METALSUCKS Q&A: INTRODUCING LOOK RIGHT PENNY
Top photo courtesy Bieler Bros. Records. Body photos by rad Nick Zimmer falseidolphoto.com
It’s kinda hard to reconcile the bustling hugeness of Look Right Penny‘s instant classic Sugar Lane (Bieler Bros.) with the teeny, tiny status of its authors: The Hudson, Florida five are barely out of their teens. Their debut album was released on a small label in February with no fanfare. They have not yet launched a national tour. In the big picture, Look Right Penny is a speck.
But then how did a masterful debut album emit from this quintet of youngs? Sure, it’s unsurprising that guitarist Cotee Embry and crew are prodigious players — in 2012, who isn’t? But again, the shocker is that Embry and singer Mariel Diaz-Carrion could assemble ten pandemically infectious prog-metal songs to flummox the most devout fans of Protest The Hero and Sikth. That’s a feat. And the Sugar Lane story crosses right into absurdity when you consider its snug fit among (and post-entry level upgrades of) recent blockbusters from Paramore and Evanescence. The speck’s album could go supernova.
But that’s in the future. For now, the amiable, chill Embry and Diaz-Carrion spoke with MetalSucks by phone about producer Matt LaPlant (Sikth), their life in American death metal Graceland, the truth about Sugar Lane‘s vocals, their hopes for Warped Tour, and more!
The members of Look Right Penny are in their very early 20s. What do you say when a skeptical or surprised music fan asks how five college-aged kids can already be awesome at making a record?
Cotee Embry, guitars: First of all, I’d be flattered [laughs]. But I don’t know. I’ve been playing guitar now longer than I haven’t. Music is such big part of my life and has been for so many years. I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. I mean, as a band we’ve been together since 2008, [but] didn’t make any big impact for a while so no one really knew about us. But there’s a core chemistry in the band. It makes writing an album not a very hard thing to do when we all chip together and work at it.
Mariel Diaz-Carrion, vocals: I’ve been singing my whole life and writing lyrics since eighth grade. Cotee will come up with song parts or riffs, and I’ll already have a song idea or lyric, and we’ll put it together. Over the years, we’ve been getting better at writing songs, so it’s taken some practice.
CE: A lot of trial and error led up to Sugar Lane. It’s not like we just jumped in the studio and wrote it in a week and it was all over with. It definitely took some time [laughs].
To what extent did producer Matt LaPlant (Sikth, Skindred) steady your ship?
CE: He helped us a lot. When we went in, we were writing stuff that was cool and you could hear our sound in it — but it wasn’t a structured version like what you hear on the album. He had a lot to do with teaching us that. By the time we were recording the second half of the album, we were writing songs [then] recording them almost exactly as is; but when we started, there was a lot more, ‘We probably shouldn’t do that here’ or ‘Let’s cut that.’ Stuff like that.
Overall [pauses] it’s not like our record sounded completely different, then we went to the studio and our producer made it [a different] thing. We worked together and it was a good experience.
MetalSucks previewed Sugar Lane the week of its release. I was unsurprised by the two extreme reactions to it from sorta “traditional metal people”: Some dudes, like me, found it irresistible; others raged at it. Are you pleased that your album takes a firm stand and risks both types of strong feedback?
CE: I wouldn’t have it any other way. Really. I read the comments and kinda laugh ‘em off. I love ‘em [laughs]. I’ve seen some terrible, terrible things said. But you have to look at the source sometimes. These people aren’t exactly out here doing it, trying to make this a living, and they don’t really have that in mind when saying some of these things. If we were just another band doing the same thing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. You’re one of the people who heard it, took it for what it is, and liked it. So that’s why we’re talking now.
Ha I don’t think it’s quite accurate to describe my feelings toward Sugar Lane as “liking” it. I’ve listened to it almost compulsively —
You know how it is when a song ends, a repeat-listener can jump right in on the first beat of the next song? You know even the spaces between songs?
CE: Oh yeah.
MD-C: Protest The Hero’s Fortress and Scurrilous — a song ends and I’m already mimicking the guitar riff that starts the next song [laughs].
CE: [laughs] That’s what I’m like with Colors by Between The Buried And Me. That album is embedded in my brain.
Following the release of Sugar Lane, it was my expectation that there’d be an announcement of tour plans and that I’d be hounded to interview you guys. So I braced for action from the Look Right Penny camp, but it’s been quiet. Is the band headed for a tour?
MD-C: We had pretty much the same expectations as you did?
CE: We kinda had [pauses] a rough plan — what we wanted to do after the album released and how we wanted to execute pushing the band. So far, we just haven’t gotten off to the fast start that we wanted. We were intending on getting radio play with a couple of our songs. It hit radio in different spots and didn’t really take off, so [the album] didn’t get a huge push from radio. So now what we’re doing is … The label is sitting back, booking shows for us, and we’re booking shows for ourselves. We’re really just tring to get a local following, because we’ve got as many fans in California as we have here in Florida.
We took a year off to write our album; in that year, we were a dead band. We weren’t doing anything. We weren’t keeping up on our Facebook or keeping in touch. We were just making Sugar Lane. Now that it’s out, it’s as big a shock to people in Florida as it is anywhere else. Right now, we’re really just trying to get our name known here where we live.
I bet you’re eager to get on tour and win new audiences every night.
MD-C: Yes, definitely. We’ve played five local shows so far. I love performing. I want to do it for the rest of my life. I love showing our music to new people; they’re always just shocked because they weren’t expecting it from a local band. I look forward to getting on bigger shows and tours in the future; we want to do Warped Tour next year. That’d be great for us.
I’m glad that came up. When the Warped Tour 2012 line-up was announced, I immediately looked for Look Right Penny there. Such a perfect fit.
CE: Most of these bigger opportunities come from [Warped organizers having heard] about bands from their big local crowds. Bands build up crowds of 200 people in their hometowns, then hit up Warped Tour, and Warped Tour is happy to have the band on the bill in those local areas because they can draw. Right now, I feel like if we jumped on Warped Tour, we’d [play to] 45 people standing around in our home state. We need to do some growing before we do a big festival like that. But I sure would love to.
[Look Right Penny has since been added to the July 29 Warped Tour stop in St. Petersburg, Florida. — ADF]
There’s a lot of busy guitar work in LRP songs, which is unsurprising coming from fans of Protest The Hero and BTBAM. Do you ever feel that those solo-like parts might divert from the vocals? I’m thinking of a song like “High Hopes.”
CE: It’s always on my mind, I have to say. I wrote both guitar’s parts for the album, cuz we didn’t have a second guitarist. I’ll go in and write the lead part first; that’s just the way I think. Then we added the chord progression behind it; it’s always something that you think about. You throw the melody line on it and listen to it, and you’re like, ‘It sounds cool, but are we taking away [from the vocals] here?’ It’s hit or miss.
Hmm I [think] that “High Hopes” is Sugar Lane’s oldest song. We wrote it more than two years ago; for us, that’s an ancient song. We’ve come a long way as writers since then. It’s a perfect example of what I was saying before about working with Matt and getting better at writing songs we like.
MD-C: I love all the guitar stuff. When we work on the second album, there’s gonna be a lot more of it, a lot more intricate stuff. I try not to do too much to kill people’s ears with a lot of high notes, so Cotee tries not to go overboard —
CE: With the solos.
MD-C: Yeah! I hope people aren’t confused and can enjoy it as a whole.
CE: [laughs] I never thought I’d be asked that question.
Ha! Welcome to your MetalSucks interview.
CE + MD-C: [laughs]
Am I correct that you two have a relationship outside the band?
MD-C: Why yes we do.
A dude I know once worked for a couple and it was total chaos. Do you ever think, ‘Man, this must suck for our bandmates’?
MD-C: We’ve been dating for more than four years; we have like a really strong, solid relationship. Playing guitar is his dream and singing is my dream, so it’s great that we can do this together. We’re pushing each other and supporting each other. The rest of our band is, like, our brothers.
MD-C: We all get along really well. There isn’t a problem with us. We work together well.
Most people my age disown everything they did at your age. Do you predict a day in the future when you’ll look back at Sugar Lane and, like, groan?
CE: [laughs] Yes. I look back at Sugar Lane now and I groan.
CE: There were so many things that I could’ve done —
MD-C: — like change or make better.
CE: I think that’s just a part of being a musician to just sit and nitpick. You listen to it for one thing — instead of as a whole — when it’s your piece of music. It’ll drive you crazy. But at the end of the day, I really enjoy the whole album. I’m proud of it [as] our first album. A lot of bands I love … Their first albums don’t compare at all. I try to keep that in mind [laughs] when I’m writing.
Agreed. It’s great. What’s it like being from the part of Florida that metal people consider the birthplace of American Extreme Metal? Nearby are the hometowns of Atheist, Obituary, Savatage, Death —
CE: Deicide. I know they’re from Hudson.
Oh shit, yeah. But we’ve already mentioned that Look Right Penny is more the ilk of Protest The Hero and Between The Buried And Me; is local death metal history even on your radar?
CE: Um, no.
CE: I’ve served the lead singer of Deicide at the Wynn Dixie where I work. To see [death metal] like that, it takes away from the whole [pauses] metal thing in Florida.
What about Atheist — isn’t Look Right Penny a distant cousin to tech-metal pioneers like them?
Have you ever heard of the band Atheist?
CE: The band? No. I thought you were asking if we were —
CE: I had no idea that there’s a band called Atheist. [laughs]
[laughs] That’s the end of that question.
CE: Thank god.
CE: How ironic: thanking god while talking about Atheist.
[laughs] Again, Look Right Penny nailed its debut. What’s your level of trepidation going into a second album?
MD-C: We still have a couple years to work our first album and try to get our names out there. But we always think about when we make our second album we’re going to push ourselves so much more. Heavier, more progressive —
CE: There was an inside joke the entire time we were making the first album. We kept saying, ‘Wow, the second album is going to be awesome!’ [laughs]
CE: You’re not gonna stop doing what you’re doing. You’re only going to get that much better two years from now: Your songwriting, guitar playing, and singing all gets better. I couldn’t be more excited. I’m already [jotting] stuff down for the next album. It’s going to be awesome.
MD-C: When it happens.
CE: Yeah, I think it’s a little early to talk about it now.
Well I’m thinking about it already.
CE + MD-C: [laughs]
Cuz hey it’s going to be a bummer when I eventually max out on Sugar Lane. Have you any secret news to keep fans excited til then?
CE: I wish I had some really big news for ya, but — Oh you know what? Ernie Ball guitars endorsed me under the John Petrucci line. I have a new John Petrucci BFG model —
CE: Oh, BFR. I said “BFG.”
MD-C: Big Friendly Giant.
CE: [laughs] Yeah. Well, it’s an absolutely wonderful guitar.
Congratulations! Those fuckers are like three grand.
CE: Oh, and I don’t know if it’s exciting enough for you, but one of the biggest rumors that we always get on message boards is that Mariel is really auto-tuned. We’ve always heard that. We want to say on the record that we don’t know what you’re hearing, cuz there was absolutely [laughs] no auto-tune or any pitch correction used on our album.
MD-C: That’s me. I sing those notes.
CE: Hopefully people will stop asking that [laughs].
But it’s fair. You can see why people would think that. These days nobody’s pitch is that awesome —
MD-C: Thank you.
So you might take it as a compliment. A back-handed compliment.
MD-C: [laughs] Okay!