February 23, 2004

Interview: The Like Young

The Like Young are Illinois newlyweds Joe and Amanda Ziemba. They used to be one-half of Wolfie, arguably one of the cutest and most audience polarizing (I seriously don’t know of anyone who has a lukewarm opinion of them) bands that indie-pop has ever produced. Now, though, they’re going it alone and giving the genre the kick in the butt that the bar-band aspirations of Wolfie’s last couple of records aimed for, but couldn’t deliver. The Like Young’s debut Art Contest runs through eleven elliptically autobiographical power-pop songs in twenty-four minutes, with a hooks-per-minute ratio that would shame Rivers Cuomo. Live, though, is where the band really shines. They strip the overdub-rich studio versions of their songs down to just guitar and drums. Joe’s guitar only has two settings --- loud and louder --- and he thrashes his instrument around the stage so vehemently that I think he’s going to accidentally hit himself with the microphone. Amanda pounds out simple rhythm with a ferocity that would make Meg White blush.

The couple manages to recreate the pristine vocal harmonies of their studio material live, but otherwise the Like Young live are as close as we’ll ever get to hearing TWEE METAL. Last but not least, they do a mean cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me,” too! I was so impressed with their set (opening for Mates of State in Austin on February 17th) that I approached the band after the show for an interview. Amanda couldn’t participate because she was busy selling merch, and far be it for me to stop bands I like from making money. Fortunately, Joe did more than enough talking for the two of them!

The one thing that I did know about the Like Young before ever hearing your music is that you and Amanda were once half of Wolfie. What prompted the two of you to continue making music after Wolfie’s breakup? Did you plan to continue making music all along, or did you have to make a concrete decision to do it afterwards?

When Wolfie ended, Amanda and I weren’t sure what we were going to do, but I knew that I wanted to keep writing. I stopped writing for a little while, but then I kinda realized that I had to do it. When we wrote for Wolfie, it was more of a “fun” thing because we loved playing music. After Wolfie ended, I realized that there was a lot that I wanted to say about what was going on in my life, and singing about it made me feel better. I started writing more, but I didn’t have any idea what we were going to use it for. It developed into the Like Young the year after Wolfie ended. It was more of a way to get back into what we were initially into. The idea came to play for fun again and just enjoy it, without any outside worries. Playing as a duo developed out of necessity. We really couldn’t find the right people to play with, so we decided to just play together.

Did the two of you make a conscious decision to make the live show different from the record? I notice that on record, the songs are more fleshed out, whereas live it’s just pure rock.

Yeah, there was a definite decision. For me, the Like Young’s shows and albums are totally different. There are two different aspects to us playing together. I want the albums to be fleshed out and have more instrumentation because they’ll last forever. I think that with the kind of pop/rock that we play, all of the instrumentation needs to be there. There needs to be bass and a full sound on the record. Live, though, I feel that it’s the purest form of the song, with just the two of us playing together. I enjoy it being two different things, and I like it a lot.

How much input does Amanda have in the song-writing process?

She’s kinda like the decision-maker. Her opinion counts a lot. I write the songs and demo them, and then she comes in and says “this is bad,” “this isn’t working,” “this is cheesy”, or “this is not up to par.” She takes out the bad stuff and keeps the good stuff in. Typically, for an album I write a ton of songs, and we choose from there. From those, we discuss what’s good, what’s bad, what needs to be improved, and what’s not there that needs to be.

Does Amanda write any music by herself?

No, not for the Like Young. Actually, there’s “Freddy” on our EP, which she wrote in college on guitar, about midway through Wolfie just for fun. She wrote the chords and melody and I did the lyrics, and we found it and reworked it for the Like Young. She hasn’t written anything for the new album, though.

How many songs were written for “Art Contest”? Were the EP and the album recorded during the same sessions?

The EP was recorded a bit before the album, but all of the songs were from what I’d been writing after Wolfie. There were probably more than twenty songs that we didn’t use, most of which don’t sound like anything that ended up on “Art Contest” because we were still figuring out what we wanted to do.

Do you have any plans for future recordings, as far as where you want to go next artistically?

We just finished recording our second album, and it’ll be out at the end of May. We just have to master it when we get back from the tour. If you liked the first album, you’ll like this one. This one’s a bit more personal and confrontational. It’s more aggressive. We’re really, really happy with it and we’re excited about getting it out.

What have been your best and worst experiences while playing live, touring, or otherwise trying to get your music out to people?

The best, I have to say, was being able to open for Mates of State. We’re so grateful to be here, and this has probably been one of the best weeks of our lives. I’m so happy to be here. The worst would probably be when we left our jobs and decided that we wanted to tour full-time and see how it went. The first month was pretty decent; we actually made some money and were able to pay our bills for a month. The second month was a complete disaster. We weren’t making enough to stay afloat and we ended up in a lot of debt. There weren’t any shows that have been bad, but it was just that the second month was such a bummer.

At what point did the Like Young become something that you felt comfortable doing full-time while managing to stay financially afloat? When did the course become stable?

Well, it’s really not stable yet. This tour is actually the first time that we’ll be able to stay afloat and pay bills when we get back. The dream would be to break even. It was just a decision that this was the thing that we enjoyed the most in our lives and wanted to do. It made sense for us to try to do it full-time, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If this is the best that it ever gets with our band, then so be it. We’re just very happy with how it’s going.

I sense a big parallel here. I interviewed Mates of State two years ago for a ‘zine that I used to do, and they said almost the exact same things that you’re saying. I just think that it’s a brave and courageous thing for any musician to do, especially when you add the relationship dynamic to it. There are so many variables that come into place, and for the two of you to step out and say “We’re going to do this” is admirable to me. You and Mates of State are great touring partners, not just because the music’s good, but because your lives seem to parallel in so many ways.

Thanks. It’s amazing.

How did the two of you come up with the name “The Like Young”?

It was actually a club in Chicago during the mid-to-late ‘60s. It’s a garage rock type of club that my parents knew of and used to attend. I just came across some pictures of it in a box that they had in their house. I thought it was really cool, and I had it in the back of my mind that it would be a great band name. When the time came to start a new band, that name was the name that I chose.

Did your parents tell you any weird stories about the club?

I don’t even think that I asked them about it. I do know that they saw New Colony Six there, and a lot of the second-tier Chicago-area garage bands of that time. That’s all I know about it, though.

What jobs did you and Amanda have before doing the Like Young full-time?

Amanda’s a pre-school teacher. When we’re not touring, she’s a substitute teacher at the school she used to work at. I’m a graphic designer, and I had a really horrible job, which was one of the main reasons I decided to do the band full-time. I was working for a huge corporation, a really bad place. I do freelance design now when we’re not touring. We both have really flexible jobs, which is great.

You said that a lot of Like Young songs are inspired by things that are going on in your life. Are there any songs that are so tied to a specific person, place, thing, or time that you can’t possibly separate the song from its subject?

That’s a really good question. The songs on Art Contest sum up our general feelings toward what was going on, whereas on the new album the songs are very specific to my life. Art Contest, on the other hand, is more diffuse…like every song is a piece of the same puzzle. All of the songs were working toward the same goal.

Well, I think that’s it. Thanks for the interview, be safe, and keep rocking on the rest of your tour!

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