Static in Verona is the work of Chicago musician Rob Merz, which brings electronic and experimental elements into a predominantly indie pop sound. After a stint in other musical projects over many years, this is Merz’s own solo work with every element – writing, performing every instrument and keeping the production in his hands. After the draining three-year process it took to make Static in Verona’s second album “Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything,” Merz decided to take a different approach on its follow-up and instead of meticulously writing then recording the music, Merz started with very loose ideas and then experimented with the structure and instrumentation in the studio. This creative freedom opened the door many new sounds and unexpected twists that may not have happened otherwise. Merz also focused on keeping the collection concise, catchy and upbeat to further engage the listener. The finished product is “Odd Anthem,” Static in Verona’s third album.
Peter Balkus (New Music Fever): Your new album “Odd Anthem” is out now tomorrow. It’s called Odd Anthem. Your music hasn’t changed that much since your last album. Have you changed as an artist and as a person?
Rob Merz (Static In Verona): A few things have changed both personally and artistically. I would say I’m more comfortable with where I am in my life now. I made my last album “Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything” over a period where both my parents separated and my daughter was born. I think anyone would be affected by either of those but to me they happened in the same month. So the last album was a cathartic release and a lot of the songs were influenced by those things (among others). While making this album I came to a more stable place in my life. The last album was also very meticulously planned out, written and then recorded over three years. I wanted to try something different this time that would be more liberating, so I started with very loose ideas of songs and then completely built them in the studio. This allowed me to experiment more and incorporate new sounds I may not have come up with otherwise.
Previous Static in Verona’s album “Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything”
Your music is very atmospheric, very shoegaze. What inspires you to write such music?
I like music that sets a mood and makes you feel like you are inside the song, but I also really like a great, catchy pop song. So that is the line I try to walk with my music. Taking elements of music that may not be entirely accessible to the average person, such as shoegaze or dreampop, and adding pop sensibilities (harmonies, hooks, big choruses) to make them more accessible. I basically combine a lot of the music I like to listen to.
One of my favourite song on the new album is Future Ghosts. Can you tell us more about how the song came to life?
“Future Ghosts” started as a simple 3-4 chord song but when I recorded it, I wanted to do something different with the guitars. Instead of strumming typical chords, I wanted to treat them more like a string quartet and have 4-5 tracks of guitars each playing one note in the chord. I loved the way it sounded, but after I added drums and bass, it sounded more like The Strokes than Static in Verona. So I striped out everything but the guitars and tried to think of the furthest thing I could from The Strokes. I finally came to the Beach Boys for inspiration, while still keeping the driving rock elements that the song deserves.
Static In Verona is a one man project, however it sounds like a full band. How you manage to do everything on your own?
I try really hard to make my music not sound like a guy in his basement at a computer (which is essentially what it is). I’m not just pressing play on a drum machine and strumming along with it. I treat each individual instrument as though I am a different member of the band trying to enhance the song. It’s usually not until I’m mixing when I realize who the star of each song is; whether it be a great bass line, guitar riff, drum beat, vocals. I think that helps the full band feel.
You live in Chicago, US. Is in any way your music a soundtrack to this state/place you live?
I would say since Chicago is one of the US’s largest cities and its fairly close to the center of the country, so I grew up exposed to a huge variety of bands which informed my eclectic music tastes. And the band Wilco is from here, which is a large influence for me. Some would also say our brutal winters help creativity because people have nothing better to do 4 months out of a year than sit inside.
On the cover of new album we see a red dressed human shape chasing a girl in the field. The cover reminds me a bit of Iowa landscape, with scarecrows and crows and wide fields. Coincidence?
Ironically, I went to college at Iowa State University, so I know it well. Though what most people might not know that aren’t from the area is that if you drive 40-50 miles in any direction from Chicago, it looks exactly like Iowa. The field the photo is actually only a mile from my house in the middle of a nature preserve. I was driving by one day and saw a low fog covering the field, so I ran home and got my camera. I added all the other elements in after the fact (mountains, cloaked figure, running girl, ribbon). I do all the artwork for the band as well since I have a fine art background.
I have to ask about The Beach Boys / The Beatles sound in your music. Is that a conscious move or subconscious influences?
As I said, my main goal is to add some accessibility to inaccessible music. You can’t really get more accessible that the Beach Boys or the Beatles. I am only a casual fan of the Beach Boys, but I am inspired by Brian Wilson’s studio genius and how he adds whatever he wants to his songs. And I grew up listening to the Beatles so their sense of melody and harmony is tattooed into my brain. One of the things I respect most about them though is the idea to retire from playing live in order to have no limitations in the studio. I actually have done the same thing in my career since I am on an indefinite hiatus from playing live. Although the Beatles were the most famous band in the world when they did this and I could hardly fill a small venue. But I think most musicians are at least somewhat influenced by these artists. How could you not be considering they influenced each other as well?
I might be wrong on that but I feel like you create your music more for yourself than for fans – more for your own artistic pleasure than fans demand… Is that true?
I would agree with this. Ultimately, no matter how much the world’s largest Static in Verona fan listens to my music, I guarantee I listen to it 100 times more. I create music that I want to and like listening to. Since I have no record label or outside producer telling me I need to do something different, I have 100% control of the end product. When I am putting out an album, before the final mixing process, I create rough mixes and listen to them non-stop for a couple of months. If I get sick of a particular song, I remove it from the album because I am not putting out an album with a song I have to skip.
Your music make me feel safe. How it makes you feel listening to your own music?
When I listen to my music I think about how all the hard work I put into it has paid off and how amazed I am with how these little ideas turned into these fully formed songs… and sometimes I just like to listen to it like it isn’t me making the music. Like what would someone think that had never heard it before.
The album is out tomorrow, what’s next for you and Static In Verona?
I have a few things on the horizon. Obviously Odd Anthem comes out August 28th and I’m really excited to finally put it out. I have been writing to blogs and publications looking for press and will continue to promote it throughout the year. Maybe make a video or remix or something like that after the initial buzz dies down.
Fairsplit Music out of the UK helps me with my licensing and recently they put out an EP of cover songs they are going to promote to be used in movies and commercials. I did the David Bowie song Heroes. It was a great experience and it turned out incredible (hopefully someone uses it). They mentioned doing another one, so I look forward to seeing which song they give me to do. Hear Heroes here:
Along the same lines, I am thinking about doing an EP of ambient instrumentals for possible commercial use as well. I did one song already and a rough mix is on my Soundcloud http://www.soundcloud.com/staticinverona/movement-1-outage. Other than that, I will probably start thinking of songs for the next album near the end of the year. I have two songs that didn’t make the album I might try and do something with. And I have a couple rough ideas I never worked on.
Listen to new Static In Verona album in full below: