Interview with Office
In the first of a series of interviews with Chicago bands we like, I sat down with (ok, emailed) Scott Masson, lead vocalist/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist of one of the city's hottest young bands, Office. Office is two guys (Masson, Tom Smith) and two gals (Erica Corniel, Alissa Noonan) making funky, fun, complex pop music. The band's new LP, Q&A, has garnered them well-deserved attention from music fans, record labels and even landed them a residency at one of Chicago's best clubs, Schubas. Among other things, I asked Scott about the band's genesis, their South By Southwest experience and their "branding" strategy.
From what I understand, Office began as your solo project. When and how did it come together as a band?
It happened very naturally. Playing music as a solo performer, armed only with a drum machine, guitar, and piano was stressful, and probably a little self-indulgent. I always knew that an "Office" ensemble was inevitable, but it was important to find the right people to work with before allowing myself to open up and collaborate.
Basically, my life slammed into a brick wall in early 2004. I moved back home with my parents in Michigan to re-evaluate my life, write songs, try out new recording techniques, and get out of the city for awhile to rest. During that seven month period of time, I discovered that Office was definitely something that I could not give up even though I thought it was probably a healthy option. Despite a few failed attempts in casting a good staff of collaborators, I felt it was important to keep developing and moving forward, so I moved back to the windy city.
Upon returning to Chicago, I immediately drafted up a plan to find a definite version of Office. Alissa, Tom, and Erica had certain resume experience that was appealing to me. They all came from either punk rock, visual art, minimalist, avant garde, pop or dance music backgrounds. How perfect, I thought! Plus, the idea of being involved with a mixed-gendered, sexually ambiguous pop project appealed to me right away. There are lots of gender-non-specific ideas about love, work, play, fear, freedom, sex, money, culture, etc. in Office's music. Why not carry this over to our collective concerns?
I love the kind of pop music you make--big hooks, exuberant vocals, detailed arrangements--but for some reason, this sound sometimes seems like a tough sell. How much do you think about commercial viability and reach?
Thank you so much. Never thought about it, actually. This style of music, contrary to popular belief, is some of the most difficult music to write outside of jazz and classical. Ten second "hooks" require a lot more patience and science than 45-second melodies that never conclude themselves.
I take pop music very seriously as a lost art form, especially after constructing 9-minute avant garde epics back in the 90s. I used to be more concerned with trying to be different, and now I know that it takes a certain amount of audacity to simplify songwriting to its purest and most simplistic elements. It also takes months and months to write a song that has a timeless appeal to it...where older folks and children can get something out of it simultaneously. I never thought there was anything wrong with that. Some people within the music intelligentsia seem to think this is wrong, or "selling out". Poor them.Read the full interview with Office.
If You Don't Know By Now - Office
Q&A - Office
Possibilities - Office