Ian Teeple talks life on the Silicone Prairie, building an album with visual accompaniment
Musician Ian Teeple has made a name for himself playing in bands like Warm Bodies, the Fog, and his own the Natural Man Band, but the debut full-length from his Silicone Prairie project, My Life on the Silicone Prairie, takes elements of all of those and ramps things up. Self-described as a “trebly & jittery, landlocked Midwestern punk sound” not dissimilar from early Devo or Dow Jones & the Industrials, it’s an art-damaged, high-pitched blast of 13 tracks, all recorded by Teeple.
My Life on the Silicone Prairie is out this Friday, February 5, and I spoke with Teeple by phone about the album, its visual accompaniment, and more.
The Pitch: You are a prolific musician.
Ian Teeple: It sometimes doesn’t feel like it, though. To me, it seems like it takes a long time for me to put stuff out. I wish I could be working faster. The subtitle for the album was gonna be “In This Economy?” [laughs] but, yeah–I love making records. It’s my one selfish joy but I’m excited.
Is this all you?
Yes. This record is mostly recorded on the four-track at home. Over the past two years, I’ve been continually recording things and then picked these 13 songs out of a longer uh time period, which is not typical of how I have been making records with bands. Typically, with my bands, we’ll rehearse and practice together and make an album’s worth of material and in the past few years, it’s been like we’ll have to record an album and release it on a schedule–basically to be able to tour around.
It’s a different kind of record-making process when you have to do it in the right time frame. It’s more intense that way, rather than the way I made this record, which is just sort of casually writing songs and making songs that would I would wanna hear.
That’s an interesting way of putting it–songs you would want to hear–since the different projects you’ve been involved in all have different sounds to them, be it the Natural Man Band or Warm Bodies or the Fog. Are you part of these different projects and bands as ways to explore different types of music you like or is it born out of the people with whom you get to be in these bands?
Basically, you kind of hit it on the nail, where it’s like both Warm Bodies and the Fog were bands where it was about the magic of mutual expression–ideally, a good environment for everybody involved to bring their input. Even Natural Man was a band that I led, where I was writing songs and parts for everyone, even that was just sort of a starting point, and then, Adam Alford–he’s the guy who brought a lot of things.
He brought fully-written songs and wrote the lyrics over them and everyone in that band had their own expression that they brought to it, where it’s different. That’s what made the band good: the combined effort of everyone doing their best. Warm Bodies was very similar, where it’s a band where we’d all vote on certain things about songs. Everyone tried to keep the flow between members. All that is something that I miss a lot in COVID.
It’s funny that this record that’s coming out now, because every time I hear the phrase “recorded in isolation” or something, I cringe, because it’s like, this would have been recorded in isolation, either way. Isolation is the only way to get anything done sometimes. Technically, I’m releasing in isolation. That seems more appropriate. It’s way weirder to put out a record, especially a record where there’s not even a band around it, so it’s like I’m not able to do the normal things I would: go on tour or whatever.
I guess that makes this the perfect project to release during a pandemic. When it’s you recording everything on your own, you don’t have to worry about putting together a band now.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Natural Man Band making this because I would bring songs like this to them and then bringing it to them it would make them better. I kind of feel like this record misses that thing, but I’d also like to think that these are all part of their own world–their own special little world that they make sense in.
I love the fact that you say that because I saw the video for “America” this morning and that is definitely its own world. You described it as a “silent Caligari slasher film.”
Yeah, that’s kind of what we were going for. Carrie Wallen, who shot and directed the video, is my roommate. She kept getting mad at me because I threw way too many ideas at her. She was really good at being like, “No, this is how this is how we’re gonna do it,” keeping me from being too far out. Something that we talked about was thinking of the concept around Halloween, and I’m a huge slasher film fan, but it was important in the music video that I was actually no doing harm to anyone. I thought that was more interesting.
I really, really like the idea of somebody who’s against that–they don’t want to be doing horrible things. It’s an outside force. There’s a really good horror movie called Santa Sangre. With this music video, we wanted to make a version similar to Santa Sangre. I don’t know if any plot ever comes across to people when they watch it, but everyone I’ve shown the video to didn’t really pick up on a plot. Can you describe the plot? It’s actually really fun for me to hear people’s interpretation of it. That’s really fun.
In my mind, it seems as though it is a goblin who finds a life coach and then bonds a little too strongly and won’t stop following her around.
That’s essentially what’s going. You nailed it. Also, we kept talking about radio and TV in high school and like it sometimes really, really reminded me of the awkward high school, first video project acting. There’s a scene where Carrie edited it to look like I’m looking over my shoulder at her while she’s running across the quad and it just nailed that kind of awkward high-schooler vibe where everybody’s having fun.
It doesn’t look awkward, in that it’s like, “Okay, fine, we’ll do this.” It looks awkward in that it’s, “This is really weird, we’re all kind of aware that it’s weird, but we get to wear makeup and do crazy stuff on camera.”
Carrie has a really good eye, so I don’t think it looks like it was made by high-schoolers by any means, but yeah–that’s funny. Shooting a music video in the pandemic is hard, too. If you notice, it’s all outside with people in our pod.
You have this “Song for Patrick Cowley” that sounds so much different than a lot of the stuff that’s on My Life on the Silicone Prairie. It’s kind of instrumental and slower, and while I know it’s an homage to the indescribable musician–I guess some would call him a disco artist because he worked with Sylvester–I’m really curious as to what inspired that song and what made it important to include it on the record.
Basically, my girlfriend had bought this Behringer. I had that synthesizer for a week and just recorded that to test out the sounds. I was just sort of knob turning and pressing record and didn’t think I was making a song, even. I was listening back to it when I was transferring stuff from the four-track to the computer and being like, “Whoa, this really works as a track,” and then included it because to me, it sounded like it could have been made by Patrick Cowley.
I definitely wanted to reflect that that is actually the kind of music that blows my mind, more so than being in punk bands. Touring and loving punk is a big part of my music or whatever but, when I go home, I mostly listen to Patrick Cowley and Can and Neu–repetitive synth music is what inspired me the most for the past couple of years, so I just thought it would be a good contrast.
I think a lot of the songs on the record are really fast and kind of go by really quickly so it’s sort of like the cool pool at the end that slows downtime. That song also is only three minutes, but it feels like 10 minutes–longer than a lot of the tracks on there–and the Warm Bodies and Natural Man records have a lot of synth interludes. I hope that Patrick Cowley wouldn’t think I was ripping him off. I don’t think it’s too close, but I had to pay respects to a legend.
Silicone Prairie’s My Life on the Silicone Prairie is out Friday, February 5 via Computer Human Records.