All-Natural Rock and Roll
By Lara Bennett
Silver Synthetic is a self-described straight-up rock and roll band based in New Orleans. Their laissez-faire, effortless sound transcends categorization, blending elements of surf and glam rock, folk, some Laurel Canyon haze with country licks and a no-bullshit attitude. Originally recorded in 2019, the band finally released Silver Synthetic this April after delays caused by the pandemic. Fortunately for us, it arrives just in time to be the soundtrack to our summer of renewal.
Roving music contributor Lara Bennett interviewed singer, songwriter and guitarist Chris Lyons and lead guitarist Kunal Prakash about finding their sound, looking for weed on the road, and the unofficial band mantra, What Would Neil Young Do?
Lara Bennett: Chris, you found yourself with songs that didn’t quite fit the aesthetic of your previous band, the more noise-punk-garage rock band, Bottomfeeders. What do you attribute the transition to the more retro, drawl-y Silver Synthetic sound to?
Chris Lyons: I just started writing songs that naturally came out sounding a certain kind of way. It definitely had to do with the music that I’ve listened to over the years. Eventually, the songs started piling up and I decided it would probably be a good idea to try and start a new band because the songs didn't sound like my old band. The need to flesh out these new ideas inspired me to call up some friends. We started playing and it all came together.
LB: So you and [drummer] Lucas Bogner from Bottomfeeders started things off. Kunal, how did you and [bassist] Pete Campanelli come to join the band?
Kunal Prakash: Chris told me he had a bunch of what he described as pop songs, and I was curious as to what his definition of a pop song might be. After talking about it probably too many times, I had a short break from my work with Jeff the Brotherhood. Bottomfeeders also had some free time, so we decided to go to the rehearsal space and work on the songs and see if there was anything there.
Silver Synthetic, from left to right: Lucas Bogner (drums), Pete Campanelli (bass), Chris Lyons (guitar & vocals) and Kunal Prakash (guitar)
LB: There’s a focus on simplicity with Silver Synthetic—it’s a traditional 4-piece rock and roll band. You don’t rely on a lot of fancy pedals or exotic instruments; it’s just a groove. Was this straightforward approach discussed?
CL: It happened pretty naturally. The songs that I had brought to the table were already pretty simple. I think that it was obvious what would need to happen to make them sound good with the full band. We'd start playing and everyone would start working on their parts of the song. Nice to not have to talk about it very much, that's usually when things work out the best.
KP: The things that were missing felt fairly obvious. Once we landed on the right thing to add, we weren’t like, Let's add a crazy effected guitar thing too. It was all about good melodic parts. During recording, we did talk about not cluttering the recordings and not putting a ton of reverb on everything so you can't hear anything. We wanted to minimize the use of extraneous shit.
LB: What was recording the album like?
CL: Our friend, Ross Farbe, of another New Orleans band called Video Age, has a mobile studio setup that really works very well. So we set that up in my house and recorded it on tape in seven days. We didn't have any money, and this was the cheapest option. We did drums first and started layering on top of that. It ended up being a pretty laid back recording experience—cooking at the house, watching football after, no time limit really. Well, except for those last few days. I had to record all the vocals in one day. That was kind of brutal, but it happened.
It ended up being a pretty laid back recording experience—cooking at the house, watching football after, no time limit really.
LB: There are some more obvious influences apparent in your sound—Television, The Velvet Underground, etc. Are there any more surprising influences or inspiration you pulled from when you were writing and recording?
CL: Coney Island Baby was a big one during the forming of the band, which is Lou Reed, but not Velvet Underground. I was listening to a lot of New Morning by Bob Dylan, that's a good record. I think I was listening to a lot of Harry Nilsson, which doesn't sound anything like us, but…
LB: You know what? I actually did hear some Nilsson in there. Kunal, did you have something in mind when you were coming up with guitar parts?
KP: Well, Chris was listening to Coney Island Baby a lot at that time, so I got on that trip for a minute. There’s a lot of really cool lead guitar work in there. The dude is playing a solo the whole time, or in between every vocal phrase, but it's not distracting. It's just nice decoration.
But as far as coming up with parts, Chris will bring a song and I might hear a certain influence of mine in it. And then I think, All right, what would Neil Young do if he had to come up with a part for this song right now? What would George Harrison do here? Jimi Hendrix?
It's like having one of those “What Would Jesus Do?” wristbands on, but you have a different one for each guitar player, for each song. And I would put on that wristband and try to play that way.
LB: Asking myself “What would Neil Young do” is something I always try to keep in mind.
CL: I think that's the unspoken band mantra.
KP: Yeah, those wristbands will be at the merch table, when we can tour again.
LB: It’d be easy to lump you guys into the cosmic country category, but I hear so much more here—glam rock, Brit pop, a very laid back NYC thing. Your music seems to really blur the lines of genre. What are your thoughts on genre in general and where does Silver Synthetic land?
CL: I think of us as a stripped down rock and roll band. I don't really like getting deeper into it than that. You might just have to listen to it. It’s like if someone who has never had pizza before asks you to describe what pizza tastes like. They’re just going to have to try it.
KP: Exactly, it tastes good! I think we’re often described as garage rock. And what that category means to me is that the recording quality is a little sketchier, but we were trying to be as hi-fi as we could afford. We want our stuff to sound as clear and precise and good as we can. So I feel like there's certain genre labels that get thrown around sometimes that aren’t exactly right. Especially some label like “modern psych garage.” No one's yelling into a reverb pedal here.
If someone who has never had pizza before asks you to describe what pizza tastes like. They’re just going to have to try it.
LB: There is a very laid-back, coastal vibe to this music. Upon first listen and before reading about you, I definitely imagined you were a California band. How does location influence you?
CL: New Orleans is pretty laid back. And with the climate, in summertime, you really can’t do much more than sit down, cool off, and chill out. Maybe that has something to do with it.
KP: We can't really lay claim to being part of New Orleans jazz tradition or something like that. We all just happen to live here. We’re basically all from the Northeast, Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
LB: What is the music scene in NOLA like, from an insider’s perspective?
KP: The main scene here is the jazz stuff, but I'd say there's a pretty healthy underground for rock and roll. There’s a punk scene, a huge metal scene. There's an Americana/Stetson hat-wearing scene. Since it's a small city, those things can overlap fairly easily. We put together a show a few years ago with our friend Esther Rose, an Americana singer-songwriter, and another band called Lawn, who do more of an indie rock thing. And all of those respective crowds came out to the show. New Orleans is small enough that you can cross-pollinate a bit because there's not that much going on here. The scenes interact more than you would think.
For most people who live in states where weed is legal, think back 15 years. I buy weed from coworkers or fellow musicians. It’s overpriced and you can't always get the type of weed you want.
LB: What’s cannabis culture like in NOLA? I know it’s still illegal statewide, although it’s decriminalized in the bigger cities.
CL: It's pretty underground. For most people who live in states where weed is legal, think back 15 years. I buy weed from coworkers or fellow musicians. It’s overpriced and you can't always get the type of weed you want. I hate that aspect. I would smoke more pot if I was able to get what I wanted all the time.
KP: I remember flying to LA for a rehearsal a couple summers ago and the weed store there looked like an Apple store. I mean, people definitely smoke mad weed down here, but it’s different.
LB: I think some older folks would say that there’s a little intrigue and excitement missing from buying from the Apple-like store rather than sliding into a backseat to make your transaction.
KP: Well, they can come down and visit. We’re not nerds; we know how to break the law. But the whole legal aspect is scarier in the Deep South, in the most heavily incarcerated state in the country. It's scarier to be like, Yeah, it's cool. I'll ride dirty and bring a bunch of weed to the beach. Especially when you’re a brown dude with long hair.
LB: What is the weirdest way you’ve found weed?
KP: Well, with Pete in the band it's pretty easy.
CL: Our bass player, Pete, is definitely the dude with the pot in the band. He rolls around with a ton of rolling papers, weed and tobacco and is constantly rolling spliffs all day long. So when you have him around, you don't really have to go very far to find weed.
KP: I remember a weird experience in Vancouver when I was like 19 years old. There's that weed smoking cafe, the New Amsterdam Cafe. You can't buy weed from them, but there's a place right next door where you can. My friends and I went upstairs and there was this big empty room, with a dude sitting at a desk with a scale. And he also had these two big glass aquarium things with huge fucking snakes in them. You approached him and said, I got 50 bucks, and he would weigh it out. And then another big dude in the corner. It was really weird and intimidating, especially when you're a kid and go buy weed from the guy with the huge, scary snakes. That was a strange one.
LB: We talked about Pete, how about your drummer Lucas?
CL: Well, Lucas is the man. He's really good at drums. He enjoys smoking weed. Probably the first time I ever smoked weed in my life was with Lucas. We were 15 and got lost as hell in the woods. We walked literally 10 miles until we found our way back out. Classic shit!
KP: And then you looked at each other and said, Yeah, let’s do that again, for the rest of our lives!
LB: Concert plans seem to cautiously be rolling out. Any plans for future shows or tours?
CL: Everything's very tentative right now, but we're hoping to do something in the fall of 2021.
Silver Synthetic's self titled album is available on Third Man Records
More about Silver Synthetic here
Follow Silver Synthetic on Instagram at: @silver.synthetic
Listen on Spotify
Hooky melodies, old favourites, guitar inspirations and badass vibes. A heady collection of tunes in heavy rotation during the creation of Silver Synthetic's debut album. Listen to our custom-curated Silver Synthetic Mix on Spotify.
About the author:
Lara Bennett is a writer living somewhere between New York City and the Mojave Desert. She is the founder of Petal Motel, a music blog documenting the Californiana and Cosmic American (and world) music genres; and she also hosts the Petal Motel podcast and interviews musicians like Sarah Louise, Buck Curran, and Dave Bixby. When she’s not writing about music, she’s writing about sexual health and wellness or AI and retail technology. But she prefers the music.
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