The Legal Matters personify the sound of Power Pop. Their music manages to include huge portions of Power Pop’s three key ingredients — melodic hooks, luscious harmonies and shimmering guitars. They also manage to squeeze in plenty of warmth, heart, and honesty. The band’s three members – Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith – are first and foremost music fans who just happen to be musicians. The three members have been making music separately for years (Andy as An American Underdog, Chris with The Subtractions and Keith and Chris with The Phenomenal Cats) but once they combined forces as The Legal Matters, they became arguably the finest indie Pop band in the U.S. Their self-titled 2014 debut album was damn near a masterpiece – a perfect blend of Beatles, Jellyfish, Teenage Fanclub and just about every other melodic Guitar Pop band you could think of. Add in some spine-tingling chord changes and lovely harmonies and it was a stunning tour-de-force-de-pop! But where do you go if you’ve already recorded one of the best indie Power Pop albums of the decade? Well, you’ll just have to ask CONRAD…
Released on October 28th, 2016, The Legal Matters follow-up their smashing debut with an album that lives up to expectations… and then some! Not only have they come up with yet another batch of great songs, the trio have upped the vocal harmony ante on CONRAD. The harmonies are so airy, light and beautiful that they sound like they are literally floating above the music. CONRAD’s opener, “Anything,” picks up where their debut left off and sets up the mood of the album perfectly. However, CONRAD is a slightly different beast. Sure, the same influences are there – the guitars jangle and shimmer, the melodies sneak up and wrap around your heart like a Christmas bow — but this time, like I stated before, they really stepped up to the plate with vocal arrangements. You know all those great harmonies you love on Beach Boys records? Well, Andy, Chris and Keith love them, too, so they invited them to the party and CONRAD is that much more beautiful for it. CONRAD is far from a carbon copy of their debut – it is more like an upgrade with bonus features. I’m purposely trying to avoid talking about any of the other songs on the album because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Let’s just say that CONRAD will make you forget the election and all the tragedies of the world and you’ll be able to fall in love with life all over again. And you may even weep a little. Or a lot.
I was able to send some questions over to the boys in the band and they graciously took time out of their busy schedules to answer them…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Please introduce yourselves!
ANDY REED: Hello, my name is Andy. I play bass, guitar, keys, and sing in The Legal Matters. I run a recording studio in Bay City, MI called Reed Recording Co.
CHRIS RICHARDS: Hi, I’m Chris. I’m a Gemini and enjoy roller-skating when not occasionally playing guitar and singing in The Legal Matters.
KEITH KLINGENSMITH: Keith here, I mainly concentrate on the harmonies in the band. I also run a pop label called Futureman Records.
SPAZ: Can you fill us in on this new little platter of yours?
ANDY: CONRAD is our second record as a band. This album has a little more of a defined sound. We had a specific vision of making an album that felt like a journey. We really focused even more on the vocal elements to compliment the songs we were working on. It really came together nicely. We are also excited to have Omnivore Recordings putting the record out.
CHRIS: Yes! CONRAD is our second record. We had a blast making this record. We took a different approach than the first (where we recorded all the principle tracks over the course of six days) to spreading the sessions over a few months – giving us a chance to write songs during that period…and I really think the results speak for themselves.
KEITH: Great songs from all and harmonies everywhere! So excited to have Omnivore in our corner for this one – it’s gonna be fun.
SPAZ: Which song off of the album do you feel best defines the essence of the album and/or what the band is all about, musically?
ANDY: That’s really a tough one for me as I’m attached to all of them equally. I’m not bailing on the question. I really just don’t know. Without any of them, this record doesn’t feel the same.
CHRIS: We set out to make a harmony based record, first and foremost. So I feel that “Pull My String” really validates our efforts. That song and its harmonies clearly show our intent.
KEITH: I’d be good with any LM’s song representing what we’re about, but I think the first song on CONRAD, “Anything,” is the perfect representation of where we are now. A great song that’s a little further beyond what we would have done on the first record in almost every department.
SPAZ: In this age of streaming, the concept of the album as an art form seems to have been lost in the digital shuffle. Did you approach this project as a whole piece of work or do you view it more like a collection of individual songs that you felt work together well?
ANDY: It’s definitely one complete idea. The artwork, the recording, and the songs are a piece of the puzzle. We hope that people treat it like an album and give it a listen as a whole.
CHRIS: Unfortunately you cannot change the way an individual decides to take in their entertainment nowadays – I’m pleased in general when someone makes that choice to buy and enjoy our music. Now I’d be lying if I didn’t state that I wish people would listen to the record as we intended folks to listen to it. It doesn’t tell a story, but the songs progress in a way that really makes them shine.
KEITH: We’re all LP guys, grew up with albums and still think in albums. We record with that in mind, and could probably never sequence a record without thinking of it as “Side 1” and “Side 2.”
SPAZ: When you began the songwriting and recording process, did you already have a fully-formed idea of how you wanted the end product to sound like or did it come together organically?
ANDY: I knew that the songs would be there. Since I was recording it I did have it in my head that I wanted this record to breathe and have space. That can be tough when adding a ton of elements, but I was determined to get it to feel that way. I think we achieved that. It was tricky.
CHRIS: Pretty organically – we generally let the song take shape. I know it sounds strange, but really songs have a destiny in a sense. Our job was to attempt to capture those moments.
KEITH: From my point of view, we haven’t recorded a song yet that fought us as it grew from demo to fully realized. Those songs just seem to grow naturally into Legal Matters tracks.
SPAZ: As a songwriter working in a group with equally talented writers and performers, is there a lot of give and take involved with making an album, or were you all on the same wavelength with this batch of songs?
ANDY: We are pretty much always on the same page. We all love a lot of the same music. We are also fans of each other so it’s inspiring to work on each other’s tunes. That always helps to keep things fresh. It also helps you step up your game too when you are in a band with great songwriters.
CHRIS: There’s always give and take – but when you can work well with others in a collaborative environment, it’s not that difficult. Keith and Andy are pros, but friends first.
KEITH: A lot of ideas get tossed around, but we’re so similar in sensibilities and general mindset, most of the suggestions are right in line with how we all see the track progressing. And that’s no matter who wrote the song, everyone is truly enthusiastic about the other two’s input.
SPAZ: Given the opportunity, an artist could tinker with an album for years before finally releasing it to the world. Are you happy with the release of the album at the moment or are you still in the ‘I wish I could go back and add this or change that’ stage?
ANDY: I think I’m the one that would struggle with this the most but I wouldn’t change a note.
CHRIS: Andy’s right – this one really felt right on the first go round. I wouldn’t change a thing.
KEITH: Andy is absolutely the one that that applies to. We give him a couple of weeks for tweaks after he first promises he’s done and won’t touch it again, but MAN that final result…
SPAZ: Listening to an album, one can decipher some of the main musical influences that helped shape that artist. However, there can also be some surprising influences as well. Who would you pick as your chief musical influences on this album?
ANDY: For me, it’s actually a cross between George Martin and Brian Wilson. Those two are my heroes. I’m always paying close attention to the production side of things. The sound of the tambourine is just as important as the guitar to me. Every piece matters. Detail was very important on this one. Brian was the master at being an artist and producer at the same time as well. It can be tough when a band produces their own music. The focus can shift a lot.
CHRIS: We all have a common core of artists that make us tick – the Beatles/Beach Boys/Big Star – so that blueprint will always be our backdrop.
KEITH: I had Teenage Fanclub on the brain for a few songs on this one, and I think we did a good job going “full Fanclub” on the couple of tracks that applied to (which are still my faves!)
SPAZ: Did you have any non-musical influences that inspired you during the making of the album?
ANDY: My grandmother was living her last days as we were finishing the album. She was always in my thoughts. She was also the first one to show me how to play piano when I was a kid. Definitely a huge influence on me in every aspect of my life.
CHRIS: The people that make us all strive to be better, as people or musicians, are always gonna be family and friends. I have an amazing supportive team around me 24/7.
KEITH: There were a couple of moments where we’re, “Oh man, this is gonna KILL Spaz.” (Seriously!)
SPAZ: Was there a particular moment during the writing or recording when you realized that you were definitely making something special?
ANDY: It’s really tough to pick a specific point. We always knew we had the potential to do it. The first album was definitely a great way to start a recording career. We were also testing the waters. This time we brought our best so we kind of thought that the end result would be something special, at least to us anyways.
CHRIS: I think we felt that way from moments on the first record ¬– so the second confirmed that from the first session for the first track – “Anything.”
KEITH: It takes me some time to stop hearing things as individual songs that grew in the studio and to be able to hear it as a real record. Once I got to the point where I could hear it as CONRAD though, I sure felt like we had a big winner.
SPAZ: What is next for the band?
ANDY: Album number 3!
CHRIS: We want to get through these first couple months of live shows…and hopefully take it to the people in Cleveland-NY-Chicago-Boston. Then start album #3!
KEITH: We’ve got our first full band live shows coming up to support this record; gonna be fun to hear these songs big and live. THEN Album number 3!
SPAZ: What are you currently spinning on your CD and record players?
ANDY: John Paul White, Tuns, The Lemon Twigs, Dawes, and a lot of 70s Beach Boys.
CHRIS: Music is very plentiful right now – loving new records by Tuns, Nada Surf, Allah Las and the immaculate Rolling Stones mono LP box!
KEITH: New Teenage Fanclub, Bill Shaouy, Tuns, The Flat Five and Nick Piunti.
Thanks to Andy Reed, Chris Richards, and Keith Klingensmith
Special thanks to Nick Kominitsky
THE LEGAL MATTERS