Currently on tour with Imagine Dragons, Iowa rock quartet The Envy Corps may be the music world's best kept secret. I sat down with keyboardist/guitarist Micah Natera, drummer Scott Yoshimura and guitarist (and Imagine Dragons producer) Brandon Darner backstage prior to their opening set at Merriweather Post Pavilion (lead singer/bassist Luke Pettipoole was at a nearby Apple store to get his phone fixed) to discuss the perks of being an opening act, the rock scene in Iowa and their future plans.
CS: How the tour going with Imagine Dragons? How is it different from your usual club tours? What are the perks? The pluses, the minuses?
Scott: Gaining weight.
Micah: You don’t have to do as much work - people carry your stuff around a lot. So we’re all getting fat.
Brandon: I don’t think there are any minuses at all, except for maybe you get to play less than you would normally.
CS: And get a bigger paycheck?
Brandon: It depends on the show. We do alright in certain areas. But it’s definitely a larger crowd than we’re used to 90% of the time. Other than that, everything’s pretty awesome.
CS: You mentioned a possible collaboration with Imagine Dragons on stage - (Imagine Dragons lead singer) Dan Reynolds would guest on a song during your set and Luke would do a guest vocal during Imagine Dragons’ set. Is there any chance of a future collaboration on record?
Brandon: We’ve actually talked about it. I wouldn’t want to give away any details.
CS: You hail from Des Moines, Iowa, which you wouldn’t exactly think of as a rock mecca. Is there a rock scene there that we’re missing out on that the rest of the country doesn’t know about?
Scott: It’s starting to get there. When we all started playing in bands there was one club for heavy bands and the Botanical Center classrooms were you could have DIY indie shows. Since then, several clubs have opened up. Larger, mid-level clubs that are bringing a lot of music in with bands that are on tour and there are a lot more fans and a lot more kids that are playing in bands. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a real scene yet, but it’s definitely getting there. There are bands that work together and play together a lot more.
Brandon: I would say what city has ‘a scene’? Brooklyn?
CS: D.C. has a scene although it’s not as strong as it was before.
Brandon: Right, but it was great because there was a handful of awesome hardcore bands back in the day. I feel scenes are basically like one or two great bands and that makes the people care about the city.
CS: So are there bands coming out of Iowa that you know of that we should be paying attention to?
Scott: There are quite a few people that are working really hard and are getting out on the road and playing. I don’t know that everyone has the same kind of experience with really thinking about producing their music so there are some great songs but sometimes a lot of the bands that make them end up not seeing the full potential because maybe they didn’t have an extra perspective on the outside.
Brandon: I think if you look at any band that’s had some success there are things aside from great music that helped make it happen like the drive of a couple of people in the band and to me, that’s the difference. I produce several bands in Des Moines so there are people making great music. But like Scott said, maybe they don’t have....
CS: The drive and the ambition...
Brandon: Or maybe it hasn’t ignited quite yet. I feel like some of that comes from, certainly, for us and I think, myself, it was hard enough for us coming from Iowa to expect anyone outside of Iowa would care. I thought that was a little more realistic after we saw a band like Slipknot break from Iowa. So we knew it was at least possible for a record label person to maybe fly to Iowa to see a band. That’s what I saw that made me think it could happen, even though the music’s very different. But I think we’ve inspired a few young bands around Iowa but it takes all that other stuff too.
CS: Now that you’re no longer associated with a major label, what are there pluses or minuses of not being on a label? Obviously, you have a lot more freedom and you don’t have people telling you to write a certain type of song. At the same time, you don’t have the machine behind you.
Scott: That’s basically the biggest things that are good and bad about it. I think it’s great to know that even though we’re paying for everything that we do now, we know where our money’s going and we don’t have questionable amounts of money that we need to pay them back.
Brandon: That was one of the biggest things that personally bothered me because whatever money they put into promotion for us that didn’t have any say in, we suddenly are liable to pay it back before we could even make any money.
Scott: I think also they weren’t used to bands that questioned that kind of stuff.
Brandon: We’re all fairly smart guys and they wanted to try lots of stuff that we didn’t see the merit in. We acquiesced to quite a bit of it because we were trying to be cool and let them do their jobs. So there was a lot of things that they spent money on that we didn’t really agree with. Long story short, if being on a label was like the experience we had, I would not want to be on a label. If there was going to be a team - I’ve produced some of the Imagine Dragons stuff so I’ve seen a little bit of how it works behind the scenes, the job that their record label (Interscope) has done. They’ve done a fantastic job. They have amazing people working for them. If I had that team and they believed in my band, it would be a completely different story.
CS: What’s next after this tour? Are you back in the studio or are you doing another tour of your own?
Brandon: We’re writing. We’re working on new music.
Brandon: We’re excited. All of us are busy doing multiple things. I’m producing things and Micah works with me engineering the stuff I produce. Luke and I are going to do some producing together. Scott’s got solo music. We’re all just doing music absolutely as much as possible. The Envy Corps is number one - we’re never going to stop doing that but the success I’ve had producing things like the Dragons actually are helping The Envy Corps quite a bit.
At this point, The Envy Corps’ lead singer Luke Pettipoole returns from the Apple Store and joins the conversation.
CS: After listening to your music, you can tell there are a lot of influences there, but I have to ask, whose idea was it to have an interpolation of The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” at the end of “Make It Stop”?
Luke: That was me.
CS: Bravo. It’s a bit random.
Luke: Yeah, that song was really interesting because that was the first song that we wrote for the record and it was using sequencing and programming that we really hadn’t done much before. So we thought, let’s just make it the super weirdest song and figure out how to still have it still be a song but surprise people.
Brandon: I’m very influenced by filmmakers and so when you hear someone like Scorsese or Coppola talk about their influences like John Ford films and their pulling those references, I think we do the same thing with sounds. It’s not usually, ‘let’s make it exactly like that song.’ It’s more ‘let’s channel this vibe, or this drum sound is great or this keyboard sound is great’ and then you have this kind of mashup. We embrace the greats of popular music so when you reference something like “I Only Have Eyes For You,” it’s like a sonic version of ‘Oh, I really like that shot in that movie, let’s try and recreate that.’
For more information on The Envy Corps, click here.
If you liked this article, click the Subscribe button above to receive email updates when a new article by this writer is published. You can also follow Christina on Twitter @SmartBermyGirl.