and saying, ‘We’re a wicked world’. I was listening to that song all the time on repeat, and I was kind of starting to think that way. So then I did my own song that was the same type of thing. But then a year later somebody gives me this songwriting book, and in the book Bob Dylan talks about ‘Jokerman’ and they say, ‘Oh that’s a great song, Bob Dylan’ and he says, ‘No, I ruined it.’ and they’re like, ‘What do you mean? It’s a great song!’ and he’s like, ‘You should’ve heard it before I messed with it.’ So Bob Dylan makes this song, (he holds up his thumb) and then makes this other version of it, (he adds his pointer finger) and then I copy that version of it, (he adds his middle finger) and then re-do it for my final version (he adds his ring and pinky finger) and at the end of the day, I’m this far away from a good song. So it had to go away.”
Me: So do you have anything in particular you want to come across about you or your album?
Randall: “I guess I was trying to say…not to be fooled by confidence. Because you never really know what someone’s internal life is like. I was trying not to hide, and not to try to be cool. And I was trying to talk about things that really bothered me, that maybe happened a really long time ago. Maybe what I said about them didn’t make sense to anyone else, but if I didn’t say it, it would make me go crazy.”
Me: So was it kind of you reflecting over your life, thinking about things that weren’t quite resolved and that you haven’t had a chance to express?
Randall: “Yes, totally.”
Caleb: I’ve had a conversation with some people about the difference between a musician’s band, and the everyday kind of person’s band. I feel like your album should be huge and everybody should be listening to it, but then at the same time it makes sense to some degree, why we, as musicians, would sit here and love and understand it. We can sit back and listen to it, and understand why you did something, while other people won’t get it. And I mean that as a compliment. This album is beautiful, it’s intellectual, it’s well-put-together. And we’ve had conversations about how we’d rather be a band that has a group of other musicians that really enjoy us than being super well-known by everyone.
Randall: “Yes. It’s like your relationship with your mom. You don’t need to have every mom like you. The idea that everything has to be bigger is not always true…It’s something special. I’ve been to shows where there’s, like, five people there, and it doesn’t mean their music isn’t powerful.”
Caleb: I’ve had a lot of conversations with musicians around here that were saying, ‘I’d be happier if this was what I did as my job’ vs. making music and working a 9-5. But then there’s this idea that maybe working keeps us involved in the community that’s been our inspiration. I think for me it’s this idea of being satisfied in everyday life and not constantly searching for these upper experiences. Finding beauty in it because that’s what you’re good at, like you said about the tree, and not elevating being a musician over working at a shop.
Randall: “Yes. Anybody who would say, ‘I’m only gonna work 100% on my music and nothing else. Everything else is bologne,’ is probably not a very good musician because the only way to live life is to jump in. So whether you’re making donuts, or you’re a prostitute, you gotta go at it with your all. And a lot of people are just lazy and then they try to say that they have some other ideals. They’re like, ‘I’m an artist! I can’t do this work!’ and it’s like, ‘No, you’re lazy and that’s why you don’t like to work — and art is work!’”
Micah: I think it’s easy to go to either extreme, instead of valuing both the person who gets to be the full-time musician, and the guy who’s working-class and doing music in his spare time.
Randall: “And you could go one step further to what I personally think, which is that no one’s important. We can’t all be important. And we’re hardly even here. Life is gonna end so fast.”
Caleb: One of the things that brought me to this was that the other day I went to a sandwich shop, and was moved to tears with how passionately this guy made a sandwich. Like, dead serious!
Randall: “Totally. There’s a guy who works at one of our local grocery stores, and I always want to say, ‘You could do anything. The passion you bring to this check-out line at this cheap grocery store…dude, whatever you want to do, I know you could do.’ But I don’t say that to him, because like, I don’t know him and I don’t want to freak him out.”
Caleb: And that’s where I was tripping out, like maybe he doesn’t want to do anything else, but it inspires me in making music, like I should be that same way. I should be making the music sandwich as passionately.
Randall: “Damn right.”
Caleb: I view you that same way, passionate about elevating the people around you and putting such care and love into the work that you do, no matter how much recognition you get.
(We hear some strange noises.)
Randall: I’m taking a pee right now, so sorry.
Caleb: No worries bro.
Randall: It’s almost over…okay, well, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you guys and anytime you wanna talk just let me know.
Randall Sena’s long-awaited debut solo album, A Form of Prayer, is available on: