Shirley & The Pyramids are one of those bands that come out of nowhere to completely blow your mind. We sat down with frontman Aron Zacharias to chat the band’s Wizards connection, their latest album, their ethereal sound, and more.
Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): What’s your relationship with Wizards? Are Wizards officially replaced by Shirley & The Pyramids or just on hiatus?
Aron Zacharias (AZ): For those that don’t know, Wizards were a band in which I played bass and occasionally sang. We haven’t played for about a year, mostly due to scheduling conflicts that can occur when there are five people playing in a band. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Wizards done (we’ve been thinking of booking a show in the near future) but don’t hold your breath for new music.
The relationship between Shirley & The Pyramids and Wizards is mostly that of personnel, although the sound can be similar at times. I kinda just stole all the musicians from Wizards that still wanted to play music regularly. I mean, we’re all good friends and it just seemed like the logical thing to do.
RMM: Your sound is similar to Wizards, but it’s more ethereal. What inspires that extreme mellowness?
AZ: I think it has to do with the fact that I’m writing all the songs for this project and the current “mellowness” is more aligned with my personal tastes. I’ve always tended to record more sombre, experimental music on my own. Shirley & The Pyramids is the first time I’ve tried to lead a “traditional” rock band.
When we record, I play everything myself… Like, it’s not a group of people in a studio rocking out or anything like that. Usually it’s just me in my room kinda meditating – that translates into the sound. Although, if you’ve seen us live then you’ll know that it’s quite a bit different in that setting, I guess it’s more rock’n’roll.
RMM: Your last record, TOUR TAPE, slides through different sonic landscapes. Was that purposeful? How did you come to each of those “atmospheres”? What does that represent?
AZ: I guess I was just tired of trying to write accessible pop songs with choruses and a bridge and all that… I just wanted to flex things out a bit, you know? I was playing some of this stuff out in art galleries and strange venues. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to release it; it was basically just therapy. The second song was recorded completely live and is unedited, although the idea originated from another extended piece I was performing around the same time.
RMM: The record also features a marathon 20-minute song, “TRAIN SONG.” How did you come to craft that tune?
AZ: Once again, after the self-titled album I just wanted to do something different that wasn’t forced, something that would allow me to breathe. I wrote most of that song one day when I was bored, staring out my living room window. It took about a month to actually arrange, record and edit – everything. It all came together pretty naturally, though. Thomas Seibel (from Wizards) played violin on it, which was cool. Duncan and Dave (from the live band) came in and laid a couple tracks down too. I think it all turned out fairly well – business as usual!
RMM: Even your last, self-titled album featured sweeping instrumental tunes. What is it about this particular format that draws you?
AZ: As far as my recorded output goes, lyrics are a relatively new thing. The vast majority of the music I’ve worked on over the last 15 years has been largely instrumental. I spent a long time learning to sing in my early-20s and have supported myself by singing in bars and the streets, but I consider that separate from what I do now. It almost seems like an entirely different life. I was more an entertainer or a working man than an artist in those days. I can barely sing anymore. And I was never a poet anyways.
I think what’s always drawn me to instrumental music is the space that’s left without the words being there. You can form your own ideas about what a song is about. You can sit alone with the music. I often feel like I’m taking something away from the music by putting words over it. Lyrics can be like a straight-jacket.
I think I’m drawn to similar aspects of long-form music in the sense that you can really sit with a piece of music and let it engulf you completely. It’s music that works on a whole different scale. It fucks with time and perception.
RMM: Let’s talk about your recording process: Do you self-produce? Do you keep to a specific plan when recording or do you jam out for a bit?
AZ: It’s all self-produced. The recording process is my favourite part of everything – experimenting with weird and ridiculous shit. Most of the gear I use is borrowed and fluctuates frequently; I’m not a gear snob… It’s fun to see what you can do with the crappiest equipment.
In my younger days I would record as much as I possibly could, of anything, until I had enough material to release a cohesive album… Really, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in terms of concept. It was more about a feeling or a sound.
These days it’s kinda different because I’ve consciously been trying to spend more time writing songs than I do recording strange noises. I multi-track everything and generally play all the parts myself, so that still affords me a lot of freedom to try things out and experiment. Some stuff works and some doesn’t. At some point I decide it’s done when I’ve piled enough crap over top of the chords.
RMM: You’re also currently writing a new album: How’s that going? Can you share any details or sneak peaks?
AZ: I’ve just started writing the new album. So far I’ve got maybe three or four “regular” songs and a whole bunch of weird drones and experiments. Here’s one of them.
Overall, things are going pretty good but I’m trying not to rush anything. There’s quite a bit of stuff on our self-titled album that I’m not satisfied with and I don’t want to make the same mistakes again. Basically, I’m trying to have the songs (and the logistics behind them) worked out exactly in my head before I start recording anything. Hopefully we’ll get some new music out by next spring/summer.
RMM: Do you prefer being in the studio or being on stage? Why?
AZ: They both have their pros and cons. I enjoy being in the studio because I can be by myself, surrounded by gear and indulge in my favourite things: playing music, recording music, and smoking ridiculous amounts of weed at my leisure… With that being said, it’s really hard to beat the immediate high you can experience from connecting with a crowd and playing a good show.. The hassle of moving gear, working merch, getting paid, etc. can be really stressful though.
RMM: What’s next for Shirley & The Pyramids?
AZ: We just got back from tour about a month ago, so we’re taking a break from playing shows to rest and write. We’re gonna start rehearsing again in the next couple of weeks. I’m also thinking of bringing in a second guitar player… What else? I have no idea.