“You can definitely ruin your chance when it arrives,” says Brian Aubert. “So you have to keep your eyes open when luck is staring at you.”
The lead singer, guitar player and co-founder of the Los Angeles rock band–Silversun Pickups–is talking about the merits of hard work, luck and being brave enough to take chances outside of one’s comfort zone.
“How do you know what to say ‘no’ to when you don’t say ‘yes?’” he ponders.
The indie quartet returns to the Catalyst this Saturday, Feb. 10 with New York trio, Hello Mary. Their sixth studio album–Physical Thrills– was only released in August 2022, but this time around the band is digging into their back catalog as well.
“We’re going to really rotate all of our songs,” he says. “When we go out this time it will be more about the band and less about the record.”
No strangers to Santa Cruz, the Silversun Pickups make the Catalyst a regular stop whenever they tour. Part of that has to do with Aubert’s father-in-law being a fellow Santa Cruzan. Yet, Aubert’s ties to Surf City go back even further and include some local legends in the music scene for those of who know.
“I used to go to Santa Cruz with my friends when they played punk shows at house parties,” he reminisces. “I remember staying at this guys’ house who was in a band called The Huxtables.”
He pauses then adds with a laugh, “We all stayed inside their Dungeons & Dragons attic!”
The Silversun Pickups’ journey has been unconventional from the start.
It was 30 years ago on a flight from Los Angeles to England that Aubert met his bandmate-to-be Nikki Monninger, who was covertly stealing alcohol from the aisle cart. The two quickly became friends but it wasn’t until they were back home in the City of Angels six years later in 2000 that they formed the band.
They started out like most groups, tinkering around in their practice space. However, that’s when chance stepped in.
“It literally got ripped away from us,” says Aubert.
People immediately started booking shows for them before they even had enough songs. Aubert relates that time as their “trial by fire,” having to learn the band’s identity in the same, real time as the audience.
“We thought we were foolish, ya know?” he admits. “But we’re getting support from people–who are very nice people–that see something we’re not seeing, so we thought we should figure this out. “
After the original drummer and second guitar player left in 2002, Aubert and Menninger recruited Christopher Guanlao on drums and keyboardist Joe Lester, who remain in the band today.
The Pickups’ early work is predominantly in the shoegaze category. Their ethereal melodies, droning riffs and distorted feedback create a curtain of dark matter begging the listener to take a peek behind the scenes. However, with each release they branched out into other genres of music, incorporating whatever elements they wanted.
In 2012 their Neck of the Woods record continued to build on their alternative/shoegaze sound with layers of vocals, guitars and even drum machines. Their 2015 album, Better Nature, took the electronic elements a step further with less droning distortion. Two years later they released Better Nature (Revisted) which featured straight-up electronic remixes of some songs.
Today,24 years, six albums, multiple Billboard hits and one Grammy nomination later, the Silversun Pickups continue to evolve, saying “yes” to new opportunities. Nowhere is that more evident than on Physical Thrills.
The latest endeavor is their second album produced by the legendary Butch Vig (who not only produced albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind and Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins but is also in Garbage). It captures the essence of their sound, mixing the sonic range and heaviness of their early days–like opening track, “Stillness (Way Beyond)”– with some of the poppier elements of their last decade of work (e.g. the catchy “Empty Nest.”).
Yet, despite how unconventional the Silversun Pickups’ journey might’ve been, Aubert gives an artists’ traditional answer when asked if he’s working on any new material.
“I am in my head!” he laughs.