From Listen Live & Local
The “ah-ha” moment: for a band, it’s a time when everything comes together. It’s when all the struggles from nights of pouring over lyrics, drafting guitar riffs and the countless auditions are all justified. For The Flips, that “ah-ha” was the reaction from their 2015 album Better Days, a raw record exploring the struggles of mental health, depression and suicide. The songs are darkly beautiful conversation starters, drawing audiences to connect with the band on personal levels.
“[Fans] will confess their life stories [at shows],” says keyboardist and backup vocalist Annette Nowacki. “[They’ll say], ‘This is what has been sitting on my chest for all of these years. I heard you and I saw you in the newspaper and I read your story and your music helps me gets that off my chest.'”
These reactions, the band says, are humbling. While members dream of playing sold-out festivals and large-scale venues such as Madison Square Garden, they say the most important thing for them at the moment is to create songs that have the ability to positively impact people.
“I am at this weird place where we’re writing new songs and it’s a lot of fun, but I am just so obsessed with playing some of these older songs,” says vocalist Nick Sintos. “I guess that’s a good feeling, that I am not sick of most of them, but Better Days is still super meaningful to me.”
Since the release of Better Days, The Flips have continued to write new music, recently releasing a split EP with Chicago-based rock band Pelafina. The record includes three songs; two newer tunes and an acoustic version of “I’m Okay”, which originally appeared on their 2013 album A Harm Deep but Shining. The split, which was self-recorded and mixed by Pelafina’s Troy Sennett, inspired The Flips to take a more hands-on approach to the recording process of their new EP; a 4-song collection expected in the spring of 2018.
“Trying to do more things on our own, it’s kind of the trend we’ve been on for the last couple of years,” explains guitarist Dustin Martin. “Our previous albums, we recorded in studios and kind of always felt that pressure [to] balance between time and wanting to experiment and get things right.”
The Flips have found parts of self-recording to be quite fulfilling. As Martin points out, without the stress of budgeted studio time, the band is able to explore different sounds within each song, recording a number of parts to experiment with how different instrumentals and tones play amongst each other. As a creative process, DIY is often loved, but as any new skill development, the first process can bring upon struggles.
“That’s the tradeoff with recording yourself,” says Sintos. “There’s a lot of limitations, whether it’s from a technological standpoint or lack of experience in how programs work. It’s trial and error and it’s trying to be creative within those confines. Sometimes it’s frustrating as hell, but it also pushes us in a new direction.”
One of those new directions, explains drummer Mike Carlson, is the layering of lines to create dynamics and fullness. “All the Better Days stuff has a bunch of guitar tracks on it making stuff sound very full, but now I think we’re trying to figure out how to nail that ‘more is less’ sort of thing without trying to be deliberate about playing fewer things, but trying to explore a little bit more of the space in between the noise,” says Carlson.
Another new approach is the songwriting process, which all members agree has been an exciting experience. “Nick is the primary songwriter. For Better Days, he’d bring in completed songs and then he would play them for us and we would flesh out everything on our respective instruments,” says Martin. “This time around it’s a lot more collaborative. It took some getting used to at first, but it’s been really cool and productive.”
From their newer songs,”Chaos is a Color”, which appeared on their 2017 split with Pelafina, has been their newest addition. The song is a bit more upbeat than previous songs but still digs into pop punk lines and grungy aggression. “I am digging all the new stuff that we’re doing. But off that split, ‘Chaos is a Color’, that’s a very fun song to play,” says bassist Mac Kelem.
And as Martin points out, “It’s the best music video ever”, referring to a stop-motion vision created by the band's talented keyboardist and artist Nowacki.
“We were really bored one weekend and we were at [Dustin’s] house and his parents weren’t home and he was like, “Want to go make a music video?” We had like this weird makeshift camera taped up just high enough without creating shadows. [We used lighting from] an LED campsite light. His parents came home and were like,“Well, you guys look like you’ve been busy’,” says Nowacki.
The band’s spontaneous music video provokes conversations of more visuals as they laugh about future ideas possibly involving a few beloved pets, but for now, the band is focused on the recording and release of their 2018 EP. In the years since their iconic Better Days record, the group has shown growth, not just as artists and as bandmates, something The Flips have noticed among themselves.
“I guess just learning to not take everything so seriously [has been a milestone for us]. That comes with being in a band for so long, but also just getting older in general. There’s less pressure to be this super successful band. It’s still about putting in the work, but [also taking] in all the little accomplishments and really holding those closely. I might not be able to do this for a living right now, but we’re still doing things we wouldn’t have been doing five years ago,” says Sintos.
- Jessica Braun Gervais